Good things can happen
I picked this book up to flip through but could not put it down. Published in 2005, it is the story of Verghese Kurien and how he set up the Gujarat milk cooperatives. Written in the first person, it is easy to read and, though written for Kurien by a journalist, Gouri Salvi, gives a clear sense of hearing him speak in his own voice – crisp, blunt, and authoritarian.
The book starts with Kurien’s childhood and education in the 1940s, and the series of events which led to him being sent by the nascent Government of India, soon after Independence, to work in the Anand Dairy. Kurien hated the place, hated his job, and felt disliked and unwelcome. What was it that led this man to bring the milk farmers of the region together in a cooperative which began supplying good-quality milk to the cities and soon brought economic and social change to the region? What kept him there year after year, decade after decade?
The historical events this book documents are well told and engaging. Besides streamlining milk supply and giving ownership to the farmers, we also learn how Kurien took on the might of the advanced dairy-farming nations and multinational organizations which, fearing the loss of an enormous milk-consuming market, did all they could to throttle dairy farming in India. And we learn his simple, common-sense economics and techniques of marketing which contributed to this success.
The Indian bureaucracy was another battle Kurien fought, frequently brought to the edge of disaster when he vented his hot temper and scathing tongue on lazy, self-serving officials, only to be pulled back into the fold by those in power who admired his sincere efforts and immense contribution to the development of the country.
I too had a dream also tells how Kurien’s tremendous success in creating dairy cooperatives led to efforts to create similar structures for oil seed, and fruit and vegetable. He was also requested to help streamline dairy farming in Pakistan and Sri Lanka – but sadly was unable to break through the corruption and vested interests that continue to preserve imported milk powder as the main source of milk in these countries.
Unlike other memoirs, the cover of this book is not a flattering photograph of the author – but an artistic wallpaper montage of Indian cattle. Photographs inside the book show Kurien with his family, and with personalities at historical events.
“I am not an employee of the government, I am an employee of the farmers,” Kurien says repeatedly. His vision of a country owned and managed by the people is a compelling one. One of the most powerful messages of this book is how a real democracy can function – with things are run by real people rather than an officious bureaucracy.