Our future depends on an alternative view… the Hindu view

I wasn’t brought up to be a culture junkie who enjoys traipsing around galleries, museums, and art shows commenting on the significance of the treasures and sensory delights that may be displayed. I was brought up in a working class environment by loving parents who wanted me to do the best that I could, and it’s this sense that I try to inculcate in my kids, also.

But, as I’ve grown older, my appreciation of all things considered ‘elitist’ by some circles has increased as a result of being exposed to a very different world after I started my business. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and discuss all types of subjects with some fairly serious figures from the arts, business, and politics, some of whom I have forged fairly strong associations with.

The one moment I’d like to recall is a discussion I had with a much respected Jain businessman, who’d called me over to his home one Sunday for a lovely Gujarati breakfast, who I’d helped to organise an event in the House of Commons, and as a result became aware of their significant achievements.

For those unaware, the Institute of Jainology is currently engaged in digitising ancient Jain manuscripts that will be made available to all using the internet. Naturally, all of this work is extremely expensive to do, so I questioned their wisdom in embarking on such an ambitious and resource intensive project.

His response sticks out because it marked a turning point in my thinking. He explained, in brief, that history teaches us that our world will be characterised by the decimation of various civilisations that have come and gone. His understanding on the subject was quite extensive and he went to great detail to identify critical events that contributed to such decline.

Whilst today it seems that what he said was so obvious, at that time my thinking was somewhat uninitiated on such topics. He elaborated that one of the critical aspects that can save civilisations is the preservation and protection of its arts, high culture, language, wisdom materials & traditions, as when these are destroyed, the trickle-down effect of their loss is a major contributory factor in these civilisations being wiped out.

My reason for explaining the above is that earlier this week, I was invited to the Annual Governors Dinner of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS), which is an institution that was created to promote the further study of Hindu studies at the most acclaimed Oxford University. From what I understand, this is the only such centre of its kind that exists anywhere in the world.

Dixit Joshi, Head of European Equities at Barclays Capital was invited to deliver the keynote address, and he made some fairly sensible points, of which he affirmed:

1. How the centre provides a deeper understanding of the Hindu traditions, which are complex.
2. How the centre provides a connection between Hindu thinking and the challenges we face as a global society.
3. How the centre is helping to strengthen a sense of Hindu identity and a better understanding of what it means to be a Hindu today.

He concluded his speech by stating: “And for every text collected and preserved, for every new insight into our past, and for every new parallel drawn to the present; there will be a stronger foundation and greater relevance for our Hindu traditions.”

“We have an opportunity to ignite a spark in people’s minds. To help the centre reach across our society and light the fires of knowledge in all that it touches. And to build the traditions of our past into the foundations of our future.”

“I believe that we have before us an opportunity to invest not just in the Centre for Hindu Studies but in the quality of thought and debate that will help to shape our future.
And, for me, that’s an investment opportunity too good to turn down.”

Given the importance of the subject and the manner the OCHS has gone on to building itself, it struck me how they’re so massively underfunded, which is surprising given the material strength of Britain’s Hindu community.

To me such a situation definitely points to (i) a lack of confidence in Hindu values, which should be a major concern for all of us, and also (ii) for a need to create a centre that is fit for attracting investment by philanthropists, trusts, and other major benefactors, which must be addressed by the OCHS, which it’s not currently in the best shape to do.

We may be a god fearing, temple going, enterprising community, but if we seek to stem the decline in the practice our traditions and the applicability of our values in the post recession world, then we ought to take the lead from Dixit Joshi and Harish Patel who I salute and give them the credit they deserve in firstly, recognising the need and secondly, for raising the profile of a promising institution like the OCHS.

I’m not here to bat for the OCHS, so rather than argue that we ought to support them for our own selfish interest, I believe that we owe it to humanity to provide a sensible and balanced alternative view on how to tackle some of the biggest challenges humanity faces.

I sincerely believe such institutions can play a pivotal role in doing so, but it’s important that they ask themselves and understand fully whether they’re truly fit & equipped for purpose before embarking on such a journey.

Thank you

As long as I remember, I’ve always been a fan of books. Over time, the range of books that I’ve bought has expanded to include all types of subjects and genres, resulting in an eclectic mix being crammed on my book-shelf at home. I’ve impulsively bought books in markets; in airports on my business travels; and on the net when I’ve managed to write a list of things to order on-line.

So, when I turned 30, I wrote a list of things that I wanted to achieve, but, as with new year’s resolutions, never imagined that I would actually make any headway on any of these.

My list included jumping out of a plane (a skydive), earning my first million, solving third world debt, flying to the moon, and writing a book. So, achieving two of the above with five years to go before I make another list – on my 40th, is – at least in my view, not bad going.

The launch event, last Thursday, was a major milestone in my life. On a personal level, it feels great to have my name on a book, and look forward to seeing it in places that I normally shop. It kinda felt strange to be at the launch event – professionally my firm organises these for others, so it was weird to be the centre of attention at my own! On a professional basis, it’s gratifying to be able to contribute to such an important subject and feel that the book will lead to bigger and better things for me and my firm.

At the event, it seemed that everyone kept on asking me the same two questions – ‘what gave you the idea?’ and ‘what does it feel like?’, and my wife laughingly told me that lots of people kept on approaching her to ask whether ‘she was proud of me’.
My reason for writing the book was quite simply that I believed that with all the talk of India’s emergence on the world stage, a wider audience needed to become familiar with the trailblazers that were making it happen. Yes, it would’ve been great to have the obvious names like Ratan Tata and the Ambani brothers, but it would be doing the subject a disservice to ride on their shoulders as many others have.

From the outset, I was quite clear that mine wasn’t going to be an investigative book, it was meant to be an introduction to a set of role models emanating out of India that will one day, be referred to – along with, some of the biggest entrepreneurial icons that the West seems to love. I’ve always been puzzled as to how a guy like Narayana Murthy, who founded Infosys by borrowing Rs 10,000 from his wife, has gone on to build a firm that employs people all around the globe and earns over 50% of its revenues from the US, but is still largely unknown.

Or a Baba Kalyani, whose firm manufactures components for every single vehicle in the US & Europe. Or take Subhash Chandra, who apart from Zee TV, owns a firm called Essel who manufactures over 30% of the world’s toothpaste tubes! Despite their global reach and success, how comes no one, apart from hard-nosed business journalists & professional India watchers, know anything about them?

With formalities being conducted by Stephen Pound MP, who as everyone expected, was on absolute form that evening, delivered his trademark, side-splitting, remarks, to the annoyance of the next speaker, who would inevitably find it hard to follow such a performance.

So, for this reason, I was totally taken aback with the expert commentary provided by Dixit Joshi, MD of Asian & European Equities at Barclays Capital, who explained that the world needs to understand the thinking taking place in India’s boardrooms in order to address some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Having taken the temperature of the room, I decided to put the speech that I’d crafted to one side and speak ex-tempore on my reasons for undertaking the mammoth task of writing a business book, in an age when the rules were being re-written as a result of the global recession and credit crisis. Importantly, I remembered to thank a few people who’d made the event happen. I took the opportunity to thank my wife, as without her support and love, I wouldn’t have been able to see this project to completion.

I had a great night. I felt humbled by the massive turnout. I was touched with the words that were spoken about me, the book, my firm, and my family.

At the end of the night, I struggled to articulate my emotions, and hence have take a few days to write this post, but the over-arching message remains the same – ‘thanks’.

You can read a write-up of the event, take a look at the pics, and watch footage of the speeches here:

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary’s also uploaded some photos and videos, which can be accessed here: