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Thursday, October 27, 2011

India, twenty years after

It has been twenty years since the fairly ambitious economic reforms (grouped under the headings of liberalization-privatization-globalization) were launched in 1991 under the stewardship of the then Union Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, with the blessings of both the International Monetary Fund and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. Many of my readers have grown up over this period (I have in mind all who were less than 18 in 1991), so what went before is history to them; even, as I fear is likely, mostly unknown history.

In  short then, India did not really change course (that is, shake off its Nehruvian socialistic legacy, as modified in the Indira Gandhi era) of her own will; she was forced by extreme circumstances. The public sector driven model of growth had stagnated, if not entirely failed, technology had remained by and large primitive, the economy was in the doldrums, poverty and unemployment were rampant, shortages of essential commodities a part of daily life, corruption was perceived to be eating into the vitals of society like a cancer (sounds familiar?), and we had come perilously close to national bankruptcy. The Soviet Union had collapsed, the US was triumphant, China was growing spectacularly along the path of ‘market socialism’ shown by Deng Xiaoping, and Rajiv Gandhi had induced a vague sense of national urgency: ‘the future is being determined by drift and not by direction’. So it was decided at the highest level to give ‘new ideas’ a try (in a manner of speaking – basically it was a tentative throwback to 19th century free-for-all capitalism which had been thoroughly discredited and reviled worldwide three generations ago!) In  a nutshell, government began to relax controls and step back in almost all spheres of life, while encouraging private initiative and capital, both domestic and foreign, to ‘go forth and multiply’.  

What has happened in these twenty years, if we try to draw up a report card?

First, the good news.

  • We have jumped on to a much higher GNP growth curve, and for more than a decade we have been among the fastest growing economies in the world,
  • The economy has certainly opened up to a considerable degree, so that well-off urban consumers today can buy almost all global brands of consumer goods off the shelf,
  • Our foreign exchange reserves have ballooned,
  • Some sectors, such as telecom, IT, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and airlines have experienced spectacular growth,
  • We now have several dozen dollar billionaires (growing yearly), and more than 100,000 high net worth individuals (owning disposable assets worth more than a million dollars), and a comfortably off, high-aspirational middle class estimated to be anything between 60 and 150 million strong,
  • We are a nuclear power (but so are failed states like Pakistan and North Korea!), planning missions to the moon, and being engaged by big powers including the US, Russia and China in globally significant cooperative projects (albeit still in a rather small way, considering our size and our idea of our own importance).

However, the flip side list would be much longer (I’d prefer my readers to draw it up for themselves, perhaps helped along by a lot of things I have written here earlier!).

In order to emerge as definitely a great power respected worldwide within another 25 years (one generation), India, I think, absolutely must concentrate on achieving at least the following

  • Maintaining an overall annual economic growth rate of 7%-plus per annum,
  • Quickly reducing the annual population growth rate to about 0.5%,
  • Sustained pursuit of anti-poverty programs to reduce the proportion of desperately poor people to less than 5% (compared to varying current expert estimates of between 26 and 40%), and
  • Conserving and improving upon all the resources, natural, cultural, technical and spiritual, that we (still-) have.

In turn, in order to achieve the above, we must

  • Mount a serious and sustained national anti-corruption campaign, starting with massive electoral reforms,
  • Reorganise education so that it simultaneously serves two equally critical objectives: a) giving the vast majority of the population basic education and saleable skills (by which I mean everything from plumbing to surgery) for a living, alongwith a minimum of civic sense, and b) allowing the intellectual elite to flourish, so that a new outburst of creativity of the highest order is encouraged, equally in the sciences and the arts: there is no other way for a country to be regarded as a world leader,
  • Build infrastructure on a war footing – roads, ports, airports, canals, bridges, dams, power stations, housing, new cities by the score and the like,
  • Make the richest 10% pay for all the developmental expenditure in a much bigger way than they have done since 1947 through a war on hidden wealth and a combination of sternly implemented income tax, wealth tax, inheritance tax, luxury consumption tax and gifts tax (in 2006, they held 53% of the country’s total wealth: see the table under the heading ‘Living standards’ at this website. The figure has been rising continuously, and I won’t be surprised if it has crossed 60% in 2011: 10% of the population holding 60% of the country’s wealth – and that too, not taking account of the huge black economy!), because there are no other sources of the enormous funds that will be necessary, and tens of millions of people enjoying the advantage of good roads and clean drinking water is infinitely more important than a few thousands living in palaces and driving BMWs,
  • Ensure a far stronger, more efficient maintenance of law and order in day to day life, with particular attention to the weakest sections – women, children, the handicapped, the old and the ill, more especially the poor among these categories regardless of caste, creed and location  – than we have had the good fortune to enjoy so far,
  • Make a concerted and vigorous nationwide campaign to improve the natural environment and preserve the literary/artistic heritage (both being so neglected and so seriously on the verge of ruin at present as to raise fears that the country will soon become unliveable physically and barbaric culturally).

