Transforming India in Just 21 Days (with Harun Al-Rashid)


On a Sunday, doorbell of my apartment rang. I opened the door expecting my maid but instead found a stranger, dressed in the clothes of a King. The stranger gave me a warm smile, extended his greetings and shook my hand. “Good morning Dr Modak, I am Harun Al-Rashid. The Caliph of the Arabian Nights”

I couldn’t understand what was going on. Was I dreaming? Or was it a joke or a prank from one of the friends?

“Well Dr Modak, I am here to bring in a change in the behavior of the Indian citizen, Indian businessman, Indian Administrator, Indian Politician and all the Indians and of all kinds. I have been charged with a task to make them responsible to the environment and be ethical. A renowned Professor, who claims to be your friend, has highly recommended you. I need your help and you will be suitably rewarded”

“You know that for long Government of India has been doing its best to enforce good behavior across the citizens in India. You will see hoardings like “do not spit, do not urinate, do not litter” and exactly next to these warnings you will see the mess… You have anticorruption bureau, income tax departments, excise officers, enforcement directorate whose job is to ensure that all pay taxes and don’t ask for bribes – but despite the presence of these law enforcing bodies only a meager percentage of population pays the taxes and “black money” or illegal wealth is expected to be several times of the National GDP. Worse of all, those who are supposed to be the guardians of the environment, i.e. the pollution control boards and departments of environment are hand in glow with the industrialists, real estate builders and the politicians. In this nexus, India’s environmental resources are simply butchered. Worse of all, the poor and vulnerable sections of the society are affected.

If all citizens of India decide to live abiding by the law, show responsibility to the nature and be ethical, then India will shine”

I ushered Harun Al-Rashid to my drawing room and got him some black coffee. I asked “How can I help?”

“Oh just accompany me and take me to places. And I will also need a number of your students to tag along. You will also keep a record of our trail”

“I cannot stay up whole night although my students may” I said this because I remembered that Harun Al-Rashid used to roam at night in Bagdad, hence the stories Arabian Nights.

“Don’t worry. We will go out this time in the day time and may be stroll nightly only for few occasions” Harun Al-Rashid assured.

And we will start from tomorrow.


Those who do not know about Harun Al-Rashid

Harun al-Rashid became the fifth caliph (religious and political leader of an Islamic state) of the Abbasid dynasty (ruling family) in September 786 at the age of twenty. During his reign the power and prosperity of the dynasty was at its height, though it has also been argued that its decline began at that time.

Harun Al-Rashid was very anxious that his people should be treated justly by the officers of the government; and he was determined to find out whether any had reason to complain. So he sometimes disguised himself at night and went about through the streets and bazaars, listening to the talk of those whom he met and asking them questions. In this way he learned whether the people were contented and happy, or not. Harun is the hero of several of the stories of the “Arabian Nights,” a famous book, which contains these stories. Al-Rashid was essentially a people’s person.

I was wondering how Harun Al-Rashid will transform people of India who are so stubborn to change.

Harun Al-Rashid explained to me his theory and the plan.

It seems that a person succumbs to any habit if continued over 21 days. Say, if you want to go for a morning walk to shed your weight, then you must ensure that you take a walk every day at least for 21 days. Once done so, taking a walk in the morning becomes a habit. You now don’t need your doctor or the wife to remind you or nudge you.

No one is entirely sure where the 21-day rule originates, but it seems to have first been set forth in a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics.” It’s a self-help book first published in the 1970s, and in it, you find out you can create or break a habit in just 21 days. Take a look at the video clip at or even better – then visit

Now apply this theory of 21 to bad habits and irresponsible and unethical behavior.

Let us assume that you tend to spit on the side of the street. Just imagine that if you don’t spit over 21 days, then you won’t spit again on the street and forever!

I asked Harun Al-Rashid, but why should someone change to be good.

“Easy, I will offer depending on the case a tempting reward. Reward plays an important role to make or break a habit. I will give this reward only when I will observe that such a change happened over consecutive 21 days”

The next day morning my doorbell rang and I saw a Social Worker with a Jholi (shoulder bag), standing outside the door. He looked like Arvind Kejriwal. I was shocked. The man said “It’s me, Harun al-Rashid and not Arvind Kejriwal. You know I always go disguised”.

I thought this was a very clever and perhaps an appropriate choice. Besides, Kejriwal is known only in Delhi and not in Mumbai.

We started walking on the street. Six students from IIT Bombay joined.

We saw a guy who came outside his house and threw kachara (waste) on the streets. He did it so shamelessly and casually.

Harun Al-Rashid caught hold of the guy and confronted him.

“Why are you doing this?” He asked

The Man said, because everybody does this. There is a lot of litter on the street anyways. What difference will it make if I segregated waste as per the rules and put in the right bins? The municipal staff that comes to collect the waste mix all the waste from the bins and dump in the pick-up truck.

