Two to Tango: IPL and GST, a match report!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Here’s a piece on what happens when Parliamentarians are gripped by the IPL fever 🙂

This piece appeared in my column “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/two-to-tango/article9631178.ece, or read it here directly. Cheers!

—————————————————————————————–

Team FM was celebrating. They’d pulled off the GST feat in record time i.e. before the IPL began. Many of the NDA MPs had threatened not to be present if the Bills were not introduced before April 5. That had got FM Jaitley really worried. He had been pushing his team hard, and yet, some of those clauses looked tricky. “A strategic time-out, that’s what we need,” he told his beleaguered team, working out the clauses yet again to make them Chidambaram-safe. “Such express pace! If only there was an assured follow-on in 2019. Then we’d have done this in style!”

But the PM was pitching it hard and had asked him to put his best foot forward. He had to deliver not only the doosra and the teesra, but also the choutha! The Central GST Bill, Integrated GST Bill, Compensation (to States) GST Bill and the UT GST Bill, all at the same time. And all this with the Delhi Daredevil mufflers breathing down his neck.

To add to his troubles, there was Chennai Super King P Chidambaram in the Rajya Sabha muttering about how he’d goofed up in writing the clauses of the GST, especially with the wording of the anti-profiteering clause. With the anti-profiteering clause, the FM had just wanted to make sure that if companies were not passing on reduction in the GST rate to the consumers, there would be a third umpire to examine the case. “The presence of the third umpire is ok,” said the Super King snootily. “Who is the selector, is what worries me. Unorthodox and draconian, is my verdict. Howzzat!”

The BSP had another set of issues. In the first year of implementation, an offence, if compoundable, should not be non-bailable, they kept on hankering. Normally, the stumps hold the bails, grinned the FM to himself. But here the bails have them stumped. Heehee!

But his team had delivered. On March 29, all four supplementary GST Bills were passed in the Lok Sabha by voice vote. It was actually just a noisy out-break of relief that the damn thing was done before April 5. It meant that the entire “Wah bhai Wah” IPL season could now be enjoyed happily in front of the TV without worrying about how to ask intelligent questions and participate in the debate tomorrow just as Lasith Malinga came out with that Yorker. “Neat thrownnnnnnn,” roared the Gujrat Lion, pleased with the new phrase, new bill and new year. It sounded very English, and yet, had the pleasant Mitt-rrron impact on the Parliament.

The FM was super pleased. Here was the ultimate legal boundary- all four Bills passed at the same go! In the meanwhile though, the scene had shifted to Rajya Sabha, where there was a lot disappointment because Sachin Tendulkar didn’t turn up.

“He never turns up in the other sessions. That is ok. But it should be made binding on him to turn up in March. After all, we want to discuss important issues here. What are the prospects of the Mumbai Indians winning this season, we really want to know,” said a Rajya Sabha MP.

“It’s ok, we still have Dhoni,” said Super King cleverly.

“What? Now when did he become MP? Tch, tch, I really must start reading newspapers again!”

“Idiot! I’m talking about Sakshi Dhoni making that comment on Aadhaar. Oh, we’ll raise privacy issues now. Silly point to the rescue! You want the GST, eh? We’ll catch you, alright! How? Simple! Gully, Slip and the Third man!

Advertisements

Econ Mom, a Goa vacation and the Tiebout model

Disclaimer 1: Econ Mom is an economist and hence has basic inherent rights to drool on and on about issues that may not be fun/ relevant/ interesting/ exciting/ amazing according to you.

Disclaimer 2: Unless you read all the serious boring stuff on public finance in the beginning of the blog, you anyways won’t understand what Econ Mom is thinking at the end of it.

Disclaimer 3: Yeah, sure! There’s wickedness coming your way, but you are going to have to plough through the basics for that. Lazy readers are advised not to read on.

Disclaimer 4: Econ Mom reserves rights to appear when she feels like in the blog. In the present one, she chooses to appear only in the end. What the hell, it’s MY blog! So here goes..

I have been reading up on fiscal federalism these days. It’s a part of my research interest.

Centre-State fiscal relations mainly span the collection of taxes and sharing of the same. While control over taxes is defined constitutionally under the “Union list” and the “State list”, the sharing of the same has been mostly formula-driven, again constitutionally. The Constitution has provisions for creation of the “Finance Commission”, which can then really decide how the Centre shares its taxes with states.

