Disclosure: One day in late 1995, Ajit Balakrishnan phoned me and asked if I’d like to join a new internet company he was setting up. “Internet? Er...you mean the Information Superhighway?” I replied, trying not to sound like an ignoramus. I spent the next couple of weeks trying to convince him that I was quite wrong for the job, while he tried to convince me that I was right for it. Fortunately for me, he won, and I ended up working at rediff.com for the next few roller-coaster years.
The Wave Rider is a book not many CEOs would have written. What could have easily been a work of corporate braggadocio, is, instead, a small, quietly reflective and insightful book about the internet age, and its impact on society. The narrative keeps intercutting between Balakrishnan’s personal journey as he created rediff.com and issues that have helped shape the information era—ranging from the lessons of the railway mania of the 1850s for telecom companies of the late 1990s, to Jared Diamond’s evolutionary biology theories and their relevance to the personal computer. The experience, therefore, is something akin to reading a piece of hyperlinked prose: you click on a link, metaphorically speaking, taking you on a delightful tangential riff, before bringing you back.
The Wave Rider is a slim volume, and leisurely in pace, well-informed and felicitously written. Just one little thing: Balakrishnan claims that a corporate predator once phoned him to ask how much it would cost to buy rediff.com, and he retorted by asking him how much it would cost to sleep with his wife. I find it hard to believe that someone as soft-spoken as Balakrishnan could have done that; the anecdote belongs, perhaps, to a ‘Things I wish I’d said’ box we all maintain inside our heads.
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