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May 30, 1998

The other day I saw this show on television. It was called "Blubber". The previews had described it as "everyone's fantasy oreveryone's nightmare- depending on the angle you see Blubber from". I had always thought of Blubber as a Disney character: funloving, mischevious, and a bit deceptive though in a nice way. But this Blubber went up one on the Disney film I had visualised - itwas not an animated film created in some computer box but a live event with real flesh and blood people just like you and me

As promised by the billings, everyone has a strong reaction to Blubber. The members of the Bombay Club love Blubber. InBlubber they see a return to the glory of the good old days when meeting ministers in New Delhi gave you these things called aletter of intent and a license to make money. In that cozy world of protected business these great visionaries could make whateconomists call super-normal profits. All this was not particularly good for the 900 million people who bought these high-price, lowquality goods but - why lost sleep about inconsequential things? Unfortunately, things got a little dicey with all this reformnonsense and the fifty Indian families who lived off the 900 million people suddenly found themselves a little poorer. Thiscompetition stuff was not for them, khaandaani rights was more their style.

Feeling sorry for their loss of wealth (and maybe a little thankful for their support in the elections?), Blubber has this small handoutcalled an 8% import tariff that will rescue our poverty-stricken industrial groups. Most leaders, of course, see Blubber differently:the special duty is a level playing field against the sales tax and octroi that imports are not liable to. Nonsense, says another viewerof Blubber, when import tariff rates were decided all these local taxes were taken into account. And that brings me back to thecharm of Blubber: depending what angle you see it from, everyone reacts to it!

So what is it about this shape-less, form-less, seam-less, confused-more Blubber that has set the country on fire? Could it be thatthe inability to decipher their own handwriting and moving the price of petrol up by Rs 1/litre, then Rs 4/litre, then back to Rs 1/litrehas the audience in awe? Could it be that this desire to encourage the flow of NRI funds conflicts with the decision to delete the"R but not OR" status and shows the mix-and-mismatch loveable nature of Blubber? Or could it be that the sheer delight in thedeliberate ignoring of the yet unknown sanctions against the nuclear tests sort of appeals to the manhood in all us zealots? Thescript writers of Blubber made a reference to the Man of La Mancha - fighting unknown demons - and I guess the preoccupationwith trying to figure out whether the price of urea should be raised by Rs 1 per kg kept them busy. Not that the extra time onserious matters helped - they got that wrong too and quickly changed it to Rs 0.50/kg. Blubber, always happy to please anyonewith vote-giving abilities (remember the industrial groups?), was thrilled to be given yet another opportunity to change form, shape,and size.

Blubber has another fascinating element to it that not too many people have focused on yet. We all know how serious a businessmoney is - just as in a household where money is earned and money is spent. But in government budgets the expenses are morethan the revenues most of the time so we need to sell family jewels to get the money to pay for the uncontrollable freebies. Well,in Blubber, they have this really cute line about selling PSU shares. It is cute because it shows that the folks who scripted Blubberand who speak with very British and American accents probably read the front pages of the "The Financial Times" and "The WallStreet Journal" more often than they read made-in-India newspapers. The new record highs of stocks in New York and Londonprobably led them to believe that they could offload Rs 5,000 crores of PSU shares onto crumbling Dalal Street. To their credit thescript-writers did use a song from "Oliver!": "Who will buy my oranges? Who will buy my lemons?".

All in all, Blubber was a good show - it lacked the grandiose of Titanic but the end result will be the same - a good sinking! Butthere is hope. Think about this: if the people who gave you Blubber have made all these little errors here and there in something sounimportant as national accounts which can eventually be corrected, maybe they will devise a gadget that can reverse the error ofpushing the nuclear button. I can visualise it: the folks of Blubber are sitting in a room and someone says, "Jara chai to mangayia."And the poet reaches out for the button and presses the wrong one!_..The serial is called "Shudder!".

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