Games Indians Play by V Raghunathan


If I have to summarize this book Games Indians Play in one sentence, it would be ‘A book written by an upper-middle-class Bangalorean, who has to drive through the traffic every day, who happens to be a student and teacher of management, and he applies game theory to investigate the everyday behavior of Indians. And shares his random thoughts on just about everything that is wrong in India. Then adds the dash of Gita to bring in spirituality in the end.

It could have been very well a book composed out of random blog posts written about everyday frustrations. His list of disclaimers actually goes on to support the same. The problems he has picked up are usually faced by middle-class Indians and seem too personal.

Games Indians Play by V Raghunathan

He has not looked at problems faced by other strata of the society. And he ends up highlighting what he is out to prove that we are so selfish that we can not see any other problems but ours. He abhors the rich and famous by talking about what they get away with. But there is a lot that we middle-class people also get away with because of our position in society. Which he has not touched upon. If all his issues are addressed, which are limited to the corruption that you face while registering the land, queues that you face at the airport, the chaos that you face at the traffic signals, and annoyance when others drive on high beams. I am not sure if he would be interested in exploring behaviors.

Games Indians Play: Why we are the way we are by V Raghunathan

While I am not denying the problems, our not-so-civic behavior causes, I am not sure if I can appreciate the limited view of the same.


The tagline of the title says ‘Why we are the way we are’, and does the book Games Indians Play answer that question? My assessment is an absolute NO. He uses Prison’s dilemma and a goat example throughout the book by changing variables therein. To explain certain theoretical behaviors. But does not relate any of them to the issues that he highlights in the book. He has described Indianness with 12 characteristics. All of which are grossly negative and derogatory. And somehow the approach says as if he is not one of them. Is there nothing positive about us? Do we have no human face? I wonder if the holistic approach would have been better to look into our behaviors.

An analysis of behavior both positive and negative would have given a more scientific and complete approach to the motivation for the behaviors. As of now, it gives me a feeling of dealing with very personal bothering. I think the whole game theory was irrelevant as it only fits the issues into a model and does not really suggest a solution.


In the end, the author adds the dash of his personal awakening that happened through his reading Gita. And finding traces of game theory there too. The only solution that he suggests is the most famous Gita verse ‘Karmanye Vadhikaraste…’. Which is nothing but suggesting “Gandhigiri” in the more colloquial words.

My recommendation for this book is, to read only if you like absolutely light reading on a relaxed day. Though the high degree of cynicism in the book agitated me a bit…

Thanks, Dhaval for gifting me this book.

You may buy this book – Games Indians Play: Why We are the Way We Are by V Raghunathan at Amazon India.

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  1. Anuradha: I can see why you liked my review of the book. On my blog, it obviously remains one of the most read posts but clearly the tone of the “fans” of the book deteriorated rapidly. 🙂 Such is life.

    BTW I have lived in Bangalore in mid-1990s so now each time I visit, it brings tears to my eyes… 🙁

  2. Your review is too good. I have known Raghunathan professionally and I am surprised you think he is a upper-middle-class Bangalorean. He in fact ranks among the super rich.

  3. As an expat living in India ( who has great affection for the place) I must confess on reading the review and the subsequent comments exactly confirms Raghunathan’s assessment of the situation.

    I think it was very brave of Raghunathan to mention some of the items in the list.

    I think what surprises most civilized people that even highly educated and sophisticated Indians do not seem to care – strange.

    You may not be aware (since it is one of those unspoken things) that India does indeed have the reputation for the dirtiest toilets in the world.

  4. Hi Anu, Having studied in India as well as USA. I now feel that whatever Mr. Raghunathan has written is very true. Indians lack basic courtesy like saying thank you and sorry (although it doesn’t cost a penny to do it). When it comes to charity they are an absolute no no (how many billionaire Indians have donated) but when it comes to flaunting money they are the first. Above all look for the fair and lovely ad (where a girl with dark complexion is treated like and eye sore and once she starts using fair and lovely she lands with a job) and you will immediately see the shallowness of people. The treatments of the girl child and females as a whole is another question mark ? And do read this link as well

  5. Amit, I hate to be measured by the yardsticks of US for everything. If you want my honest opinion, I don’t care for the artificial courtesies that you get in US, where everyone says ‘How are you’, without even waiting for you to answer and leave alone the true answer.

    If you think women are treated better in US, you are too far away from reality. Its time that we as people start looking around for data from our own experiences than react on what the media serves us.

  6. Your review sucks and you are one of those Indians who turn their back to negative thoughts pertaining to Indians.

    Live in fools’ paradise.

  7. Hi all,

    Can anyone here disagree with the author? We actually are the way we are….the comments here prove this. It is like Amitabh Bachan’s comment on the Slumgod Millionaire movie…that the movie shows India as ‘Third world’…..arent we that?

