NDTV: Professor Amartya Sen, thank you very much for joining us. It's really great to talk to you. I must say, that this book, "Home in the World: A Memoir", both Radhika and I read it, and I tell you, we just loved it. It's one of the finest books we both have read. We laughed a lot. Definitely funny bits in it. We learnt a lot, and we also cried a bit, here and there. You know, it's quite emotional in parts.
One issue to start with is, the book stops in 1963, when you're 30 years old, and so, there are two questions. One is, we hope there's going to be a part two, because we want to read Amartya Sen post 30-years-old and, did you really focus on this area of Burma, Dhaka, Calcutta, Shanti Niketan, Cambridge, MIT, Stanford, Delhi School of Economics because, did you focus on this period first, because in many ways they appear to be the foundation of a lot of your ideas and thoughts in life? Is that the reason why you kind of did this first part of your life, first three decades?
Prof. Amartya Sen: One reason, most of my values and priorities have, by then, had emerged and come clearly. And it became clear to me, particularly when I was with the Delhi School of Economics, in comparing how I see the world and how did my students see the world, There was an interesting and important comparison there. And then that was, for me, rather consolidating as far as what I felt I was increasingly standing for, including coming from the left of the political spectrum, but also very concerned that the issue of individual liberty may be neglected in a way that we shouldn't allow to happen. So, I think all these concerns were there. And I think by the time I'm in Delhi School of Economics and my students are interacting with me, that became quite clear.
NDTV: So, in many ways yes, this was the foundation of your being "Home in the World" at home in the world. It was those 30 years I guess really.
But you know, one of the things that struck us in the book is friendship. And that you had so many wonderful friends, all over the world. And you would spend lots of time arguing, chatting, drinking, dancing, basically friendship was very important. And you write about friendship, and this is from your book, "I sometimes think that so much has been written in literature about love and so little about friendship, that there's a real need to redress the balance. Without trying to redefine friendship under some kind of broadened umbrella of love, when they're not really the same thing at all. I was immensely happy..." and friendship meant a lot to you, is that right?
Prof. Amartya Sen: Yes, it did. Very much so. Friendship, closeness, learning from others, as well as relying on others, I think one thing friendship does is to give a notion that when you encounter a person, your inclination is to treat that person as being on your side in some ways. And you know, I sometimes am lucky, I think I discussed in one of the chapters, I think the chapter where I miss my plane, going to Warsaw. And I didn't have any money at all. And there I am, in the East Berlin station, and not knowing exactly what to do. And there emerges a friend, he happened to be a student, studying electrical engineering in Berlin. And he becomes a supporter, a friend and company.
NDTV: Wonderful! I remember that whole, and then he waited for you, when you came back, at the station.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Well, he insisted that I may get into trouble again taking the next train.
NDTV: The other you know, as an academic, people thought you read a lot and you spent a lot of time in the libraries, which you did and you enjoyed it. But you also mention, say a very positive thing about teaching, teaching students. And you said, "in fact I was learning so much from teaching, that I felt convinced I could not really be sure of knowing a subject well until I tried to teach it to others". And then you say a wonderful thing, which being an ex-Delhi School of Economics person, actually one of the big regrets I had at Delhi School of Economics, I came there just after you had left there. So, I missed your teaching. But I did hear your lectures, when you used to visit there and other parts of the world. But you did say this about Delhi School, "The thrill I experienced from teaching my astonishingly talented students in Delhi is hard to describe. I expected them to be of high quality but they turned out to be much more than that." Delhi School of Economics, and you taught people at Cambridge, Harvard, MIT and Stanford, and you still say that about Delhi School?
Prof. Amartya Sen: Oh, I certainly would say that, yes. At different levels, I taught both the elementary economics, a personal choice theory and social choice theory. And I think both in terms of the innovative work on social choice theory that people like Prasanta Pattanaik and others did, that was fantastic. But also, in the general class of elementary economics, there was a kind of level of interest, concern, engagement, that I found right across the big lecture hall which I found enormously energizing. And I think if I were to put them in next to Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard or MIT, I don't know where exactly there might be, in terms of exact performance and score, but in terms of being engaged in the subject matter, I got as much as I could expect.