Al-Rashid said “I understand your point of view. But why don’t you do proper segregation of waste and place the waste in the separate bins as per the color code and not litter around? I will reward you with 10,000 Rs if you do this every day for next 21 days”

The Man was shocked. “Will it be in cash?” he asked. Al-Rashid said “Yes, the cash will be delivered to you at your residence on the 22nd day” He then turned to me and said “Dr Modak, please put two of your students to track this gentleman over next 3 weeks and report”.

The Man promised that he will behave good. He thought that a reward of Rs 10,000 for such a simple thing was worth.

When we walked ahead, al-Rashid said, the poor guy does not realize that he is now in a trap. Once he behaves alright for 21 days, in his whole life he will keep segregating the waste, store in the right bins and not liter around. This is going to become his habit

I was impressed. What a strategic approach!

We went further ahead and reached the office of the Pollution Control Board. Amongst other things, Pollution Control Board’s job is to do enforcement to achieve environmental compliance.

There was a discussion going on between the Officer and a Man from the industry.  The Officer was asking for a bribe. The Man from the industry was negotiating an amount something reasonable.

Al-Rashid asked the officer “Why are you doing this?”

The Officer said “Everybody in my office is doing this – not just me. I told this Man to pay me a small fee of Rs 50,000. In return, I told him that I will let him pollute and not invest in building an effluent treatment plant. This plant would cost him at least 5 million Rs. But he is not understanding and is proposing to pay only Rs. 25,000. Please help me convince him”

“How much money do you need?” Al-Rashid asked.

The Officer said, Rs 100,000 a day. It’s not just for me.

“No problem” said Al-Rashid. Don’t take bribe from any industry for the next 21 days. I will pay you in cash 21 lakhs or 2.1 million Rs on the 22nd day.

The Officer was jinxed! Are you sure? he looked at al-Rashid closely – Are you Arvind Kejriwal by any chance? I am not sure you will keep the promise.

Al-Rashid reassured him and said don’t worry. I will personally come to deliver the cash. The money will be packed in an imported leather bag with your name (initials) engraved on the sides as a special gift.

He then turned to me and said “Please put two of your students at the office of the Board and check whether our friend asks for any bribe for the next 21 days”

The Officer said he will not take or ask any bribe.

As we started walking ahead, he smiled “Poor guy, he does not know that after 21 days, he will not be asking for bribe from anyone anymore. Not asking a bribe will become his habit!”

We continued the journey and met with a corrupt technical committee member who made money on sanctioning speedy environmental clearances by manipulating or sometimes flouting the rules. Al-Rashid fixed him by offering a hefty sum of 20 million Rs after 22nd day.   Two more students of IIT were planted to monitor him.

We also made a visit at night and caught Production manager of an industry who was habituated to bye-pass and discharge untreated effluent in the water course at night. He was offered a reward of Rs 1 million for not doing so for 21 days.

My job was to supply students as watchdogs. I had to poach students from other institutions as I was fast running out my stock. Al-Rashid suggested that I speak to Communist Party Leaders like Sitaram Yechuri as he felt that the CPM party workers don’t have much work to do and could take up this task.

I was maintaining a record of promises Al-Rashid was making. On our very first two days and one night, the total money committed to be paid crossed 10 crores or 100 million Rs. This amount was staggering.

I asked al-Rashid “How are you going to settle? Do you have a Swiss bank account as most rich Indian’s do?”

Oh, no worries. The entire project is sponsored by Mr. Azim Premji of Wipro. Premji is too rich a person, equally very generous and has a problem how to spend his money. He has earmarked Rs 53,284 crores for his foundation already to help the society – mainly supporting education. And he is the one who asked me to implement the 21 day strategy of transforming India and break the bad habits of Indian citizens. This effort is in fact equivalent to educating people. I love him.

I was impressed. I now understood how we could potentially reach a new regime of self-transformed India– something that is reward driven while abandoning the traditional and ruled out techniques of enforcements and punishments.

But I still wanted to put a word of caution and so I asked Al-Rashid. By then he had shed the face of Arvind Kejriwal and was back in his caliph dress – He was looking majestic.

“Don’t you think we should appeal other rich corporate leaders in India to pledge their CSR funds for such a noble and innovative initiative? They could follow Premji’s wisdom and generosity. The Government could facilitate”

Al-Rashid smiled and said softly “Do you think the Government and Corporate India are interested in such a transformation? Probably they would like to see that the present conditions continue to prevail….”

I could not disagree. Al-Rashid was perhaps right.

He then said “Well, see you tomorrow morning – we have a lot of work to do”

As a reward for my  two day’s work, he gave me a box of dates coated with a thin film of Gold

He disappeared giving me hopes for India’s transformation.

(Cover image sourced from


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