I’ve written for various publications, on topics including utopia, technology, literature, tennis, travel, and much more.

The New Yorker: Cartography is a form of control. “The Great Arc,” John Keay’s account of the surveying operation, argues that the undertaking was both a scientific triumph and an exercise in imperial authority. The Great Survey heralded a golden age of Himalayan exploration and exploitation, in which young European men, monocles firmly in place and teakettles securely lashed to their porters’ sacks, set out in the explorer-conqueror mold of Christopher Columbus and Captain Cook. The mountains became stages for mystical self-discovery and Nietzschean improvement.

BBC Radio 3: Sunday Feature, May 24 2020 BBC Radio 3 asked six writers to record a chain letter in which we talked about our experiences living–and writing–during the pandemic. I wrote and spoke about a silver lining of calm and solitude; and also about the joys of my lockdown. BBC Radio 3 asked six writers to record a chain letter in which we talked about our experiences living–and writing–during the pandemic. I wrote and spoke about a silver lining of calm and solitude; and also about the joys of my lockdown BBC Radio 3 asked six writers to record a chain letter in which we talked about our experiences living–and writing–during the pandemic. I wrote and spoke about a silver lining of calm and solitude; and also about the joys of my lockdownv BBC Radio 3 asked six writers to record a chain letter in which we talked about our experiences living–and writing–during the pandemic. I wrote and spoke about a silver lining of calm and solitude; and also about the joys of my lockdown BBC Radio 3 asked six writers to record a chain letter in which we talked about our experiences living–and writing–during the pandemic. I wrote and spoke about a silver lining of calm and solitude; and also about the joys of my lockdown reading, Vasily Grossman’s marvelous novel Life and Fate.

The Wall Street Journal, cover story Week in Review: The internet was never just a technology or an engine of globalization. It was, at its core, an idea. Like classical liberalism, the internet may also be a good idea in urgent need of updating. Much as the individualism and freedom of classical liberalism have been distorted into the inequalities and ethical transgressions of modern capitalism, so the internet’s culture of “permissionless innovation” has been abused, transformed into the centralized, controlled network of today.

My article on Brutalist architecture in Poland and its link to communism, from T Magazine, The New York Times Long derided as relics of an oppressive regime, the country’s Communist-era buildings are being given a second look, and a new life. THE BUILDING SITS there like an abandoned ship. Broad, squat and jarring, the Unitra Telpod, a former electronic equipment factory in the Polish city of Krakow, is a depressing sight. Less than two decades ago, the building hummed with activity, and its rectilinear facade, all concrete and glass and steel, dominated the landscape, imposing itself on Krakow’s far more elegant medieval core. Now the offices are closed, shattered glass litters a dusty courtyard and the steel is rusted. It still retains a certain dignity, even majesty, but of a distinctly faded sort. The Telpod was one of thousands of buildings built in Poland (and, indeed, across the Eastern Bloc) after World War II, thrown up cheaply and quickly to fill the gaping wounds of the region’s ravaged urban landscapes. This architecture was part of a wave of Modernist design known as Brutalism, a term coined by the Swedish architect Hans Asplund and popularized by Le Corbusier to denote the raw, cold and imposing nature of the buildings, which appear as if standing in judgment of a visitor. Polish Brutalism was inextricably associated with Communist rule. Once, these buildings had promised a new future. Their modernity — their sheer scale — heralded all the potential of a rebuilding nation, and of a more just ideology that would provide an alternative to Western capitalism. By the 1990s, however, the sheen had vanished from the ideology and the buildings, too. Communism was a bad memory, and its architectural legacy inspired, at best, ambivalence. To this day, many Poles mutter about the poor […]

A review in the New York Times Book Review of Bitwise: A Life in Code by David Auerbach What began as a vague apprehension — unease over the amount of time we spend on our devices, a sense that our children are growing up distracted — has, since the presidential election of 2016, transformed into something like outright panic. Pundits and politicians debate the perils of social media; technology is vilified as an instigator of our social ills, rather than a symptom. Something about our digital life seems to inspire extremes: all that early enthusiasm, the utopian fervor over the internet, now collapsed into fear and recriminations. “Bitwise: A Life in Code,” David Auerbach’s thoughtful meditation on technology and its place in society, is a welcome effort to reclaim the middle ground. Auerbach, a former professional programmer, now a journalist and writer, is “cautiously positive toward technology.” He recognizes the very real damage it is causing to our political, cultural and emotional lives. But he also loves computers and data, and is adept at conveying the awe that technology can summon, the bracing sense of discovery that Arthur C. Clarke memorably compared to touching magic. “Much joy and satisfaction can be found in chasing after the secrets and puzzles of the world,” Auerbach writes. “I felt that joy first with computers.” The book is a hybrid of memoir, technical primer and social history. It is perhaps best characterized as a survey not just of technology, but of our recent relationship to technology. Auerbach is in a good position to conduct this survey. He has spent much of his life on the front lines, playing around as a kid with Turtle graphics, working on Microsoft’s Messenger Service after college, and then reveling in Google’s oceans of data. (Among his lasting contributions, […]

