VR Logo

The Unreasonable Man

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress therefore depends upon the unreasonable man

This sounds like Winston Churchill or John Kenneth Galbraith. Actually, it is George Bernard Shaw, the playwright and a founder-member of the London School of Economics, who was himself an unreasonable man. The greater the number of unreasonable men in a society, the faster is its progress. All great scientists are unreasonable men; so are great social and political reformers. Gandhi was very much an unreasonable man. But it is his unreason that helped us oust the British within 30 years of Gandhi's arrival in India from South Africa. And he had nothing to his name when he died, only an old watch, a spinning wheel, a chappal and dhoti.

Albert Einstein too was the most unreasonable man. He was turned out of school because he was weak in mathematics, but also because he asked too many awkward questions about the universe, which in the end he turned upside down. The westerners have always had their share of unreasonable men, which is why they have dominated the world for the last so many centuries. Their scientists and engineers always asked awkward questions, something we Indians are told not to do. We are also taught to treat our teachers as demi-gods and to behave respectfully before them. But that is not what they are told to do in the West.

When I first attended my class in London, immediately after the war, I was amazed at the way British students behaved in the class. They not only interrupted the teachers and argued with them all the time but also put their feet on the desk and smoked in the class, yes, smoked, right in front of the teacher. In India, neither the teacher not the pupils smoked in class. We were all very reasonable men.

There was not a single business or management school in England when I was there. We studied either social sciences or pure sciences, and only one college in London taught engineering. There was a time when almost all senior officers from the ICS, the so-called steel frame of India, came from Cambridge or Oxford where they learned Latin and Greek, but very little engineering or sciences, and ultimately they found they simply could not cope with the fast changes taking place in India. Ultimately they had to wind up the show and return to England.

Now there are management schools by the score in England, but the managers they produce now manage foreign companies, for there are few British firms left to manage. All the great British companies have vanished. A company like ICI or Imperial Chemicals, once a great chemical company, manned by scientists and engineers, has sold all its plants and refineries and makes only paint. Now, they have no scientists, only managers, who, almost by definition, are reasonable men, which means conformists, and unable to think outside the box.

We need unreasonable men as badly as living organisms need oxygen. We have lots of men who can buy foreign companies but very few who can design and set up now plants from scratch, invent new technologies and come up with new products, instead of copycat companies who do what foreign companies have been doing for years and claim these products as their own. How long can we go on copying the West? Only reasonable men are happy imitating others!