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There is only one goal. That is to be whole again.

There is only one goal. That is to be whole again. How human beings live and work determines whether they remain whole or are split. ...


 Lecture given at the Goat Island summer school in Bristol, UK (2001), and Chicago, Illinois (2002). Later published by the Institute of Failure.

Fragile, Father, Dead: 26 short failures in performance, place, and economics.   

Abhay Ghiara

The blast of hot humid air that greeted me at Midway made me want to cry. As my Nigerian driver glided the large yellow taxi through Chicago traffic I thought about how the air of a place can find no way of getting into the people who live there in the absence of humidity. The thick Chicago air pregnant with waters has burrowed itself into my bones and when on occasion the wet Chicago air that resides in my bones meets the wet Chicago air that never left home, the airs meet and greet each other.

And that’s when you are quiet and concentrate on the Abba or Carpenters or whatever plays on the Nigerian’s radio. Sounds that seeped into your bones even as the hot air burrowed in Lagos or Bombay or elsewhere. At a stoplight a beautiful Mexican girl blasting Latin tunes pulls up right next to our car. We look, the Nigerian and I, look at her and her glistening skin, her heaving, small, perfect breasts, dark eyes. We see all this, how hip she is, how her head bobs back and forth to the beat. And we know that our worlds, our hot humid nights in Lagos and Bombay memorizing Tennyson while listening to Neil Diamond have separated us from this dark Mexican girl and everyone else.

Bhakris. We are going to make bhakris.

Laughter. Rounds of nervous laughter. Exclamations of bhak-ri! followed by more laughter.

I plan to go home and make bhakris. They are made of bajri, a grain that has been used to make bread with in my mother’s family for generations. Today when I mention making bread out of bajri I get the laughter. Nervous laughter. A lot.

All over post-Green Revolution India, communities have stopped eating traditional grains grown and harvested locally by women and switched to wheat, especially mill and factory processed white flour. The memory of food that is traditional, ecologically sustainable, women-grown is an embarassing distant memory. Hence the nervous laughter.

Television came to Bombay in 1973. The Cricket Club of India scrambled to find commentators. The early commentators hired were veterans of radio. I remember at age 7 how odd it sounded to have these commentators describing not only the game but also each step each player took, the slow rubbing of the ball, the change in fielding positions. I could clearly see everything that was being described, a little differently, making me see double.

The humidity in Bombay makes my head spin. Sometimes I have difficulty breathing. I don't remember things like where I am supposed to meet Adil...where Iam....I stand on railway platforms drenched with sweat breathing through my mouth to let in large quantities of hot wet air, making a funny, sinking sound.

I peel my wet clothes off and jump in the cold shower. I stand very still trying to cool down. Half an hour later when I turn the shower off I break into a sweat.

Tarzan was our favorite comic. Tarzan with his huge, muscular body, perfect teeth and hair that was straight and never disturbed even as he swung from vine to vine.

I started reading Tarzan in 1976, the year we learnt, in geography, how India was discovered in 1495. We spoke English, celebrated Christmas, and sang Tom Dooley in Assembly. Karan Macker could not ride the B.E.S.T. bus because he fell down whenever he did and Parag Mandrekar spent all day in a house with no parents and Tintins covering an entire wall and Asterix on another, and bits of old chewing gum all over the small freezer inside the refrigerator.

We were Tarzan, and though we spoke the language of the apes, one day a ship would discover us, and recognizing who we really were, take us away.

Tell the story of your life in 3 words. Use an object to tell your story.

A young Peruvian girl holds a red apple in her left hand, looking straight ahead, has tears pouring down her eyes.


Over and over the story is about loss, leaving, and never going back.

An older South African student, an ex-policeman, holds a cane in his hand. He grabs me and draws me into his space, hands me the cane and bending over motions me to strike him.


Seeing my utter inability to strike him, he takes the cane and hits the empty plastic chair until the cane splits into pieces.

