A nation of banias….by Pritish Nandy

The much maligned caste system, complex and inscrutable as it may appear to us, once had deep roots in our society. The Brahmins pursued knowledge and statecraft. Kshatriyas fought and protected our honour and sense of nationhood. Banias ran business and trade. The sub castes (which ran into many hundreds) played their own roles. It all worked perfectly well till the lower castes, who got the rough end of the deal, began to protest. They refused to do the jobs assigned to them by history (many of which were demeaning) and sought a new status in the emerging India. This was but natural and ended up largely dismantling the edifice of caste. Merit became the new yardstick.

But the triumph of merit created its own problems. We see fewer people today doing what their forefathers did so amazingly well. Many have migrated to new jobs, without the skills required to back them. Others have become what can be best described as caste refugees. And, funnily, everyone wants to do the Bania’s job. So, however skilled they may be at what they do, most people now want to be in business, make lots of money. So from a great nation of many castes, many skills we are slowly becoming, like the US, a country where everyone, from teachers to healers to rock stars believe that God sent them to this planet with the sole mission of making money. The scramble for lucre has become so obsessive, so obscene that the dignity of many professions has simply vanished.

Where have the great thinkers gone? The legendary healers? The great musicians, painters, philosophers, teachers, leaders of change? Everyone seems to have joined the Gold Rush today. Painters talk more about the price of their canvases than the magic of their craft. Authors discuss sales graphs more than what they write about. Doctors spend more time arguing over their fees than the treatment. Teachers don’t talk about acquiring knowledge. They talk about coaching classes to help you pass exams, find lucrative jobs. Even fortune tellers blindside you to love and tell you how you can make more money by wearing some silly gemstone.

Cricketers have long ceased to be sportsmen. They are like cattle, valued by how much they fetch at slave auctions. So you write off a Saurav or a Brian Lara simply because no one bid for them at the IPL. A politician’s power is assessed not by what he does for India but by how much he stashes away in Switzerland. This country has become just another bazaar where everything’s bought or sold, from spectrum to wakf property to pretty underage brides to seats in Parliament. Everyone’s a Bania today. Everyone’s trading. No one buys art to hang it on their walls. They stash it away in vaults. Over 50% of flats sold in Mumbai, possibly the world’s most expensive real estate, are bought by investors or by politicians and Government officers to park their ill gotten cash. This ensures that prices stay at a level where actual home makers can’t afford it.

There was a time when artists did their best work for fun. Jatin Das drew the living area of my Kolkata flat in stunning black and white, over one drunken night. It was the only reason why I never rented nor sold the flat for 26 years, even after leaving Kolkata. Friends like Husain, Manu Parekh, Samir Mondal, Manjit Bawa drew for my books of poems. No one asked for money. No one offered it. It was love, admiration, friendship that brought us together. I remember, years ago, buying a hundred Sunil Das drawings at the Kolkata art fair for ten bucks each. I gave them away to my friends. Souza gifted me so many drawings. I gave them away too. That’s what art is for. My entire library of books came from authors, publishers and friends. None of my dogs were ever bought. They strolled into my home and stayed.

Life is not transactional. Nor is friendship, love, marriage, jobs. Poor as I was, I never did a job, any job for money. I came to Mumbai for a fraction of what I earned in Kolkata just because I wanted to be a journalist. I went to Parliament because I thought I could make a difference. I make movies because I enjoy it. At times we succeed. Often we fail. But money does not determine either. The questions asked are always: Did we have fun making it? Will it endure?

All around me today I see this bustling marketplace where everyone’s transacting, I understand now why our forefathers created the caste system. For all its faults, it allowed our society to have currencies other than cash. There was knowledge, skill, wisdom. There was courage, honour, pride. There was art, craft, music, the mysterious science of healing. There were so many things that made life magical. Now there’s just one currency driving us: Money. We have become a nation of Banias. Or, as the Americans would proudly say, entrepreneurs.


126 Responses to “A nation of banias….by Pritish Nandy”

  1. I empathize with Nandy’s nostalgia. It’s never too late.

    Back in December, 2003, I decided to write all my learning of the Vedic scriptures but then I held back. I knew it doesn’t sell and I don’t care for adulations. Besides I was too young to grow that long white beard.

