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Professor Tarun Khanna, Director of the Harvard South Asia Institute and  the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School, engaged with a group of Harvard alumni in Chennai on Nov 23, 2013 at the Taj Coromandel.  Organized by the Harvard Club of Chennai and the HBS Club of India, the event was attended by 20 graduates from across the different schools at Harvard.  The event was sponsored by SAI.

Over lunch, Professor Khanna shared with alumni his research interests on entrepreneurship and its evolution in the context of institutional constraints.  Khanna also described SAI’s university-wide research project on the Maha Kumbh Mela.  This project brought together a multi-disciplinary team of researchers to map and analyze the process of planning, constructing, sustaining and deconstructing a large pop-up city on the banks of the Ganges and Yamuna, near Allahabad.  Khanna explained how the project through its collection of ideas, data and maps was expected to spawn further thinking on issues of urbanization, public health and environmental policy.

Discussions ensued on how the organizers of the Kumbh had managed to contain untoward incidents during the 5-week long festival that recorded approximately 100 million visitors.  The group debated different reasons for the low rate of mishaps including underlying social dynamics and patterns of self-organization and self-governance.

Khanna also explained how with the help of local cellular providers and government authorities, he and other researchers were able to collect a large telecom data set – the largest of its kind – which he believed would shed light on formal and informal social structures and norms surrounding such a large gathering of people.