And then, there is also the Planning Commission, which willy-nilly, has played a part in Centre-State relationships. Well, even the Planning Commission has used some kind of a formula (the Gadgil-Mukherjee formula or some version of it) for tax sharing with states; however, not all tax shares are governed by formulae. Increasingly, in a reforms driven India, there is evidence that states received tax shares based not only on their economic fundamentals as encompassed in the “formulae”, but based on their political goodwill. Thus, states going to elections have received more tax shares, states that are politically more “aligned” with the Centre seem to have received higher tax shares.

Thus, a lot of modern empirical literature is into proving the existence of a political economy factor in determining Centre-State relationships. In my readings on the subject, I kind of went into the subject in a reverse timeline. I stumbled on a really interesting paper by Stuti Khemani (World Bank 2003) in which she spoke about how “political alignment” with the Centre has been a central idea in a 2001 paper on Swedish municipal councils. So I got reading that, which put me on an Avinash Dixit paper written in the 1980s on a game theoretic approach between two levels of Government. And well, since by now I already was neck deep into the subject, I decided to go backwards the whole way to the Big Bang, which happened in 1954.

The Big Bang of Public Finance, so to say, was created by Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. They just have different names in our field, and are called Paul Samuelson, Richard Musgrave and Charles Tiebout. And then there are plenty of other deities such as W. E. Oates and James Buchanan, who lent their mental Vajras and other weapons to sharpen the arguments.

The entire discussion started with Paul (Brahma) Samuelson defining public goods; his argument was that since the consumption of public goods (such as a street light) is necessarily, well, public, no one will be willing to pay for the same and hence, the market by itself will underprovide for the provision of public goods. In other words, capitalism may be wonderful. But free markets do not provide optimally for public goods.

Vishnu aka Richard Musgrave took the discussion further and classified public goods to be “non-excludable” as well as “non-rival”.

Hmmm. Nice. But it is Maheshji’s job to provide the necessary churning to the world created by Brahma and Vishnu, right? So here goes.

Enters Charles Tiebout, with a radically different viewpoint from the one provided by Musgrave. Says, are public goods always “non-rival”? Nnnnaah! Not really! Especially, if we are looking at “local” public goods such as a public park. Sure, you can’t exclude anyone. So it definitely is non-excludable. But it’s not always “non-rival”. If there is too much crowding into the park, then there exists rivalry in consumption of the good.

So, this is what Tiebout says. He firstly puts forth an idea that we need to look at public good provision from the perspective of a “local Government”. He likens local Governments (like Municipalities) to suppliers of different baskets of public goods at different prices (taxes). If a household does not like either the basket of goods that is being provided or the price at which it is being provided, then it can “vote with its feet” i.e. it may well choose to migrate away from that locality to another wherein the supply of public goods and its price matches its utility. This solves the problem of preference revelation effectively, as people’s preferences and their utilities get revealed through their decision to migrate. It is exit, rather than voice, that helps to reveal consumer preference.

Local Governments can closely observe the utility profiles of the public and hence, would be able to tax the people more accurately. They also are able to gauge the optimal quantity of public goods that need to be provided in an area. Thus, provision of public goods ought to be done by local Governments, who can then also tax the public for the provision.

Thus, according to Tiebout, there does exist a solution to the problem posed by Paul Samuelson. Provision of public goods need not be always sub-optimal; you just need local governments to take care of the thingy! Let local governments compete and voila! Optimal public goods is what the public will get.

What an interesting theory! He is suggesting that there is effectively, a political solution to this rather economic failure of the market mechanism. Politics to solve economic problems! What a wonderful thought! Though extremely impracticable, as Econ Mommy realized on her vacation to Goa. Yup, Goa it was, this year.

Goa. Blue skies, endless lines of coconut palms, backwaters, mangroves and the sea! Simply marvellous! We felt our spirits turn distinctly salty (just joking, guys!) as we drove down to the sea from Pune. The drive down the quaint little villages was just the balm I needed for my tired body and soul.

“We three are just like the three friends from Dil Chahta Hain,” suddenly announced Lil One with a grin at us. “We’re driving to Goa and we are really cool! At least….I am!” he said uncertainly, looking at the not-so-cool parents. Sigh!

“So who is Aamir Khan?” I asked no one in particular and grinned to see all three hands raised in the car.

