A DELUGE OF PANDEMIC-INSPIRED ART IS WAITING TO ARRIVE: UDAYAN MUKHERJEE - The Daily Guardian
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A DELUGE OF PANDEMIC-INSPIRED ART IS WAITING TO ARRIVE: UDAYAN MUKHERJEE

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Journalist-turned-author Udayan Mukherjee’s Essential Items is a collection of short stories underscoring how the pandemic has affected every individual in the country—but in very different ways. In an interview with The Daily Guardian, Mukherjee speaks about what inspired him to write and how immersing himself in the project helped him survive the anxieties of the lockdown. Excerpts:

Q: The book is set around the many things, people and opportunities we took for granted in the pre-Covid era. Tell us more about what moved you to write it.

A: The writing of Essential Items began around the first week of April, at a time when it was quite impossible to focus on anything but the unfolding contagion. The scale of the misery unleashed by the sudden lockdown had me thinking continuously about the plight of others who were in a less fortunate position. Fiction is the only thing I can ever imagine writing, yet I wasn’t sure at all if it was a good idea to set about creating fictional worlds based on an unfolding crisis while sitting in the throes of it, as it would entail blurring the lines between immediate reality and fiction. Then, one day, I put some words down on paper and one story blended into another and three months passed just like that.

Q: From young urban partygoers to workers at a cremation ground, the people in your stories come from all walks of life from all around the country. What went behind shaping them and writing about their lives during the pandemic?

A: How were elderly couples dealing with their loneliness or contemplations of mortality? How did shifting realities at the bottom end of the job market affect power equations in families which lived hand to mouth? Would wealthier people respond to this crisis with compassion and generosity? Would the pandemic make people even more inward looking or would it open their eyes to the travails of others whose contribution to their comfortable existence they may have taken for granted? As I grappled with such questions, the characters slowly formed in my head, each unique in their particular settings.

Q: Most stories have an open ending, where the character/s are left thinking, or without a conclusion. Was this a deliberate move to reflect the feelings of uncertainty and despair that the pandemic has left everyone with?

A: An open end urges a response from the reader. If it succeeds, the story can linger in the reader’s mind long after the page is turned, triggered by this absence of a neat resolution or closure. It can make her wonder about the various possibilities, the future of the protagonists. In a sense, the story then becomes the reader’s rather than the writer’s. This emotional transfer can make for a very satisfying reading experience. In the case of this collection, I also wanted to avoid being too judgmental about the moral issues at the heart of the stories, which it may have come across as in the case of too rounded an ending. Finally, everything about our lives and the world at large today is so uncertain and fraught that open endings seem like the natural fit to any set of imagined circumstances.

Q: Many have complained about finding the motivation to work or create art during the lockdown. Did you feel the same? What was your writing process like?

A: For me, concentration, rather than motivation, was an issue during the initial days of the lockdown. I felt disturbed. It wasn’t a state of mind conducive to creative writing and I had apprehensions about embarking on any project. On the other hand, the prospect of staring at those empty days ahead seemed frightening. I had something nebulous in my head and willed myself to sit and commit some words to paper. I wrote every day and it was an immersion as well as a distraction from the horror unfolding around us. The first step was difficult but then the stories sucked me in and provided a kind of refuge.

Q: Plenty of films, stories and art about experiencing the lockdown have been produced this year. What would you say about the role of art and fiction during a global crisis like this one?

A: I think a deluge of pandemic-inspired art in every form is waiting to arrive. It is bound to be the case, as life is the well from which art springs. This is the biggest crisis the world has faced for many generations and it should not surprise us to see it reflected in the creative space. Some writers will respond immediately, others will wait for the dust to settle and then look back from a different perspective. Some will seek to document for posterity, others may subject to moral scrutiny how we held up as a species to this enormous test. That is the role of art: to hold a mirror up to the human soul.

Q: Which books/authors kept you entertained during the lockdown?

