Sunday, January 25, 2009

On the difficulty of being good

B. Ramalingam Raju has been much on the minds of the citizens of our Republic, whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow. It is thus a good time to reflect on Satyam’s moral significance for our post-liberalization era. Although the story is still unfolding, there are intimations of sadness and tragedy about a man who has committed the greatest fraud in Indian corporate history. The swindle was worth Rs. 7136 crores, and the deceit went on for seven years. As a result, the public—both Indian and foreign investors—have lost around Rs 23,000 crores in the value of their shares, and over 40,000 employees face an uncertain future.

Raju built through skill, talent and dedication a great company. Ten years ago, I looked him in the eye and I saw sincerity, competence, and great purpose. I saw ambition, not greed. Soon after that I ran into one of his customers in the U.S. and she spoke glowingly about Satyam’s dedication to quality, reliability, and integrity. There is no tribute greater than a satisfied, passionate customer, and it explained to my foggy mind, at least in part, why India had become the world’s second fastest growing economy.

Why should a person of such palpable achievement turn to crime? Was it just greed or was it because his stake in Satyam had dwindled to 8.6 %, and the company was in danger of slipping out of the family’s control? Raju had two sons and possibly a sense of filial duty drove him to create companies in real estate and infrastructure, two sectors of our economy that are only half liberalized, where politicians insist on bribes up-front for favours delivered. Since revenues from the new companies were far away, Raju dipped into Satyam to pay the politicians. It might have worked but no one counted on a downturn and a liquidity crisis. Desperately, he tried to restore the stolen assets back to Satyam by merging it with his son’s companies but that didn’t work.

When Raju crossed the line from his cheerful and familiar world of open and competitive capitalism into the dark nether regions of crony capitalism, he was no longer in control. He had walked from the transparent world of reformed India into the shadowy underworld of unreformed India, whose rules are set by crooked politicians. Why did he do it? Greed is too easy an answer. It might have been hubris, like Duryodhana’s in the Mahabharata, who thought he was master of the universe and could get away with anything. It is easy to believe your infallibility when everyone in Hyderabad tells you so.

The better comparison, I believe, is with the father. Raju was ruined by his Dhritarashtra-like weakness for his sons. We should nurture our children, but we don’t need to leave them a company each, certainly not by crossing the line of dharma. It takes moral courage to resist the sentiment of partiality to one’s family. This is why the Mahabharata challenges the old sva-dharma of family and caste, preferring instead the newer, universal sadharana-dharma, which teaches us to with behave impartially with everyone.

Satyam is a case of fraud and criminality. So, let us also stop wringing our hands, looking for regulatory answers. It is not a governance failure. Internal and external auditors, and independent directors are guilty only of negligence. This was such an ingenious crime that that no still understands it. Remember, there are crooks in every society, and they will get around the most fool-proof systems. So, don’t try to reform the system—it will only create more red tape and kill the animal spirits of capitalism. The important thing is to quickly get to the truth, and put the guilty behind bars. Ideally, make the crooks sing and book their political protectors as well. Don’t blame liberalization either--the answer is more reform, not less, in order to break the nexus between politicians and business in the unreformed sectors of our economy.

Raju’s story causes us discomfort because it challenges our unexamined conception of success. Surely, there is a better way to live, we ask. Yudhishthira also challenged the kshatriya concept of success in the Mahabharata. When he insisted on taking a stray dog into heaven, he performed an act of dharma, showing that goodness is one of the few things of genuine worth in this world that might take away some of the familiar pain of being alive and being human in these post-liberalization times.



Mystery said...

Hello sir,

Liked your post very much.
'The better comparision, I beleive, is with the Father'
Rightly said sir. With everyone coming up with their own theories regarding the Satyam Scam, everyone is forgetting the fact that a person like Mr. Raju who has brought Satyam to the stage it was until a few months, would not have done this because of greed.
Mr.Raju has done a lot of good things in his life and the only fault in him was that he could not clearly differentiate between family and business.
'was ruined by his Dhritarashtra-like weakness for his son' Very true!

Protege said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Protege said...

Amazing and insightful post Gurcharan Sir. Post Mr. Raju's confession, all that I have read in media has been an uproar and angst against him - which undoubtedly is not injustifiable. However they all were certainly too hard to understand. The big question lingering in my mind (and I am sure many others) was "Why would he do this?" Your post certainly sounds convincing to me on what could motivate an otherwise good person to do bad things. I loved the way you connected the story with Mahabharata. In more ways than one, even today, we all live by the Mahabharata code, so to say. In short - a convincing and interesting perspective that should not be missed as part of the Satyam saga.
Another admirer of your writing style and thought process,

Benedict G said...

