I suppose I should be writing about the economy. After all, the fat is well and truly in the fire. The gross domestic product growth rate estimate is being pared down on a weekly basis, industrial production is contracting, and capital goods production is down by a whopping 25%. Which means no new projects, no new jobs. The fiscal deficit is now expected to hit 5.5%, 1 percentage point above the target. Inflation is still high (and the deficit always contributes), and the rupee falling against the dollar is also going to keep prices rising. The real estate market is at a two-year low, and anyone driving through the suburbs of our metros in the last few months is familiar with the sight of half-finished apartment complexes looming like enchained ghosts of Christmas past.
After the backtrack on the proposal of foreign direct investment in the retail sector, it’s now unclear when and if the next big reform push through the pension funds regulatory Bill will see the light, in the face of a bloody-minded opposition and the haggling over the details of the Bill.
The fall of the rupee should have made Indian exporters happy, but that, too, does not seem to be the case. The global slowdown has adversely affected services exports, and in goods exports, some of the biggest sectors are dependent on high levels of imports for their raw material. For instance, gems and jewellery exporters should benefit, but the industry imports most of its raw materials, such as gold and diamonds, and they form 75-80% of the cost of each jewellery item. Profits can rise only through value addition.
So I suppose I should be writing on the economy, but it’s becoming a bit like banging one’s head against a solid wall. From global forces that individual nations do not have much control over to short-sighted and reckless political manoeuvring, we are wallowing in a curious mixture of havoc and stasis that neither India nor the world has faced for a very long time. Even the stands at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata were nearly empty when India played England there some weeks ago.
My life, as a self-employed writer-teacher-consultant who works out of home, is necessarily somewhat insulated from—in the absence of a better term—the history of the times we are living through. Much of the world comes to me through the media and conversations with friends and acquaintances. I notice to my amazement that I have more than 1,050 friends on Facebook, and I am sure I don’t have the faintest clue who at least 950 of them are. And there are a lot of people I know or have known who aren’t there on my Facebook friends list. I invite no one, I wait. I check the messages once a day, and never have the patience to check all the ones that have accumulated in the last 24 hours. Jokes, links, existentialist statements, even calls for revolution (dead serious). There are intriguing status updates that just say “But…” or “It’s not on, yaar”. What’s not on? The TV programme, the microwave oven, or does it refer to a sadistic boss, a renegade client, or a personal betrayal that will change a life, maybe more than one life, or some “Big Question” whose answer is not 42?
The talking heads on TV are relentless, though they are the same heads that come every day and attack one another. Except for a few ladies who are not in politics and who (seem to) truly believe in what they are working for, the rest is college debate. Talking heads get abused, they smile. A few sods from Pakistan are abused by everyone else, they splutter manfully but helplessly.
My daughter studies Auden for her exams, with the iPod earpieces in place, and her laptop beside her scrolling through screen after screen of social media, global special-interest teenage group hang-outs, and strange—and to my middle-aged eyes, often incomprehensible—videos. She multitasks seamlessly, moving from Auden’s wet dark London streets that mock at promises of love, to animated cartoons of two llamas wearing hats causing hilarious death and destruction. I can’t hear what song she is listening to. On her bedside table lie The Fountainhead (well-thumbed, seems to have been read halfway through) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (next in the queue). I pick up my own book and look at the face of Christopher Hitchens on the cover of his latest collection of essays. All his hair has been blasted off by chemotherapy. I read Hitchens on Wodehouse, the first “free” elections in Afghanistan and why women are less funny than men (the reasons, according to Hitchens, are hardly funny).
My daughter connects the laptop to our music system and surfs to the website of an American space observatory. We hear the buzz of the radio waves being sent out incessantly by the telescope arrays, and periodically there’s a ping, when the waves encounter a satellite or an asteroid, some solid mass either created by man, or given to man by the universe.
The pings from the great vacuum tell me that I don’t have to write about the economy.
Sandipan Deb is a senior journalist and editor who is interested in puzzles of all forms.
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