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Nothing has been more diverting and entertaining in the past few weeks than the Amartya Sen-Jagdish Bhagwati punch-up

Delhi Diary


Nothing has been more diverting and entertaining in the past few weeks than the Amartya Sen-Jagdish Bhagwati punch-up. Played across three continents, it has all the gravitas of a Katrina Kaif-Priyanka Chopra Bollywood tiff. The details need not detain us, but for those living on Mars, here is a summary. Some years ago, Prof Sen won the Nobel for Economics and Prof Bhagwati didn’t. And till date hasn’t. Although Bhagwati lobbies for it ferociously and although he considers himself to be a better economist than Sen, the folks who matter refuse to consider his petition. For this reason, Bhagwati and Sen avoid getting into the elevator together.

Meanwhile, Prof Bhagwati at least once a week challenges Prof Sen to pistols at dawn. Till now, Sen’s refused the invitation. This gives Bhagwati an opportunity to accuse Sen of intellec­tual cowardice. The Nobel laureate treats the accusation with barely concealed contempt. What Bhagwati hopes to do is engage his rival in a public debate so that he may land a few body blows, or at the very least show the world the company he keeps. It’s the classic Little Man Vs Big Man syndrome.

Lurking somewhere in this altercation is an economic doctrine. Prof Bhagwati is a Thatcher-style free marketeer who believes free markets deliver high growth, and high growth solves issues of equ­ity and justice. The job of the state is to create the climate for high growth. Prof Sen too believes in high growth but insists a portion of the resources from the high growth must be spent in key social areas—health, education etc by the state.

Given the composition of the cabinet and given the prime minister’s personal inclinations, it’s Prof Bhagwati who’s the flavour of South Block, the pink papers and influential policymakers. I need to put my cards on the table. I am with Prof Sen although it opens me to the charge of being a jholawala.

Finally, can I make a request to the judges in Stockholm? Please give Jagdish Bhagwati the Nobel prize and put him out of his misery. Without it, he is making a big nuisance of himself.

Aussies Ossified

Who says Test cricket is dead? Watching the first two Ashes Tests made for sublime pleasure. The first Test could easily have been a one-day match. Pulsating, it went right down to the wire. Trent Bridge and Lord’s are rich in history and tradition, besides being beautiful grounds. To watch mad dogs and Englishmen roasting in record temperatures but still in their regulation ties and blazers drinking gin and tonic added to the delights.

I am beginning to feel sorry for the Aussies. The present squad is so devoid of talent and so rife in intra-personal wrangling that they remind me of the Pakistanis. It looks like the Brits are going to inflict a savage beating and win 5-0. The anni­hilation would be rather sad because Michael Clarke is such a likeable gentleman, so different from the foul-mouthed louts of yesteryear.

To add to the pleasures is the superb comment­ary team, who’re authoritative and amusing. And they speak only when necessary, appreciating that Test cricket is best enjoyed in silence. Our garrulous Harsha Bhogle could take a few tips. I’ve just one complaint. The new member in the commentary team, former captain Andrew Strauss, has a terrible voice—the sounds emerging from his throat as if it had been sand-papered. But it is the cricket lovely cricket which is the attraction.

Irreparably Lost

Two of my Lucknow memories are reduced to dust. Some months ago, I lost my school chum, Azad, without whose generosity I’d never have made it to Britain. He lived all his life in Lucknow, never needing to work because he was fairly rich. His one passion was food. Some of the escapades we got into were financed by him. Two weeks ago, another school chum, Saeed Naqvi, suffered a loss. His 96-year-old mother died. I have fond memories of her, especially the delectable feasts she cooked up at Id. Besides, she was a living embodiment of what we call composite culture. Author of several books, including a travelogue to Iraq, there wasn’t a communal bone in her body. I met her last at the launch of my autobiography at the MB Club.

Plug Point

Someone asked me the other day which of the Meena Kumari songs was my favourite. I had no hesitation in picking ‘Na jao saiyyan’...from Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam sung by Geeta Dutt. Beautifully picturised, Meena Kumari is seen trying to persuade her debauched husband to not visit the brothel. So she starts drinking, although she detests alcohol. By the way, if you’re thinking this is another shameless attempt on my part to plug my biography of the great tragedienne, you’re right. The book is in the shops next week.

Last Week...

I met no one interesting, nor do I have a tale to tell. Sorry.

Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com

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