We perform our pieces for each other and then respond to each others pieces. Over time the instructions get more and more complex, the constraints more and more specific, performance and response blend together, solos, duets, quartets flow into each other and out.

I am an economist and a performer. I am interested in creating community, from its infrastructure to its collective expression.

I am interested in personal change through performance. And social change through performance. And in a change in the nature of performance itself though the creation of community.

Collaboration takes time. Collaboration is exhausting. Collaboration results in conflict.

Except for 3 short years under Indira Gandhi, India has been a democracy since 1947. Economists from the Ford Foundation, UNESCO, and the World Bank have visited India ever since, and after a thorough examination declare the Indian economy dead. Democracy is a sham, people say, even back home. Let us go back to the organized benevolent despotism of British rule.

Whatever the merits of subjugating peoples less powerful than ourselves may be, they shall not be discussed here. Let me turn instead to the work of the Indian Nobel laureate in economics, Amartya Sen. Sen’s life work has been an inquiry into the nature and causes of famines. To summarize his work, let me number his ideas:

1) Famines are not a production problem as is commonly assumed, but a distribution problem. The problem is never too little food, but too little food in a particular region.

2) In every country suffering from famine, the aggregate food supply is adequate to feed the entire population.

3) At the outbreak of famine, it is the government’s job to make sure that food gets from regions of excess production to regions in dire need of food.

If these basic facts are understood and utilized, famines can be completely avoided. Now, wouldn’t a benevolent despot be able to command the country’s bureaucracy to take action in such a situation faster and more efficiently than a democracy? Sen has shown beyond a shadow of doubt that the answer is no.

Consider these facts:
1) No democracy in history has ever suffered a famine.
2) Take the case of India: Under British rule India suffered several prolonged famines. After independence, India has suffered no famines at all.

Democracy, like collaboration, is difficult. But if we want all of us to survive, for the human race to not keep leaving behind the unfortunate, the hungry, the poor, and the sick, it seems to me that we have no option but to embrace democracy and in doing so embrace collaboration.

Am about to leave the dusty desert metropolis of Jaipur. The tall, cool, clay pots of chilled lassi have kept me an inch on the safe side of heat-stroke...I used to think Bombay was hot!

I am not sure where I am going next. I think I will take the least dangerous looking bus. I am in such a world out here! I get up and sit on the well kept lawn next to a gigantic cage full of parrots red, yellow, blue, white. I sip hot spicy chai and eat my stuffed paratha and try to keep my eyes open. It is getting warmer every minute. By the time breakfast is done, if my foot is in the sun it will feel like it is on fire.

People don't know what to make of me. Seeing my hat they speak to me in English. We are students..hullo madhat..hullo banana..I invariably reply in Hindi..from here only..oh you look different..So you are in the commission racket and not students? ...yes,yes... for what?...That silver shop...ok...have a good day (in English)....

The foreigners are curious but I could well be a commission agent. So no one meets my eyes.

Last night at Kopis cafe a couple sit reading two copies of The Gifted Child Manual, the man in dark blue shorts and T, the woman in a very short Rani skirt flashing a pretty white triangle. She smiles at me once, twice, perhaps three times and adjusts herself.

All night in my sleep triangular handkerchiefs fly in geometric trajectories until I awake.

Jayant’s neck tumors have decided to grow again and that, the image of white round balls growing bigger becomes the formica of our childhood dinner table, the design on the plastic dinner plates of my childhood, smuggled in by our American friends. Independence Day is about replaying events. About that moment at which we were connected. A brief triangular flash that reminds us that I am at point A and you are at point B but we were once a little dot, a point where we came from. That is what I tell my brother.

In the hot desert towns of Rajasthan, as in the Sahara, the most expensive homes are built where the best breeze may be felt.

Air, which has no value in exchange here, becomes an economic commodity when it moves.

Without air, moving or not, rich and poor would perish together. Something that has no economic value actually sustains life.

I have to battle the mob at the bus station and the railway station now. Got to deposit my bag in the cloak room...Everything in India has a proper name. Problem is often that thing does not exist, In Jaipur I entered the foreign post office building. Only a facade. Literally. No foreign, no post office. Chat with the chaiwalla and everything is set straight.

