We were discussing, the other day, at Shri Balaji Hair Dressers, where I had been dispatched by the missus with stern orders to get a decent haircut and attempt to look at least passably human, the mess that our nation’s finances are in.
The patrons were in their element that Sunday morning and the discussion was getting delightfully animated
“The government is completely incompetent, I tell you,” snorted Mr Mehra, “Completely, totally incompetent.”
“Harrumph!” harrumped Morarkaji. “No incompetence wincompetence. These people are very smart. They are purposely doing this. All corrupt, the rascals.”
Soon there were two groups, both evenly balanced. The pro-incompetencers who believed that the government was basically a bunch of good chaps, only they did not know their FICCI from their ASSOCHAM and would be hard pressed to identify an elephant in a line up where all the other creatures were ants. And the pro-corruptionistas who saw sinister motives in everything, including the chap who goes around fumigating the neighbourhood against mosquitoes.
“What do YOU think, Mr Shenoy?” someone asked me and I had one of my sudden flashes of insight.
“The Government is like my cousin Jagadeesh,” I told the party and observing frowns of incomprehension on everyone’s faces, realised that I would have to elucidate.
“You see, I once went to stay at my cousin Jagadeesh’s,” I told them. “I was some five or six years old but Jagadeesh was a distinguished elder of some eight summers, and a fount of wisdom for all of us.”
It was the summer vacation and we had nothing much to do. Jagadeesh’s mother, my aunt Saraswati, was down with fever, which meant that nothing much came our way in the form of edible goodies. It was boiled rice with curd for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We kids were going crazy. Jagadeesh decided to do something about it.
“Let’s make poories” he announced.
That statement got everyone’s attention. Poories!
“But aunty is sick,” my baby sister piped up. “Who will tell us how to make poories?”
“Keep quiet, silly,” I whispered, “Jagadeesh knows everything. He knows the capitals of fifty countries, you know.”
My sister’s eyes grew large in amazement and respect.
“We have to make dough,” announced Jagadeesh. “Get me some flour.”
“The flour is in the store room. And Amma locks it”, cousin Ramesh pointed out.
It was, indeed, but someone slipped in through the window and retrieved the whole bag in which the flour was kept.
Cousin Jagadeesh began making the dough. “Get me some water,” he commanded.
I rushed with a tumbler full. He poured out some flour, added some water to it and started kneading it. This looked like fun, and soon everyone was clamouring for a turn to knead the dough.
“It’s too soft,” said my baby sister.
“Hmm,” said cousin Jagadeesh, “No problem, let’s add some more flour.”
But we ended up adding too much flour and the dough became too hard.
“Add some water,” said cousin Jagadeesh and well, what do you know? The dough became too runny.
“Add some more flour,” the cry went around.
And soon, we had finished the whole bagful of flour leaving cousin Jagadeesh with the unenviable task of explaining the football sized blob of dough to his mother. And THIS, my dear chaps, is what I think our government has been doing with its revenue and expenditure.
It says hey, lets make some nice good public works and sets about raising finances. The citizenry reach into their pockets and pay up.
Thanks very much, says the government, and draws up a list of things to spend the money on.
About halfway through, it realises that it has listed down a few things too many to do and that more flour, I mean finances, are required. Most reluctantly, it digs into the citizens’ ribs for another little something to tide the weekend over. The citizenry coughs up the cash again, though a little less cheerfully this time than before, and the government, with a spring in its step and a song on its lips, goes about its main business of doing public good, adding more noble motives to the list.
And just like cousin Jagadeesh, well-meaningly ends up with a big, useless blob of stuff that no one can use.
“I go with Mr. Mehra”, I declared to the party at the hair dressers’. “Good people at heart, but not significantly brighter than the average goldfish.”
The party received my exegesis a tad silently and seemed to ruminate upon it. I head someone from Morarkaji’s camp muttering, “Saala subah subah peg chada ke aaya hai shayad (seems like he’s had one too many this morning),” but I brushed it aside as the natural jealousy that a well-rounded argument is so apt to arouse.
YOU don’t think it’s all nonsense, do you?