But it is when this professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning of Jawaharlal Nehru University raves about the economy of expression in the compositions of Bach or Beethoven.
When she is not teaching economics, lecturing, writing columns or attending meetings of the commissions she is a member of, she is listening to music. She is tuned into BBC’s Radio 3 or Iceberg Radio, listening to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bach, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Or playing records of western classical music of different periods she has collected over the years.
She believes she has inherited her father’s passion for western classical music.
She is a pianist and has earned various grades of Trinity College, London. At one point, she even thought of being a professional pianist. Till four or five years ago, she practised regularly, a habit she hopes to revive after her retirement from the university.
Even when she is not playing, she is in tune with music as she has been writing and lecturing extensively on the discipline.
“Music retains my sanity,” she says.
Her lectures are on themes such as Mozart and love.
“Listen to Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte or The Marriage of Figaro, and you will find that Mozart had a cynical view of love. The psychological complexity of the compositions, and the way he builds each musical layer, touches you. The precision is incredible,” she says.
In her younger days, if she listened to more of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, carried away by the colour and the drama, she gravitates these days towards the intellectual depth of Mozart, of Joseph Haydn and of composers such as Antonin Leopold Dvorak. “The connection to a composition is instantaneous, but to go into its depths takes years. Music is simple, yet deep, expansive and esoteric,” she says.
She started taking lessons in music at the age of seven in Washington when her father, economist Arun Kumar Ghosh, was posted there for a while, representing India as the Alternate Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund.
A well-known Portuguese violinist gave advanced lessons in violin across the street where the Ghoshs lived.
“My father, doting as he was, told the master I was an advanced player whereas I could barely hold the violin. The master’s eyes dilated with horror when he saw me, but he kept his promise to teach me. I don’t know who feared the classes more: he or I,” she recalls.
The master was in a bad mood one day. A close disciple of his, an ace instrumentalist, had passed away. “On seeing me, he went into a huff. Maybe, on being reminded, that he was losing his talented students and had to put up with lesser musicians like me. When I erred on the strings, he snatched the violin from me and smashed it over my head. I ran home, crying, and complained to my father,” she says.
She expected her father to sprint across the street and give the Portuguese a piece of his mind. But her father did not. He was unperturbed. With a smile, he said, “Now, I will get you an instrument with which you cannot be attacked.”
The next day, he put her in a piano class.