    Truth hurts mates!!


  8. Hi all,

    Can anyone here disagree with the author? We actually are the way we are….the comments here prove this. It is like Amitabh Bachan’s comment on the Slumgod Millionaire movie…that the movie shows India as ‘Third world’…..arent we that?

    Truth hurts mates!!


  9. On the contrary, as I read it, I find it answering how we are the way we are.

    In everyday situations, we come across forks where we have to make a decision between ourselves and the society at large and to some extent, we involuntarily choose the more selfish decision neglecting the long term good the social decision brings.

    And the quote from Gita is apt. When one dumps a chocolate wrapper on the floor, he is not doing his karma. Karma is when he dumps it in the dustbin.

    i think our root is itself wrong. when we are 3 years old and we are taken to temple by parents, after we put kumkum in our forehead immedialtely our parents tell us to put the remain kumkum in the temple pillar or corner. from that place itself we are starting to make nuisance.

  11. Anuradha, I picked up this book thinking that I will get some insight..but reached the same conclusions as you. Raghunathan has just used a simple game theory example to pigeon hole everything into it. Cannot understand what the objective of the book was…and surprised to see Narayan Murthy lend a foreword for it.

  12. Hi Anuradha,

    I have felt that the Raghunathan's view of Indian behaviour is correct. We are not the respectable Indians who have taught many Sciences to the entire World ceturies ago in Taxila, Nalanda and Nagarjuna universities.

  13. Wow! your review was totally awesome and I couldn't agree more. As for one of your responses to this guys views US people having more courtesy than Indians, i agree with your response totally. I have lived in the US for a few years now, and i can attest that the unspoken caring mindset we indians have is much better than superficial courtesy here.

  14. Excellent book. IT does address urban issues primarily but then rural people will never get to read this book or bring about any change since we have dis-empowered them. If we who can read, are unwilling to change let us not complain that the book does not address all the problems in India.
    When I took up Water reforms (pricing/slabs)in our colony the book was of immense help to bring about real change – self legislation for the first time in India. – Jayawanth, bangalore

  15. Hi Anuradha, My review of the same book – I respect your view, but feel the author has no obligation to soften the blow for the audience. The book is in the form of a case presentation, keeping it crisp and clear is what makes the book small and hard hitting. In principle are you are against moderating your comments? I suggest you remove some of the comments, they are quite rude.ShivaM

  16. Hi there, i do understand that the author is trying to make a point (and without diluting it). But on Mr. Amit's comment – the whole point around charity is built in the ethos..cant specify percentages here, but even though billionaires arent seen donating bulks to beach cleanups in nthe USA, we do see a lot of the high-rising guys (quite a few of them having risen through the 'lower income' strata as well) contributing to the cause in one way or the other – be it religeous or causal, monetory or giving in time.. again – i am not claiming that all of them are highly driven by causes, but from where i have seen them – i certainly see an awareness build up over time.. and dude.. we are still a 'developing' economy. why do people forget that if someone sees resource scarcity (in form of food or education or job opportunities), one is bound to get into a 'fight for everything' mode.. not the best thing agreed, but that's how countries and civilizations evolve..

  17. I enjoyed the book. As an Englishman living in India since 1978 I had hoped that India might climb out of the Me, my family, my caste depths. Unfortunately this is not happening. The Gods of selfish greed rule. Ok the uncontrolled population expansion does not leave much room for consideration of ‘the other man’ The inability to see that churning out rubish with out a collection system, the generation of housing with out considering the sewage disposal, the buying of cars without considering parking. The buying a driving licence rather than driving lessons, all typify a mind set that will end in disaster. If you think I am wrong consider getting off a metro at any main station. Why do people rush in before those inside are allowed out? Why are criminals allowed to be legislators?
    YOur problems guys. Get sane.

  18. A typical IIMA professor begins his class lecture with the words “Who would like to begin”. He speaks very little, except of the gist of the concept, and listens to what the class speaks and moderates the conversation. I say this in the context of the book, where the average reader/reviewer might get pissed off by the cynicism, negativity, and the lack of an obvious answer to the question posed. But true to IIMA prof style, Raghu has stated case facts, stated them without papering over the faults, and provides clues to the answer, but your true learning as a reader will come only upon your own reflection on what he is saying. So I disagree with Ms. Goyal to the extent of her ‘light reading’ statement. I read my High school chemistry in light reading fashion – just enough to remember for the exams. But this book, I keep re-reading it and rediscovering insights, and it makes me a better person each time in terms of behaving responsibly. I am not sure if that was Raghu’s idea, but that’s how the book works for me. It does not give you a readymade answer. It isn’t even looking for one. But it gives you enough to work things out for yourself, but you need first to be capable of that!


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