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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oh, India!

As this editorial in The Telegraph takes note, the National Advisory Council headed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has pointed out with concern that the proposed new law against sexual harassment of women in the workplace has left out of its purview a very large number of girls and women workers, indeed the worst paid, most abused (not just sexually) and most insecure among women workers – to wit, the several tens of millions who work as domestic helps for all of us, middle and upper class India (which has been ‘shining’ for some time now). In this context, the paper sarcastically observes that ‘any sign that this country is actually growing civilized must be celebrated’ – a vindication, if I may so claim, of something I have been insisting upon for a very long time, namely that far more than seven star hotels and fancy cars and IT jobs and number of 3G mobiles and ‘successful’ NRIs, it is how we behave with the least privileged among us that is a true sign of civilization, and by this index, as by many others, India is still far short of the mark.
            Indeed, the editorial goes on to remark upon ‘the fathomless hypocrisy of middle class India’, which allows us to feel no shame about pretending that this entire class does not exist except to supply us with drudges – they are not to be counted among the human beings for whom all the glorious rights are guraranteed in our Constitution, so what does their happiness and dignity and freedom and standard of living matter? Their condition has nothing to do with all our ideas about progress! The editorial writer also expresses doubt about how soon such protective legislation is likely to be passed (and even more to the point, implemented), because, it wisely observes, the officials involved are hardly likely to be very interested, since ‘officials… employ domestic workers too’, and they are very likely to obstruct, or drag their feet over, any measure designed to make it harder for them to live easy-going lives on the cheap (two thousand for the part-time bai every month, and PF contributions, and medical insurance and one paid holiday every week? Can there be a more terrible vision of hell?). How true. Only, I should like to spread the net wider. Don’t our netas employ domestic workers, and won’t they (or their wives) have strong objections too? Indeed, doesn’t this apply to our whole burgeoning middle class, comprising doctors, engineers, teachers, and journalists? To the best of my knowledge, few of their counterparts in the really ‘advanced’ countries can afford the luxury of domestic help on a daily basis – simply because those countries, though they too are democratic and not all of them style themselves socialist, have actually managed to give the poorest of workers the kind of dignity and wages and security that our miserables can only dream of… and that, rather than the number of IT-workers and Facebook users and millionaires, is what justifies their claim to be advanced!
            Coincidentally or otherwise, in the op-ed article titled Dangerous Mission on the same page, the noted economist Prabhat Patnaik has mused on the very disturbing mindset currently in vogue among our ruling classes, as recently voiced by none less than the prime minister himself, to the effect that a high growth rate of gross national income should be the paramount – if not the only – national goal for any decent and sensible Indian: indeed, anyone who thinks otherwise may soon find himself socially outcast, if not liable to be thrown in jail! As any economist of a far lesser stature than Dr. Manmohan Singh should know, the mere crude growth rate indicates very little about what is happening to the country, in terms of real progress, as measured by improvements in the overall standard of living as well as the safety, security, longevity, health, education and happiness of the total population. More drugs, more lethal weapons, more lunatic asylums, more fancy junk food outlets, more fairness creams, more movies of the trashiest kind – the increase of the output of just about anything figures as growth in the national accounts (and I am reminded of the joke that if a man marries his cook the national income goes down, since he is no longer paying her for her services). Besides, the growth figure by itself says nothing at all about who gets what, and how much: which is the question of overwhelming importance to all but the richest (and/or most ignorant - there is a surprising degree of overlap!) five per cent of the population.
Indeed, it is an oft-repeated and very thoroughly documented fact of economic history that unless wisely controlled and guided (by society as a whole and most directly by government working in the larger interest), a high overall growth rate, while ensuring the flooding of urban areas with luxury goods and a few thousand suddenly-very-rich customers for those goods (most of them quite unnecessary for a good life, like Louis Vuitton bags, and often very harmful to the environment and a drag upon natural resources, like golf courses and SUVs), either does little to ameliorate the lot of the really poor and most needy (in whose name all 'development' projects are still justified!), or even actually worsens it. And indeed, though the jury is still out, there are already enough hard data from many impeccable sources (as Patnaik has pointed out here, and has elsewhere been variously done by stalwarts like P. Sainath and Amartya Sen) to indicate that not only have things not improved for a very large number of Indians after two decades of near-dazzling economic growth (India still has the largest number of absolute poor in the world, defined as those who survive on less than US $1 a day, and greater incidence of poverty than even sub-Saharan Africa!) but that things have actually grown worse for many of them (our per capita foodgrain consumption, which rose from less than 150 kg per year at the time of independence to nearly 180 kg in the late 1980s, fell again to around 156 kg in 2008, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN – and this in a country where obesity among the idle rich has already acquired clinically menacing proportions; so if the latter are eating like pigs, what are the very poor eating at all – given that the cheapest rice is going at Rs. 17-20 a kilo, onions at Rs. 60-70, the cheapest unbranded cooking oil Rs 60-plus, sugar Rs. 35 and lentils Rs. 80-100?).
 Dr. Patnaik quotes not only his personal god, Karl Marx, but also that greatest of the 19th-century English liberals, John Stuart Mill, to argue that this is not a happy state of affairs; I have not only abetted him by referring to Sainath and Amartya Sen, but could go on to reel out the names of all the greatest and best human beings through history in support, from Buddha and Hazrat Muinuddin Chisti to Vivekananda and Tagore and Gandhi and Satyajit Ray… but what more could you expect in a country where the likes of the low-end-software peddler-cum-body shopper Nandan Nilekani now presume to show us visions of national greatness?  There is a saying in Bengali, haati ghora gyalo tol/ mosha bole koto jol (the mosquito scoffs at the depths in which elephants and horses have sunk). Even a great tycoon like JRD Tata had once said 'I'd not so much want India to become a superpower as a country where everyone was happy'! My hero John Kenneth Galbraith, lifelong professor of economics at Harvard, used to laugh that in the 1950s and 60s, the American obsession with a high growth rate was such as if they all expected to be asked by St. Peter at the gateway of heaven only how much they had contributed to that growth. Fifty years down the line, we have caught up (just as we are planning to send a man to the moon, too). Aren’t we progressing, doing everything stupid now, at last, that the Americans were doing half a century ago?


