Why this Blog? part 2, v. 1.0

Preface/Motivation/Alaapcharita/Alaap/Overture

Rukmini [1] and myself planned to write blogs for many months. We have even discussed having a common blog: nawn-sens. On 15.08.2017. she started Between Mountains and Sea with ‘Karna and ….’. I will refer to this work in ‘Workspace at the time of Covid’. It was Karna’s ‘entry’ into 4255, B 5&6 Vasant Kunj, New Delhi (4255, hereinafter) sometime in July 2016 that decided the future course of its everyday in multiple ways. Numerous ‘moments’ and many ‘episodes’ followed that were not just unprecedented but even were outside the imaginations of its human residents.

Again, she has been the immediate ‘trigger’ behind this blog. Over the last few months, I have slowly removed myself from many academic and quasi-academic responsibilities. This was in anticipation to the launch of a national mission (link; Mission, hereinafter). I am a member of Biodiversity Collaborative — “A growing network of institutions and individuals that promotes biodiversity research and conservation to enhance human well-being” (website URL TBA; some descriptions are here; Facebook; Instagram; Twitter; LinkedIn) — entrusted with the responsibilities to prepare the Detailed Project Report of the Mission, by the PSA to GoI (see here and here on what is a DPR).

A DPR defines, justifies, and delineates the ‘roadmap’ of every ‘big push’ government interventions such as missions, schemes, etc. and even within them (say, National Research Foundation and within MGNREGS). DPR template can be used in a class on research design irrespective of ‘parent’ disciplines (more later). I consider myself to be the ‘lead author’ of one of the seven programs — Bioeconomy — in the DPR. Some open access (OA) publications by the lead authors across programmes are here (link1, link2). EPW Review of Environment and Development (RED hereinafter) 2020 — with ‘Biodiversity-focused Development: Ways to Sustain Human Well-being’ as its theme — include works by several lead authors.

After many months of ‘due’ deliberation — given the expected challenges and the commitment it warrants — sometime back I have expressed a desire to associate myself with the Bioeconomy program in the Mission itself, given an opportunity. As many of the readers know, I have never applied for any sponsored ‘project’. Whatever little I have carried out in this mode, it was always ‘commissioned’ by someone. This is due to some unresolved ethical issues. The question I pose to myself is as follows: in case it’s about co-creating new knowledge, then how can I guarantee its completion within a given date? After all, any creation is an act of mind, or more precisely, application of mind. I can control my mind to some extent but it has a ‘mind of its own’ as well (more later). If it is a case of application of previously created knowledge, I am not the best person to carry out such tasks. Hence, I have been rather ‘choosy’ in committing towards generation of this kind of ‘public goods’.

Yet, if one is ‘lucky’ enough (more later) one would see a possibility in sync with one’s priorities, or even to realise one’s dreams! I recall what the chief ‘protagonist’ (akin to the Conductor in command of a multi-member orchestra) of the Mission’s DPR told the lead authors in the early days (perhaps November 2018): to think beyond one’s own ‘comfort zones’ (disciplines, knowledge, and other such that defines ‘capabilities’ of an academic worker) or the institution(s) to which one belongs to. In short, we were ‘advised’ to dream (Wikipedia entry on ‘Capability Approach’ does not mention dream).

As and when the Mission is launched and my desire to associate with it is realised, it will be a dream (and not a fantasy) coming true (more later). I am fully aware that it’s nothing short of being brave if not audacious, but the expected outcome shall be worth the efforts as I see it, personally as well as socially. This ‘big expectation’ and not having any ‘big task’ at hand as such has created a void, may be a large one, inside me. Looking back, I see the multiple ‘responsibilities’ that I handled on any given moment in time.

I had an ‘impending heart attack’ on 09.01.2019. After I returned home three days later amidst a literally ‘rousing welcome’ from the dog members of 4255, Anup [2] told me that one possible reason could be the ‘burden’ of ‘delivery’ and advised me to explore if ‘faltering’ on prior commitments is possible. [3] Over time, the responsibilities may stop finding me! Given the rather strong connection between my metaphorical and biological hearts and knowing my passionate self, he is quite correct (as usual!). I have documented evidence to prove this hypothesis, thanks to this book.

