- The Weaver, the Princess and Goldman Sachs
This is a superb piece and is a must read.
Sat, May 1 10:03 AM
Everyone knows that we Indians invented the zero. Without zero and the decimal number system, writing and calculating really large numbers would be very difficult.
This would be awful for people in the financial industry, whose work depends on having really big salaries. Fortunately Brahmagupta came to their rescue.
Another thing which is crucial to the financial services industry is the concept of being too big to fail, which has been put to good use by Citigroup, Bear Stearns, and Goldman Sachs over the past few years in sucking money from American taxpayers. This beautiful concept was also invented by an Indian - Vishnu Sharma, the author of the Panchatantra, in the story of the Weaver and the Chariot Maker.
The story of the weaver and chariot maker is one of the Panchatantra stories that usually doesn't make it to primary school textbooks or Amar Chitra Katha, mostly because it's full of sex, war, and moral hazard. Since you probably haven't read it, here's a quick summary.
A weaver sees a princess during a festival and falls in love with her. As a weaver, he has no chance of marrying her, so he sinks into depression. His friend, a chariot maker decides to help him out. He designs a flying chariot in the shape of Garuda, dresses the weaver up as Vishnu, and tells him to fly the chariot into the princess's room, tell her that he is Vishnu and wants to marry her Gandharva style. That is, the wedding is kept a secret from everyone except the princess and the faux-Vishnu. The princess agrees, and the weaver comes back every night to consummate the marriage.
Eventually, the maids notice that the princess is spending her days in total bliss, suspect that she's in love, and tell the King. The King asks her what's going on, and she tells him that she's married to Vishnu himself. The King is absolutely delighted, and decides that there's no point in paying tribute to the Chakravarti now that Vishnu himself is on the kingdom's side. The next night, he catches the weaver as he enters the princess's room and asks him to fight the Chakravarti' s army.
The weaver is horrified. Pretending to be Vishnu was fine when it allowed him to make sweet, sweet love to the princess, but taking on the role of Vishnu to face an imperial army single-handed is another thing altogether. On the other hand, if he confesses to the King that he is not actually Vishnu and has been boinking the princess under false pretences for the past month, he will have his head chopped off. So he decides to get on to the battlefield and do the best job he can, while the King is whipping up enthusiasm in the population by telling them that Vishnu himself is going to do all the fighting.
By this time, Garuda (the real one, not the mechanical one) has tipped off Vishnu about what's going on, and warned him that if the fake Vishnu doesn't win the battle, the people of the kingdom will lose all faith in him. Vishnu doesn't want to see this happen, so on the battlefield he enters the weaver's body and annihilates the Chakravarti' s army. The entire army. Every single soldier. After this, the weaver marries the princess, everyone goes on worshipping Vishnu, and the king becomes the new Chakravarti.
The moral is that you should conduct your affairs in such a way that if you fail, it will lead to someone or something even bigger or more powerful failing too. This lets you get away with anything. The weaver got away with having sex with the princess on false pretences (this is rape under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code), pretending to be a god (awesomely enough, this too is a criminal offence under Section 508), and annihilating an entire army that was fighting a just war - after all, it was the king who broke the treaty (you could make a case for this being genocide under Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide).
American banks and financial institutions were very good at absorbing this lesson, and leveraged themselves up to such an extent that if they failed they would take the global economy down with them. And just as the weaver lived happily ever after with the princess, banks have lived happily ever after with taxpayer-funded bailouts.
But no matter how hard American investment banks try, Indians still remain the masters of this art. If the whole truth surrounding Lalit Modi is revealed, big politicians might be trapped. Modi is, thus, likely to get away lightly -- as is A Raja, who might have given away spectrum at bargain basement rates, but whose sacking would lead to the government collapsing. All this goes to show that no matter what the anguished elderly gentlemen who write letters to the editor feel, Indians are still in touch with our ancient and glorious culture.
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