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My Thoughts After Reading I To Had a Dream: the Biography of Verghese Kurien

Cows on pasture

My thoughts after reading I to had a Dream.

Kurien is known as the “Father of the White Revolution” in India. If you want to know why is that, you can read about it here.

I was rather hesitant in writing this article. Not only I did not take any notes while reading his biography, most of my audience is foreign. I doubt they care anything what happened in India. But I decided to write it anyway, because what’s the point of having a personal blog otherwise?

So here are the things I walked away from after reading this biography.

First, Kurien’s generation was very nationalistic. He comes from the British India, so that is to be expected. He also distrusted the multinational companies. More than once, he detailed his struggles with them, Nestle in particular. The fact that most foreigners didn’t treated natives with respect didn’t help any, as he had an argument once regarding this very subject.

He also had a lot of arguments with politicians and bureaucrats. He describes how when trying to produce milk powder from buffalo milk, he had to struggle really hard with the milk commissioner of Bombay, (now Mumbai.)

During his struggles, a cycle repeated constantly. he would be asked to replicate his successful model for solving other problems, then he got stonewalled by other people, and then the matter never progressed any further. Then, someone from the government would discover his old work, and the cycle would start again.

Due to his experience with the multinational companies, he was rather reluctant to let them come to India and let them establish the business here. Which is why he fought so hard against them, from milk, to baby products, to even edible oil. This one was especially dangerous, because they ended up burning down several buildings in opposition of his native edible oil production. But that is nothing. You can make an entire movie about the gauntlet he ran throughout his life with corruption and egos getting in his way.

When in late 90’s he retired, he already prepared and groomed his successor. But his retirement was scene as a power vacuum, and people who couldn’t make any headway during his run tried to find a successor for him. After arguing and legal maneuvering, he managed to get his successor in.

However, things didn’t work out as he hoped. The people whom he tried to keep away got in anyway, the new leadership went on an entirely different direction than he hoped, and his public opposition to their decisions marked him as a dictatorial person.

The way I see it, he just could not trust the government and politicians, and multinational companies to run things correctly, and do right by the people. During his generation, people paid a lot of attention to that sort of stuff. In today’s environment, it is not possible to run things his way. The process of dismantling his effort was started before his death, and we might as well consider it complete.

Although he did get painted as a controversial person at the end of his life by media and his opponents, I believe what he accomplished, only Kurien could have done all those things. Not only he came from a very powerful and educated background, he was an idealist, who wanted to do right by the people. He saw challenges as some problems to be solved, and never lied down and surrendered to the pressure. Any other person in his position would have caved in a long time ago.

He also made friends with right people, and kept in contact with the prime ministers of India from Nehru and to his successors. It kind of get ridiculous to read about how easy access he had to the most powerful and influential people and politicians of 60’s to 80’s.

His life is an important part of Indian history. Though everyone and their dog like to take credit for the success for Amul, the reality is, leaving aside exceptions like me, most young people in India don’t even know his name, let alone his struggles and his accomplishments. And the way things are now, I doubt we’ll see any Kurien any time soon.

He also played chess. He started Amul from Anand, and the only chess champion from India is Anand. Maybe something is there in that name related with chess?

He would have turned 101 years old this year. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my ramblings. Whatever reputation he may have, I deeply admire this man, and consider myself lucky that I came across his biography. I don’t even remember how did I found the book in the first place, but I’m still glad all the same. Be sure to read his Wikipedia page, it’ll provide you with some semblance of structure to understand these ramblings.

You can follow me on Twitter. If you’re interested in technical topics, then perhaps you might like this review of Learn Windows PowerShell in a Month of Lunches which I wrote on my other blog. If you like my writing, then please support me by buying me a coffee.

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Published by Tanish Shrivastava

I'm a guy who likes programming, chess, and writing.

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