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ITC chairman Y C Deveshwar
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ITC: It's not just about tobacco!

November 3, 2008

Text: Sayantani Kar

In India: A Million Mutinies Now, V S Naipaul gives an account of the life of Chidanand Das Gupta, an ITC executive whom Naipaul met during his visit to India in 1962.

"He (Das Gupta) worked at the time for the Imperial Tobacco Company, later known less provocatively as ITC. Chidananda was one of the select and envied group of Indians known as 'boxwallahs'," wrote Naipaul.

Later in the chapter, giving an idea of the complacency of the boxwallahs' world, Naipaul quoted Das Gupta as saying: "There was a highly-paid staff manager who spent a large part of his time measuring the carpet that a particular... officer should get, and discussing the colours of curtains with the wives."

The two images - of the boxwallah superfluity of ITC executives and of the company as a monopolistic agency - endured in the mind of the educated Indian long after ITC ventured into areas unrelated to its core businesses of tobacco leaf export and cigarette manufacture.

However, if Naipaul were to update A Million Mutinies, he may feel compelled to replace Das Gupta with, say, S Sivakumar, who gets excited about agricultural exports, or K Vaidyanath, who cannot stop talking about the environment.

Image: ITC chairman Y C Deveshwar addressing a CII meet. | Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Also read: IT: World's 5 best performing nations

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