SHANKAR'S WEEKLY, which was the Indian equivalent of Punch, the classic fun-loving British magazine, was a gold mine of humor, and I was fortunate enough to be one of the productive miners in the early 1970s. In the sophisticated pages of the prestigious magazine, I was able to stretch my liberty as an articulate layman to the absolute limit.
As a civil servant I was strictly forbidden to discuss in public any serious matter involving Government policies; but all my bosses right up to the top were my enthusiastic readers, and I felt free to walk on a tight rope.
And so, I could even find a way to relax with a jocular jab at the phenomenon of 'brain drain', which was (and still remains) a highly sensitive issue. In the following article, the long and lively chat about imported brains was only a camouflage -- the really explosive issue was the massive export of superior Indian brainpower, which wasn't discussed at all!
Glossary (in same order as in text)
Some of the terms below had been explained in an earlier context (Kicked Upstairs: Field Marshal Manekshaw, Field Captain Batterji - 28 March 2013), but let me repeat them here for ready reference:
Under-Secretary -- A common designation in the British and Indian Government frameworks, though it's a top post in Britain and a junior rank in India.
MPs -- Members of Parliament. Independent India has a written Constitution (1950), which is largely based on (and is, in some ways, an improved model of) the unwritten British Constitution. At the National level, there's a lower House called Lok Sabha ('People's Assembly' in Hindi), which is the equivalent of the House of Commons, and an upper House called Rajya Sabha (National Assembly), corresponding to the House of Lords, though certainly not its equivalent!
Japanese brains -- This article was written long before Maruti Udyog Ltd., an Indo-Japanese joint venture, materialized in 1981, heralding a remarkable revolution in the automobile industry in India.
BICI-BECI Bhavan -- 'Bhavan' is a Hindi expression which broadly denotes 'institution'. Various Departmental Headquarters in New Delhi are located in spacious buildings bearing native names like Krishi Bhavan (Agriculture, 'krishi' meaning crops), Udyog Bhavan (Industry and Commerce), etc. For no reason known to me, there's also the hybrid Rail Bhavan, housing the Railway Headquarters, which made my imaginary File Bhavan sound very real!
Chief Minister -- Corresponding to the Prime Minister at the Centre are the Chief Ministers in the various States in India's federal political structure.
Shankar's Weekly19 December 1972
NOT many people were present in the retail showroom of the Brains Import Corporation of India in New Delhi when I dropped in there the other day.
The sales manager who greeted me was extremely cordial, well-informed and communicative.
"Welcome to BICI, Sir!" he beamed as soon as he spotted me. "You want to buy a brain, Sir?"
"Well, I am just taking a look, if you don't mind," I said. "What kind of brains do you have?"
"We specialize in imports of brains, Sir," he said. "We have two categories -- Category-A, purely foreign brains, and Category-B, Indian brains purchased abroad and reimported to India."
"I see! Tell me something about Category-A, please. Which countries do you get them from?"
"Mainly from Europe and America, Sir. We have British brains for Under-Secretaries and MPs, American brains for businessmen and psychiatrists, Russian brains for scientists and tractor-drivers, Swiss brains for bankers and hotel managers. If you want a complete list, I can show you our catalogue, Sir."
"Don't you import any brains from Asian countries?"
"No, Sir. We used to get Japanese brains for electronic engineers and Hong Kong brains for men's tailors, but we stopped both because we found our customers are generally interested only in Western brains."
"What about Category-B Indian brains? Where do you get them from?"
"Mainly from America, Sir, but quite often from U.K. and Germany. Occasionally from Canada and other countries, too."
"What kind of people buy Category-B brains?"
"To tell you the truth, Sir, we are finding it extremely difficult to sell them. But there's a compulsory quota of twenty per cent for the re-import of Indian brains, and unless we get them we can't import the other eighty per cent foreign brains."
"You must be accumulating heavy stocks of Category-B brains, then?"
"Quite right, Sir! In fact, that's why we offer a big discount for them -- fifty per cent for imports from America, and sixty per cent for imports from any other country."
"What about export of Indian brains to foreign countries? Do you undertake any business of that kind?"
"No, Sir. The sole exporters of Indian brains are BECI -- I mean, the Brains Export Corporation of India."
"Why don't you get your supplies of Indian brains direct from BECI instead of importing them from abroad?"
"We can't do that, Sir. BECI gets impressive quotations from foreign buyers, and BICI is not authorized to make local purchase of Indian brains at comparable rates."
"But surely you must be paying a good price for the Category-B Indian brains you import against the twenty per-cent quota which is binding on you?"
"You are perfectly right, Sir! Besides, we are forced to sell them at a heavy discount, as I told you. If you want any more information, you can ask our Head Office in BICI-BECI Bhavan, Sir."
And now, BECA-BICA Business!
There have been some significant developments in this context during the four decades which have passed since I wrote the above article. On one hand, the Indian diaspora abroad has expanded exponentially, all over the world. On the other hand, foreign business concerns have started exploiting Indian brainpower on local soil, through extensive outsourcing of services.
Moreover, after making half a dozen trips to America, where one of my own children has settled down permanently, I am now able to look at the whole scenario from the viewpoint of the foreign countries also, and am also closely aware of the clash of conflicting interests out there. Who knows, one of these days I may even be tempted to visit the BECA-BICA Towers in New York, which house the Brains Export Corporation of America and the Brains Import Corporation of America, and write a sequel to my Shankar's Weekly article!