25 January, 2021

Socialism's Other

G.D. not only defined India's big business, he essayed a role in its politics that wasn't to last

Socialism's Other
If a list of the builders of modern India were to be drawn up, the Birlas would undoubtedly be on top. There is, of course, the house of Tatas but they kept themselves aloof from politics, politicians and the media. The Birlas, on the other hand, took keen interest in political affairs, financed political parties and politicians and published newspapers. As a result, they were always in the public eye. They were also the biggest builders of temples in modern times, earning respect in every Hindu house. Famous among the Birlas was Ghanshyam Das (1894-1983). Apart from books, he wrote his own memoirs. But there was a need to have his life-story told by an outsider. Medha Kudaisya, assistant professor at the Singapore National University, has done that.

Birlas are Marwaris of Pilani of the Maheswari subcaste. Strict vegetarians and teetotallers, they venerate the cow and conform to Vaishnavite ritual. They marry within their sub-caste: a breach of this tradition can invite ostracism. They regarded the crossing of the seas sinful and had to undergo ritual cleansing before being...



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