Rajdeep said...

Very few people can put it as lucidly and powerfully into words as this! Please continue...

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,

This has got to be the most powerful and thought-provoking of all the blogposts you have written of late, and that's saying a lot, since every blogpost of yours offers ample food for contemplation. The issues you have raised are of crucial, pressing importance, and it's not as if everybody is unaware of these facts. And yet, these problems are perpetually shoved under the rug, or at best, addressed but never tackled. The reason, I guess (and you have said so too) is that if these problems are solved, the various kinds of exploitation that sustains our social structure will be done away with, and that shall be very inconvenient for the upstart rich who, sadly, constitute a large section of the population, and have representatives in the Parliament as well.

My thoughts on these topics are enumerated below.

1) The fact that the safety and welfare of women who work as domestic help have been ignored while drafting a law to prevent sexual harassment, shows how deep-seated the bias against the poor and the destitute is. Apparently, it's only the girls from the well-to-do, 'respectable' families, who work at offices and call-centres, that deserve legal aid. (This prejudice can be seen in the media too: a call-centre employee who was knifed by her boyfriend receives coverage on the front page of the newspapers, but a Dalit woman raped by the landlord's son in a UP village is written about in a three-inch space at the bottom of a page). If this isn't gross inequality, what is? Thankfully, at least the shortcoming has been pointed out, and I hope that the law, in its final form, shall extend protection to all women regardless of their socio-economic background. It's not the fault of the poor that they are born in slums and live a wretched life. Our lawmakers would do well to remember this.

2) One reason why domestic helps are a rarity in the advanced countries is that people there are taught to be self-reliant from an early age. Children learn to wash their dinner-plates and their clothes, and to clean their rooms. Neither they, nor their parents rely on maid-servants to do these works. I still remember how surprised (or rather, shocked) my cousins, who are born and brought up in the USA, were to know that in India, domestic helps work on a daily basis at people's homes. Besides, as Sir has pointed out, in those countries, even these helps have to be treated and paid well.

3) Middle-class hypocrisy is indeed fathomless. So is their laziness. House-wives who have to wash the utensils and sweep the floor for a couple of days in the abscence of their domestic helps behave as though they have been toiling for a decade at slave labour camps. No wonder most of them are so obese.

4) The obsession with GDP is indeed sickening. The same thing can be seen in China too. In this regard, Sir has said all that needs to be said in the third and fourth paragraphs of the essay, so I shall not say much. All I would like to add is that the relentless pursuit to enhance the GDP has led to a lot of damage, from the increase in global warming and the destruction of rainforests to the ruthless taxing and suppression of civil liberties of people, espeically in the banana republics of the world. It's high time that we realize that GDP is neither the sole, nor the most important indication of a nation's progress. The extent to which the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, education and medical treatment are fulfilled for all, the way we treat our birds and beasts, the steps we take to prevent the vandalization of national monuments, the number of libraries we have, and the number of genuinely good authors, film directors, musicians and sportspersons we have produced are more useful yardsticks in judging how far a nation has advanced.

