Outlook

Modesty Is A Slow Killer

This model piece of non-fiction narrates a tragedy of our times—how the brilliant Manmohan Singh fell from grace and stumbled his way through a tough term as PM.

Private Success, Public Failure

 

Stranger At Home

English bespeaks progress. India’s youth is much the worse without it.

Our obsession with the English language has served us brilliantly. It has kept us united as a nation; it has contributed significantly to the social mobility of Indians; it has been a major factor in our recent success in the global economy.

 One of the cheerful things happening in India is the quiet democratising of English. Dalits are today its biggest advocates because English allows them to work in call centres and other modern jobs where there are fewer caste barriers. A recent survey in Mumbai shows that Dalit women who knew English rose economically by marrying outside their caste--31% of Dalit women who knew English had inter-caste marriages compared to 9% who did not know the language. Dalits identify vernacular languages with caste oppression. Hence, Dalits across the country hailed Mayawati’s decision to introduce English from the first grade in U.P. (That there aren’t English teachers is another issue!)

A Discovery in India

James Tooley, The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves, Penguin; 302 pages; Rs 499

I first met James Tooley on a cold morning in Delhi. I was drawn to him by his sincerity, his passion, and most of all by his infectious smile, which made everyone in the room smile back at him. As I watched him I thought of Tagore’s observation in the Stray Birds about how much the world loves a man when he smiles.

Like honeybees collecting nectar

Ever since 1991 we have come to expect a vision of the economy's future in the Budget speech of the Finance Minister. This did not happen on July 6, 2009. The day before, the Economic Survey had raised the hopes of real reform. Those hopes were dashed. Pranab Mukherjee spoke like an accountant, not a statesman, and the stock market fell by almost a thousand points. The new government lost an opportunity to spell out its program and win over domestic and foreign investors.

Guest Column for Outlook's Independence Day issue

When I heard two weeks ago that one Sanjay Singal, chairman of Bhushan Power and Steel, had bought a one acre plot on 4 Amrita Shergill Marg in New Delhi for Rs 137 crores, I wanted to rush up to him and say to him, 'Now that you have one of India's most prized properties, do select a great architect to build your home. For god's sake, let's not have another cut-and-paste job. Your building ought to symbolise the rise of a new age in India after the reforms, and millions will remember you for having captured a great moment in our history.' For good architecture has the amazing ability to represent the life of the times in our imagination.

Let our cities reflect the spirit of a new age.

When I heard two weeks ago that one Sanjay Singal, chairman of Bhushan Power and Steel, had bought a one acre plot on 4 Amrita Shergill Marg in New Delhi for Rs 137 crores, I wanted to rush up to him and say to him, 'Now that you have one of India's most prized properties, do select a great architect to build your home. For god's sake, let's not have another cut-and-paste job. Your building ought to symbolise the rise of a new age in India after the reforms, and millions will remember you for having captured a great moment in our history.' For good architecture has the amazing ability to represent the life of the times in our imagination.This issue of Outlook is about the way “the world looks at India”, and one of the most potent ones is visual memory. A great nation or city is defined by its buildings. We remember Paris not only by the Eiffel Tower, but by the wonderful boulevard buildings of Baron Haussmann. We think of New York by the Empire State and the Chrysler buildings (although my favourite is Mies' Seagrams building). Sydney has its exciting Opera House. Although Seattle's signature is the Space Needle, etched in my memory is Rem Koolhaas' public library. There is even a city which was 'created' by a building— Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum is rightly called the 'miracle of Bilbao', which put this unknown city in northeast Spain on the world map. These visuals symbols are not just symbols of man's quest for beauty, they also reflect the spirit of an age.

THE "CAN CAN" TWIRL

A resident of Vadapalani Road in Chennai wrote to me last year to say, “Our street used to be one big garbage dump. The bin outside our home was always overflowing because the corporation van did not often show up. My neighbour in frustration used to set the garbage on fire, but the smoke irritated my asthma and I would douse it with water. So, we began to quarrel and we fought all the time.

 

INDIA SHINING (1984 – 2004), RIP?

It is no use pretending. While the last general election brought some good news--especially, a well deserved slap to Narendra Modi's fascist face—it also brought bad news. The hugely positive global sentiment in favour of India that had prevailed until mid May has received a setback. The clearest example is the dramatic slowdown in the growth in the nation's reserves. Until the week ended May 7, reserves had been growing at the rate of US $750 million a week. This accretion to reserves had diminished to less than US $100 million a week. The rupee has also reversed its appreciating trend. Although this may, in fact, be good for exports, but the currency trend combined with the stock market crash demonstrates that sentiment has changed, and if this is not reversed quickly it will hurt new private investment in the economy, and longer term growth, competitiveness, and jobs.    

PRIVATE SECULARISM!

“The country with the most impressive and intelligent secularist movement is India,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in the respected journal, Daedalus, last summer. Hitchens is a public intellectual who is read and listened to with some admiration on both sides of the Atlantic. He did not explain, but I think what he meant is that Indian secularism has acquired many voices and it seems to be maturing.