Tale of Exuberant Ant & vampiric Grasshopper.

The Ants

“India through Sensex was the take on the 19,000 and still counting Dalal Street story by Gautam Chikarmane, whom I consider a sensible commentator. Stocks is an area that baffles me completely I confess. I do try to make sense of it by taking help of sensible commentators. The recent rocketing of Sensex though seems to have left even them dazed. The gushing of euphoria is palpable. Sample this,

The market has been mercilessly optimistic, reflecting the underlying companies that are ruthlessly cheerful. Moving towards a climax that’s still many years ahead.

It’s like speeding on a newly constructed national highway at over 120 km per hour. At that speed, you don’t look at the rear view mirror to see what you’ve left behind, it’s dangerous; you only look ahead. The companies underlying the Sensex are doing precisely that.

Through all this pandemonium, he still spots some inescapable portends,

In fact, India’s valuations are next only to China’s 52 times (which to my mind are not only suspect but unsustainable), Japan’s 35 times (I keep wondering just how this slow growing economy has been able to capture such high valuations consistently), NASDAQ’s 40 times (led largely by higher valued technology and internet businesses).

Valuations are essentially a ratio of market price of the stock upon the earnings, where both are expressed per share. Put another way, investment in Chinese stock will give you returns of 1.92%, Japanese – 2.86%, NASDAQ – 2.50% and India – 4% at current valuations and earnings. Nobody would care for such a pittance. But then stocks are not about here & now, they are about the future – ‘the climax that’s still many years ahead‘. He finds Chinese story suspect & unsustainable. He opines without providing reasons. Today’s Indian Express says that the Chinese government has formed a ‘China Investment Corporation” with an initial corpus of 206 Billion dollars, more than India’s entire foreign exchange reserves. There is another putative theory that the Chinese Banking industry hides huge non-performing assets and gross inefficiencies unlike the Indian, which through structural reforms has become Basel-II compliant (ratios of capital adequacy, non-performing assets etc.). However, one critique said that if bad public debt is added to the non-performing assets of Indian Banks as is the practice in China, then Indian banking system would turn out to be far worse off than the Chinese. I know little in these matters, but enough to say that Chikarmane would do better than airing just hot air. Why not, ‘What is good for the goose is good for the gander‘, hold true here? Japan’s story leaves him puzzled. America is easily explained by high technology & internet. India, of course, is the cherry on the stock-pudding for him & all those who are part of it.

The Grasshoppers

This was the front page photo today accompanied with a headline “In just over two yrs, 227 Pune civic staff died cleaning up the city’s filth”. Headline itself may sound a tad dramatic, but the picture brought out the depths to which the municipal workers have to dive in City’s filth to keep its sewer-arteries unclogged. This is an issue that requires further study & documentation. What, however, is self evident to anybody is the appalling conditions in which these people have to work. Anybody who has had the misfortune of driving behind a garbage truck would vouch for it. If at a distance & that too for a short while we find the experience so repugnant, imagine the fate of those who have to literally live with & on it practically their whole lives. Once I chided a staffer who had come pissed drunk early one morning to collect Diwali- Bakshis. He disarmed me completely when he said, ‘this is the only way with my bare hands I can collect the shit everybody leaves behind’. Drinks for them are an occupational necessity, and I suspect that deaths that pass off as jaundice or sickness may actually be due to the cirrhosis of the liver. Here is what Chief of Health at PMC has to say,

We do carry out regular medical check-ups but staff are reluctant to participate as they fear being declared unfit, leading to loss of their job. It’s true they work in unhygienic conditions. They are also prone to drug and alcohol addiction and a new trend is HIV infection,”

They work with bare hands. Now there is a talk of providing safety gear to them.

Admits Municipal Commissioner Praveensinh Pardeshi: “The PMC cannot be forgiven if it fails to provide required safety equipment to the conservancy staff as not one death should take place due to lack of protective equipment. I am personally looking into it and the PMC has decided to provide gloves, masks, gumboots to the conservancy staff so that they don’t get in physical contact of the waste as it is hazardous to their health.

