Review: You Cannot Miss This Flight: Essays on Emerging India by Captain GR Gopinath | books$reviews | Hindustan Times
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Review: You Cannot Miss This Flight: Essays on Emerging India by Captain GR Gopinath

Captain GR Gopinath, pioneer of the no-frills aviation sector, writes with verve about everything from the DGCA to corruption in India

books Updated: Oct 27, 2017 22:04 IST
Sujoy Gupta
Captain GR Gopinath, Managing Director, Air Deccan, at his office, in Bengaluru in 2006.
Captain GR Gopinath, Managing Director, Air Deccan, at his office, in Bengaluru in 2006.(Deepak G Pawar/Getty Images)

When I flipped open this book, the first eight words in the introduction brought on a groan: “Oh, not one of those!” The boring words were: “This collection of essays from my published writings…”

I look askance at tedious collations of already published stuff lodged between attractive covers. I’m likely to have read some of its 214-page contents in the original so why waste time reading it again?

Thankfully, the snigger was premature. Captain Gopinath is no littérateur but he certainly writes like a fearless soldier shooting from the hip and almost always hitting bull’s eye. The bulls in this book comprise mighty politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats, godmen and a slew of other targets. Each shot is accurate and contemporary, largely date-lined post 2014-15. That Lord Meghnad Desai’s Foreword was written on 27th April 2017 speaks for itself.

The average citizen remembers Gopinath, if at all, as a pioneer of India’s no-frills aviation sector. Pioneering ventures, conceptually brilliant though they often are, are tenuous. Some survive. Some don’t.

Gopinath’s didn’t. With eyes wide open and a heart brimming with hope, he launched Air Deccan on 25th August 2003 with one old, used, leased ATR aircraft flying from Bangalore to Hubli. His dream was to “provide a service that would allow millions of middle class folks to fly.” In 45 months, Air Deccan deployed 45 aircraft connecting 69 towns and cities daily. Of these, 30 were first time destinations. “A new India was flying,” Gopinath enthuses.

At this point, I urge readers to carry on and discover why Gopinath laments: “The cloud on which I was sailing evaporated and I saw that I had no parachute.” And why he sold a 46 per cent equity stake to Vijay Mallya for Rs 1,000 crores only to crash land penniless with Kingfisher. (Too many court cases are pending to elaborate on Mallya.)

An Air Deccan plane at SantaCruz airport in Mumbai in August 2007. (Satish Bate/HT Photo)

Gopinath lambasts the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which “is happily enforcing aviation rules enacted in 1937.” Yes, that’s 80 years ago. “DGCA uses discretionary powers to indulge in arbitrary whims and fancies, choking the sector.” Shooting from the hip, as I said.

Gopinath could have said a great deal more about civil aviation in India but he moves on to four other themes. Edited excerpts follow:

ENTERPRISE

●Why is India Inc silent on corruption? Why are immensely successful business leaders with impeccable credentials not speaking up against the corruption some in their community perpetuate? Corrupt business leaders and crony capitalists are like rogue elephants.

SOCIETY AND GOVERNANCE

●TV channels scream their heads off, blaring scandalous stories, exposing scams in quick succession. Anchors are in a frenetic race to break both news and sound barriers -- stirring up and spewing out a high octane cocktail of truth and hype, fact and fiction, leaving confused and bewildered people wondering whom and what to believe.

The Air Deccan Airlines counter at Delhi Airport in February 2006. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo)

POLITICS

●People feel cheated, disappointed and let down because all political parties are the same and there’s not much to choose from. Their promises are hollow and there’s no way to hold them accountable. Modi must take charge. He must do the right thing, not the politically expedient thing. He must listen to his conscience rather than the party coterie and remember doing bad to others ends in bad things happening to you. “Everything comes back to me,” said the monkey peeing against the wind.

MUSINGS

●Let’s be honest. Almost all of us -- politicians, bureaucrats, babus, inspectors, lawyers, cops, accountants, small businessmen, big corporates, educational institutions, film actors, godmen -- have dealt with black money at some point barring, of course, the poor whose income is too low to be taxed and who constitute 70 per cent of the country’s population. Corruption is in our DNA. A farmer receives 20,000 rupees in cash. It is white; his income is not taxable. The farmer goes to a doctor and pays 5,000 rupees, it becomes black. The doctor goes to a five-star hotel and spends it on dinner, it is billed and becomes white. Black and white money are inextricably intertwined.

Read more: Can Udan aid Captain Gopinath replicate success of Air Deccan in second stint?

These entertaining, introspective vignettes show Gopinath is a man of many parts. To conclude, I sign off with Lord Meghnad Desai’s words: “You cannot miss this wonderful book!”

Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer