Manasi Phadke

Learning economics from my Lady Jeeves

Manasi Phadke | Updated on June 23, 2021

A household help offers strange, endearing and interesting insights on the economic situation in the country

I am surrounded by people with deep gyan of economics. My household help, driver and gardener may not be able to offer much by way of helping, driving or gardening, but their command on economics could put those Nobels to shame. Yours truly, much to her discomfort, is often at the receiving end of such astonishing pieces of econ-gyan.

My household help, Mala, is one helluva woman. This Lady Jeeves of mine is in her mid-30s, athletic, giggly and extremely talkative. We go back a really long way and are friends. Mala talks to everyone in the locality, and I mean everyone! You need a doctor, watchman, wireman, odd-jobs man, a rented place, gas connection, an Aadhar card? Just ask Mala, and consider it done. She is the quintessential “fixer” for the locality, and is extremely adept at making business connections. What she is not too adept at, is cleaning the house. Let us re-phrase that — she is, err, bad at it. And like she informed me with elan the other day: “There are too many demands on my two hands. So, in those places where I know the women to be fussy, I don’t really waste my time sweeping and dusting too carefully. They will sweep the floor anyway! I tell you, Manasi tai (this bit was said with a dramatic philosophical poise) sweeping is less an act and more an art. The art of knowing your employer!”

My God, the woman has entered a game-theoretic relationship with me. She not only knows the strategies I can use, but also precisely which strategies I will use. Hence, the game of cleaning the Phadke residence is obviously at an equilibrium that she dictates — dirty. I can almost visualise John Nash beaming at his protege with pride from the heavens.

Tea parties

Mala is also the “brand influencer” for the local politicians. She hosts some political meetings at her place — “my tea is very famous!” — wherein the local wannabe politician gets to interact with people in her neighbourhood. “It is always a good idea to have these meetings in your home, Manasi tai!” she told me with a giggle. “Our bachat gat needs credit. The local politicians put in a word for us at the local branch. Our Ganapati mandals need funds for the processions and the prasad and the band-baaja. We need the money, and he needs the people. Tell me if you want to hold a meeting or two at your place”, she said, as I visibly balked at the idea. “We can call all your friends and get them loans, that too at cheap rates!” I wonder whether they will invite her to the next MPC meeting to discuss the transmission mechanism.

Mala’s family owns some land on the outskirts of the city. At harvest time, she sells me farm-fresh onions, beans and other vegetables at lower-than-market prices — it’s the optimal moonlighting strategy. All the houses she works at, and those places that she helped secure the Aadhaar card and gas connections, have now become her distribution network. “But we still have to go to the APMC! All these new laws are good, but what to do when the commission agent at the APMC is also your lender? Maybe I should invite him for a small political tete-a-tete,” she said with a wicked twinkle in her eye. Can lessons on political economy get any more real?

The real deal

I am missing her in the Covid phase; she has not yet joined us back. She enjoys chatting with me on the phone and often feels the compulsive need to teach me some economics. “Oh, we are all doing fine, Manasi tai”, she told me with aplomb when I called her. “But I tell you, the economy is on a slide.” As usual, I was at a bit of a loss on handling this interesting piece of information. I mean, I felt a little cornered and insecure.

I started to wonder whether she will give me any tips on reading RBI guidance better, when she broke into my thoughts with the usual giggle. “See, I work at two places — this clothes shop and Patanjali. It is a delight to work at the clothes shop, there are no customers at all! My broom has to barely move over the floor (admittedly her speciality, I thought broodingly). Sweeping is just a formality, Manasi tai! The shopkeeper glares at me, but he can’t cut my salary. Heehee! But Patanjali is a different story altogether. I tell you, all people in this country have started eating Chyawanprash and desi ghee due to the Covid. I keep sweeping, but the floor is as dirty as ever. When the sweeping becomes easy at Patanjali and difficult at the clothes store, that is the day when things will become better!”

Here we go: Mala landed up giving me insights on some of the weirdest and yet perfect leading indicators of economic growth. I am guessing she will be called to Delhi soon. Hoping she will need me as the junior economist on the team.

The writer is a Pune-based economist

Published on August 21, 2020

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