Saturday, July 2, 2011

Caravan and Arindam Chaudhuri- Pot and the Kettle

Last one month has been exhausting. I feel I have taken on too much. Twice a week, I volunteer in my son’s school, teaching theatre to little children, there were daily rehearsals for Lucky Lobster; one day of the weekend goes in the creative writing workshop... I am doing the first edit of my second novel due in December, there is the usual corporate stuff and the unfortunate consequence of all this is that my reading time has been cut down drastically...I have to do something about that.

I missed out on the Caravan -Arindam Chaudhuri fracas for a long time. Managed to read the magazine’s fiery defence against Chaudhuri’s law suit that was on their website yesterday because of a link a friend had mailed sometime back. This morning when I checked before sitting down to write this piece, the angry rebuttal by the magazine, that among other things reproduced an excerpt from the judgement by an Assam court, presumably to highlight and make fun of the wrong English used, seems to have disappeared much like the cover story on Chaudhuri that was withdrawn following the injunction.

What stayed with me after reading that enraged defence is that the counter threats issued by Caravan are as daunting, cleverly cloaked as they are behind the freedom of speech argument. One of the threats was that they would publish all the court proceedings in their sister magazines that collectively have a formidable circulation. I couldn’t stop laughing when I discovered the sister publications were Sarita, Mukta and Grihashobha. More about these magazines later. Let me first share my views on Arindam Chaudhuri and also Siddharth Deb’s ‘researched’ piece on Chaudhuri.

I went to a Business school that is ranked to be in the same league as the IIMs and share the misplaced disdain of my institute mates towards Chaudhuri and IIPM. I have more in common with a Bansal or a Sabnis and deride and hector Chaudhuri and IIPM whenever they crop up in conversations with friends. But while I may laugh with my peers at the pony tailed self styled management guru, I don’t see him as a huge social malaise.

Yes, IIPM charges fat fees but as Deb’s essay points out, only from those who can afford it and the students pay the seven lakhs willingly. Many who enrol in IIPM may be doing so because they write the CAT and the entrance exams of other premier management institutes like XLRI, Bajaj, S P Jain and don’t make the grade. They are desperate to acquire the management diploma label and settle for a second or a third rung institute. Chaudhuri uses that desperation to his advantage. But this is not something he pioneered. Much before IIPM came into the picture, we had numerous engineering and medical institutions in India that were charging hefty capitation fees and were certainly not in the same league as the IITs or the NITS or AIIMS. Many corrupt politicians are involved in this education racket and no one writes about them. How about schools that were making a killing by using the desperation of middle class parents by taking donations until Kapil Sibal intervened?

At worst, Chaudhuri can be accused of not paying his taxes if what Deb implies is true. But Deb is being naive if he thinks Chaudhuri is the only business man who is evading taxes. If he cares to do his research more thoroughly he would discover that many of the respectable organizations that employ alumni from premier institutes don’t lag behind in this respect, and their marketing line is always about how they are contributing to the growth and development of the nation. We don't need to go beyond the fraud perpetuated by Rajat Gupta with his insider trading while he was at Mckinsey to understand this.

Because Chaudhuri is so in your face and tackily so, we find it easy to ridicule him. But those of us who live in Bangalore know the poster boy of Indian IT industry is as tacky. If you come across him in the Bangalore airport while taking an early morning flight, you will invariably find him making himself as conspicuous as possible, talking loudly and relishing the fact that he is getting attention from all those gawking at him. His writer wife is embarrassingly loud. Once she walked into a bookshop while I was browsing. Suddenly she screeched startling the rest of us ‘Don’t you have that book on Lagaan? I am having dinner with Aamir Khan tonight.’

But maybe Deb does get it. Because he mentions in the piece he is baffled by the fact that despite acquiring all the trappings of wealth including a plush Bentley, the respectability that comes along with financial success continues to elude his subject. But the claim by Caravan that Deb’s piece is well researched is nonsense. The essay is extremely malicious and quite readable. There are some very intriguing bits in it. However Deb didn’t write the piece for Caravan. The magazine has reproduced an entire chapter on Chaudhuri from a book that Deb has written for Penguin. I am not sure but I think it’s a commissioned work.

