The Starkness of It is a selection culled out from the essays which formed the corpus of the now defunct fortnightly Calcutta Diary column in the Economic and Political Weekly; these were written in the corridor of time between February 1986, when the author had just vacated one political position, and August 1993, when he took up another. None of the issues reflected upon in the essays have suddenly been sprung upon us; they have been there all along, in various forms and shades, echoing the tussle between faith and cynicism. Several of the essays in The Starkness of It betray a pre-occupation with the generic problem. Does it then follow that the more it changes, the more it remains the same? It is best to confess: one hardly knows the answer.
Ashok Mitra, economist and political activist, has straddled several careers. He was Professor of Economics at the Indian Statistical Institute and the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, and was on the faculty of the Economic Development Institute in Washington, DC. He was subsequently Chairman, Agricultural Prices Commission and Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India. Still later, he was finance and planning minister in West Bengal and a member of the Rajya Sabha. He also happens to be an essayist in English as well as Bengali, and has received the Sahitya Akademi award for contributions to Bengali literature. He contributed, off and on for more than three decades, to the widely-read 'Calcutta Diary' column in the Economic and Political Weekly, and continues to write a column, 'Cutting Corners', for The Telegraph, Calcutta. His Bengali memoirs has recently been made available in English translation - A Prattler's Tale - and has attracted some attention.