Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Raghuram Rajan piece

It seems to be open season on Raghuram Rajan. Everybody is writing about the poor chap. Some find his intellectual stature awe inspiring. Others find him dishy. Madame De wrote what to me looks like the prose version of "Love to love you baby". From what little I know of him, I am certain that he is more than a little embarrassed by all the attention.

"YOU know him?" you're asking yourself. "YOU? Narendra Shenoy? Insignificantest blip on the economic landscape? YOU?"

Yes, me. And I was invited to speak, too. But like all stories, this one needs to be told from the beginning.

Sometime last year, I got a call from a friend of a friend that an economist with the world bank wanted to speak with people in manufacturing about what they'd like changed in the government's policies pertaining to it and would I be able to spare some time. I readily acquiesced because my favorite sport is talking about myself and this chap appeared perfect. Unsuspecting, I mean, because most of my friends discreetly remember urgent appointments and slink off whenever I clear my throat and begin to talk about myself. Anyway, the World Bank trains its lads well. Probably starting with chewing broken glass and wearing barbed wire next to their skin, they graduate by sleeping on beds of nails and using sandpaper in lieu of tissue. Stoic, if you know what I mean. He listened unflinchingly and showed no signs of wanting to run away.

I told him my wish list - basically, rationalization of labor laws, changing zoning laws to make it easier to open factories, and opening more skill development institutes for young people who drop out of school after their class X - and shared some links and sources over mail.

That, I assumed, would be that, because few people, if any, return for more after having listened to Narendra Shenoy in his element but this breed is extraordinarily tough. I received an email a few months later asking me if I could participate in a workshop on discussing what policy changes would be desirable if manufacturing in India, especially export-focused manufacturing, was to be encouraged. The email added, in an off-hand way, that the workshop was being conducted by the chief economic advisor to the PM, Dr. Raghuram Rajan.

I ran around the room a few times Oh-My-God-ing and then composed myself and wrote back saying that I guess I'd be able to find the time.

They also asked me if I could speak "precisely 8 minutes. 3 minutes about yourself and your company, 5 minutes about what you would like to see changed in policy concerning manufacturing". I prepared a little talk and found myself severely short of material.  I mean, what the devil does one talk about for 3 whole minutes re oneself? I decided I would throw in some jokes and see what happened.

When I landed up at the place, I found that the group was seriously - I mean SERIOUSLY - august. The Secretary, Economy was there. The principal secretary for industry of virtually every state. Very distinguished World Bank economists, some half my age but graduated from Harvard or Wharton. I found the old voice apparatus, trusty in crises, drying up this time. My heart began to boom like a bass drum as my time to speak neared. When the moderator finally announced that leading entrepreneur Narendra Shenoy would now give us all the benefit of his wisdom, I approached the podium with the look of a French aristocrat trying to argue before Robespierre. Secretary nudged to Joint Secretary whispering "don't stare now but that is exactly what a dying duck would look like".  The jokes evaporated and I mumbled out my piece about labor laws and zoning whatnots in a voice that scarcely carried over the booming of my heart.

And Raghuram Rajan? He was the picture of quiet assurance. He summed up all our speeches (there were three other speakers) and referred to me, as he did the others, by name. In the tea break after our jolly little speeches, he came over to me and said (quite untruthfully, I must say) what a jolly decent speech mine was. I mumbled out a "thanks so much, sir" whereupon he told me, with a disarming smile, to jettison all this 'sir' nonsense. "Call me Raghu" he told me.

So there I was, chatting away with the man, oddly at ease. THAT is his real gift. The ability to put anyone at ease. He's so obviously a genius that it's hard not to be awed into silence when meeting him but five minutes and you will be speaking your heart out to him. Just the chap, in my opinion, to lead us out of the complete pig's breakfast that our well-meaning leaders have got us into over the years though, in the words of a friend, his job is not unlike trying to steer the Titanic using a paddle. But if anyone can do it, Raghu can.

High five, old man! 


Siddharth said...

Wow, you have met him? Good to know.

MaDdy!!! said...

Liar. :D

parthicle said...

Super like!

Anonymous said...

Loved the piece and the Woodhousian language :)

ಸಂತೋಷ said...

Hope for the best.