The Financial TimesThe contribution of utopian thinking is rarely in its particulars; blueprints for change have a way of collapsing in the face of human complexity (or, worse, turning into totalitarian nightmares). The real value of utopian thought is that it forces us to confront the present, and to at least acknowledge the need for a very different future.

The New Yorker: Contradiction and hypocrisy have always hovered over the utopian project, shadowing its promise of a better world with the sordid realities of human nature. Plato, in the Republic, perhaps the earliest utopian text, outlined a form of eugenics that would have been right at home in the Third Reich—which was itself a form of utopia, as were the Gulag of Soviet Communism, the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and, more recently, the blood-and-sand caliphate of isis. “There is a tyranny in the womb of every utopia,” the French economist and futurist Bertrand de Jouvenel wrote.

A family journey to “the happiest country in the world,” from Conde Nast Traveller It was only September, but I was standing in front of one of Europe’s biggest Christmas trees. A giant sequoia, over 100 years old, it stood majestically in a park under wooded hills in the spa town of Bad Ragaz,in northeastern Switzerland. Kathrin Bechtold, the director of business development at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, had just shown me around her hotel. She took me to the spa baths, filled with thermal waters naturally heated to 36.5°C degrees and piped from the Tamina Gorge up in the hills. She also showed me the resort’s well-appointed health facilities, designed for wealthy patients recuperating from surgery or illness. Now in front of the sequoia, its trunk lined with years, its leaves just starting to yellow with the advance of autumn, Kathrin told me how the tree would be decked out with lights and bells at Christmas. “There is a very special atmosphere here,” she said. “There is a mood.” She stretched out her hand and invited me to hug the tree. Not really being the tree-hugging type, I demurred. But I do believe in trying new things while travelling. So I returned a little later and approached the tree. Gingerly, a little self-consciously, I wrapped my arms around its trunk. I looked up and saw only cloudless blue sky and forest-covered green hills all around. Maybe, just maybe, I was starting to feel something. My communion with nature was rudely interrupted by a tug on my shirt. I turned around and my two sons, Aman and Emil, aged 9 and 7, were laughing at me. “Come on, let’s go,” they said. They pointed in the direction of a mini-golf course. Embarrassed, I dusted myself off and started off […]

My review, from The New York Times Book Review, of Gregory David Roberts’ The Mountain Shadow Gregory David Roberts’s “Shantaram” was an unlikely publishing sensation. Literary purists scoffed at its purple prose; Indian (and many other) readers bristled at its stereotypes and cultural simplifications. The book nonetheless possessed a grittiness and vividness that helped Roberts sell four million copies around the world. Hollywood rights were scooped up (though a film has yet to be made). The book has gone on to occupy a distinctive — and deserving — place in an emerging genre of Bombay noir. “The Mountain Shadow,” Roberts’s second novel, appears more than a decade later. A sequel in a planned tetralogy of novels, it is likely to please many “Shantaram” fans. The book is populated by several of the same characters (notably Lin, also known as Shantaram), and it unfolds on much the same urban landscape of drug lords, corrupt police and washed-out expatriates. The story begins with Lin’s return to Mumbai from a smuggling trip; we follow him through a thinly plotted litany of killings and violent encounters as he seeks to reunite with his love, Karla (also a repeat visitor from the earlier book). “The Mountain Shadow” is similar to its predecessor in other ways. For one thing, it is very long. “Shantaram” spanned more than 900 pages; this book comes in at 873. The prose remains clunky, at times cringe-­inducingly so. (A waiter is described as being “uneponymously named Sweetie”; “riding a motorcycle is velocity as poetry”; “happiness was a cheetah, running free in a savanna of solace.”) But there are also grounds for praise. The narrative is for the most part lively, occasionally gripping. The book glistens with the shine of firsthand experience. Roberts was a convicted armed robber who escaped from prison […]