Lil One felt he was the truly wicked one and hence qualified to be Aamir Khan. I was Saif Ali Khan, since I was always getting teased by the other two and Dad, he said loyally, was the thinker. Akshay Khanna. Hmmm…

Hubby, on the other, said that it was far too much fun pulling Lil One’s leg and hence Lil One was Saif and he himself, the leg puller, was Aamir. “Mommy’s Akshay Khanna,” he said with a grin, “because she is the sentimental types. Cries on seeing that foul movie. Whatisit called..”

“Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam,” supplied Lil One helpfully and suddenly extremely high energy. “And Hum Saath Saath Hain..And Dad, do you know, she was crying watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hain yesterday!”

“Oh, shut up,” I said. It’s their favourite topic these days. Tell me, is it so bad to cry on seeing a movie? Yeah, I mean, even I agree that those movies are complete nonsense, but God alone knows why, Karan Johar makes me want to wail real real loudly, the bugger. I have given this a lot of thought as to how this happens to me and this is my analysis. I think my defences are already lowered by the complete lack of any brain usage for around 50 minutes and then, when I see all these idiotic melodramatic situations, it causes me to cry.

Sorry! I come back to Goa. “Who runs a humor column? I do! That means I qualify to be Aamir Khan!” I said bossily causing Lil One and Hubby to make rude faces at me. “And in any case, only I can sing Tanhai…it’s way beyond your skillsets, got it, boys?” The boys looked sulky about it. Hubby looked positively alarmed at him being chosen to be Saif Ali Khan because he can do the “flap flap” dance, and Lil One happily hummed “Kaisi hain hain, ruta kii jisme”.

We stopped in a picturesque village lane for a small picnic. And sauntered out of the car after our meal, just looking at the pretty little houses with slanting rooftops. Every house has a small yard in the front, mostly hosting coconut palms, with the familiar pepper creepers running up them. How pretty! Hubby said with a real longing in his voice, “Manasi, I wish we could settle here. I could stay here forever!” He had said the same in Kerala. “Goa or Cochin?” I asked with a grin. “Well, both!”

It is such a tempting thought. If you think of what a life you can have in Goa versus the one you have in Pune, Goa takes the cake and eats it too, royally. Look at the basic infrastructure. The roads are so beautiful. I mean, if you can have those smooth kind of roads when you are simply swamped with monsoons, I wonder why Pune has to have road-shadow, even when we lie in the rain-shadow zone. That brings me to the second point.

Rains. Water. OMG. To see all that water and greenery in Goa, just across the border from Maharashtra, was such a slap in the face. I have recently been on the roads in drought prone zones in Maharashtra and we all know about the monsoon issues that Marathwada and Vidarbha are facing. And in Goa, there is simply no water problem at all.

Plus, its cheap. Oh no, not the hotel stay. But petrol at Rs. 59. Aaaargh! And the basic fruits and vegetables. Its so cheap! There were hawkers on both sides of the roads into Goa, hawking mangoes, coconuts, jackfruits, karmals, karvandas, bimlis, bananas. It was really too much for my poor vegetarian soul to see all these fruits being hawked so cheap. I took it personally and gorged so much on the fruits in Goa in the last one week that I think I have single-handedly caused the fruit prices to go up. That last wrinkle on Dr. Rajan’s already lined forehead (no, not that big one, that one was created by Subramaniam Swamy), yeah, that little one there, that’s the one I created with the inflation index going up one tiny little notch, all thanks to my gluttony.

There aren’t too many things I agree with Hubby on, but this one was really really tempting. Wah, to settle down here! But what about our careers. And Lil One’s schooling. And our friends. And family.

Households are not really that mobile, after all. Even if Municipal Corporations are service providers offering baskets of services, households don’t really move around freely. Their personal choices come first and hence, even with the most tardy of service offerings, people stick around with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC).

Thus, even with decentralization and creation of municipal corporations and gram panchayats competing with each other, we may not really find optimum provision of public goods taking place. And what that means is that people will keep flocking to the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, causing their municipal corporations to really crash under that huge migratory burden. Consequently, public goods provision will be bad.

But the so long as the losses on the public life are more than made up by gains on the personal front, people will be okay grumbling about it and life will go on, in a most un-Tieboutish manner. The Tiebout model goes wrong, because it makes the most impractical of assumptions, such as assuming perfectly mobile households.

