citizen madhav

Posted on April 27, 2006

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shortcut talks to madhav kakani, chemical engineer and world citizen

Let’s start with the serious stuff  –  we know what Danes think about the cartoon crisis, we know what
Americans think by and large, and we certainly know what the Arab world thinks of it. You’re an Indian living in Copenhagen, what is your take on it?

India is very multicultural, essentially we all get along, unless there’s political incitement that fuels discord and violence. I, along with other Indian and Pakistani friends, think it was stupid to publish it, it reflects ignorance. "Freedom of speech" as a justification is not enough. And in any case, if you do publish potentially incendiary material, you have to accept the consequences. The response in Denmark was very defensive, there is still only a rudimentary understanding of how a globalized world works – Denmark is not used to being in the spotlight and certainly is not used to widespread criticism of its values. But today what happens in a small country can set off a powerful chain reaction.

I read in a newspaper poll that more than 50% of Danes think the cartoons should not have been published. In the end it is a matter of judgement and in this case, a lack of judgement on the part of the editors. That said, the punishment – the firebombing and death threats – certainly didn’t fit the crime!

I’m fairly sure that most of the violence was orchestrated by the respective Arab governments. Many in the Arab world are dissatisfied with their corrupt, ineffective regimes and the governments just gave that street anger an occasion to vent. There’s a good thing to all this though, which is that all sides are now more aware and will think twice next time.

Are there things about living in Europe that you find funny or surprising or unexpected or difficult to adjust to, even after quite some time here?

Not really, it’s been a pleasant experience overall. People are laidback – probably even too nice, at least here in Denmark. Sometimes I get the feeling people are hiding something, are not saying what they mean. It’s hard to get in touch with people and making plans and friends, not many people here are socially proactive. Also they often don’t follow up or give you the run around.

India and China are two emerging power houses that are likely to soon give Europe a run for its money. Increasingly young professionals head East to forge careers. How do you see this economic supremacy struggle play out? How do Indians perceive Europe to your knowledge? And do you intend to return to India at one point?

India is growing at 8% per year. There is a lot of job creation. Compared to 10 years ago, it’s true that less young people are going abroad to study or work. But if they go, they are still primarily going to the USA and to Europe second.

I think the current outsourcing to emerging economies and consequent loss of jobs in Europe and the US is simply due to the still large economic gap between emerging and first world economies. That gap will close though and once there is a large new middle class in India, they will want to buy first rate products – which are still primarily produced the West. The new middle class and their consumer power could actually lead to increased demand for Europe’s products and job growth.  There’s also a paradigm shift as firms go global and sell their products across borders – the playing ground is going to level eventually.

There is though a lack of competitiveness in Europe compared to India. I call it the economic "hangover". Europe has been successful and comfortable for very long and people have gotten phlegmatic. They are not hungry for a better standard of living like Indians and Chinese. But once a crisis sets in, I am sure the survival instinct will revive!

What motivated you to come to Europe? Did you find it difficult to get a job?

It’s a roundabout story. I went to the US to study for an MA in chemical engineering. After getting my degree I ended up working there – the US is still very much perceived as the land of opportunity, it’s cool to work in the States – you are considered a success back home. I worked there for 10 years, then I started to get tired of the rat race. I decided to go back to school and since I had never been to Europe, I thought attending a Business school in Europe would also be a great cultural experience. I was actually planning to go back to the US, but then I really liked it in Copenhagen. You work 5 days a week, you have your weekends free, the city is quiet and convenient. People are nicer than in the US, less superficial I think. They’re not trying to make a living, to survive, to advance their interests.  It’s also easy to get around – infrastructure-wise – and maintain friendships.

What’s your take on the Copenhagen Indian cuisine scene? Better avoided? Or have you found places that offer local authenticity?

So far I’ve been only to places in my neihbourhood, Norrebro. On Sankt Hans Torv there is an Indian restaurant called Natraj, they serve North Indian cuisine. Then on Axel Torv there is the India Palace. They have a buffet and you can sample different dishes. It’s very good quality. 

Anything about Europeans or Danes you wish you could tweak or change because it always gets on your nerves?

The thing I mind most is that people say they will do something but then they don’t. I don’t like it when people don’t follow up, whether in business or in private life. People often react with enthusiasm and promise to do this and that and ask you to call them – but when you do, they find excuses or they avoid calling you back. I think it’s unproductive and not very respectful of the other person.

Any favorite spots you’ve been to that you would recommend to Europe travelers?

Rome. It has so much to offer in terms of history, culture, cuisine. I was only there for a few days and I definitely want to go again and take more time to visit.

 

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