Cybercafes signs everywhere. What that means is a paanwalla (betelnut tobacconist) will have an aging old computer in his kitchen, "hall", or closet. The water is free and the activity is collaborative. Same with STD< ISD< PCO booths. You share your conversation with your lover in another continent with 3 or 4 sturdy men who rub their mustaches from time to time. At one booth they even shut the door so we could all have privacy from the noise outside.

The food is excellent. No vegans in India. Dairy reigns supreme. Lassis, chass, dahi, doodh. Coffee drinkers would be quite glum I think. While the tea drinker is served an endless stream of piping hot sweet and pungent chai, the odd coffee drinker looks on hopefully at the espresso machine that the chaiwalla has installed on his cart. A closer inspection reveals it is not exactly an espresso machine but part of one. An old one. So she must not be surprised when the chaiwalla takes milk, adds sugar and nescafe, then sticks the cup under the spout for the bubbles and froth. The instant coffee sits on top of some foam and the chaiwalla is proud of his skill. No self respecting Rajasthani would pay the princely sum of Rs. 5/- and not see her nescafe sitting intact on top of her foam.

12. In the malaria infested paddy fields of Kerala in southern India the idea of disguised unemployment does not make much sense.

For the last fifty years, ever since development economics came into vogue, it has been widely accepted that a developing country can develop rapidly only through industrialization. The classical two sector economic model postulates that:

1) There is a surplus of labor in rural areas of developing countries. Since rural labor easily accounts for 80% of the total labor resources in such countries, this surplus is a significant unused potential.

2) This surplus labor unlike urban surplus labor is not at all apparent in the form of visible unemployment. Rural family and clan ties make it difficult to exclude semi-productive members from the family group and so everyone appears to be working but in reality everyone is underworked.

3) This phenomenon of underworked rural labor has been called disguised unemployment.

4) Large scale relocation of the underworked rural labor to urban areas can provide the  labor resources  industrialization requires.

5) Industrialization thus offers hope to developing countries by harnessing all the wasted potential represented by the country's disguised unemployment.

Back to the paddy fields. Some years ago a bright young economist from Bombay by the name of Cajetan Fernandes studied this issue first hand. He spent two years in the rural south, assiduously recording observations, gathering statistics and writing up his results.

The results of the empirical study by Fernandes can be summarized as follows:

1) Rural labor was largely engaged in agriculure.

2) Agriculture being a cyclical economic activity, unlike industry, required labor to be available in short and intense,  predictable (harvest time) and unpredictable (depending on seasons and weather)  cyclical patterns.

3) Periods of peak agricultural labor needs tended to coincide closely with outbreaks of water-bourne diseases.

4) In each period of peak activity in the year, family farms tended to use not only every available pair of hands in the extended family unit but also routinely hired additional outside help. When it mattered most, everyone who wasn't sick was working.

5) The idea of disguised unemployment as a rationale for industrialization falls apart when tested in the paddy fields.

Fifty years ago Gandhi intuitively felt that this idea of disguised unemployment was at best a half truth. But lacking sophisticted economic arguments, his ideas were simply regarded as quaint and outdated.

Today we have sophisticated voices of dissent in the Universities of India. Voices that stand up to the tyranny of the economics of the West. Are we going to start listening to these voices?

How fragile is my father. How fragile our dialogue when he passes away, dies. How fragile his father. How fragile their connection when he, my grandpa, passes away, dies.

The link between father and son is a long delicate thread made of silk. With this one thread between them, father and son do their dance. At the end of each side is a matchbox drawer that father speaks into and son listens and son speaks into and father listens.

Until the thread snaps and one father is carried away by laughing boys with large handkerchiefs up up to the towers where no one may speak, as the son watches. The other father’s dead body drawn into the government electric holy fires by rolling steel wheels. One moment I see him, apply eau de cologne on his forehead, the next moment, he is gone.