5) Finally, I must say that the two pictures here are terrifying. If this is what we are living with, we cannot live happily ever after.

With regards,
Abhirup Mascharak.

DEBARATI said...

The first thing that struck me was the pictures and as another reader of yours rightly pointed out, it's terrifying indeed. All we do is bellyache about every thing around, never really trying to make a difference. There's a saying in Hindi, 'ghar ke safai me haath ganda kyun kare?( Why to dirty your hands cleaning up the mess of your own house?)'

I don't really have much to add. You have said all that was needed to be said, Sir. I can't do any more justice to these glaring issues of I-N-D-I-A!

And yes, to echo Mr. Mascharak, this probably IS the the most thought provoking post in your blog I have read.

Keep writing Sir.


Shilpi said...

If only India had adopted things like cleanliness, discipline, punctuality, and some basic courtesy instead...and all the other aspects that I know both of us have lamented about on different occasions.

It doesn’t bode well when the Prime Minister of a nation says that economic growth needs to be an end in itself.

You know what struck me ironical about the fact that sexual harassment at the workplace doesn’t cover poor women – including maid servants ? It was Bhanwari Devi – a very poor, Rajasthani Sathin worker who stuck to her guns and made possible for the law to be passed in the first place.

About providing some basic security to maidservants (and treating them for what they are: human beings): it's connected I think to what has bothered me for long enough. Our inability to think of what they (and others) go through stems in part I’m almost sure in not being able to place oneself in another’s shoes. Now it’s not entirely possible to feel like another person – and that’s not necessary. If one has even the faintest bit of kindness left (or imagination) one can think of the kind of lives they lead day after day: no rest, no concerns other than the most basic, no time to spare for any other thoughts, and being paid for the most part with unkindness and with abuse and violence. And it’s that other bit as well. We don’t expect to be in the same situation…and there is a horrific sense of entitlement amongst the rich and the middle-class. But indeed as you once reminded me a long time ago, there are people doing some good so one can’t afford to be completely cynical: at least, in this case, there are some people who are putting a law in place, and rare others who are able to articulate their myriad thoughts, give shape to them, and share them.

Just a day ago, Guha was telling me about an ice-cream shop in Delhi where an ice-cream sundae was selling for Rs. 450 (and other ice-creams selling in the above Rs. 100 price-range) and the shop was packed to the gills. He walked out alarmed. And near his neighbourhood on the road-side there's the tea-shop owner, who was selling his tea for Rs. 4. After talking about prices of milk and sugar and tea leaves - I couldn't figure out how this man was making ends meet while some people were splurging on a Rs. 450 ice-cream. I got to wondering that it's $10.00 - and I've not come across a place here, which even sells an ice-cream for $10. And it's not even $10 if one sees it in terms of an actual comparison. It's more like spending $45 on an ice-cream, which is half of what one spends on groceries in a month. I sometimes think that maybe I don't get angry or shocked or weary - but it's not entirely true. I almost put up a blog-post but then wondered why I was going to tell you about prices... It's not just about the prices – I knew you’d understand. I found it obscene. And the same goes for the handbags or mont blanc pens or designer clothes or the most expensive house in one of the poorest countries.

Your sharp last line made me laugh. Here now since they can't visibly exploit their citizens (although nobody likes to be told that with all the good laws that it has been able to implement, the US has the highest level of poverty among the First World Nations)....they've started picking on the Mexican immigrants.

I have to admit that I had been avoiding the news for a couple of weeks. Your essay most definitely addressed that bit of my life and it made me get out of my head for a bit (also important), and reminded me of forgotten bits of information and also of knowledge and connections that you shared with me from some years ago. The pictures themselves wiped off the unconscious smile with which I greet your blog.

Take care and God bless.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

A young man who has a postgraduate degree (and therefore I am sure fancies himself to be both clever and educated enough) wrote privately in comment to the above post that ‘it is all a matter of opinion’. Let’s see – everything, I am being asked to believe, is a matter of opinion in this world, and (I am sure he was implying), anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s. Well, this is the most disgusting trouble with rampant democracy, as I have remarked before – the reason why Plato insisted it was a ‘pig’s philosophy’: the dirty mob’s collective opinion was good enough to condemn Socrates to death!

