Friday, April 3, 2009

Own or Lease?

Effective asset management is a cornerstone of financial prudence. But try and get a bit too cute and you'll get bitten. I didn’t have to wait until Enron or the more recent financial meltdown to learn this lesson.

It was our third year and I had just been elected as the hostel GenSec. Narmada had several mango trees that were laden with fruit for much of the year. Very few were ever plucked. A small number served as target practice for rubber-band catapult enthusiasts and a few more were harvested by the mess workers for the red pickle that went with the curd-rice on Saturday nights, right before the OAT movie. The bulk of the mangoes simply rotted.

I can’t quite remember exactly how this started, but I had connected with a vendor from Taramani and offered him the lease of the mango trees for one whole season. I think the deal was worth a few hundred rupees. Good enough for several bottles of rum and another common-room terrace party, I had likely reasoned.

So I put up a notice that must have read something like this:

Dear fellow students:

Please note that the mango trees in the hostel premises have been leased out to Mr. Sivamani of Taramani for the sum of three hundred rupees that will be added to the hostel funds. Students are requested not to pluck the mangoes anymore.

Yours sincerely,

Talk about a storm in teacup! This was the topic of conversation for the next two days – in the mess, in the common room, even in the bathrooms. Had I really sought to be the laughing stock of my mates, I would have struggled to top this one. Soon, other notices popped up:

Students are requested to stop breathing on hostel premises. The air has been leased out to Mr. Krishnachari of Velacheri.

Students are requested to stop playing games on hostel grounds. The space has been leased out to Mr. Nayar of Adyar to grow vegetables that will be sold and added to the hostel funds.

One was grossly creative:

Students are requested not to flush after using the toilets. All hostel shit has been leased out as manure to Mr…

The matter followed me wherever I went and whenever I was spotted. Even well-wishing seniors like Ben and Vasan couldn’t stay away from the kill and would bawl down from their third floor rooms when they saw me skulk by.

“Aye Curly! Can we look at the stars today or did you lease that out yesterday?"

I had put my foot in my mouth and threaded it right through my ear. The only thing I could unwind now was the contract. Which I did, and normal mango service was soon restored.

And thus it came to pass that the blighted residents of Narmada could partake of their forbidden fruit again.

1 comment:

  1. Since this was pre-MBA, you couldn't have made an effective argument about invisible hands that determined the market value of mangoes :(
    And, because Mr. Sivamani's valuation of these assets was much more tangible than the "pickling" and "entertainment" value to Narmadites, you could have made an ethical argument for allowing these mangoes to fulfill their highest purpose :)