Friday, January 29, 2010

Tyranny of trade

The audience was so enraptured in the first discussion of day three that a perfectly innocuous even like taking down notes drew quite a few disapporving pairs of eyes. Who said everything that needs to be invented has been invented? A pen that wouldn't make any noise when put to paper will have its niche market; especially when Tarun Tejpal is moderating a discussion on John Kampfner's new book with the writer himself, Niall Ferguson, Anne Applebaum, Meghnad Desai, Steve Coll in the panel. Kampfner's book is a case study of eight countries where people are involved in a 'trade-off' with the respective countries for material comforts in return for public freedom like staging public protests against government policies, free media.

Kampfner cited Singapore, China, Russia, UAE, India, Italy, US, UK as his examples. Applebaum agreed with Kampfner's analysis and advocated for redefining of private and public freedom. She said that in any country, 10 per cent are filthy collaborators" with govt for personal benefit, 10 per cent are "brave opponents", 80 per cent are bothered all about how to send their children to best colleges.

Next event was "Writing About Music". This discussion moderated by Sunil Sethi was a damp squib of sorts because the people in the panel, with an honourable exception of Louis De Bernieres, got self-indulgent and kept rambling on their respective books. I thought I would get to hear what exactly will a layman make of a chord, riff, cadence, falsetto, the terminology used to describe music, in music writing. How I pined for Amit Chaudhuri, as per the original plan, was the moderator.

Whatever bad taste was left in my mouth, faded into oblivion in the next event about the craft of travel writing. Geoff Dyer spoke about the queue culture in India, William Dalrymple about hitting a blank wall in the form of a Pakistani policeman in Lahore a good two decades ago, Isabel Hilton about her trip to the exotic land of Greenland and Brigid Keenan about her stay in Tajikistan as an EU diplomat's wife.

Next up was Dalrymple holding a tete-a-tete with Tony Wheeler, the founder of the iconic Lonely Planet publication. During the conversation Wheeler recounted his travels through South East Asia during his hippie days ('70s) with his wife. During his globetrotting Wheeler hit upon the idea to start Lonely Planet, a name derived from a song called Space Captain in a British movie.

The mother of all discussions was of course Niall Ferguson talking with writer Omair Ahmad about the former's monster hit "Ascent of Money". By terming financial history 'sexy', Ferguson ensured that those in Durbar Hall are not going to tread tested waters, but choppy ones. Who said best-selling authors will be best-selling authors and serious writers willbe serious writers and the twain shall never meet? Ferguson shatterd all such myths, at least for those in the Durbar Hall.

Ferguson teaches, writes books, columns and even fights with Paul Krugman but if one description fits him like a glove, then it's historian. He said that how the recession is not getting its historic due because this is financial history happening to us, which might never happen again. He said that the investment bankers are not to be blamed for the financial mess that the world found itself in. Ferguson put the moral baggage on everyone who has a bank account of being complicit in the financial bloodshed. He had words of praise for India and expressed paranoia over British companies being bought over by Tatas and other Indian behemoths.

He, however, stuck to the Chimerica phrase and said that US needs China to survive. US imports and China exports, US spends and China saves. At this juncture I wonder what if China decides to sell its the foreign capital of $800 billion. Doesn't matter, for now let's revel in Ferguson's writing.

Susheela Raman's singing during the dinner was the choicest of cherry to top off what has been an eventful day.


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