NDTV: And I will, may I add one more thing to that. When I taught at Delhi School of Economics, I did find students from Presidency the best. Now, I might be a bit biased coming from Calcutta, but I used to find the Presidency students a little above the rest. The standard was generally wonderfully high. Very high IQ. I think the students were better than us teachers actually. Just coming to the Nobel Prize and the amazing, what they read out about you is just wonderful. But they also asked you to donate two things that were important to you in your life to their museum and you write, "I was made to reflect on all this when the Nobel Foundation asked me to give them, on long term loan, two objects that have been closely associated with my work to be displayed in the Nobel Museum. After some dithering, I gave the Nobel Museum a copy of Aryabhatiya, one of the great Sanskrit classics on mathematics from AD 499, from which I had benefitted so much, and my old bicycle, which had been with me since my school days." Explain those two gifts to the Nobel Museum.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Okay. Well, the bicycle first perhaps, because quite a lot of my work is empirical. And I had to gather data in many of the subjects I was working in. We didn't have already collected data. I had to get them very often for myself, whether I'm dealing with gender inequality, how girls and boys comparatively favour, comparatively perform as they are getting older from a very early age. And also going back to history, what happened during the famine, how much were the wages of people compared with prices, to make it impossible for them to buy food. So, I was collecting all these things, going to all storages and godowns, as they say in India, and pulling all the old records out. And I had to do it all on the bike, because the long distances were mostly not very well connected. The Aryabhatiya was a book of great interest to me. The author was Aryabhata, who was one of the great mathematicians in India. The real mathematics in India begins, as you know, people talk about Vedic mathematics and so on. But they're not really of major achievement that we can talk about. Aryabhata is not uninfluenced by outsiders. I think what's happening in Greece and Babylon do have some impact in India. But this is picked up bit by bit, by a number of people in the first couple of centuries, in the different parts of India. Aryabhata himself did spend most of his life later in Patna, in Pataliputra. But I think he came originally from Kerala, and he has a great interest in that. And not only was he doing major mathematics but also major speculation about the nature of the world, including gravity being there.
NDTV: Right. Actually yes, you were primarily interested in mathematics, in philosophy, and we'll come to how you suddenly switched to economics, and we are so thankful for that. But while we talk about the Nobel Prize for Economics, I want to just assure all youngsters out there, don't be disheartened, you can still win the Nobel Prize, no matter how you're doing in school, because you describe an experience when after the Nobel Prize you went back to Dhaka, and you went to your old school, and this is what happened as you describe in your book, you said, it was St. Gregory's and you said, "When I visited Dhaka shortly after the Nobel award in December 1998, The Headmaster of St Gregory's put on a special celebration for me. He mentioned that to inspire the current students, he had fished out my exam papers from storage. But was discouraged when he saw that the performance ranked 33rd in a class of 37. Then he added kindly, 'I suppose you became a good student only after you left St. Gregory's.' The Headmaster was not mistaken, I became what would count as a good student only when no one cared whether I was a good student or not." So, I think, all students who may not be at the top of their class right now, don't worry, you can still win a Nobel Prize. But you didn't like this pressure, right?
Prof. Amartya Sen: I didn't like the pressure, certainly. St. Gregory's was very high performing. They used to be proud of the fact that the position from 1-10 standardly of the Dhaka Board exam was occupied by St. Gregory's. And that was special, and they did very well. I found it upsetting because I didn't want to do only what they wanted me to do. I wanted to read on my own. And Shantiniketan gave that, when I arrived there. I could just read what I liked. I could not be forced to.
NDTV: Right, wonderful.