Decades ago I met Mr Raju, who seemed more like a moderately ambitious small town boy. I was extremely proud when I saw the company grow. Well then the fall made me raise doubts about hyper capitalism and even liberalization. You had to a large extent cleared the air for me.
I will accept that we need to get out of this trap of 'providing' for our children.

Pranshu Gupta said...

Very well articulated & connected comment on (A)Satyam saga. I think our scriptures are not to be revered only, but the values propounded should be imbibed within. Corporate world today talks about the Corporate Governance & Business Ethics, but is it really practised in the Corporate culture. I think it is High Time for the Corporate leaders to take cognizance of the practices being followed & perform the business acts in a more responsible & impartial manner.

Unknown said...

I am amazed how you tried to rationalize the "GREED"(i know you hate this phrase) driven corporate corruption and fraud and shy away from total and unambiguous condemnation of this adharmic behaviour. You incessantly and probably justifiably rile against sukshma adharma of teachers, nurses and doctors not doing their job but here you are making excuses. To quote spiderman " with great power comes great responsibilty (not just a big electracity bill ;)

Ravi Kolli

Baiju Elikkattoor said...

maximus, :)

Unknown said...

Dear Sir, Really appreciate your unique way of intertwining the modern world with our ancient scriptures. After all the remedy for today's evils are exhaustively explained in our vedas and upanishads. Sincerely appreciate an article from you extolling the Gita way of life in today's world. This would be a beacon for today's generation carried away by materialistic aspirations and fast losing touch with our value system which forms the core strength of our navigational ability in this tumultous world. Regards

Anonymous said...

I wish to thank you for your thought provoking and inspiring essays.


Grampa Ken said...

In viewing India and China from over here in BC Canada I relate to the comparisons but am not sure about the final outcomes. It would be wonderful if the same mistakes were not made as have been in N America. Socially we have mess on our hands.

Anonymous said...

i do not believe there is good or bad.

in the game of survival, some will survive thru the performance of many. these some are protected and governed by powerful entities such as politicians or military.

as only a few are getting very rich through the work of many, this is injustice. So, there will be a charge for such injustice in the form of taxes, bribes and regulations.

as long as the flow of performance and payment is regular, everyone is living in peace. the craftsmen have to perform, the ceos' lead and the politicians protect. the final outcome must feed all the three to there satisfaction.

if the chain of proformance is disbalanced in anyway, there will be catastrophe.
it could be incompetent performance, misleading business strategy, too greedy bribes or faulty regulations - you guess.

such catastrophe can only be avoided by knowledge, education, research, regulations, agreements, values, dharma, whatever peaceful measures it takes.

will we ever be so highly civilized to achieve the perfect balance and create a highly developed peaceful country.

you simply have to work hard to be good. the worst enemy of mankind is lazyness and the belief that one has god given right to live off others performances.

Harish L said...


At least now - though it is high time, that these thinkings should be introduced in School/ College Curriculam so that the generations to come could stream line their attitudes and develop the right thinking. Hope this will be seen by all the concerned in this regard.

Harish L

Harish L said...


At least now - though it is high time, that these thinkings should be introduced in School/ College Curriculam so that the generations to come could stream line their attitudes and develop the right thinking. Hope this will be seen by all the concerned in this regard.

Many do not the Difficulty of being Good!

Harish L

Many do not know the Difficulty of being Good!

Harish L

Harish L

bhattathiri said...

Excellent book.
In Mahabharata Krishna says lack of management causes disorder, confusion, wastage, delay, destruction and even depression. Managing men, money and materials in the best possible way, according to circumstances and environment, is the most important and essential factor for a successful management.

Management guidelines from the Bhagavad Gita

There is an important distinction between effectiveness and efficiency in managing.

· Effectiveness is doing the right things.

· Efficiency is doing things right.

The general principles of effective management can be applied in every field, the differences being more in application than in principle. The Manager's functions can be summed up as:

· Forming a vision

· Planning the strategy to realize the vision.

· Cultivating the art of leadership.

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· Building an innovative organization.

Subhash Rabindra Jha said...