    I brooded on the several models I could follow. One of them was what I called the Nandy-Chase-ManmohanDesai-JacquelineSusan template for quick money.

    I would design one standard horny-corny lemon popsicle something like the way James Hadley Chase did his quick-flick thrillers and Manmohan Desai’s lost-and-found formulae.

    My target audience would be 14-19 year old internet savvy teenagers.

    I had even come up with some titles for the books because that was all that I would need change later. The core of the content would remain the same with different names and different plots.

    Here are some of the titles I had thought of:

    1. Husbands are not enough

    2. He whistles, she tweets

    3. Grandma’s lip-stick

    4. A bar girl’s love affair

    5. Hair undone

    6. Beat the Heat

    7. Champagne for jerks

    And so on…. You get the hang of it.

    I was almost on my way to make a break through when my company offered me a better job and more money.

    So, I went back to my original interest which was vedic scriptures.

    • Correction: December 2005, not 2003

      • It’s a shame, really. Even writing template stuff, your spark could not be hidden and it would be a treat to read!

        Perhaps, once your book is out and you have licked blood (so to speak) you will reconsider. At least you could live as a recluse in India doing that!!

      • The template style has worked wonders for many fiction writers both good and trash.

        Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Wodehouse, The Hardy Boys writer, Perry Mason writer, Alistair Maclean, Leon Uris, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Arthur Hailey etc in the good category. I had finished them all in my high school.

        Harold Robins, James Hadely Chase, Jacqueline Susan were the horny-corny types.

        Hemingway, Kipling, Dostoyesvky, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Tolstoy, Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Victor Hugo, Maugham, Shaw etc were classic fiction of my liking.

        I was studying the teenage market of today and felt all of these were out of date for the present times.

        The template has to be something with incomplete sentences, catch phrases and a bootlegger’s vocabulary. That would sell over the counter at a dollar a piece and still make millions! Something like Townsend or Sue whats-her-name…

      • No, not the teenagers with incomplete sentences! That would be a shameful waste of your talents. They don’t know how to read a whole book anyway.

        I was thinking more along the lines of the Baby Boomers generation. They know how to read, have the time and want to be entertained. If you can turn them away from the likes Nora Roberts, you will have a million-dollar market!

      • I see a lot of Nora Roberts these days in the mushy-mushy section of the book shops. Earlier these shelves would be full of Mills and Boons publications.

      • I must admit that I have read a few of those and I can see the attraction if you want to escape your surroundings.

        I wonder if that could be done – Nora Roberts-like themes with some of your wit coming through – a waste of your talents, to be sure, but perhaps very lucrative.

        Would prove Mr. Nandy’s point up there, too…. 🙂

      • That money rules.

        To make money would be the reason for you to follow my suggestion.

        I know your heart would not be in writing such stuff. But it might beat the office, since you can do it in your garden in India.

      • I agree with Nandy about the alternative currencies he speaks… but that is strictly in an epistemological sense…

        I don’t gift my source of livelihood, which is my white collared neck…!

      • You kurta has a white collar, right?

      • Renate,

        Let me start a new string on this, okay?

      • OK.

        Now you see why I want lateral branches.

  2. Reader…
    i liked all the titles…wish you pursue on all those some day… 🙂
    would be very enchanting for the readers like us… 🙂
    Gotta go now…c ya all later..
    comment on post after reading it…later…

  3. I am off to the International Book Fair in the exhibition center here. For me it’s closest to the definition of heaven!

    Back soon…

    • For me too!

      Take a close look at all the books and then think if you still want them to be imprisoned in a soulless machine…

      • Imprisoned for storage only. I can never read a book off a digital screen.

        It feels too done up for one and there is something about paper that lends credence to the writer’s ideas.

      • Reader,

        I wonder – do you have all your books indexed somewhere? I have not.

        Sometimes half the fun is in wondering: Oh, do I have this one? and then going to my library and trying to locate it.

        I have found it necessary to categorize and alphabetically sort within the categories – otherwise finding anything is impossible.

        The other day it took me more than an hour to find my book about Max Delbrück, because I have this bad habit of moving whole stacks of books around when I need to make space – and then forgetting where I moved them because I am getting old…

        It’s not easy sometimes.. but no Kindle for me as long as I can possibly avoid it.