Another piece on tennis for The New Yorker (online)–this one on Federer’s remarkable longevity There he was again: Roger Federer at thirty-four, an age when tennis players are typically being put out to pasture, winning yet another major tournament. The tournament in question was the Western & Southern Open, in Cincinnati; it is one of nine Masters 1000 tournaments on the men’s tour, an élite series that sits just below the Grand Slams in prestige (and in ranking points). Federer’s opponent in the final last Sunday was Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked Serbian who has been virtually unbeatable all year. With this victory, Federer moves back into second place in the rankings, a position he had ceded to Andy Murray just a week earlier. Heading into the U.S. Open, which starts on Monday, in Flushing Meadows, he is on familiar terrain: a real contender for the title, which would be his eighteenth Grand Slam trophy, and which would make him the second-oldest male Grand Slam winner ever. How does he do it? Tennis has been a young man’s game for as far back as I can remember. The first match I watched—on a grainy, black-and-white TV in India, interrupted by several power cuts—was Boris Becker’s Wimbledon triumph in 1985. Becker was seventeen, a fresh-faced, strawberry-blond kid. His victory came not long after the end of Björn Borg’s reign at Wimbledon; Borg retired at twenty-six. Later came Michael Chang (who won the French Open at seventeen), Stefan Edberg (Australian Open, nineteen), Pete Sampras (U.S. Open, nineteen), and Rafael Nadal (French Open, nineteen). There have been exceptions, of course. Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors played well into their thirties. Pete Sampras won the U.S. Open—and then promptly retired—at the age of thirty-one, in 2002. But none of them played with the consistency of […]

My piece for The New Yorker online on the International Premier Tennis League and what it means for the future of the sport. It’s late on a New Delhi evening, and the Singapore Slammers are in a tough spot. They’re already at the bottom of their league, and now they’re down 4-0 against the Indian Aces. In a desperate bid to salvage their standing, they make a substitution. The Aces counter by calling a Happiness Power Point, which counts for double. The Aces win the point. The crowd erupts, the cheerleaders take their positions, and the stadium reverberates with loud bhangra. Readers would be forgiven for thinking I was at a cricket or soccer—or maybe boxing—contest. In fact, I was at the third leg of the inaugural edition of the International Premier Tennis League (I.P.T.L.), a team-based competition spread over two and a half weeks across four Asian cities (Manila, Singapore, Delhi, Dubai). Among the players I saw in Delhi: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Pete Sampras, Tomas Berdych, and Ana Ivanovic. Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Andre Agassi, and many, many more current and former stars also participated in the league. The I.P.T.L. is the brainchild of Mahesh Bhupathi, a former Indian doubles player (he won twelve Grand Slam titles in his career) turned businessman. It is designed, in Bhupathi’s words, to bring “NBA style entertainment” to tennis fans. It’s glitzy and more than a little gaudy, with a heady mix of celebrity and big money. Bollywood stars rub shoulders with some of the best tennis players in the world (and, arguably, in history). The sums of money involved are astronomical. Word has it that the top stars are being paid more than a million dollars a day. The total amount of prize money involved is said to be […]

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing Sunil Amrith’s book on the Bay of Bengal for The New York Times Book Review.I recently met Amrith in Pondicherry. We drove up the coast and talked about his research and the fascinating–if often overlooked–history of this part of the world. I wrote about our afternoon together for The Hindu. First glimpses are not encouraging. Broken beer bottles strewn across a littered field. A group of gamblers — their eyes red, hostile — in a dusty clearing. A lonely looking dog, his coat mangy, wandering forlornly. But push through the dust and the stray dogs, past a grove of cashew and neem trees, and a far more impressive sight reveals itself: the ruins of a 2000-year old Roman trading outpost, the battered brick walls and archways of what was once a distant port of call for brave traders and sailors from the most powerful empire in the Western hemisphere. Time and human neglect have taken a toll on these buildings. But the architectural style is unmistakable, and the atmosphere, even amidst the decay, is bracing. Standing under those arches, traces of the original plaster visible, the bricks chipped but still solid after all these years, it’s just possible to imagine an ancient world of commerce and trade, conquest and exploration. I’m standing in the fishing village of Arikamedu, outside Pondicherry. I’m visiting with Sunil Amrith, a professor of History at the University of London. Amrith is the author of a recent book titled Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants . I first came across the book about a year ago, when I was asked to review it. It piqued my curiosity. I have grown up along the Bay, in Pondicherry and Auroville. Very little […]

