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When the world is not enough

The meltdown does set you yearning for the domesticity of our socialist past. In our quest for growth, maybe we’ve overvalued everything to monstrous proportions. Not just assets, but even people, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2008 14:25 IST

Globalisation (n)

A revenge tragedy in which you try to seize the world but it wriggles free and gets you from behind

I’m on this Kolkata-Delhi Indigo flight and I so wish I had been seen off by Whistler’s mother. And Godot should have been waiting to receive me at Palam airport. Because I have learned that Monalisa will serve us and it’s Victor Hugo in the cockpit who has just stood the plane on one wing to give us a breathtaking view of the Ganga. This is globalisation.

But I am painfully aware that Monalisa and Victor are in imminent danger of being pink-slipped as civil aviation crashes in flames. Meanwhile, the market value of James McNeill, Whistler’s most famous painting, a study of his mother, is going through the floor. Art prices are plummeting as the filthy rich seek safety in their oldest love, gold. Ranjit Singh’s bust, which went on sale recently at Bonhams in London, fetched far less than a bust of his less illustrious son Duleep Singh did last year. A scurrilous rumour suggests that Damien Hirst is seeking employment as a boutique butcher. Godot’s world is crumbling, too. Theatre-land is in trouble and Hollywood is delaying productions. This too is globalisation.

In India, ordinary people who have trouble understanding LIC schemes are pondering the complicated criminality of US sub-prime lending while CEOs tighten their belts in anticipation of the tiniest hikes ever, in percentage terms a fraction of what their office peons will get. They should take comfort: it’s much worse overseas. The money-minded Swiss are demanding that Marcel Ospel, outgoing chairman of Switzerland’s troubled überbank UBS, pays back his bonus. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Germany Karl Marx’s works, rough guides to the failure of capitalism, are flying off the shelves.

The market meltdown does set you yearning for the boring domesticity of our socialist past, when almost no one had to think beyond one house, one car and one bank balance in one lifetime. In our quest for growth, maybe we’ve overvalued everything to monstrous proportions. Not just assets, but even people. No reflection on Victor Hugo’s abilities, but why should pilots be paid so much? They just fly planes around, like Biggles. Indeed, why should anybody be paid so much? The present crisis was triggered by CEOs-turned-bonus sluts, remember?

But there are global standards for human resource costs, like for copper futures or sweet light crude. Or the price of credit card numbers. Last week, the British cops smashed a ring which stole credit card data in one country and auctioned it over the internet to buyers in another, who used it to pillage ATMs in a third country. This too is globalisation. Grin and bear it.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

First Published: Oct 31, 2008 20:35 IST