Prof. Amartya Sen: I would say one thing though, if I may Prannoy. I think our students should feel that they can do extremely well in the world. I don't think Nobel is a good way of judging it.
NDTV: Right, right.
Prof. Amartya Sen: I think, because you know, it's a prize and there are other prizes, and there are other ways of making a mark in the world
Prof. Amarty Sen: ...including influencing the lives of others, improving the lives of others. I think just as there's a danger of being too steamrolled by others, there's a danger of having a kind of single prize interest. I was very happy to get the Nobel Prize, because it gave me some money with which I could do some real donations, for which I had no money at all. So, the Pratichi Trust India and the Pratichi Trust Bangladesh could be started with the Nobel money.
NDTV: With your Nobel money, yes.
Prof. Amartya Sen: ... that was a very good thing. Now of course life has become very difficult. In order to get money, donations, from say abroad, there are huge barriers to be crossed. But if people are interested, you could collaborate with others in expanding this work.
NDTV: And talking about money, you did have a pretty tough student life. I remember you wanted to go to Italy, and there was a National Student's Union special package of only 50 pounds to go to Italy. And it took everything. You had to cut back on everything just to raise those 50 pounds. But you had friends, and you went with friends. And I must say you do write quite a lot, that you went on one or two holidays, where there were 4 boys and 18 girls. And we won't go into ....
Prof. Amartya Sen: Well, the first trip I took had 18 girls and 4 boys
NDTV: ... and you learnt about global amity over a glass of wine where they said countries may be far apart geographically, that's what you write, but we want everybody to be neighbours at heart sort of thing. Is that right, roughly?
Prof. Amartya Sen: This was a German girl I met, along with her companions, in Rudesheim. I was taking the boat. I took heaps of journeys that I could. And this was going down the Rhein, at a student fair. There were students travelling with me that said, do you know about Rudesheim fair? So, I said no, so they said we are all getting off. So, I got off there. And then I went and joined in the pub. And there were some very active students there. Who began with elementary questions when they learnt that the parts of India that I come from, Bengal, old name is Bongo, they wanted to know whether it was anywhere near Congo?
NDTV: Whether Bongo was near Congo?
Prof. Amartya Sen: ...and I had to explain that it isn't. And on a napkin I had to draw a map of that. But one of the German girls there was very keen that all countries should get together. I first thought she meant geographically but it turns out that she wanted collaboration between them. Yes, I understand, that only a few years earlier, Germany was really terrorizing the world in terms of making normal life impossible among neighbours and elsewhere. And I think, this is the kind of reaction which was very strong in Germany, and which was a saving grace.
NDTV: Right, while we're on that, again you had friends on holidays, but lot of very close friends, as a student, as a teacher, as a professor. One of the friends was Aung San Suu Kyi, who was really in the early days an absolute inspiration to all of us. We used to carry her on "The World This Week", and it was just amazing. What was she like? I tell you, this is what you wrote, "I knew Suu Kyi as a fearless leader and I felt very fortunate in knowing such a remarkable and brave person, who tolerated awful harassment and prolonged incarceration to fight for the cause of democracy in Burma." Then what changed?
Prof. Amartya Sen: Well, that's a puzzle to me because there was a change of personality in what happened. First of all, she seemed to stand for the nation of Burma, but to not include Rohingyas who were residents of Burma for a very long time anyway. So, there was a kind of discrimination, in a way you couldn't find in say Mahatma Gandhi or Rabindranath Tagore. So there was a kind of slight narrowness there. I think more than slight narrowness. I think also the military played with her very powerfully, and made it clear that they could carry out propaganda, which they did, which would make most Buddhists turn against the Muslim Rohingya, so that once their propaganda is successful, if Aung San Suu Kyi said things in favor of Rohingya, then she would lose, not only the support of the military, but also of the Buddhist general population. They played it very smartly. We tend to often underestimate the intelligence of the nasty people. And in this case the Burmese military is about the nastiest you can get to. They managed to produce a system whereby Aung San Suu Kyi was really caught in a trap laid by the military. Now, that was not the only thing. She remained powerful, and she remained at least a heroic and a daring character.