Oh, why is it that the most interesting ideas are the ones that are mostly impractical?

Epilogue:

I came out from the waters and walked to Hubby, who was lounging in the sand, enjoying himself. He was singing. How romantic! I thought. May be he’s singing, “Sagar jaisi aakhon waali…”

Hmmm. He looked into my (sagar jaisi) eyes and sang, “Ye kahaan aa gaye hum, yoo hi saath saath chalte!”

Aaaargh! Why is it that the most interesting ideas are the ones that are mostly impractical?

Econ Mom and some Potter Magic!

There’s double trouble at home.

Lil One’s going to be writing his final exams this week and the next. That’s big trouble. Oh, no, no. Not for him. He is having his usual good time. It’s big trouble for me, you see. And as if this isn’t enough, there’s this addition to the trouble…

Lil One is reading Harry Potter. Aaaarrrrgh! For the third time. The first two were not “proper readings, Mom. I wasn’t mature enough to understand it properly then!” is what he told me, to my great amusement. Further, he’s apparently decided to set a world record by reading all the Potter books inside two weeks, ummm, the same two which coincide with his exams. Help!

Quite a scene we have at home, these days. I sit patiently reading about the many wonders of the rectilinear propogation of light and tissue culture, whilst Lil One giggles at Peeves pelting chalk at Harry, calling him names such as “Potty”. While I despair the splitting of the Maratha empire between Shahu and Rajaram, Lil One is deep inside the Pensieve looking up the Prophecy connecting Harry to Voldemort. I wage the war against complex geometric problems while Lil One goes looking for Hallows. God! I never thought there’ll be a time when I start….disliking Harry Potter so much!

Yesterday, when I asked Lil One to get some water half way through our dinner, he held his spoon in the direction of the bottle and yelled “Accio Bottle!” When I threateningly made big eyes at him, he accused me of using the Imperius curse on wee kids to get my bidding done. Whenever he sees me approaching him with a textbook in hand, he yells “Dementor Attack!” and shoots the Expecto Patronum at me, with Hubby looking on with frank approval and complete admiration in his eyes. And when I asked him, for the fifth time, to sit down with me to plan how he is going to complete reading 8 Geography chapters in 2 days, he actually muttered “Langlock!”

Following are some of the sweet nothings he has shot at me over the past few days. GRRRRR!

  • I am the most boring mom in the world.
  • Correction. I now have the distinction of being the most boring person in the world.
  • That Ron lost half his eyebrow in his apparition test is infinitely more interesting than the fact that the Marathas lost more than half of their kingdom at Panipat.
  • The Marathas should have taken Katappa to Panipat with them.
  • Geography is studied by girls. Boys do only Maths. In that, only Algebra. In that, only linear equations.
  • Linear equations are the new cool. Everything else is “Muggle”.
  • Lucky me! I am going to be cast in the movie made by Lil One on Harry Potter. So far, I have completely qualified to be Bellatrix, Kreacher and Nagini. If I learn to be dreamy mad and not my usual aggressive mad, I can even audition for the role of…hold your breath…Prof. Trelawny!
  • Tenses are designed to make kids tense. “I have had it!” is present perfect and is presently perfectly designed for Mommy dearest.
  • I belong to the past tense just because I happen to know that Munshi Premchand wrote “Godaan”
  • Auto spell-check wands are required to solve the Hindi and Marathi papers
  • Any woman who enjoys Hindi poetry cannot be in her right mind. She deserves to be immediately visiting the St. Mungo’s Centre, where they apparently treat witches and economists.
  • Engineers are wizard. Economists are obviously Muggle.

“Nope!” said Econ Mom suddenly. “That last one is not okay.” How can economists be..Muggle?

Isn’t it us, who alone know the deepest secrets of magic of the societal reform. We, who are almost Goblin-like in that we imbibe all of that which strengthens us. We’ve taken principles of Maths to create models out of the most non-modelable phenomena ranging from shopping behaviour and drug trafficking to corporate incentive structures. We’ve woven principles of sociology to create HDI. We use political contraints to understand how economic equilibria may turn out to be sub-optimal in a social welfare sense. And we’re the only ones who’ve been able to make robust, significant, least error use of that crystal ball of statistics, called as forecasting. It is us, who create those models and sell them at crazy prices to a world zapped with knowing the future; and yet, we have the simplicity and enough humour to call our art, a bunch of econome-tricks.

