Sachin's Only Love

On stimulating upcoming social scientists and commentators, ew succeeded famously. Apart from providing room in each issue for a section on special articles, Sachin Chaudhuri had a knack for discovering new talent, wherever it existed. Many young economists and sociologists started writing regularly for the ew, under their own signatures or incognito. Many who are now internationally famous grew out of the columns of the EW; and happily for the journal their association with the ew's successor - Economic & Political Weekly - has endured over the years. As always, the columns of ew were open to all those who had something worthwhile to say of a practical or theoretical nature, no matter what they wanted to propound - as long it was cogent and intellectually honest. It was a high ideal that he set, from which many young researchers have benefited.

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

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Sachin’s Only Love brought me along with him, would I also join the dinner he was arranging the next
evening? This was in his flat at Churchill
Chambers, which was within walking dis-
K S Krishnaswamy tance of the School. That was the begin-

On stimulating upcoming social scientists and commentators, ew succeeded famously. Apart from providing room in each issue for a section on special articles, Sachin Chaudhuri had a knack for discovering new talent, wherever it existed. Many young economists and sociologists started writing regularly for the ew, under their own signatures or incognito. Many who are now internationally famous grew out of the columns of the EW; and happily for the journal their association with the ew’s successor – Economic & Political Weekly – has endured over the years. As always, the columns of ew were open to all those who had something worthwhile to say of a practical or theoretical nature, no matter what they wanted to propound – as long it was cogent and intellectually honest. It was a high ideal that he set, from which many young researchers have benefited.

K S Krishnaswamy, another regular contributor to Economic Weekly, retired from the Reserve Bank of India and now lives in Bangalore. He is currently on the board of Sameeksha Trust.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
january 3, 2009

I
n 1944, a couple of years after I went to Bombay to do research in the University School of Economics and Sociology (USES) – also known as the Bombay school – my friend M N Srinivas asked me if I would go with him to meet a friend of his. As we walked towards Churchgate Street, he said he wanted to introduce me to an economist, who had also registered in USES as a research student. We reached what turned out to be the city office of Bombay Talkies, at that time one of the premier movie producers, and went up the elevator to the room of the general manager S Chaudhuri. I was a bit taken aback when Srinivas just knocked and went in, asking me to follow.

Chaudhuri, somewhat swarthy but smartly dressed in a silk shirt and striped tie, greeted us from his chair and motioned us to the sofas beside the window. As he got up and walked towards us, I noticed his mop of thick hair, unhurried gait and an air of thoughtfulness about him. He was smoking a cigarette as he sat with us and Srinivas introduced me to him. Until I met him, I had no idea that he was the researcher whom Srinivas meant for me to meet.

Churchill Chambers

After some polite talk between us, Chaudhuri turned towards me and said that his first name was Sachin, and he would feel easier if I called him that rather than Chaudhuri. He added that he had registered for PhD at the USES, when D Ghosh was there but was no longer interested in further studies. He wanted to discuss something else with Srinivas at some length and since Srinivas had ning of my long association with Sachin and with Churchill Chambers!

When Srinivas and I went to Sachin’s place the next evening, we were met by two of his younger brothers, Hiten Chaudhuri and Debu Chaudhuri. We were told that Sachin would soon be there and engaged in some general talk. Before long Sachin turned up, with a bottle which he had procured despite the Maharashtra government’s prohibition policy. As soon as he settled down, he said that he was giving up his job with Bombay Talkies and starting something which would be a joint enterprise of the Chaudhuri brothers. The project he had in mind was to start a weekly magazine in which economic, social, political and cultural subjects could be discussed freely, regardless of one’s basic philosophy on such matters.

Birth of an Idea

Sachin thought that the financial weeklies which were then current hardly touched on things other than commerce and finance. And as India was soon going to be independent, he felt that a socially purposeful weekly was badly needed. Its columns would be open to all those who had something worthwhile to say in any of these areas – economic development, social change, democratic issues, lessons of history – indeed anything which was an honest expression of views benefiting social values. As we imbibed more of the contraband stuff, we became more productive of ideas, not all of them practical! However, before we broke up, we were informed by Hiten Chaudhuri that he would arrange the needed initial finance, supplies, printing and so forth and it

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

would be the responsibility of Sachin and his friends to take care of the contents each week. Soon after this meeting Srinivas left for Oxford to pursue his studies. I met Sachin a few times before I also left for the United Kingdom (UK) for the London School of Economics (LSE).

