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The Idea of India (Calcutta),2017: Opening Address- Naveen Kishore


Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Despite popular notions to the contrary, giving up is never easy. Failure is never comfortable to face up to.

Resignation in the face of odds, the ones stacked against you, stepping back, or aside, or sideways, or all of the above, as a feint, a strategy, with survival in mind. But also a fight, one in which you are only biding your time, and not running away from the battlefield out of a sense of despair. Not giving up, that part of it is fine. The world that adores the heroic in you will accept that. As will you.

The trouble begins when you let the numbers arrayed against you overwhelm you, when you accept the inevitable even before it has identified itself, when you arrive at the point of giving up. When you tip over.

It’s not easy. Then again, the opposite is hard too, perhaps more so. Persevere—a word that also comes with heavily stacked odds. The word. Suggests that the prospect of success in situations that demand perseverance is usually low. The romance that the word conjures up dies out swiftly when you’re faced with the obstacle in question, be it emotional, or political, or life threatening, or a point of principle, far from static, nimble-toed, a Birnham Wood on rollerskates. . .

You have to decide quickly.

A mountain is making its way to you, guns blazing. Will you persist?

Heroic and stubborn to the core, dig in your heels, continue, carry on, keep going, squaring your shoulders, hammering away, persistent, quietly determined, stand your ground and blow trumpets of tenacity from hurriedly assembled barricades. Promise to stand fast. Firm. Send signals of going the distance, staying the course, stopping at nothing short of soldiering on. Pledging to leave no stone unturned in your desire to persevere, hang on, plug away, stick to your guns.


Will you take off the white shirt you wear. Rip it. Wave it in surrender.


Like everything else, ‘goodness’ is an acquired taste. You have to learn the skill. Study its variations. Practice. Hour after hour. For days at a stretch. For a lifetime.

Angry times, these.

Times that tend to push you to the edge of rage.

A little provocation. A nudge in the wrong direction. Enough to plunge you into an

unforgivable moment of anger. The abyss that offers no return. We are taught to believe

that being desperately angry is not the solution. Yet how many times a day do we totter

on the brink? Like angels struggling before the fall. Wings tied. Feet and legs bound

together. Afraid of the unknown. Not the slow descent of the plunger before the

detonation. Nor the giant drilling machine that pierces the crust of the earth and burrows

to the centre. Layer upon layer of viciousness. There is no rock-bottom sometimes. No

sense of having arrived.

The fall over the rim is into limbo.

What does it take to be a good human in these times?

Kozo Yamamura, friend, author, patron of PeaceWorks. A good human. Died on 15th February 2017, of cancer. Professor Yamamura was a world-class scholar, writing or editing more than 20 books on the Japanese economy and its history and on the nature of capitalism. A legendary teacher, Yamamura challenged generations of University of Washington students with courses on postwar Japanese economy and the economic history of Japan. Many benefited from his guidance on issues ranging from senior theses topics to career choices. He was a generous academic, mentor, colleague.

In retirement, he collaborated with his wife Susan Hanley in writing four novels under the pseudonym Michael S. Koyama, three of which were published by Seagull Books. So we first knew him as an author, one who wrote financial thrillers.

One day Kozo found his way to the work that we do under our PeaceWorks programme. Out of the blue, he sent us a generous donation in support of the programme. An unsolicited act of goodness with a courteous letter of quiet praise. This was five years ago. Each year since then he has been donating 30,000 dollars. We never met him, nor did he ever visit Calcutta to see what we were doing with his generous support, but he followed every bit of our work online and showed complete trust and affection, and often told us how important it was in these times to keep doing what we did.

It is with immense pleasure and pride that we dedicate this conference to the memory of our friend Kozo.

Here is what his wife and partner in his fondness for our work wrote a few days ago,

Dear Naveen,

I am mindful that your conference is convening in a few days. If you plan to mention Kozo when you address the participants, please let them know how much he admired and appreciated what you are doing, and that he was honoured by the tribute you are giving him. I plan to continue the support in his memory.

With all best wishes for a truly successful conference,


Thank you Susan, thank you both.


Naveen Kishore is publisher, Seagull Books and Managing Trustee of The Seagull Foundation for the Arts.

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