The Elder wand of good policy intervention can certainly weave magic into comatose markets; but sometimes you do need that invisibility cloak, or well, at least invisible hands to drive animal spirits. That economic reform has been the resurrection stone for economies ranging from Brazil to China and Zimbabwe to Germany is a principle undisputed across the globe.

Make no mistake however, by going overboard in the hallowed presence of this amazing science. For every hallow that the subject has produced, there are those horcruxes; scams, currency crises, bankruptcies born out of the misuse of economics that split societies time and again, towards nothingness..

And on a lighter note, hell, we even have a Ministry of Magic! Yeah, its known as the Ministry of Finance to the more innocent. And it often has the cheek to try things out “for the greater good”; it is blinded, in Dumbledore’s words, by the love of the office it holds. But worry not, because it is precisely in order to check this, that we economists have created yet another institution, the Hog-Reserve Bank of India, headed by none other than Albus Rajan.

So all in all, Lil One, nope, your last argument is not acceptable. One day, when you are older, you may realize the power of this wonderful subject. And maybe you’ll come to love and respect it the way I do. And maybe, we’ll be able to bond on this, the way we do on Potter, and Tintin, and late night coffee, and crazy jokes and music. Till then Lil One, let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.

Hemline Economics

Dear Reader,

When Rabri Devi made that errr…awkward observation about the length of the RSS trousers, most took it to be a political gimmick. But did you know that she did this because she wants to be RBI Governor?

The real connections in hemlines and GDP cycles appeared in my column “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/hemline-economics/article8377758.ece, else read it here directly. Enjoy!

——————————————————————————————-

Trousers today, growth tomorrow?

The market crash of 1928 created a slump hitherto unseen and as the GDP of the US went into the Great Depression, women, who could no longer afford silk stockings, chose longer skirts to cover themselves.

It’s a debate that has been around for long. Are the cyclicality in GDP and fashion really interrelated? Economists sniggered, feminists roared, designers shrugged and the debate raged on. As the global economy bettered after WWII, hemlines continued to rise and the mini-skirts as we know them today, made their entry into the fashion world in the 1960s, coinciding neatly with one of the most expansive phases of the globe.

Come 1970s and skirts lengthened to reflect the oil shocks and stagflation. The lost decade of the 1980s is also best remembered for the “maxi” wave with full length skirts, whilst the housing boom in 2005-06 saw hemlines rise madly. Full length “peasant” skirts made a comeback in 2011, only after the economy failed to recover after the great financial crisis, prompting the CNBC to carry a feature titled “Hemlines are plunging, is economy next?”

The “vital statistics” on this one came as late as 2010, when Marjolein van Baardwijk and Philip Hans Franses from the Econometrics Institute, Erasmus School of Economics, decided to “figure” out the truth using data based research. They actually went on to collect monthly data on the hemline from 1921 to 2009 and then contrasted it with the monthly GDP cycle as indicated in the data by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

The “long and short” of the debate, they conclude, is that hemlines are led by the GDP by around three years globally. Thus, a low growth rate today could prompt longer skirt lengths in 2019.

“That is exactly what our leader was saying!” reacted the spokesperson of the RJD. “And they accused her of being a woman of the 19th century! But this is a truly forward looking leader with terrific economic insights.” The economy is not doing well at all under the NDA Government. The decision of the RSS to shift to full length trousers is an acknowledgement of the state of the economy.

The GDP is plunging today, the trouser length will plunge tomorrow! The RJD has also gone on to say that Rabri Devi may well be on her way to becoming the next finance minister of Bihar and if things go right, will eventually head to Mint Street to become the RBI governor. “It’s really rather easy,” said the spokesperson. “All you have to do is watch the hemline. When hemlines fall, the interest rates have to fall pro-cyclically.”

The RBI reacted sharply by stating that any decisions to slash or increase rates are only taken after rigorously analysing multilateral causalities in economic fundamentals within a general equilibrium framework. When the RJD did not understand, a special statement was issued in the vein of popular economics. “Relationships in hemlines and GDP are fictitious. Any resemblance to correlations, past or present, is purely coincidental.”

Econ Mom becomes the FM!