Deb manages to drag Chaudhuri’s father in the piece and paints him as a trickster and fraud too. After reading that bit it made perfect sense to me that Chaudhuri has taken legal action. We Indians have this big thing about Mujhe jo bolna hi bolo. Lekin ma-behen, baap ki gaali di to phod ke rak doonga. That's what Chaudhuri is doing and you can't blame him. This essay is too personal to pass off as an objective piece of ‘researched’ reporting. And the funny thing is, this research on Chaudhuri by the author seems to happen only in restaurants and in the conferences where his subject is invited to speak and where Deb appears to have spent an inordinately long time staring at Chaudhuri’s ‘smooth hairless chest’ because he leaves his top shirt buttons open. I am mentioning this because open shirt buttons always seem to catch Deb’s fancy whether he is interacting with Chaudhuri or his managers.

For all the time Deb spent in shadowing his subject, he seems to have not read any of the books Chaudhuri has written and neither has he watched any of the films his company has produced barring Mithya that is dismissed as a film that had actors who are paid poorly. Rajat Kapoor , Ranvir Shorey, Suhasini Mulay are among the most committed and serious theatre and film actors we have in the business today and this is Deb’s enlightened take on them. Also it becomes imperative for Deb to add that he watched the film on a flight from Delhi to Chicago. That’s very wannabe and the narrator and the subject seem to blend into the same persona at such moments in the narrative.

In an essay that is full of nasty and snide comments on Chaudhuri, ‘his English was uncertain and pronouncedly Delhi middle class in its inflection,’ (Really? What’s Deb’s in its inflection, Chicago?), ‘but little cultural or intellectual capital’, Deb finally redeems himself in the last paragraph where he narrates his experience of having lunch with one of the managers his subject employs and the scuffle that ensues about who will pay the bill.

‘As I cornered the waiter again and forced him to bring the bill, I found myself wondering why I didn’t have a suit, designer sun glasses and car keys, I wondered why I wasn’t making money at a time in India when money making opportunities seemed everywhere for the asking. Like Arindam’s students, I was an aspirer...’

Thankfully after writing most of the essay in the arrogant style that’s typical of most of the self styled Indian literary writers Caravan patronises, Deb concludes by hitting the right note of self awareness.

Not so Caravan and those who work there. If Chaudhuri’s claims of equating IIPM to a Harvard is ludicrous so is Caravan’s attempt to position itself as India’s New Yorker, considering their sister publications are Sarita, Mukta and Grihashobha. I am not deriding these magazines because they are in Hindi or because they are meant for women. Having grown up in the north I am familiar with these rags and I have to say they cater to the lowest common denominator. I won’t be surprised if some of the script writers Ekta Kapoor hires for her soaps had their first works published in Sarita and Mukta. If Deb can scoff at Chaudhuri’s attempts at producing meaningful cinema because of the allure of low budgets, are we not right in concluding the foray of a publishing house that’s been in the business of trashy pulp for decades into serious journalism in another language is also motivated by considerations of ROI.

I can’t get over it. An Indian New Yorker with the marketing strategy of Sarita Pakshik- Sugud grihaniyon ka pasindida patrika. This is so funny. No wonder every time they have a selling crisis they need a Chetan Bhagat or an Arindam Chaudhuri on their cover to peddle ‘India’s first narrative journalism magazine.’ And we are meant to swallow that their stance is all about freedom of speech.

Let the pot and kettle have their thing on the side. Why try and drag the rest of us in the mess by mailing us links as though it is the great social cause of the year. Do they think we are that cuss word in Hindi that starts with a C?

Sorry Caravan...that’s you!


  1. was this a comissioned work???

  2. Nope...but thinking of charging a Bentley from Chaudhuri and free subscription of Sarita, Mukta and Grihashobha for a year from the other party...Don't want Caravan.
    Thanks for starting an account to just comment on my post though...

  3. Hi Mr. Nair,

    I randomly picked up your book on a weekend after a disastrous week at the office, and I must admit the title itself spoke volumes about my own office blues which were soaring heights.

    I finished reading it over the weekend and ended up feeling a lot better. The book is really insightful and it’s subtle humor protects it from directing itself towards another boring management/self help/leadership skills book.

    Truly appreciate your efforts at lifting the spirits of many like me who are bound by their corporate straightjackets and are looking for opportunities to discover and implement their hidden potential.

    Keep writing and hope that we can stay connected.

  4. I am sure there are other frauds in the education industry but that does not absolve AC. And as for his father being a fraud, some of his claims of getting German degrees have not stood up to investigations. I would call that fraud, won't you?

    P.S. I have interviewed IIPM graduates at Citibank and they have been atrocious.

  5. I don't respect AC as you insist on calling him. This was not about indicting him or absolving him. My submission is the magazine Caravan is as dubious as AC and they can't expect sympathy for the legal case AC has entangled them in.