It’s a different matter that my repeated requests to relieve me from the quasi-academic responsibilities went unheeded. Yes, the sound of putting my foot down was not loud enough (but that’s obvious given my ‘stature’ and ‘privileges’ that I do not enjoy; more later). I also blame the bug of ‘institution building’ to this ‘inability’ of mine. Indeed, when I look at just the list of ‘formal’ responsibilities (they do not include those mentioned against footnote, marked * above) in some ‘periods’, any could have been enough for a lifetime I suppose. Consider three such.

[1998] JNU: (a) Convenor, Film Club, (b) Vice President, JNU Unit of one Mass Student Organisation (MSO hereinafter), © Office Manager, one student group in the elections, (d) In charge, Computer Room, CESP (e) cataloguing of Krishna Bharadwaj Collection for Ex-Im library, (f) Member, Hostel Committee, Kaveri.

[2003] WBNUJS: (a) Convenor, Defect Inspection Committee, (b) Member, Academic Council, ©Convenor, Infrastructure Development Committee, (d) In-charge, Computers and peripherals, (e) Faculty in-charge for first Student Juridical Association elections, (f) Member, Admissions Committee for National Admission Test 2003, (g) Member, Examination Committee, (h) Member, Purchase Committee, (i) Teacher, Economics-I and Economics-II who was planning to offer Law and Economics (in 2004).

[2017] TERI SAS, INSEE, EPW: I was handling correspondence of three edited volumes (see, here for the list). It involved coaxing many authors, reviewing papers, taking the lead for the Introduction(s), and corresponding with authors and co-editors on the one hand, and commissioning editors, editorial staff and copyeditors at two different international publishers on the other. I was the organising secretary for KILA conference and INSEE Secretary (and hence negotiating with the INSEE Office Manager, which in itself is a task). I was setting the systems in place at one Department as its new HoD having received only a rubber stamp from my predecessor. I was preparing the first issue of RED with two other editors (and taking care of all the correspondence). I was also running between offices of Delhi Police (licensing), Vasant Kunj Police Station, Registrar of Newspapers of India and ISSN and helping the then Coordinating Editor and Managing Editor to put some systems in place to start EES and trying to get ISBN for INSEE. I was mentoring third semester students of 2016–18 batch in M.Sc. Economics to prepare the Abstract of their Thesis Proposal, supervising several Masters’ theses of students of 2015–17 batch in their fourth semester. I was the Masters’ Thesis Coordinator, teaching Environment and Economic Development for the third time but Theory of Environmental Policy and Ecological Economics for the first time, and ‘conspiring’ with a colleague-turned-friend to re-structure of an M.Sc. Economics programme. [Phew! Even the mere act of documentation is making me nervous!]

The outcomes from responsibilities other than associated with teaching and mentoring is what one of my friends calls creation of ‘public goods’ of my kind and me a ‘super-man’ (not to be confused with the DC comics variety). It’s true that many of these yielded significant Academic Performance Indicator (API) points, Academic Research Score (ARS) or (taxable) monetary gains (given the efforts) beyond the ordinary. In fact, in an interview for a position in one of the ‘think tanks’, [4] I was asked about the reasons behind editing so many books, as these usually results after retirement. My response was simple: it is one route through which I make connections (read, ‘Relationships and Affinities’ a course that Rukmini designed and teach; more later) that will help me in the long run. [5] On hindsight, I should have said — in the language of capital theoretic framework for sustainable economic development — creating social capital, to augment future collective productivity in the academic-activist space (more later).

Particularly since April 2021, some matters at my workplaces disturbed my peace of mind, something I value the most. [6] They range from allegation of me deliberately acting against the interests of one student when I was holding a position of authority to disrespecting dignity of my labour (both embodied and current). [7]

By June, I could somehow insulate myself from some of the responsibilities. I did not realise that not having many responsibilities could be so taxing. You have so much time and you don’t know what to do with it! I guess all protective and helicopter parents face the same when their children opt to stay away from them. Even RED was not ‘happening’. And students were two months away.

I immersed myself completely in the making of NAAC Self Study Report 2021 for one of my workplaces. This will be soon made publicly accessible. Even if I have completed numerous accreditation related documentations including listing EES on Scopus, I see this as nothing short of a state-of-the-art work if not an artwork. [8] Intensely engaging with works and insulating my mind from external influences (“fortress conservation”) in the process has been my usual ‘coping strategy’ under adverse situations in the past. But this time it did not work! I was becoming more agitated and anxious. Of course, there are some other disturbing matters that acquired a state of ‘near-permanency’ in my/our mindspace.

