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neil robertson

Compare and contrast with Kolkata:




"A world of difference flecks each word; Nature abhors a Henry Ford" (Robert Crawford)


I wonder if you have made any comments about the removal of libraries from British Council operations in other parts of the developing world - such as Africa. Supposedly the libraries were no longer "value for money" in a digital world - even though the internet in capital cities of many African countries is so slow that even your blog will fail to load properly!

neil robertson

Compare and contrast with Hungary:


neil robertson

As for Lord Kinnock's claim that
The British Council has "75 years
accumulated knowhow", interesting to note that at least one former
British Council Director in Greece
(historian Sir Steven Runciman) was casting doubt on that in 1946
.. long before The Council upset
Fay Weldon and many others with
the closure of British Council's
library in Athens.

On 8 June 1946 Steven Runciman had noted that: " The Greeks are incorrigibly social..." and on 21 July expressed a desire for "a quiet literary life". But on 15 December Runciman told his brother that: "I... am more and more horrified by the British Council (which is coming all out for the Common Man). I shall leave its service without the slightest regret, though I shall be sorry to leave Greece.[...] I think I can hide from the Greeks till [May] how awful this organisation really is."


David Blackie

Adjoa - There certainly have been references on this blog to various African countries - I just dug this one out http://dblackie.blogs.com/the_language_business/2007/10/step-change-in-.html as an example. It's hard to know what to say. Organisations that are driven by propaganda will base decisions such as whether to keep an office or a library open on what gives the most bang for their buck, and the Internet allows them to claim millions of "customers" which cost little or nothing and as a consequence real communities, as in Kerala, can get left high and dry. It brings the whole organisation into question - but with so many vested interests it may be a while before a proper rationalisation takes place.


This episode is apalling, if not entirely surprising.

The British Council go on and on about "building relationships" but one has to wonder what sort of relationships they think they are building. Failing to pay taxes in Russia is just one other example of their efforts.

Adjoa: your comment regarding internet access is also pertinent. The British Council is elitist, wanting only to build relationships with those in a position of influence or likely to become so. Consequently it chooses to exclude those it doesn't deem to be important. This elitism doesn't sit well with its charitable status. Neither does it understand that improving the lot of those lower down the ladder would have a far greater impact in the longer term.

By closing libraries and moving their resources onto the internet they are destroying relationships rather than building them.

neil robertson

If Yasho in Thiruvanthapuram is still looking for the A.J. Cronin Omnibus edition of "Dr Finlay's
Casebook" to catch up on news
from Tannochbrae, there are a
number of titles listed (in a
number of different languages)
if you type 'Cronin' into the
online catalogue for Hungary's
Ervin Szabo Library in Budapest:


They have an inter-library loan
service and used to run a mobile
library on a tram after the War!
Whether they deliver to India is
another matter, however ........

neil robertson

"Even now I go back to Kerala and it makes me want to cry if something happens to that
place" writes Arundhati Roy.

Perhaps it's time the library campaigners in her home state
e-mailed her in Delhi updating
her on the consequences for her
readers of closure of libraries
across the world by The British

Perhaps she could draft a small petition eg to 'The God of Small
Things' - or enlist support from
her fellow Booker Prize Winner Ms
Kiran Desai to create hullabaloo in a guava orchard near London's
Book Fair in April 2009 when The
British Council flies them to UK
for The London Book Fair market?




neil robertson


neil robertson

It seems that The British Council
Indian partner for The London Book Fair (Capexil) began life
exporting chemicals .........?
Its members also sell dynamite.




http://dblackie.blogs.com/the_language_business/2008/02/teddy-bears-pic.html See also an earlier story about British Council,
BAE Systems & schools links?

neil robertson

Wow! It seems The British Council
is already anticipating walkouts
from their cultural programme at
The London Book Fair in April 09
by Indian authors on their panel?

"The British Council’s programme within The London Book Fair includes a series of ten panel discussions. An exiting variety of authors will take part in the cultural programme in the Fair."



Are Indians reading right? Is the future of the book secure in India? What are successful reader-development and retail initiatives from India? Critics, journalists, academics – arbiters of taste – join issue with publishers to ponder the questions."

Are Indians reading right? And is British Council spelling wrong?!!

neil robertson

There is a beautiful article from Bashabi Fraser about Robert Burns
in The Scotsman of 21 February:



There's many a slip twixt cup and lip, however, especially when The
British Council is involved .....

The following day The Scotsman
picked up on stories about the
latest British Council fiasco:



Oh dear ........ when will they ever learn!

neil robertson

Or as Burns himself once put it:

"That wee bit heap o'leaves an' stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' Mice an'
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!"

(extract from : 'To a Mouse On Turning Her Up in Her Nest With
A Plough November 1785 by Burns)


neil robertson

This comment from an Englishman
working for The British Council
was quoted by "The Scotsman" in
reporting the Kolkata BC fiasco:

'The event has been backed by the British Council, along with the Scottish Government, and yesterday its director, Roy Cross, insisted the Scottish link (sic) was on track.

He said: "We will have a slightly different pavilion, a different representative of the city of Edinburgh, and a different representative of the book festival and City of Literature, but I don't think we've dropped in quality. I regret they are not there, but we have every confidence in the people replacing them."

