The economist travels all the way from New York. His wise and tired eyes have seen most parts of the world in many cruel dimensions. Though past retirement age, he continues to teach and write. His latest book on China is still on the bestsellers’ list. As the sun sinks into the Arabian Sea, the economist ignores his jet lag and goes for a long walk along the marine drive. His baggy trousers flap in the sea breeze and crowds jostle him. The rich are richer and the poor have become poorer. A prosperous couple with a very chubby toddler in tow walk past. Even after the orange rays give way to dusk, the glaring discrepancies in wealth distribution cannot be hidden. The economist sees a skinny young girl with a shy smile and tattered clothes selling peanuts. As he walks towards her, another peanut seller, a rough looking man in his thirties, blocks his path and thrusts a paper cone brimming with roasted peanuts towards him. The economist brushes him away and manages to buy a large cone full of peanuts from the young girl. He pays her with a fifty rupee note and walks away before she can find the change.
The next day, the trustees send a car to the hotel to collect the economist and take him to the trust’s offices.
‘Who was the interviewer last time?’ he asks one of the trustees.
‘Oh, last year it was the head of the economics department from ABCD college.’
‘And this year you decided to bring me here, all the way from New York?’
‘Just an excuse for us trustees to meet with a Nobel Prize winner.’
The economist lets it pass. He does not tell them that he had made a few discreet enquires before catching his flight. An Indian friend has told him that the previous year the trustees’ drew a lot of flak after the scholarship was awarded to a minister’s son.
The trustees have short-listed six candidates for the final interview. One of them will win the scholarship and spend two years at an ivy league institution of his or her choice. The economist spends around thirty minutes with each candidate. All the interviewees are very good, with degrees from some of the best colleges. Each of them has the potential to be a world famous economist.
The candidates are in awe of him. They have read most if not all his books. One candidate responds to his questions solely with quotations from his books. The economist has not experienced such adulation. Finally he is done. It’s actually a choice between two candidates: a boy and a girl. The boy is slightly older than the girl and he has an extra year’s work experience.
The trustees take him to a fancy restaurant, bustling with executives, most of whom are men. Over lunch he tells them, ‘it’s the candidate whom I interviewed fifth.’
They all go back to the trust’s offices and the results are announced. The girl is congratulated.
‘Either Harvard or the LSE,’ she tells the other candidates.
The candidates leave. A limousine with a chauffer waits outside. The girl gets inside the limousine and raises the shades. The boy starts walking towards VT. He pauses for a moment. His train leaves only at eight and he has almost five hours to kill. Enough time to catch a movie at Sterling. He counts the money in his wallet. Just enough money for the movie and the train ticket home. On second thoughts, he decides to skip the movie and keeps walking.