Demonetized Shaadi: Bollywood Style!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Here’s a tweak piece on the demonetization and the immense opportunities it has created for Karan Johar 😛 This piece appeared in my column titled “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/black-money-and-political-parties/article9374624.ece; else read it here directly. Enjoy!

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The scene opens in Netaji’s office, where Netaji is sitting glued to the TV listening raptly to the debate on demonetisation. Such is his interest that he has consumed only seven cups of tea since the morning, instead of the usual 11. A particular piece of news makes him sit up suddenly straight and holler for Clever Guptaji.

Netaji (in a deafening noise): GUPTAJI, GUPTAJI, where are you? Come in here. ASAP!

Clever Guptaji (scared): What happened, Sir? Have you discovered yet another stash of ₹1,000 notes? I was telling you, Sir. We can’t have only ₹40 crore in cash. There’s bound to be at least another ₹50 crore somewhere. But you wouldn’t listen to me, Sir. The moment they announced that only those with a clean image and less than ₹50 crore cash would get an LS ticket for next season, you had to shoot off your mouth about how squeakily clean you are. Tch, tch, at least you could have said ₹49 crore! But just ₹40 crores! The others were looking pityingly at you, Sir. You have now really lost your image in the party.

Netaji (annoyed): GUPTAJI! Stop talking nonsense! See what they are saying here in the news! Families with marriages can get up to ₹2.5 lakh in cash.

Clever Guptaji: Errrr, so?

Netaji: So? So? Go out immediately and tell all our karyakartas and partymen to book marriage halls, gardens and lawns. And it must look like the bookings were done in September itself. Even if you get 200 of our party workers to book halls, we can get at least ₹5 crores converted into the new currency. Ha! Do this immediately, before the other parties start looking for marriage avenues.

Clever Guptaji (protesting): Sir, this is getting really, really difficult. Our party workers are tired from so much stress, Sir. The moment they see me, most run in the opposite direction.

Netaji (annoyed): What nonsense, Guptaji! What stress do they have? Getting rid of just ₹20-30 lakh should not cause any stress at all, Guptaji!

Guptaji (panicking): But Sir, please understand the field reality! Our partymen have already posed as housemaids, drivers, gardeners in the last one week. Some have even acted as construction workers, truck drivers and even mine workers, Sir.

Netaji (impressed): Wow! Mine workers!

Guptaji (wincing at the memory): The problem is that since it worked in Bihar, the idiots thought it’ll work in Mumbai as well. Anyway, we next moved them to villages where they’ve already acted as farmers, shepherds, landless labourers, shopkeepers, tailors and even as MNREGA workers. Till that indelible ink started getting used, they were working three shifts, Sir. Farmer in the morning, landless by afternoon and driver in the evening. Some dedicated old handers even switched genders. Karan Johar is now recruiting all extras exclusively from our party, Sir.

Netaji (interested): That’s extraordinary! I must ask him to endorse me when I get my LS ticket next season! But, coming back to business, if we have such talented people, it is now easy. Just book the halls, and get some really nice wedding cards printed. And tell them to go into the banks wearing nice jewellery. Half of them can be parents of brides and the other half will be the parents of grooms.

Clever Guptaji (muttering): Let me call Karan Johar. He can start casting for Demonetised Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

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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!

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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.”

Marketing, Economics, Politics and a dash of Bajirao- Mastani

I am sure you are here because the title doesn’t make sense. Well, however, I have stuck to Basics of Writing 101 like a leech and the title of my blog actually is about everything that I will write about in this article: Some marketing strategies, some politics, some economics and a bit, ok, a huge bit on the Bajirao- Mastani controversy.

First things first.  I saw the movie. This is largely thanks to Nephew, who came visiting us yesterday. Nephew is personally responsible for the success of the Make CDs in India campaign and the Immediately CD Banaao Yojana.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Confederation of Indian CD Industries award him for having contributed in sound amounts to their Awaas Yojana as well as to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan of their ickle ones.

Dig into his sack, and you are likely to find the latest movies, all available in fairly good prints. Rumor has it that Nephew was given a sneak peek into the Force even before it had awakened.

Nephew’s Arrival is normally accompanied by yelps of delight by Lil One, whose eyes light up in anticipation of the treat. Hubby too keeps a supply of ready-to-eat popcorn to coincide with the Departure, so that we can then have the entire movie experience, popcorn included.

This time Nephew had brought two movies, Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani. There was a split vote, with Hubby wanting to watch the controversial historical film and Lil One hankering after the SRK-Varun Dhawan combo.  I cast the deciding vote.

I voted for Bajirao-Mastani, partly because I didn’t want to watch it. I had obviously seen the Pinga trailers before and had not been amused. To have Kashi bai, the Peshwa queen, drape the navvari sari in that unbecoming, revealing fashion, was an error of the worst degree, and coming from an experienced filmmaker like Bhansali, was unforgivable to my simple way of looking at things. I am no historian, but you don’t need to be one to know that there was no way that Kashi bai would ever dance a pinga with Mastani. We are talking about an extremely conservative, traditional, Brahmin Peshwa family in Pune. Again, add to it the confronting yet condoning look that Kashi bai gives Mastani during the dance and the weird lyrics and you are left feeling distinctly annoyed.

So I watched the movie, waiting for the scenes where I would object, dislike it some more, criticize it some more and then tell others not to watch it.

It didn’t happen. For most part, the movie is compelling and the viewer is pulled into the storyline. The Bhansali grandeur and his treatment of the emotional quotient is engaging. At no point is it crass or vulgar. However, Pinga was still unacceptable. I did not like it earlier, as a dance by itself, and I did not like it in the movie, as a part of the larger story. It does not fit. By the time you move to the rather tragic end, however, you do forget the irritation that the song created in your mind.

