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Counter Arguments

I find the article by Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan (Counter Valley Thinking, India Currents, December 2013/January 2014) unnecessarily idealistic.

Shashi Tharoor “opted-in,” says the author. This is a bit like saying Asoka was a pacifist. He was, after he did all the required killing. Tharoor has led a charmed life in many parts of the world for decades before “opting-in.” It is clear to me that he likes the good life, living as he does in a Lutyens Delhi setting. Working for a region and working in that region are not necessarily the same.

The author likes absolute moral diktats. So “brain drain,” or in other words, voluntary employment seeking, choosing to innovate and working your way up is bad, in all situational contexts?

Brain drain was, almost exclusively, the government’s fault. India’s post-colonial efforts to develop an independent nation were economically misdirected. We could have ensured a much better economy. Yet, the nation chose not to.

When it comes to brain drain, people must be largely free to pursue careers in distinct parts of the world. There is no fixed pie of misery. One doesn’t have to personally experience living in filth to wish to help those poor chaps actually in that situation.

Liberals understand that guilt and masochism for no valid reason is not how one solves the Indian poverty problem.

 J.S., online

The author missed the point of Balaji Srinivasan’s brilliant talk. Either you like Srinivasan’s vision of a better society or not. If you like it, then you can opt-in. If you don’t like it, then go ahead and get dirty with Lok Sabha or whatever floats your boat.
In my opinion someone who thinks “software is sexist” will not get along with rational engineering types anyway.

Berkeley student, online

It is amusing that the activist call is coming from multi-millionaires and billionaires who have been part of the status quo. But then again minority businesses and businessmen (who may or may not be entrepreneurs and innovators) have had to struggle to access both equal opportunity and fair rewards.

Opting in and opting out both have its advantages and disadvantages. What matters is  examining what one is opting out of, and opting in to?

Some people opt out because they can fight one or two “isms” in a certain system, rather than three or more in another.

An African woman scientist went back to her country because she felt in her homeland she only had to deal with “sexism” among her peers and employers, whereas in the United States she had to deal with “sexism,” “racism” and “classism.”

So, you pick the “negative or repressive isms” you want to fight, knowing that many who opt in or opt out, are not real change agents.

Dr. MS, online

Author Rebuttal

I’m glad that readers are interested in continuing this conversation. It’s funny that one commenter thinks I like “absolute moral diktats,” when in fact all my columns evidence a preference for the nuances and gray areas that undergird black-and-white propositions like Balaji Srinivasan’s.

Indeed, I never said that brain drain is “bad” or that people shouldn’t be “free to pursue careers,” but rather that emigration in the case of the mid-to late-20th century brain drain from India has not been a type of “exit that amplifies voice,” which is what Srinivasan tried to suggest. As for the point that one can simply “opt-in” or not, the idea that any society can be exclusively inhabited and managed by just those techno-libertarians in agreement is laughable.

Who is going to perform all the public service tasks like garbage collecting? Who will take on childcare, manual labor, menial work? I suppose the Silicon Valley’s answer will be automation (another myopic solution to the world’s challenges). The fact remains, however, that there will be those who do not “opt-in” but are nevertheless co-opted into labor in Srinivasan’s utopia because of economic pressures, just as sweatshop workers did not “opt-in” to the global economy.

Finally, since Srinivasan’s talk was also about opting-out of politics, it’s important to remember the value of the public and the value of the political. American pragmatist John Dewey defined the public as a “large body of persons having a common interest in the consequences of social transactions.” Srinivasan and his ilk have lost sight of both the common interest and the consequences of social actions and transactions, forgetting also that, in the words of V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, “rights are not of much use unless and until they ripen into duties.”

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

Kitchen Tales

The editorial in the year end issue (My Recipe Book, India Currents, December 2013/January 2014) by Jaya Padmanabhan was interesting and illuminating.
I visited the kitchen in my house on odd occasions, for grabbing some forbidden delicacies or to help make “cheedai” for Janmashtami, or to clean up the mess, much against my will, after de-seeding  jackfruits. Cooking was not a privilege of males in those days, yet it  became a recurring idea in my life.

I still recollect reciting the recipe of a Kerala dish: olan.

“Mathang nallorilavan brihathee sametham
puthan manipayarangathilodi cherthum
Alola neelamizhimarithuvechu thannal-
Ololanonnumathi enthinu noorukoottam!”

As a rubber technologist I’ve come across this cooking reference: “many rubber technologists might have seen their wives beating eggs in the kitchen, but few might have realised its importance  in latex processing … rubber technology is just like cooking …” Those days we never cooked eggs at home, but this was a great motivator, taking away the great burden of remembering complicated organic chemistry or the structure of aceto acetic ester!

I’ve maintained my own recipe book compiled from my own experience. It was an adventure collecting recipes over the years.  It was a surprise to me in 1990 when my son (then at Denmark) emailed a recipe for Rajma, the first email in our family, and I clearly remember my wife replying using “single finger” typing. Handwritten recipes sent as mail attachments are good morale boosters, especially when one is stuck abroad in monotonous and lonely situations.

K.N. Ganesh, Fremont, CA

The Outside Verandah

The essay by Kalpana Mohan (Step Into My Verandah, India Currents, December 2013/January 2014) on verandahs is a good read. I encountered the usefulness of verandahs when my grandparents, my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law passed away. Their bodies were not kept inside the house. As soon as possible they were moved to the outside verandah where relatives and friends could come and pay their respects and leave.

Manian, online

Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...