A: Typically, I don’t read much when I am writing. But this time, there was just so much time, I did read and re-read a few books, including Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty, Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Muennuddin. Right now, I am reading the beautifully written Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.

Q: What do you wish readers to take back from your stories?

A: There is no great message in these stories. They were written in solidarity, in expression of the welling of empathy I experienced in that period, and if readers can identify with that and share some of my empathy, I will feel grateful.

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Amit Agarwal chronicles forgotten episodes from Indic Resistance

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This is the second book by author Amit Agarwal that I have read. His first book, ‘Swift horses Sharp Swords,” had an entirely new perspective on history with a new format. The book was full of maps, tables, pictures, and illustrations; it was a breeze to read through it. I was a little circumspect when the author sent me his new book, “A Never Ending Conflict’ about whether he could keep up the promise. But I was proved to be wrong as I found there is a quantum jump in storytelling. His latest book is a compilation of five nearly forgotten stories. This collection presents a multifaceted narrative of Bharat’s history from 326 BCE, beginning with Alexander and finishing in the present, leaving several lessons to ponder. The delightful feature is that he has written it from an Indic perspective, quite a refreshing change from the usual leftist fare. Every piece of history starts with a Puranic tale and culminates in the present times. A few things were new to me. I did not know that Hampi was the place where half of the Ramayana happened. Here, Bhagwan Ram met Hanuman, Sugriva, and Bali, and the whole strategy to fight Ravana was chalked out here. The place was bubbling with energy, leading to Vijayanagar’s founders, Harihar and Bukka, choosing the place as their capital. Another exciting piece unknown to me was that Kohinoor was originally the Suryadev’s stone, which was gifted to Krishna’s cousin. The author could build an engrossing story around how the stone proved to be a curse to everyone, especially males, who possessed it. Even today, Queen Elizabeth is scared to wear it. A similar narrative has been built in Lachit’s story, where the presiding goddess of Assam, Kamakhaya, features twice in the story. A little anecdote about her has been interspersed wherein the readers have been informed about her menstruating period, quite a uniqueness of Hindu dharma. It is said that the waters of the Brahmaputra become red during those times. Alexander’s interaction with Sadhus projects our spiritual prowess and goes on to tell us that the invader was not a great person. There is a short story about the Eram massacre, a replica of Jallianwala Bagh, which happened in Orissa in the 1940s. The peculiar thing was that there was no General Dyer here and our own Hindu brother ordered the shooting, killing scores of people.

However, the Khilafat story takes the cake, and it is in this story that the author comes into his element. Hindu-Muslim conflict is his forte and he had come out all his guns blaring. He showed how conditions in the early 20th century still exist today with no chance of ending this never-ending conflict. Unlike other history books, the book is not Delhi-centric and covers the whole stage of Bharatvarsha. Every region is covered, from north to south and from extreme west to Assam. In two of the stories, even contemporary world affairs have been incorporated. Kohinoor travelled to Afghanistan, Persia, and then Britain. How these kingdoms tried to steal and rob the Hindu gem tells a lot about our ancient glory, mediaeval atrophy, and modern resignedness. Khilafat’s chapter takes one to distant Turkey, which was on the cusp of a revolution wherein it became a democratic republic, an unheard of phenomenon in the Islamic world. The reader also learns about Russia’s anxiety due to its peculiar geography, which continues to deny it access to warm seas. This was the primary reason for its modern attacks on Turkey and Afghanistan to gain access to the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas. The author seems to be fond of battlefield formation, strategy, and tactics as he explains them gleefully. He goes on to show that any opponent, no matter how strong or barbaric, can be defeated with the correct strategy. The Ahoms exploited their advantages, forcing the Mughals to fight on marshy lands and rivers where their famed cavalry could not be deployed. All in all, the book is a saga about the Hindu-Muslim conflict, wherein the latter always has the upper hand. They have been able to loot, maim, and kill Hindus for the past 1300 years. The Hindus never let up their resistance, and that’s why we are the only polytheistic ancient civilization to survive amid the incessant onslaught. The rest of all the civilizations bit the dust, be it Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Inca, and Mayan, to name a few. The author has pointed out that in the past two millennia, 46 mighty civilizations were made to vanish at the hands of the two Abrahamic religions.

In Post-independence, how our secular outlook destroyed the generations and made them ashamed of their own culture and traditions is clearly delineated. Everything about the Hindus was branded as superstitious, barbaric, and archaic. Invaders of every hue were glorified, and there is a whole industry for sustaining this narrative. The money flows from Islamic, Christian, and communist countries, particularly China, to disrupt and dismember the country. Due to this debilitating secularism, we even squandered the spoils of the war in 1971. Another feature that I liked was the critical analysis of the prevailing ecosystem. The author doesn’t mince the words even while criticising Hindu weaknesses. It is essential to learn from past mistakes; then, one can desist from repeating them. The author, an IIT product, spins authentic, reliable historical tales that hook the readers till the end. They can relate to, appreciate, and imbibe the invaluable historical lessons from the book and implement them if we are intent on saving our precious civilization. The author is part of a new impatient generation of writers keen to change the way history has been written in the past. Along with a course correction in history writing, they want to steer India to reclaim its ancient glory. The book employs easy language to cater to a young audience, and I feel he might be successful in hooking them up to his book. It has the potential to make Gen-X proud of its roots. History took a surprising nasty turn in many places, and I have to look at references to whether it was correct. As it turned out, the narrative was indeed true. The references run for 20 odd pages and show the correctness of the history dished out in the book.

The book has certain weaknesses too. The first is the book’s thickness, for no book should be more than 200–250 pages. The author must understand that people’s attention spans are quite low after the advent of social media. The editing could have been crisper as the story drags at a few places. A reputed publisher Garuda Prakashan has published it, and if it is marketed well, it has the requisite potential to do well in the market. In the end, history has to be imbibed and implemented, only then any fruitful outcome happen in the future.

The author is Vice Chancellor of Mahakaushal University, Jabalpur.

‘In Post-independence, how our secular outlook destroyed the generations and made them ashamed of their own culture and traditions is clearly delineated. Everything about the Hindus was branded as superstitious, barbaric, and archaic. Invaders of every hue were glorified, and there is a whole industry for sustaining this narrative. The money flows from Islamic, Christian, and communist countries, particularly China.’

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PANKAJ BHARGAVA’S TRAVELOGUE UNVEILED BY AMBASSADOR OF NORWAY

Murtaza Ali Khan

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Pankaj Bhargava’s travelogue titled “Khanabadoshiyan,” published by Vani Prakashan, was recently unveiled by Hans Jacob Frydenlund, the Ambassador of Norway to India. The launch event, which was held at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi, was hosted by Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal, Executive Director, Vani Prakashan Group. “I am happy to see that for the first time a travelogue about Norway has been written in Hindi.

It is hoped that through this book, Norway will become better known as a nation of friendship and hospitality, “rejoiced Ambassador Frydenlund.”

Arun Maheshwari, Managing Director, Vani Prakashan Group, who was also present on the occasion, averred, “In my opinion, nomads are that light scent of a natural fragrance that shakes the dream of life. I am certain that the Vani Prakashan Group’s relationship with Norwegian literature, which has been flourishing for almost 25 years, will reach new heights with Pankaj Bhargava’s travelogue. “ A book reading session was also held as part of the event, wherein Bhargava read out some of his favourite sections from the book. “I hope that my travelogue will inspire young people to visit Norway. “I would like to dedicate the travelogue to my readers,” said Bhargava.

While recounting his experiences of travelling across Norway with his friends, Bhargava recollected the challenges that they had to face to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, coined by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei as’ aurora borealis’ in 1619—after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas.

They are a natural phenomenon found in both the northern and southern hemispheres of the Earth’s sky, predominantly seen in high-latitude regions. Auroras typically display dynamic patterns of brilliant light that appear as curtains, rays, spirals, or dynamic flickers covering the entire sky.

Sharing her thoughts about Bhargava’s travelogue, noted theatre artist and writer Rama Pandey opined, “‘Khanabadoshiyan’ is a sweet book and such sweet books, which are light in weight, relieve you from stress.” I must congratulate Pankaj Bhargava and the Vani Prakashan Group for bringing out such a book. “ Noted poet Aalok Shrivastav said,

“When a journalist associated with the visual medium writes, the observation is bound to be very good in his writing.” In fact, ‘Khanabadoshiyan’ is so visually rich that it is not just a book but cinema in 70mm.”

Praising the travelogue, noted writer Bhagwandas Morwal asserted, “Pankaj Bhargava’s book is a travel memoir. More such travel memoirs should come out in Hindi.

The veteran poet Suman Keshari, who was also present on the occasion, congratulated the author and said, “From what Pankaj wrote about Norway in his book, it was as if we had seen the city through his own eyes.

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Defying parental wishes, cultural expectations

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Jahnavi Barua belongs to that growing pantheon of Indian writers in the English language whose style is a new movement in literature that has quietly developed almost unseen over the past few decades. The story is mainly set in Assam and Bangalore and touches upon various themes like home, family, belonging, finding oneself, and self-love—all of which will touch the readers in some way. It is Assam in the 1980s. As deep political unrest simmers in the background, the intertwined lives of a household will change forever. The book talks about estranged families and relations and how they can be mended over time. “Undertow” explores how family dynamics are altered when a family member chooses to marry an “outsider,” in defiance of cultural expectations and parental wishes. The novel also deals with how relationships undergo a sea change when a family member defies societal norms and parental wishes to marry an “outsider”.

Loya is twenty-five: solitary, sincere, with restless stirrings in her heart. In an uncharacteristic move, she sets off on an unexpected journey, away from her mother, Rukmini, and her home in Bengaluru, to distant, misty Assam. She comes looking for her beloved Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, but also seeks someone else-her grandfather, Torun Ram Goswami, someone she has never met before. She arrives at the Yellow House on the banks of the Brahmaputra, where Torun lives, not knowing that her life is about to change. Twenty-five years ago, Rukmini had been cast out of the family home by her mother, the formidable and charismatic Usha, while Torun watched silently. Loya now seeks answers, both from him and from the place that her mother once called home. In her quest, she finds an understanding not only of herself and her life but also of the precarious bonds that tie people together. A delicate, poignant portrait of a family and all that it contains, “Undertow” becomes, in the hands of this gifted writer, an exploration of much more: home and the outside world, the insider and the outsider, and the ever-evolving nature of love itself.

The story is universal, and the reader will relate to it because it is the story of people around us. Author Jahnavi Barua tried to explore what happens when reconciliation doesn’t happen. We learn how to deal with other human beings right from childhood and within our families. While we learn about love, trust, loyalty, honesty, ambition, hard work, and politics in an extended family, we also learn about rejection, betrayal, and selfishness. Author Barua tried to tell us that we go out into the world with what we learn in a family. The tangible and intangible ways we respond to people depend on what we learned growing up. The core of the book is about what it is to be human, and a lot of it depends on being self-aware. There is a kind of positivity, acceptance, and tolerance in knowing what you want and getting it in a good way without stepping on someone else’s toes. The novel “Undertow” deals with the many such small things that make up a whole where relationships are concerned—how old hurts, grudges, and ego get in the way, as do new anxieties. With characteristic restraint and disarming, author Jahnavi Barua lays bare the disquieting predicaments of contemporary urban life and reveals the timeless and redemptive power of love, friendship, and self-renewal. It may sound unusual, but it is, in fact, an ingenious example of the effectiveness of narration; deeply touching, but never sentimental; restrained, but never frustrating; patient, but always page-turning. The beauty of Assam and the river Brahmaputra are so mesmerizingly described, which compels you enamored reading it and there is this uncanny yearning to see this heaven!

This moving book evokes in one a longing for the lucid exchanges that take place only in the most intimate moments. Rich in lyrical passages and rife with descriptive beauty. From impulsive, split-second decisions to the patient and overly optimistic, Jahnavi Barua writes with depth and evokes manifold emotions through her effortless prose and skilled storytelling. Terse and tense, this wonderful book is worth every second that you decide to spend on it. Quite adept at stirring emotions, the author addresses most characters, giving us their side of the story. Loya’s choice of men, in search of comfort and to be held, a physical action denied by her mother, surfaces now and then. Tarun’s guilt for abandoning his daughter runs parallel to his unabashed love for his wife Usha- the epicenter of all his troubles. The other characters bring a different perspective, this building is a story layered with emotions and the nuances of the human being and amidst all this is the Brahmaputra, a silent observer and sometimes a patient listener to the troubles of this family, a river that has seen this land come into existence, fight battles of its own and has offered solace to many a weary soul. The people of Assam believe fiercely in their roots, a rare love. This is the anchor that holds this story together, instilling in Loya the love for her roots and, finally, giving this family much-needed closure. This book is heart-wrenching, at the same time encouraging and full of hope. The story grips the reader in such a way through all kinds of emotions, sadness, and uncertainties of life. Raw feelings regarding abandonment as well as coming to terms with emotions so deep have been portrayed well. It is a book worth going back to on a day when you’d want to find the light at the end of your despair tunnel. This novel evoked so many unspoken emotions within you that your heart would be heavier with love and full of hope turned the last page.

Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bangalore-based Management professional, Literary Critic, and Codirector with Kalinga Literary Festival. He can be reached at [email protected]

Usha- the epicenter of all his troubles. The other characters bring a different perspective, this building is a story layered with emotions and the nuances of the human being and amidst all this is the Brahmaputra, a silent observer and sometimes a patient listener to the troubles of this family, a river that has seen this land come into existence, fight battles of its own and has offered solace to many a weary soul. The people of Assam believe fiercely in their roots, a rare love.

Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bangalore-based management professional, literary critic, and codirector with Kalinga Literary Festival. He can be reached at [email protected]

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HERE’S A BOOK THAT HELPS YOU NAVIGATE THE UNCERTAIN NATURE OF JOBS IN INDUSTRY 4.0

A gripping book full of incredible insights, Rajesh Srivastava’s ‘The 10 New Life-Changing Skills: Get Them & Get Ahead’ is meant to equip professionals with necessary skills such as creativity, problemsolving, innovation, and design thinking, among others, so that they can remain relevant in an ever-changing business world

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THE FUTURE OF JOBS 

The earlier 3 Industrial Revolutions (3IR) created bluecollar and white-collar jobs. Now, the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), also referred to as Industry 4.0, has commenced. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. The nature of jobs in Industry 4.0 is still not fully formed. It is still not entirely clear what shape and form they will take. Then how shall we prepare for jobs that are not entirely formed and are still evolving? A consensus is emerging that Industry 4.0 is creating ‘thinking and reflective’ jobs which can be labelled ‘green-collar’ jobs, because the colour signifies growth and renewal, sustainability and moving ahead. Green-collar jobs would require people to possess higher levels of cognitive skills, self-management skills, social skills and emotional skills. Let us dive deep into them to gain a cogent understanding of them. 

HIGHER-LEVEL COGNITIVE SKILLS 

Skill 1: Creativity. It requires the use of imagination to combine and connect different ideas in new and imaginative ways to come up with big ideas.  

Skill 2: Innovation. It requires the discovery of opportunities and implementing ideas to achieve profitable results.  

Skill 3: Critical thinking. It requires challenging traditions, questioning assumptions and defying norms that have outlived their utility, and installing new ones in their place.  

Skill 4: Framing the right question. It will lead to the right answer, which will open up a treasure trove of new business opportunities that would have remained undiscovered but for the right question.  

Skill 5: Smart problemsolving. It requires leveraging creativity, innovation, critical thinking and similar skills to come up with smart solutions. 

