Times of India

The price of potatoes

I sometimes wonder why I pay Rs 10 per kilo for potatoes when the farmer receives only Rs 3. My potatoes travel some distance, I realise, from the farm to the mandi to my bania, and each person in the chain must get his cut. Still, the gap of Rs 7 seems excessive, especially when the American farmer receives Rs 4 to 5. This gap varies, of course, depending on the commodity and the season, but studies by agricultural economists show that farmers in the developed countries do get a bigger share of the consumer price because their distribution chain is shorter.

Things that matter

Lant Pritchett wakes up each morning and worries about the state of India's government schools. Formerly an economist at Harvard and now with the World Bank, Pritchett is happy that 93 % of India's children are now in school as the SRI survey shows. However, digging deeper into the SRI data, Pritchett finds that 53 % of all children in urban India are in private schools. In some states the ratio is much higher, but urban India overall has amongst the highest levels of private primary education in the world.

Saaf Aangan Dreams

In the late seventies I lived with my family in Mexico City, where I noticed that our neighbours would wash the foot path outside their house every day. But we, being good Indians, swept our home, washed our driveway but left the pavement to the municipality. As a result, the walkway outside our neighbours' homes sparkled proudly while ours remained dirty and sad. It didn't take long before we felt ashamed and followed the good ways of our neighbours.

India's mystifying rise

There were many smiling Indian faces last week. Our economy again beat forecasts and grew 8.9% in the April-June quarter. India's economic rise bewilders Indians. No one quite understands why this noisy and chaotic democracy of a billion people has become one of the world's fastest growing economies. This is the fourth year we are looking at around 8% growth, and this follows 22 years of very respectable 6% annual growth. With 25 years of high growth per capita income gains have been huge: from $1,178 in 1980 to $3,051 in 2005 (in ppp).

Lalu Prasad is like Reagan

Train journeys have increasingly become a part of my life. My ancient mother had been ailing in an ashram on the banks of the Beas River in Punjab, and I would try to visit her as often as I could. But she was 91 and age finally caught up with her. She passed away one night after living a life that I expect was better than that of most of my countrymen.

Don’t despair over integrity

One ought to read a great book twice, at least. When I first read Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace I was too young. I was only interested in the plot and the relationships between Natasha, Andrei, and Pierre. When I read it again in my forties, I was deeply moved by its moral concerns. I realised that the novel is really about the way we deceive ourselves, how we are false to others, how we oppress fellow human beings, and how we're deeply unjust in our day to day lives. Most of this moral blindness seems man-made and avoidable. It makes one wonder if this is an intractable human condition, or can we change it?

How to score a self-goal

Truly, we are a wondrous land! In a country where two thirds of the children are undernourished, where 70 percent of the people cannot access safe sanitation and 65 infants die out of a thousand born, we are seriously debating the pesticide levels in a product that is probably the safest in the world from a pesticide perspective. Sadly, the controversy has created a scare in a nation which has among the lowest pesticide residues in its food chain. Indian diets contain roughly 18 percent of acceptable daily intake levels of pesticide versus Western diets which have 40 to 50 percent, according to international experts. The reason is that our diets are extensively vegetarian; and meat inherently has higher pesticide levels via the grains ingested by animals in the food chain.

The difficulty of being good

There is a green playing field near my house where children can usually be found playing cricket. Over the past two months, however, they have quietly switched to football. Since I love football, I stop and linger and watch, hoping to see someone score a goal. But my neighbour says he misses the cricket, and blames this change on “insidious globalization”. He is referring, of course, to last month's World Cup, which should have been a dazzling climax to Zinedine Zidane's glorious career, but instead it left the memory of an angry moment and exposed the tragic flaw in a hero who carried the burden of a divided nation on his shoulders. Like a tragic hero, he went not to his coronation but to his disgrace.

My next Men and Ideas column

Inglish, it's cool!A few years ago TV viewers in Tamil Nadu were entertained by pictures of irate children and grandchildren of Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, scolding the police in chaste English while apologetic policemen grovelled in Tamil. The scene was not remarkable except that the amused viewers had been victims of incessant sermons by the mighty minister on the evils of English, and the irony did not escape them.

My next Men and Ideas column

Curse of seniority

Two weeks ago I was invited to a glamorous event in Manhattan celebrating the launch of a special issue of the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine titled The Rise of India to which I had also contributed. A knowledgeable and well heeled audience heard our moderator begin with Jim Rogers' famous line that he wouldn't invest in India because “it had the worst bureaucracy in the world”. An odd note to begin an event honouring India's rise! It soon became apparent, however, that we must be celebrating the rise of a “private” India. A worrisome question hung over the whole evening--is India rising economically despite the state?