This invisible, ragged army that lets us merrily pile garbage & filth without a thought or concern & keeps our environs reasonably clean is euphemistically called ‘Conservancy Staff’. I checked the word conservancy to find this interesting definition, An organization dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats. Indeed, Aren’t we, the upwardly mobile urban middleclass, drunk on the milk of resurgent economy, acting unabashedly in self indulgent ways, uncaring for those left behind, just that? Wild?

Ant & Grasshopper

Yesterday I wrote about the over simplistic vision pedalled through the powerful medium of metaphors. I spoke of Friedman. But the deity that presides over it is Bush. Bush combined his mesmeric simplicity with the fabrication of self serving myths to hold the American people enthralled for long. I thought this was possible only in a place like US having a dominant ideology, culture and religion, – The American way. I imagined this disease of Black & White vision was confined there. I was wrong. This creed of ‘We’ & ‘They’ is as contagious as the globalization. Even people from this pluralistic, multi-lingual, heterogeneous country are falling prey to this virus of over-simplification. By a quirk of fate I got this modern fable in today’s email. It is clever, it is aware, it is glossy, & it is powerful.

Ant & Grasshopper

Fable Version

The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away.

Come winter,the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.

Modern Version

The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant’s a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering Grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the Ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

NDTV, BBC, CNN show up to provide pictures of the shivering Grasshopper next to a video of the Ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.

The World is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be that this poor Grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Arundhati Roy stages a demonstration in front of the Ant’s house.

Medha Patkar goes on a fast along with other Grasshoppers demanding that Grasshoppers be relocated to warmer climates during winter.

Amnesty International and Koffi Annan criticizes the Indian Government for not upholding the fundamental rights of the Grasshopper.

The Internet is flooded with online petitions seeking support to the Grasshopper (many promising Heaven and Everlasting Peace for prompt support as against the wrath of God for non-compliance).

Opposition MPs stage a walkout. Left parties call for “Bharat Bandh” in West Bengal and Kerala demanding a Judicial Enquiry.

CPM in Kerala immediately passes a law preventing Ants from working hard in the heat so as to bring about equality of poverty among Ants and Grasshoppers.

Lalu Prasad allocates one free coach to Grasshoppers on all Indian Railway Trains, aptly named as the ‘Grasshopper Rath’.

Finally, the Judicial Committee drafts the ‘ Prevention of Terrorism Against Grasshoppers Act’ [POTAGA], with effect from the beginning of the winter.

Arjun Singh makes ‘ Special Reservation ‘ for Grasshoppers in Educational Institutions & in Government Services.

The Ant is fined for failing to comply with POTAGA and having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes,it’s home is confiscated by the Government and handed over to the Grasshopper in a ceremony covered by NDTV.

Arundhati Roy calls it ‘A Triumph of Justice‘.

Lalu calls it ‘ Socialistic Justice ‘.

CPM calls it the ‘ Revolutionary Resurgence of the Downtrodden

Koffi Annan invites the Grasshopper to address the UN General Assembly.

Many years later…

The Ant has since migrated to the US and set up a multi-billion dollar company in Silicon Valley .

100s of Grasshoppers still die of starvation despite reservation somewhere in India…

As a result of loosing lot of hard working Ants and feeding the Grasshoppers, India is still a developing country !!!

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3 Responses to “Tale of Exuberant Ant & vampiric Grasshopper.”

  1. Suvrat Kher Says:

    that is a stunning statistic about the number of PMC sanitation workers dying of ill health.

    Ant and the Grasshopper: There is virtue in free markets! But have you read Somerset Maugham's short story by the same name?

  2. Sadanand Says:

    U R prophetic about virtue of free market. LIC was stunned by statistics in July', today's IE says and goes on to add, it has discontinued the group insurance scheme for conservancy staff due to mounting losses.

    Maugham's take was delightful.

  3. Bad Debt Says:

    Basel II compliant (ratios of capital adequacy, non-performing assets etc.). However, one critique said that if bad public debt is added to the non…

    Read the rest of this great post here

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