“Sssshh! Can you reduce the volume, guys? I am reading something important!” I yelled to Lil One and Hubby, who were watching some crazy TV show with great gusto.

“Mom, come join us…what are you reading anyway which is so important?” Lil One sounded hurt that Mommy wasn’t joining in the fun.

“Oh, she is reading news pertaining to the Budget,” said Hubby, in a maddening, condescending fashion. “As if she’s going to be the next FM.”

The words stuck to my mind. As if I am going to be FM. That would be a disaster of an order unknown. Econ Mom could almost see the entire circus unfolding.

A couple of days ago, the Halwa party was held at North Block. Well, that’s kinda traditional. The halwa party marks the printing of the budget documents. About a 100 officials who are involved in the printing of the budget documents stay at North Block from the halwa party upto the budget day so as to maintain complete secrecy regarding the same.

If Econ Mom were to be the FM, the first unmitigated disaster would be awaiting me at the halwa party in the format of Hubby’s Aunt, the Cook, who believes that she is the Only One who can..Cook.

“Oh no no no, is this the way to make halwa,” she would grumble, causing all the bureaucrats and budget experts, already weak from the crazy work schedule, to cower visibly before her towering persona. “And this is not halwa, to begin with. This is Sheera. Your cooks don’t even know how to make halwa.”

I would be busy trying to pretend I do not know the woman and do some intellectual talk on the fiscal consolidation path.

“Beti, next year, whether you are FM or not, and looking at your track record, I am really not sure you will be, but I am going to teach this joker to cook halwa. Tch, tch, tch…when the boss doesn’t know how to cook, how can I expect this poor man to be cooking properly!” This last bit would be probably addressed to Arvind Subramaniam, the Chief Economic Advisor, who would start to explain that he was NOT the cook. “No, no, no. Don’t give me excuses, young man. You are a very poor cook!”

Eve of the budget. The entire team would be discussing the last minute issues. “And Madam, be forceful when you make that announcement about cancelling the LPG subsidy for the richer households!”

And in the midst of the Chak De! huddle, Hubby would call, just to take stock and generally shake me up with the most stupid details. “Sweetheart, our washing machine stopped working today.”

“Ohk, look, I really can’t talk about this…we are in the midst of the LPG subsidy strategy..”

“Good you reminded me!” This, if I know him, will come in a super booming voice. “Say, sweetheart, we’ve run out of both cylinders. I know you asked me to book a refill, but I don’t have the number….errr, do you?”

“What? Gawd, how can you? Forgot to book a refill? I am really going to levy a special tax on Company Secretaries tomorrow.” That last bit would be hissed in that poisonous tone I generally reserve for him.

“Hey, cool down, honey…just joking…what are you so tense about? It’s just a budget!”That’s SO typically Hubby.

“Just a budget? JUST a budget? I have to announce it in the midst of antagonistic opposition members and later there’s a talk scheduled with Arnab Goswami…I am scared…”

“What are you saying? Scared of Arnab? Arre, don’t you worry, just imagine its me you are talking to and you’ll tear him down to pieces in that rude, impossible, toxic, inimitable fashion of yours, sweetheart. I give him 2 minutes at the most. He is going to meet his match today!”

Sigh! Was that a compliment?

Day of the budget. I reach the Parliament with the suitcase in hand…nnnnah, make that a purse, a real classy one. Hmm, I am dressed up and am walking up the steps when the cell phone rings.

“Moooooommmmy, I forgot to tell you…we had to take Geography maps to school today, else I’ll get a remark!” That was typically Lil One, who ALWAYS remembers what’s to be taken to school whilst at the doorstep or in the school bus. Grrr!

Gawd, this is so stressful! “Listen, I am going to be on TV. You can tell your friends too. And a remark or two is ok!”

“What? They finally gave you that lead role in Kabhi Bahu Kabhi Daayan? Dad was telling me! How embarrassing! I am not telling my friends. They’ll laugh at me. So now I’m getting a remark and plus everyone’s going to laugh at me….Aaaaaaaaaaarrghh!”

It’s final. Econ Mom really doesn’t want to be FM.

Econ Mom and a starry, starry night

“I am going to be a scientist.” That was Lil One just back from school, talking very earnestly. They seem to have had some kind of a discussion on career options in school, I thought. “I mean, science is so….exciting, Mom. It really explains everything.”