What we think of as our collaborative performance is our narrative, created to provide ourselves with closure, using discrete variables plucked from the organic continuum that is our piece. What Charles Correa, the Indian architect, calls creating the machine by looking at the spare parts.

Narratives are not unbiased aggregating of events but rather, logical, time-based outcomes of biases and opinions, world-views held at the point of time that the narrative is created.

Goat Island method results in the setting up, within a collaborative performance piece, of multiple narratives, at least some of which conflict with each other at every point in the piece and all of which conflict with each other at least at one point during the piece.

When my students discover that and work through it, they have breakthroughs. They find within themselves the capacity for metanarrative.

My lovely Krista,

I send you the words of Hijikata Tatsumi mixed with my own.

I sat on the verandah and watched the rain fall on my toes, the legs of the aaram chair, and Rukkaiah’s water buffalo. How important the verandah is to me I would think. The rain falls without beginning or end. As it falls I think of the time all five of us, aai, pappa, Jayant, Naval, and I dragged our cotton mattresses out and lay them touching on their sides making a seamless family bed. And how pappa kept telling his stories as we rolled around and around even as rain fell and felt cold on our arms and legs and faces and aai’s exposed belly. As it fell, time and space became mixed and intertwined until no distinction remained between the two.

When pappa got up, at what part of the story, what time of the night I do not remember. I remember the scolding, the silent fury, five limp mattresses hurriedly dragged inside, the hot suffocatingly humid air inside the house and sleeping stiffly until dawn.

While a cool lassi in a clay pot saves the traveler in the hot, dry deserts of Rajasthan, the lassi is helpless in Bombay. On a late morning after a long train ride I drank two cold lassis outside the old Bombay Brebourne Stadium and felt sick and congested. Though lassis are served in Bombay the Bombay lassiwalla knows he is doing you no favor in the humid, fumy, wet Bombay weather by handing you a lassi. So he does this without flair, without a smile or even a nod. And the lassis look sad and unappetizing in their tiny glass glasses. The drink that keeps me going in Bombay is coconut water. Anywhere you are in the city, a Keralite coconutwalla can be found in his short lungi miniskirt and a bare chest. And, oh, the cool water from the coconut does the trick each time. I will not faint now for another 15 minutes. I know my name and where I am. For another 15 minutes.

We accept in our society the idea that work should be interesting. By interesting we presumably mean that work should be devoid of many routine elements; elements that require the repetition of tasks. Our acceptance of this idea parallels our culture’s whole hearted acceptance of capitalism as the only viable economic arrangement whatever our socio-political beliefs may be. Our acceptance of capitalism along with the distaste and repulsion that we feel for what is boring are not unrelated. In fact it was Adam Smith, father of classical economics, who first made a cogent case against boredom. Smith’s famous description of a pin factory
created a vivid image of a worker’s life and spirit being broken by the repetitive nature of his work.

To find sympathetic students of boredom we must carefully disentangle ourselves from Smith’s overwhelmingly popular vision and look back in time. Diderot spoke almost lovingly of the nature of routine and the splendid effect repetitive work has on the human psyche. In that view boredom becomes the state of mind that makes it possible for the worker and the work to become one. The repetition of a task however simple over and over in the course of ones life was what Krishna spoke of on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. In India I know people who spend their entire lives reading and rereading Krishna’s words over and over in their solitude.

The nature of the boring is such that it must be given space to be. It must not be required to live up to society’s current notion of what is important or valuable. Adam Smith made the distinction between the older idea of value in use and his own idea of value which he called value in exchange. Our modern day sense of value is almost completely devoid of the older meaning of value as something that is important to us personally. We have replaced value in use with value in exchange so that the only things that are deemed to have value are those that others would want
from us. Since everyone has to experience and contemplate his or her own boredom alone, one’s own boredom has little or no value to anyone else. Boredom in other words has very little value in exchange. In our present society the lack of value in exchange is equated with the lack of value itself and looked upon with suspicion, hostility, and disdain.

