Shankar Sharma walked in briskly, his eyes glowering. He was frowning and his jaw was set. He was clearly not in a good mood. There was a gaggle of investors blocking the door. They were talking animatedly amongst themselves in an excited tone about the 500 point surge in the Sensex. They spotted Shankar Sharma and nudged each other in hushed tones as they parted to make way for him.
“Hello Sir” one of the younger looking investors said. Shankar Sharma ignored him and muttered something under his breath.
Inside the recording studio, Nikunj Dalmia waited, a bundle of nerves. Though the air-conditioning was set at high, he was sweating profusely. He was tense. “God only knows what prophetic declaration Shankar Sharma will make today” he muttered to Ayesha Faridi, his trusted lieutenant.
“I am getting too old for this crap”. Nikunj’s memory was etched with the remembrance of that fateful day in April when Shankar Sharma had shaken the global markets with his prophecy that the stock markets were headed for a great crash. In the aftermath of that doomsday prophecy, investors had seen billions of their precious wealth evaporate into thin air.
“I am getting too old for this crap” Nikunj Dalmia mumbled again to himself as he absent mindedly fiddled with the questionnaire that Ayesha Faridi had prepared.
Ayesha Faridi always diligently prepared her questionnaire though everyone knew that Shankar Sharma never followed any script. He knew what he had to say and he said it to maximum impact with no regard for the repercussions his utterances would have on global markets.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity near the door and excited voices could be heard in the distance. “Shankar Aagaya”, Muthu, the wizened sound engineer shouted. Almost on cue, all engineers and technicians rushed to their respective positions.
Nikunj just stood there, transfixed, as if he was rooted to the ground, gaping, with his mouth open, as Shankar Sharma strode in rapidly with a determined look on his face. “Come on Sir” Ayesha said to Nikunj in an urgent tone as she jabbed him on the side with her elbow.
Nikunj winced in pain and gathered his composure but Shankar Sharma had already occupied the hot seat and was looking straight into the eyes of millions of investors who had gathered around their TV sets.
Mukesh bhai and Jignesh bhai, among Shankar Sharma’s ardent followers, were clearly frightened. You could see from their bloodshot eyes that they were dreading the moment. Shankar Sharma’s grim face told them there was bad news in store. Mukesh bhai slowly pulled out the tobacco and the supari from his shirt pocket and clutched them in his left palm. Using the fingers of his right hand, he rubbed the tobacco and supari in a vigorous circular motion with practiced ease. When he had softened it to the required degree, he held it out absent-mindedly to Jignesh bhai who helped himself to a generous quantity. Jignesh bhai held the mixture to his nose and savoured its fragrance. Then, he stuffed it under his tongue, enjoying the slow release of the juice as it mixed with the saliva. The tobacco helped to soothe their nerves and Mukesh bhai and Jignesh bhai braced themselves for the eventuality.
“The real problem for India is Subba Rao”, Shankar Sharma began in a weary tone. Everyone knew that Shankar Sharma regarded Dr. Subba Rao, the RBI Governor, as the Public Enemy No. 1 for keeping a tight leash on the interest rates. Shankar spared no opportunity to attack Subba Rao. Today would be no different.
“The 14 successive rate hikes have destroyed the backbone of our growth momentum. Once the momentum is broken, one needs four times the effort to bring it back on track” Shankar said. “If our Subbarao goes to the West, he will kill the bull markets there tomorrow” Shankar added with contempt in his voice.
Nikunj Dalmia, oblivious to what Shankar was saying, asked in his irritating schoolboy manner “Do you think the time is right for buying banking stocks, Shankar”.
Shankar turned slowly to stare at Nikunj. It was the look one gives to an imbecile for behaving like an imbecile. “Banking is the worst business in the world” Shankar replied with an icy chill in his voice.
Nikunj cringed and looked away. He knew he had asked the wrong question, at the wrong time.
“Banking will be a terrible sector to own in coming months. We have a very negative view on banking, because we don’t expect banks to deliver 15-20% earnings and lending growth, going forward, at a time when the economy is growing at 5%. If any bank is growing at that pace, then it is taking excessive risks.” Shankar’s voice was soft and barely audible though the warning in his voice was unmistakable.
In the audience, Mukesh bhai and Jignesh bhai were riveted. They were staring goggle-eyed at Shankar Sharma and absorbing every word of his utterances. Mukesh bhai spat out some of the tobacco and mumbled to Jignesh bhai “Sach bolta hai Boss”. Jignesh bhai nodded his assent, his cheeks puffed with the gutka juice.
As Mukesh bhai and Jignesh bhai trudged out of the studio and made their way to the Railway station to catch the fast local to Goregaon, they were filled with admiration for Shankar Sharma. “Shankar Saala sahi bolta hain” Mukesh bhai drawled. “Banking ka stocks mein bahut loss ho gaya”. Jignesh bhai nodded sagely, his cheeks still puffed with the gutka juice.