SELF-MANAGEMENT SKILLS  

Skill 6: Lifelong learning. It increases employability, accelerates career advancement, enhances self-confidence, helps one remain relevant and face the unexpected with aplomb. In brief, it is a passport to being a lifelong winner.  

SOCIAL SKILLS 

 Skill 7: Storytelling. It is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.  

Skill 8: Influence without authority. It helps to get people to see your way of thinking, motivate them to support your initiatives and adopt your idea of their own free will. 

 EMOTIONAL SKILLS 

 Skill 9: Humanness. In the earlier 3IRs, people did what they were told to do. Therefore, they bought their bodies to work, leaving their minds and hearts behind. Industry 4.0 is giving birth to green-collar jobs which entail ‘thinking and reflection’. Therefore, people must bring their minds, hearts and bodies to work. It has the potential to unlock people’s unlimited potential. Skill 10: Entrepreneurial spirit. It is an intangible energy that inspires people to harbour aspirations greater than the resources at their command. When this spirit is alive, businesses keep their mojo and maintain their edge. These skills will help you adapt to yet unborn jobs, no matter what shape and form they shall take.  

A word of caution:  

These skills are not substitutes for hard skills, i.e., technical knowledge or training. Those you must acquire. But the combination of hard skills coupled with these skills will help you thrive in the workplaces of Industry 4.0.  

The excerpt is from ‘The 10 New Life-Changing Skills: Get Them & Get Ahead’ (Penguin Random House India). 

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THIS BOOK ADDRESSES UNEXPLORED AREAS IN THE COPYRIGHT DOMAIN

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The book ‘Novel Dimensions of Copyright Law’ edited by Prof (Dr) S Sivakumar and Prof (Dr) Lisa P. Lukose (published by Thomson Reuters) has officially been launched by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, Judge, Supreme Court of India, in a function jointly organised by Indian Law Institute, New Delhi and CLEA (Commonwealth Legal Education Association) on 22 July, 2022. The book addresses in-depth hitherto unexplored areas in copyright domain such as copyright issues in online education, artificial intelligence, circulation of e-newspaper, deepfakes, synthetic media, social media, academic integrity, multimedia, online copyright exhaustion, software piracy, street art, etc., The guest of honor, Praveen Anand, Managing Partner, Anand and Anand introduced the book to the audience. The Chief Guest and the Guest of Honour emphasised the ever-expanding role of copyright laws in the era of ICT. Prof (Dr) Manoj Kumar Sinha, Director Indian Law Institute addressed the gathering and received the first copy of the book. Prof (Dr) Sivakumar, Senior Professor, ILI and Former Member, Law Commission of India presented editor’s response and (Dr) Lisa P. Lukose, Professor, Indraprastha University, Delhi proposed the vote of thanks.

The book launch event.

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The rise of fintech in India

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Technology disrupted finance many times over in the latter half of the past decade. Bank accounts, brokerage accounts, credit cards, mutual funds—some of the most important and basic financial products—can be opened in a matter of minutes, provided you have basic verification (KYC—Know Your Customer) in place. India’s expansion of financial services has been so successful that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) wrote a paper in February 2021 on how other emerging markets and developing economies can learn from our experience in building the now-famous digital infrastructure called the India Stack. Fintech is part of this transformation.

While there was no single magic moment or tipping point for fintech in India, one of the earliest predictions was back in 2015 by Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys and ex-chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). UIDAI developed the Aadhaar biometric system which is the ‘A’ in the JAM trinity (Jan Dhan–Aadhaar–Mobile), widely acknowledged as a pivotal driver for financial inclusion in India. Nilekani, while talking at an entrepreneurs’ meet organized by The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), said, and I quote from an NDTV article:

.  .  . in 2009 there was a WhatsApp movement in telecom. My analysis is, in 2015, there is a WhatsApp movement for finance in India.