Bombay! My friend Kim took me to two of Bombay's underground dancebars last night. You won't find them in Lonely Planet but they are not hard to find if you are driving slowly along the streets of Matunga. For a uniformed guard will come running up to your little Maruti car and take the drivers seat.

On three dance floors young women in sarees sway to the sounds of Hindi film music. The songs are all romantic, of love unfulfilled, of promises made and broken, of sweet sixteen pyaar yaar. Disco lights flash and men are seated on plush sofas along the edge of the dance floor. The men drink. The men motion ever
so slightly to the waiters in dark suits to bring them 500 rupee garlands, 50 rupee rolls, and 10 rupee packs. As the women sway to the music, mouthing the words of the songs that everyone knows, the notes start flying in the air. When a particular guest wants to shower a particular sareed woman with money he raises an eyebrow or a finger and one of the ubiquitous dark suited men rush to him politely, take his money and then tower above the favored woman dealing the money around her like a practiced card
dealer. The garlands are gently placed around the woman's head. The DJ changes the music dramatically from an old mellow love song(when hips gyrate ever so slowly and eyes are closed, lips trembling) to an action packed tune where everything shakes and rattles and turns and bounces.

There is absolutely no nudity, no hint of disrobing. The women are fully clothed, look traditional except for the loose long dark hair which has, instead of coconut oil, hair spray in it. The men make no attempts to touch the women, or to get to know them,
instead sinking deeper into their romantic dispair. In a country where almost everyone has an arranged marriage, love is an object of endless fascination. The liquor flows freely and the service is impeccable.

My friend Kim is getting sentimental and the 10 rupee notes he holds out to this one disney beauty (who barely smiles a knowing smile, and barely sways her ample hips) are disappearing alarmingly. The sociological discourse he has given me early in the evening when sober has long been replaced by his crooning along with the songs that are being blasted on the expensive sound system.

A man with a little mustache and an oversize suit is approaching us with a leather folder. When several hundred rupee notes are stuffed into the folder he shakes hands with us and escorts us out into the humid Bombay air. There is Kim’s little Maruti right in the middle of the street with the uniformed man beaming at

I woke up quite early on Tuesday. The room was warm and dry as always and my ceiling fan was creaking. The smell of toast and tea danced seductively in the air.

All this I say because I had got so used to this life in the dry desert city that I could have stayed for ever...and they, I mean the guesthouse running and owning family must know that. Every morning after lingering as long as the waiter with the long mustache would let me linger with my breakfast, (me with my stuffed whole grain paratha, the others with white toast, sharing huge pots of tea), I would reluctantly walk past Mr. Patil at reception to check the LIST. Each day it would be the turn of someone or the other to leave. On tuesday I am on the LIST!

Indian buses have a strict division of labor. The driver keeps driving the bus. His job and place in the set up is to drive, preferably non-stop at full speed until he gets to his destination. Bearded Indians with hats standing under trees that are known to be and have served as the only bus stop for 20 miles in any direction waving frantically LOOKING at the driver drive up do not as much as warrant a tap on the brakes. It is the conductor who is the brain of the set up. Luckily, the conductor has seen me or heard my Ayyyyy Thairoooooo! for the bus has stopped 30 meters ahead. My bus is the most dangerous looking one on this road. The conductor is yelling ALWAAR ayyyy ALWAAR and smiles at me knowingly. I say how much he says 48 and grabs my 50  rupees and stuffs it in his pocket as he carefully records the transaction in his journal. All Indian conductors carry black journals with them that they continuously update.

Every 20 minutes the bus stops. The way the conductor jumps out seems to indicate to everyone but me just how long the bus will stop. If it is just a water from the copper urn under the tree stop or a pee stop or a chai stop. The driver stays in the bus racing the engine. When the conductor is ready ( I have seen that at each stop he exchanges pages from his journal with someone inside a little wooden box with a hole in it that serves as a window.) When conductor saheb is ready he does a dhad dhad with his knuckles on the bus as off it goes with about six people hanging on, trying to jump back into the bus.

