‘Have you met the new economist’, my colleague at National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) asked and then quickly added ‘he has a serious demeanour and looks like a philosopher’.
With that curiosity-raising introduction, I first met Subir in 1999, when he had just joined the NCAER. Little did I realise then the impact he would have on me over the next two decades. Later, from 2002, we also worked together in CRISIL, for a good 7 years.
He was a mentor, and I owe a lot of my journey as an economist to him.
Of course, his intellectual prowess, ability to connect the dots, and communicate with clarity is well-known. But that is the secondary reason why I will always remember and respect him. What will stay with me are his human qualities – of compassion, large-heartedness – and also his wisdom and wit.
Being with him re-enforced the virtue of humility within me. The way he treated co-workers with utmost respect showed his empathy and sensitivity. He often went out of his way to help them.
He set up the CRISIL Centre of Economic Research in 2002 as soon as he joined, and gave it the intellectual heft to make it a credible and respected voice on economic issues.
It was a bad monsoon year, and he suggested we create something that would meaningfully gauge the impact of rains. That’s how the CRISIL DRIP Index was born. So good it was that we continue to use it till date. In fact, the Business Standard published the latest readings this year.
And boy did he love to travel! I recollect how he drove his father in a first-generation Maruti from Delhi all the way to Gokarna – no prizes for guessing where he got his surname from – the picturesque Karnataka village famous for its beach.
The consummate raconteur that he was, that journey became the basis of a number of conversations and also a couple of articles on the successes and failures of India’s highway programme published in the Business Standard.
He was also a total foodie and fond of cooking. Once he jokingly told me that an alternative profession, or post-retirement activity, for him would be running a shack in Goa.
Indeed, Subir never missed an opportunity to enjoy good food. I can recollect so many instances when we went to the Triveni in Delhi, or Gajalee, Mahesh Lunch Home or Bade Mian in Mumbai. The way he would rag restaurant folks for not delivering a fare that looked exactly as advertised on their menu cards led to many a humorous situation: with his typical poker face, he would ask the restaurant for a discount because the food didn’t ‘look’ like their sales spiel! He never got one, but that never stopped him from trying.
Once he sagely observed that “a drive from north to south Mumbai along the Western Express Highway is an experience that is alternately reassuring and frustrating”. I am sure he would not have used ‘reassuring’ even euphemistically later on as the traffic conditions continued to worsen in Mumbai. I can visualise his massive frame stomping on the floor, shaking his head at the madness that the city traffic has become.
As we speak, Covid-19 has forced some traffic relief on the city, with mobility restricted. But I sorely miss his narrative and wise counsel on the implications of the pandemic.
Subir was also a very private person. But once he let you in, it was for good, I feel. It was indeed my good karma that I had the privilege to know him and work with him. So many others in the CRISIL economics team share my feelings.
His untimely demise has been an incredible personal loss, and a loss to the world of economics.
He gave us so much to remember!
Dharmakirti Joshi is Chief Economist, CRISIL