Memories of Ashok Kotwal

  • Blog Post Date 05 May, 2022
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Jean Drèze

Ranchi University; Delhi School of Economics


Prof. Jean Drèze pens a heartfelt tribute to our founder Editor-in-Chief Prof. Ashok Kotwal.

As I remember Ashok Kotwal, I realise with some surprise that we have not met more than a few times – perhaps three or four times, mainly in Delhi. Yet he felt like a close friend. There was a natural warmth about him, and he also had a great sense of humour. Each of these rare encounters were memorable on both counts.

Because of the distance (Ashok in Vancouver, me in Ranchi), it is mainly by email that we stayed in touch over the years. Most of this correspondence was of a professional nature, but Ashok always brought a personal touch to it. I have learnt much from him in this respect.

On one occasion, we worked together on a collective statement. That was also a learning experience. Ashok was an exacting co-author, who insisted on getting every word right and had infinite patience for bringing everyone on board. The drafting process took a long time, but the effort was rewarding.

Ashok brought the same rigour in his work as Editor-in-Chief of Ideas for India (I4I). I was a little sceptical of the project initially, but he proved me wrong. A galaxy of eminent economists have contributed important articles to the website – I am guessing that Ashok befriended many of them like he befriended me. Under Ashok’s able guidance, I4I also became a springboard for many budding researchers. Today, I4I is an invaluable trove of policy-oriented economic research on India. It has also helped to make development economics more relevant, accessible, and comprehensible.

My virtual interactions with Ashok became more frequent in the last couple of years. Once or twice, we had a Skype call. There was a tacit understanding between us that he might not live much longer, though we rarely spoke about it. When we did, he was remarkably calm and lucid. He never complained or fished for sympathy.

Ashok remained himself until the very end. In January and February 2022, he guided me with characteristic patience through the revision of a difficult article for I4I. We had some disagreements, but they always turned into some new insights, without a trace of acrimony. I had no idea that the end was so close. I salute Ashok’s kindness, wisdom, and courage.

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