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Ramalinga ding dong (redux)

(Kudos to The Economist for the headline.  I couldn't resist stealing it.  Anyway, all poetry is theft.)

India has been rapt with the spectacle of the downfall of one of its biggest IT success stories, Satyam Computer Services' Ramalinga Raju, over the past week. Questions have arisen about how deep the rot goes, whether independent directors on Indian boards are really indepedent, which IT firm will buy Satyam out, and on and on.  The latest news is the revelation that the World Bank also banned Indian IT outsourcing firms Wipro and Megasoft from its list of vendors for allegedly offering improper incentives. That's just the kind of news Indian IT doesn't need.

But for me, the whole fiasco has had another subtext. A few years ago, in a desperate bid to boost my savings account around tax time, I took on some contract editing for Satyam.  I signed a confidentiality agreement, so I can't reveal the details of the project.  But suffice to say, it was idiotic enough that I thought it was utterly absurd that I had to treat it like a state secret.  Then again, revealing its stupidity might have clued people in on the fact that emperor Raju had no clothes.

During sessions that Satyam insiders had christened "kaju with Raju" (cashews with Raju) in an allusion to the popular Indian chat show Coffee with Karan and the outsourcing maven's love for the nuts, we were treated to endless explanations of Raju's theories, which could not be communicated (apparently) without the use of an unending battery of analogies.  "It's like a vending machine...  It's like cellular mitosis....  It's like a newspaper..."  And on and on.  One of the other folks who was party to the meetings was keeping a running list. Yes, it was just like high school, and Raju was the dopey teacher.  And if I'd ever owned any Satyam shares, I'd have called my broker faster than you could say, "It's like a Ponzi scheme...."

There's always a mystery behind somebody who makes a lot of money out of something so obvious: Why him and not somebody else? I like the theory put forward in one of the novels of Robertson Davies ' Deptford Trilogy: Making money is a kind of genius in itself, that exists irrespective of any other talent.

Raju had that in spades. The trouble, it seems, is that he had little else.