Monday, October 20, 2008

The Great Depression Part II?

Prithvi Nagar was a quaint little village. It was a self-sufficient village and hence isolated. They grew everything they wanted and sold the surplus to their neighbours. They had carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, goldsmiths and everybody had cattle. They even had a school for the children. Uttam Singh Allahabadi was a wealthy moneylender in this village. He was a very jovial man and enjoyed company all the time. There never was a time when Uttam Singh’s huge mansion did not have several guests.

There were other money lenders in the town but Uttam Singh was the most popular. He kept good relations with every one in the village. He was especially good with his debtors. He often advised them on personal matters. Sometimes these debtors were bothered by his interference but being the money lender, they could neither offend him nor ignore his advice. The other money lenders always had a grudge against him, as he took away their debtors but his popularity required them to give him due respect and would only gossip about him behind his back.

Many of the townspeople thought Uttam Singh was loud, arrogant and extravagant, but most admired his strength, wisdom and his general way of life. So much so that many people began to imitate his way of life. Luxurious goods that they could not afford such as silk curtains, ornaments of gold and regular visits to the cinema hall became a necessity. This only increased the number of debtors in Uttam Singh’s directory. One thing he noticed was that the people who borrowed the money were farmers, blacksmiths, and other people with low income and never the landowners or panchayat leaders. He wondered how his debtors were planning to repay him but pushed away the thought; ‘That’s their problem. Why should I worry about it?’ Other moneylenders were more careful about lending money to such people who they called ‘sub-prime loans’. They even warned Uttam Singh but he would hear none of it.

Soon there came a time when Uttam Singh’s debtors could no longer afford to repay him. They sold any thing in the house that they could sell and still they were short of money. Much as he threatened and blackmailed them, they did not have any more money to give. Uttam Singh soon began to lose all his money. He stopped lending. A few years passed in this way. In the beginning the other money lenders of the village gloated at Uttam Singh’s plight. Little did they know that this was soon to affect their lives as well! The farmers were unable to buy fertilizers and gave up using water pumps to save electricity. This led to a shortage of surplus grains to sell; eventually leading to a shortage of food in the village. The landowners no longer profited from their lands. Schools shut down because children stopped going to school so that they could help their parents on the field. Thus, the school teachers were jobless. The carpenters, blacksmiths and others no longer had anything to do. Many lost their jobs and everybody was unhappy.

Uttam Singh went into depression. He could not handle the guilt of having ruined the lives of so many people. Many tried to console him and told him that it would be alright. But he could only hear his own conscience, reminding him of a story his father told him.

“Have you forgotten how your grandfather lost all his money by interfering in other people’s matters? They had called his depression the Great Depression of teh '30s. Have you not learnt from your ancestors’ mistakes, you fool?”