Rajasthan traffic is different from Gujerat. The Gujerati driver skillfully curves around you as you walk, pedal, or drive. Bhaskar my best friend from fourth standard taught me to keep moving at a steady pace so the traffic could guage my speed and adjust. I saw a little school girl on a bicycle that she could not sit on and pedal at the same time (we don't believe in child size anything) move against the flow of heavy traffic in the middle of the road without an accident or even angry yell. But that was Gujerat! Now I am in Rajasthan and I have already been bumped and scraped twice. The Rajasthani knows nothing about guaging anything and if he did he would resist using such knowledge on principle. He simply moves on in a straight line and if a camel, donkey, child, cyclist, pedestrian, or any such entity dare come in his way..well he keeps going. How many scooters I see on their sides wheels turning, engines running while their owners sorted things out in the middle of the street..A rajasthani farmer has taken a liking to my orange Old Navy backpack. An ambulance goes by doubling as a bus for short haul trips. In an emergency, everyone will get off and wait for it to come back. Then they can go home.

Marcos’s parents are farm workers who cross the Mexican border each morning to work a 10 hour day in the farmlands of California.

Tereza’s single parent mother works long hours as a bartender.

Leilani’s husband gave her 2 young children to support and left. She works nights at Safeway.

These are some of my students and their stories are not uncommon at the technical college I teach at. For 75 years, immigrants have sent their children or themselves enrolled at our college with hopes of realizing the American dream.

Some numbers: Over 80% of our students come from families in which neither parent attended college. Over 75% are from immigrant families. Like myself, they were born most commonly in developing countries.

These students come to us to be trained in the latest cutting-edge technology, engineering principles, and everything to do with computer technology.

The one thing these students do not expect to do is study performance. And yet, each one of our seniors is now required to take the performance class that I have developed and teach before they can graduate.

Adam Smith has been called the father of classical economics. To understand classical economics, to pin point the crux of the problem with classical economics, you must allow me to explain Smith’s economics to you. And you must be patient and follow along with me.

Some history. Two important schools of economics preceded Adam Smith. Economic thought in the hands of the Mercantilists consisted mostly in extolling the advantages of hoarding gold and silver and undertaking wars to expand the princely treasure chests. It was the french Physiocrats who pointed out that wealth consisted not in the net value of the Monarch's hoards but in the flow of income from hand to hand within the fabric of society, a remarkably democratic idea! But don't get too carried away by this. We will return to it later. Smith took to this idea of wealth as a flow. Imagine the workings of blood in the body. A hoard of blood is of little value to the organism. The flow of blood through the body on the other hand nourishes, energizes, and keeps alive the organism. Similarly, Smith argued in his great work of 1776 (The Wealth of Nations) that the old notion of wealth as the stock of iconic value (for what else is gold and silver except an icon of wealth?) held by kings and princes needed to be replaced by the concept of wealth as spending flowing through the economic arteries of the nation's populace. So Smith integrated a very new vision of wealth into economic thought.

Using that basic analytical approach, Smith made two important points. Firstly he was able to describe, in detail, the functioning of an economy where important economic decisions were made not by a political authority but by the market itself. Secondly, Smith attempted to uncover the forces that led to the growth and decline of economies over time.

Let us consider the functioning of the economy first. Smith was able to show that under certain ideal conditions, demand and supply would be able to adjust automatically, enabling people to vote for, through their spending choices, the goods and services they desired. These elected goods and services in turn would be produced, in the quantitites the people voted for, by profit-hungry businesses kept from exploiting the situation by ever present competition. Each business in attempting to satisfy the dollar-votes of the people, would be forced to keep prices close to the actual cost of production or else risk losing their business to the other businesses lurking in the shadows, waiting to steal the honor of satisfying the wants of the public at a profit.

