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Short Review: Ravi Subramanian’s “If God was a Banker”

I just read “If God was a Banker” by Ravi Subramanian. It’s an easy-read kind of story of a bank, called “New York International Bank”, and the tale of two people who eventually became the Country heads of the bank for retail banking. One, Sandeep Srivastava, a person who would do a lot of things that would benefit his career – even if it hit below the belt. The other guy, Swami, a nice tam-brahm who was extremely virtuous, by the look of it, and got stuff done the “right” way.

The writing is horrendous – the lack of punctuation apart, sometimes it leaves you completely confused about time, with very few data points to pin point the year when an event occurred, or such. Some parts of the book are confusing – I remember well about a Gujju, Ram Naresh, speaking in pukka Punjabi in Calcutta, which I had to turn back pages to confirm. There is a lot of talk about sex – how SS would use his personal assistants, or how the Gujju/Punjabi in Cal supplied good looking women to people in the bank for favours. Unfortunately the author uses a lot of bad language where it is not necessary, and balks from expanding into some where he should.

There is a far more vitriolic comment from Aadisht – he feels lousy that such a product should emerge from someone with an MBA, which therefore vilifies all MBAs. I don’t quite agree – when someone asks me where I did my MBA from, I usually reply: “I’m not an MBA. I became an asshole all by myself.”

But I digress.

The reason, I think, for the anachronicity (if there is such a word) and the lack of detail is that this is an account of a series of events that actually occured, suitably fictionalized. It seems, from the comments on Aadisht’s posts and my knowledge, that nearly all characters were drawn from real people. And if you put too much detail, it doesn’t go too well with the people concerned.

So it looks like New York International bank is Citibank. Sundeep I think is based on Sarvesh Swarup, the (ex?) Citibank retail head, UK, whose colourful life has probably been rendered even more so by this book. (Stories in organisations are always about who’s sleeping with who, and some stories are grossly exaggerated) Swami is likely to be based on P.S. Jayakumar who was the Country manager for Citi India. “Aditya Rao” – the “god” who was a saviour to them all types – sounds dangerously like Jerry Rao of Mphasis.

The storyline is only interesting for those who’re in for some extremely light reading. For those of you who are interested in some really good, well researched, nicely written books on real events: Here’s a few:

  • A Conspiracy of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald. On the Enron crisis – fantastic book, even has details of how the whole thing happened down to emails, individual excesses and so on.
  • Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst by Dan Reinhold. About the stuff that happened with Worldcom, Bernie Ebbers, Jack Grubman. One sided, but fascinating.
  • Bull! From Boom to Bust, by Maggie Mahar. Interesting, well researched book on the stuff that happened from 82-99, but tends to be over-conclusive at times.
  • What goes up by Eric Weiner. Fantastic book of only quotes – all the way back to the great depression.
  • Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis: The rise and fall of Salomon Brothers/Michael Milken.
  • The Scam by Sucheta Dalal – about our own two crises, 1992 and 2001. I actually know some of the people written in this book, so it’s all the more fascinating for me.

Back to Ravi Subramanian’s book. Well, it’s only 195 rupees, so it won’t be a drain on your pocket…but if you don’t know anything about banking or have not lived through the “Citibank years” in India, you may not find it remotely fascinating. Still, the fellow has sold some 20K copies – according to his comments in Aadisht’s blog (which I found were in poor taste, but they may not be him). Which is a gross earning of Rs. 40 lakhs – so after paying margins (50% for most books!) and costs and all that he will probably end up getting a few lakhs. That’s not much reward – but then there’s not much of a story in there either so perhaps not too much effort either. Isn’t it sad that Indian authors don’t earn a killing by just writing? And 20K would qualify you as a “bestseller”?

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