NDTV: But can I just interrupt? When you knew her, she was like for all of us an inspiration. To you what kind of a person was she, as a friend?
Prof. Amartya Sen: Well, she was a student in Delhi University, so I knew her also then. She was a student in Oxford, and I knew her English husband who was also very concerned with equity across the world. She was among very good people.
NDTV: Right, big change
Prof. Amartya Sen: ... and then I think things gradually changed. The military decided to get the husband, effectively separated from her, which would break her, which it nearly did. And also, by planting this Buddhist versus Muslim Rohingya story ...
NDTV: Terribly sad. Sad change, but let's hope ...
Prof. Amartya Sen: It was wrong really. It's not to the credit of Aung San Suu Kyi that the military could play her on their finger and that failed unfortunately.
NDTV: Now you clearly have a terrible dislike for the military, and the army, and autocracy, and dictatorship. But the military in particular, I feel, I want to go back to your early days in school. There's a little incident you write, and I think that the anti-military point of view was sown with that incident. You write as follows, "the Subedar Major told us that the bullet accelerates after leaving the rifle, and then after a while it starts to slow down. And that it's best to hit the object to be struck when the bullet is travelling at its maximum speed. At that point I found myself raising my hand and offering some Newtonian mechanics, telling our Subedar Major that the bullet could not possibly accelerate after leaving the rifle, since there's no new force to make it gain velocity. The Subedar looked at me and said, 'Are you saying I'm wrong?' I wanted to give him the only possible answer to the question, namely 'yes' but that seemed unwise. I also thought that in fairness I should concede that the bullet could possibly accelerate, if its rotatory movement could somehow be converted into a linear forward movement. But I had to add, I could not see how that would occur. The Subedar responded by giving me an angry glance and saying, 'rotatory movement? Is that what you're saying?' Before I could clear up that muddled point, he ordered me to raise my arm, above my head, with the unloaded rifle held high, and run around the field 5 times in a rotatory movement". After that you left. How could you like the military after that?
Prof. Amartya Sen: Glorious recollection, though it did happen.
NDTV: Lasting memories, lasting impacts
Prof. Amartya Sen: I probably always disliked the military even when I was, this happened when I was with the National Cadet Corp and that wasn't a great achievement on my part. Yes, but my dislike of the military is much more extensive than that.
NDTV: Yes, yes of course. I just wanted to move on to another very important topic, especially for us, and that is the importance of a free media in any country. And you talk about the importance of how the Bengal famine happened, was extended and got much worse because the media was suppressed. Both in England and here. This is what you write, "the fact is that even as Bengal was ravaged by a famine, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the 18th century at the beginning of the British rule in Bengal, neither the Parliament in Westminster, nor the ever-active British newspapers had sufficiently extensive reports or discussions about it. Indeed, the British public was kept amazingly uninformed. The high circulation Bengali newspapers were, as I've said, censored. And the grand English newspaper of Calcutta, The Statesmen which was British owned and edited by a loyal Englishman, Ian Stephens, voluntarily chose a policy of not discussing the famine in the interest of solidarity for the war effort. The informational blackout only ended when Ian Stephens revolted in October 1943. He saw clearly that he was betraying his profession. He was a journalist, but was writing nothing about the most important calamity around him. The Statesman published vitriolic attacks on the British policy regarding the famine with news coverage providing evidence. The British Parliament had not discussed the manmade disaster before Stephens spoke. All that changed immediately after the Statesman's reporting." And writing about today you say that, "altogether different reasons of authoritarian domestic politics, restrictions are sometimes no less intrusive now, than during the colonial rule." So, there was both censorship as well as voluntary so called restraint. Not being proper journalists, right?
