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The Panorama from Churchill Chambers

Looking back, the creation and sustenance of the Economic Weekly, in the face of impossible odds is a stirring episode that more than challenges comparison with other founder-editor periodicals of distinction - Gandhi's Harijan, K Natarajan's Indian Social Reformer (Bombay), A D Gorwala's Opinion (Bombay), and I F (Izzy) Stone's Weekly (US) - none of whom survived their founders.

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

The Panorama from Churchill Chambers

Anand Chandavarkar

Given the priorities of swotting for examinations, I set aside any plans of writing for the EW, which I thought could be deferred till such time as I returned to India to lecture at the Osmania University to fulfill my contractual obligation as a

Looking back, the creation and sustenance of the Economic Weekly, in the face of impossible odds is a stirring episode that more than challenges comparison with other founder-editor periodicals of distinction – Gandhi’s Harijan, K Natarajan’s Indian Social Reformer (Bombay), A D Gorwala’s Opinion (Bombay), and I F (Izzy) Stone’s Weekly (US) – none of whom survived their founders.

Anand Chandavarkar (anandchand@ starpower.net), another member of the Reserve Bank of India friends of EW/EPW, retired from the International Monetary Fund. He continues to write for EPW.

M
y introduction to Sachin Chaudhuri was thoroughly unconventional but wholly in character. He never needed precedents. He made them. It happened over lunch with K S Krishnaswamy in the London School of Economics refectory (c1949) when we had both finished the dish-water coffee of austerity Britain.

Krishnaswamy showed me a new Indian periodical Economic Weekly (EW), which looked emphatically different from the common garden variety of economic j ournalism in India and its bromides purveyed through the Eastern Economist, Commerce, Capital and that ultimate soporific Indian Finance. It stood out as a journal of analysis, comment and research. This indeed was a tempting outlet for an undergraduate neck-deep in essays, seminars, lectures and examinations.

As it happened, just after Krishnaswamy’s introduction to the EW, my tutor W J Baumol (later a professor at Princeton) had just marked and returned my essay on “The Dollar Shortage: Structural, Cyclical, Episodic?” This was a hot-button issue in Britain and I had posed the question: Is the Empire Dollar Pool, a byproduct of dollar shortage, yet another form of neocolonial economic imperialism? What could be a more topical and provocative theme for the fledgling EW.

I duly submitted a revised version to the EW and eagerly awaited its following issues. How long would my cherished baptism of print take, the undergraduate’s dream. I eagerly opened the airmailed issue but I stopped in my tracks when I scanned the table of contents which was blissfully bereft of any trace of the putative author. Then I turned to the lead editorial titled “Divergent Views”, only to discover my article had been reproduced v erbatim! This was naturally a great disappointment for an aspirant writer. But I sought solace in the fact that the piece was wholly unedited.

Hyderabad State scholar. I was pleasantly

surprised to receive an aerogramme from

Sachin a fortnight before my departure to

India to say that he would very much like to

see me in Bombay en route to Hyderabad.

On arrival in Bombay, Sachin invited

me to dine with him one evening at a

pleasant little restaurant opposite the

Hanging Gardens with a grand view of the

Queen’s Necklace. When I showed up at

the appointed time, there was no need to

identify him as the only denizen of the

restaurant, elegant in kurta-dhoti the

p icture-perfect Bengali bhadralok. “Mr

Chaudhuri, I presume. I am AC.” “Be

seated. Sorry I could not host you at my

flat at Churchill Chambers.”

Soon after we had settled down, Sachin

told me that my piece on the dollar had

attracted wide attention and went on to

ask me about the state-of-the art at the

LSE. I duly briefed him on Meade’s

researches on internal and external bal

ance, the Phillipp’s hydraulic model of the

Keynesian system, Baumol’s monographs

on economic dynamics and welfare eco

nomics and the theory of the state, and

Coase’s work on public utility pricing.

“What did I think of Harold Laski, an

ideologue. Was his successor, Michael

Oakeshott a surprise choice?” “How much

of Hayek would survive?”

Searching Questions

Sachin’s searching questions stamped him as a discerning mind. A little later an unannounced young personable lady joined us but Sachin’s dialogue continued as if she was not there. Mid-way, she mustered enough feminine privilege “Sachin, don’t you believe in introducing your guests”. That is how I first came to know Dharma Kumar, then a newly recruited research officer in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the first female executive to storm that male bastille. I took leave of Sachin. “Please think of us in your busy teaching schedule. Looking forward”.

january 10, 2009

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

It was only later when I joined the RBI (c1953) that I really came to know and admire Sachin and his unique life-andthought-style. It was truly a wondrous voyage of discovery for a novice central banker eager to know what manner of man was Sachin, his antecedents, how he happened to be in Bombay and venture to launch a maverick journal there rather than in his beloved Calcutta?

