V Pattabhi Ram and V Lavanya
Jean was all excitement. She was sporting brand new attire. It was a very special day; in fact she was looking forward to this day these last many months. Actually it was the school reunion party. They called it the old boys meet. She hated the phrase for not being gender neutral. It now didn’t matter. For, she was on a lark. The thought of meeting her old friends thrilled her no end.
Her mobile crackled to life. “Oops” she sulked. “I am late.” Her friend of many years, Nickle, was trying to reach her for the nth time. He had told her that he would wait for her at the school’s lobby. Yeah; her school had fancy names for various meeting points christened in the hotel lingo. She drove her Zen into the parking slot and trotted in with her trademark ponytail oscillating back and forth.
“You haven’t changed much. You are 60 minutes behind schedule” said an exhausted Nickle. Jean was almost always late to school. Her teachers had tired of making her stand outside class and she came to be called the ‘outstanding student’. She now apologized to Nickle. ”Sorry boss; the car had a starting problem.” She could spin a yarn in no time; she hadn’t lost her silken touch!
The convention hall (another of those fancy names) was a sea of humanity. Nickle took Jean to the corner table. “Jean” screamed Muskan. “Hey you look completely transformed. You look gorgeous.” Jean didn’t know whether that was a compliment; Muskan had this habit of pulling a fast one. Jean simply blushed and settled down in the chair trying to make small talk with those whom she was meeting after ages.
“Jean, what do you do for a living?” It was Muskan again. “Economist” said Jean this time with pride in her eyes. Just then Dolly Singh, their English teacher of yore walked in. She still could make the girls draw their breath with her athletic looks. Nickle, now an engineer by profession and once known as the guy who could punch his teachers with questions galore asked “Jean, Is India’s growth secular?” Jean smiled “Why are you asking that?” And before Nickle could respond, Muskan said, “When my dad was at college India’s economy used to grow at a piddling 2% per annum and that rate came to be dubbed the Hindu rate of growth. But post reforms things are healthy. By last count we were growing at 9.4%“.
Muskan hadn’t answered Nickle’s question. Jean did. “Well Nickle, India’s businesses are Service, Manufacturing and Agriculture. These constitute 56%, 26% and 18% respectively of the GDP. The growth isn’t secular in the sense that all sectors aren’t growing at the same pace. Services are growing at a faster clip than agriculture”.
“I guess the Indian middle class is now having a ball.” That was Sam, the guy who couldn’t talk English at school and who had now graduated from one of America’s prestigious b-schools. And the good for nothing guy (at least that’s how Dolly Singh used to call him) who was perennially at the bottom of the rank list was now earning tons of money. Apparently you can be a zero at school and a hero at the work place, thought Jean.
Sam was on a song. “I understand the Indian middle class is undergoing a metamorphosis.” Nickle volunteered an explanation. “Yes; once upon a time the middle class had a degree of economic independence, but not much social power. Oh they had a right to vote and the right to send a letter to the editor. The new middle class owes its social position to its career orientation and skills”. Suddenly Muskan said, “Hey look there. It’s Aunty”. Aunty was the nickname of their principal. “Gosh she’s still alive and kicking” said Sam with an air of irreverence.
Nickle remarked, “This middle class is now willing to spend; and spend like mad. As though there is no tomorrow”. Aunty had joined in the conversation. “Hi kids. India’s giant population has ceased to be a liability. It is now an asset.” Jean murmured, “Robert Thomas Malthus is dead. Long live Malthus.”
“But their earnings aren’t secular I believe” said Sam. Jean couldn’t disagree. Yes, on the one hand there are people who earn Rs 5,000 pm and on the other there are those who take home close to 100,000 a month; both being in their 20s. Sam patted Jean. You economists always say, “On the one hand” and then you proceed to say, “On the other.” Pray what would happen if someone chopped one of your hands?” Even Jean had to agree that there was a distinct touché to the statement.
Nickle came to Jean’s support. “Back in 1992 the maximum amount that could be paid to the managing director of a company was Rs 15,000. Boy today no one comes for that price. Fresh graduates joining call centers pick Rs. 25,000 a month. A 20 something systems analyst takes home at cool Rs 60,000. A private sector general manager is paid Rs 300,000 a month”. Aunty asked, “Yet what does the RBI Governor take home? Or for that matter the prime minister?”
“Real salary increases are forecast to be 50% higher in 2007 than in 2006, and are well above the global average.” Jean was quoting the ECA International’s Salary Trends Survey 2006/2007. Before she could say any further, Sam remarked, “If I had one foot on a hot stove and another in ice cold water you economists would say that on an average I am comfortable. It was all that Jean could do from throwing the glass of juice on him.
She continued. “The report also mentions that the manufacturing sector got 4-11 per cent increments. But the top management took home a 43 per cent raise. In pharma, senior management increments (47 per cent), outstripped those of the junior (40 per cent) and the middle managements (5.6 per cent)”.
The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer murmured Nickle. And Muskan screamed “Hey, our dinner is getting cold.” And with that she brought the house down.