Dharma, Markets and Indian Capitalism

Paper for the Conference on Markets & Morals, New Delhi, 4-5 January 2014

Some nations seem to possess a code word which, like a key, unlocks the secrets of the country. That word is ‘liberty’ in America’s case; égalité, ‘equality’, in the case of France; for India it is ‘dharma’. Some of the best and the worst deeds in these nations can only be understood when seen through the lens of its code word.

Scenes from a Punjabi Childhood

(From Remembered Childhood, Edited by Malavika Karlekar & Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Oxford University Press, 2010.)

It was around four 'o clock in the afternoon that my grandfather used to come home from the courts. We would eagerly await his arrival since he always brought home fresh sweets from the Bengali hunchback's shop. As he approached the wooden gate of the house he would clear his throat, and this was a signal of sorts. His daughter- in- law would quickly cover her head; my grandmother would go to the kitchen and put water on for tea; we, his grandchildren, knew that it was the last round of dice in our afternoon game of Pachisi before the scores were tallied. This family routine persisted right through the 1940s.

Foreword to Guy Sorman's book, Year of the Rooster (Full Circle, 2007)

After writing a stimulating book on India, Guy Sorman has now written a provocative one on China. China has woken and the world is trembling, but the 'idea of a powerful China submerging the rest of the world is far fetched', says Sormon. Many Western observers, who write on China or India, dwell on imagined countries of the past. Guy Sormon is different. He writes about the ordinary people of today and of 'living' nations and not about mystical fantasies of cultivated Confucian mandarins. The reality that he is sees is disturbing and depressing.  The most touching portrait in this book is that of 85 year old Madam Feng Lanrui, who sitting upright in a public cafe, reminds us that 'Democracy is a value common to all civilizations, the undivided legacy of mankind as a whole'. At a time when 'modernism' is not fashionable in the world, it is nice to be reminded about its greatest legacy. Those who confuse modernization and westernization forget that the West too was once pre-modern and pre-democratic.

'Entrepreneurship Entry' in Oxford Companion to the Indian Economy

(The Oxford Companion to Economics in India, Edited by Kaushik Basu, Pages 141 - 145, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007)

It is to Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist at Harvard, that we owe our contemporary use of the word “entrepreneur”. Schumpeter took an old word from the economics dictionary and used it to describe what he believed to be the secret of the capitalist system. Capitalism is dynamic and brings growth, he explained, because the entrepreneur introduces technological or organisational innovations, which bring new or cheaper ways of making things. These innovations create a flow of income, which cannot be explained either by labour or capital. The new process enables the innovating capitalist to produce at a lower cost, which raises his profit until other capitalists learn the same trick. Schumpeter's great insight was that this new profit does not come from inherited or God-given advantages but springs from the will and intelligence of the entrepreneur.

India: How a rich nation became poor and will be rich again

(Developing Cultures : Case Studies, co-edited by Peter Berger and Laurence Harrison, Routledge, 2005.)

Does 'culture' in some way help to explain the fact that the same Indian economy that was stagnating for the first fifty years of the 20th century began to grow at a respectable clip after 1980 and was amongst the fastest growing in the world by the end of the century?

The Dilemma of a Liberal Hindu

(Paper Presented at a Conference at the university of Chicago 'India : Implementing Plularism and Democracy' on November 11 - 13, 2005. Forthcoming in a volume edited by Martha Naussbaum & Wendy Doniger)

A few months ago the confident and handsome friend of our son's gave a telling reply to a visiting Englishwoman in Khan Market in Delhi. “I am a Hindu, but”, he said, and he went into a winding reply about his beliefs. He hastily added that he was an Indian first. It was a perfectly honest answer, and any otherperson might have given a similar one about Islam or Christianity. But I sensed an unhappy defensiveness“ the 'but' betrayed that he might be ashamed of being Hindu.