A few things must be remembered in this context:

  • Though our GDP (in purchasing power parity-adjusted terms) might exceed that of the USA by mid-century, by per capita income we are still likely to remain a rather poor country, given our enormous population,
  • Right now, we are rapidly becoming a dual nation – in terms of the rural/urban divide, the educational divide, the cultural divide, the income/wealth divide – can progress be sustained for long under these conditions?
  • We are not, I think, a hardworking nation: we work only if we are compelled to (which I think explains the success of NRIs). Is there a solution to this problem, without dictatorship of some kind (which I am against because of both strategic and moral considerations)?
  • We do not learn from past mistakes, unlike many other nations. Can this be changed?
  • The young among the most privileged sections, in terms of both education and income, are rapidly becoming sure that there is nothing to aim for in life beyond money and shopping: your degree of success varies only in terms of how much you make and spend (and how you make your money is unimportant: being a fashion model or video jockey or cocktail shaker is ‘better’ than being a teacher or poet or scientist or soldier if it helps to make easy money more quickly. Note well: their parents overwhelmingly agree – no ‘generation gap’ here!). Also, aping American slang is their only index of smart discourse, and ignorance, far from being shameful, is rapidly becoming okay, if not actually a matter of pride: one no longer has to know anything to claim the right to hold strong opinions. Has any nation become great with this quality of human resources?  Can google really substitute for both brains and consciences?

In March 2010, I wrote a post titled Join this debate. The response from my readers was rather tepid. I am trying to rekindle the argument. Let us see whether I succeed this time. For clarity’s sake, readers may comment categorically on a) whether they agree that I have a big dream for my country or not, b) whether it is a good dream, c) whether it is likely to come true within the near future, and d) what obstacles stand in the way. Do write in with thoughtful comments. Most of my readers are much younger than I am: remember it is your future that I am discussing here.

P.S.: I have been reading Sugata Bose’s new biography of Subhas Chandra Bose, and have been trying to think of India’s future as Subhas might have thought if he were alive now, and about my age (exactly the age when he vanished from the public eye). I refuse to believe that his thoughts would have been less valuable for India than Nandan Nilekani’s. No personal slight intended against the last-named: it’s only that I hate to see ‘dwarfs in giant’s robes’ being hailed as giants. As I wrote somewhere before, once we had the likes of Vivekananda, Gandhi, Tagore, Subhas and Jagadish Bose to look up to, now we have SRK and Dhoni and Nilekani and Hazare. Speaks volumes for the road India has travelled since 1947…


Debarshi said...

Respected Sir,

Warm regards. Your blog post, as always, is very timely and essential reading for the times we live in. India 'was' a dream,a dream that might require the sacrifice of some very fine lives for its materialization(and it did),but so very few of us try to realize and even remember the dream now!We yearn to be the West,with our feet firmly rooted not in the best,but in the worst traditions of the East.Zero-accountability for one's actions,the ends being more important than the means adopted,and the fact that working sincerely and hard,without someone breathing down our shoulders is such an impossible task!..all have contributed today,along with a population,which has mocked every known mathematical growth progression-to the state of affairs we see today.

Sir,things can change..and indeed they will.Once our people find a reason to live,a nation where they can be sure of being rewarded for merit(and not connections!),once they look past the morass and decide to step in..not due to some self-righteous anger,but with positive intent & determination...things will change.Once the correct people occupy the correct places,and once they learn to toe the line of their own accord..maybe,that day,India will really start to fulfill its tryst with destiny..

