Friday, January 26, 2007

Thoughts in No Particular Order

Thoughts on the passing of Deepak Babu

The passing of Deepak babu or DB as most people who have traipsed through Presidency College will have known him as, brought an inexplicable sadness. I like many of my friends, was one of his less distinguised students, and as such we shared no bond. No friendship. No communication once I stepped out of college. But a man is known by the legends he creates. And Deepak babu was a man whose life was rife with legend. Stories of the things he said, things he scoffed at, the way he taught, the way he chastised, stories of his misspent youth, stories of his dismissive views of people around him... All these are the stories that made the man. Great stories make great men, and DB was a man about whom there were many great stories. Credited with phrases such as "you are innocent of economics" and "boi poro na - literary crossword cheshta koro kano?" - some of us were fortunate to have been the recipient of his wisdom, some fortunate to be the reason for his sarcasm. Most of us were just fortunate to be there when he was. From the time I joined Presidency college, the stories were whispered in the corridors and on the steps - this is where DB once got drunk as a student ... this is where DB told off so and so in no uncertain terms... some almost unreal. Like how he stowed away and worked on a ship to get to England. Or like when he saw a student staring at his wife how he put an arm around his shoulders and told him he would also get a pretty wife if he studied hard... many of them made great story telling and were perhaps far removed from reality. But like I said, great men make great legends, and their passing leaves a very large void in the fabric of our lives, distant though he may have been to us. And that great, distant void brings this inexplicable sadness.

Thoughts on Weather Deterrants
carried an umbrella today. It therefore didn't rain.

Thoughts on Racism in Big Brother

As I write this, Shilpa Shetty is on her way to becoming the face of anti-racism. It’s not an unattractive face, to be honest and one could have done worse. But it seems a bit ironic that such an important issue has surfaced so universally, in the definitively but compulsively banal Big Brother show, whose only claim to noteworthiness is the darker aspects of social engineering it seems to always suggest – couched in its grotesque attractiveness. Its also a sign of the lack of social enlightenment which haunts Britain’s masses – making them no different to their much pilloried American counterparts.

What should worry most British people is not that racism exists, because in smaller and larger doses, it does, universally exist – even in India or Pakistan – but that the ironically named Ms Goody is a publicly known figure who attracts her share of ridicule now and then but is otherwise not seen as racially offensive or right-wing or even a particularly nasty person. This means that for most Britons, she was, hitherto, “one of us”. Suddenly, her new image - insensitive, racially prejudiced, not very clever and not very nice – hurts more because of this reason. It’s not a nice stereotype you’d want beamed across the world. The reality is perhaps ignorance and not racism. But that too is scant solace.

snow in London

woke up on wednesday morning to see the trees covered with white outside the window.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

India Poised

Having spent the last 2 weeks in India, I've been overexposed to slogans from every conceivable brand - from political, to commercial and from civic to the downright cynical, proclaiming that India is "poised". Poised for what? - You may well ask! I suppose that ever better growth, centrality on the world stage, overall inward investments, reduction in absolute poverty are some good things to be poised for. But the question which has been on my mind for a few months now is: how does a country make a transition from being a 'developing' country to a developed country? What are the parameters of that transition? What are it's harbingers and milestones? What are the danger signals of regression? And of course, what are the pitfalls to avoid?

I asked my friend Amit, who is a professor of Economics, but alas, it was already 3 AM and either he was too tired to explain at length or (more likely) I was too sleepy to comprehend. But wandering around Lucknow, Kolkata and now Mumbai, I had to rethink some of my own presuppositions.

The one belief that hasn't changed, though, is my view that the process of development of a nation or a society is not judged through it's most fortunate citizens but by the lifestyle of its least privileged. It's this lens we need to hold up while evaluating progress and growth. This isn't a cry for socialism or equality. I think equality is a somewhat overrated as a premise. In a free economy, growth and wealth creation will always come at the expense of equality. But this progress needs to be measured by the improvement in the reduction of absolute poverty i.e. the actual income and consumption patterns of the poorest sections of the population needs to improve.

The questions still remains in my head... the answers hopefully, will come.