Prof. Amartya Sen: Yes, and sometimes the voluntary restraint could come from a sense of patriotism, and that of course Ian Stephens thought he had mistakenly imbibed. But sometimes it also comes from fear of government intervention. I was pleased to see that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court raising the question, that 75 years after the end of the British colonial rule, why do we need some of these colonial provisions like preventive detention for example. Preventive detention was a great tool of harassment, and keeping the country in check. A large number of my relations were in prison at that time, without there being any convictions. But we all thought that once the war, once the colonial rule ended then they will go. And it's not to the credit of the government that came in immediately, that is the Congress government, not to eliminate them. Why? What was the need to keep them? Why could they have not eradicated all these rules, whether it be preventive detention or the criminality of homosexual behaviour. All these were British rules, which could have been eliminated. But then what has happened is that what was present, but not very powerfully executed, now is executed often with very strong force. And a lot of people I know, extremely respectable people, extremely non-violent people being locked up using that. And the argument given is, well the rules were there, even during the Congress, and now they are going to be applied more. I think the question that the new Chief Justice raises is a legitimate one namely, okay 75 years have gone since colonial rule ended, why do you need the instruments of suppression that the colonial rulers needed, now? You are not ruling a colony, you are ruling a democracy. I think that is a very big thing and that's not, the force behind is connected with driving a bit of terror.
NDTV: I mean, it is amazing that you are comparing what was done under the British colonial system with what is happening now.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Exactly, and we were all convinced, you see I was growing up under British Rule in my school days. And we were all convinced that as soon as India becomes independent, these would all go. But they didn't go, and now it has got much strengthened, and applied very often in a way that I think is really shameful in terms of what we could have expected as citizens of a democratic country, the first democracy in a non-white society in the world.
NDTV: One question on this, the world keeps talking about democracy and anti-dictatorship, but they never seem to actually do anything. We've seen dictators rising in many countries, and the West keeps trading with them, and really just occasionally says tut tut, but actually doesn't really do anything.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Whether Burma or Saudi Arabia or Brazil, you could see authoritarianism becomes stronger and people who are mouthing slogans against authoritarianism all the time not doing anything except trade with these countries. That is a real gap in the moral climate of the world today, and we have to think really about ....
NDTV: Right, so, you are talking about the British colonial rule but we have just seen a football match where they lost, and there were horrible racist comments on Twitter and various other places. And now Hamilton won a race with a little controversial accident, and there are racist comments against him. I want to go back, how much has changed? Because I want to ask you about the British landlady who you stayed with when you first arrived in England, in Cambridge. And the rule was that in first year you are not allowed to live in the college. And you write this amazing incident of how she changed, and I want to know whether the British had changed like your landlady. You write, "It turned out that Mrs Hanger, that was the landlady, Mrs Hanger's fear of coloured people had some rational basis in her understanding of science. On my first day, after welcoming me warmly, she popped the question, 'Will your colour come off in the bath? I mean, a really hot bath, will your colour come off?" she says. And then after you spent a year, you obviously had an impact on her, because you write, "When I came to say goodbye to her in June 1954, she gave me a cup of tea with some homemade cake saying she would miss me. She went on to say some very progressive things on race relations and described how she had ticked off an English woman at a dance club where they used go regularly, for not wanting to dance with an African man who was waiting to find a partner. She says, "I was very upset so I grabbed the man and danced with him for more than an hour until he wanted to go home." You certainly had an impact on her and changed her. But there is still an underlying kind of racism in England, and in America, that hasn't changed like your landlady.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Yes, and of course there is that in India too, against Scheduled Castes, Dalits and Scheduled Tribes and indeed many other people. People of other religions like Islam and so on. And so, I think there are two types of issues. One is, how to stop discrimination against human beings who happen to be citizens or residents of a country. And that can be done by discussion, by bringing it into a public sphere of discussion. I think in this respect, both Gandhi and Tagore offer great examples of how you could make a change by talking and saying, why do you say that, and so on. That is one kind of issue. But the other kind of issue is to take on other countries. They are not living with you. So, the Arabian and the Burmese military are not living with English upper classes or American upper classes. And if they still support the kind of rather horrifying experience of these terrorising groups, then the question arises, what stops you is not that you have to accept them to your bosom, which is important, but in a different context, like the Mrs Hanger context.
