Book Review: Does slow and steady win the race in India?

Book Review: Does slow and steady win the race in India?
Despite hurdles, author T. N. Ninan believes that India’s economic future looks bright.
Updated 06 September 2017

Book Review: Does slow and steady win the race in India?

Book Review: Does slow and steady win the race in India?

When India’s economy slowed sharply in the first quarter of 2017, many believed that Narendra Modi’s currency ban of the previous year was one of the main causes. Saurabh Mukherjea, chief executive officer at Ambit Capital, summarized how the market reacted by saying: “Demonetization was the economic equivalent of a heart attack… The economy had a mild headache and we are now over it.”
India remains the fastest-growing major economy in the world despite the shock of demonetization, the strengthening of oil prices and a range of uncertainties at home and abroad.
Joining an extensive list of books on India, “Turn of the Tortoise: The Challenge and Promise of India’s Future” gives us a commanding view of the intricacies of the Indian economy. The author, T. N. Ninan, is the chairman of Business Standard, India’s second-largest business daily, and one of India’s most respected economic editors.
Ninan tackles the issue of India’s size and sets the record straight. India’s size only tells one side of the story. Even in the 1870s, when India was bigger than Britain, it suffered from a conspicuous absence of development and lacked industrial and technological capabilities.
Today, having gained its independence, India wants a place in the sun. During the 2008 financial crisis, India was the 12th largest economy in the world and it jumped up to seventh place in 2015, overtaking Spain, Canada and Italy.
India has maintained an annual GDP growth of seven percent or more for 25 years and this is beginning to pay off. Just like “The Hare and the Tortoise,” the famous fable by Jean de La Fontaine, India seems to be winning the race in slow and steady fashion. India, which was seen as a tortoise because of its slower growth, is catching up fast with hares such as China, Vietnam and Malaysia. These Asian giants have seen their economies weaken as they reached a certain level of production and prosperity. Within the next five years, India is poised to be the third-largest contributor to world growth after China and the US.
The author focuses on the poor standards of governance that make India a difficult place to do business. Ninan quotes a chief executive of one of America’s largest companies whose comment helps us understand what works and what does not in India. He noticed that his company had succeeded every time it bet on the Indian people, less so but with good success when it bet on the Indian market and least of all when it bet on Indian policymaking and policymakers.
India’s economic success is largely due to the presence of educated manpower, which has provided quality engineers, lawyers, accountants, managers and call center staff for international companies. However, none of this could have been possible without the input of exceptional businessmen who are listed on the Fortune 500 list. They have changed the game and have taken Indian entrepreneurship to the next level.
Indian policymakers have tried hard to revive the country’s manufacturing sector. Modi, in particular, showed strong resolve when he created the “Made in India” initiative to achieve that goal. India, however, is still seen as a difficult country to set up a business in and the government is planning to reduce paperwork and digitalize the whole process in a bid to counter that. However, even if such measures are implemented, India is still home to a poor infrastructure, its workers are not as productive as the Chinese and dealing with the authorities is seen as a trying experience, according to the book.
This book’s main argument is that India should not copy China and compete solely on the strength of lower wages. “Rather than studying China, which has led to failed copycat experiments like special economic zones, it should be more fruitful to study India (and) how to change its operating environment, then look at what kind of manufacturing has worked in this country and what has not. Following from that, a strategy can (be planned) to back the horses that can run, not the donkeys that can’t,” Ninan wrote.
Wages and workers
Many studies highlight the notion that Indian workers are not as productive as their counterparts in China or Korea. Ninan gives us the example of Dilip Kapur, the founder of a successful leather products company whose workers could not produce more than nine handbags per day versus 12 per day in a Chinese factory.
Successful manufacturing plants should not only be based on cost and productivity as they also require other factors, such as the availability of raw materials or a large home market.
India, according to Ninan, must not focus solely on intensive manufacturing. It has an abundant, qualified and well-educated labor force that can work in very specialized sectors such as spatial research, software services and in the pharmaceutical industry where it has been remarkably successful in producing generic drugs. For all these reasons, an increasing number of international companies are establishing key research and development centers in India.
The author also reminds readers of the untapped potential wealth of Indian agriculture. Farming productivity can be substantially increased through crop diversification into higher-value products such as fruit and vegetables and making use of better technology and farming practices. “The truth is that India can hugely increase the productivity levels on its farms, continue to comfortably feed itself, become an export powerhouse if it wishes to and, in the process, raise both employment and income levels substantially in the rural areas while also freeing land for non-agricultural use,” Ninan wrote.
Some parts of rural India are changing fast. Land prices are going up and a number of farmers have become rich by selling their land to real estate developers. However, farming remains difficult in other parts of the country and despite a rise in agricultural growth, the yield per hectare of many crops is only half of what it is in other countries.
While some laborers increase the ranks of a destitute rural proletariat, others decide to move into cities where they live in slums. Life in slums is not what it used to be and the way of life has changed drastically. Half of the homes in slums have tap water while access to electricity and cooking gas is near universal, according to the book.
Although change is needed, India is firmly on course to be the world’s second-largest economy, behind China, by 2040. One has to keep in mind that half of the Indian population is under the age of 28, providing a fast-expanding, educated and English-speaking workforce. If the economy continues to grow at an annual rate of seven percent over the next decade, it is expected that by 2025 up to 700 million Indians will be part of the middle class.
Despite internal tensions and conflicts, Ninan confidently concludes that “the reassuring facts in a broadly hopeful scenario are that the directions are overwhelmingly positive and that the system, as a whole, has a bedrock of stability that is not affected by the surface turmoil.”


What We Are Reading Today: Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

What We Are Reading Today: Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg
Updated 09 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

What We Are Reading Today: Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

A detective’s brutal first case could make or break her career in an exhilarating thriller by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Goldberg.