A Scotsman comments on reading this: 'Perhaps we need to dump
The British Council organisers
of events such as this instead?'

neil robertson

According to The British Council:

"Also in the pipeline is a seminar by Scottish economist and Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences, Sir James Alexander Mirrlees, on the investments and loan to be made in the economic turmoil."


Jim's a really nice guy but he is a mathematician to trade and while
that will be appreciated I'm sure by some economists in Kolkata the
ordinary Times of India reader is
advised not to postpone investment
decisions in anticipation of the
advertised insights promised by
The British Council for this key
seminar! As Mirlees won his Nobel
Prize for work on asymmetric info,
my guess is he'll be keeping all
his investment and loan tips close to his chest .........

But why doesn't some bright spark in the audience bowl him a Googly
by asking him to comment on the economics of closing libraries?

[A classic text on this topic
is of course: 'Economics Of Academic Libraries' (1973)
prepared for The Council
on Library Resources by
Mathematica, Inc: William j. Baumol and Matityahu Marcus
for the American Council On
Education in Washington DC>]

This is Jim Mirlees on India:

" Amartya Sen suggested and arranged that I go to India for a year, with the India Project run by Paul Rosenstein-Rodan for the MIT Center for International Studies. Rosie said I must first go to MIT for the summer "to acclimatize", and Gill and I had our only period of mild impoverishment living for three months in a basement in Somerville, Massachusetts, followed by a remarkably and inappropriately luxurious eight months in India. But it was a good summer: I met Paul Samuelson and Bob Solow, and gave a seminar at MIT on optimum growth under uncertainty. They spotted a mistake (which had not been in the thesis, I must add) but were nevertheless encouraging. Probably I am mistake-prone, but have learned to live with it. In September, we continued on our way to New Delhi.

It was never clear quite what I was supposed to be doing on the India Project, particularly after an initial period helping with a rightly abortive input-output exercise. I thought a lot, and wrote many little papers, particularly about investment appraisal, and efficiency wages. Some years later I remembered that I had worked out the theory of efficiency-wage equilibria in 1962 on our way from MIT to India, on the long, long flight from San Francisco to Tokyo, and wrote it up as a paper in the early seventies, a paper I still rather like. The work on investment appraisal, including ideas about uncertainty, led on, after a lapse of years, to work with Ian Little on criteria for cost-benefit analysis in developing countries. I fear I did not do as much for the Planning Commission as had been hoped or intended. I learned an immense amount, both from the country and from its many fine economists. In these days Jagdish Bhagwati, T. N. Srinivasan and Sukhomoy Chakravarty were all there too, and Amartya Sen was about to return."




neil robertson

Those excluded (like most of us over here in Dundee & Scotland!)
from all these glitzy events The
British Council is 'organising' (sic) in Kolkata for us Scots
might also take some comfort
from realising 'twas always
thus in The British Empire:

"[Eugenie] Fraser's autobiography is a rich source for understanding the setting of the jute mill compounds in which the managers and other European staff lived. She was married to Ronald Fraser, who had been educated at Dundee High School and Dundee Technical College, and accompanied her husband to Calcutta when he took up the position of 'kerani' at the Lawrence jute mill, one of the Bird group (the 'kerani' supervised all the clerical staff in the mill office). The Lawrence mill stood on the left bank of the Hooghly below Calcutta ...

'One of the most popular events in Calcutta, during the cold season, was the celebration of St. Andrew's Day', but the Frasers and the other mill
staff did not participate
in the grand event graced
by governors and viceroys.
They did put on evening dress to mark the great day, but settled for a concert presented by the
Caledonian Society at the New
Empire theatre. The atmosphere
was permeated with nostalgia
as 'the Scottish airs brought
back a bit of Scotland', and
the evening ended with the emotion-filled moment when
'the audience stood up and joined in singing "Auld Lang Syne".' For these lower-level members of the jute community the celebration was a more domesticated affair,
an occasion for a sentimental
rekindling of memories of
home rather than making sententious declarations about the British role in India since the days of Warren Hastings."

[Ch 4 'To The Greater Glory of Scotland and to the benefit
of Bengal' in 'Jute and Empire: The Calcutta Jute Wallahs And The Landscapes of Empire' by Gordon T. Stewart (1998)(Manchester
University Press Studies In


neil robertson

News item on e-Architect gives the reaction of the profession:

19 Jan 2009

Scotland’s Pavilion to be designed in India

Graeme Massie resigns from designing Kolkata Book Fair Pavilion for Scotland. Competition organisers, like the British Council, should do their utmost to ensure the winner's design is realised. Time and again architects' work is wasted because those in power fail to respect them as professionals, and almost always the end result suffers.

This temporary pavilion will host the Scottish presence at the Kolkata Book Fair so it is entirely logical it is designed in Scotland. The British Council Scotland should be encouraging scottish designers, especially given the depths of the recession which is particularly hitting architects.

As the project developed and local executive architects were appointed, significant changes to the original design were proposed and these were deemed unacceptable to Graeme Massie Architects leading to their resignation from the project.


neil robertson

And this is the daily blog from
Sunday Herald's Edd McCracken -


Interesting that McCall-Smith hails Chennai (formerly Madras)
as the Indian city that most
influenced his writing .....

As The No 1 Ladies Detective
Agency can establish from a
High Court record in Kerala,
Chennai was where British
Council sent the keys to
their library in Trivandrum
after they closed it .....!

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