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Not Your Dismal Sport

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Some people say economics is a painful elaboration of the obvious. But in Kaushik Basu's compilation of an economist's jottings, the dismal science comes through as an interesting way of life. An Economist's Miscellany is a slightly off-track collection, especially given that its author is an eminent economist, who is the chief economic advisor to the finance ministry. Sparing a few initial notes, where he discusses foreign policy, the controversial 123 Agreement, etc., much of the book comprises witty anecdotes and illuminating observations from Basu's prolific career as an academic, economist, editor of scholarly journals and a writer.

The depth and spread of Basu's reading is impressive, and he makes good use of it to amuse us. In the book, one gets to meet the likes of legendary journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski whom Basu considers "a philosopher, an astute and compassionate observer of human condition". After reading the book, the reader might want to bestow these qualities on Basu himself.

Thomas Carlyle's lament, "thanks to the rise of economics, the arts were being doomed", would not be out of place in modern India, notes Basu. "While celebrating Lakshmi, there is genuine risk that we will ignore the non-commercial flanks of society — art, music, good cinema and mathematics." There are more instances where the keen observer in Basu wears his witty best, reminding us that an anagram of ‘economics' reads ‘comic nose'. Sample these: "It is culturally ingrained in us Indians to overeat when we get good food, the way camels do with waters." And on the Maharaja with wings, he says, "India may be shining, but Air India is not." The book, a must-read for students of economics, policy-makers and travel buffs alike, reveals the cheerful side of a practitioner of the dismal science.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 02-05-2011)

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