“True, that. But there are also careers to be made in social sciences like Economics, Psychology, Political Sciences. Give that a thought too. These sciences work for the betterment of the society, they try to enhance the welfare of people in the society through policy making. That is also very important.”

“Yes, Mom, I know. But, end of the day, social sciences only concern themselves with…with.. man-made stuff. Pure sciences explain more fundamental stuff. They explain the basics, the nano particles, the forces….” Lil One was struggling to put something he obviously felt strongly about in words.

Hmmm…Nanotechnology trumps microeconomics, seemed to be the thought of the day for Econ Mom.

“Well, Scientist, you’ll like this piece of news then. We are attending a Meteor Shower night sky session this Sunday night.”

“Does that mean no school Monday? Yyyyaaaaaaaaay!”

Sigh. Quite the wrong tone, there. I wish he’d asked me what meteor showers are. On me remarking that we are attending astronomy events for quite the wrong reasons and did he even know what meteor showers are, pat came the answer.

“But everyone knows that. Meteoroids are those bits of rock that travel through space, Ma. But those that are really tiny fall to Earth and burn off due to the atmospheric friction; those are called meteors or shooting stars.” he told me in a superior tone.

“Those things that you keep crying about in that stupid movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hain are meteors.” Ouch! I bared my teeth at him even as he made an exaggerated action of having seen a shooting star and clasping his hands in prayer, asking for a wish, SRK style. “Mmmmm…mom, I am going to ask for new game CDs” he grinned wickedly. “And there will be hundreds of shooting stars to ask wishes from.” Sigh.

One battle won, I braced myself for the war. As usual, Hubby was on another planet altogether. “What? Sunday night? Why can’t we do this star gazing Saturday night?” he glinted at me teasingly.

“Oh God! Didn’t they call you straight from Gemini asking you if its convenient to do showers Sunday night? I’ll tell the next alien I meet to kindly make sure that all further celestial events are planned Friday or Saturday night, ok?” I answered sarcastically. Hubby and Lil One rolled their eyes at each other. They do that when Econ Mom tries sci-fi humor.

We went to Nasrapur, some 40 kms away from Pune on Sunday night with a local astronomy club, Jyotirvidya Parisansthan. This is the oldest astronomy club in India, and I’ve been a fan for many many years now. When we got out of the bus, I already knew that we were going to have a terrific time. Just a look at the night sky was enough to take my breath away. There  were countless number of stars, literally countless.

“Starry starry nights…” I hummed instinctively, “Paint your palette blue and gray…”

How long has it been since I saw so many stars in Pune? As a kid, I remember Mom teaching me identification of the basic Nakshatras….Ashwini, Bharani, Krittika, Rohini, Mruga, Ardra, Punarvasu…however, I haven’t been really able to pass on this wisdom to Lil One, because the night sky is just so not visible in Pune. It is such a sad commentary on economic growth which has happened in such a haphazard, unsustainable, unplanned fashion that we had to get out 40 kms just to see the night sky. I hummed some more…

“They did not listen, they did not know how.. Perhaps they’ll listen now”

“Now, I am going to put you all through a very basic sky watching course. But frankly, tonight, we are not here to do star gazing. That means no major telescope sighting. We are here to observe the Geminid meteor showers and count the shower sightings,” said our instructor, jerking me out of Don Mclean’s powerful number on Van Gogh.

Every year, around mid-December, the Earth passes through the huge amount of rocky debris left by an object called 3200 Phaethon, which is a rock comet. Annually, at this time of year, the debris from 3200 Phaethon crashes into Earth’s upper atmosphere at some 130,000 kilometers (80,000 miles) per hour, to vaporize as colorful Geminid meteors. The showers peak at around 2:00 a.m. when the radiant point in the Gemini constellation is highest in the sky.

Phaethon-orbit

Just when we were being put through the basic cursory sky watch course, there was a sudden “Ooooooooooh” from the crowd. Our first Geminid. It is so quick, and it doesn’t necessarily originate from the Gemini constellation. Its radiant can be traced backwards to Gemini.

We were then asked to just open up our mattresses and lie down under the stars and watch out for the showers. The volunteers had divided the sky into North, South, East and West and were scientifically recording the numbers and whether the meteor was part of Geminid or just some random show-off rockstar.

