Atanu Dey On India's Development

About

[Minor update: Nov 24th, 2013. Created: Feb 4th, 2009. This is still a work in progress.]

Hi, I am Atanu Dey. Thanks for visiting my blog on India’s economic development.

I live in San Jose, CA, and work with Niti Digital in Mumbai.
You can contact me by writing to me atanudey at gmail.

A brief bio:

I am an economist with a background in development. I did my doctoral work at the University of California at Berkeley. My PhD thesis title was, “Universal Service Obligation Imposed Cross-subsidies: The impact on the demand for telecommunications in India.” Prior to going back to school, I worked at Hewlett Packard in the Silicon Valley in their computer systems division. (Building 44 in Cupertino, just in case you were wondering.)

While at UCB, I was also a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University 2001-02. During that time I developed a model for the development of rural India. The model is called “RISC — Rural Infrastructure & Services Commons.” I used the RISC acronym as a play on words, since Vinod Khosla co-authored the concept paper with me. (RISC also stands for “reduced instruction set computing,” something that SUN and HP had pioneered, and as is well-known, Vinod is a co-founder of SUN Microsystems.)

The reason I have some familiarity with computing is because I studied computer science at the post-graduate level. After an MTech in CS from IIT Kanpur, I had gone to do my PhD in CS at Rutgers University but I got out with an MS in CS because I liked the idea of working for HP in California.

Working for HP was fun but I was more interested in understanding why India was poor. After being with HP for seven years, I quit to wander around India, US and Europe. I did that for five years. It was a great learning experience for me and gradually I understood that economics informs the question of poverty better than any other discipline. Though rather late in life, I realized that I was an economist — all these years I had no clue that I was one because I had never been exposed to economics. During my extended sabbatical (or voluntary unemployment, if you will), I read a lot more than I used to and slowly it dawned on me that I had to study economics formally. It is a hard subject in any case, and on top of that, I am not disciplined at all. Getting a PhD in a subject is a good way to learn the subject. At the very least, you get a decent foundation.

I believe in foundations. If you have a good foundation, you can build excellent things.

Of course, it was not easy for me to get admission to a PhD program in a good university, considering that I had precious little (none actually, not to put too fine a point on it) formal exposure to economics in my previous academic training. But persistence matters. This is perhaps the only “entrepreneurial” thing I have ever done.

You may say that I have attention deficit disorder. I did my undergraduate from Nagpur University in mechanical engineering. Then I moved to CS, and then to economics after a few years of product marketing at HP.

In any event, after I finished my PhD, I toyed around with the idea of working for a consulting firm. I did not pursue it when I realized that it involves a lot of work on other people’s terms even though the money is good. Fortunately, I had work in short-term consulting which paid the bills. I was in no hurry to get a regular job. A friend, Reuben Abraham, then at Columbia University, introduced me to Rajesh Jain in April 2003. We all share a common interest in the use of technology in development.

Rajesh Jain persuaded me to move back to India to work with him. What I admire about Rajesh is his capacity to work hard, think big, and his can-do attitude. I am not impressed with money because I don’t need much of it anyway — beyond a certain modest amount needed to live a rather frugal life. What impresses me is hard work and persistence in the face of adversity — two qualities that I don’t have.

I think I am plenty smart. But then you may ask the quintessentially American question: If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich? The answer is easy. To be rich, you have to be both smart and hard working. Unless of course you are completely corrupt — as big-time criminals and politicians generally are. (I realize that those two sets have considerable overlap.)

I am not rich because I don’t work hard. Let that be a lesson to you.

Seriously though, I have worked with Rajesh since late 2003. This blog is his idea. I used to write a blog while at Berkeley — “Life is a Random Draw”. I have taken it down because it was getting spammed too much. This blog is broadly about economic development. More about the blog in the “Read this First” tab. (Under construction. Do visit in a couple of weeks.)

Living in India after living two decades in northern California is hard, especially so if the move is from Berkeley (where I spent the previous eight years) to Mumbai (a city with nothing to offer me.) After a little more than a year, I left Mumbai for Pune. Pune is better than Mumbai in some respects. I work remotely from home.

Well, that is about it. More to come.

Meanwhile, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Jan 24th, 2012 Update:

I moved back to the San Francisco Bay area in June 2010, and now I live in San Jose although I continue to work with Rajesh Jain in Mumbai. I usually visit India about twice a year and spend a few weeks traveling around India and meeting people.

In other news, I have published a book, “Transforming India.” Please take a look. Thanks.