But,when will the awakening occur?

With best wishes,

Rajarshi said...

Dear Sir,

Here are my responses to the questions put forward by you:

a) Yes, I agree that you have a big dream for our country (which is probably realistic as well).

b) Yes, it is a good dream

c) Whether it is likely to come true in a few years – This is where I have my apprehensions. While I agree with the broad contours of your suggestions, where I am worried about is the specifics of how these suggestions can be implemented. It is a no-brainer that electoral reforms are an absolute necessary to improve the quality of people in our public sphere. From quality of governance to maintenance of law and order to getting rid of the menace of all-pervasive corruption, one of the first steps should be to get rid of our first-past-the-post system.

When it comes to specifics, I am either ambivalent about the approach to be taken or don’t have a neat, water-tight answer.
Nevertheless, I would try to list down some of my thoughts on the key issues:

1) Poverty/Development Models – I feel that a free-for-all capitalism is definitely not the solution as is evident from what has happened over the last 2 decades in India (loot of natural resources being just one of the panaceas of liberalization) and the trajectory the US – that demigod of capitalism – has followed over past 90 years or so (Essentially, after the Great Depression of 1920s). But then I don’t want India to hark back to Nehruvian Socialism and License Raj era either. I, seriously feel that the state has no business to produce railway carriages or steel or supplying electricity to people’s homes. So, what’s the solution? A capitalist model with a strict regulatory framework and constitutionally independent watchdogs, an independent judiciary and a fearless, unbiased media – something on the lines of certain West European nations. But then with corruption being as endemic as it is today in Indian life and innumerable examples of how vested lobbies have screwed up the US economy in spite of plethora of checks and balances, something tells me that nothing is sacrosanct, at least in Indian context – judiciary, media, executive, legislature. Nothing. So, what’s the answer? I don’t know.
Sometimes, I feel that the Mahatma’s model of decentralized village republics may have been better than Messers Nehru and Mahalanobis’ centralized planning system. But again, I am not sure. Such a model may have kept large swathes of India in the 19th century (otherwise in harmony with nature and going to bed with full stomachs) while the rest of the world was building nuclear missiles and launching space vehicles. It may have led to more internal contradictions than what we have now.

2) Corruption/Electoral Reforms – I am again ambivalent about ending corruption using institutions like Lokpal for the various reasons cited by the critics (who will guard the guards etc.). People talk about electoral reforms but where do we start from in the present scheme of things? Clean politics, which is also free from caste & religion based parochialism, is not possible without isolating the criminal elements/illegitimate sources of funding. As long as these happen, politics will be dominated by vested interests and all sorts of criminals, goons, mafia will make a mockery of the Constitution, all rulebooks and all laws. In the present state, reforming the electoral system has to be done by the very beneficiaries of these flawed system. Isn’t it a Catch-22 situation?
Same argument applies to efforts to curb black money generation. I am a nincompoop in economics but personally feel that using the black money stashed abroad (for the sake of argument, hypothetically assuming it is brought back to the country by some miracle) to build infrastructure is again one of those neat theories whose practical implementation is doomed to fail.

Rajarshi said...

3) Population – In all my attempts of drawing India’s parallels with the west – from the basic consideration people show to each other to public transport systems to civic sense of the general populace – all arguments eventually hit a single dead end. Our population. Most of the issues – from negligible value being assigned to a human life, state sponsored violence to appalling state of law & order to general nonchalance of people can be pinned down to this single factor. Population. How to control it? Definitely, not the Sanjay Gandhi way. It has to be through education. More, on that in the next point. Another dimension to this is that once the population stabilizes (if and when that happens) then we will gradually lose the advantage of cheap labour which is one of the causes of economic prosperity of the Indian Middle Class over the past 2 decades (The labour arbitrage of service industry). No domestic helps for the pampered Indian Middle Class. I, personally, feel that such a situation is much more desirable than 60% of the population living at subhuman levels.

