Isaac, A Broad-minded Thinker who Focusses on Larger Picture


‘‘Did you hear this? Prof. Thomas Isaac is furious over your comments in that ‘maa’ weekly of Kottayam, alleging mismanagement at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS).”

My friend, Joseph, employed as an Assistant Librarian with CDS, was slightly excited, and a bit foreboding as he said this, cautioning me to be careful, because, “these people are powerful, and wouldn’t brook any challenge to their authority.”

Thomas Issac, the outstanding economist, thinker and author, was very much a part of the CDS nucleus those days. He did his doctoral research at that august institution, and as he metamorphosed into ‘Dr. T M Thomas Isaac’, became a prominent presence as a faculty member of CDS, an entity created as an affiliate of the Delhi University by Dr. K N Raj, the world-renowned economist who was, at various times, financial advisor to prime ministers, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru, and all the way down to the reign of Atal Behari Vajpayee.

I was a freelancer those days, free to aim my lance at anyone in government with suspicious dealings, and had the courage to follow my convictions, come what may. Being the closest neighbour of CDS at Prasanth Nagar, Ulloor, Thiruvananthapuram, sharing a common compound wall with the sprawling campus, I had several friends at various levels within the CDS administration, and naturally, was privy to many truths relating to the running of the Centre.

My personal column unraveling the misdeeds in the social and cultural arena of Kerala, was running in the fairly well-circulated, now-extinct Mamamkam weekly, of Kottayam. ‘Whether you like it or not’ was the general title of the series, and as soon as the piece appeared, all hell broke loose in the otherwise silent, peaceful and tranquil CDS Campus!

Of course, I had to pay a price. The Dr. K N Raj Library of CDS, the largest of its kind in Asia, with 1.5 lakh titles on economics and social sciences, had been beckoning me for long, and as an established journalist and author, I was certain that a membership in it was there for the asking. I asked, and was promptly shown the door by the lady faculty in charge of the library. At CDS, there were calls for taking me to court for defamation, but soon it all died down, and my CDS friends began freely talking to me again.

Destination Kerala was in its third year of publication then and was clocking moderate growth. One of those days, out of a whim, I managed to acquire a Tata Estate sedan, a sleek, majestic, palace on wheels back then. Some audacity, that was…

One morning, as I was heading for our office in Plamood, I spotted with much surprise Dr. Thomas Isaac at the bus stop, waiting for public transport, the characteristic half smile lighting up his bearded face. Getting out of the car, I greeted him, and respectfully invited him to travel with me.

The eminent economist, the leftist with a rightist bend of mind, the genuine communist, readily got in beside me, giving me the privilege to ride with someone whom I held in high esteem.

All was, apparently, forgiven and forgotten. It is this inimitable capacity to continuously ignore the trivial, and focus on the larger picture that has catapulted Dr. Isaac to a seat on the State Planning Board, twice into the State Legislature, and two terms into the State Cabinet as Finance Minister.

Take my word, the good doctor is certainly in line for even greater opportunities to serve us with his rich repository of economic brilliance and political commonsense.