In the middle of a contentious debate, a friend asked me what I thought of businesses and businessmen. I shrugged and promptly responded: “Dirty”, fairly content with my answer.
Cold, calculating decisions, a ruthless monolithic approach towards monetary profit and a practical outlook is what many expect out of corporations or businesses. Even the humanitarian concept of Corporate Social Responsibility has been reduced to a tool to evade taxes.
Surely, “dirty” isn’t entirely untrue. If mainstream media is any proof (remember movies such as Jobs and Social Network?), a successful business involves insatiable hunger for power and sharp cuts. But, like most things, this perception too is an incomplete deduction of a more complicated process-- running a business. Inadvertently, ‘You Can Be Smarter and Wise’ by Meena Shanoy and Prasad Kaipa dispels exactly these notions. But, that’s for later.
The canary yellow and purple cover of the book indicates, before you even start reading, that its contents will be bright and shiny, exulting optimism from its pages.
The collection of real-life stories narrates a differently-abled person’s journey through adversities into an awakening and eventually achieving the unexpected. Essentially, the book is a rendition of inspirational art, inclusive of elements of a self-help book but without commandments such as “Thou shall succeed if you... “.
The first part of the book, by co-author Meena Shenoy, gives voice to the differently-abled who refuse to be defined by their physical or mental differences. Each short story follows a pattern of elements -- the person’s trials, a peek into his/her personality and a strength of character that subsequently leads to overcoming his/her battles. You’d be baffled and amazed by the witty words of Anand Kulkarni, the blind film director who runs ‘Flop Films’ production and the resilient Bhavna Bhotta -- an entrepreneur, animal lover and activist.
The second half of the ‘You Can Be Smarter and Wiser’ tells the stories of entrepreneurs who combined profitable businesses with philanthropy, an unlikely combination. There’s Guru Salaudin Pasha who found ‘Ability Unlimited’, a foundation that lends expression to the differently-abled through dance. “You beat on their (dancers) hands to get them to feel the rhythm of the body... I hold the hands of the visually impaired, so that they can touch my face and see the expressions there.”
Another exemplary story, of Patu Keswani, tells the story of the chairman and managing director of the popular hotel chain -- The Lemon Tree. Keswani has plans to run the “world’s most silent hotel run by the deaf” in Gurgaon where the prerequisite condition for employment would be a disability or belonging to a poor family.
The two parts of the novel evolve in a cause and effect structure. Shenoy’s part focuses on the shortcomings of infrastructure in providing services for the differently-abled and the social stigma plaguing our society. Kaipa’s half, on the contrary, sheds light on entrepreneurs who have dedicated their work to eradicate these difficulties.
Although there’s a lot to love about the stories, it falls short of creativity in language. Punctuations and abrupt endings are a sore point and the clichéd ‘I can, so can you’ title of a section (not unlike the dreary title of the book) is grossly similar to a self-help novel and enough to turn some impatient readers away.
In the end though, the many protagonists of ‘You can be smarter and wiser’ will make you see light at the end of the tunnel.