4) Education – Meaningful, liberal education which empower people to sustain livelihoods with dignity. Whether it is countering Khap Panchayats or religious indoctrination; bringing in gender parity or population stabilization; lifting masses out of poverty; stopping social discrimination of Dalits & marginalized – there is no alternative to a modern, functional, LIBERAL education system. (I emphasize on ‘liberal’ because we have many people with highest degrees from the best institutes of the land but with a pitiably prejudiced, parochial mindset when it comes to social aspects of life) This is complimentary to point # 1 above because we need an economy with enough modern jobs to harness the potential of this immense human resource. Improving primary education both in terms of quality and reach is a no-brainer. No entity other than government or philanthropic organizations can do this given the present state of things. Here again, I don’t know how on-the ground implementation will work in a scheme of things where high teacher absenteeism is perfectly understandable. In my opinion, Mr. Sibal has got his priorities wrong when he opens X number of more IITs and Y number of more IIMs or when he gets the Right to Education bill passed, which again in my humble opinion, is nothing more than a useless piece of legislation, in a system where children can’t do basic arithmetic after spending 5 years in school.

Our higher education system is in shambles except for some islands of excellence. Funds need to be pumped in to improve infrastructure, quality of teachers etc. Needless to say, government has to actively intervene and leaving the whole arena to private sector will only make the playing field more uneven than it is already. This is one reason why I am ambivalent about entry foreign universities in India. Regulation is of utmost importance to prevent every politician, goon or mafia to setup an engineering or medical college in the manner of factories and mills. One issue which needs to be fixed is making arts and humanities a preferable career option. Again, I confess I don’t know how this is possible in the present state of things.

5) Healthcare – Arguments are pretty much similar to that of education. Trick will be to strike a balance between a welfare state whose populist policies don’t take it to the verge of bankruptcy and at the same time, not giving into the lobbies of health insurance companies. Once again, I am not sure how nuts and bolts of such an approach would work except the fact that electoral reforms may regulate the funds which insurance companies may donate to campaign funds of political parties, which again brings us to point # 2.

6) Law & Order – This should be automatically reformed once the menace of corruption is taken care of which again won’t happen unless there is a radical overhaul of our political system (Point # 2)

(Contd. in the next comment due to size restrictions)

Rajarshi said...

7) Terrorism & Sectarian violence (This was not raised in your post so may be a bit off-topic) – This is a much trickier area as everything from foreign policy to geopolitics; religious fault lines to historical mistakes (e.g. Kashmir, China) converge at a couple of focal points. Let me tackle sectarian violence first.

Religion should be absolutely separated from State. All cases of sectarian violence since independence – Operation Bluestar, 1984 Sikh riots, demolition of Babri Masjid, Mumbai blasts, post-Godhra riots etc. are the direct failure of state’s inability to keep religion out of public life. Needless to say, political parties have exploited religious fault lines for their gain – cultivating minority vote banks, Punjab militancy, indulging in gimmicks like Shah Bano case, stupid temple building campaigns like Ayodhya are just some examples that come to mind. Again unless, we have good politics (Point # 2) based on issues which concern everyone (like development), we won’t have absolute separation between state and religion. (Please note that this is different from a religion neutral state, which is what secularism is all about).

I feel the key reasons why many of these things are unachievable in the near future are the following:

1) Indian psyche – As many commentators have pointed out, the recent hullabaloo around corruption has defined corruption in a very narrow way e.g. political corruption, corruption in government institutions. However, as you have rightly pointed out in one of your posts, one of the reasons for the all pervasive corruption is the Indian psyche which allows us to gloss over our own less than honourable conduct in daily life, while baying for blood of Swiss bank account holders. Another aspect is the importance given in India to the concept of family which breeds nepotism, shields wrongs and creates parochial entities based on caste, religion, language, clan etc.

2) Apathy of the Indian Middle Class – The middle class has historically evolved from the Babu class which the British cultivated for their own benefit. Many things which characterize middle class Indians today like mindless aping of the West, a sense of alienation from indigenous culture, preference of English as a language over vernacular are a result of this. (One can counter argue that it is the British which gave India the identity it has today or apart from the tribals of central India, rest all of us are outsiders so can’t exactly lay a claim to the original India). In any case, it is the middle class who has the power to bring in a positive change but the way things stand today the hopes are bleak. Very bleak. At least a generation or two have to make great sacrifices to make a nation great. Our pre-independence generation was and, in my opinion, will remain our greatest generation for the sacrifices they collectively made. Their dream soon turned sour and for the masses, nothing changed except the skin colour of their oppressors.