Now to Smith's second important idea. Smith argued that the satisfaction of the people's wants (expressed through their dollar-votes) by businesses would lead to a massive flow of goods and services through the nation's economic arteries. In other words the wealth of the nation would grow and the nation would prosper. This process would not continue for ever, though. As demand for goods and services grew,  competition amongst businesses would grow as well. But businesses would have to pay an increasing wage as demand kept growing. This combined with constant competitive pressure to keep prices low would eventually lead to declining profits and in an increasing number of cases actual losses. The economy would experience a downturn as businesses failed, employment dropped, and the early promise of economic expansion vanished. Hey! This sounds more like Marx's vision than that of the father of classical economics. Are you sure you don't have them confused? you say. Actually this was to become part of Marx's vision, for Marx's economics was essentially Smith's economics turned upside down! What makes Adam Smith the darling of the conservative set is that after setting up a promisingly doomed vision of economic development over time, he saves it just in time. So the declining profits and downturned economy are not the end of the story but just the events leading up to the INTERVAL. So what saves the (capitalist) world? In two words, sex and mortality. For during the long years of economic prosperity before the economic decline, people are reproducing like crazy, confident that their pay raises and overtime can support a larger family. At the same time, the increasing income dramatically cuts down on infant mortality rates. Just when it seems like despair is to be the order of the day, the increased work-force (the babies have grown into able-bodied adults) intensifies the competition for jobs, bringing wages down. Suddenly, as wage pressures fall, profit opportunities multiply and the once declining economy will glide upwards again for another long period of economic growth. Since the growth of population is potentially limitless, the economy endlessly loops through periods of growth and decline. Such is the nature of the growth and decline of the wealth of nations.

I would like to point out two important things about Smith's economics. Firstly, it is essentially an apologist formulation. One may notice great declines in economic prosperity under capitalism, but they were part of the grand scheme of things. The declines were to be followed inevitably by powerful expansions, so it was best to accept economic reality rather than question it and risk losing the prosperity lurking right around the corner. Secondly, Smith's vision has erroneously struck many people as a singularly democratic one. After all, they contend, it is what the people want, as expressed by their dollar votes that gets produced. That too, at the lowest cost and prices as insured by competition. It is not what the monarch or other authority wills that gets produced, but what the people want. Surely there is a powerful democratic thrust to Smith's vision. Unfortunately that is pink eye-wash. Spending in the form of dollar-votes would be truly democratic only in a society with a perfectly equal distribution of income and wealth. Think of what Smith's vision would look like if applied in the more familiar political, rather than economic context. Each person in society would get to vote only in proportion to his or her income and wealth. What a capitalist economy produces is what people want in proportion to  their income and wealth. Which is why the market will never produce housing for the homeless or food for the hungry while producing bombers for the military.

An alarmingly uninformed common tendency in our country even amongst so called liberals is a preference for 'market outcomes' over political decision-making. That is in fact the undoing of democracy. The talk of dollar votes creates the illusion of democracy while steadily eroding democratic process.

The sounds, the smells, the voices. I remember being sick in Surat and hearing the sounds of the spices in hot groundnut oil spluttering and popping and then the moist vegetables eased into the boiling oil going psssshhh pssshhh. Gold bangles clanging as chapatis are rolled and the pressure cooker whistling. I lay in bed for an hour listening, and smelling. I was quite well when I finally got up.

I convinced my friends Bhaskar and Kim to take me to Gossip to see a Hindi movie. It was hard, they wanted to see an English movie. But I convinced them to do it for me. After negotiating a fair price with the lady with the nose-ring and baby (if you are going to further the illegal market why not help a black-marketer who is also a mother?). The first thing that strikes you in the movie theater is how loud the sound is. It is BLASTED on the sound system. Kim and Bhaskar are complaining about seeing a Hindi movie. Mothers walk their kids and carry their babies up and down the aisles as they watch. Mobiles keep ringing and are answered promptly. No one seems to ever hang up. At a sentimental moment I turn first to Kim and then to Bhaskar. They are both crying. The girl's father is shouting GET OUT! The hero answers with a quiver in his voice, half to himself, half to the audience: I swear to make him my fatherinlaw before I die.