All knowledge, real knowledge, whether it be in the ‘pure’ sciences or the humanities, is a matter of fact, reason, and (in the case of social sciences) what I call ‘good’ sympathy, NOT a matter of opinion (and every fool’s opinion). Just as how a projectile travels through air or how a diseased body part should be treated should not be just a matter of opinion, especially untrained and ignorant opinion, I submit that how we should look at India’s current situation is not ‘all a matter of opinion’. First, how much the average Indian is eating now is not a matter of opinion but cold fact; so also the prices of essentials in the market, which determine whether the majority can afford a sufficiency of them or not. It is indeed a matter of opinion whether it matters more that hundreds of millions are almost starving or that a few dozen Indians are becoming dollar billionaires every year. I fear our PM and Nandan Nilekani and their ilk consider the latter fact more important; every wise and good man I have named in the post thinks (or thought) otherwise, on the basis of fact, reason as well as minimal human sympathy. And I am convinced that I am on the side of the ‘good’ opinion: what Gandhi and Tagore thought is indeed better than what a software tycoon who never learnt to admire anything better than money thinks.

It is not ‘just’ a matter of opinion, the vital issue is whether the ‘bad’ (or ‘sick’) opinion will triumph: whether India will be a land of a few billionaires and a few thousand millionaires fattening themselves on the rape of the vast majority of their countrymen and natural resources and call that progress, or whether she will choose civilization instead… the country is at a historical crossroads, and vast hordes of morons either think this is not a key issue (while the opening of more KFC outlets is) or that ‘it is all a matter of opinion’! God help us.

Rajdeep said...

The middle class believes that India is a developed country. We forget that we have to buy onions from our neighbours and some have refused to sell. And there are yet other Indians who go to developed countries and complain of "pollution" "inefficiency" et al. First we have to realize where we stand...

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,

If this fellow had simply bothered to do some serious net-surfing, he would have discovered that what you have written is NOT a matter of "opinion" but solid, verifiable, undeniable and disturbing facts. The trouble with creatures such as this youth is that they have never had to live twelve hours without food, have never experienced what it is like to be out in the open and without a shelter in the freezing cold, and how it feels to see your near and dear ones starve to death in front of his eyes. These creatures have lived sheltered, comfortable lives, every want of theirs has been satisfied by indulgent and ignorant parents, and such virtues as empathy have never been taught to them. I insist upon the issue of empathy, because only someone who is singularly lacking in that particular quality can remain unmoved by the pictures accompanying this blogpost as well as by the contents of the blogpost itself, and go on to say something like "It's all a matter of opinion." If that moron is reading this, I would like him to take note of five things, and allow them to penetrate his thick skull:

1) In India, a huge (and when I say 'huge', I mean it) section of the population lives in abject poverty, and their condition is far worse than even the poor in some other lands;

2) As long as this remains the case, India cannot be called a developed nation;

3) The presence of a handful of dollar billionaires is not something to be celebrated, not when the majority of the population has no share in that fortune and is not going to benefit in any way from it;

4) The opening of new shopping malls and eateries doesn't signal progress either: only an imbecile would argue otherwise;

5) And finally, all of the above are facts, and not a matter of opinion.

With regards,
Abhirup Mascharak.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Ah, empathy, Abhirup; that highest of all human attributes, and the rarest...! If there had been a little more of it around, this world would have been halfway on the road to paradise. I shall say a few things about it here: a) very very few (the Buddha types) are born with it; b) some few are at least taught a little bit of it by civilized parents and teachers (India having one of the worst records in this regard), and c) you can expect very little empathy from people whose careers, pay and reputation depend on not feeling empathy with those who are far worse off than they or their paymasters are. A low-level media hack who gets paid for telling the readers fairy tales about how wonderfully India is doing is hardly likely to feel much empathy for those who need it - he is bound to hide behind utterly brain-dead platitudes like 'it's all a matter of opinion'! These are the compradors, limpets on the backs of the great white sharks who want to buy up this country for their private benefit, and this comprador class comprises almost the whole of our present-day middle class, who therefore cannot afford to feel any empathy for the 500 million or so Indians whose lives are not 'shining', don't you see? Their survival depends upon constantly telling their own class how gloriously our tycoons and pop celebrities are contributing to national progress - Ramalinga Raju, SRK, Lalit Modi and Anil Agarwal style, great entrepreneurs all, the type that in a saner age used to be called robber barons!