  • dongreindoco

    Thanks! I was very much interested in knowing who you are :-)
    Now I don’t have to wait till you come to Mumbai or I travel to Pune…

    Great Blog, Keep it up!

  • amity

    Atanu, you skipped over the details of your M.Tech. after your Bachelor’s in Nagpur. :)

  • http://acorn.nationalinterest.in Nitin

    Err…where does it say polymath, genious & highly opinionated b- ?

  • pranav123

    You prove that high IQ puts the constraint of intellectual space and therefore every now and then intellectual space gets exhausted. That will lead the person in search of an another search of an intellectual space. Your story is great and that. Do read the book “Puzzle people”. This is the autobiography of a great called Thomas Starzl. The man who did the first Liver transplant and won the Nobel prize.

  • bc.sekaran

    Thanks Atanu Dey when I started to read you blog regularly, I had searched for hours some time to know about your education, work experience and where you comment etc.

    It is quite nice to your simply motivating bio and the journey

    Chandra

  • http://bengalvoice.blogspot.com BengalVoice

    Hi Atanu,

    Its nice to know about the real you. Very impressive!!! My buddy, who is a good friend of yours, referred me to your blog. I’ll look forward to reading your next posts.

    In the meantime, I think you will find this online book interesting:

    “My People, Uprooted: A Saga of the Hindus of Eastern Bengal” by Prof.Tathagata Roy.

  • praveshb

    Atanu

    Nice to know about the specific details of your journey so far. I should I am not as impressed as others in the web, impressed, but not very. I am impressed as you are one of the very very few people who charted his own course, listening to your soul and understanding what you really are. It seems you didnt and you still dont worry about the “orthodox” perception of managing ones career. This needs I think a lot of courage and conviction.

    But I am a little confused. Why dont you work hard, as you think hard work is. Even if you dont get rich, you should still work hard. Does this mean that you are still not doing what you are supposed to do in life?

  • Kumar_N

    Hi Atanu,

    Nice to read your bio.Of course, I gathered bits and pieces about you from your blog posts over the past 2 years.

    Some comments:

    1.Surprised that you have not mentioned the conceptual work you have done on an ICT solution for India’s education needs. (Hopefully, you have gone way beyond the conceptual stage by now).

    2.You say, ‘I am an economist with a background in development’. What do you mean by a ‘background in development?’

    3.The question I always wanted to ask: What does an economist do at NetCore? I mean, I haven’t seen any other technology firms employ an economist.

  • http://clueso.wordpress.com clueso

    Very interesting bio…mainly for your decision to take a 5 year sabbatical(or voluntary unemployment as you called it). Lots of people profess to “want” to do something like that, but not many have the courage/conviction/drive to actually do it.

    I too am interested in knowing about your work so far on using ICT for improving India’s education. Also, I would like to mirror Kumar_N’s question on what exactly does your role as an economist at Netcore entail? I have never heard of similar positions in other IT firms and am therefore extremely curious to know.

    All the best!

  • http://sudiptachatterjee.blogspot.com sudipta

    Atanu, I feel honoured to have heard (most of) this firsthand from you in person. A very succint and informative page. :)

  • vivekamvairagyam

    hello atanu dey …. it was wondeful visting ur blog … hope to do so more often … loved ur blog about billions and the day of brahma … it was also interesting to see an advaitic viewpoint stressed throughout …. kudos

    it might interest you to know that the chamaka prashna , usually chanted right after the sri rudram , contains a lot mathematical progressions esp arithmetic progressions ..

    and as regards our present neglect of sanskrit and anything related to prehistoric india … here are my 2 cents ….

    http://vivekamvairagyam.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/the-jungle-book-the-sanatana-dharma/

    i would love to have ur thots on that ….

    ps : btw how do i change passwords to ur site and are some of the old blogs closed to comments ?

    thnx and gud luck

    vivekam.vairagyam@gmail.com

  • Haresh

    Man,
    You tred the same path as i wish to. I did my B.Tech in ECE, am doing my MBA in Marketing and i’d like to do PhD in Economics from an US university.

    I believe in the conviction that we’ve to help ourselves and our own people to fight the evils of our society.

    Keep up the good work.

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  • GIRISH LIMAYE

    I got to know about you from your brother Sutanu . i am very much impressed by your bio .
    I would like to know your opinion on Shri Ramdeo Baba`s policy of economic reform by say cancelling all currency notes above 50 , bringing back all black money from Swiss banks etc .
    Regards

    GIRISH

  • Amit Kumar Gupta

    Hi Atanu,

    I got link to here from someone in twitter. Read two articles and I liked them. I should say, you don’t write, you talk. It was very nice talking to you, I would like to visit this page for further conversations.

