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Monday, June 27, 2011

Exclusive Book Review: I Have A Dream

A review of Rashmi Bansal’s recent book, ‘I Have a Dream’, that captures the fascinating true stories of 20 social entrepreneurs in India

Author: Rashmi Bansal
Pages:  337
Format: Paperback; Non-Fiction
Publisher: Westland Publications

Note from the Blog Editor: For those not in the know, I am going to let you in on a secret. The experience of having a recently launched book in perfect condition delivered at your doorstep is simply priceless. It is also addictive, may I warn you. Try it :)

At the very outset, the title of the book instantly brings to mind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. passionately delivering the hair-raising speech on racial equality in hazy black and white. In a country inebriated by its own economic prowess, Rashmi Bansal’s “I Have a Dream” captures the lives of twenty individuals who looked past the glossy images of Bollywood stars, IT entrepreneurs and equally clichéd Indian stereotypes. It is a story of ordinary persons choosing to tread a new path of social service that millions of us chose to ignore. They went on to dedicate their lives to seal the cracks in the system with sheer courage and determination.

In her previous bestseller, Stay Hungry Stay Foolish, the author had featured two social entrepreneurs, Venkat Krishnan of Give India and Vijay Mahajan of Basix. She realized that “entrepreneurship is not only about commerce… it can be a tool to create social impact.” The author credits the fantastic response these stories received to pen a book on focused on “Social Entrepreneurship”. 

To begin with, the author’s note in her latest work, points out the apathetic nature of the bustling middle class towards social evils, and their complete ignorance of problems plaguing the society.  The dreary background creates a dramatic literary pedestal from where the stories of the social entrepreneurs launch.

Reminiscent of the style of her previous two bestsellers, the entrepreneurs here are categorized neatly into three sections as the Rainmakers, Changemakers and The Spiritual Capitalists. Interestingly, the names of the individual chapters are taken from popular songs (The Sound of Silence), bestsellers (The Hungry Tide), universal hymns (Lead Kindly, Light) and colloquial proverbs (Teach a Man to Fish). With instantly identifiable references, Bansal has fortified her status as an author responsive to the masses. A section titled ‘Advice to Young Entrepreneurs’ by these wonderful individuals is to be found at the end of every chapter.

A myriad mix of people with big dreams and innovative ideas to achieve their dreams are weaved into the narrative of the book. “Our movement is to restore the human rights and dignity of untouchables,” says Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak. He reveals with Gandhiesque simplicity, his experience of leading the Sulabh movement that has created a revolution in toilets, and providing respect to the people who clean them. The genuine passion for polishing rough diamonds to reveal their natural brilliance is seen best in the story of Anand Kumar (of Super 30 fame) whose “intention is not only restricted to earning money. Sometimes a 45 minute lecture will go on for 2 hours-until we find a solution to the problem.” From founding a courier service employing only the deaf (Dhruv Lakra) to creating a company that makes solar lighting affordable for villagers (Harish Hande), the book is replete with instances of innovative offbeat thinking applied to combating several social issues. While J.K. Rowling may be credited for making people believe in the power of imagination once again, these 20 social entrepreneurs are truly the embodiment of what happens when imagination meets social consciousness.

Some of the common themes running across the 20 stories are the occurrence of a life-changing experience, a person with blind belief in the profiled entrepreneur and their determination and zest to bring about sustained. They have been chosen from a wide spectrum of social enterprise. The advice dished out by these socially-driven individuals is practical and inspiring. In the light of recent events, the story of Arvind Kejriwal adds those personal tidbits Wikipedia may have missed out. However, the 20 personality profiles seem slightly one-dimensional, owing to the fact that in most cases, just the person being profiled has been interviewed.  An effort to speak with family members, colleagues or at the very least, the person who believed in the change maker from an early stage would have yielded sweeter fruit.

Bansal makes a considerable effort to engage our moral imagination. The writing is simple, almost too simple, which might aid the first-time reader, but leaves seasoned readers wishing for much more.  Peppered with vernacular, this book may be hailed as the Dabanng of business writing. The author feels the need to break into Hindi every few lines, and the Hindi transliterated in English text can become an eyesore to some readers.  

In a genre filled with shining examples of brilliant writing, this is a book that could have been extraordinary.  Conceptually strong, these are stories that demanded better literary treatment.

However, the book fulfills the aim of driving aspiring entrepreneurs and socially active people alike. The author must be lauded for bringing these beautiful stories into the light for the world to see, respect and emulate. If our nation is proudly shedding its history of poverty, underdevelopment and to some extent, corruption, here are at least 20 people we should thank for it. There are a million others whose stories haven’t been scripted but are contributing bit-by-bit to improving this nation and taking it to the top. The dream of Shining India 2020 might just be a reality as these efforts go on and create a nation-wide revelation.

This book asks one question of the cynics and armchair critics, ‘How will you change reality if you choose not to see it?’

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1 comment:

  1. Very inspiring and ambitious tales..looks like it is a great book. Thanks for the wonderful review!