The best of political debates in Kerala, and perhaps India, happen not in television studios or our legislature, but in Karunan's barber shop and Kuttan's chayakkada (tea shop). And there is a reason for that, rather many reasons. Karunan, Kuttan and their customers are avid readers of Junglistan blogs, most of them written in that rare moment of hallucinatory exuberance shedding new gyaan on any issue under the sun and moon. Two, 92% per cent of them are literate- they can read and write. Three, Kuttan feeds his clients a diet enlivened and enriched by some 20 newspapers from Deshabhimani to Panchajanya, from Manorama to Mathrubhumi, and television channels of all hues and shades. A menu that caters to all - Left, Centre and Right.
Wednesday began with Comrade Naanappan lighting a candle in memory of Venezuelan president, or was he a dictator, Hugo Chavez. He prodded others in the shop to join him in observing a minute of silence to pay homage to the departed soul. Keeping with the true spirit of democracy, that is give and take , no one objected.
"Chavez was such a lucky guy. No problem of deficit for him, only surplus oil. Our poor finance minister goes to sleep every night thinking where he can cut some cost and reduce the fiscal deficit," said medical representative Charakan.
"Nonsense, if our rulers wanted, India could have been better than Venezuela," Naanappan replied, "But you fools don't give us a chance. Had we be been in power, he would have gifted us tonnes and tonnes of oil for free, given we are one family."
"Which is that?"
"The family of communists. True communists."
"I can understand Chidambaram's worry," said Meenkari Janu, who sells fish to houses in Vazhikulangara, "This gold fetish is pushing the country into trouble. I have a similar problem at home. My own current account deficit is becoming unmanageable."
Janu was referring to her son's love for karimeen, a freshwater fish that needed to be bought from the market, while the family had a steady inflow of sea fish.
"Yours is a manageable problem. Impose some surcharge on karimeen. Mine is a tougher task," said Pachalam Bhasi, taking a bite of vada, "Subsidies to my son have started hurting the economy. He keeps asking for more pocket money."
"150 million jobs this year, pray for your son."
Kuttan served puttu and kadala to Naanappan and Bhasi.
"My worries are bigger. The manufacturing sector is not contributing to my GDP at all," said Kuttan.
Everyone looked at him puzzled.
"My cook Appu has gone on leave," said Kuttan, "I am importing vada and parippu vada from Mohananan. If this continues there will be a serious balance of payments crisis."
"This is what I said. Look at Mohananan, a total outsider now supplies us our vadas," Naanappan was angry, "We were dependent on foreign investors for jobs, now we are dependent on them for even vadas."
"I can solve Chidambaram's problem in a jiffy."
Everyone turned to Blade Paramu.
"Every year he announces this fund and that bond, for example the inflation-linked bonds. What's the need? All he has to say is Paramu's Moneychain is government-recognised, all the black and white money chasing gold will come to me. I assure 20% annual returns. If you compound that see how much you will make. I am ready to pay taxes also."
"The nice thing about our finance ministers is that they are very consistent. They only add levies and surcharges, rarely take anything off the list. Makes our task easier, otherwise tracking all these education cess, rail safety cess, air safety cess, food safety cess, oil cess, dividend distribution tax, services tax, stock transaction tax...," said Accountant Vasu. His survival depended on the finance minister. Every morning he worshipped the minister in his puja room.
"That is what I said," interrupted Daasan, an economist. His work Daasan Kapital is bound to create waves, his guru had told him, not now but sometime in future. 'Like Galileo, my work will be acknowledged only after my death,' he rued.
"All this deficit-sheficit, surplus-shurplus, GDP-SheDP are man's creations. What is this slowdown? Why are we slowing down? Why can't we run?"
"We have become lazy?"
"We are tired?"
"No. The whole world's financial system is now resting on a non-existent foundation, on theories worked out by economists to get them their Nobel prizes and their bit of recognition."
Daasan looked for approval, got none, but that didn't deter him.
"Mortgage, mortgage of mortgage, mortgage of mortgage of mortgage, commodities, futures, hedge funds.. all manmade creations. All this when all he has to do is make things and sell things."
Daasan drank a glass of paalum vellam (milk) and ate a banana to gather energy.
"What use are economic theories that start malfunctioning every 40 years, pushing the world to the brink? We economists work out theories to keep ourselves busy, but you shouldn't take us seriously. The first step to revival, let me tell you, is abolishing awards for economists and withdrawing past awards."
Daasan looked at them all and said, "99 per cent of the world doesn't know what these financial systems are. Yet their fates are decided by that 1 per cent who claim to know it. There is only one way out and I know it."
He paused and announced in a slow, measured tone, "Read Daasan Kapital or go back to the jungle."
"I am sure he wants a Nobel for his work," said Janu.