| Give her a medal
I have found a new heroine, an icon I can look up to, and her name is Joyti De Laurey. Even in a week when the seismic tremors from Iraq pound the whole world, when Israel/Palestine looks like it will soon join Iraq in a sympathetic detonation, when, forget “U-turns”, Tony Blair spins around like an Olympic skater on the thinning ice of the British referendum on the European Union, when the elections in India finally begin with unsurprising violence in different areas, Joyti’s story wins my vote as the most gripping thing in the news.
Joyti was what we would once have called a “secretary”, now glorified into an “executive personal assistant”. As her salary went, Joyti didn’t earn anything too earth-shaking, about £38,000 per annum at her highest, but having averaged more like £28-30,000 over the last few years. If recent photographs are anything to go by, then, unlike that other world-famous PA, Rebecca Loos, Joyti is not a great looker or anything. In fact, she basically looks like a female Bappi Lahiri, matching our great composer double-chin for cascading double-chin. So little chance of anything untoward transpiring with her boss either. As to her near and dear ones, Joyti’s husband is described in the press as a chauffeur and her mother as someone who once owned a failing sandwich-bar.
How then, her friends and acquaintances might have wondered, did she manage to put a down payment on an Aston Martin sports-car worth around £165,000' And how did she drive around in a nice Saab convertible while she waited for the Aston Martin to be delivered, borrowing her mother’s Chrysler Grand Voyager when not riding pillion on her husband’s Harley Davidson motor-bike, when not holidaying at her mother’s new property in Cyprus and driving the Land-Rover to the yatch' And, how did she manage all this while wearing Cartier jewellery worth £300,000 and flying first-class to various corners of the world, and while, once, sending four of her friends to see the Tyson-Lewis boxing match where the tickets cost £55,000'
The answer is based on a simple principle that anyone who has either employed a servant or worked as one in a middle-class Indian household will understand: if there is very little sugar or rice left in the stores and the servant lifts some, they will be caught; but if there is a huge amount, say brought in for a wedding or something, and you steal a bit, it will likely go unnoticed. And if every day is like a biye-baadi, as it used to be in many jamidari households, you could steal a fair amount daily and still not get caught.
Over the last few years, Joyti worked as a jhi in the financial world’s equivalent of the most wealthy and debauched jamindari baadi imaginable — her bosses were, first a woman called Jennifer Moses and her husband Ron Beller, and then a man called Scott Mead, all three being in extremely high positions at the investment bank, Goldman Sachs, in London. In fact, it might be more accurate to describe Joyti as an ayah to these people’s money rather than a jhi, one instance being when Jennifer Moses left Joyti to make the arrangements for her 40th birthday bash on which Ms Moses spent the small change of £500,000. Moving from Moses and Beller to work for Mead, Joyti organized a single payment, via e-mail instruction, of £2.25 million to herself under the cover of organizing payment for an apartment that Mead was buying in New York. All in all, Joyti pulled off an elongated heist of over £4 million before she got caught.
One would be tempted to see this as a slow-roasting of three very fat and succulent pigs, except of course the roastees didn’t even feel singed. Amongst all the crazy facts that have emerged from the case, the most mind-boggling one is that all these people earned so much money that they actually didn’t notice these fine shavings being scraped off their huge gold ingots. Add to this the fact that these “victims” weren’t some noveau-riche naïfs who didn’t understand money. They were, in fact, making their fortunes precisely for being ace with other people’s money, for being number-meisters, for running one of the heaviest hitting investment banks in the world. When you think about it, it becomes obvious that all three — Moses, Beller and Mead — had some kind of blockage about registering amounts under nine or ten figures. Their antennae were probably completely numb until faced with something in billions or above, treating millions and hundred thousands a bit like most of us do the paisa amount beyond the decimal in, say, a sum of Rs 1687.32.
And Joyti, may the blessings of Kuber be upon her, must have noticed this while organizing her employers’ holidays, their shopping trips, their manicures and their property purchases. Who knows, she may even have started with quite a small sleight of hand, deflecting say a few hundred quid into her bank account to see if anyone noticed. And when they didn’t, just as they didn’t notice that they were paying her a pittance for the kind of responsibility and carte blanche Joyti had, she acted, as any half-way sane person would.
In the aftermath, columnists here in the UK have gone mad in their praise for Joyti, “Give her a medal!” says one writer, arguing that this case nakedly demonstrates the need for higher taxation of the filthy rich, another pointing out how this business yet again proves how underpaid women are, especially in the financial megaliths in Wall Street and The City, and so on and so forth. As for me, something about the very name, Joyti, caught my eye. Could it be a crude westernization of Jyoti' Surely not, yet the mother’s name was undeniably Indian, Devi, with a funny surname, Schahhou. Then, yesterday, when I finally saw a photograph of the convicted Ms De Laurey, I got it. She was not only desi, but of desi stock from somewhere not too far away from where this newspaper is published. The last name could be a variation on Sahu, or more likely Saha with a Greek “ou” appended, but the first name was suddenly crystal-clear, Jayati. But a Bengali Jayati, so Joyoti, from which — Joyti. As Bengali as Lahiri or Ganguly. Aamader Joyti-di.
Okay, so I exaggerated a bit about her being my heroine, because, given her greed and lack of taste (except about the Aston Martin), I can’t really see Joyti-di being a very different boss from the ones she ripped off. It’s not as if she took the money like some rossogolla Robin Hood and flooded various charities with it. Even so, I can’t help feeling some degree of gratitude towards her for the huge embarrassment she has caused the Dickensian-sounding trio of Moses, Beller & Mead. I’m not a great one for shouting “Bash the rich!” from the barricades, but in this world, where “The devil take the hindmost” has all but smashed “Liberty, Equality and Justice”, bashing the very, very, very rich is quite another matter.
Talking about economic and political Darwinism, one nugget in the avalanche of images released by this case magnets up with something I read elsewhere: Joyti’s last boss, Scott Mead, apparently didn’t have time to read his own bank-statements and left their perusal, and tedious chores such as payment instructions, to our didi’s tender care. Similarly, it has now come out that the unlettered George the Younger, nawabzada of Texas, never reads his daily intelligence briefing, preferring to sit there with his eyes closed as a minion summarizes the summaries. This is, supposedly, in stark contrast to his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who, no matter what ministrations he was receiving from Monica Lewinsky etc, always managed to find the time to do his own reading and thinking.
In this bleak moment in world history, can one take hope from Joyti-di’s derring-do, and imagine that, one day soon, some creative presidential aide with a conscience will forge a signature or two on behalf of his oblivious boss' Thus, perhaps, garnering some small change for the world in the shape of a US agreement on Kyoto or some such'