Monday, June 27, 2011

An Interview With Arjun Shekhar, author of A Flawed God

By John Cheeran
A Flawed God – what’s your central concern in the novel?
The main idea was to bring the point of ownership across to people. I believe ownership of common spaces has been abandoned by humans in a rush towards individual uniqueness and concern. For elaborating this premise, I set the tale in the corporate sector because it is very influential in our individual decisions and in political, and community decision making as well. In turn, the corporate sector is controlled/ directed/ designed by the share market. Because of the huge unseen power that the share market wields upon the existence of humanity (present and future), I call it our new God. And in the way it creates owners sans ownership through its algorithm of speculative investment, I believe shareholders have been forced to become punters rather than owners, people who will never set foot in the company they own and yet are keen to profit from the relationship.
Thus I feel that there is a case for ownership of assets being divorced from psychological ownership of the firm. When the latter is handed over to the people who live in the space as a community and make meaning out of it, then the decision making will surely improve in the firm and thus the flaw shall iron itself out. I believe the most brutal thing humanity has done is to snatch a decision away from its rightful owner; my central concern in the book is to ask for it to be returned to them, an act that will benefit everybody in the short, medium and long run. Many examples of this can be seen in practice - Kannan Devan Tea Estates (S. India), Mondregon Cooperative (Basque country, Spain), Lijjat Papad.

Who’s your audience? Is A Flawed God for meant for the professional, corporate class?
Since the book talks about ownership, I believe the audience could be anybody and indeed I hope to reach to the mainstream non-corporate public too -- people who don't know how silently the corporate world is taking over their lives. For instance, my mom who is an enlightened housewife has found the book very interesting as have a number of non-government organization folks.
As is feedback from corporate sector executives. The massive number of the young corporate workforce would certainly relate and connect immediately to the book, which is why events are slated at many business institutes in the next month to dialog about the concepts presented in the book. I believe any reform has to come from inside and no amount of watchdog or policing from the outside can change anything. Gorbachev did it to communism from inside and so it will be for capitalism too. A movement to make capitalism more accountable is slowly and steadily taking shape in the US shepherded by the Conscious Capitalism Institute set up by a business professor and writer from Boston.

You are discussing ownership rights in corporate sector with an HR perspective. Aren’t you? The argument that stock market is a flawed god, the way you have presented, is that convincing enough?
It is possible that the argument needs more bolstering but then remember I was writing a fun, racy novel because I wanted to get through to an essentially young audience who don't necessarily want to read boring, heavy texts and switch off immediately they hear the word share market. Tell me, when has the share market been brought to the attention of so many people in such a fun way. I have tried to take a serious topic without taking myself too seriously. That was my brief for myself when I started writing - the book must be a novel first and foremost, the messaging will only be a subtext.
The yo yo-ing of the Sensex since January will itself bring home to you the volatile nature of this market and how dangerous it is to let this rule our lives and not even know about it. So much money has been made (and lost) by "owners" of companies in the last six months; it looks completely chaotic from the outside but the insider waits like a hawk to make money from the bull and bear runs that seem to be happening so frequently like there was a tug of war on between the two. The shareholders are enjoying this buy-sell game and the only people being pulled in every possible direction are the staff and the blinkered public.

Sanchit’s Turkey sojourn and the Collective do not have any impact on the novel or even on the argument of a flawed god? Don’t you think the larger puzzle you have tried to offer to readers has not fallen into place?
I used Turkey setting to create the sense of mystery that pulls readers in. Many writers have used this device before. It’s a narrative ploy where the flashbacks set the context for the puzzle even as the protagonist's journey intrigues and keeps the reader's attention; without it I wouldn't have been able to talk about an essentially boring subject - economics and the share market - to a mainstream audience. Your question seems to pass a judgment that a large number of readers don't seem to have come to. Rather the opposite, and here again I nudge you gently towards the Facebook page of the book, where a deluge of reader comments tell me that indeed the puzzle has fallen into place for them. Two things happen by the time you finish the book - one, you agree that the shareholder as owner is a flawed concept and two the reader's curiosity of what is the alternative gets satisfied when the frontline parliament demonstrates how the staff can be persuaded to take on the psychological ownership of the firm and save it from ruin.

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