Most autobiographies draw from the troubles and tribulations of a person, revealing how they were able to overcome all odds to achieve what they did-the instances that changed them, the scenarios that compelled them to make tough choices and shape them into who they are. While some do go on to draw from personal experiences, rare is the case when an autobiography can also relate to the development of the sector the author was involved with.
Brijendra K Syngal's contribution to India is its telecom sector. In the aptly-titled Telecom Man, he details his and India's journey as the country moved from microwave repeaters to the internet, which has today become the standard platform for communication and service delivery.
Co-authored with former journalist Sandipan Deb, the story revolves around the evolution of the telecom sector and how a young man, once employed with the department of telecom, went on to become the head of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), which, at that time, was instrumental in laying the ground for a robust IT industry.
Instead of drawing from experiences, Syngal's story draws from instances of India's telecom boom. He comes out as a troubleshooter for the country’s telecom problems, earning recognition both within India and outside.
Divided into 10 chapters, the book starts with Syngal's life, but the author does well to steer it to developments in telecom. From thereon, most of the events are entangled with work in the telecom ministry, interactions with ministers and the 2G scandal. The rest of the parts are more mundane, with the author admitting his mistakes and counting the glorious moments that changed his life.
One of the problems with autobiographical writings is falling in love with your legend. Unfortunately, Syngal's account falls into that category. He doesn’t paint himself as infallible, but even the failings are presented with a hint of success. The experience for the reader would certainly have been more enriching had more instances from the telecom sector been presented or even if the author had given anecdotes from others’ lives. But the book continues on a single track, rarely leaving any line to highlight the achievements of others in the sector.
Syngal and Deb leave the reader yearning for more in a book that is a simplistic detailing of accounts with rarely any insight into what transpired when. To be fair, Telecom Man does make for an exciting read for those who wish to know how things worked in telecom and how much the sector has changed, but at the end of the day, it becomes an account of a single person detailing his journey.
Brijendra K Syngal & Sandipan Deb
Pp 300, Rs 699