A conversation between Two Chennai auto drivers while attending the Gandhi Jayanthi celebrations of their auto drivers association. WallTax Road is a commercial road in Chennai.
Peter and Gopal.
Peter: Enna Gopal, did you hear about Walltax Road?
Gopal: No. Enna aachu? Accidentaa? Which auto was involved?
Peter: No, no, nothing like that. Walltax road crashed last week.
Gopal: Appadiyaa? I did not have a savaari near that road last 10 days. Which building? Was it that building being built by that doobaakoor company? Or did the road break in the middle?
Peter: Nothing like that. This Walltax Road is in America.
Gopal: No, Peter. I have regular savaari of foreigners. In America you have one Salem, one Madras but no Walltax Road. There is only a Wall Street in America.
Peter: Yes, I am talking about Wall Street only. The latest news is it is re-named as Walltax Road. President Bush renamed it because it is built by taxing the Americans.
Gopal: Oh. Like that aa? How did it crash? One more Bin Laden plane?
Peter: No, that was in 2001. This time, banks collapsed.
Gopal: Oh! Like our Madras finance companies 10-15 years back?
Peter: No. no. Much bigger. The banks took money from people and gave it as loan to other people for buying land and houses but the borrowers did not return the money.
Gopal: Oh, like Anubhav Plantation. So did the Bank manager get arrested?
Peter: Illaypaa. (No, boss). When the borrowers did not repay, the bank took the loan papers and sold it to someone else.
Gopal: Aahaa. Ippo namma route-ikku nee vandhutae. (Now you are coming to my route). Madras Motor Finance and various companies take over by P.Rajarathinam maathri. Must be Political party benami money.
Peter: Noo daa. The bank sold the papers to some one foreign company.
Gopal: Seri, seri. (OK, OK). Like our Sivasankaran. Like TN Mercantile Bank shares or Aircell-Maxis?
Peter: Dei Gopal. Ippaddi interfere senjaa (if you interfere like this), how can I tell you the complete story?
Gopal: OK paa. I will keep quiet. You tell your story. Anyway we have to stand till Chief Guest comes.
Peter: See, these banks first took money from people and then lend the money to others to buy houses. Then they read a report that house prices willo go up. So, these banks first accumulated the loan pepers and sold them to another for a profit. With this extra money, they borrowed some more money and gave it to others to buy more houses. Only problem, since all wealthy people already owned houses, the banks started lending money to unemployed people to own houses even though their income was not sufficient to repay the loan.
Gopal: Sorry, baa. You mean like the olden days Loan Mela of Minister Poojary? You know, my uncles got themselves pachai kutthufied (tatooed) with 2 leaves and got Rs.1,000 loan during MGR time? They were able to drink for one whole month from Government Kallu (toddy) shops.
Peter: Yes, yes, like that only. The difference is instead of giving money for drinking, they gave much more money enough to buy houses. These people who took this easy money then went and bought houses at very high prices without negotiating and then used further top up loans to buy electronic gadgets and costly cars. All this, when they were not getting any income to repay.
Gopal: Oh ho. Like how we get flats allotted under Kudisai Maatru Vaarium (Housing Scheme for lower Income people) and then give it to other people on lease.
Peter: You could say something like that. Only, this was at much higher amounts. It is like you and me (auto drivers) getting a loan to buy 3-bed room flats in Poes Garden which we cannot repay even for watchman salary.
Gopal: Yebbaa. Super Star second ponnai, balcony-le irundhu site adikalaam innu solu. (You can ogle at the 2nd daughter of Super Star – English translation for Super Star is not necessary since he is very famous!)
Peter: Yes, yes. At least for 3-4 months. Anyway, after that, the only people who can afford those houses are Indramma (Indra Nooyi) or Kalaignar’s children or Sashikala. So, the bank which gave you the money in the first place can only ask you to get out of the house but cannot find new buyers to recover the loan. This type of loans were sold by the banks like how they sell “sundal” in Marina beach.
Gopal: Namma Readymoney type innu sollu. kadan vaangittu thiruppi thara mudiyallai. (After taking loan, not able to repay). Then you must be ready to put Dindigul Lock and Escaping. Aennna (why because), they will send rowdies to beat you up and you have to do self-suicide like poor GV (film producer and elder brother of Director Mani Rathnam).
Peter: That is the case in India. But in America, No. American government is arranging Anticipatory Bail for these banks for $700 billions. Using this money, the government will buy all these vethuu loan (loans worth nothing) and save the banks.
Gopal: Namma Indian Bank case ! What is there, afterall government owns Indian Bank and so put money from left pocket to right pocket.
Peter: No. no, Gopal. These American Banks are privately owned. American Government is not the owner. Their owners are very wealthy people.
Gopal: Adda Kabali (Holy Kabali, an important temple and theatre in neighbouring Mylapore and Mandaveli respectively) . The American Government arranges Bail even for this? The American Government will buy loans which are as worthless as Sundal packing paper in the beach? That too for private banks? Tell me, will they buy my old, damaged Auto? I want to become an auto owner and not be just a driver for autos owned by policemen (In Chennai, it is common practice for police constables to buy autos using their 2nd income and give it to drivers like Peter and Gopal for everyday use). But where is the American government getting the money for this?
Peter: From common citizens who did not take loans to buy houses they cannot afford. That is why it is now called Walltax Road in America.
Gopal: They are idiots or what? If our government asks our citizens to pay for banks’ mistakes, they will say “Aasai, Dosai, Appalam, Vadai” (Desire, fried flat rice crepes, papad, fried rice and lentil fritters – translation for an international audience) and go for a massive oor valam (procession) and strike led by Prakash Karat and Mamatha Banerjee. In turns Kalaignar and Amma will go on relay fast in Anna Samadhi. Plus, Anbhumani will ban Vetrilai Seeval (betal leaves used in lieu of chewing gum in South India) and protest separately. Peter, tell me, will it not make sense to let these banks go bankrupt? After all, the people who make mistakes must pay for them, right? If I do the same in my house, my Appan (father) will drive me out of the house and I have to “escape” to avoid seruppu adi (being beaten with slippers).
Peter: Adhudaan illai (that’s what is not happening). In America, it is election year for President and also their Parliament. So they quickly extended their Parliament session and passed the legislation after some mid-night drama. Taking houses away from millions of people is not a good idea if you want their votes.
Gopal: Oh, like that aa?
Peter: That’s not the only thing. These banks did some interesting transactions like our brothers in Burma Bazaar – like selling shares which they did not have and then buying them when the price varied, hoping to make a profit but ending with massive losses.
Gopal: Ada Mupaathama (an important female deity in West Mamballam, frequented by auto drivers!). You know Peter, what this sounds like?
Peter: What does it sound like?
Gopal: Gandhi kannakku (Gandhi accounting – cannot be translated further). Chief Guest has come. Let us put flowers on Gandhi statue and have breakfast.