Aasim Ansari, Class of 2020 “I don’t remember the particular point when I made a conscious
Pallavi Agrawal, Class of 2019
Sabyasachi Das is the professor who walks around campus looking extremely calm and composed. Even if you attend all his classes, there will still be a lot you don’t know about him. I asked him what he thought was the best part about being a professor: he said, “To realise that I am facilitating and influencing someone’s way of thinking and being able to see that happen.”
Just like the rest of us, a lot of Professor Das’ life decisions are deeply influenced by where he grew up. Hailing from a small town in the northern part of West Bengal (where it borders Bhutan), he spent his early years far from the city life. He says, “I thought of the world as a small place. The stakes of life were not very high where I lived. I thought my life comprised of me going to school and playing cricket afterwards.” His town was such that he grew up in a serene environment, and in constant awe of the mountains and the neighbouring country. He shifted to Kolkata two years before he joined college, perhaps beginning a new chapter in his life.
College for Professor Das was an interesting experience. It was during this time that he developed an interest in films, which continues till date. He would go to the cinemas with his friends and watch all types of movies, something he does till date. He enjoys films of all kinds, genres and languages — from Chinese to even something European. “I am often not looking for anything extraordinary, but just the portrayal of human behaviour through the creativity and ingenuity of the director. I look for images that are portrayed in ways we don’t think of,” he says. The few directors he holds in high regard are: Michael Haneke (from Austria), the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson (from USA), and Dibakar Banerjee from India. Professor Das has tried his hand at film-making as well, but never took any courses professionally. I asked him if he ever thought of pursuing this interest professionally. He hadn’t and explained it by telling me that his interest in films wasn’t immediate, rather it was one he developed over time and is continuing to develop even today.
Talking about cricket, he believes that it is a “community exercise”, a concept he feels has died down today. He told me that when he was home and in college in India, everybody gathered together to watch cricket, and it became an occasion to bond. However, when he went to Yale University in the United States for his PhD, he couldn’t keep up with the game. Matches were very late at night, and his friends weren’t as enthusiastic about the game. Talking about the changing nature of game itself, he says, “I’m not fond of the recent IPL format, and don’t like the push towards it. It seems to sacrifice the beauty of the game itself.”
Being a Bengali, his interest in food is not surprising. He recently made Hyderabadi Chicken which his friends absolutely adored. I asked him if he’d ever bring some back for his students, he laughed in agreement. Talking about the infamous mess food, he said that even though he wasn’t extremely fond of it, like most of us, he had a favourable opinion of the breakfast served. He said that he found good variety after his morning commute from Delhi, having not cooked at home himself.
Coming to his field of study, Professor Das says that Economics has been the one constant for him throughout his life. However, Economics wasn’t his first love. Before doing his Bachelor’s in Economics from St. Xavier’s in Kolkata, he briefly was interested in becoming a doctor and took up Biology. Much to his father’s disappointment, he dropped biology within the first week in his plus-2 (11th and 12th Grade). Later, during his college days, he explored the idea of becoming a bureaucrat, and considered joining the Indian Administrative Services. But soon he realised that he was not cut out for the job, and in fact was far from the person required to be an IAS officer.
He says that his college system was completely different in comparison to Ashoka’s semester system. He remembers having ample time to consult various books, and still being able to take out time to read literature, mainly fiction. I asked him how much he studied. He said, “I’d say on an average 1–2 hours a week for my course,” or how much, in his opinion, the “average Ashokan” studies for his subject.
I enjoyed getting to know Professor Das beyond what I see in his classes. In my short interview, I felt Professor Das is a person who many of us aspire to be: someone who is so exceedingly knowledgeable about his field, and yet is so humble about it. He is very curious, and has the patience required to find the answers to the questions: something most people lack in today’s instant-gratification era. Most of all, in my conversation, I could see his passion for economics flowing as he spoke.
I would like to thank Professor Das for giving out time from his busy schedule for this interview. It was a pleasure!
Favourite App/Webpage: New York Times and the Scroll
Book Recommendation: Sarajevo — Exodus of a City by Dževad Karahasan
Dream Destination: Bhutan
Film he knows almost all the dialogues to: The Big Lebowski
Sabyasachi Das is an Assistant Professor of Economics, and currently teaches ECO202: Intermediate Microeconomics. His academic interests include political economy and applied microeconomics.