My article from Bloomberg Businessweek on a new technology that has the potential to solve (or at least alleviate) two of India’s biggest problems: garbage and infrastructure. For as far as the eye can see, there’s stinking, smoking, untreated garbage. It’s concentrated in the municipal dump, in the South Indian city of Madurai, but not contained by it. The surrounding fields are also piled with trash. Stray dogs nibble at mounds of rotting food. The trees are denuded and covered with shredded plastic, the blue and pink and yellow bags like some kind of sinister confetti. The road to the dump, and beyond it to Madurai’s airport, is like a Hollywood vision of dystopian ruin: lifeless, black, choked with human refuse. And that’s why Rajagopalan Vasudevan’s enthusiasm is so jarring. As he makes his way through the rubbish, he’s like a child on a treasure hunt. “Wonderful resource,” he says, admiring a jumble of plastic bags, jerrycans, and torn food packets. “With all this plastic, I could lay the whole road to the airport.” It is difficult to exaggerate India’s garbage problem. Jairam Ramesh, the nation’s former environment minister, has said that if there were a “Nobel prize for dirt and filth,” India would win it. As much as 40 percent of the country’s municipal waste remains uncollected, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Of the waste that is collected, almost none is recycled. Most of it sits in open dumps such as the one in Madurai, leaching into the soil and contaminating groundwater. Some of it is burned, releasing dioxins and other toxic chemicals into the air. Much of India’s garbage is made up of plastic—a scourge of the nation’s new consumer economy. The country’s Central Pollution Control Board says more than 15,000 tons of plastic […]

A short written and recorded segment from National Public Radio, All Things Considered: India’s election through the prism of literature. I chose V S Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now to talk about the significance of Modi’s election. Audio clip here  On Monday, Narendra Modi will be sworn in as India’s prime minister. His rise to power is a remarkable story. A former tea vendor who speaks poor English, Modi is a distinct outsider to India’s political and cultural establishment. His election signals the extent to which India is shedding its old hierarchies and class barriers, becoming a more meritocratic society. When I think of what just happened in Indian politics, I think about a book I first read some 24 years ago. That book was India: A Million Mutinies Now, by the Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul. Naipaul traveled through India in the late ’80s; he wrote before the economic reforms of the ’90s, before the social transformations of the new millennium. But Naipaul was prescient. In a series of incisive portraits, he captured the incipient hopes and ambitions of the Indian people. He wrote detailed character sketches of businessmen, stockbrokers, politicians, women breaking free from oppressive traditions. Naipaul described these people — ordinary people — finding a new voice and identity. He wrote that they were discovering “the idea of freedom.” In many ways, that idea — a sense of self-confidence, of individual self-expression — has found shape in Modi’s election. Modi’s success signals to millions of marginalized Indians that their aspirations are attainable. It’s good to remember, though, that the changes Naipaul captured weren’t entirely benign. He also wrote of “rage” and violence, of disturbances and new social tensions. He wrote of resurgent religious and caste identities that accompanied the new confidence. He worried that the nation […]

An article from Bloomberg Businessweek, on the upcoming elections in India. Indian elections aren’t known for their clarity. Messy, cacophonous affairs, they stretch across months and almost invariably result in fragmented verdicts. Political groupings are opportunistic, driven by personality rather than issues; competing party platforms are often indistinguishable. This year’s parliamentary elections—the nation’s 16th since independence, running from April 7 to May 12—are proving an exception. The distinctions between India’s leading parties are unusually sharp; the race is shaping up as a genuine battle of ideas, a real debate over the direction of the nation. India’s two main parties are led by men who in many ways couldn’t be more different. Rahul Gandhi, the standard-bearer for the ruling Indian National Congress party, is the scion of a distinguished family that includes three former prime ministers. At 43, he’s also the candidate of youth. Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is ahead in most polls, is 63, a self-made man, and an experienced administrator who has served for more than 12 years as the chief minister of the state of Gujarat. Gandhi espouses a brand of secular, inclusive politics; Modi is viewed with suspicion by many for a series of bloody communal riots that took place under his watch in Gujarat. (The Indian courts exonerated him of personal involvement.) These are the lines along which the elections are generally being interpreted. But there is, also, a third distinction between the parties, one that’s less remarked upon but arguably more important. The elections are in many ways a contest over economic ideas, over the model of development best suited to India. This contest significantly raises the stakes for Indian voters; the outcome of these elections could very well determine the fortunes of an economy that has recently […]