NDTV: Right, right
Prof. Amartya Sen: So, I think we have to distinguish... The Mrs Hanger context. If I may come back to it, what it taught me is this, that when you come to know a person well, it is very difficult to maintain irrational prejudices again. I knew things were changing when about a month or so after my being at Mrs Hanger's bed and breakfast she came to me and she said, "You know Amartya, you are very lean, you are really sickly, I think you are sick. You should really become more healthy, we have to build you up". Her science wasn't entirely perfect, so she decided that I must drink full fat milk. I could not explain to her that full fat milk would not improve my health in any way. But any way she got it at her own expense, every morning. And she came to me and said "you have to drink for my sake." Every morning. Now, instead of finding out how to deal with the colour emanating from my body while I was in a hot bath, now she was concerned about how to make me become healthier. So, I think this is the point that I, with which actually the book ends, that is a fine theory of Adam Smith in context of 'impartial spectator', if we imagine that you have arrived and you mix with these people, what would you feel. And Smith's understanding was that if you mix with them, if you get together with them, this is a point by the way that David Hume also makes, then indeed something of their wellbeing, or concern about their wellbeing will influence you. And when that happens your outlook will change.
NDTV: Right, at least your landlady did not offer you sherry. And I should warn everybody who invites you to a party, do not offer Professor Amartya Sen sherry because his professor did once, and what did you do with that sherry he gave you?
Prof. Amartya Sen: I'm afraid, I poured it into a flower pot.
NDTV: You poured it into a flower pot. He saw your empty glass, gave you another sherry, and what did you do with that glass of sherry?
Prof. Amartya Sen: Same flower pot. Thereafter I kept on watching, on my visits, whether the flowers are coming out alright
NDTV: And the flowers flourished, and you should think of having sherry from now on, or maybe there are better alternatives. I just wanted to kind of wrap around to your family and how much influence everyone had on you, your mother, your father, and your grandfather in particular. You write about him. You had many discussions on the existence of God, and when you were a child, you said, "I enjoyed hearing my grandfather at the weekly mandir, at least initially. But I found no particular attraction to a weekly religious or at least semi-religious discourse. By the time I was 12, I told my grandfather that I did not want to come to the mandir assemblies regularly, for I had work to do. 'And I suppose,' he told me (but did not sound particularly hurt), 'you do not enjoy these discussions in the mandir?' I was silent. He said, 'There is no case for having religious convictions until you are able to think seriously for yourself. It will come natural way over time.' Now, since religious convictions did not come to me at all as I grew older, my scepticism only seemed to mature with age. I told my grandfather, some years later, that he might have been wrong, that religion had not come to me over time, despite my persistent attempts to think about the different issues that religion tries to resolve. 'I was not mistaken', replied my grandfather. 'You have addressed the religious question, and you have placed yourself, I can see, in the atheistic, the Lokayata, part of the Hindu spectrum." So, he put your atheism still within the Hindu spectrum.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Yes, there was no escape from that. To him, there were these different schools of thought, Advaita, Shaivite and so on, and of course atheism or Lokayata is one of them. In fact, in the 14th century when Madhavacharya writes a wonderful, and I do recommend to the listeners of NDTV, the book. It's available in, there should be a better translation, which I am trying to arrange. It begins, the first chapter is on the Lokayata. It's called Sarva Darshan Sangraha, collection of all philosophy, meant to be local Indian philosophy. And chapter one is on atheism. And it is a beautiful explanation about the logic behind the materialist position in the Lokayata. And so what my grandfather was doing was not chucked at as being not acceptable and out, but as one of the lines of thought, not his line of thought, not one that he would recommend. On the other hand, it is a legitimate line of thought that one can think about. And that's how Madhavacharya in the 14th century feels it. And I think if you think about the things to be proud of in the Indian culture, this is one of them, that there is a toleration that's not easily seen in many countries. When Akbar was talking about multi-religious tolerance, it was when in Rome heretics were being burnt in the Campo de Fiori. And that is exactly when Akbar is talking in Agra about the need to have a multi religious, tolerant perspective. I think that's a long tradition of India. We have moved away from that quite a bit. And that is a matter of great regret for me.