I found your post very thought provoking and am looking forward to reading your book titled "The difficulty of being good".
You have given a completely new perspective to the entire fuss over the Satyam episode. Besides, it's imperative to mention that the comparison with the epic Mahabharata that you have made brings out the soul/crux/meat of the post. Thank you for this enlightening piece.

Lahiri said...

Dear Mr Das,
I think you are partially right but it is also a fact that external and internal auditors are nothing more than rubber stamps - and the mere fact that they are PWC doesn't change the facts. Look at the pages and pages of certifications produced by these auditors for Enron, Citibank , Lehmen Brothers , AIG etc - and they still could not stop the fall of these century old giants. Surely there is something bigger - something even more wrong with the current capitalist system that speaks of ethics on theory but in practice have to bend and wind in crooked ways just for its own survival. Probably the basic foundation of multinational public companies - that the managers acts as "agents" of their shareholders (the big shareholders that is) needs to be taken a closer look at again.

Anonymous said...

At the end it was Greed - maybe not greed for one self but greed for his own sons - who are nothing but extension of himself. It is simple really - as he himself put it - that he just couldn't get the right time to get off the tiger. It is same as a bunch of dacoits robbing passengers in Bihar but not finding the chain to pull to stop the train before it reaches the next big station.

chakkar said...

I've been looking to make sense of all these fundamental failings of modern capitalist ideological offshoots. Your post certainly helps nicely in that regard. And I look forward to reading the book.

Do you think we're destined to become more selfless or doomed to self-destruction?

I hope that we can evolve to a more selfless nature; perhaps the evolution and devolution is just part of the cycle between Satyug and Kalyug. Of late, decentralised socialism is looking awfully attractive, though familiarity may breed contempt!

Unknown said...

Hello sir,

It is being now frequently said that Mr.Raju was ruined by his Dhritshatra like weakness for his son,but let us not forget the fact that dhritrashtra himself had the longing for power to some extent.He somehow wanted to get his affinity of power get fulfilled through his son.

Then also, i somehow belief that Duryodhan was not the person whose father was Dhrutrashtra instead we can say that Duryodhan was the one who compelled his father to become Dhritrashtra.

shashi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shashi said...

sorry about the last comment, it was incomplete and accidently hit the post button.

dhRitarAShTra literally means 'grabbed land/country' or 'one who grabbed the land/country' (through unfair means.

he was blind by birth so couldn't be a king (king can't have a mental or physical handicap).

his blindness has to be also understood metaphorically in the sense of his blind moha, attachment to his son, and maybe the desire to rule and keep ruling.

that is the biggest lesson from mahAbhArata - blind attachment leads to catastrophe.

vidur tells him time and again to leave his attachment and unfair practices, and be a just king, and he replies - vidur, what you say is right dharma and neeti, and i like them, but whenever i think of duryodhana, i forget these things.

when vidur leaves and duryodhana laments to his father - father why do always say things favoring the Pandavs. and dhRitarAShTra says - "this vidur is very wise and understand by intentions. so i talk favoring the Pandavas only in front of me, so he doesn't catch my real intentions."

so duryodhana didn't make a dhRitarAShTra, it is the other way around.

for more articles on sanskrit wisdom check out

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Jennifer said...

Sir, I attended the book launch in Bangalore and also ordered the autographed copy online from I just finished reading the book and I really loved it. No one has ever taken the great epic Mahabharatha and adopted it so nicely to modern times. As you say, it is indeed a timeless classic.

Sanket said...

I read the book and i am disappointed with the partiality towards the Pandavas.

On the eve of the war, Karna and Bhisma had a quarrel and Karna decided to refrain from participating in the war as long as Bhisma was commander. Despite losing Karna, his best friend and arguably the most competent warrior in the Kaurava side, Duryodhana did not force either Karna to fight or Bhisma to accord a Atirathi position which Karna claimed and merited. He sacrificed his chances of winning to maintain the dignity of his grand sire and best friend. This incident is not touched.

On the other hand, in lieu of asking blessings, Yudhisthira asked Bhisma about the means to kill/disable him. This shows who was more amoral and considered winning the only thing. Hundreds of such examples occur in Mahabharata.

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Unknown said...


It is basically regarding your latest book which I read with great interest, "The Difficulty of Being Good". Having read your books in the past and having followed you in those articles in The Times of India, I feel it my right to share my views with you.