The narrative must necessarily begin from his habitat, Churchill Chambers, a dignified but dilapidated apartment building within shot of the patrician Taj Mahal hotel, where Sachin presided over the arguably only adda outside Calcutta. The spirit of the adda has been best expressed by Mr Bhattacharya of the Bengal Club to the visiting ace detective of the Bombay CID, Inspector Ghote, the peerless creation of the crime fiction novelist H R F Keating:

...it is plain you have never taken part in a Calcutta adda. A decision is the last thing to be arrived at. No, the point of it is the talk itself”. “But what use is that” (Ghote). “I know what anyone not lived and born a Bengali must feel about our genius for talk..and our severe lack of talent for action..Nevertheless...quantities of talk are not after all such a bad thing..one leaves an adda with one’s head full of contradictory notions..no decision could arise from them. But those contradictory notions are there in one’s head..after they have swirled about there for a little, they come to form a pattern. And in the end one does have the wherewithal to make a decision” (Bribery, Corruption Also, New York: Thomas Dunne Books 1998).

Sachin’s Adda

But Sachin’s adda was emphatically not a replica of the Calcutta prototypes in the cafes conducted as it was in the cozy i ntimacy of a hospitable bachelors’ digs over drinks and dinner with assorted guests, who could be a chairman of the largest c ommercial bank or the legendary socialist R ammanohar Lohia, the economist A K Dasgupta, future Nobel Laureates (Arthur Lewis, Amartya Sen, V S Naipaul), Daniel and Alice Thorner ( welcome intellectual refugees from the McCarthy regime in the US), as well as the Young Turks of every stripe, academics, civil servants, and f reelancers et al. It was like an intellectual Noah’s Ark, one or two of every kind. For Sachin as for the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, conviviality was a tool of cerebral d iscourse and the only concession to C alcutta was the delicious mustard oil

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
january 10, 2009

Bengali cuisine conjured up by his man F riday, the ever- smiling, resourceful c ookvalet, Poresh, immortalised as Santosh in the classic Chekhovian short story by V S Naipaul – a one-time house guest of Sachin – after Poresh migrated to W ashington DC as the domestic help of an Indian inter national civil servant:

I (Poresh) am now an American citizen and I live in Washington, capital of the world...I have done well, but I was so happy in Bombay. I was respected, I had a certain position. I worked for an important man. The highest in the land came to our bachelor chambers and enjoyed my food and showered compliments on me” (“One Out of Many” In a Free State (London: Andre Deutsch, 1971), a collection of short stories that explores problems of nationality and the identity of displaced characters, which was awarded the 1971 Booker Prize).

To our lasting regret, the one occasion on which Sachin could not organise a dinner adda was when Naipaul declined any suggestion of meeting the angry young men of Bombay and beavered away on successive drafts of an article for New Statesman on Sachin’s battered Remington typewriter followed by a provocative article for the EW which upbraided the east for its hypocrisy in indicting the alleged racism of the west, while practising its own variety of it like the growing oppression of Ceylon Tamils in the m id-1950s, a portent of the shape of things to come.

‘Bring an Idea with You’

The invitation to a Sachin dinner adda meant “bring an idea with you”. He was the ideal moderator for whom what mattered was what you said, and not who said it. He posed the lead question, in the m anner of R G Collingwood, the philo sopher, identified the problematic and went round the guest circle for positive clues. But he never took charge of the discourse which was ever so gloriously wayward: he was the most consummate listener one could desire. Even his diction and body language eked out his judicious i nterventions. The conclusive belly-laugh never lapsed into a guffaw. The dinners ended up in a edit, an article, or a weekly note, even a letter to the editor. The guest could recognise his handiwork, no m istake. That showed up the difference with the Calcutta addas which never resulted in a decision. In contrast, Churchill Chambers provided the critical bridge between B engali genius and Bombay talent. In between dinners a brief telephonic interchange could suffice to cajole the most recalcitrant listener into a writer of notes or reviews. Who could indeed resist the Sachin charm that would sweep the wig off a bald spinster?

Sachin could be quite adept in inducing his dinner guests to be ultra-candid in their confessions as it happened to D Ghosh (Baroda College). It was like being privy to a Catholic confessional. “Professor what made you to write your excellent monograph The Pressure of Population and Economic Efficiency in India.”