NDTV: You know, I mean, we think of Shantiniketan, when I read your book. It transformed your life. It is such a wonderful place. It just strengthened every nook and corner of talent anybody had. So, I was thinking, I would ask you to sing a Rabindra sangeet, because Shantiniketan, you must sing beautifully, until I read one of the anecdotes you write in your book and I will just read out what you said and you said, "I loved, and I continue to love, listening to music, including good singing. But I myself could not sing at all. My music teacher, a wonderful singer, who we called Mohordi (her real name was Kanika Bandopadhyay) did not accept that I was simply deficient and initially refused to excuse me from the class. She told me that everyone has the talent for singing, it's just a matter of practice. Encouraged by Mohordi's theory, I did some quite serious practice. I was sure about my efforts, but wondered what I was achieving. After a month or so of practicing, Mohordi tested my performance again, and then with defeat writ large on her face, told me 'Amartya, you need not come to the music class anymore." So, I would love you to sing, would you like to sing?
Prof. Amartya Sen: No, I would not.
NDTV: But at least you tried and at least she did kind of have faith in your ...
Prof. Amartya Sen: I like listening to music very much indeed. And that would hopefully be with me all the way.
NDTV: Coming to Calcutta, because that is another transformational place in your life. Calcutta is my favourite city, born and brought up there, and the people of Calcutta, the best in India by far. Just give me a couple of sentences on what Calcutta means to you, and meant to you.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Well, this is where I had my taste of argument developed, whether it be in the coffee house, next to the Presidency College, or sitting at the ....
NDTV: The coffee house, yes.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Yes, the coffee house is a big institution ...
Prof. Amartya Sen: ... where I developed my taste for argument. I had some of that in Shantiniketan, but the fact that it's not just a matter of respecting disagreement, but actually advancing your argument. If somebody says you believe that, but how would you justify that? That's a legitimate question. And, in a vague way, I knew that must be the case. But it is in Calcutta Coffee House or in the verandah of Presidency College, or with friends in the maidan.
NDTV: If you are in Calcutta, sitting in the Coffee House or Presidency, football must mean everything to you, because football is the life and soul, and the sport, in that city. And you know what amazes me, it must have come from your addas, the way you thought about football and related it to economics and analysis. And you write, and again I'll just quote because I love the way you write, and it is made so clear, so no point me trying to repeat it. So this is what you say, "The results of the Mohan Bagan versus East Bengal games had some evident economic consequences, including on the relative prices of different types of fish in Calcutta. Since most Ghotis like best a fish called rui, and Bangals from east typically have a deep loyalty to ilish, rui would shoot up in price if Mohan Bagan won, leading to celebratory dinners by westerners. Similarly, the price of ilish would leap up if East Bengal defeated Mohan Bagan. I did not know that I might someday specialise in economics (I was quite strongly hooked at that time on mathematics and physics, with only Sanskrit as a possible rival.) But the elementary economics of price rise, due to a sudden hike in demand, was immediately interesting. I even speculated on a primitive theory that this volatility should not in general be present if the result of the game was firmly predictable." Now I mean, that is a Coffee House gem, I mean, it is generated from the Coffee House, right?
Prof. Amartya Sen: It's an area. I'm not personally particularly fond of football, never been.
NDTV: You went to one match I think, when you were 10, you write.
Prof. Amartya Sen: That I watched.
