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Jayati Ghosh

Jayati Ghosh

It may not be music to one’s ears when economist Jayati Ghosh speaks about the financial mess [India] is in, but it is when this professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning of Jawaharlal Nehru University raves about the economy of expression in the compositions of Bach or Beethoven.

When she is not teaching economics, lecturing, writing columns or attending meetings of the commissions of which she is a member, Ghosh is listening to music. She is tuned into BBC’s Radio 3 or Iceberg Radio, listening to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bach, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Or playing records of western classical music of different periods she has collected over the years.

Ghosh, who believes she has inherited her father’s passion for western classical music, is a pianist and has earned various grades of Trinity College, London. At one point, she even thought of being a professional pianist. Till four or five years ago, she practiced regularly, a habit she hopes to revive after her retirement from the university.

Even when she is not playing, Ghosh is in tune with music and has been writing and lecturing extensively on the discipline. “Music retains my sanity,” she says. Her lectures are on themes such as Mozart and love. “Listen to Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte or The Marriage of Figaro, and you will find that Mozart had a cynical view of love. The psychological complexity of the compositions, and the way he builds each musical layer, touches you. The precision is incredible,” she says.

In her younger days, Ghosh listened mostly to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, carried away by the color and the drama, but these days she gravitates towards the intellectual depth of Mozart, of Joseph Haydn and of composers such as Antonín Dvořák. “The connection to a composition is instantaneous, but to go into its depths takes years. Music is simple, yet deep, expansive and esoteric,” she says.

Jayati Ghosh started taking lessons in music at the age of seven in Washington, D. C. when her father, economist Arun Kumar Ghosh, was representing India as the Alternate Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund. A well-known Portuguese violinist was giving advanced lessons in violin across the street from where the Ghoshs lived. “My father, doting as he was, told the master I was an advanced player, whereas I could barely hold the violin. The master’s eyes dilated with horror when he first saw me, but he kept his promise to teach me. I don’t know who feared the classes more: he or I,” she recalls.

One day the master was in an especially bad mood. A close disciple of his, an ace instrumentalist, had just passed away. “On seeing me, he went into a huff, perhaps because I reminded him that he was losing his talented students and was going to have to put up with lesser musicians like me. As soon as I made an error, he snatched the violin from my hands and smashed it over my head. I ran home, crying, and began to complain bitterly to my father,” she recalls.

Ghosh says that she expected her father to sprint across the street and give the Portuguese a piece of his mind, but he did not. Instead, he was unperturbed, and with a smile he said, “Alright, now I will get you an instrument with which you cannot be attacked.”

The next day, Jayati’s father enrolled her in a piano class.

K. Santhosh – The Hindu