VILLAGE DIARY OF A HERETIC BANKER is more a diary than an instructive guide. The diary provides the flavour of the author’s personal experiences as a rural banker and his engagement with the poor in the remote crannies of India. The seed around which the book crystallises is the intrinsic tenacity and grit of poor rural women that can be harnessed into energetic powerhouses to drive our rural society onto the road to prosperity. The book carries in its pages the poignant nostalgia of the author for villages but it is also tinged at places with rage and despair. The message in this book is that there is no grand, universal formula for poverty reduction. The battle has to be fought on several fronts and what works in one place does not necessarily work everywhere. The way forward lies in grassroots field experiments for understanding the causal relationships in poor people’s behaviour and in learning by doing. The author’s faith in poor people’s ability to climb out of the rut is unshakeable and his core belief is gradualism. The author believes that lasting social change most often—and perhaps always—comes slowly rather than in a burst of revolutionary fervour. It is this belief that has shaped his work. He also believes that lasting change can be effected only when women are given equal opportunities for financial empowerment
The author firmly believes that it is possible to eliminate poverty in our country—provided we re-examine the received wisdom of our assumptions. The poor are poor not because they are unskilled or illiterate but because they cannot retain the returns of their labour. They neither own capital, nor does anyone give them access to credit, except on the most unreasonable terms. They live on the edge, in constant fear of a catastrophe or tragedy, but they have no insurance because insurance companies consider them a losing proposition. And the State’s social safety nets are not only grossly inadequate but mired in corruption and bureaucratic red tape.
During his efforts in development finance and rural development work for over three decades, the author has seen projects and strategies succeed as well as fail. He has seen misguided project designs, poor implementation and squandering of large sums of money. But he also witnessed incredible achievements. When development works well, he argues, it can transform lives by providing the underprivileged the capital and knowledge that can open up opportunities for them and reduce their poverty.