    • Yes, often even the way it is presented – the cover, artwork, the choice of paper, font etc. says something.

      Have you ever come across editions of classics, for example, that just turned you off for no particular reason? Llike a person you hate on first sight? Books can be like that, too. At least for me….

      • Hmm…Renate..
        So you judge a book by its cover…!?

      • Haha, MonaLisa, i guess I left myself open for that.

        No, I make sure the cover is worthy of the book.

        If that makes any sense….

      • Lol…Renate..
        What if that hard cover is irreplaceable…would you not read that book in any case…!? Regardless of good review..!? 🙂
        What if the cover is very pretty but the content is not worth reading…what would you do..!? put it ina showcase..because it has good cover..!?

      • MonaLisa,

        You’re asking tough questions.

        I’d say content rules. Just being pretty is not good enough, but in case of doubt catching the eye can make a difference. Without cover is fine, too, even the inside can be beautiful.

        I guess that goes for books and some other things, too….

      • Renate…
        Lol…those are common and general Qs…no tough Q at all… Btw…how many books without cover have you seen…!?

  4. Renate,

    A Catholic, A Protestant and a Jew are given a question to answer.

    If they were told by a doctor that they would die in a few days what would they do?

    The Catholic says he would donate all his belongings to the church, attend Sunday masses and say his Hail Marys regularly.

    The Protestant says he would sell everything and go on a world cruise.

    The jew says he would find another doctor.

    The point is nostalgia of the kind that Nandy has crafted above is irrational.

    I can see the same caste system in India today as it was 5000 years ago. The titles Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisya and Sudra don’t exist anymore. They are now translated into their English and Latin equivalents.

    Mr. Nandy must be proud of the transformation as he is an alumni of the Englishman’s curriculum for Indians.

    The priest and the politician are two sides of the same coin. One is greed, the other is fear. One is heaven, the other is hell. Call the brahmins intellectuals, kshatriyas politicians, businessmen vaisyas, house-maids sudras – the name does not matter – cow-dung by any other name would smell as foul, said Bill the bard.

    • You are right, it does smell foul.

      But tell me, how much is it worth to believe one has a choice?

      • The choice is a deliverable of intelligence.

        Intelligence is not a form of knowledge. Intelligence is life and life is intelligent. The priest and the politician primarily aim at damaging the intelligence. It’s a human spectacle.

        Trees and animals and everything in the universe is intelligent. It’s only human intelligence that can be damaged the way it is by priests and politicians.

        There is some intervention in farm products too these days. They are being genetically modified.

        So, the choice is entirely within us. Do not lean on anyone or anything for preserving your sense of life because your life is intelligent. Self-esteem is a value that is achieved only by an honest intelligence.

      • I think it is more complex than that.

        If humans could have lived on the intelligence they share with the animals and the stars, they would not have acquired what they have. I don’t know what to call it, please give me a word if you know what I mean.

        Whatever it is, it results in humans having to learn rather than trust into what they are given, like the animals do.

        And to learn, we need our environment, parents, peers, teachers – and with all of that come many influences.

        It’s a long process to go through it all and then hopefully to come into one’s own.

        Let’s face it, most of us are happy with the illusion of a choice and in reality following orders. And religion is a perfect way to cash in on that.

    • Reader…
      About the comparision between The priest and The politician… if one is greed and the other is fear…then how could one be heaven and the other one hell…!? Aren’t these greed and fear…both represent the same side…!?

      • MonaLisa,

        Heaven is an abstraction created to invoke greed in a person. Like, something better and more awaits you after death – no work, only wine and women…

        Hell is the opposite of that – it is supposed to invoke fear.

      • Reader…
        From where did they get ideas…such silly ideas about Heaven & Hell…!?
        Idea of Hell can invoke fear is understandable…but how does idea of Heaven invoke greed in someone..!? Greed for what..!?

      • Theres no work for a living in heaven… no need for money.. everything is free… no illness… no pain… everyone is equal… no one knows more than the other… no kings… no slaves… women just wanna have fun you know type of heaven…

  5. I mean, religion HAS FOUND a perfect way to cash in on that.

  6. Reader…
    How is it possible or how one can make it possible not to lean on anything or anyone..!?

    • MonaLisa,

      We lean on many things for many reasons. All I am saying is do not lean on anyone for seeking acknowledgement of your sense of life. That is solely your own.

