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Remembering Sachin Chaudhuri and Economic Weekly

Remembering Sachin Chaudhuri and Economic Weekly

Sachin, at that time, was the patriarch of the EW family of well-wishers, friends and amateurs (often anonymous contributors) and the intellectual integrity that one has come to associate with EpW owes not a little to Sachin's faith in himself and the cause he was serving. Sachin, through his journal in both its avatars, provided opportunities to young Indian economists to apply their minds to contemporary economic problems and, in a larger sense, set a new trend in applied economic thinking.

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

Remembering Sachin Chaudhuri and Economic Weekly

M Narasimham

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there provided sumptuous repast both culinary (thanks to the incomparable Paresh) and intellectual, given the type of people there. These parties were the nearest Sachin could get to organising the typical adda of his beloved Calcutta.

You met the most unexpected people in

Sachin, at that time, was the patriarch of the EW family of wellwishers, friends and amateurs (often anonymous contributors) and the intellectual integrity that one has come to associate with EpW owes not a little to Sachin’s faith in himself and the cause he was serving. Sachin, through his journal in both its avatars, provided opportunities to young Indian economists to apply their minds to contemporary economic problems and, in a larger sense, set a new trend in applied economic thinking.

M Narasimham, a member of the RBI “Gang of Four” who contributed regularly to the Economic Weekly during the 1950s, is now chairman of the court of governors of the Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
january 10, 2009

I
first met Sachin Chaudhuri a few months after I joined the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in 1950. One of my colleagues, Arun Banerji, who had also joined the RBI around that time, introduced me to him and, I met him on a few occasions thereafter. I recall him asking me once after one of our conversations to contribute a Weekly Note, as it was called those days. He said, “just put down on paper what you are telling me”. I did that and soon enough I found my contribution appearing as a Weekly Note – the first of many such notes that I was to write for the Economic Weekly (EW).

Those days the EW office in Bombay, if a two-roomed cubby hole could be called such, was on the first floor of a rickety old building behind where Monginis Restaurant and Confectionery pantry were and I recall the aroma of cakes being baked wafting through as one climbed the stairs when we came to see Sachin. Later, I used to meet Sachin in his apartment in Churchill Chambers and was privileged to be invited to his dinner parties. The evenings those gatherings. I recall meeting Ram Manohar Lohia on one occasion and A K Gopalan on another. P C Bhattacharya, the governor of the RBI then and an old friend of Sachin from their college days in Dhaka, was also a visitor on quite a few occasions. There were also visitors like Daniel Thorner and George Rosen. Many visiting foreign economists and other scholars would also be there. It seemed a visit to Churchill Chambers was a mandatory port of call for them.

Gang of Four

In those days, in the RBI we were a closely knit group of Deena Khatkhate, Anand Chandavarkar, V V Bhatt and myself – whom Deena Khatkhate once called the “Gang of Four” – and, all of us were involved in contributing to the Weekly. Sometimes our discussions on subjects both economic and political would find their way into contributions to the EW. I recall Bhatt and Khatkhate writing lively pieces in the Weekly on issues like choice of technology, which was very much a topic of discussion those days. Anand

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

Chandavarkar and I sparred over issues of states’ reorganisation. Bhatt and Deena Khatkhate wrote under the noms de plume of, if I remember correctly, Savya Sachi and Srinivasa! On the subject of nom de plume, one of the recollections I have is that, at Sachin’s instance, I wrote a paper on, if I recall, analysing inflation at that time and how we were in a situation of inflationary recession. This appeared in the Weekly but I was intrigued by the byline that ascribed the authorship to Manuja Kesari. I asked Sachin about this. He gave me one of his expansive and characteristic laughs and said that as a student of Sanskrit I should know that Manuja was a synonym of Nara, and Kesari that of Simha. So he had used that.

On the subject of our contributions to the EW, I recall I wrote a piece on the increasing intrusion of the World Bank in our policymaking. The article titled “Aid and Advice” created a stir in Delhi and among the World Bank officials in Delhi and, Sachin relished telling me how the World Bank representative tried to get him to indicate who the author was. Of course, Sachin would not oblige. Khatkhate in a communication to the Weekly some time in 1999 mentioned how this article created a flutter among the dovecotes in Washington and that there was a reference to it in the history of the World Bank by John Lewis and Devesh Kapur. I recall also around that time V V Bhatt wrote a piece on some aspects of government policy that infuriated the boffins in Delhi who reprimanded Sachin for promoting the Weekly as a platform for criticism of governmental policies. Needless to say, Sachin just dismissed it and laughed it off and told us to write more of such stuff.

Financial Troubles

In the 1960s, our group came to know that Sachin was having problems with the industry group (the Sakserias) that supported EW through the good offices of his brother Hiten and was contemplating seve ring that connection and starting out on his own. While Hiten was helping to raise funds, Sachin’s idea was that rather than depend on any industry group it should be

o rganised as a trust with contributions from well-wishers. Deena Khatkhate got to work in organising funds for this noble cause and I recall that all of us chipped in. They were modest amounts by contemporary standards but for junior officers of the RBI with modest incomes, it was not such a small sum but it reflected our faith in Sachin and his ideals as we felt the breakaway from the industry group and setting up a trust was in the best inte rests of the journal.

