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'On the bus from Boston to Mumbai'

When Tarun Khanna gave up a seat in the IIT to arrive at Princeton University in 1984, his roommates could not spot India on a world map. Today, his students aspire to have India on their CVs. Reshma Patil reports.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2008 10:44 IST
Reshma Patil

When Tarun Khanna gave up a seat in the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras to arrive at Princeton University, USA, in 1984, his roommates could not spot India on a world map. When one of them suggested that India was ‘right by Arabia,’ Khanna had retired to his bed ‘in tears'.

Today, his students aspire to have either India or China — together home to 2.4 billion people — on their CVs. Khanna, a Jorge Paulo Lemann professor at the Harvard Business School, returns to India every two months, a routine he finds akin to ‘taking a bus from Boston.’

Perhaps inspired by hearing countless opening lines from executives who say they must be in China but don’t understand its implications, or others, who ask if they can really make money in China and India, the professor’s latest book is essential reading for doing business in either rising nation.

Billions of entrepreneurs: How China and India are reshaping their futures and yours, is an outcome of both, hitting the pavements to record conversations with taxi drivers, shopkeepers and restaurant owners at midnight even, and an analysis of how entrepreneurs in both nations are driving change.

“It’s a book of hope," Khanna, who specialises in emerging markets, told HT over coffee. “I also wrote it to explain India to China and China to India." In trying to answer questions like why China can build cities overnight while India struggles to build roads, the professor argues that both nations — inverted ‘mirror images’ of each other — must learn from each other. Together they could have a bigger impact on each other and the world than either nation will alone, he emphasised.

Khanna, who grew up in Cuffe Parade, said he chooses not to complain about the traffic jams and pollution in Mumbai. The optimist in him pointed out that Mumbai’s infrastructure is improving, but as slowly as media transparency in China.

His favourite city connection is of horse rides on the beach with his children. And if you’re looking for an Udipi restaurant or a world-class factory in China’s interior, just ask Khanna.