Status report: March,2007

Venu got the precast foundations ready at his house. When I drove over to load them in my car, I realised how large and heavy they were. It needed a truck and I found out it cost Rs.2,500 to hire one. I decided to make that truck run useful. I asked Venu to fabricate 3 steel gates required at the project site. I had 4 old plastic tanks of 1,000 litre capacity each. These could be the reservoir into which the windmill delivers. Though light, these are large tanks. A variety of building materials in small lots – sand, blue metal, bricks etc- were required. All these together, would justify the expense of a truck hire. On Sunday, March 25, we made the run and dumped the stuff near the borewell. I now await an Auroville team to arrive and supervise the integration of precasts with freshly cast RCC bases.millfoundation.jpg

I must reluctantly record the parting with Manoharan, my fisherman friend who has been associated with this project from its conception. He ran around previewing a few properties, before I picked the Jamin Endathur one. He was very clever and seemed fully involved in my dream. He worked hard to do the deals required to create an exclusive access to the property. He was my counsel and confidant on all matters relating to land deals. I was glad to pay him a series of good commissions for the deals done and then to put him on a reasonably good retainer, which he said he was happy with.

But Mano’s temperament didn’t quite suit the project mode, though he declared himself enthusiastic about pointReturn’s mission. He was constantly being seduced by jackpots being hit in real estate deals. He had a couple of cronies, who forever dreamt of that ‘big deal’ but in fact, had only a string of lost deals to show. Mano, was actively in touch with them. I saw them more as bookies than land dealers.

On March 7th, Mano called me and requested that I lend him Rs 2 lakhs as seed money to sign a real estate deal. A consortium of his cronies were pooling money for a killer-deal. I quickly refused and he terminated the call at once. And that has been that. A warm relationship invested with so much information, counsel,promises, hope and dreams was ruptured in the course of a two minute phone call. It is not just materials that the real estate boom is affecting. It is altering men too.

To end this report, a summing up of the lessons I have learnt. One, money doesn’t automatically buy goods and services in a boom market. You have often to wait for weeks for things that were there for the picking just a year ago. Two, at least near metro cities, workmen and labour are hard to find. In a city like Chennai, which has a good public transportation and a booming economy, people commute 100km from their low-cost villages to earn high wages. The few that are left in the villages, are in no anxiety to find work unless the pay is good and their conveniences are met. So, don’t assume that in this changing India, labour is low-cost or plentiful. Three, if you thought you will offer top prices and get people to come do your work, you will be up against an employer cartel, made probably of your field neighbour and others in key offices who can needle you on other fronts. I have been aghast that women get paid lower than men for very hard work. I have not employed any yet, but when I do, I hope to correct the bias with gifts of clothes or produce. Finally, you will hear of extortionist practices of the labour force. I hope you will have the wisdom to see it in the context of how all markets behave during scarcities or how it controls an exclusive product or commodity. Investors lap that up as ‘pricing power’. You scarcely have control over cement, steel, petro fuels and many manufactured goods. There is no justification in begrudging the smart labourer his moments, though I admit it’s irksome when I have to face that.

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