Is it money over morals?

Is it money over morals?

“Aunty, India is 94th in the list of 176 most corrupt countries of the world,” I told my 80-year-old aunt.

“What about Pakistan?” she asked, immediately.

After dancing with joy that we were ranked higher than our neighbour, she went on to spelling out why she thought things had become so bad today. Having watched a lot of noisy TV debates and opinions, she knew how to analyse.

She put on her glasses and closed her eyes. She sank into deep thought, and then pronounced her grand conclusion: “We are corrupt because we are dishonest,” she said. I nodded, enlightened. “Where is the ethical spirit nowadays?” she went on. “What kind of times do we live in? Money, rather than morals, runs things today, young lady.”

My middle-aged-young-lady heart was stung, but then, mulling over her words made me see her point of view. I thought back to her era and couldn’t help agreeing. I even flicked out my pen and wrote a few odes.

“Oh,” I began. “Oh, for those golden decades of morality, when looting was in silence and hoarding in secret! Where are they? Gone forever.” I wrote further on the lost generations of losers.

It made me cry, that the British, those divine emissaries sent to teach us civilisation, wasted their expertise in stealthy highway robbery, for we haven’t learnt to do it with such finesse. They even made their act look interesting, with names like Doctrine of Lapse. What is more, they were driven by noble intentions, unlike most of us nowadays. We have not cultivated the sophistry of phrase, for instance, that nails down a thought as profound as the ‘white man’s burden’. Or ‘divide and rule’.

Alas, all those wise prophets who declared that Indians can govern themselves have been proved wrong too. The island across the Mediterranean is chortling at our complete inability to pursue their polished thievery for the greater common good. In spite of 200 years of training, we have collapsed in just 60 years. Our scams are public, our exposes are every day, and our media is shameless. Dirty linen is wrung no longer in private rooms, but over TV screens in private drawing rooms.

That is why you see wealth, like a vulgar, painted clown, strutting openly on roads choked with fat cars and people becoming arthritically weighed down with duty-free Dubai gold. Robbery is in broad daylight, and the politician and police have dropped the pretence of taxation to protect the public. Corruption is cool and ambitions are global in size and stink. Where is that wonderful modesty, that becoming shame while showing off? To paraphrase W C Fields, we are not a rich nation, just a poor nation with a lot of money. And we don’t know what the hell to do with it, but spend.

Before the British, we had the scholarly ascetic with his begging bowl, but when we became socialist, non-aligned and self-sufficient, we nationalised it so that we could stretch out the bowl at global forums. Yet you have to admit that we did one better than before when we discovered that stretching the hand under the table worked just as well, but that the hand over the table worked best. A unique, different approach, you will agree? You can see how many people — both Indian and global — are scrambling for the spoils now, from the cricketer to the journalist.

It isn’t as if we aren’t fighting corruption. It’s just that everyone is too busy fighting with each other to have time to spare. The Rig Veda described that corruption resided in the nine heads of Ravana. That is why, every year, after bravely cutting off all the heads at Ramlila Maidan, we can go back to perpetuating more corruption till the next celebration.
Recently, I stumbled upon a wealth of wisdom in the Internet, that repository of all religious wisdom — both true and cooked up. The Vedas, I read, are like a hold-all of all viewpoints. While one branch talks of renunciation and sacrifice of money, another extols accumulation of wealth.

There is also the Arthashastra by Kautilya, that first how-to book on doing just about everything money-related, which nails down the source of desire: “But wealth and wealth alone is important in as much as charity (dharma) and desire (kama) depend upon wealth for their realisation.”

Now that makes sense. At last I understood how wealth in India drove people and why people drove wealth to where it belonged — the power corridors. For unless the top brass collect wealth from the people, how can they fulfill their karma of generously giving it in charity?

The Bible too has some interesting things to say about money: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Wow! That makes me understand why we are so rich as well as poor. Ask the match-fixers and bettors how hard they have to work to do their stuff, while the rest, who are poor, are probably only talking.

Depressed by my article, I turned back to Aunty. “So where do you think we are going?” I asked, in despair. “Will we ever see a scam-free era?”

She nodded. “I’m pretty optimistic, as I think there will be a lot of peace. Look how everyone is involved nowadays — the politician, maid and garbage collector. Pretty soon there won’t be any more exposes, as everyone will be a scamster.”

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