“To cut a long story short, my wife always nagged me; you criticise just about every writer but you do not venture into print yourself. This led to my first ever book following my pamphlet, War and the Indian Rupee”, said D Ghosh.

Lohia and Laissez-faire

At one memorable brainstorming dinner session, the legendary socialist, Rammanohar Lohia, opened up with a clarion question posed by the visiting Italian economist Volrico Travaglini: “Why are you Indians so critical of laissez-faire when you have never even tried it?” It was the most animated discussion possible undistracted by even the gorgeous central European blonde companion of Lohia who too joined the fray. Years later the detailed researches of Eric Hobsbwam and Sabyasachi Bhattacharya substantiated Travaglini’s poser.

The ever so discreet anonymous but instructive articles and notes in the EW always resulted in the eternal game of, guess who. It was, of course, well known in the grape vine, that the authors were ranking academics, civil servants, bankers, very much in the tradition of The Economist albeit without design, whose anonymous contributors too were known to be dons, civil servants and financiers. A nonymity served the powers-that-be as a convenient trial balloon to test public reactions to official policies. A caustic report of the 1957 Indian Economic Conference (Cuttack), which, among others, commented on the quality of papers (“minimum combination of literacy and printer’s ink”) and the ambiance of a debating society and a comingout ball for debutantes led A K Dasgupta to write: “Sachin Da, after this piece who

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

would dare to attend the next Indian E conomic Conference!”

Importance of Reviews

Writing book reviews for Sachin was a s pecial pleasure. He had a special niche for reviews which he fondly regarded as the eyes and ears of the EW. I once did a anonymous tongue-in-cheek review, virtually a lampoon, of a voluminous idiosyncratic directory of Who Is Who Among Indian Economists compiled by S Kesavaiengar, president of the Indian Economic Conference, Jaipur (1953), where the majority of the entries were those of high placed bureaucrats and prominent businessmen. One had to literally search for the true blue professional economist in this omnium gatherum. How could the learned professor, a contributor to the flagship Economic Journal, have distilled such a bizarre brew. The review titled “Who Is Not an Economist? concluded: “The only missing entry is the Dalai Lama of Tibet and the Shankaracharya of Kanchi”. A week after its publication Sachin rang me up “You have a most endearing fan-mail from the professor: ‘Who is the scoundrel who wrote this piece of unbridled iconoclasm, utterly unworthy of your journal’ ”. I was duly fl attered for there is no such thing as bad publicity; the worst fate for a writer is to be ignored.

I recall too Sachin’s sagacious reaction to my review of Ursula Hicks’ book on public finance. “You have an aesthetic view of economics”. On rereading the review I heartily concurred. For Sachin economics was a problem-solving fruitbearing science, no room for knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Leave that to the mathematicians and philo sophers. He had an uncanny instinct for the right book and its leitmotif. A fastidious and discerning reader for whom nothing but the seminal work mattered. I was amazed how he singled out the pioneering but virtually unknown book of Lauchlin Currie, Supply and Control of Money in the US (1934), whom he also identified as the architect of Roosevelt’s New Deal which satisfied all the programmatic criteria of Keynes’ G eneral Theory well before its publication. In fact when I mentioned this to Currie in Bogota (Colombia) at a UN seminar in the 1970s he was truly amazed that he should be thus remembered.

Likewise Sachin, he always held up A F W Plumptre’s Central Banking in the British Dominions (1939) as the locus classicus of central banking, in particular of the doctrine of central bank independence. How many academics or central bankers can claim familiarity with these two books? Even at the LSE the stalwart historians of economic thought like Lionel Robbins, Von Hayek, and Sayers never even referred to Currie. Sachin thought Harrod’s pioneering biography of Keynes (1951) was a good but not a great book, which just misses. An astute observation which, remarkably, concurs with the verdict of a Bloomsbury Apostle, Leonard Woolf in an unsigned review in The Listener, which Harrod thought made “correct points of criticism”, although he understandably resented his not having recognised its much greater merits.

Sachin once sized up Maurice Zinkin’s Asia and the West as a “good book but still the dry Jewish mind at work which does not exactly send your adrenalin coursing!” He thought S G Panandikar’s Wealth and Welfare of the Bengal Delta, a mint specimen of regional economics which had attracted the attention of even public figures like the educationist Asutosh M ukerji, the industrialist-politician Nalini Ranjan Sarkar, Fazlul-Huq and his Krishak Proja party.