3) Heterogeneity – Our mind-boggling diversity will always ensure that there are clashes of interests & mutual contradictions when it comes to actual implementation of things. Again, as a function of our psyche (point # 1), it prevents us to rise above the narrow self-interests of our group.

(Contd. in the next comment due to size restrictions)

Rajarshi said...

4) Historical reasons like India never had a revolution on the lines of Americans or French. We don’t have a shared memory or experience which cuts across all our divides – Just like we don’t have other usual binding forces like language, religion, ethnicity etc. Only event which had brought together the whole country was our struggle for independence but then again it was unique in many ways (non-violent etc.) and its successful culmination was equally due to reasons without (like end of British supremacy at the end of WW II) as it was due to reasons within. Indian masses and peasantry has never risen against their rulers/outsider/oppressors, except in specific instances and driven by specific goals/agendas. My point is there hasn’t been any radical movement which encompassed the whole sub-continent. And in the present state of things, we need something radical (Definitely not a dictatorship. In any case, chances of a military coup in India are next to nil but then that’s a discussion for another day).

One thing I have is hope and that sense of belonging which I feel for this land and its people (and probably that irrational thing called love as well, though definitely not in the narrow jingoistic sense) which prevents me from abandoning hope.

As Ram Guha points out in ‘India After Gandhi’, India is at best an unique experiment in democracy.

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

More than a dream it's a well researched and thought out plan covering all the important points to solve issues and bring all round success and prosperity. If implemented, it's bound to succeed and place India on the high position she deserves among nations. These are much needed strategies for a developing nation to get ahead. Most of these are applicable to developed nations too, which are much ahead but seem to be falling behind and losing their positions in global competitiveness. Obama keeps emphasizing and tries to pass bills which would inject money, create jobs and bring about long term improvements in education, infrastructure and environment. Taxing the rich and putting more responsibility on them to contribute towards these much needed investments is also something he strongly feels about. Unfortunately, the nexus between rich and politicians creates a hopeless situation for the middle and poorer classes in most nations, more so in countries that are trying to catch up. It is being speculated that Obama's re-election bid would have the highest ever budget for an election campaign. Easy to guess where the money would be coming from, so not sure if he'll keep going after the rich for long.

On the point of what Suvro expects of the rich, here's a good example- Azim Premji to start two free schools in every district. The bad example, as always, much more publicized and much better known- World's most expensive house lies abandoned... because billionaire owners believe it would be bad luck to move in So how are the super rich being motivated by these? In the article on free schools we read- "If the idea succeeds, it could shame India's dysfunctional public education system - and perhaps inspire other wealthy tycoons to look beyond their personal status-building." So we tried a message there, now lets hope. But as for the bad example, quoting from the article on Antilla- "Half a mile from Mr Ambani's 27-storey tower, a competing skyscraper is making its way into Mumbai's skyline. The building is being constructed by the Singhania family, which controls Indian suit maker the Raymond Group." Not a moment lost in competing and outdoing here! Gandhiji would be so proud that in the India he brought freedom by carrying out movements like denouncing suits and spinning his own yarn- suit makers are competing to build the world's most expensive house. Billion dollar house in a country where most people still live on $2 a day.

The US has learned (or still learning!) the hard way that 'trickle-down economics' does not work. Incentives to the rich and businesses to make money, wealth and opportunities trickle down to the lowest levels- does not work, does not happen. They have just started talking about Suvro's more aggressive taxation and collection/recovery methods.

Unfortunately, history has shown that major changes and corrections have always been brought about by the mass in strong social protests and upheavals. In an ideal world leaders, government, the rich, successful, businesses would just 'get it' or hear from the thinkers and intellectuals and act. That just doesn't happen. We are seeing violent and bloody protests in many nations. The Occupy Wall Street movement is catching on across North America and Europe. Let's see what comes out of these.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Debarshi, Rajarshi and Subhasis.

One lesson learnt: my readers are determined not to discuss India and matters Indian on this blog.