After watching the movie, the scenes that I remember are not the ones from the dance. Pinga is not really Bajirao-Mastani.

And this is the fatal error involved in the movie. The product is not bad, the packaging is. Had the dance not been released earlier, the entire controversy would have reduced considerably. You cannot release the song which is the most removed from the movie as a first look. No matter what your fetish with the two lead heroines dancing together. This cannot be the first look because it is not the final impression. Bhansali erred as a film maker in creating the song, but I think he erred more fatally in the marketing of his magnum opus. It is not enough that you create well, it is equally, sometime even more important that you project well.

This is a costly mistake by Bhansali, and one with a powerful parallel from the world of Econ Mom. But again, I am not only going to talk about economics. As the blog title promises, I will want to talk about politics as well.

NDA Government, 1999. Came to power promising reforms. And delivered significantly huge outlays on, hold your breath, social sector reforms.

They started the Food for work program (which later got hyped as the MNREGA during the UPA regime in 2005), created huge spending on Sarva Shiksha Abhyaan, looked into targeting the PDS etc.

However, whenever asked what they did for the country, they projected growth, not distribution as their core areas. The talk always centred on the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), the telecom policy, the Look East policy. They created their movie (and a good one at that) carefully looking at distributional aspects, but the first look and the lasting look they gave it is one of growth.

Contrast this to the UPA Bhansali saga. UPA came to power with a coalition. While most people do snigger sarcastically when they think about the UPA achievements, the fact is that UPA carried out a lot of economic reforms to keep the pace going. It was they who rationalized tax structures, got the SEZ Act passed, got RTI into place, got the Land Acquisition Bill changed and proposed the GST structure.

However, whilst talking about their achievements, well, ummmm, they firstly didn’t speak much at all. And when they did, they chose to speak about the Common Minimum Program, which incidentally, true to its name, seems to have delivered commonly, the minimum of output. UPA always projected wiping tears off everyone’s face (are you trying to make me laugh?) as a national priority. What was projected was their achievement in rural employment through MNREGA and food security and education. Rahul Gandhi did nothing to change that impression through that ummmm, fateful interview on women empowerment.

If economic reform is the product, political talk is the marketing ploy. That the product has to be robust goes without saying. But if parties are not wily enough to play their political cards correctly, you land up in a fatal error despite creating good economic momentum. A fatal pinga error.

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!

Gross Dal Product: The new GDP measure for India

Dear Reader,

Hi! Here’s a satire piece on the astronomical Tur Dal prices in India, which appeared in Tweakonomics, my column in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/gross-dal-product/article7858501.ece or read it here directly! Comments/ views welcome, as usual! Enjoy!

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Here’s the new tadka to the humble dal of economics: The government will now launch with immediate effect a new series called as the Gross Dal Product. There are a number of advantages to using this series over our regular and boring Gross Domestic Product. First, most people don’t understand what the regular GDP thingy stands for and cannot begin to imagine why Moody’s should be so sensitive to the damn thing. But the new Gross Dal Product is something close to everybody’s heart, or, at least, tummy.

The Gross Dal Product will measure how much dal was produced in the country and any reduction in the growth rate will now be able to make the most sweet-tempered homemakers Moody, to say the least. They may also make the “Standard” people, “Poor”. The Gross Dal Product will thus be able to popularise economics amongst all stakeholders in the society. The government will also be able to use the Gross Dal Product as a leading indicator for social unrest and political instability. The subsidy on the new LPG, i.e. Lentils, Pulses and Grams, will be introduced and counter-cyclically adjusted to the new GDP.

Then, there’s NDP

Together with the Gross Dal Product, we will also calculate the Net Dal Product, which is the produce that is left for the public after being hoarded by the traders and consumed by the rodents. The “Friends of Rodents” Society took objection on calling it the “Net” Dal Product, but wily economists convinced them that this has nothing to do with the nets used to capture the rats.

Dal will have to be bought through banking gateways so that all transactions on the new GDP remain traceable. Banks will issue ATM cards which will be the only way to buy Arhar, Tur and Moong dal online.

Aadhaar cards will be replaced by Oo-Dal cards and will track gastrometric prints of people together with their bio-metrics. The Oo-Dal cards will allow disadvantaged people to purchase dal by debiting their FDs and RDs: the Fixed Dal and Recurring Dal accounts. In Fixed Dal accounts, you can buy only one kind of dal throughout the year by debiting the bank account. In the Recurring Dal accounts, you will be allowed to access six different kinds of dals. It goes without saying that the interest rate on RDs will be lower since the consumer gets access to such amazing luxury.

SDR guidelines

The RBI has already issued guidelines to make SDRs, ie Special Dal Rights, the main asset backing for issuing new currency notes. Similarly, Dal Indexed Bonds have also been introduced.

Changes in the Gross Dal Product will automatically get reflected in the new CPI, the Chana Price Index. The Opposition has expressed dissent and has said that unless the Tur (Arhar) prices are factored in properly, the new CPI will keep cheating the public.

The government, however, is adamant that it has a reputation to keep and to allow CPI to reflect reality will be an insult to the indicator’s highly opaque history.

There is also a demand from the trade unions to launch a new DA, the Dal Allowance, which will be benchmarked to the new CPI, which will go up as soon as the new GDP goes down.

The Incredible India campaign is to be re-launched around Kashmir, featuring the Dal lake. Innocent tourists who’ve never seen the natural wonder lentils such as Arhar and Chana will be able to view the dals from a distance. What a scan”dal”!