Change is coming on many fronts .  .  . new licences, smartphone Aadhaar identification, e-sign, payment banks, etc. Some of it is regulated, some of it is technology, some of it is design, and some of it is market . . . [link to full video]

Nilekani was right and change did come in a very big way. Paytm’s digital wallet in 2014 was the first (Mint, 2019) Indian app to use a quick response (QR) code. It was such a runaway success that by December 2017, Paytm became the first Indian app to cross (Singh J., 2017) 100 million downloads. In April 2016, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) launched the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) which went on to transform digital payments in India. In September 2016, Mukesh Ambani announced that Reliance Jio would offer free voice calls and unlimited data till 31 December 2016; Jio added 50 million subscribers in eighty-three days (Sengupta & Khan, 2016) and India is now the world’s largest consumer of mobile data (Abbas, Economic Times, 2021). In November 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetization of currency notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 denominations which would play a major role in spurring payments via digital platforms. All these seemingly unrelated events played a huge part in sparking the fintech revolution in India. Today, QR codes and UPI are the things we take for granted while making payments through our smartphones to just about anyone, from kirana shops to newspaper vendors. And the success is of a global scale. To put things in perspective, UPI crossed US$ 100 billion in value in December 2021 (Singh, T.D., 2022), just over five years after its launch.

Fintech sits right at the top of India’s huge start-up ecosystem. The National Investment Promotion & Facilitation Agency’s website states that there are more than 2100 fintechs existing in India today, over 67 per cent of which have been set up in the last five years. The Indian fintech industry ecosystem consists of subsegments including Payments, Lending, Wealth Technology (WealthTech), Personal Finance Management, Insurance Technology (InsurTech), Regulation Technology (RegTech), etc. With the pandemic restricting our movement, everything went online. NASSCOM, India’s apex body of the information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) industry, called 2021 ‘The Year of the Titans’. In its January 2022 report, NASSCOM stated that BFSI (which includes fintech start-ups) in India enjoyed a lion’s share of investments across all stages. In 2021, India added thirteen BFSI unicorns, and saw an increase in seed and late-stage median ticket size by four times, and had more than fifteen rounds of US$ 100 million-plus funding.

The best way to understand technology’s impact on personal finance is to open your smartphone and check the number of personal finance apps. Almost every financial product in your life will have an app. So, you will have the apps of your banks (HDFC Bank, SBI, etc.), payments apps (like Paytm, Google Pay, etc.), investment apps (Smallcase, Paytm Money, ET

Money, etc.), domestic stock market apps (Zerodha, Angel One, IIFL, etc.), international stock market apps (Winvesta, Vested, etc.), portfolio tracking apps (INDMoney, Mprofit, etc.) and so on and so forth. Even these are just scratching the surface because there are apps for lending, insurance, crypto and more. Payments are integrated within shopping apps such as Amazon, delivery apps such as Zomato, lifestyle apps such as Myntra, etc. So, you can now choose to pay via UPI, digital wallet, credit cards, and—one of the hottest fintech areas of the past few years—buy now pay later (BNPL). Thus, fintech start-ups in India have transformed financial habits in general and access to financial products in particular. For example, today, we can buy US stocks like Apple and Tesla sitting in our homes in India—all with the tap of an app. And people are lapping this up. In 2021, as per a Times of India article (Hariharan, 2022), investments by Indians in the US stock markets more than doubled to US$ 300–500 million. Apps have enabled a change in saving habits, which can be seen in the ease of onboarding and starting an SIP in mutual funds. Starting an SIP is an easy and seamless process and, as mentioned earlier, SIP inflows in December 2021 crossed (Raj, 2022) Rs 11,000 crore—which is remarkable because SIP inflow was probably a rounding-off error in mutual funds flow a few decades ago. The sheer range of financial products now can be dizzying to anyone new to finance. And this is where technology played a role yet again—by creating a world of content to help us.

The excerpt is from ‘The Wisest Owl: Be your own Financial Planner’ by Anupam Gupta (Penguin Random House).

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