Outlook | 16 August 2010

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!)

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Biblio | 04 August 2010

Ayn Rand and the world she made, Anne C. Heller, Tranquebar Press, Chennai, 2010,567 pages, Rs 495, ISBN 978 93 80658 01 8.

It is not easy to connect a writer’s life with her ideology.  Most biographers assume that there is an obvious and intimate connection and get on breezily with the job. Too often the connection turns out forced and the reader feels that she has been taken for a ride. Anne Heller’s excellent biography of the Ayn Rand is an exception. Her great achievement is to have connected Rand’s extraordinary legend and individualistic philosophy of unbridled capitalism to her life as a youngster, Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, an awkward and wilful Russian Jewish prodigy, who had written four novels by the age of eleven. Heller makes you believe that  that Rand’s excessive self-absorption and vehement protest against any form of collectivism are rooted in her family’s suffering in early-twentieth-century Russia, where Jews were violently persecuted and personal freedom died when the communists came to power.

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Outlook | 22 December 2009

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.

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Outlook | 10 July 2009

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.

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Newsweek Magazine | 20 March 2007

India's New Budget Reveals A Party Still in Love with Bureaucracy.  

On Febuary 28, India's ruling congress party-led coalition introduced its latest budget, aiming, according to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, "to lift the poor" and close the income gap. The new plan, however, is no more likely to succeed than past efforts. The problem is best understood by focusing on two numbers hidden in the document. One represents a promise to hire 200,000 new schoolteachers; the other, to grant 100,000 scholarships. These two figures underscore both what is right and what is wrong with India today and why its leaders are failing to help the poor.

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Outlook | 26 August 2006

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.

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Outlook | 16 August 2006

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.

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Outlook | 16 August 2006

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.

 

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Foreign Affairs | 11 July 2006

AN ECONOMY UNSHACKLED

Although the world has just discovered it, India's economic success is far from new. After three postindependence decades of meager progress, the country's economy grew at 6 percent a year from 1980 to 2002 and at 7.5 percent a year from 2002 to 2006 -- making it one of the world's best-performing economies for a quarter century. In the past two decades, the size of the middle class has quadrupled (to almost 250 million people), and 1 percent of the country's poor have crossed the poverty line every year. At the same time, population growth has slowed from the historic rate of 2.2 percent a year to 1.7 percent today -- meaning that growth has brought large per capita income gains, from $1,178 to $3,051 (in terms of purchasing-power parity) since 1980. India is now the world's fourth-largest economy. Soon it will surpass Japan to become the third-largest.

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Newsweek Magazine | 11 March 2006

Two weeks ago I got a call from the board member of one of the world's largest consulting companies, who invited me to come and speak to them about why so many Indians were making it in the global knowledge economy. My distinguished caller spoke about innovations emerging from General Electric and Microsoft's R&D centers in Bangalore; advanced avionics installed by India's Air Force on Russian fighter aircraft that had caught the U.S. defense establishment's attention; sophisticated research on global capital markets outsourced by Wall Street to India; finally, he rattled off a dozen Indian leaders' names in global multinational corporations.

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