Games Indians Play: Why We are the Way We are
Intending to understand the Indianness of Indians - perhaps the most intelligent people in the world, but also, to a dispassionate eye, among the most baffling - this work uses the props of game theory and behavioural economics to provide an insight into this most difficult question: why are we the way we are?
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Dr. V. Raghunathan is a man of many credits. He has been a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad from 1982-2001; then worked as President of ING Vysya Bank and later as MD of GMR Industries. He is author of 9 books, has been on many companies’ boards, and esteemed panels. He is also a popular columnist in newspapers; and is involved in CSR roles as of now. You can check his LinkedIn profile here; or can go to his website. When such a man writes something, readers have better take him seriously.
The purpose of this book is to analyze and understand why Indians are ‘like this only’. Now what is meant by ‘like this’ has often negative connotations. Dr. Raghunathan says that the root cause is that Indians are one of the most intelligent lots in this world. He says he has visited many places and understood many people – but never has he found such an intelligent population, as we are in India. Yet, he says our intelligence results in us taking rational decisions ‘individually’ in situations, but leading to our ‘collective’ failure. He calls us “Privately smart and publicly dumb”:
When I jump a queue or a red light, or throw that garbage on the sidewalk, I am taking a rational ‘squeal’ decision, since it seems to get me ahead of others or make life easier for me. Here I am privately smart. But then, as others are no less rational, intelligent and smart, they too start squealing for the same reasons, and before we know it, we have unruly traffic, filthy streets and stinking urinals. So collectively we are all worse off. And then we complain about a dirty country, a polluted city and appalling traffic. In short, publicly we emerge dumb. (P 42)
To show how whatever is in our achievement kitty fails to match up to the best in the world, glance this portion:
Impressive as the completion of the Konkan Railway or the Delhi Metro Railway have been, they pale in comparison to the Chinese projects, especially where implementation skills and political will are concerned. Consider the statistics. It took seven to ten years to complete the 760 km Konkan Railway. As for the Delhi Metro, between 1950 and 1990, some thirty feasibility studies were carried out by various bodies to evaluate an alternatice transportation system for Delhi. The final go-ahead came in 1990. Delhi Metro Rail Corp Ltd was established in 1995 and first phase of eleven kms was completed in 2004. The eighteen km Calcutta Metro took a good 24 years to complete, from 1971 to 1995.
China completed the final section of the pan-Himalaya Golmud-Lhasa railway - 1956 kms – at 5072 meters above the sea level. It had 550 km frozen belt, with snow alternately melting and freezing in summer and winter. Workers had to breathe bottled oxygen to cope up with high altitude (no single death due to this though). This stretch of 1142 kms was completed in a mere 4 years. (P13-14)
The best part of the book is the analysis. Dr. Raghunathan uses Game Theory and Behavioral Economics to analyze the situation. Though in the process, he ignores many factors. For example, he discarded the impact of colonization (by foreigners, for a thousand years) on our present behavior, in a one line sentence. Here, I didn’t agree with him. But seeing that history is not his area, and the tools taken up by him for analysis are powerful enough, I didn’t bother much. He explains the Prisoner’s Dilemma in the beginning and by the end he tries to reach a conclusion. Now I found that the Game Theory part could be applied to any case, not only to Indians or India. He worries that in a Prisoner’s dilemma situation, if everyone tries to take best rational decision benefitting oneself, in the end it harms all. So what was the way out? Now this was the most important part. I have typewritten a portion from his last chapters, though this is selective and not exhaustive enough:
Karmany evadhikaras te ma phalesu kadacana
Ma karma-phala-hetur bur ma te sango‘stv akarmani
(Bhagawat Gita, Chapter II, Verse 47)
Meaning: You have right only to the action and
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WHY ARE WE THE WAY WE ARE?
ON INTELLIGENCE AND RATIONALITY
ITERATIVE PRISONERS DILEMMA AND
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