  7. Nice information, nice site layout, stick to the great work

  8. Renate…
    What do you think…Reader is going to show up or not…!? call me when he comes in… lately it has been like Girls’ night out…hahaha…just you and me…! 🙂
    or …shall we post some songs for him..!?

  9. Great effort, MonaLisa,

    If that does not get him out here, I don’t know what will…. 🙂

  10. Renate…
    You are right…! what will…!? I don’t know anymore…I am not an expert in such games… seems like he is now deaf,dumb and blind too… I think even blinds can see this…only heartless can’t…
    He shouldn’t be testing someone’s patience to this extent…or does he really want me to fall out…!? well…! in that case too…I am not gonna bite him if he says so directly…
    I don’t like to be there too where my presence is totally unwanted… 😦

  11. Allright, you guys, now shake hands and let’s move on.

    Where were we?


    Where are you now?

    This is turning into a Punch and Judy show.

  13. MonaLisa, Renate,

    You two work well in combo. There is no reason for MonaLisa to feel that she is not required for the discussions. For instance above, Renate missed the heaven and hell metaphors for greed and fear. I’d have let it pass if MonaLisa had not picked it up.

    I enjoy these exchanges because I say things which I wouldn’t dwell on normally without any reason.

  14. Renate, MonaLisa,

    Wait for a few days.. we’ll soon have an ideal platform for exactly such meandering…

    Meanwhile I’ll experiment with one on wordpress this weekend.

  15. Reader…
    videos you posted are not working in here…

    what exactly are you upto…!? What new platform are you preparing..!? Are you closing this place down..and want us to move to the new place…!?

    • Your videos are also not playing. I had to watch them on youtube…

      Not moving away from here. We’ll restrict our discussions to the post and the subjects that fall-out of that. Thats usually for the first day or two.

      As the post lasts for many days, we veer away from the topics and begin on something altogether irrelevant. Those can be handled on another platform which is more user friendly than FB and Twitter.

    • I see more possibilities for hide-and-seek… oh fun…

  16. Reader…
    Certain comments are spotaneous …though sound out of context and irrelavent to the post….
    How would you monitor that..!?

    • MonaLisa,

      Lets see how it goes. Not sure of anything. Just an idea.

    • These things develop their own life. It will be interesting to see.

      Have any of you guys kept up with AB’s EF? The first babies have been born.

      Figuratively of course, not literally (that i know of..)

      • If it works, the IT guys will be sitting on a million dollar bonanza!

      • A million dollars between the three of us???

        I ain’t payin’….

      • Not us. The designers will get to copyright that as per the WIPO WTO agreements. They’ll make the money.

        Every platform has a project life cycle. FB and Twitter will be superceded anyway. If not by us someone else will do it eventually.

      • Reader,

        Somehow I don’t think that it will be the likes of us who will take over the world next.

        But then – you never know.. and if we have fun in the process.. it’ll be worth it anyway.

      • PS I was kidding about the million dollars. Just sayin’

  17. Reader,

    Completely unrelated question: How long do those World Cup cricket games go on for?

    I found a site that presumably streams live, but the darn game starts at 1am here. Not that I understand any of it, but I want to see Tendulkar in action. When is he up, can you predict the time?

    I gotta sleep for a stretch first and then watch.

    • Renate,

      There are only 9 matches if India reaches the final. Each game lasts for about 2 hours maximum – that is from when Sachin comes in to bat and gets out.

      Matches are about 1 or 2 per week. Theres one today evening local time.

  18. Well, when exactly does he come in today? The game starts at 2:30 India time, doesn’t it? That’s 1am here.

    • If India wins the toss and elects to bat first then Sachin will be on the pitch in 5 minutes. If India bat second he will be on after 3 hours i.e. around 0400 your time.

      Thats all there is in cricket. A bat, a ball and Sachin Tendulkar.

      • I want to see him.

        Are you watching the game? If yes, can you give me a SMS or a call when he is up?

      • Going to sleep now.. since the night will be short.. with my phone right next to my ear.. counting on you, Reader.. thank you!