I shall, however, go on writing. Unlike subjects like Lady Gaga and the Hadron collider and 'art' cinema and the iPhone, India remains one of my abiding interests, and I am proud that it is so, though I don't go wild over beating Pakistan at cricket, nor use bumper stickers saying 'mera Bharat mahaan' nor believe that loving India means being blind to her myriad faults...

Rajarshi said...

Dear Sir,

Here's a list of books/works on India which one of my favourite bloggers once shared on her blog. I personally haven't read all the books in the list but this list may be worth considering. I dislike Naipaul for obvious reasons. Sir Mark Tully has an interesting take on many things but at the end of the day, for me, he 'exoticizes' a lot of things.
Here's the list:

1) The Mahabharata
2) Alberuni: The Indica
3) Sunil Khilnani: The Idea of India
4) Amartya Sen: The Argumentative Indian
5) Ramachandra Guha: India After Gandhi
6) Gandhi: My Experiments with Truth
7) Naipaul: A Wounded Civilisation, A Million Mutinies Now
8) Veer Savarkar: Hindutva
9) Indian Studies in the History of an Idea: edited by Irfan Habib
10) The Discovery of India: Nehru


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the list, Rajarshi. I have read them all except for the book by Irfan Habib, though of course I have read some of his other relevant works. I wonder why you dislike Naipaul, though. One can appreciate many things he has observed and said in that trilogy (beginning with An Area of Darkness, which you haven't mentioned) without agreeing with all his conclusions and opinions. And wasn't it Megasthenes who wrote the Indica? Alberuni's book, if my memory does not deceive me, was named Ta'rikh al-Hind.

Here is a recent news item which tells us that our PM himself has an exaggerated sense of his importance in the global arena, so he is often left cooling his heels at major international meets: (http://bit.ly/s2En9E),

so I suppose most average middle-class Indians cannot be blamed for suffering from the same disease! Notice how different a reception the Chinese president has been given at the same G20 gathering. As I keep saying, India needs to achieve things bigger than Bollywood and cricket and IT before she really begins to be taken seriously...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I cannot help noting a little incident that happened in my class this morning. It was with bitter inward irony that I replied to a pupil who, having Economics as part of his schoolwork, asked me to list the pros and cons of the reform program. The same boy would not, of course, have dreamt of reading it on my blog. Indeed, when I mentioned that I had written about it in some detail for general consumption, only one or two nodded to indicate that they had seen it on my blog. All these young people belong to 'tech-savvy' GenNext, mind you. Yet the internet to them means only Facebook, or maybe playing video games or downloading music - certainly not an educational tool!

I was also reminded of how a boy in class 10 was scolded by his mother for 'wasting his time' reading Helen Keller's autobiography which he had borrowed from me. A few months later, when he was in class 11, the same mother sought to enroll him in my tuition once again - and they had the very same book as part of their syllabus!

That's the kind of world we live in. Do you notice much of a difference between the youngsters and their parents? If anything, aren't the youngsters a wee bit better, and aren't the parents trying hard to make them as bad as they themselves are?

Rajarshi said...

Dear Sir,

My dislike for Naipaul is primarily because he tends to reinforce the typical stereotypes which many ill-informed Westerners have about India - something akin to what Danny Boyle attempted to do with his Slumdog Millionaire. Moreover, to me, he writes with a certain patronizing tone. I haven't read a lot of Naipaul but only parts of "A Million Mutinies Now". So, I may have a restricted view.

Indica was by Alberuni. Atleast that's what wikipedia tells us. I am not sure about the name of the book written by Megasthenes.

Shilpi said...


Megasthenes wrote Indica. I remember that bit from primary school history although I've never read the book.


(there seem to be other Indica-s written by others however - something that I didn't know).

As for Slumdog Millionaire - the movie is a horrible movie as far as movies go but what stereotypes does it reinforce? And the movie was based off a book written by an Indian civil servant, Vikas Swarup. Just to be clear - I have not read the book but I remember reading about it when the movie for absolutely no reason raised the massive hype that it did.

Sadly enough, I've just about started reading Naipaul (after being embarrassed by that book list that you listed) and haven't found anything patronizing about Naipaul's tone as yet in A wounded civilization.