It was not until 1948 that I again heard from Sachin Chaudhuri. He had by then given up his position with the Bombay Talkies and his brother had mobilised enough initial capital to start putting things and people together for starting the journal from early 1949. His request to me at that time was that I should agree to be the journal’s London correspondent. Since I was then engaged full-time in writing my thesis for submission to the LSE, I told him that I would try but may not be able to send weekly dispatches. Postal facilities then did not include airmail and we had to be satisfied with fast sea-mail. Sachin replied that he had also asked a couple of others to write on political affairs and he would prefer my covering whatever seemed of economic interest. He had a pparently lined up several other correspondents in India and elsewhere; and on 1 January 1949 the first issue of The Economic Weekly (EW) appeared.

In an editorial entitled “Light without Heat” which has since been often quoted, Sachin expressed the “dour need” for an “Independent weekly to deal primarily with economic problems of the country”. It was this lacuna that ew was expected to fill, without forgetting that all such problems had both a political dimension and a social impact. His purpose was essentially to promote wider social awareness and understanding of not just happenings in the stock exchanges or commodity markets (in which existing journals like Commerce and Indian Finance specialised) but of wider issues concerning economic and social development, monetary and fiscal policies, international trade and anything else affecting the Indian nation. In addition, Sachin was anxious to create a forum for upcoming social scientists to express themselves on theoretical as well as immediately relevant practical issues of political or social import. Above all, he was anxious to provide an opportunity for anyone, young or old, to have her say regardless of her basic philosophy, political affiliations or whatever, as long as it was “good copy”. It was this twin objective of encouraging and enlarging on the one hand the community’s understanding of issues of political economy and on the other opening up the journal’s pages to the younger generation to participate in all kinds of national debate that ew was to serve.

London Involvement

When the first issue of ew appeared, neither Srinivas nor I was in the country. But Sachin proceeded to involve us in one way or another. He had already asked me to be the ew’s London correspondent and contribute periodic letters each month. It was exciting times in the UK. The Labour government under Clement Attlee had embarked on a slew of badly needed programmes – the National Health Services, full employment, nationalisation of railways, educational reform and so on. Public sector borrowing had grown apace and Britain had drawn heavily on Marshall Aid. Increased government spending and use of sterling balances a ccumulated during the war years by B ritain’s former colonies had weakened the pound sterling, forcing devaluation. There were, in other words, so many things happening in the UK at that time on which one could write. But my anxiety to complete my thesis early prevented me from writing for the ew as frequently as I wished. Sachin, how ever, kept in touch with me, overlooking the infrequency of my despatches but hoping I would make up for it after my return to India. Meantime, despite his own financial limitations, he helped to cover part of my requirements in London – not a lot but enough to add to his burdens.

On my return to India, I had to go to Delhi to work for the Planning Commission and it was only in 1952 that I started living in Bombay after joining the RBI. When a couple of months later my wife joined me, we had no place of our own to live in and gratefully accepted Sachin’s invitation to share his apartment. For some months thereafter Churchill Chambers was our home, as much as Sachin’s. His household consisted of an eccentric manservant who prepared food and looked after other chores. It was a while before he would accept the presence of a woman in the house; but once my wife gained his confidence, he

