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Chetan Mahajan ’07 became an "accidental author" after spending time in a rural Indian jail.

Chetan Mahajan

Finding value in the bad boys

After landing in jail, Chetan Mahajan ’07 becomes an ‘accidental author’

By Fred Schmalz

5/5/2014 - Chetan Mahajan never intended to write a book. But then an unexpected thing happened: He got thrown in jail.

“Going to jail comes with taboos, and many would be embarrassed about it,” Mahajan said. “I chose to air my experiences as loudly and publicly as I could.”

Mahajan viewed his unfortunate situation as a way to turn a calamity into an opportunity to write about the differences — and similarities — between corporate India and the Indian prison system. The result is The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail, published in India by Penguin Books, a fascinating look into educational opportunity, personal growth and the powerful, humbling effects of leaving one’s comfort zone.

"It faltered badly"

The book begins in December 2012. Weeks earlier, Mahajan had been hired at Everonn, a provider of IIT coaching in cities across the country. After instructors at the Bokaro branch of Everonn quit to join a competitor, students demanded refunds of their tuition fees. Mahajan was sent east from Delhi to calm the situation.

The day after his arrival in Bokaro, police arrested Mahajan on criminal fraud charges stemming from complaints filed after more than 600 students and parents sought refunds. He spent the next month in jail before being cleared of all charges once the company had refunded all the tuition fees.

“My employer expressed a lot of intent,” Mahajan said. “It faltered badly on execution. I don’t think most companies plan for events like this, and that’s exactly where they get blindsided. I think having a formal process to manage such contingencies is a must.”

Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations Adam Waytz views Everonn’s failure to take ownership of the crisis situation as typical of many corporate ethical lapses.

“A lot of the issues in this case suggest a mindset that is at the root of so many ethical failings, which is a focus on the short term at the expense of the long term,” Waytz says. “Producing rosy financial statements and making big promises to attract clients provide some benefit in the short term, but seem to completely ignore the future consequences of these actions.”

“Very human” lessons

Mahajan’s time in jail resulted in his becoming an “accidental author.” The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail has taken off in India, with positive reviews and sales warranting a second printing just two months after publication. Penguin expects the book to become a bestseller.

“The only reason I wrote this book was because they literally locked me up and threw away the key for a full month,” Mahajan wrote. “They surrounded me with interesting people — the kinds you find in jail. No disrespect to regular folks — you are interesting, too. But nowhere near as interesting as a jail inmate.”

Over the course of the month, Mahajan observed the realities of “jailonomics” – or how goods and services including food, shelter, medical care and labor are distributed among inmates and how that economy interacts with external economies.

Mahajan had plenty of time to think about issues such as corruption, class, religion and opportunity. “The lessons for me are simple, and very, very human,” he writes. “We are all — except for a few rare exceptions — the outcome of our circumstances.”

A future in education

Mahajan’s incarceration also deepened his commitment to the importance of education in India — both for individuals and for the nation’s future.

Mahajan left Everonn the month his case was dismissed, but remains engaged in the education sector as president of HCL Learning Ltd.

“India’s education industry is not just like any other country’s,” says Mahajan. “It doesn’t stop at impacting jobs or GDP, but will more or less single-handedly determine how India will look in the future.”

“The number of employable youth, the entrepreneurial spirit, I would even say whether India survives as a nation or disintegrates into many smaller ones all depends very heavily upon how well it does, which in turn depends upon the state of its youth,” Mahajan adds. “So my passion to see a better system is very, very strong. There is a lot that needs fixing in Indian education, and I hope to be able to contribute to that in my own way.”