A Literary Journey: The Historical and the Economical

Two speakers that need no introduction, Dr Amartya Sen and Professor Sugata Bose, have taken the stage, my parents have arrived and yelled at me, shattering my illusion of being a working professional, and I am ready and raring to note down every word spoken by these “Gods amongst men”, in my mother’s own words.

Professor Bose asks Dr Sen about what it felt like, only a few years after India’s independence, to travel alone to Cambridge? Dr Sen wittily recounts anecdotes: the company of the Indian women’s hockey team, he says, he had found to be “great fun”, much to the mystification of his friends from Presidency University. Professor Bose quotes Dr Sen’s own words about Cambridge being “an intellectual battleground”, with the presence of the world-renowned economists- is that why he chose to go there? Yes and no, Dr Sen replies, and then, to my incredulous delight, goes on to mention that Dryden and Tennyson, two of his favourite poets, were from Trinity College too, and that had influenced his decision as well! Who knew Dr Sen would let the poetry-loving part of his heart sway his decisions, much like I try to do and am vehemently stopped from doing so by ever-concerned parents?

Dr Sen recounts his own experiences of “the Cambridge School”, and the internal splintering of an intellectual tradition that, from the outside, is perceived as a monolith. World-renowned economist Piero Sraffa wanders into the memory lane; both Dr Sen and Professor Bose recall him with clarity. Professor Bose remembers his pride in his Italian heritage, and Dr Sen, his ideas of a united anti-Fascist movement in Italy. Dr Sen finds a parallel with India, in the divisions in Italian politics: he rues the attitude of the Indian Left, despite being more Leftist than conservative in his own politics, which regarded the emerging democracy in India as a “valueless, bourgeoisie democracy”, and is quite close to Srafa in his own views on the matter.

The talk turns to economist Joan Robinson; Dr Sen calls her “a challenging figure” in his life. Her attitude towards education and health being issues in a welfare state is similar to that of the far right in India: they can be taken care of, once the country is rich; he himself disagrees. The twists and turns of history, for Dr Sen, often seems to merge the personal and the world, the intimate experience of knowing these great economists as people, and the formal one of knowing, and challenging, and disagreeing (or the opposite) with them as economists and thinkers. It is fascinating to hear him speak as he recalls these people who we watch in awe from afar, and who are so close, so well-known to him in the course of his life, and even today in his mindscape.

In a similar vein, All Souls College is mentioned: it was created, Dr Sen says, during Cromwell’s time! My mind has barely stopped boggling when Dr Bose speaks about the oath a Fellow of St Catherine’s college must take: is religion a major part of life at Cambridge? It’s as important as you want it to be, Dr Sen counters: the bigger a fuss you make, the more important they seem. Which is a relief to here, because for the first time in my life I had begun to understood what the word “posh” meant and was slowly being crushed under its weight. Who am I, anyway, a puny nobody, to contemplate such things? Dr Sen himself talks about the “atrociousness” of classical Latin, because, of course, he decided to take it up as a language. Of course. Why not. As if I wasn’t already enough in awe of him!!

I got a bit emotional there, sorry.

The incredible session where I think I was the most star-struck than I ever had been before over the last three surreal days of my life comes to a close amidst the reverential roar of an audience that was more vast than any seen previously at the fest; my mother has real tears glistening in her eyes on having fulfilled her dream of hearing Dr Sen speak, my father is hushed in respect, and I… I’m speechless, on having met them and heard them speak. #KLF2015 outdid itself in the session that brought down the curtains on its stage.

PS-I feel like a young Dr Sen looks scarily close to Quentin Tarantino. Anyone agree? No? No? okplsdontsuemeimsorry.



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