It was a hot and humid second of October, and the clocks were not really striking because the batteries were dead. The autos were all haphazardly parked, a riot of black and yellow on what was normally the playground of the Bharat Matriculation school (State Board). There was a makeshift pandal and a frail old man was at the 123checkmiketested mic, reliving his experience of meeting somebody who had met Gandhi’s son. The audience, mostly dressed in khakis, was looking testily at the food stall, checking constantly to see if breakfast had arrived.
The Parameswari Nagar Auto Drivers association had celebrated Gandhi Jayanthi every year since 1983, and this year, the grounds of the school had been made available thanks to Kanwari Lal, who owned more than half of the autos in the area, and had recently paid the school management a large sum of money to admit his only child into class 1.
Peter, who did Saidapet and Guindy, and Gopal, who usually did saaraayam, were seated next to each other, and trying hard not to pay attention to the old man, who was, at the moment, extolling the virtues of a vegetarian diet. There had been a moment, a few minutes back, when the old man had attempted to mimic the sound of a goat bleating, especially one surrounded by stomach wall tissue in all directions. That had caused even the hungriest in the audience some pause, as they started to worry if their auto had to carry the old man to a hospital.
Gopal did not seem like he wanted to talk, but Peter was getting bored.
“Did you hear about Walltax street?”
“Why? What happened?”
“It seems that it crashed last week”
“Oh. Really? I did not have any sabaari in that area all of last week, so I didn’t know. What happened? Some poor construction collapsed? Road damage-a? Now made one way-aa?
“No saar. That is not the matter. This is Walltax street in New York”
“Oh. That is Wall street no?”
“Ah yes yes. But now it is taxing the average American citizen, so it has been renamed Walltax street”
“Oh. Like that. But how did it crash? Bin Laden ordered one more plane?
“No no .That was in 2001. This time, banks collapsed”
“Oh. Like our Chennai finance companies in the 90s?”
“No no. This is much bigger. It seems, they took people’s money and gave it as loans to other people, especially to build houses. Now, many of those who took the loans built houses but it did not strike anybody that in general, loans are meant to be repaid”
“And all this while, the banks continued to sell housing loans like sundal on Marina beach?”
“Yes. In fact, banks are in such bad shape that ATMs are asking customers for $20 loans”
“Super. So now, banks are putting Dindigul locks and escaping-a?”
“That would be the case in India. But it is America no. There the government is arranging for bail for these banks. 700 billion dollars it seems. They are buying all the toxic debt that the banks have created”
“Holy Kabali! American government arranges for bail even for this? And they are buying all this toxic debt? Will they buy my old, damaged auto? But anyway, where are they getting the money from?”
“From sensible citizens who did not take loans to buy houses they cannot afford”
(Gopal says something in Tamil that sounds like “What the” in English)
“They are idiots or what? If our government asks Indian citizens to pay for banks’ mistakes, our people will say Desire, Fried, flat rice crepes, Papad, Fried rice and lentil fritters* and ask the government to take a hike up St. Thomas mount. Wouldn’t it have made sense to let these banks go bankrupt? After all, the people who make mistakes must pay for them, right?”
“That’s not going to happen. It’s election year. Taking houses away from millions of people is generally not a good idea if you want their votes. I think they will wait till the election is over, before starting to confiscate property from home loaners.”
“Oh. Like that.”
“That’s not the only thing. Several banks did questionable transactions, like our Burma bazaar brothers, by selling exotic securities by repackaging loans . So on top of being faced with millions of loan defaulters, they were adding spoilt curd to the already questionable avial** that was made from rotten vegetables and fermented coconut in the first place”
“And who is eating this unholy avial?”
“Citi, Bank of America and a few other large players”
“Tell me one thing. So I can start a bank in the US, take money from people, give loans, go bankrupt, and then the government will bail me out by taxing people? So I can start all over again? Do this in a for (i=0;i>=0;i++) loop?
“You know what all of this sounds like?”
“Gandhi Kanakku ***”
* Desire, fried, flat rice crepes, Papad, fried rice and lentil fritters – is the translation of a Tamil expression which approximately translates to “Go take a hike”, but with more culinary imagery involved.
** Avial – a dish from Kerala and Tamil Nadu that is incredibly easy to make and equally incredibly easy to make badly. The window of time available to the chef to not mess this dish up can be measured in femtoseconds. With some difficulty. It must be noted that the dish is more common in Kerala, and that variant does not involve curd.
*** Gandhi Kanakku, literally Gandhi accounting, is a term that describes the dubious accounting practices of pre-independence firms that saved on taxes by showing “contributions to Gandhi’s freedom movement” in the books