As a child, when my family travelled from Bombay to Baroda, we would get off at Surat station to munch on the famous Surati Nankhatais and sip tea in clay cups. Later, when we were done and heard the train whistle, we would fling the clay cups into the air and over our train compartment and hear them fall on the other side.

The Surati Nankhatais are still available on Surat station. But your tea is served in a styrofoam cup.

Textbooks define economics as the study of how to optimize the use of our scarce resources to satisfy our unlimited human wants. Human wants, as opposed to needs, are defined as being unlimited. Resources are said to be scarce because the earth does not posess the resources to satisfy our unlimited wants. It seems clear to me that the task of economics thus posed is one of squeezing out the most of our resources, through exploitation of nature, human labor, and the dismantling of myriad cultures in a futile attempt to satisfy human wants which are by definition insatiable.

Is there an alternative? Yes. Consider what happens if you apply Gandhi’s satyagraha to economics. Take away the assumption of unlimited human wants. Why should we accept that human wants are unlimited? In other spheres of human inquiry do we accept that the human inclination toward unlimited violence, unlimited destruction, and unlimited carnal engagement are not only unavoidable but natural conditions to be catered to in every possible way? If we accept the prudent limiting of human wants as we do the limiting of other human proclivities, economics as we know it would have to change in a fundamental manner. The limiting of human wants would bring out the absurdity, and through a falling rate of profit negate the economic logic, of the exploitation of nature and human beings. The end of monoeconomics would bring an end to the economic logic of monoculture.

I remember Lin Hixson of Goat Island saying once that the Goat Island process was about construction. That is what I am interested in. The parts. The whole. How the parts are put together to create the whole. Why the whole makes sense. When and why the whole fails. When and how the whole fails to fail.

I am interested in method. How do you construct? How do you develop a method to create a construction in 5 different ways? How do you develop a method to develop a method? How do you develop a method that fails. And fails to fail.

There is a Duchamp exhibit at Stanford that I love to go look at. A thread one meter long is dropped, its shape traced. A piece of wood is carved to match the shape. The part. Process repeated. Over and over again. The whole emerges.

Charles Correa, the Indian architect calls his process the spare part and the machine. In Bombay, at an institute of higher learning,  the research wing and the administrative wing are joined together by a long circuitous passageway. The short-cut involves walking through a walled jungle. The parts are laid out carefully. The whole is created through choices that participants make. And fail to make.

I remember the movie theaters of Bombay. Metro, Regal, Strand, Sterling, Eros, Liberty.

Outside Regal cinema, in the Colaba circle, would be a large painted sign that said To Night.


The rains come in June. Roads are flooded. We are getting off the taxi to stop at Kayani’s for a mava cake. In the rain. A mava cake is baked with one wax paper cup on the bottom and another wax paper cup on top. A cake, with an umbrella. We stuff our mouths with mava cake and run in the rain avoiding the biggest puddles.

I am wearing plastic shoes with swastikas on the heels. My shoes have two small holes positioned to squirt water onto my chin every time I take a step. 

So when we arrive To Night, we spend a lot of time looking at the black and white photographs of the movie. What is happening here? Who is this man? Why is the woman wearing trousers?

When they finally let people in, we are moving at last. Flowing into Liberty as one. Tickets please, tickets please. Smell of Turmeric and oil. 2 snacks are offered at the stand inside: spicy popcorn and oily wafers. But that is for the INTERVAL.

We walk on red carpet. Airconditioners hum. Everyone is excited and talking at once. My father has a cadbury bar. After the public service film on Nirodh, a triangle is flashed meaningfully on screen.

Now the Indian news reel starts. A cricket match. Engineer hits a series of fours and India declares, with 7 down and 450 runs. Crowds cheer in the theater. Men in the lower stalls whistle and stamp. The upper stalls are alive with a hum of excitement and around us in the balcony and dress circle, people just smile a lot.

Everyone claps when the Indian news reel is over. Everyone knows, Engineer has been in retirement for years. The match was played five years ago.