What is the lowest you ever scored at maths?
(Laughs). It was a black day in my life.
Is there any one branch of mathematics you would view as a weakness?
Statistical method. I find it unnecessarily academic.
Were your parents very strict? Cause I’ve heard Tam-Brahm parents can be very strict.
In certain respects, yes, and in certain respects, no. My father was a Burmese national and by nature a very chilled out type. My mother… she was very orthodox. They were very strict when it came to Vedic studies but I suppose, as a male child, I always got preferential treatment. You know, sons are always treated better in Tam-Brahm families so it wasn’t so bad.
You have a sister?
She had it bad?
She wasn’t really oppressed or anything, but yeah, when compared to how I was treated, she probably had to take more shit than I had to…
Like domestic chores and household duties. But she was actually better at maths than I was.
Do you think MJ had it coming?
I don’t think I am qualified to answer that. I am not a follower. I don’t know anything about his music or his personal life, so, no comment.
What time do you wake up in the morning?
Do you pray every day?
Yes. From 6.45 AM to 7.30 AM.
Who is your favourite artist?
Picasso. I also like this singer called Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan. I love the architecture of Frank Gehry. I like his use of fluid spaces. There’s also this Central Asian architect called Zaha Hadid, whose style I admire very much.
And what is that?
Very open, spherical brick structures. Utilitarian. Harnessing nature’s resources.
What do you think is the coolest advertising campaign ever?
There is this Bajaj bulbs ad which I used to like from the 80’s. ‘Jab mein chotta bachha tha…’ (sings the entire jingle). Among the newer stuff, I like the Vodafone ads and also this Airtel ad where a kid phones his Dad on a toy phone.
Do you think advertising is necessary for commerce?
See, advertising is a factor of consumerism. It has a sociological and economic impact. I believe that informative advertising is good. As in, advertising that tells you about the various benefits of products in the marketplace, but if it is something that depicts luxuries as needs, then I feel it is wasteful.
What about conspicuous consumerism?
It is a fall-out of the capitalist economy. It is unfortunate, but there’s no getting away from it. For example, if you have a 32 GB iPod, then there is no real need for you to go out and get a 160 GB iPod with a phone and software that helps you make a flash movie. You don’t need it. It just generates e-waste. But the lines between necessities and luxuries are very blurred. Till 20 years ago, there were people who didn’t need soap, but now it is a necessity.
So, if I buy a 160 GB iPod which may not be a necessity but provides employment to 5 poor workers in China, is it really evil?
One has to consider long-term implications when talking about short-term gains. The production of that iPod may require 50 gms of aluminium which displaces 50 metres of land and one tribal family, not to mention the wildlife. So, while China gains, say, $9000 from manufacturing 100 iPods and benefits 5 poor workers, as you say, in the long term they will harm 50 poor citizens and it will cost them $900,000 to repair the harm done to their natural resources.
You recently published a book. What was that about?
Macro-Economics in a Politicalised Environment. It is about fiscal responsibility and budgetary management, also known as FRBM.
In layperson speak?
Well, it has to do with the essential nature of democracy and the division of powers between executive, legislative and judiciary and bout how, in India, the executive basically steals the show. The idea of democracy in our country is a fraud. It’s about the things that the government should be doing to bring down fiscal deficit.
One of the ideas I’ve talked about is the abolishment of Income Tax.
Ha Ha. What a lot of people don’t know is that Income Tax, even in England, was established as a 1-year measure to prevent civil war. Even today it is a temporary law, which is re-instituted every year. I think they should abolish it altogether and instead have a Consumption Tax.
So, the guy who buys a Mercedes pays more than the guy who buys a Maruti and pays more road tax since he uses more of the road.
Isn’t that already the case?
But what I propose is more pronounced.
Sounds pretty harsh.
But only then will the equity of taxes be realised. Because, merely increasing income tax to decrease fiscal deficit doesn’t work in the long run. It is also more fair. Someone who doesn’t consume, doesn’t pay.
Very clever and surprisingly simple, once you understand it. Now, this book of yours, is it in Financespeak or can regular people figure what’s going on?
It’s not too difficult to understand, but yes, one needs to have a basic understanding of the laws of economics and political science.
So, the people who can actually understand this would be people who already know about this stuff.
Wouldn’t that be a question of preaching to the clergy?