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,

Here's a bit of black comedy. I had persuaded a girl, who was my classmate in Xavier's, to visit this blog and go through its contents, because I had thought that she was an intelligent, inquisitive person (at least when compared to her peers). She did read your blog, and sometimes got back to me with very positive feedbacks (though I could never make her comment here). But this morning, when she had called up to speak to me regarding the upcoming convocation of our batch, she remarked that she shall hereafter never bother to read your pieces again, the reason being your inclusion of SRK among the "robber baron" category. Being a fan of SRK, she was left fuming when she read this. "How can your Sir name him alongside the Lalit Modi types?" was her indignant question. "He is such a great actor, and has done so much of charity work and other noble deeds." I tried in vain to tell her that SRK was very much a part of the huge monetary frauds in the IPL that resulted in Modi's sacking, but that the culpability of Modi somehow eclipsed SRK's misdeeds (as well as many others'). I also tried to tell her that he has been guilty, in the past, of income tax evasion. I tried as well to tell her that SRK may have done a lot of not-so-good things that celebrities of his stature often do; only that we never come to know of it. I tried to tell her that even crooked political leaders and gangsters do charity work to cast themselves in a positive light, and that SRK retains a lot more than he gives away. Finally, I tried, with least success, to tell her that SRk is hardly a "great" actor (especially if compared to the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Hassan, Naseeruddin Shah, and even SRK's peer, Aamir Khan), and that the number of genuinely good movies he has under his belt is miniscule. But realizing that my efforts were futile, I eventually changed the topic, and heaved a sigh of relief when the conversation was over.

Just imagine! All other issues raised in this blogpost, as well as in the comments following it, became less important to this girl in the light of your remark on SRK. Says a lot about this generation's sense of priority, doesn't it?

With regards,
Abhirup Mascharak.

Sayan Datta said...

Judging from the fact that this bloke has a post graduate degree,I am now thoroughly convinced that the state of education in our country is indeed very poor. His insensitivity and folly (a fact,not an opinion!) amply demonstrates this. Strange times these...we learn to solve complicated mathematical equations but not to empathise with the plight of the poor. I believe unequivocally now that no progress can be achieved in any field whatsoever unless a thorough grounding in the humanities is made mandatory (imparted obviously by competent teachers) as Sir had already mentioned in the previous post.
Sayan Datta

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Abhirup, if this friend of yours stops reading my blog, I don't think it would be a loss to me! As you rightly observed, someone who read, understood and remembered virtually nothing of the blogpost as a whole took offence over a snide remark at SRK - and it's obvious she doesn't know anything about what 'great acting' means, and even less about SRK the person; her anger would have been at least a little more understandable (though still silly) if it had been a teenage crush, but in university...! It makes my blood run cold to think that this girl will be a mother and maybe a teacher in a few years' time. Cry, the beloved country.

Sayan, this girl Abhirup and I have been talking about will soon get her p.g. degree from one of the smartest colleges in Kolkata, too. As I said once before, it has never been easier for the crude and ignorant and silly to call themselves educated in this country.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

Your post re-emphasises the issues which you and many of us are talking about through various posts and comments on your blog.

I am yet to form an opinion where, when and how we got it wrong but in India we certainly got many things wrong and I am 100% sure it is undoubtedly not a mark of being civilised. Most people seem to be wearing coloured contact lenses to blur their visions.

The recent hullabaloo about Sourav Ganguly’s IPL snub among the “passionate” Bengalis is yet another example of our collective dumbness. Not a single one in their sane heads is ready to understand that Ganguly now plays cricket just for his own bank balance and nothing else. He is a spent force who got greedy and has been shown the door. I just cannot understand who would be responsible if Sourav lovers protest on the streets, destroy public property, waste precious work time and in turn money. Will Sourav compensate for such losses? You just cannot reason with such individuals. Problem is there is a whole mass of such people now.

India is a huge and diverse country and perhaps it is fair to say that it will take some time for India to ensure equitable distribution of wealth to all its citizens. Having said that, I am not sure whether that is a fair enough excuse for us not to have ensure safe drinking water systems, electricity, increased our agricultural productivity, maintained standards of our schools and universities etc. For some strange reasons things on these accounts if at all they happen, happen so slowly. Further, since we believe Government should behave like “God”, we as citizens don’t do enough collectively. So we don’t take accountability of cleaning our neighbourhood, we don’t do anything to prevent waste of resources, we don’t plant trees and neither do we read or think about what we need to do.

Funny thing is, you have lot more patriots these days on facebook and twitter! Definitely much more than what we probably had during the pre-independence era. Difference being patriots in pre-Independence era had a purpose, but I doubt whether the new bunch have any purpose whatsoever. Most of the new bunch make stray comments, make opinions based on some B-grade jingoistic film and prepare themselves for meaningless discussions during work hours.

I know I am sounding terribly cynical but whenever I see facebook comments and discussion forums on websites such as NDTV, I get frustrated. I get frustrated because of the way we seem to overlook a lot of reality. I am sure there must be some people as you who are doing their best to positively contributing to the society at large but then we certainly need more among us. We need to be such ourselves and exercise influence at least in our neighbourhood to start with.



Sunup said...