        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Pssstttttt… Rhheeeeennnaaaaaaaaaaat,

        Whaake uuuup… Sachin is going to start batting in 2 minutes…

      • Huh… what… yaaawwwnn… you serious..???

        Thanks a lot, Reader, you are a darling? 🙂 🙂

        Where is Sachin though?? It’s Sehwag who chases the Brits around.

      • Sehwag is on a song. He is making the English bowlers slog for their wages.

        Sachin is yet to open his bat. He has been on the other end mostly. Watch. Hope he plays all 50 overs.

  19. Sehwag is out. What’s happening now?

    Is Tendulkar going to get them yet?

  20. Do you have a link to the ESPN live stream, if there is one? I looked and did not find it.

    My site has a commentary. It sounds British.

    • Yes. Sunny is on the same. BTW, it’s not British, it’s English. Ireland and Scotland other slave colonies of Britain have their own teams like in soccer.

  21. Actually, it seems to be a Middle Eastern Channel I am watching. It got kind of boring since Sehwag is out.

    When will the action start?

    I am getting real sleeeepy… zzzzzzz.. zzzzz

  22. Sharmila, Renate, MonaLisa and all,

    Check this out: http://haruspical.wordpress.com

  23. Reader,

    I just woke up because I dreamt that you texted me the words ‘Toasts’

    There seems to be occasion. Is India still up??? How did Sachin do?

  24. Gosh, and I slept over it! Why did you not wake me??

    Where do I put my comment on Haruspical – and what does the name mean?

  25. Hmmmmm…..

    n pl , haruspices (in ancient Rome) a priest who practised divination, esp. by examining the entrails of animals
    (C16: from Latin, probably from hira gut + specere to look)
    ♦ haruspical adj
    ♦ haruspicy n

  26. I commented.

  27. Good Morning/eve…everyone…
    Omg…! thats the most ridiculous thing to be heard first thing in the morning…Reader…that I sound like someone else…jeeessss…! so devastating…! Gosh..! you stole all my cheerful mood in just one second with that comparision… 😦

  28. MonaLisa,

    Don’t let him get to you!

    • But come over to that Haruspical thing.

      I still want an explanation for that name Reader, I would never have associated you with divining from entrails , out of all things, for gosh’s sake!

      • It’s something that was thought up long ago when the agents wanted to open a twitter account to put up book quotes. I believe they have opened a twitter account by the same name and all my book quotes on it.

      • Oh, yeah, that’s why the name sounded familiar. I think I am following you there, but have not heard a peep. Then again, I’m almost never on twitter, it’s not my thing.

  29. 🙂 Renate…
    Do you think he can get me that easily…!? i hate comparisions is a separate issue but to get on my nerves…lol
    got some cords made up of steel…with grace of God…lol..!
    I can be a Drama Queen some time ..! You know..! 🙂

  30. Reader….
    The one you suggested is an open platform..yet most are AB’s EF…as you mentioned…now why do you want me to sit down with someone allergic to me…!? 🙂

    • What AB’s EF? Me? Who else?

      I am not allergic to you… 🙂

      • Renate…
        You might have got your immunity improved with time…others might not have…
        I don’t want to see the same thing happening on Reader’s blog….the way it happened on AB’s blog…
        I know Reader is bit different and wouldn’t tolerate any nonsense or nuisance from anyone…but hey…! It’s better to keep away from trouble before it troubles you…
        I wonder though…how AB’s EFs found about Reader’s blog…!? surprised they are nesting on it..!!!

      • Which EF has found out? I think I have lost that particular subplot.

  31. Renate…
    I just read up there a name and Reader told me once about requests they sent for acceptance…I don’t know…I might be dillusional in some matters…

    lol…Reader has GPS locator on his blog…if you are aware of it

  32. Yes, I saw his world map. But it does not mesh with the comment tracker very well, I have no idea why.

    Anyone knows by now where I am, and people on AB’s blog have started to put my full name on on occasion. What can I do? I live with it.

    I think way more AB EFs read Sharmila’s blog than Reader’s, if that’s what you are concerned about.

    • There is no mapping on this site. The one you’re discussing is the book site. It’s not mine. It will be used later by the marketing guys from the book stores. I am delinking that from my name here.

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