Despite Sachin’s frail health – he was getting on in years – his moral strength and will power helped him to embark on starting a new journal to take up the unfinished agenda of the EW. The Economic Weekly morphed into Economic & Political Weekly reflecting a wider range of interests but retained the EW character of being a republic of the intellect.

Sachin, at that time, was the patriarch of the EW family of well-wishers, friends and amateurs (often anonymous contributors) and the intellectual integrity that one has come to associate with EPW owes not a little to Sachin’s faith in himself and the cause he was serving. Sachin, through his journal in both its avatars, provided opportunities to young Indian economists to apply their minds to contemporary economic problems and, in a larger sense, set a new trend in applied economic thinking.

On the subject of our anonymous contributions another incident comes to mind. I had been working on credit policy issues in the RBI and had prepared a policy paper for an increase in the bank rate. That rate was subsequently raised and the financial press generally took a positive view of the action. Sachin rang me up to say that he was not quite convinced about what had been done and whether I could write a piece which could present a contrarian view of the policy. I dutifully obliged. A few days later, RBI Governor Bhattacharya, who had read this piece, asked me whether I had read it. He indicated that Sachin was to see him that afternoon and whether I could prepare a rebuttal of the points made in the article in the Weekly. I prepared such a paper. When Sachin met the governor, the latter gave him a copy of my reply to the Weekly article, telling him also that I had done that. Sachin offered to publish the reply and, when he came out of the governor’s room, told me that as I had prepared the background paper, the critique of it and the rebuttal, I should now write a rejoinder to the rebuttal. The situation bordered on the hilarious but mercifully the chain ended there. Sachin and indeed, as I learnt later, Bhattacharya saw the humour of the situation.

Sachin Chaudhuri and Buddhism

There were a number of occasions those days when I interacted with Sachin and our common interest in Buddhism drew us closer together. We spent many hours discussing aspects of Buddhist teaching. Sachin, like me, was greatly influenced by the essential rationality and the ethical values of Buddha’s thought – the majesty of reason being interwoven with compassion

– prajna with karuna. He was amazingly knowledgeable about Buddhist sculptural and related art forms and spoke with authority about the iconography of Ellora, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. He was particularly impressed with the artefacts of Amaravati. One of my treasured possessions is his wedding gift to me of a monograph on the Amaravati friezes in the British Museum. He would discuss with great authority the different treatment of the Buddha images in the peninsular forms in contrast to those of the Buddhist heartland of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. When I once remarked that I found the Gandhara Buddha to be particularly beautiful he demurred. He felt that Gandhara art Hellenised the Buddha image and depicted Buddha in what I would describe as a matted

(Advt. No. 20.15/12/2008) Applications are invited in the prescribed form for the following post to be filled in the Institute. Librarian 01 (in Reader’s Scale of Rs.12000-420-18300) (Open) The prescribed application form and information regarding the minimum qualifications and other particulars can be downloaded from our website (www.gipe.ernet.in), and they are also obtainable from the Registrar of the Institute either personally or by post on sending a self addressed envelope with stamp worth of Rs. 25/-. The last date for the receipt of the application is January 30, 2009. Offg. Director Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (Deemed to be a University) Pune – 411 004

january 10, 2009

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

lock version of Apollo. He felt likewise about Buddha images of the Far East, which depicted him with the features of people of those regions. He felt that the Gandhara and “Farther India” images were not Indian enough. The standing Buddha of Mathura came closest to his idea of what he thought Buddha looked like.

Sachin was greatly exercised about the priceless artefacts around Nagarjunakonda being submerged by the lake, which would be created by the Nagarjunasagar dam then under construction and would tell me that the government of I ndia should approach UNESCO to save this even as that body did with saving the relics of Abu Simbel at the time of the construction of the Aswam Dam in Egypt and was disappointed that the government was not exerting itself on this issue. Another of his favourite themes was that the government should take the initiative in setting up an “Institute of Buddhist Studies”, to be located either at Sarnath where the Enlightened preached his first sermon or at Nalanda, the seat of a B uddhist university in ancient times. Our common interest in Buddhism led me to write a piece on Sachin and Buddhism in the EPW memorial issue for Sachin. It was an aspect of Sachin, which was not well known.

In the mid-1960s one could see the strain and tension of running almost s inglehandedly the journal week after week was taking their toll of Sachin’s health.

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I recall as his health was failing, Khatkhate was telling us once that Sachin had asked him whether he could suggest someone who might take over from him. Not long after Sachin passed away, but left us all with the precious legacy in the journal he founded and nurtured with such loving care. The EpW, which followed EW, has become an institution in its own right, justly respected in this country and abroad for its intellectual i ntegrity, the wide diversity of its s cholarly interests and its reasoned but powerful advocacy of social causes. It truly is a journal like no other. The EpW remains a vibrant and living monument to the remarkable individual that was Sachin Chaudhuri.

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Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
january 10, 2009

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