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Economic & Political Weekly

ECONOMIC WEEKLY: 60 YEARS AGO

was great. He even let her use the kitchen to begin to satisfy Sachin’s desire to usher
to prepare food for us. in wider discussion of economic and
social affairs.
Daily Routine
Sachin’s daily routine was very different Left of Centre
from ours. I often found him leisurely It would be an exaggeration to say that all
sipping tea and reading something as I left was well with the ew when I moved to
for the RBI. He normally reached the ew’s Bombay and the RBI in 1952. It was clearly
office around midday, but stayed on till not easy for Sachin to bring out a sizeable
late evening. Very often, he would come issue each week. His able assistant of later
home around 10 pm, when his Jeeves years Krishna Raj had not yet joined the
served him a hot cup of tea. He would sit ew family; and apart from a few notes on
in the balcony quite a while – leisurely the market which a local journalist filled in,
commenting on events during the day. much of the editorials and editorial com-
Nothing was too small or too sacred for ments were written by the editor himself.
talk at that hour. It covered people, events, He set the editorial policy, which was often
books, politics, and poetry – whatever of slightly left of centre especially in econom
interest to him at that moment. It was not ic affairs, social policy, international rela
until nearly midnight that he would be tions and so forth. As for shorter notes on
ready for dinner – at which I joined him whatever caught his eye, his comments
only when he had guests. And that hap were often brief but not necessarily soft.
pened frequently enough. I was often Sachin’s style of writing was somewhat in
amazed by the eminence of those whom volved, often because what he wished to
he entertained. In the few months we convey in gentle terms was very subtle.
stayed with him, we met many who long Working with him was for me an educa
remained our friends as well. tion in literary style; but fortunately or un-
After a few months of stay in Churchill fortunately I did not learn as much as I
Chambers, we moved to a house of our own could have from my association with him.
in Colaba. In the months that followed, my But on stimulating upcoming social sci
routine also changed considerably. Leav entists and commentators, ew succeeded
ing the RBI each evening, I would walk famously. Apart from providing room in
down to the ew’s office nearby and spend each issue for a section on special articles,
an hour or so talking shop with Sachin or Sachin Chaudhuri had a knack for discov
others who had similarly dropped in. ering new talent, wherever it existed.
Sometimes, when he was preparing “copy”, Many young economists and sociologists
he would suggest that I look them over, or started writing regularly for the ew, under
write a brief note on something or other of their own signatures or incognito. Many
common interest. He had collected around who are now internationally famous grew
him a bright set of journalists, young persons out of the columns of the ew; and happily
of varying accomplishments, businessmen for the journal their association with the
and so forth whom he often called up to ew’s successor – Economic & Political Weekly
check on some fact or called in to write up (EPW) – has endured over the years.
quickly something he could publish in the Apart from K N Raj who provided yeoman
forthcoming issue. It was by no means a support to Sachin in the journal’s initial
well-organised office. Like in his house, years, this tribe included not just Indian
Sachin had in his office an all-purpose researchers but extended to many all over
manager, a Mr Fernandes. He had to be the English-speaking world. Sachin also
office supervisor, accountant, advertisement travelled both in India and abroad, con
producer, printing and postage organiser tacting young and old social scientists in
– everything else required for an editorial universities, international institutions,
office except the contents each week. non-governmental organisations or wher-
Sachin and Fernandes was a rare combi ever they could be contacted easily.
nation and EW’s staff was an astonishingly When I went to the World Bank in 1956
productive one. EW turned up each week, Sachin came over to Washington DC to
sometimes a little late. But progressively, contact the IMF and the World Bank – as well
EW’s circle of subscribers grew sufficiently as economists in Johns Hopkins at Baltimore,
Economic & Political Weekly january 3, 2009
EPW

Harvard and MIT in Boston, the Universities of Pennsylvania, Columbia, City of New York and so forth, besides the United Nations. As always, the columns of ew were open to all those who had something worthwhile to say of a practical or theoretical nature, no matter what they wanted to propound – as long it was cogent and intellectually honest. It was a high ideal that he set, from which many young researchers have benefited. It has obviously not been easy to maintain the standards set by Sachin Chaudhuri. Happily the brilliant and dedicated successors to his seat have enhanced further the reputation of the journal.

When ew ran into financial problem towards the mid-1960s, it folded up but only very briefly. Sachin found so much support from those who had got accustomed to the EW that he was able to constitute the Sameeksha Trust, with P B Gajendragedkar, the former chief justice of India and H T Parekh, founder of the ICICI, as his fellow trustees. This trust mobilised enough resources to start the ew’s successor, the EPW in August 1966; but Sachin did not live long enough to feel fully “with it”.

As Ashok Mitra has written in his essay honouring him, he felt that his state of being was “ ‘marginal’, the expression was his, and he meant it, it would seem, not just in the physical sense” (Society and Change, p 320). He passed away in December 1966.

Finance Minister?

Due to official bungling in New Delhi, he narrowly missed becoming India’s finance minister in 1966.1 Had he become one we very likely would have avoided the devaluation that occurred in June that year. He may not indeed have accepted the offer, as he was quite infirm by then and more importantly emotionally drained out. The ew had totally exhausted him, and as Ashok Mitra says his death was perhaps a liberation for him.

Note

1 When Indira Gandhi succeeded Lal Bahadur Shastri as prime minister she was persuaded by her principal officers, including the then governor of the Reserve Bank of India, that no aid would be available from the IMF or World Bank unless India agreed to devalue the rupee. Finance Minister T T Krishnamachari was not in favour of doing so and resigned. Indira Gandhi left instructions that Sachin Chaudhuri should be invited, meaning presumably the Editor of EPW. But her office sent the invitation to Sachindra Chaudhuri, a prominent Calcutta lawyer. Though surprised he accepted, as a Congressman. That was a story then current in Delhi which I heard.

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