A tribute to Prof. Ashok Kotwal by Prof. Ashwini Deshpande

  • Blog Post Date 03 May, 2022
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Prof. Ashwini Deshpande pens a heartfelt tribute to our founder Editor-in-Chief Prof. Ashok Kotwal.

In 1993, my Ph.D. advisor, Kaushik Basu, was choosing names of development economists to serve as external referees for my thesis. One of them was Ashok Kotwal. Maharashtrian? I asked excitedly, as it wasn’t very common to encounter economists from my home state (Suresh Tendulkar at the Delhi School of Economics was an exception). His report on my thesis was insightful, gentle, constructive, encouraging, and very positive, without being condescending, patronising, rude, or sarcastic. In short, ideal, especially from the point of view of a callow, unsure newbie, struggling to find her feet. 

I finally met Ashok when he invited me to visit UBC (University of British Columbia) in the summer of 2005 for six weeks. My first encounter with him confirmed that he embodied all the qualities that his referee report had already revealed. We hit if off instantly – within minutes, we had discovered several very close family connections, so close that it was a miracle we hadn’t bumped into each other until then. 

Ashok and Truus were remarkably hospitable and welcoming towards my 12-year-old daughter Ketaki and me. They went out of their way to make our stay as smooth as possible – Ashok found us a nice furnished apartment, both helped us with easing daily logistics, and we spent several fun evenings at their home. 

During my stay there, I was supposed to travel to the US for a conference for a few days, and the plan was that I would take Ketaki with me. She developed a high fever two days before we were supposed to travel, and I was ready to cancel the trip. When I told Ashok this, he was adamant: “We will take care of Ketaki, you please go and enjoy the conference. You could use the break too”. I was aghast and protested vehemently, but he was insistent. Ketaki was more than willing as she loved being with Truus and Ashok. I finally left, secretly weeping on the flight to Washington, DC. Ridden with anxiety and guilt, I called Ashok as soon as I landed. How is she? How are both of you managing with her? He laughed. Talk to her, he said. I heard her giggling in the distance as she was talking to Truus. Ashok said, “you were causing the fever. As soon as you left, her fever came down. Now we have many things planned while you are away. Don’t keep calling to check on her”.  I was flooded with tears of gratitude and relief. 

That was Ashok – considerate, gentle, non-judgmental, and a genuinely warm person. 

A few years later, he invited me to be a part of a project that led to a book volume that he edited along with Bharat Ramaswami and Moshe Hirsch. That gave me a chance to interact more professionally with him. My deep regret is that I did not manage to work with him more directly. 

All the tributes have rightly brought out his contributions as an economist. My lasting memory of Ashok is of a soft-spoken person, with a dimpled, smiling face, a zany sense of humour, deep empathy, and infinite kindness that I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand.

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