A video of Deputy Eve Ronin’s off-duty arrest of an abusive movie star goes viral, turning her into a popular hero at a time when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is plagued by scandal. The sheriff, desperate for more positive press, makes Eve the youngest female homicide detective in the department’s history.

Now Eve, with a lot to learn and resented by her colleagues, has to justify her new badge. Her chance comes when she and her burned-out, soon-to-retire partner are called to the blood-splattered home of a missing single mother and her two kids. The horrific carnage screams multiple murder — but there are no corpses.

Eve has to rely on her instincts and tenacity to find the bodies and capture the vicious killer, all while battling her own insecurities and mounting pressure from the media, her bosses, and the bereaved family. It’s a deadly ordeal that will either prove her skills … or totally destroy her.


Beirut stars in Lebanese author’s comical coming-of-age debut

Beirut stars in Lebanese author’s comical coming-of-age debut
Updated 08 March 2021

Beirut stars in Lebanese author’s comical coming-of-age debut

Beirut stars in Lebanese author’s comical coming-of-age debut

CHICAGO: Lebanese author A. Naji Bakhti’s debut is a comical coming-of-age tale of a boy growing up within the confines of post-civil-war Beirut.

With a Muslim father, Christian mother, and a curious little sister, the young Adam Najjar navigates adolescence in the vibrant coastal city.

In Bakhti’s “Between Beirut and the Moon,” Najjar flirts with adulthood as the Lebanese capital teeters between peace and conflict while flourishing in its multiple identities.

Despite the harsh realities of war and limited finances, and the difficult school yard choices children must make, there is a brightness to Najjar’s world that comes in the form of his family’s never-ending ability to adjust, his father’s books, and the scenarios that play out in his life.

A sharp wit and endless curiosity drown out the bombs falling around his sixth-floor apartment off Hamra Street in Ras Beirut as his family hides in the bathroom for safety.

Bakhti displays Beirut in all its multifaceted brilliance, pluralism, and conflicts and through Najjar, his family, and friends tries to make sense of the complex histories of characters, and religious and political tensions.

With the works of Lebanese writer Khalil Gibran and Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish nearby, a mother who wants him to live out his dream, and his father’s articles and obituaries, the Najjar family members force light into the dark corners of their lives.

In an old city that has built and rebuilt itself, Bakhti manages to convey the dream of a young boy, in a humorous way, when life wants to weigh him down.

Bakhti does not romanticize Beirut but creates an ever-increasing feel of belonging, and a love of the imperfect and sometimes dangerous. There is a fighting spirit for home, one that asks of his main character, why would you ever want to leave Beirut for the moon?

Because between Beirut and the moon, anything can happen. It is where life takes place.


What We Are Reading Today: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

What We Are Reading Today: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Updated 08 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

What We Are Reading Today: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

In his latest novel, “Klara and the Sun,” Kazuo Ishiguro turns his focus to artificial intelligence. 

In his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, Ishiguro insists he is an optimist about technology. “I’m not one of these people who thinks it’s going to come and destroy us,” he said in a recent interview in December about his latest work, his lockdown reading list, and his fears about the future.

As with many of his previous works, the book doesn’t fit neatly into one genre but has elements of science fiction and also works as a coming-of-age tale. 

The story follows Klara, an intelligent robot known as an “artificial friend,” who joins a human family in a dystopian America in a deeply disturbing novel about human cloning.  

What he fears, Ishiguro explained, is the devastating injustice that may result if society isn’t careful with scientific progress as he rattled off a list of promising breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and genetics. 

“We’ve all got to start to think and worry about these questions,” he said, “because at the moment, they’re in the hands of very, very few people.”


What We Are Reading Today: Trees of Life

What We Are Reading Today: Trees of Life
Updated 07 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Trees of Life

What We Are Reading Today: Trees of Life

Author: Max Adams

Our planet is home to some 3 trillion trees — roughly four hundred for every person on Earth. In Trees of Life, Max Adams selects, from 60,000 extant species, 80 remarkable trees through which to celebrate the richness of humanity’s relationship with trees, woods, and forests.
In a sequence of informative and beautifully illustrated portraits, divided between six thematic sections, Adams investigates the trees that human cultures have found most useful across the world and ages.
In a section titled Supertrees, Adams considers trees that have played a pivotal role in maintaining natural and social communities, while a final section, Trees for the Planet, looks at a group of trees so valuable to humanity that they must be protected at all costs from loss.
From the apple to the oak, the logwood to the breadfruit, and the paper mulberry to the Dahurian larch, these are trees that offer not merely shelter, timber, and fuel but also drugs, foods, and fibers. Trees of Life presents a plethora of fascinating stories about them, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.


What We Are Reading Today: Fears of a Setting Sun

What We Are Reading Today: Fears of a Setting Sun
Updated 06 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Fears of a Setting Sun

What We Are Reading Today: Fears of a Setting Sun

Author: Dennis C. Rasmussen

Americans seldom deify their Founding Fathers any longer, but they do still tend to venerate the Constitution and the republican government that the founders created. Strikingly, the founders themselves were far less confident in what they had wrought, particularly by the end of their lives.
In fact, most of them — including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson — came to deem America’s constitutional experiment an utter failure that was unlikely to last beyond their own generation. Fears of a Setting Sun is the first book to tell the fascinating and too-little-known story of the founders’ disillusionment, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
As much as Americans today may worry about their country’s future, Rasmussen reveals, the founders faced even graver problems and harbored even deeper misgivings.
A vividly written account of a chapter of American history that has received too little attention, Fears of a Setting Sun will change the way that you look at the American founding, the Constitution, and indeed the United States itself.