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Of justice, prison, rice

Is justice violated in India?

Will the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay be closed?

Does he eat rice every day?

Questions as varied as chalk and cheese were hurled at Amartya Sen and the Nobel Laureate had patience for each. But the ones he enjoyed the most — as the economist-philosopher himself admitted — were about his culinary preferences.

“I don’t eat rice every day because when you are eating at a college or a restaurant you can’t always get rice,” the 75-year-old said in reply to a query from a reader of The Telegraph.

Asked whether his food habits had changed, Sen said: “I eat less meat but it is a change that has come with age.”

Five readers of varied ages, selected through an SMS contest in which they were asked the name of Sen’s latest book (The Idea of Justice), joined the Harvard professor in a tête-à-tête at a city hotel before he delivered The Penguin Annual Lecture at Nandan.

The chat started with Sen asking for “a very necessary cup of tea”.

The man who has fielded academic questions across the globe all through his career revealed a soft spot for what he called personal questions.

“In Delhi when I was being interviewed one person came up to me and asked, ‘Do you mind if I ask you a very personal question?’ I thought he was going to ask me about rice but he said, ‘Would you mind combing your hair before I take a picture?’ I replied I would not. I am better at answering these kinds of personal questions,” laughed Sen.

Of the five members in the audience only two had read Sen — Sayoni Sarkar, an economics graduate, and Siddharth Ray, a student of political science. But that did not deter the rest from taking their turn — an interview of Sen published in The Telegraph on Wednesday might have been of some help.

A 72-year-old reader, Prabir Ranjan Chatterjee, asked: “In India it takes decades to settle legal cases, especially legal suits. Is it not violation of justice?”

Sen’s reply: “Yes it is a violation of justice and it is very sad. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied.”

Sen laughed off the question whether he was nostalgic about Santiniketan: “I come back five times a year, so I can hardly feel nostalgic about the place.”

While handing over a signed copy of The Idea of Justice to Sayoni, the professor joked: “I can’t advise about whether to go to Presidency College or Calcutta University for applied economics but I can give you my book.”

Mahua Maitra’s question — “Will the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay be closed?” — was on behalf of her 13-year-old son Shagnik. “Well, they are going to close it and I am looking forward to it. I am delighted that your son asked this question. Tell him I share his curiosity and belief that it is wrong,” Sen told the proud mother.

“My son will be delighted to hear this…. This is an experience I can share with my grandchildren as well,” said Mahua.

Samiran Sarkar, who is from Santiniketan, could not believe that Sen could be “so unassuming”. The copy of Sen’s book that he got signed by the author will remain a “priceless treasure for my entire life”.

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