Modified Impact Schadenfreude
Like everything else our action hero or super villain (depending on the colour of your ideology) prime minister does, this midnight surgical strike against black money by demonetisation of high value currency notes has led to raging controversies.
We are so used to empty talk that actual action of any kind sends shock waves through the system.
The Bhakts of course are indulging in their usual hosannas, and those allergic to the colour saffron are screaming against it, but these are programmed reactions.
I was keen to see how the mango people and the few more equal than others really thought of this completely unexpected masterstroke.
I personally was not affected much as my cash transactions are a bare minimal, and have only a single source of income, a government salary. But the area I stay in is bustling with billionaires. And they have a large retinue of servers who bustle around the figurative ‘below stairs’.
The morning after, our friendly neighbourhood park had a sombre look. No jolly walkers, no laughter clubs scaring off the birds or yoga clubs panting like dogs on a summer’s day. Just a few huddles of worried people could be seen, all of them intently discussing something. Eavesdropping proved that the subject was the problems of money, how to salvage it, and how to manage.
In contrast I saw barely suppressed glee in the huddle of uniformed chauffeurs outside the park, waiting to drive their masters back from the park.
The wags and wits on the social media had a field day, and extremely creative and innovative jokes, rhymes, cartoons and parodies of hit numbers went viral in every language.
It was the only topic of conversation at work, at teashops, on trains and on social media. The US elections, with all the hype, controversy and scandal, and even the shock results went completely unnoticed.
I asked the young man who drives my car, about his views. He said that of course there are difficulties, but nothing drastic as he buys everything on credit and settles once a month after getting his salary, and by then things should have settled. He was also ready to take his salary through electronic exchange. He confided that everyone in his housing cluster, mostly menial labourers and domestic help, as well as his peer group, the other drivers and cooks and maids in our residential complex are all really happy, for despite their difficulties, they loved to see their employers in panic mode. His co passengers in the train he takes to commute to the city also shared their opinion, but the petty traders and tradesmen who ran roadside shops were worried.
The next day the morning walkers seemed more resigned, and a few elderly gentlemen confided that their accountants have assured them that some way would be found out soon.
My sarathi came back with more news. Most of his colleagues earned big tips by standing in queues and depositing money in various accounts for their bosses, and that their friendly neighbourhood moneylender was ruined, he gleefully confided. He started speculating about the big names in politics and business and how they must be crying.
This I think is Schadenfreude, and the glee below stairs despite their discomfort is for the greater discomfort above stairs.
I too faced difficulties the first few days, but our grocer and chemist extended credit, and by the third day was accepting cards. The office boy who manages our banking exchanged whatever notes we carried with the relevant documents, so life carried on. He too provided some gossip that the numerous bars that dotted Mumbai are completely empty, and few people are visiting the restaurants. My kids provided another input, that the malls that were crowded with ladies splurging and paying with cash are now deserted, as were the hairdressers and beauticians. Everyone was happy with the news. More Schadenfreude I concluded.
I have some friends who are traders and small industry owners, and I called them for their reaction. They were badly hit, but were relishing the fact that their more successful colleagues were worse hit, and were also gung ho with the idea that a way out will soon be found. Definitely Schadenfreude I am sure.
The majority of my friends who were deeply outraged by the move were my friends in the academicia, media, and the old rich, people who were hardly affected. These were all idealistic liberal drawing room socialists, the members of the chattereti class. I was curious as to why they should oppose moves to cleanse the economy, as they themselves are absolutely clean.
The reason was that they were really upset that the person they considered a fascist rightwing demagogue should come up with it and boldly implement this step, while their own liberal left parties were left mouthing rhetoric.
The third day in the park, I struck up conversations with the worst affected people. They were mostly from the PMs home state, were very rich businessmen with strong allergies to the taxman, and the core support group to the party in power. It hurt them deeply to be hit by their poster boy. After all, they contributed heavily to the election funds, and what kind of reward was this? They rationalised that, actually this was targeted at the terrorists and Maoists who survived on cash influx, and to stop our evil neighbours from ruining our economy and spreading their murderous creed with infusions of counterfeit cash from across the border. They believed that as for the honest to god businessmen with slight aversion to paying taxes, a new loophole would soon be found.
It set me wondering; the targeted group is not unhappy as they have a feeling of kinship with the PM, the collateral damage aam janta is happy because the big guys are hurting badly, and the most to benefit honest liberal highly educated professional class are livid that how come an upstart chaiwallah has dared to do what we could not in so many years. I think rational thinking is a fictional quality.
I do not know whether this will work or not, but I am glad that some action has been taken. I was sick and tired of rhetoric. It is better to try something out. If it does not work, one can try something else.
In the meanwhile, I am thrilled that those richer than me are more uncomfortable. Schadenfreude.