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December 21, 1998


Nobel Bablu links economics with culture, education, human resources, idealogy, future

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Repeating history after a gap of 85 years, Viswabharati felicitated its ex-student Professor Amartya Sen at Shantiniketan near Calcutta today.

The function was reminiscent of the reception given to Shantiniketan's founder Rabindranath Tagore on his winning the Nobel prize.

Arranged at the same venue, the Amrakunja, where the country's first Nobel laureate was honoured in 1913, the function witnessed another generation receive a former inmate with pride.

Professor Sen, who did his schooling at Shantiniketan, described himself as one on whom the influence of Tagore and Shantiniketan had been phenomenal.

''It was the education system at Viswabharati that helped me immensely in the future life and initiated me into the life outside the narrow confines of textbooks,'' he said, expressing gratitude to his alma mater.

Quoting from Tagore's writings, Professor Sen said it was time that the country recognised the need to assimilate diverse cultures when attempts were made to belittle different parts of Indian culture. ''Whatever is good in other culture is our own,'' he said quoting Tagore.

Nobel laureate Sen said he wants India to recognise the plurality of its traditions and not to close the window to other cultures.

Professor Sen, who returned home on a brief vacation, said tolerance was part of Indian history and it was very important that '' we recognise the value of Indian culture without denying the importance and richness of other cultures''.

''This has got relevance when there are attempts to close the windows to other cultures, all of which synthesised into the great Indian tradition,'' he said.

Professor Sen said great thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore did not want Indian culture to be fragile as it has been a confluence of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and other civilisations. The diversity of Indian culture need not hamper a deeper understanding of one's own tradition, he added.

Advocating a tolerant and liberal policy, Professor Sen said the country's strength lay in its democracy which has a history of tolerance.

The Nobel laureate said he did not want to be dubbed as belonging to any particular ideological straitjacket although ''I feel myself belonging to the Left''.

''There is a danger in trying to summarise an analysis which is ultimately converted into a slogan neglecting many things,'' he said, adding that although he supported many of the Left convictions, it had been experienced in the past that many Leftists were hesitant to embrace such crucial concepts like gender equality for a developed society.

''What we require is a broad, varied and balanced view,'' he said.

Professor Sen reiterated that the country must not fail to recognise the importance of human resource development and basic education which were pre-requisites to economic development.

Citing examples, he said in the east Asian countries led by Japan, human resource development and education ushered in a high economic growth as the majority of people could take part in the development process.

''We have to learn a lesson from the east and southeast Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Thailand and China where any economic development was preceded by spate of education. This is something I hope would be emulated by the countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,'' the economist said.

He said although there was no single formula for economic development, removal of illiteracy, healthcare, spread of basic education, land reforms, social security and gender equality must be brought into focus.

Asked whether he wished to spend the rest of his life in Shantiniketan, he said, ''I don't have any plan to retire immediately. I want to be involved in my work.''

On Sunday, as the train bringing home a Nobel laureate chugged into the station, the waiting public went into raptures.

At Pratichi, an octogenarian mother waited eagerly for her son.

On his homecoming after winning the Nobel for economics, Professor Sen was given a hero's welcome by the public and was received by Viswabharati Vice Chancellor Dilip Sinha and other officials.

The security cordon around him was thrown off-gear when people, their hands full with bouquets and garlands vied with each other to get near him. To prevent a stampede, security personnel led Professor Sen through a different exit, disappointing many.

Once home and out of the public glare, he was no longer the renowned economist but ''Bablu'' and his mother Amita Sen one proud mother.

When Dr Sen sought his mother's blessings, she embraced him saying, ''You are not a Nobel laureate to me. You are my Bablu. You are just my son.''

Although the media was not allowed entry into Dr Sen's home, he obliged requests from photographers for a photo-session and walked down a few paces along with his mother, daughter Antara and son-in-law Pratip as the shutters clicked away.

Professor Sen is scheduled to attend a public reception at Bolpur on Tuesday.

On Friday, honorary citizenship of Bangladesh was conferred in Dhaka on Professor Sen, a Bengali who studied for a while in this part of the undivided Indian subcontinent.

''You are one of us,'' a smiling Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told him as she handed him a Bangladeshi passport at her official residence.

In response, Professor Sen said, ''I'm overwhelmed by the gesture.''

Sen's ancestors lived in a village in Manikganj near Dhaka.

As a child, he read at Dhaka's St Gregory school, which had planned a reception for him.

Hasina also presented Professor Sen an album containing photographs of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's first prime minister who was slain in a military coup in 1975.


Prof Amartya Sen: Specials

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