Two Questions on Empires and Scale

During my London trip, there were two questions that I started thinking over.

  • Why is it that only some countries built out empires? In this context, why did India not go outward and build out an empire? The answer matters now because I see a similar story playing out in the global business space. A related question would be: is it possible for the “next big idea/thing” to originate in India?
  • Why do we think at such a small scale in India? This hit me when I got into a ridiculously small lift at the Mumbai airport to go one level down (and bypass a big queue). The lift was for the airline crew to use. [I used the “travelling with children” line to get in.] Considering that it is for use for crew with at least one bag, the lift could barely fit 5-6 people. It was the same story at Mumbai airport’s recently constructed car pick-up point. Why do we in India think at such a small scale? This story has been repeated time and again. Can’t we think bigger? What holds us back? [On this point, as I read somewhere: The recently constructed eight-lane Bandra-Worli sea link will see four lanes merge into a single lane at a T-junction at the Worli end. Can’t we even think?]

10 thoughts on “Two Questions on Empires and Scale

  1. Hi Rajesh,

    I am not a historian but I have thought about the first question at times. Only plausible reason I have been able to come up is that classical one of demand and resources.

    When countries were evolving, they had to have enough resources to be able to support their population. The countries that were self sufficient dint risk. They dint want to build empires. And the ones who had limited resources, they had to create armies to go out and explore options.

    And then as they say, over time, actions convert into habits and get built in the culture.


    P.S. Wondering what similar story are you seeing?

  2. Fantastic point on the scale thing. I have always wondered why. Everything is smaller in scale in India I have not understood why.

    Train berths, airplane seats, number of tennis courts in apartments, conveyor belts for luggage, etc etc. Now one can give reasons but fact remains we need to start thinking big.

  3. That question never gets a straight answer ever.

    Why are we like this? the answer is

    “We are like this only”… the
    quick-gun-murugan style (V-channel early 90’s).

    I read/heard Babar the invader observed that Indians are like Phython…they react only when it hurts.

    Second is “Chalta hai” attitude…

    One who thinks about tom’row – Human
    One who thinks about 5+ years – Politician
    One who thinks about 10+-years – Engineer
    One who thinks about 50+-years – Saint-Philosopher-Scientist

    When it boils down from Philosoper-to-Engineer-to-Politician-to-Human the
    8-lane-4-lane-2-lane-1-lane. Boiling down boils the essence itself and combined with “Chalta hai” attitude makes it where we are.

  4. Hi Rajesh,
    I feel that if you look in our society people mostly want to confirm and do not want to take many risks. It is like taking the path of least resistance. As Saurabh has said above, people with all natural resources and self-sufficiency didnt want to risk anything else. Like, all is good now, why should we disturb kind of attitude. There is a high premium on failure that people dont want to come out of their comfort zone at all. I think it is changing gradually but it will take a lot of time before risk taking attitude becomes mainstream in India.

  5. I feel the trust factor is low in Indian business community compared to what I have experienced in U.S.

    Everyone is on their own for protecting themselves. This is worsened by the fact that there are not enough safe guard structures in place which businesses can depend on to protect themselves. And everyone wants to avoid legal system. Compare this to west where lots of work can get done with credit rating system. Defaulting has repercussions for businesses.

    Structures are required which force people to behave properly in order to further their own interest.

    Less trust causes lots of friction (lots of conversations and meetings are required to build confidence in each other) before anything happens.

    And lack of trust makes people reevaluate their risk taking capabilities and avoid bigger scale dreams.

    Any new idea will propagate with low acceleration due to such lack of trust.

    Of course we can list several other factors. But I think if structures are built to improve trust it will enhance risk taking capabilities.

    My 2 cents.


  6. Rajesh,

    On the topic of “thinking big”, I guess I didn’t get your point. I’m thinking you were referring to just “size” aspect of it. I feel that optimizing given resources (read limited space available everywhere in India) and offering products that suit local affordability is also “thinking smart” if not thinking big. Most of places can not afford the grand sized elevators that we find in US. If we ask for it then we must be able to pay for it, that’s what I think.

    On the same line, I think the latest idea of nano apartments qualifies for “thinking big” as it would make housing accessible for millions if not all of us.


  7. on scale.. watch extreme machines on discovery.. on heavy duty trucks … this thought came to my mind .. why india do not have one of those?

    could have to do with the way govt decides contractors .. the one with lower bid.. now this contract has to take care of his pocket.. less material .. hence narrow roads, bridges, lifts … etc etc .. i think so.

  8. Rajesh, if you haven’t already, you should read Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”. In the beginning of the book, one of the natives of Papua New Guinea (Yali) asks precisely the question that you have raised. The rest of the book seeks answers to that question

  9. In my observation, I see that in india the “Curiousity Quotient” is low – by that I mean that if I were to put every indian on a scale that goes from living in ivory tower to intellectual to average curiousity to practicality to mindlessness, most indians will turn up on mindlessness (which may also explain the crime and violence and “bher chaal” ) and very brutal practicality. Others who have intellect are so isolated that they often end up living in ivory towers rather than doing anything practical as a result of their through process.

    On the other hand, if I were to line up people on the “Acceptance scale” from over confident to confident to average to insecure to self abasing, they would often end up on over confident or insecure and self abasing rather than being balanced. They either seek blessings like a dog would from a master or not listen to anyone.

    Founder, NRIs for India ( The website is not ready yet)