Five Faces of India in China

Nov 04 2012, 01:25 IST
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SummaryIn the 20-plus years of liberalisation, India has been down various bylanes and dead-ends. Liberalisation has a lot going for it; most of us would not have it any other way.

In the 20-plus years of liberalisation, India has been down various bylanes and dead-ends. Liberalisation has a lot going for it; most of us would not have it any other way. But it has also seen the power of money, megabuck scams in which the only crime is getting caught. This book is not concerned with relicts of history; it profiles people, processes and products that have something new to offer, that have a story to tell. Or it may be about failure; there are stories and lessons there too. But this is not chicken soup for the Indian CEOs’ soul. It’s more mulagatani for the manager.

Two decades ago, there were no Indians in China. Except Janaki Ballabh. He has been in Beijing off and on since 1956, when he was invited to China by a publishing house owned by the Ministry of Culture. He had been working in Delhi as language advisor to the magazine China Pictorial. When they decided to expand operations, Ballabh headed north.

It wasn’t exactly north. The first leg was Delhi to Kolkata by train. Then by ship to Hong Kong. Another train to Canton (“then an insignificant fishing village”). And a train yet again to Beijing. “It took me more than a week,” Ballabh told us. (Incidentally, Chairman Mao was there at the station to meet Indonesian president Sukarno.)

There were 15-20 Indians in China in those days; the earlier ‘no Indians’ was an exaggeration... There are about 4,000 Indians today in Shanghai—the business city. There are far fewer in the political centre Beijing. There are other categories of Indians, but even the embassy does not seem to have a clear picture of the numbers...

So how does Brand India figure in China? The government in New Delhi needs to remove its blinkers; more than 95% of the country has not even heard of India. Chinese children are taught about the Boxer Rebellion (in which Indian troops fought to capture Beijing for the British), but the India-China war of 1962 is a footnote. It is dismissed as a minor border skirmish. In the cities, they know India for IT; in the villages, India is the mythical land that produced the Buddha...

The first Indians to make China their home were the executives of multinational corporations who rushed in when the country was thrown open. In some ways they are difficult to distinguish from other nationalities in peer positions.

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