After over a decade of hectic entrepreneurship and proselytising, Arindam Chaudhuri has become a lightning rod in Indian management circles. He is Honorary Dean at the Centre for Economic Research and Advanced Studies at the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), the business school founded by his professor father. He is also the founder of the Planman Group, which maintains interests in management consulting, media and IT services. He has authored bestsellers like Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch and The Great Indian Dream. There have been several controversies about IIPM’s advertising claims of university affiliations, rankings and placements. Chaudhuri’s team has mastered the art of overwhelming detractors with publicity and lawsuits.
In the recessionary lull where he says he’s halted most new projects and is concentrating on consolidating media activities, Chaudhuri is on a mammoth 16-city tour to promote his latest book on strategies for success, Discover the Diamond in You (with a front cover endorsement from Amitabh Bachchan and a foreword by Shah Rukh Khan).
Chaudhuri spends his week lecturing at IIPM campuses, writing the editorial for and overseeing the cover story of The Sunday Indian, (the news weekly with 14 language editions of which he is the editor- in-chief) writing his books and reading potential scripts for films. He gets his news primarily from print. He doesn’t watch television except for the odd spurt of breaking news. The 38-year-old is frank about his fear of addictions, particularly of the Internet. A staffer operates his blog since he doesn’t know how to upload content. He occasionally uses Facebook to interact with students but barely touches email. Instead, he claims to write mostly on SMS, including all of his latest book.
Contrary to his smoothened media image, Chaudhuri speaks in the halting, rough-hewn accents of a lifelong Dilliwalla. He likes the sound of his voice and talks in rambling loops during which he often catches and modulates his voice. With the professional declaimer’s habit of speaking slightly louder than necessary in conversation, he is also prone to a performer’s approximations of thought. TEHELKA caught him in a candid mood about his book, the media and his burgeoning political ambitions. During the conversation at his Delhi home, he often gave in to a tic of opening and shutting the clasp of his large metal watch. Excerpts from the conversation:
Why did you diversify into magazines?
I found Indian business magazines to be quite rubbish. It’s a kick for the Tata group when 20 of their folks are featured in a cover story with quotes, but a common man has nothing to read and understand in it. I thought Business and Economy and 4Ps would show people how India should grow and take care of its people below the poverty line. Then frustration set in. I realised business readers are the ones who’re least involved, the least wanting to make any change and the least inspired. So I thought of starting a news magazine. This time I didn’t make the same mistake of making it only in English and reaching an elite few. The Sunday Indian was launched in 14 languages from day one.
How is The Sunday Indian different?
I can easily distinguish it from India Today, Outlook and TEHELKA. Other mags have got stuck into a rut. Nobody is interested in a 120-page magazine with a 17-page cover story. I find it completely ridiculous. I’ve grown up reading The Economist which has a onepage cover story! I hate stories which are full of quotes. Stories should be done by journalists with a viewpoint rather than by quoting others. That’s the only way magazines can survive. For example, this man who TEHELKA put on the cover, the Naxalite who was arrested – not a Naxalite but a sympathiser…
Yes, Binayak Sen. We saw that this is an issue to be picked up. Of course we did it in a different way. A cover story should be three or four pages so that people don’t feel it to be a headache. People subscribe to magazines for generations but that doesn’t mean they’re reading them.
How is your new book reaching your message to the masses?
My new book is about the basic principles of success. In school, they teach it in a boring manner. First, the subject is called moral science – I don’t know any school kid who wants to be moral. Boring teachers come to class and say in the Gita, Krishna has said to work without thinking of rewards, and the kids think this woman must be mad. If you teach history and tell a student it’ll help him get a girlfriend if he knows history, he might become a bit more interested.
What are your ambitions in cinema?
I love films like Ankush and Rang De Basanti. They’re very well made but I know they’re meaningless. The solution is not four friends killing someone and then killing themselves. What is that nonsense? I want to make a film which shows how you can change the country
What would you like to change about India?
I might be wearing the best suits and taking workshops for CEOs abroad, but when they shake hands with me, behind me they see millions of beggars, and their respect for me is only that much. We need to have a political system that gives the bottom 80 per cent purchasing power so that prosperity trickles up. I don’t need to be part of the political setup if there is a committed political man who is in charge of making the changes.
You don’t see such a person now?
They’re illiterates. They’re non-committed. When Manmohan Singh was an economist he wrote the opposite of the things he does as prime minister. For the first time we have an economist as a prime minister, which is a great thing. Better than to have gardeners. But despite knowing so much, he doesn’t do it. That is angering. Manmohan Singh is an extremely honest man, but he’s sitting over a pile of dirty shit of about 500 extremely dishonest people. [AB] Vajpayee was a poet and a nice man, but he was sitting over a structure of dirt and filth.
If you do float a party, what kind of elections would you fight?
The BJP had two seats, next election they had 80 seats and next election they were in power. Even the CPM with 40 seats created the biggest nuisance possible. The CPM are not communist so what good will they force? A good party with 40 seats can make a government do its best. My dad is the reason I’m interested in politics. If I wanted to join a party I could walk into one. But I’d rather do it alone and never succeed than join others.