On Arab-Israel Conflict

Life is never all sweetness and light. That would be a trifle too good to be true. It had to happen and it did happen, albeit just once, when I got a wholly unexpected call from Sachin (“You seem to have a closed mind”), rejecting my article pleading for a more e venhanded Indian policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which was a blatant deviation from its much-touted non- alignment and an un principled amalgam of ambiguity and hypocrisy. Thus, India after recognising Israel (September 1950) did not, for unexplained reasons, establish full diplomatic relations with it when even a Muslim country like Turkey had done so unreservedly. India had gratuitously championed the Arab cause at the UN and even sponsored anti-Israel resolutions, when Israel had given no cause for Indian distrust and hostility. On the contrary, Israel had consistently offered friendship and technical assistance in agriculture, desert reclamation and bio-technology, whereas Arab countries had always supported Pakistan on the Kashmir and other issues and several of them like Saudi A rabia deny even the right to worship to migrant Hindu workers. How could India a secular democracy support theo cratic and undemocratic Arab regions against Israel the only democracy in the Middle East? Was India’s pro-Arab stance only a fig-leaf for the historical courtship of the Indian Muslim vote-bank since the K hilafat days?

However, my mind subsequently did open wide enough for Sachin to accept my subsequent contributions. Was it not Keynes who famously remarked: “The in evitable never happens. Always the unexpected”.

Sachin could glide effortlessly from highfalutin economics to the minutiae of the market place, as so well attested by his superbly edited brochure on the Bill M arket Scheme of the RBI which included authoritative c ontributions from economists as well as bankers including the dour Scots manager,

International Conference on

Climate Change, Livelihoods and Food Security April 24-26, 2009

Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur, a premier ICSSR sponsored Institution is organizing an International Conference on “Climate Change, Livelihoods and Food Security” during April 24-26, 2009 in Jaipur. It is being organized in Collaboration with Association of Asian Scholars, Bangkok. The Conference expects papers on various issues that reflect on nexus of climate change with livelihoods and food security. We expect papers on (i) Debate on climate change and developed and developing countries; (ii) Impact on resource poor people/ communities; (iii) Changes in Livelihood strategies of poor/ affected; (iv) Carbon trading; (v) Agricultural production and climate change; (vi) Climate change and health risks; (vii) Climate change and mitigation issues; (viii) Climate change and adaptation strategies; (ix) Climate Change and role of Governments; (x) Climate change and international protocols; and (xi) Climate Change and Civil Society Response. The abstracts of the papers are expected by mid-January and the full papers by end-March. For details see our website: www.idsj.org.

january 10, 2009

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

John McColl, of the Chartered Bank, B ombay, a real scoop, considering the traditional t aciturnity of commercial bankers.

“But Mr Chaudhuri, where did you learn your economics?” A question which every visiting economist, including the legendary Paul Samuelson, flung at him and which he fielded with cryptic modesty. “Professor, as it happens, I have totally escaped the pro cess”. This was indeed true. Sachin, although exposed to formal economics at Dacca University and as a short-lived doctoral candidate at the B ombay School of Eco nomics, always remained the quintessential autodidact who argued from first principles deftly using the stylised fact, with no appeal to authority to settle an argument.

Sachin remained an eligible but not a wholly disinterested bachelor. Yes, she bore a striking resemblance to Shakespeare’s

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Dark Lady of the Sonnets, what with her café au lait complexion, and chiseled features, a sculptor’s dream, but like the Bard’s Lady her identity too should remain unknown. Once again, as in his economics education, Sachin seems to have escaped the process. The EW muse trumped Venus.

50 Years Ago

This then was the Sachin I knew and love to remember. He enhanced all who knew or worked with him. To this day, I religiously read the From 50 Years Ago box in the EPW, an illuminating contemporary commentary on men, ideas, and events so like his im promptu discourses at Churchill Chambers. Thus the masterly Weekly Note of 24 May 1958, an obituary of the eminent historian, Jadunath Sarkar, is a model of its kind, analytic and informative, set out in lapidary prose.

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Looking back, the creation and sustenance of the EW, in the face of impossible odds is a stirring episode that more than challenges comparison with other foundereditor periodicals of distinction – G andhi’s Harijan, K Natarajan’s Indian Social Reformer (Bombay), A D Gorwala’s Opinion (Bombay), and I F (Izzy) Stone’s Weekly (US) – none of whom survived their founders. The EPW, the lineal progeny of EW, is a fitting monument to Sachin, the synergist. The Times Literary Supplement called it “that enterprising Bombay periodical” and Michael Lipton (Institute of Development Studies, Sussex) held it up as a prototype for independent scholarly journalism. Pity, the august trustees never thought of acquiring Sachin’s flat in Churchill Chambers as the local habitat for the EPW editor. A shrine has sadly lapsed into oblivion.

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Economic & Political Weekly

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january 10, 2009

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