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Is Abhijit Banerjee the new Amartya Sen?

First, the “breaking news” as they say in movies: the prestigious 2011 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year has been won by a Bengali boy.

Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, 50, the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is making waves with Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty.

The award will perhaps not come as a complete surprise to those who attended Abhijit’s programme at the Bengal Club in Calcutta in August, held in association with The Telegraph.

Abhijit shares the 30,000 prize, now in its 7th year, with co-author and fellow MIT professor, Esther Duflo.

The book has been published by Perseus Books in the UK (15.99) and PublicAffairs ($26.99) in the US.

It challenges certain presumptions: “that microfinance is a cure-all, that schooling equals learning, that poverty at the level of 99 cents a day is just a more extreme version of the experience any of us have when our income falls uncomfortably low”.

Abhijit was up against some exceptionally strong contenders: Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar by Barry Eichengreen; Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier by Edward L. Glaeser; Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan; Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt; and The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin.

A question worth asking is: what do you get when both parents are economists?

We learn that Abhijit was “born in Calcutta to Dipak Banerjee, professor and head of economics, Presidency College, and Nirmala Banerjee, economics professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta”.

Abhijit attended South Point School and Presidency College, where he completed his BSc in economics before doing his MA in economics at JNU in Delhi and his PhD at Harvard. Before joining MIT, he taught at Harvard and Princeton.

The award ceremony took place at the William Wallace Collection, a sumptuous mini-palace in Manchester Square, London, which contains a fabulous display of French furniture, paintings and ceramics.

The winner was announced over dinner, attended by, among others, Lakshmi Mittal.

The editor of the Financial Times and chairman of the panel of judges, Lionel Barber, said he had been “blown away” by the book.

On its cover is a plug from Amartya Sen “a marvellously insightful book... on the real nature of poverty”.

Many will wonder if Abhijit, also specialising in poverty, is Sen’s spiritual heir.

 

Blue Cooke

The judge presiding over the just ended trial of the Pakistani cricketers, The Honourable Mr Justice Cooke, was relatively restrained in his use of sporting analogy.

“‘It’s not cricket,’ was an adage,” was as far as he went.

He contrasted Salman Butt’s privileged background with that of Mohammed Aamer, who hid behind his long, swinging tresses.

“Compared with others, you were unsophisticated, uneducated and impressionable,” the judge told Aamer, making him sound like an English Premier League footballer. “You were only 18.”

Jeremy Lionel Cooke, 62, it emerges, is more of a rugby man. Normally “rugger buggers”, as they are often known, tend to be academically less gifted. But at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, Cooke took not only a First but also won a Rugby Blue (meaning he played against Cambridge in the university rugby match).

Between 1970 and 1975, Cooke was apparently a member of the Harlequins, a famous rugby club. He has listed his hobbies as golf and singing. He was knighted in 2001 and has been a vice-president of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship since 2003.

In court last week, the image of the judge, cloaked in red and wearing a wig, could not have been more traditional.

 

Tinglan feeling

Hugh Grant knew Elizabeth Hurley from 1987 until they split up in 2000 but there was no baby. Neither was there a baby from his relationship with Jemima Khan from 2004 to 2007.

Now, after the briefest of affairs with a Chinese woman, Tinglan Hong, 31, he has had a baby girl.

Grant’s mobile phone had apparently been hacked in the past by the News of the World, which is why the 51-year-old actor took up the issue with David Cameron during the Tory party conference last month.

This time, there has been no need for anyone to hack Grant’s phone.

His spokesman was candid: “I can confirm that Hugh Grant is the delighted father of a baby girl. He and the mother had a fleeting affair and while this was not planned, Hugh could not be happier or more supportive. He and the mother have discussed everything and are on very friendly terms.”

Grant is said to have already bought Tinglan a 1.2 million house in Fulham, a mile from his own residence.

One line in the Daily Mail sums up the tangled love lives of Elizabeth Hurley, Hugh Grant, Steve Bing, Arun Nayar, Jemima Khan, Imran Khan, Shane Warne and now Tinglan Hong: “How strange the mysterious workings of the human heart. No?”

 

India rising

Lady Pamela Hicks, 82, tells an entertaining tale about how her father, the late Lord Mountbatten, reacted when he discovered what his new granddaughter was going to be called.

“My father, the last Viceroy of India, was most alarmed to hear my husband, David, and I were going to call our youngest daughter ‘India’,” she tells a Sunday paper. “In 1967 you had to choose a Sloaney name like Portia. Certainly not India. ‘You can’t call her that,’ he declared.”

Mountbatten’s wife, Edwina, was relieved.

“Mummy said, ‘Well thank God she didn’t have twins, it would have been India and Pakistan’.”

 

Tabak trial

Those who rushed to judgement over Shrien Dewani, the Indian husband accused of conspiring to murder his bride Anni during their honeymoon in South Africa last year, should be well advised to show a bit of caution following the recent trial of Vincent Tabak.

He is a 33-year-old Dutch engineer sent to jail for a minimum of 20 years for strangling Joanna Yeates, his 25-year-old neighbour in Bristol.

Yet, when the victim’s body was first discovered, dumped in a snow-covered country lane last Christmas, her landlord, Christopher Jefferies, was metaphorically hung, drawn and quartered by sections of the media.

The innocent Jefferies has received damages from eight newspapers.

The former “eccentric English teacher” at Clifton College was thought to be guilty because he had “dyed blue hair, a passion for Romantic poetry and a love of theatre and avant-garde film”.

 

Tittle tittle

Britain’s intelligence services are advertising in the ethnic papers presumably because they want Urdu language speakers to monitor British Pakistanis.

Therefore, the choice of actress Naomie Harris to play Miss Moneypenny in the next James Bond film, Skyfall, should be seen as art catching up with life.

Naomie, 35, the daughter of a Jamaican mother and a Trinidadian father, will be the first black Moneypenny.

In the 50th year of Bond movies we await the arrival of the first Indian Bond girl.

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