We however, had the whole sky to ourselves. A truly amazing feeling. It was a real cold night and to be directly under the meteor showers was quite an experience. Every 2 minutes, another fella would streak across the night sky, drawing “Ooooooooooooohs” and “Aaaaaaaaaaahs” from the crowd. There were a couple of meteors, that were literally fireballs and lit up an entire tree for a few seconds. Is such kind of beauty even possible?

“This world was never meant ,” I continued, “for one as beautiful as you…”

A coffee break at about 1:40 a.m and we were ready to settle to now see the meteors peaking at about 2:00 a.m. The next one hour was a visual treat and it left us delighted and wondrous of all the creations of the Master, which we don’t even bother to watch most of the times.

As I lay below the star studded sky, my mind was filled with thoughts beyond the mundane. The smallness of my being, the insignificance of my existence, the laughability of man-made issues and policies…Lil One was right, I thought suddenly. There is infinitum to be explained in pure sciences.

“Now I understand…, what you tried to say to me…”

As a shooting star went past, I asked of it in the most unscientific, mommy fashion , that my Lil One find his passion correctly. The star winked and fell. Amen.

Epilogue:

Lil One missed school on Monday, we all had to sleep through the day! He came back from school on Tuesday with a definite swagger and giggled, “Today, I had a fight with super-smartie Ankita. She tried to tell me that astronomy is boring.”

“You can’t be fighting girls. NOT ok,” I admonished.

“Chill Mom. I said something she didn’t even understand. Heehee. I told her if she didn’t shut up, I’ll show her Ursa Major in the day.”

So much for Starry, starry nights. Sigh!

Cop out at COP 21!

Scene again opens in the Opposition Neta’s office, where Netaji is reading the newspaper and is confused with all the reports on Paris.

Netaji: Tell me Guptaji, what is this COP 21? Even in the High Command office, they were all discussing this cop. What is the COP 21? It sounds like a new movie with Salman Khan in a cop avatar strong enough to beat 21 gundas.

Clever Guptaji (startled): Sir! COP 21 is not a movie, Sir! It is an acronym for the 21st Conference of Parties. It is an annual forum where countries come together to debate and discuss climate change issues. It was held at Paris, Sir. Developed countries were worried as to how India would play her climate change card, especially with our PM keen on attending. But our team has made quite an impact and held their own in discussion with bureaucrats and technocrats and ministers from 193 countries.

Netaji (disapproving): What! I am not impressed. I don’t like all these new-fangled approaches to politics, Guptaji. Discussing such deep, internal problems with Obama and hobnobbing with that Putin. Now tell me, why should we discuss our climate with other countries? No, no. We should have never attended this event.

Clever Guptaji (startled): But Sir, this is an issue that we cannot resolve single-handedly. All countries will have to come together to take a position on climate change. We really have damaged the atmosphere badly.

Netaji (chewing nonchalantly on his paan): I think everyone is now over-doing it, Guptaji. It is not the first time we are facing such a climate of mistrust and suspicion in India. Why, when we were in power, there was not a single day anyone trusted us on anything. This AAP created such trouble for us, I tell you. But did we tell the globe to assemble in Paris? Never. And just look at this Government. And the newspapers are saying we also made some commitment on power?

Clever Guptaji (stuttering): Oh Sir, you are totally misunderstanding the issue.

Netaji (loudly): QUIET! Just tell me what this power commitment is all about.

Clever Guptaji: Well Sir, our stance is that India will change the way power is used, but developed countries have to lead the way in this commitment.

Netaji (irritated): Hmph! Quite in the ivory tower we are, aren’t we, Guptaji? Change the way India uses power indeed! What a joke! Nothing can move in this country if we change the way power is used. We politicians have ensured that completely! If the Government wants more growth and development, they will need more and more power. Just to Make in India, they will need more power. Do you think any investment can be driven without power? And if they want to pass the GST, they’ll definitely need more power. Hee hee hee. Especially post-Bihar. And in the Rajya Sabha.

Clever Guptaji (now completely horrified): We are talking about power, as in coal, Sir. Coal is bad for the atmosphere.

Netaji (indignantly): First they said coalition was bad, now they are saying coal is bad. First they wanted power, now they don’t want to use power. In India they want more action on GST. And outside, they want more action on GHG. What a misleading Government, Guptaji!

Clever Guptaji (exasperated): They should have sent you to Paris, Sir. Then, India could have really displayed a real COP out on commitments!