A tribute to Prof. Ashok Kotwal by Prof. Amartya Lahiri

  • Blog Post Date 03 May, 2022
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Amartya Lahiri

University of British Columbia


Prof. Amartya Lahiri pens a heartfelt tribute to our founder Editor-in-Chief Prof. Ashok Kotwal.

Ashok came into my life in 2005 when I moved to UBC (University of British Columbia). Within a very short time he had become a core part of my daily life. Imperceptibly, he went from friend to mentor to father-like figure. The shock was to realise that there were at least 10-15 others who had the same relationship with him. The reason for this was simple – he had an infinite capacity for empathy. He was non-judgemental but said what he thought. He could be, in equal parts, cheerleader, therapist, and advisor. Ashok was deeply aware and accepting of the imperfections of humans, which is what made conversations with him feel like a safe space.

He brought this empathy to his economic research as well. He worked mostly in development economics. The questions he asked were always first order ones that fixated on what could improve the condition of man in the developing world, with a particular focus on his beloved India.

The other side to this was his openness to all manner of views. Conversations with him were thus always fluid and progressive since he refused dogmas, a standard he set with his personal example. Underlying this was his self-confessed lack of certainty about things. Nowhere was this openness better showcased than the quality and variety of papers that he published in I4I. The fact that I4I stands today as one of the most followed fora for policy discussions in India is due to his stewardship.

Ashok was a man full of stories, with generous additions of colour, who found in every human being he encountered, a story worth uncovering. He was a chronic romantic who could spend hours wondering whether a former undergraduate student would find love with the girl of his dreams. He was a chronic worrier who could keep himself up at night worrying about whether the Indian cricket captain traveling with his eight-month infant on tour was getting enough sleep (this happened when he met Rahul Dravid in St Kitts in 2006),

Most of us are apathetic to most things and most people. Some are occasionally able to muster sympathetic feelings towards others. Very few can find empathy. Ashok had it in spades. And, by transmitting that empathy through osmosis, he made us marginally better human beings. If I can retain even a small fraction of this empathy that he transmitted, I will consider my life well spent.

It was a gift to have known you. We will miss you dearly. You will continue to live inside many of us in different ways. Go in peace Ashok.

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