    Thanks,
    Amit

  • http://www.tatvaanveshanam.org Manas

    Hello Atanu, could you possibly include the “subscribe by email” feature in your blog? Its really convenient to get an email whenever a new post is made. Thanks.

  • http://ashraya.org ranchanadigal@yahoo.com

    Very interesting bio…mainly for your decision to take a 5 year sabbatical(or voluntary unemployment as you called it). Lots of people profess to “want” to do something like that, but not many have the courage/conviction/drive to actually do it.

    I too am interested in knowing about your work so far on using ICT for improving India’s education. Also, I would like to mirror Kumar_N’s question on what exactly does your role as an economist at Netcore entail? I have never heard of similar positions in other IT firms and am therefore extremely curious to know.

    All the best!
    .

  • Bonnie Bee

    I have accidentally or serendipitously come across your writings.
    You write with a clarity, humour and honesty that is very refreshing.
    Thank you for putting your thoughts and opinions down for the rest of us to enjoy, ponder or be challenged by. I look forward to reading more as I’ve only read a few of your entries and your story thus far. :)

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  • Dipanjoy Seal

    Dear Sir,

    It is always a pleasure to read and follow your posts on various social topics and your write ups on the Indian scenario is quite amazing.

    Coming to the point as we all know the importance of education but more than that what matters is the way of teaching. The use of physical force to inflict pain on children as a punishment is common in schools across the world. In most Indian schools, corporal punishment is an accepted way of “disciplining” children. Empathetic attitudes from teachers, encouragements, techniques promoting school democracy.

    Looking at your interests and expertise it is understood that you know the importance of a healthy & appropriate education system. We are keen to have an association on behalf of our client where you can write and educate and also influence your followers to spread an awareness about the Learn Without Fear Campaign to ensure a fear free education system for the children and helping reduce the negative impact of violence on children and the importance of treating children with dignity and respect in schools.

    Do let us know how we can discuss this proposition and take it further. Again needless to say it will be an immense pleasure to be associated with you.

    Awaiting your response. Have a nice day ahead.

    Regards
    Dipanjoy Seal
    dipanjoy@corvoshandwick.co.in

  • Dipanjoy Seal

    Dear Sir,

    It will be a pleasure to be associated with you. Request you to share your feedback on the same.

    Awaiting your response. Have a nice day.

    Dipanjoy
    dipanjoy@corvoshandwick.co.in

  • http://crazylearner.in/blog/ taecher

    May be the whole process will take time but you can always find guys who think like you.

    sir i am too disturbed with the education system of India.I am a 3 rd year computer science guy and i really get shocked sometimes when i see what system is doing to its students.
    I Really like your thoughts

    Although my English is not that good as yours but i also run a blog to share my views on education system.i don’t know why but i can’t keep myself from doing this.

    i would really appreciate if you can give my blog a visit and suggest me some tips there.

    thank you

  • Dr Maulek Desai

    Hi Atanu,
    It was indeed a pleasure for me to meet you for the fisrt time at your residence in worli during the month of March.
    I was very impressed by your thoughts on economic development and mass block voting concept.
    I keep following your blog regularly and it has helped me a lot in building my thought process.
    Will certainly like to meet you once again.

    Regards
    Dr Maulek Desai
    ISB

  • http://www.paniitalumni.org satish kini

    Hi Atanu,

    I agree with your views entirely.

    Like you, I too am alumni of the IIT Bombay (76). Last this year in Oct 2010, I attended the PanIIT alumni Conclave in Delhi. I was so inspired by the work undertaken by paniit ( see link to paniit@work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDd3frAbzvg ) that sold my stakes in a Healthcare Consulting & Informatics Co I had founded in 2002 and took over as COO of Nation Building Mission of PanIIT Alumni India.

    Would love to meet you sometime to exchange ideas and plans.
    I stay near Shivaji Park.

    Regds

    Satish Kini – 9820138574

  • http://anurag-vidyarthi.blogspot.com/ Anurag Vidyarthi

    Hi Atanu,

    I come across your blog while surfing and very much liked the way you described your journey in this world and could co-relate some of it with mine as well.

    I live in Oslo,Norway now but have longings for India.Would like to meet you in person one day !!

    Thanks and Best of luck in all your endeviours.