A belated post of my article on Typhoon Haiyan, and possible lessons from the Asian Tsunami. Published in Bloomberg View. The reports coming out of the Philippines are all too familiar. Shattered villages, corpses strewn across battered beaches, dazed survivors picking through the wreckage of their former lives. As I write, Typhoon Haiyan (described in some news reports as a “supertyphoon”) appears to be the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history, and one of the worst ever in Asia — a region that has known no shortage of calamities. Many of the survivors are talking about a “wall of water” — most of the damage was caused not by rain or winds, but by a massive storm surge that followed. Nine years ago, on Dec. 26, 2004, I heard precisely the same description from survivors of the Asian tsunami that struck the part of the coast where I live, in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. On the morning of that disaster, I raced down to the beach. I found a highway gurgling with water, and the body of a boy spread across the sand. The wave had receded; the ocean was flat again. But all anyone could talk about was the wall that had slammed down on them. The Asian tsunami remains one of the biggest natural disasters in mankind’s history, a calamity that claimed more than 200,000 lives in 14 countries. Haiyan, mercifully, does not appear to have reached the same level of destruction: One official guessed that perhaps 10,000 people may have died, most in the central islands of the Philippines. Nonetheless, the affected regions are likely to witness the same influx of relief workers and aid money that followed the tsunami (and that followed other recent disasters such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and, […]

Article from The New Yorker online about coastal erosion in South India. An accompaniment to the print article from the previous week. Be sure to also check out the accompanying slide show. S. Manavalan, the South Indian postman I wrote about for this week’s issue, has a thing for fish. He grew up by the sea, in the village of Kadapakkam, and as far back as he can remember he’s eaten fish nearly every day for lunch. Unusually for a man of his generation (he is sixty-two years old), Manavalan does much of the cooking at home; he specializes in fried fish and fish curry. He says he learned the dishes from his mother, and that he cooks them in what he calls “the old-fashioned ways.” Most mornings, Manavalan can be found at the village fish market, down on a stretch of yellow sand bordering the Bay of Bengal. It is a crowded, hectic place, a tangle of fishing nets, brightly painted motorboats, hungry stray dogs, and fish vendors with their catch spread over plastic sheets. Crabs crawl nervously in every direction; the sand is speckled with silver bits of fish that glint in the sun. I met Manavalan at the market early one morning. We walked around and talked about the many ways his village has changed over the years. This is what we usually talked about: I was writing an article on the impact of a highway built through Kadapakkam, and Manavalan, who has worked as a postman in the area for over three decades, was full of stories. That morning, he told me how the highway, known as the East Coast Road, had made it easier for fishermen to transport their catch to distant markets, and about how prices had risen as a result. He pointed to […]

My article on the East Coast Road and the changes it has brought, published in The New Yorker (behind a paywall) What happens when a big road meets a small village? It was early on a summer day, the sun was still soft, and traffic was thick on the East Coast Road, in the South Indian village of Kadapakkam. In the center of the village, trucks and auto-rickshaws and taxis coalesced into a mess of diesel fumes and honking horns. Two buses met at a right angle at an intersection; each refused to yield, vehicles piled up, and for a moment this agricultural and fishing hamlet of some three thousand people was witness to the unlikely spectacle of a traffic jam. K. Ganesh, a twenty-seven-year-old photographer from the village, stood outside his studio and grimaced. Ganesh was born and reared in Kadapakkam. He could remember when a motor vehicle was a rare sight in these parts. It wasn’t so long ago that he got around on a bicycle; now he owned a motorcycle. “When the East Coast Road was first built, people didn’t know what to make of all the traffic,” Ganesh told me. They were annoyed by the pollution, kept awake by the noise, and terrified of the accidents. Ganesh recalled at least a hundred deaths in the area during the past decade or so, since the building of the road, a seven-hundred-kilometre-long highway that runs through the state of Tamil Nadu. Sometimes he was called by the police to take pictures of the mutilated bodies. Visit The New Yorker site for the full article–>