I went through the op-ed article 'Dangerous Mission', which mentions about how corporate India is slowly starting to influence governmental decisions. Those are the kind who have scant regard for any real development. All that they are concerned about are filling up their coffers. And yesterday I heard on one of the news channels that 'India Inc.' is unsatisfied with the present governance and that they feel issues such as environmental concerns are a hindrance to 'development'. I have an uncanny feeling that in the forth coming cabinet reshuffle, Mr. Jairam Ramesh may soon lose his environment ministry portfolio, his mistake being standing against 'India Inc.' in the path to 'progress and development.'



Suvro Chatterjee said...

Tanmoy: partly the disease is global now: in England, for instance, the land of Newton, Shakespeare, Russell and Churchill, Beckham and Rooney are now the measure of 'great men'! We are, in tandem with breathtaking technological advancement, going back rapidly to the cultural standards of the Stone Age. India's case is especially pathetic because, along with a little bit of material progress (from which the vast majority is still to gain anything except helpless envy!), there is galloping decadence, so that highly 'educated' (and well-off) people get angry when they are told that they are cultural pygmies, and refuse to pause and consider why such a thing is being said, why someone who admires SRK rather than Tagore or Jagadish Bose is a fundamentally inferior person..."aren't most people like me? And don't numbers win all arguments?"

Sunup: big business interests have always dominated governments, but not to the same extent always and everywhere. There was a time when India was actually ruled by one single firm (the East India Company)! In the US, big business lobbies have always been powerful, but luckily they have been to some extent counterbalanced by other organized powers - like labour unions, consumer groups, a strong judiciary, fairly just and stern govt. regulators like the SEC and EPA: and still scandals keep erupting, as you know. The latest recession was brought about by shortsighted and hyper-greedy corporates running amok. India needs a great deal of regulation in the broad public interest right now. Which is why it bothers me that the supposedly 'educated' generation between 20 and 40 today is so overwhelmingly admiring of the corporate world (while putting all the blame for all our ills on bad politicians). Talk about ignorance and folly making a deadly combination! Politicians may or may not work in the public interest, but to think that businessmen work for anything other than private (and often anti-public) interest is the very height of self-delusion.

aakash said...

Dear Sir,

Sometimes it is nice to read a blogpost that knocks some sense into the reader. Your blog post does that quite forecefully.

Personally it makes me question the 'grand design' that I am told I'm contributing to.

Thanks for all that you've given us.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

It pained me very badly to read someone's comment that this blogpost was a piece of "rich-bashing". If people like the Buddha, Socrates, Jesus... through Sri Ramakrishna, Gandhi, Tagore, Amartya Sen and Galbraith have merely indulged in "rich-bashing", I am glad to be in good company, and I shall be gladder not to know the other kind. And I should be glad to bash the rich any time rather than the poor: my best wishes to those very numerous people who like doing that. If people have nothing worthwhile to say except to vent their cynicism, I'd very strongly prefer that they didn't do it here. I repeat: that comment was truly painful. What sort of people read this blog?

For those who want to find out what I feel about the typical rich, re-visit the posts titled "Poor little rich thug" and the two successive posts just after that, titled "Counterculture". Also, anybody who thinks you need to be rich in order to give, do please scroll down this page to read about Chen Shu-chu in the post titled "There are such people around us".

The same comment writer admits that there are good exceptions, and then asks 'Do exceptions really count?' I not only believe very strongly that exceptions count, but that in fact it is only exceptions who matter for civilization or the lack of it. I am sure Isaac Newton was as much an exception among his friends as the Buddha was: who remembers those friends? And I also believe that everyone one of us can make himself a good exception. Alas, most don't want to.

Krishanu Sadhu said...

I apologize if I have offended you. It was not the post but some comments that elicited that remark. Just a couple of days back I was re-reading "Birinchibaba" and that line had somehow lingered on in my mind where Jesus says ' a rich man can never go to heaven ' and the Baba argues " why not if they put their money to good use?" I too despise people like Anil Agarwal of Vedanta or the honchos of Lavasa who are" fattening themselves on the rape of the vast majority of their countrymen and natural resources" , but I am unable to understand why Nandan Nilekani or ShahRukh Khan will be tagged in the same category.

People like Chen Shu-chu or Narayanan Krishnan ( please do look up this one : http://edition.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/04/01/cnnheroes.krishnan.hunger/index.html) are heroes because with their limited means they have done something extraordinary... but to glorify them please do not denigrate the rich fellas who may not be huge givers.

Krishanu Sadhu

debotosh said...