NDTV: You watched, yes.
Prof. Amartya Sen: The only game I have played is cricket. And I was a tolerable batsman.
NDTV: I'll ask you about that cricket, very quickly. The captain bowled at you to test your batting. And you hit such a hard shot, it hit your captain on the nose, and he either broke his nose or he was bleeding. How did you manage to carry on after that?
Prof. Amartya Sen: Well, I was trying to, I had just arrived from Dhaka to Shantiniketan, and my cousin was trying to get me recruited in their team. We were about seven, eight, nine and so on. So, the captain gave me a trial and sent me a ball. I did the best I could to hit the ball back. Unfortunately, it hit him on the nose and he was bleeding. And I thought that he would not let me join his team, but instead of that he said, 'okay your cousin can join my team definitely. On the other hand, tell him to not aim at the bowler's nose.'
NDTV: And you were married to a poet, a person who studied poetry and you loved poetry and a person came, actually a budding poet came to your house to recite some 100 poems to your wife. And it was a humbling experience because you write, "On one occasion a poet arrived with a substantial collection of poems, wanting to read them aloud to Nabaneeta," that's your wife and poet, "and to receive her critical judgement. But since she was not at home, the poet said he would settle instead for reading several 100 poems to me. When I pleaded that I altogether lacked literacy, sophistication, I was assured by him. He said, "But that is absolutely perfect. I am especially interested in seeing how the common man, the unsophisticated, common man reacts to my poetry" And you say, "I am happy to report that the common man reacted with dignity and self-control." So, you are an unsophisticated, common man, I see.
Prof. Amartya Sen: I am an unsophisticated, common man who happens to enjoy poetry
NDTV: So what did you say to him after you heard 150 poems? You were asleep?
Prof. Amartya Sen: He was very happy that I listened to him, and words of praise are easier to say.
NDTV: Okay so I'm going to give one last anecdote from your school days again. It is about sports. You said, "I was a tolerable batsman, but not a bowler. I was quite hopeless at fielding. I became, however, a champion at the sack race, which used to appear in sports competitions partly to provide some fun, but also to give unathletic students like me to do something on Sports' Day" and here you go with your analysis. "My success in the sack race was mainly the result of a theory I developed, that it is hopeless to try and proceed by jumping forward, you'll always fall. But you can, with some stability, shuffle forward with your toes in the two corners of the sack, with little danger of falling. Since on the day of Independence, 15th August 1947, the only sport offered in the celebration was the sack race, I had the extraordinary experience of emerging as the sports champion on that momentous day. The prize was the peak of my athletic glory." Sack race, but again analysis, don't jump, I'm sure you use exactly the same kind of analytical analysis and you won.
Prof. Amartya Sen: I did, actually. Several times, in fact.
NDTV: Right, we'll just end with those, because nobody knows these lovely little anecdotes, which I have taken snippets out of, and they are so really fascinating. But honestly, I could go on like this for several hours. I could even give you sherry. Oh sorry, not sherry, wine. But we've run out of time. But I just say one thing, that the book leaves me with a bit of a sad feeling. The sad feeling is that I wish I was a little bit younger, and that I was with you and a friend of yours, and I learned from you at that time. I wish, I wish, I wish. I hope everybody who interacted with you, and I am sure that they do, really value your friendship at that time. Thank you very much, and we are waiting for the next 30 years and then the next 30 years, part 2.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Thank you very much, indeed.
NDTV: Thank you very much, indeed and I am not challenging you to sack race, ever.
Prof. Amartya Sen: No, I think that would be my favourite ground
NDTV: So this lovely book, "Home in the World", and it's full of wonderful stories and anecdotes, and all about friendship. And every experience goes on to a deeper meaning, and you learn a lot from this book. Wonderful. And I am waiting for part 2. One of the finest books I've read. Thank you very much for this wonderful experience.
Prof. Amartya Sen: Thank you very much, most gracious indeed.