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Friday, October 24, 2003

Welcome to Prashant Kothari

Well, It seems that we're adding people at the rate of about one a day, and clearly this can't go on like this. So with Prashant we're nearly done (although watch this space, there may be one or two last minute surprises). Prashant informs us of several things about him on his sidebar, among them that he has 'insatiable curiousity' (again he probably isn't the only one round here with what used to be a considered a problem, Atanu is a self proclaimed sufferer from attention-deficit disorder, and I fear there may be more of us in the closet). He tells us he'd "ideally love to write separate blogs" on each of following topics:

- Current affairs in India and the US
- Literature, especially Indo-Anglian writing
- Outsourcing white-collar services to India (aka Business Process Outsourcing)
- Economics and finance

He would also combine this with occasional posts on technology, online content, history, philosophy, evolutionary biology, rock music and such like topics (and many more). (Have I left anything out Prashant??). He goes on to tell us, however, that "that would be a lot of fun, but requires far more time than this entrepreneur can spare".

As someone who has definitely contracted 'blogitis' I know exactly what he means. Still here on IEW he has the opportunity to fulfill at least one of his ambitions. As an intro I am presenting a post of his which I thinks gives a flavour of who Prashant is as well as anything I've seen:

Vegetarian-only buildings in Mumbai causing tension

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a lead article on vegetarian-only buildings in Mumbai:

A number of buildings, old and new, in the wealthiest precincts of this teeming city (Mumbai) of more than 12 million are going (sic) vegetarian and are enforcing an unofficial ban on meat eaters.
When ancient asceticism meets up with modern real-estate markets, the result can cause some heartburn.

In Bombay, however, there is also a small-but-influential minority of strict vegetarians. Many are prosperous traders, diamond merchants and property developers originally from the neighboring state of Gujarat, home of Mahatma Gandhi and some of India's most exacting vegetarians. Many are adherents of Jainism, an ancient faith based on the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence. India has about 3.4 million Jains in total. The observant don't eat meat, eggs, or root vegetables, such as onions or carrots, that have been ripped from the soil.

My take:

1) Contrary to what the WSJ may say, vegetarian-only buildings in Mumbai are not a new phenomena. Many buildings have been vegetarian-only for decades, going back to pre-World War II.

2) As a libertarian, I'm all for letting people do as they wish in the privacy of their homes, as long as they're impinging on other people's freedoms. Based on that logic, I see no reason why an individual or a group of individuals should not set up vegetarian-only buildings.

After all, as the Journal reports

Vegetarians are often willing to pay a premium for an environment in harmony with their religious beliefs and no-meat lifestyle. "There's an excellent market for vegetarian buildings," says Sunil Bajaj, a Bombay broker who endorses the concept. "It's as simple as having a nonsmoking area. People want pure veg areas, also."

Well put. All that these vegetarians in Mumbai want is the freedom to live in a vegetarian area, and are willing to pay a premia for doing so. What's wrong with that?

3) While the Sanjay Narang story (about how he was allegedly forced to close down his restaurant because of harassment from the residents of the building) is disturbing IF true, it's also plausible (as the article narrates) that there just wasn't enough traffic.

4) Not surprisingly, the Shiv Sena neo-Nazis have stepped in (the Sena is a regional Hindu nationalist party that carries out a lethal combination of thuggery and extortion under a garb of Hindutva and Maratha pride). According to one of their leaders, Pramod Navalkar:

"This nonsense (sic) will not do! If I come to know of new vegetarian buildings, I'll send the occupants Bombay duck."

Would love to know what Mr. Navalkar and his worthies deem nonsense -- the freedom and liberty to follow one's beliefs in peace, or the Sena's forcible foisting of views (a la the Taliban)?

Full disclosure: I'm a Jain, and I have several relatives in Mumbai, most of whom live in vegetarian-only buildings. None of them has ever tried to convert a non-vegetarian to vegetarianism, overtly or covertly.

I (Edward) have only two things to add.

Full disclosure 1: I don't read the WSJ, never have and (never say never) probably never will do. From where I'm sitting it's full of crackpot ideas. We Brits are definitely eccentric, that's why we like cricket, not baseball (rounders?) and read the FT. This is probably one of the few topics left were I really have no difficulty agreeing with Krugman.

Full Disclosure 2. I have a strong and secret affection for Bombay Duck. Chicken Tika Massala may now be the official national dish in the UK, but my hankerings normally drift towards the poor old 'pato'. This is simply a silly and romantic association from my past. In the late sixties, as a poor and hungry student at the LSE I regularly used to drift over to India House to line up for the brilliant subsidised staff lunch, where pride of place once a week went to this local 'delicay'. Be that as it may, I wouldn't want to be forced to eat even my favourite meal by anyone, and certainly not by Shiv Sena. I'm with you Prashant: long live (pragmatic) libertarianism. Under the paving stones lie the beach etc etc.

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