INDIA is developing but INDIANS are not ! this self contradictory statement is enough to describe the situation today ! the much hyped "percolating" effect is more or less non existent in India . this effect was supposed to reduce disparities in the society; it advocated the idea that the wealth amassed by the upper class people would slowly trickle down to the bottom and the plethora of problems of the poor would be gradually redressed ! that is not happening because the middle class is just thickening the sieve with its hypocrisy !

Suvro Chatterjee said...


Please don't try my patience. You have every right to hero-worship some people; I believe I have the same right to despise them, knowing all I know about how they make their money and what they do with it. I think I have made it clear enough in this post and some of my later comments (as well as on numerous posts earlier) what kind of people I respect and why. I am not asking anyone to agree with me, only to check out through some hard fact-finding whether I am right or not. Someone who doesn't wish to do that is okay with me, too, but he doesn't have to keep on insisting that I revise my views! Let us agree not to discuss this any further.

debotosh said...

just a piece of reality :

debotosh said...

this might be a bit off the mark from the thread but it is important - good views from mini krishnan (could not paste it here because of the word limit)


debotosh said...

i saw a comment from sir on a post i saw a comment from sir on a post graduate degree holder saying vague things ! well this is what post graduates can be up to !(so degrees are really not indicative of how thoughtful or useful to mankind you are)


NEW DELHI(23/01/11): As postgraduates in economics and management, they could have landed well-paid jobs in top companies. But Mohammed Sawez (21), Naved Khan (30) and Kuldeep Tomar (28) — all belonging to well-to-do families — turned to robbery and car-snatching for "immediate profits" and a life on the edge.

Police arrested a biker gang of seven, led by the trio, on Friday when they were disposing of stolen SUVs in Sheikh Sarai in south Delhi.

Ringleader Sawez, an MBA from Amity University and son of a British High Commission official, wanted to follow his girlfriend in Virginia and settle in the US. His right-hand man Khan, a post-graduate in economics from Rohilkhand University, had lost his job to recession and needed the money to keep a live-in relationship going. Tomar, a post-graduate in economics, said he was a regional manager in an MNC and apparently had no need for the money.

The gang was inspired by Bunty, the daredevil thief who inspired a Bollywood film. Most members lived in south Delhi and stuck to familiar haunts to identify their targets, police said. DCP (south) H G S Dhaliwal said they had carried out two major dacoities in Amar Colony and Malviya Nagar in the past nine months. Khan usually planned the dacoities and was behind the car snatchings in Jamia Nagar and Sangam Vihar. "Khan had worked in the past 10 years at various MNCs.

But the recession led to a pay cut and later he was terminated from the job. However, he had developed a relationship with his colleague and by the time he was shown the door, he was in a live-in relationship. He took to crime to sponsor the relationship," Dhaliwal said.

Khan was earlier arrested in a robbery case in which he and the others looted Rs 1 lakh from an executive of Oxygen Company. Tomar, police said, apparently worked a regular job alongside his life of crime. "It's amazing he committed crimes even as he claims he goes to office and even attends lectures on retail management in Meerut," said a senior police officer.

Tomar's father owns two public schools in Baraut in UP and his wife is a government school teacher. Tomar told cops he was a regional sales manager with the ESSAR group. Others in the gang were Ravi Kumar whose father runs a store at Sangam Vihar, Rahul Pawar (20), Gagandeep (24) and Neeraj (22). Most accused are residents of East of Kailash, Jamia Nagar, Sarita Vihar and Jasola.

Cops say the gang had bought foreign-made revolvers and pistols. "At the time they were nabbed on Friday evening, riding two black Pulsars, the accused were carrying a Chinese-made revolver and a US-made pistol," said Dhaliwal. "The gang believed foreign weapons created fear among victims." The gang's most recent exploit was on January 19, at the residence of NRI Gurmukh Singh in Sant Nagar.

"They robbed Singh of his cash, Blackberry phone, laptop, wrist watch and gold rings. In the most blatant of strikes, they took him hostage and forcibly took his signature on his cheque book. They stayed back even as Singh's worker went to the bank and encashed the money," said Dhaliwal. The gang had earlier struck at a computer software firm in Malviya Nagar. "They snatched a Scorpio on December 27 from Sangam Vihar and another from Jamia Nagar on January 11," Dhaliwal said. Two cars and weapons were recovered.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Oh, it's not at all off the mark, Debotosh: thanks very much for the link.

When (and if) people ask me 'Tell me something concrete that you are doing for India's future welfare', I can proudly say that I have resisted all social pressures successfully and avoided bringing up my own daughter in the nightmarish way that has been described in that article in The Hindu. And anybody who is a parent in this society will understand that it takes some doing...

debotosh said...