My review, in The New York Times Book Review, of Crossing the Bay of Bengal, Sunil Amrith’s excellent new book. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in migration, environmental history, the Tamil diaspora, or the multicultural worlds that border the Bay. CROSSING THE BAY OF BENGAL: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of MigrantsBy Sunil S. Amrith353 pp. Harvard University Press. $29.95. A few miles up the road from my home, on a sandy beach in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, there is a crumbling fort that extends into the Bay of Bengal. The fort was built in the 17th century; over the years, it has been controlled by Mughal rulers from the north, by the French and by the British. Farther down the coast, past a string of fishing villages, sits the former French colony of Pondicherry, its wide boulevards and elegant villas overlooking the shimmering waters of the bay. A few miles away is an ancient Roman trading outpost. And two and a half hours beyond sits the former Danish port town of Tranquebar, its yellow fort blending into the sand, its rusty cannons pointing at the ocean. The diversity of this region — a triangle of flat land that extends along the southeastern coast of India — is testament to an ancient history of migration, imperial conquest and seaborne commerce. As Sunil S. Amrith writes in his fascinating new book, “Crossing the Bay of Bengal,” the countries bordering the bay have for centuries been home to a cosmopolitan world that “is strangely familiar from the vantage point of the early 21st century — a world of polyglot traders and cross-cultural marriages, a world in which long-distance travel is a common experience.” Lacking a political union to give it coherence, this world has often […]

My article in Bloomberg Businessweek, on India’s economic crisis–its worst in over two decades. For Manmohan Singh, India’s octogenarian prime minister, the summer of 2013 must seem depressingly familiar. In June 1991, as the nation’s newly installed finance minister, Singh found himself staring down the worst economic crisis to hit India since independence. The nation’s foreign exchange holdings were reduced to just a few weeks’ worth of imports; its gold reserves were airlifted to London, collateral for an International Monetary Fund loan. Singh was brought in by a minority government to rescue the faltering economy. Although many others played a part, he’s widely credited as the architect of reforms that transformed the nation. By Independence Day in 2006, Prime Minister Singh could stand upon the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi and celebrate an economy that was among the fastest-growing in the world. “The going has never been as good for India in the past as it is now,” he said. That national mood of optimism—and, along with it, Singh’s reputation—is being tested as never before. Growth has slowed to a 10-year low of just above 5 percent. Inflation is stubbornly persistent, defying the high interest rates that are choking investment. The nation’s fiscal and current-account deficits are precariously wide. And in recent weeks the rupee has crumbled: It’s now down more than 17 percent against the dollar—making it the worst-performing currency this year in Asia. On the ground, the impact is already being felt. Companies that had borrowed in foreign exchange are facing bankruptcy. In the wake of new government guidelines restricting outflows of currency, individuals and families are finding it hard to meet travel, education, and other expenses. Worse is yet to come, as the price of imported goods—everything from cell phones to olive oil—will surely […]

My article in the Wall Street Journal on the feud between Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati–and what it signifies for India’s economic development. Go for growth or social change? A feud between economists boils over Indian politics isn’t generally known for its intellectual bent, so it was a curious sight last week when two Ivy League professors were thrust into the political limelight here. Harvard’s Amartya Sen and Columbia’s Jagdish Bhagwati are two of India’s most eminent economists. Mr. Sen is a Nobel laureate and former master of Trinity College, Cambridge; Mr. Bhagwati is a much-decorated scholar of international trade. Both are highly respected, both have recently published books on Indian development—and both have been engaged in a long-simmering feud. The origins of the feud are unclear. Messrs. Sen and Bhagwati attended Cambridge together in the 1950s; they later taught at the same university in New Delhi. Rumors of bad blood have circulated for years, and their work has placed them in very different ideological camps. Mr. Bhagwati is known as an advocate for free trade and market liberalization as a means of achieving rapid growth. Mr. Sen has spoken out against what he calls “market fundamentalism”; his approach to development argues that economic growth must be accompanied by attention to social “capabilities” like health, education and gender rights. Mr. Bhagwati’s disdain for Mr. Sen’s views is evident in his latest book, “Why Growth Matters,” written with Arvind Panagariya. Last month, their differences spilled onto the letters page of the Economist, when Messrs. Bhagwati and Panagariya, responding to a review of Mr. Sen’s new book, “India: An Uncertain Glory” (written with Jean Dreze), accused Mr. Sen of paying only “lip service” to economic growth and instead championing what they called “redistribution.” Mr. Sen responded in the next issue, complaining about […]

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