Saturday, April 17

When Esther fell in love with a crumbling Kolkata

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French economist Esther Duflo, who shares the Nobel Prize in Economics with husband Abhijit Banerjee and fellow researcher Michael Kremer, believes Kolkata should preserve its buildings that lend the city its unique character, retain the sheer madness that is visible in public life to wow Western tourists.

In an interaction with TOI during a trip to Kolkata four years ago, Duflo had said the city needed to recognise its potential as a tourist attraction and preserve precincts in north, central and south Kolkata where neighbourhoods still retained old buildings that were architecturally distinct.

“Investing in preserving these localities can be financially rewarding,” she said. To buttress her point, she pointed to Prague where a major restoration project had unfolded after the end of Communism. “Many things old — trams, building facades and bridges — were restored. It has paid dividends. Today, Prague is top-draw tourist destination. Kolkata has the potential to become a Prague,” she had said.

Duflo, who fell in love with Kolkata and its magnificent crumbling mansions and chaos and energy on the streets on her very first visit in 1997 when she was a 24-year-old researcher, said she knew people in America who were willing to pay a small fortune to experience what Kolkata had to offer.

“Tourists would love to experience the madness and chaos of Kolkata. The city should understand its own worth and value that it has. Western tourists now come to India for Taj Mahal, forts in Rajasthan and Kerala’s backwaters. The madness of Kolkata can be the next big destination,” she remarked.

If there is anything that bothers her during her visits to the city, it is the demolition of remarkable old buildings. “Every time I come to Kolkata, and I have been here more than 20 times, I see one more splendid building gone and replaced by a steel-and-glass structure. Someone needs to put an end to the destruction and fix the crumbling buildings. I hope someone displays the vision to act and save the city. There’s a need for political leadership as well. Maybe the mayor needs to be more powerful like those of Paris, London and New York,” she said.

Duflo, who is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), has conducted research in Kolkata and other Indian cities to help design and evaluate social policies.



Source: Times of India

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