Suvro da, I'll write a comment for this essay of yours within the next some days. I haven't forgotten about it, and it's not entirely disconnected from what I've been typing and fixing elsewhere. But that previous comment of yours has been making me frown on a number of counts. I've never quite understood what these parents have against reading books although I'm reminded of a couple of relatives who always thought it wonderful that I read books and encouraged me to read more and yet never let their own children read (I've never ever understood this contradiction). I don't even know how you manage to deal with the parents that you have to, and still remain sane. That's one of the reasons I send my best wishes. I don't understand either why your students don't read your blogs. I know your blogs have helped me in no small measure in teaching the bit that I have been as an instructor - that much I know. I keep hoping still that some day if and when I am a proper teacher I can at least get some students to read your blogs.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Hahaha, Shilpi: you couldn't have read Megasthenes' work, because it was lost long ago! He is, however, widely quoted in a book of the same name written by Arrian, a Greek historian of a later date.

I don't know why Alberuni's work - widely known among scholars as t'arikh al Hind - should be called 'Indica' by anybody. This page in wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Rayhan_Biruni) does mention both names, but, as you know, I am not always too sure about the authenticity of everything that wikipedia provides. Anyway, it's not a big issue.

As for Naipaul, there are indeed certain passages where the snotty, condescending Naipaul of the novels comes through. But, as I said to Rajarshi, we can agree (or are forced to agree) with many things that he has said. Certain things he has said in A Million Mutinies are absolutely authentic, I know, because I happen to know personally (through family connections) a few of the people he has written about.

As for your last paragraph, I have told you how I deal with the type of parents (much the common type!) that you have mentioned. I have grown deeply cynical inside, and regard myself as a shopkeeper, and they my customers for a while. As a teacher, I do my work with full sincerity, and then both the pupils and the parents can go to blazes with my best wishes, that's what I tell myself a thousand times a year! A few kids - a pathetic few - get back after they grow up, and I try very hard to be happy that they do. Poor compensation, yes, but there's precious little I can do about it.

Rajdeep said...


Here is a link to an article. I wish you would write a similar one on India.

When the Westerners first landed in Japan, they saw a "barbaric" country that they felt must be "reformed". It has recently come to light that the Meiji restoration was not just because of Western enlightenment, but because of the long Edo period that preceeded the restoration. The Terakoya education system, about 200 years of continuous peace, and a safe environment (a woman could go alone all the way from Edo (modern Tokyo) to Ise shrine in far away Mie prefecture on a pilgrimage, without much fear, something unthinkable in Europe until very recent times in history.

We need articles like yours. Indians have to rediscover for themselves the good that was already there, and your writing could help show the way.

With respect to, "...and have been trying to think of India’s future as Subhas might have thought if he were alive now..." hope you write something on what you have been trying to think soon...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Rajdeep. I wonder, though, whether an effort such as you suggest would not be love's labour lost, because if there is one thing I have learnt about contemporary Indians, it is that the 'smart set' among them don't want to know about their own country at all. It starts with the consensus that develops in middle school about history being 'uncool'...

As for trying to think the way Subhas Bose would have thought, that is precisely what I have done in this blog, listing the goals that he too would have probably prioritized!

Rajdeep said...

There you are again! The media has gone on to call MF Hussein the "Picasso of India." With no slight intended to him I feel a bit sad for the Nandalal Bose's and others...

Thw "smart set!" soon realize that they don't know about their country when they go abroad. Then they invent tales to tell and be proud of. But rather than reading those yarns, it would be a far more fruitful endeavor to read what you have to say on the subject. I wouldn't implore you to lose love's labor but please do write if someday you feel like it.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I notice that (with the probable exception of Rajarshi-) no one with some serious grounding in economics, politics and history has yet commented on this particular blogpost. Is my blog read only by people who have absolutely no knowledge of and no interest in these critical subjects?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

About the flip side, here's Amartya Sen speaking at the recent Indian Economic Association convention in Pune:


citing data to show how far India is lagging behind China and even other South Asian nations in terms of human development indicators. Our whole privileged educated class should hang their collective heads in shame.

If only we had a capacity to feel shame, that is...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Here's a link to an article in today's newspaper, where a sociologist points to some stark differences with neighbouring Sri Lanka:

I shall keep on adding inputs, in the hope that it will make some readers think. That way alone lies the possibility of a better future.