This is the time, Rukmini suggested me to write. I thought, why not? It’s not that I agree to everything she says (and vice versa). For example, we differ on many matters such as which dishes are to be prepared, which dishes of which (temporal) vintage should be given priority to enter the dining table, [9] what will be the fan speed when we are within the same spatio-temporal boundary, who pampers Abhimanyu, Sahomoni or Ghatotkach more, [10] on versions of feminism and environmentalism two of us find each other closest to, or even the very sense of time (it is beyond mere qualitative and quantitative dimensions; more later).

She pays more attention to lyrics in songs and literally a human encyclopaedia on it. For me it’s the tune. She makes sincere attempts to tell the lyrics (attribution: her niece, B., had been at the ‘receiving end’ of such ‘renditions’ from her mother during her childhood; such renditions by Rukmini make Abhi or Saho to wake up from deep slumber at times). I whistle during some occasions of emotional engagement and to send various kind of signals to the dog members of 4255 including but not limited to ‘it’s time for food’.

In short, we do have, and we do recognise that we differ on our worldviews, belief systems and therefore value judgments. ‘We agree to disagree’ as this position used to be popularly known in JNU (my memory of JNU ends on 2012 December when I had my Ph.D. viva, and I wish to keep it that way, ceteris paribus). Yet, on matters of principles, rights, responsibilities, duties, ethics, and even politics, we agree mostly. We agree that rationality differs across individuals; we agree on the importance of institution building but may not on the level and extent of engagements by any of us. We make every attempt to keep our spine intact, straight, and resilient. For these, we paid really heavy prices but that could not demoralise or deviate us from the principles that we hold very close to and in our hearts.

She will be the first ‘reader’ of most works on this blog (not the more famous Reader, which both of us liked). I expect her to ‘co-own’ the entries under 4255 and academics (at least on methods), but may not be on cooking, reminiscence, bioeconomy, diary, sounds, framings and unclassified.

I do not have her gift of words. Sociologists, in general, do have an advantage here over economists as such albeit with notable exceptions. It took me a while to learn and adopt her ‘naming scheme’. [11] It is her ‘teachings’ for which I could frame titles such as ‘Labouring Nature, Labour in Nature: Intertwinings and Intersectionalities’ (2019, RED) which my sociologist(!) co-editor agreed to immediately and an economist found it to be a tongue-twister (incidentally their offices are less than two hundred metres apart).

In fact, I owe it to Rukmini being the first listener of many of my early thoughts on ecology-economy-society interface (documented in the form of a ‘Ph.D. thesis’ with ‘Unsustainabilities at Surul’ as its first chapter covering works of Tagore and Elmhirst, that was never submitted; more later). Without these debates, discussions and more importantly, the disagreements, neither my thought processes nor my expressions would have gained the clarity that they enjoy now.

[1] Profile of one of her multiple workplaces can be accessed here. She maintains a twitter handle.

[2] My friend who is a trained medical doctor, philosopher, trained psychoanalyst and wears many other hats that none of his ‘profiles’ on LinkedIn, ResearchGate or Google Scholar captures. Among the many things that I owe to him is speaking in the language of Responsibilities ever since penning the title of this publication. See, the Acknowledgements.

[3] It could not be. EES 2(1) dated January 2019 was to be released immediately. It took place on 11.02.2019. INSEE members were informed on that day itself.

[4] Those who run tanks are not supposed to think, by definition, and those who think cannot run a tank, by construction — but that’s a minor matter.

[5] Several of my fellow participants during Fulbright fellowship (October-November 2018) agreed on this; see here for the ‘who’s who’

[6] I am generally a peace-loving person, unless poked — I know several of my friends will differ on this.

[7] In my entire teaching life since 16.11.1998 only one student has alleged that I was unfair in grading; at least that’s what has reached me so far.

[8] Attentive reader familiar with SSR may legitimately ask: how can a mere report be an artwork? More later.

[9] Obsolescence is a debatable issue even among economists, and here it is between an economist and a sociologist.

[10] Gulabi and Chhotiji who takes care of most of domestic chores at 4255, differs on it, and they change their ‘sides’ more often than not.

[11] See the title of her last blog post; ever since I heard about Ernst Haeckel as ‘the busiest name-maker of his time’ — who coined Oecologie — from Donald Worster, I fascinated being one.

Dogpaws, padochinha, wordplay

An economist by training, and reasonably familiar with political, social, regulatory, institutional, social and ecological dimensions of Nature.