To an Indian who grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s, the sights of Dhaka, Bangladesh, seem to belong to a past that Indian metropolises have mostly outgrown: exuberantly battered buses, unpainted buildings, pavement book vendors with faded posters of Rabindranath Tagore and Karl Marx as well as the Rolling Stones, and pitch darkness on the unlit streets and squares where rural migrants congregate in the evenings. The countryside still feels closer here than in Kolkata or Mumbai.
Last month, the business empire of Eike Batista, once the world’s seventh-richest man and a mascot of economically resurgent Brazil, collapsed. The disaster ought to focus our minds on the perils of credit-fueled economic growth and highly leveraged corporations not just in Brazil but also in other BRICS countries.
An obsession with nuclear power makes many political elites secretive, ruthless and delusional, even as their cherished projects threaten millions of people with disaster. But the egregious examples I have in mind here aren’t Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. They are Japan and India, two countries with democratic institutions.
Hundreds of destitute migrants from Africa and the Middle East died in two shipwrecks this month while attempting to reach the shores of Italy. In the meantime, wealthy Chinese, Indians, Russians and South Africans continue to glide serenely to their favored European destinations as they flee their increasingly unstable countries.
Almost 20 years ago, shortly after India’s protectionist economy was liberalized, I moved to Mashobra, a small village in the North Indian hill state of Himachal Pradesh. The rent on my cottage was low. Food was cheap; the climate, mostly good; and -- an unexpected bonus in India -- the air and water were clean.
In 1984, criticizing George Orwell for having advocated political quietism to writers, Salman Rushdie asserted that “we are all irradiated by history, we are radioactive with history and politics.” He added: “Politics and literature… do mix, are inextricably mixed, and that… mixture has consequences.”
In the 1970s, long before the word “globalization” achieved common currency, the buzzword in India was “brain drain” -- an apparent problem that almost everyone in my family and circle of friends wanted to be part of.