Bill Gates sees philanthropy bug spreading-really?

LONDON: Bill Gates , one of the world's richest men and one of its best known philanthropists, said on Monday he hopes his passion for giving will soon start to take hold among the super-rich of China and India.

Speaking to Reuters in a telephone interview, the multi-billionaire Microsoft founder said he, his wife Melinda, and investor Warren Buffett plan to go to India this year to hold a meeting of the country's richest people to encourage them into philanthropy.

The meeting will be similar to one Gates and Buffett held in China last year, where they said some of the small group of ultra-rich Chinese made some "very generous" gifts.

Buffett and Gates are urging American billionaires to give way at least half their wealth during their lifetime or upon their death by signing the Giving Pledge, which so far has 57 billionaires signed up.

Gates said that during the China meeting "interest was very high", and he hoped for a similar response in India.

"They have a real thirst to understand how it has worked in the United States, even though they will do things in their own unique way," he said when asked about potential new philanthropic campaigns the two countries.

"When philanthropists talk to each other, they learn, they get smarter, they get more enthused, they come up with ways of working with each other -- and in the U.S. case that's been beneficial."

Gates and Buffett are the second and third richest people in the world, with fortunes of $53 billion and $47 billion respectively.

The Microsoft founder currently runs the $34 billion foundation which is devoted largely to funding health projects in developing countries.

Gates said it would probably take some time for the richest people in emerging economies to develop a culture of giving, but said setting up campaigns similar to the U.S. Giving Pledge might speed global philanthropy along.

"In the U.S. it took a long time to get to where we are, and even in our case the percentage of the very richest who give the majority of their wealth away is only about a third," he said.

"But the idea that people who are thinking about philanthropy should come together, learn from each other and talk about the results -- we think that's a very positive thing for any society."

Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,
Bertrand Russell once wrote in an article-'A rich man may plunge millions into destitution by some act which not even the severest Catholic would consider sinful,while he will need absolvation for a trivial sexual aberration,which at the worst,has wasted an hour that might have been more usefully employed.'
The priorities of present Indians (especially the young generation)is even more sickening than that of the Catholics.We are excited to know about the number of Indians in Forbes list of top hundred richest persons in the world while we gladly overlook the real picture of our economy.As far as exploitation is concerned,I can give an example of what happens in India's one of the so called prestigious institute-IIT Delhi.Our hostel-mess staff are generally allowed to take only half a day off on national holidays(when we don't get our dinner in hostel)and there are no sundays.
Lastly,I want to share a message which I received today.It went like this- "I love my India" inscribed over the Indian map and below it was written that this sms must be in every inbox today as it is Republic Day and "Yeh hamara farz hai". If this is our conception of duty towardas nation,what else can be expected except KFC's and 3G phones?

Take care Sir.
With regards,

Pritam Mukherjee said...

Dear Sir,

The article below talks about an imminent global hunger crisis.


Particularly alarming is the fact that the situation in India is among the worst. It is hard to imagine how India can be called either developed or civilized, if such a large portion of its population cannot afford two square meals a day. As you had said once in class, India has been 'developing' for the last 60 years with little actual development!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

You will see, Saikat, that our comfortable, lazy, pampered, educated upper classes are very serious about fulfilling the kind of 'farz' to their country which requires taking no risk and making no effort whatsoever - like putting up 'Mera Bharat Mahan' stickers on their cars and abusing Pakistan lustily on the cricket grounds! This entire class is highly noticeable by its absence from any kind of commitment which might cause them even the slightest bit of inconvenience - such as eating less, and not littering, and avoiding foul means to further their careers...

Pritam, thanks for the link. Notice that the map indicates India is among those countries where the prevalence of hunger is on an 'alarming' level. Yet 'successful' India (maybe 100 million of us, at the most?) insists that we should live in denial mode, because, after all, this is not the sort of thing that affects us, and whoever draws attention to such unpleasant facts (rather than the rate at which our billionaires are multiplying) is a bore at best, and anti-national at worst.

Vivekananda was vehement in saying he would prefer to destroy a system of education which produces this kind of utterly blind, stupid, selfish and greedy elite. I think his opinion deserves very serious consideration a hundred years down the line, instead of following a policy of thoughtlessly multiplying 'centres of excellence' which contribute nothing to making the kind of men and women this country so desperately needs...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Here is Amartya Sen's fairly detailed take on the same question:


Note that unlike Prabhat Patnaik, Sen is definitely no communist.

And of course, when Sen says "Some critics of the huge social inequalities in India find something callous and uncouth in the self- centred lives and inward-looking preoccupations of a relatively prosperous minority", he has people like me in mind.