Dharm is really subtle. And I could see this predicament in your book as well as in your blog. For answer to some of the questions raised, explained or left unanswered in your blog I recommend you read this review of the book on my blog:

We need not defend Shri Krishna or Pandavs or Kauravs today but at the same time we need not be apologetic about their actions too. They were too big characters on their own to need any support or opposition from us. There are too important messages in Mahabharat that we should not deprive ourselves of the benefits by simply limiting ourselves to whys and why nots of the acts of individual characters. Yet in a way this analysis of the acts of those characters will make the things clear to us and help us in deciding our own course of action. But for that we have to be open in our approach and first accept that the author of those scriptures was a little more learned than ourselves and the issues involved are not really as simple as they seem.


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Shilpi Sahay Choudhury said...


I am a HR professional & i am currently reading your book.Have to confess,that its quite insightful.As i go deep into the chapters,the connection with such an epic,with today's scenario is so amazing.I am an ardent fan of this kind of literary work.


Unknown said...

Thank you for such a wonderful book, not only form the point of view of putting the epic in today’s context but also for the great insightful information of the various philosophical aspects.
Because of this book, I in fact regained my lost habit of reading. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Very nice and intrestingss story.

Expression - Deepak said...

I am a great fan of your books and I surely will read Difficulty of being god. You have taken Mahabharat as the base for this book so i just want to ask a few question from you because you are the right person to answer as you have read both philosophy and sanskrit in your college days. We say in mahabarat Dhram was on the side on pandav but it is hard for me to digest the fact that how can a person put his wife on bet? and than they calim kaurwas did wrong. Pandavs lost their kingdom in Bet than why did they claimed hastinapur? Duruyodhan was killed in a wrong manner so was karn and bhism pitamah on the name of dharam.According to me they pandavs tried to justify everything on the name of dharm which is wrong.

quasimodo said...

Finished reading Dharma.. enjoyed it tremendously.The best part is that the book raises as many questions as it answers.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

I am extremely delighted with your liberal and secular thinking. The point i would like to highlight over here is the clear dictinction made between Mahabharatha an epic that conveys us various ways of life. It is not to be mistaken for a religious text. I seriously wonder why is this book (that teaches us such 'sukhama' ways of conducting/reviwing our actions) is being treated as religious one.
Sir, i would like to know your view on the assumption that 'the Mahabharatha should not be read by the young'... why so? Why is it assumed that todays 'young' would always pick up Shakuni's misdeeds and ignore the great Karna (favourite character), Yudhistire (thank you sir for changing my view towards him. I personally found him unreasonable) or an Arjun.
Lots more to write.....

sv said...

greed and only greed is the mother of most crimes

Shanker Nair said...


It takes moral courage to resist the sentiment of partiality to one’s family. This is why the Mahabharata challenges the old sva-dharma of family and caste, preferring instead the newer, universal sadharana-dharma, which teaches us to with behave impartially with everyone.

Cheers !

SUNDAR said...

Dear Sir, I have read your book The Difficulty of being good" It is really excellent and realistic. People like you should come forward to motivate the people towards against corruption and to follow values and ethics in life.

Anonymous said...

Sir, as a saying goes he who succeeds is always right, be it Duryodhana in Mahabharata or the story of unsuccessful Raju. It is because of failure of both the guys that people curse them. There are unlimited number of Rajus in the society but unlike him they are successful. It is the basic nature of all humans to nurture atleast one out of the five evils (Kama, Krodha, Lobh, Moh & Ahankar) in his case the fourth one was more dominant. The human which is above these or who has controlled/overpowered these is the LIBERATED one and it is difficult to find one of the kind now a days, in this glamorous but tense society. IT DEFINITELY DIFFICULT TO BE GOOD.

Average Mango said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Average Mango said...

Hello Sir,
I really enjoyed the post and I am looking forward to read the book. I have read a lot about the fourth pillar of life, moksha or spirituality but very less about the third and the most practical aspect, dharma. The subtle concept of dharma is what I am expecting from your book about the the most beautiful poem ever written,'The Mahabharata'. I constantly find myself in Arjuna's and Yudhisthira's shoes. But all said and done I am just 17 and I have a lifetime more to learn!

Anonymous said...

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Khushbu Merchant said...

Hi sir, I have a question to ask you? I have been comtemplating about buying book of mahabharat, as my parents have told me that it brings bad omen (negative energy in house). I dont believe it to be true, but would like to understand if there can be any weight in this theory?

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Vidyarthini said...

Namaskar Sir,
Reading your book "Difficulty of Being Good"

It's litterly a thought provoking book. And it also reminded me, "Geetai Prawachane" by Vinoba Bhave.

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