(Laughs). Yes. It is, I’m afraid. It’s a shame but that’s how it is. Maybe we should find a way to get regular people to understand…
Hmmm…a financial viral on youtube. That certainly is a challenge. But you never know, more and more youth today are discussing state policy as the Obama campaign showed us, so maybe we should take a crack at it.
Ok let’s move on to another favourite topic. Let’s talk about vegetarianism.
Yes (bracing himself for meat-eater jokes)
Now, if everyone were become vegetarian overnight, that would be the ecological equivalent of winning the lottery; it would release vast resources of land, water and energy. But that would also be the case if we were to all give up our cars and started walking, so it’s a puerile argument. So let’s disregard that bit shall we?
So, the economic and ecological implications apart, what would be your case for vegetarianism?
I am vegetarian by faith and by disposition. In the first instance, I happened to be born into a vegetarian household, so I didn’t have any say in the matter. However, choice is a matter of free will, and in this regard, I think my best reason, other than the obvious economic and ecological implications, is compassion. I am a non-violent person. I cannot stand the idea of any of God’s creatures slaughtered. It is a sickening sight. You only have to go someplace where they kill animals to be put off it forever.
Do you think plants can feel pain?
I think so. Maybe.
So, what if it was proven beyond doubt, scientifically, that plants can feel pain? Would you say, fuck it, if I’m causing pain, may as well eat some sausages?
It’s a question of degree. Living is an extremely violent act. We cannot get away from it. The very act of sitting here in this room, using electricity, drinking coffee, using this pen to write on this sheet of paper is a result of a violent acts on Mother Nature. So, we are already sinning, in a sense.
So, it’s all a question of degree.
Yeah. It’s like having a choice between committing a murder and picking someone’s pocket. We’re all criminals, but I’d like to be a lesser criminal.
Are you a dog or cat person?
I love dogs. But my wife doesn’t. Maintenance is also a problem.
If someone made you king for a day, what would you do?
(Looks completely befuddled). I’m not sure I can answer that. It is too complicated. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll do anything. Maybe I’ll just spend the day with my children.
You’d do nothing? What about all your rage against the machine?
Mostly, I think of things that are sustainable in the long run. Just being king for the day is no use. Somebody will come along and fuck it up the next day.
Do you think it is fair that Hindi is the national language?
What should it be?
English should be the national language. At least everyone can understand it.
There’s another thing I’ve never understood. Maybe you can help me understand. Why do you think all the pictures of Hindu gods look fair and tall? We’re a country of dark-skinned people. How come they don’t have a Ram who is dark with curly hair?
You see, it is just artistic interpretation. That’s all. And I’ll have you know that the pictures also have Krishna and Bheem depicted as dark-skinned.
Bheem was dark-skinned?
Yes. Bheem was a Rakshas. He was also born at night. In the Vedas, people born at night are said to possess nocturnal powers.
Could you elaborate?
According to the scriptures, we are all beings who possess various Gunas. Rajo Gunas, Sato Gunas and Tamo Gunas. Rajas and Tamas are elevated at night. Bheem was born at night, so he had more Tamo Guna. Arjun was born in the evening so he has more Rajo Guna, which is why he is more worldly and Yudhisthir was born during the day, so he has more Sato Guna.
And the rest is artistic interpretation.
Gods and mythology were attuned towards a certain moral teaching. The Gods were larger-than-life, heroic depictions of men. So they had to be exaggerated to a certain extent. So if the writer wanted the reader to like the God and be like him, he had to make him handsome and appealing and make demons ugly and menacing.
But who decides what is beautiful?
Beauty is a cultural construct. The Soundarya Lahiri by Shankracharya does not say fair-skin or dark-skin is beautiful. Beauty is compared to nature. And natural comparisons favour the Aryan depiction.
I see. So, it’s more poetic to say, her lips were ‘like rose petals’ rather than ‘like a lump of coal’…
Exactly. The scriptures do not go into the too much detail over aspects of appearance. The aura, the character, the personality of the person created the character. You could give the same verses to an artist in Nigeria and he would perhaps draw a different Rama or a different Arjun.
What was your last purchase?
Vegetables for home on the way back from work last evening.
Potatoes, onions and … bottle gourd, I think.
What is your proudest moment?
The birth of my son.
Tell us about someone you miss right now.
My mother. She passed away 4 years ago. I think of her a lot.
Thank you for your time Bala.
V Balasubramaniam, or Bala, as he likes to be called, is our Finance Director.