By all accounts, Satyam ex-chairman Ramalinga Raju is having a rollicking time in Chanchalguda jail.His popularity among the inmates, all of whom are in awe of a man who can make Rs 7,000 crore disappear, knows no bounds. "Some of us affectionately call him by his nickname Scamalinga," said a petty thief, "But most just call him Gurudev."
Reports have come in that Raju had 20 idlis for breakfast, five plates of rice and a bucket of rasam for lunch and 25 chapatis with two chickens for dinner. But the jail superintendent says these numbers are inflated. "You see, the habit is so deeply ingrained in Raju that he automatically inflates all figures," he added. Incidentally, his cellmate Srinivas Vadlamani, Satyam's ex-chief financial officer who has denied all knowledge of wrongdoing, said he didn't know whether he had any meals. "I am not aware whether I had breakfast, lunch or dinner," he said. "Am I in jail?" he asked.
Meanwhile, insiders say that Raju has decided to teach accountancy in order to impart his skills to a receptive audience. "I'm really excited at the prospect of being taught by such a master," said a murderer serving a life sentence. "My problem has been that I don't know where to hide the bodies," he explained, "I'm sure that a guy who can hide Rs 7,000 crore for so many years can easily hide a score of bodies."
A stream of visitors has also been arriving at the jail, all wanting to meet Srinivas Vadlamani. Inquiries revealed they were promoters of companies, eager to have him on their boards. "Where will I get such an ideal chief financial officer?" asked a person who said he was CEO of a company called Black Hole Ltd.
Even the jail superintendent says he is extremely happy with Raju. "He is a financial genius," he exclaimed. He said Raju had outlined a scheme that could save the jail a huge amount of money. "Raju explained that all I needed to do was to allow the inmates to choose their own guards. He said these guards would cost a fraction of the current salary being paid to jail warders. I was a little hesitant about prisoners choosing their own jailers at first, but relented when Raju said that it was exactly the same thing with companies - they all appoint their own auditors and nobody complains."
Incidentally, even the Naxalite prisoners lodged in the jail are very happy with Raju. "We have been working for decades to overthrow capitalism, with no effect," said their ringleader. "And then Comrade Raju comes along and wrecks the system from within, giving Indian capitalism a resounding blow." "We're electing him to the party's central committee," he added.
But Raju is unlikely to take up the offer. He has a job offer from Nigeria to run the huge network that sends scam emails to people promising to transfer billions of dollars lying in unclaimed money to them once they give their bank account numbers and a small advance payment. Unconfirmed reports say that to make the schemes look authentic they're thinking of asking accounting firm Pricewaterhouse to certify them.
Others say Raju is exploring a lucrative option in a related field. "He's thinking of becoming a godman," said a source, "Which is why he is reading religious books." Some also say that Raju is being paid a fat advance for a novel based on his Satyam swindle. "It's clear he has plenty of experience of writing fiction," pointed out a publisher.
And lastly, in a curious but related incident, teachers at a prestigious school in Hyderabad were shocked when young Bunty Reddy of class 5B told his class-teacher that his father was a male bar dancer. Investigations revealed, however, that his dad was actually an independent director on the boards of several companies. "In the circumstances, it's natural for the child to be ashamed of his parent," said the principal, "And that's why he tried to pass his dad off as a male stripper."
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
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