    Regards,
    Anurag vidyarthi
    http://anurag-vidyarthi.blogspot.com/

  • Saikat

    Hi Atanu, Nice to read your bio. I have great respect for people who can redefine themselves at different points in their life. There are many IIT passouts working in silicon valley, few can turn out a economics phd 12 years later, few of those will come back to India to work, and fewer will have a nationalistic viewpoint and find support for Modi. Good to read your articles, thanks for the effort.

  • Sharad

    I came to know abt this blog today only liked it and wanna subscribe through RSS but i guess RSS not workiing properly, please look into the matter

  • http://www.indianliberals.org Ashish Deodhar

    Hello Atanu

    What’s the best way to get in touch with you?

    Cheers

  • Jaishankar

    Read through some parts of your blog and really loved it. I stumbled upon your piece on Sri Sri Ravishankar.

    First off, I should inform you that I think of him as a guru. Nay, he is my guru. And I put him in the category “Enlightened (and Great, Good, Useful)”.

    Nevertheless, I found your email and further analysis extremely lucid, logical and interesting. I would have had the exact same impression of any spiritual mass marketed movement a few years ago.

    I find it hard to digest that many people simply cannot accept or understand a view point that is different from theirs. It is rather foolish and immature when people insist on imposing their own beliefs on others.

    Though I do not agree with some of your conclusions, I really respect your freedom to have an alternate belief that is consistent with your viewpoint of the world. I must say that it is one of the most objective and level headed approach to such movements that I have come across in a long time.

  • Saurabh Singh

    Hi Atanu, 1st i read yur article at NITI ” Its not about free speech its about freedom” instantly got connected to your way of thinking. Then today i read ur piece about India’s education system and wanted to know more. Searched for your blog and after reading your intro(very interesting) will be regular now!
    I am interested in India’s politics(or lack of it) & am admirer of NaMo. Have stayed in Nagpur, so theers an instant connect.

    One thing though your blog ” Life is a Random Draw” sounds more Vagabondish, how we can read it?

  • Anonymous

    I find it odd that the art of living course in INDIA has a variable price depending on your type of passport. If its a non profit organization and benefiting the masses I think the prices in India should be equal for all wanting to take the course.
    We searched for a review on the art of living classes and landed on your page with a very well written article!
    Thank you!

  • menon

    I find it odd that the art of living course in INDIA has a variable price depending on your type of passport. If its a non profit organization and benefiting the masses I think the prices in India should be equal for all wanting to take the course.
    We searched for a review on the art of living classes and landed on your page with a very well written article!
    Thank you!

  • Kaffir

    “I find it odd that the art of living course in INDIA has a variable price depending on your type of passport.”

    The reason you find it odd is that you have a bias in favor of “equality.” However, if someone has a US passport, s/he can most likely pay more for the same service than an Indian citizen can. So, why should that be an issue? In fact, if someone, say an American, pays more, that enables the organization to provide the same service for less or free to those who cannot afford to pay for it.
    Even tourist sites in India – controlled by the Indian government – charge different fee i.e. more for US citizens. I don’t see any issue with it as long as the fee is reasonable and not prohibitive. After all, $1 goes a long way in India, given the exchange rate.

  • Guest

    Hi Atanu, I think you are a very abusive person. You posted an excerpt
    of an email discussion that we were part of a few years ago, and twisted
    the words to your benefit. What you said of me, even based on that
    excerpt, is totally untrue. I think you readers should be aware of how
    you treat people and that you are abusive. You are unethical and unprofessional. These days the world does not take it kindly when men talk
    to women disrespectfully, especially not in America. No more will women
    tolerate that from men even in India today. Do NOT think for a moment
    that you can ever talk down to me or of me
    abusively, even on twitter. People know me and they will only laugh at you for treating
    women so. You must be a woman hater to call them names.

    • Atanu_Dey

      I see. Now the complaint is that I am a male chauvinist pig for having called you out and pointed out your asinine — indeed loathsome — opinion.

      Oh cry me a river.

      Talk down to you? Is that even possible since you appear to be riding a pretty high horse?

      Listen and listen up good. Stand for something and defend your position. If you have to draw attention to your purdah or ghunghat and grant yourself special privilege because you are a woman, go do that elsewhere. I don’t care for your brand of sexism.

      Go and don’t darken the door of this blog.

  • desiherald@wordpress.com

    Hi Atanu,
    First time on your blog, I read your article on AAP = congress, I must say you have speculated it so well and that is what we are seeing today.
    Nice that I came across this blog.
    Very informative