Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times.
In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination.
It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether.
It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficient commodity economy, that enriched a few but enfeebled a lot. And, yet, I shall claim, it has a future to be made: Despite, and because of its decline, perhaps because the 'development' of the last two decades that bypassed it. If only we can imagine! And, this is an invite to imagine!
If one looks out to the world now, the signs of change are noticeable. Call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an Age of Discovery or The Second Machine Age, or whatever you like, there is a profound shift in the global economy. There are many versions of this imagined future, Utopian and dystopian in equal measure, but the direction is clear: We are at the end of the globalisation wave that, starting in 1990s, led to the de-industrialisation of the West and created new industries and value chains globally. In a perfect storm of new technologies, attitudes, finances and business ideas, the supply chains are getting shorter, markets are becoming more local and the work is favouring the smart. The imperative of doing things cheaply is giving away to new ways of doing things smartly. And, cities and regions smart enough to anticipate and adjust to these changes, former Rustbelts and mining towns, are building new industrial ecosystems from scratch.
This is Kolkata's opportunity. This economic shift is generally seen to be favouring the Developed countries, with their knowledge, talent and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and away from the cheap manufacturing belts of China and global service industries of India. But, it is also destined to favour cities and regions in the middle of large consumer economies - Kolkata is situated in the middle of the corner of the world with highest population density and serve a rural hinterland with land ownership and increasing aspiration - which can get its talent, environment and enterprise right. And, indeed, one may argue that Kolkata may have problems on all those counts - Talent, Environment and Enterprise - but so does all the other cities in India. All it comes to is committing to this new future, fast!
The point is to change the conversation. The economic revival will not come through building large factories, as the past Governments tried, failed and paid for. It would not come by jumping into the IT services bandwagon when the industry is contracting and likely to lose most of its jobs in the next five years. There is no hope in the Handcrafts and Cottage industries, traditional arts of the region, as the current Bengal government sometimes argue. And, the Culture industries, something Kolkata is famous for, would not lead to the economic revival in scale, though they may need to be encouraged for other reasons. And, there is no point trying to seek redemption in Foreign Investment, and trying to steal cheap manufacturing jobs from China, the strategy of the Government in New Delhi.
Kolkata has a lot going for itself, and recognising these strengths is a good first step. It is one of the big cities with plentiful supply of drinking water - all other Indian cities struggle with water shortage - and its environment, for the lack of industry perhaps, is relatively less damaged. It has good schools and a Higher Education system relatively less tainted by corruption of money, though political interference has done a lot of damage. It has a relatively young population, people who emigrate and power the industries of Western and Southern India, and of those abroad. It has a diaspora deeply attached, and being more Cosmopolitan than other Indian regions, its people are less allergic to those who live abroad (though they fall short of the real curiosity and love the Chinese give to the Overseas Chinese). It is geographically well located, and could become India's gateway, and link, to South-East and East Asia.
Indeed, the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' needs a lot more than this. A research culture, strong scientific commitment, a great and cosmopolitan Higher Education system, Start-up ecosystems and availability of finance, political will and support (at least in terms of getting out of the way), and identification and cultivation of industries and sectors that play to the City's strength are all needed to be done, and indeed, the emergence of a Connector, persons or organisations with a vision that can build a broad coalition to commit to build this future. But, free of baggage, at a tipping point, this suits Kolkata well - a moment when imagination is needed and that is all it really has.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.