Manju Das was quite possibly the richest housemaid in the world at one point, with close to two million dollars in her bank account. Today she lives in a hut, her body wracked in pain because she can’t afford any medical treatment, and is brought two meals a day by her son or nephew out of filial responsibility. In the poor Indian state of West Bengal, where Manju lives, $2,000 would be enough to cover her expenses for three years, and she once had a thousand times that amount. But that was in the good old days, and things are never like they used to be.
How does a simple housemaid from West Bengal make two million dollars? For starters, you probably want to make your way across the ocean, and find employment in the US, because in India you would make rupees, not dollars. Manju Das started her career as a housemaid in 1990 after fleeing a horrible marriage in her home village, and moving to Calcutta. Pregnant, and with no family or friends, all she could do was go from house to house offering to mop, sweep, do dishes and laundry, and for that she made about 35 rupees a month, which then equaled $1.50. It would take a lot of months to make two million dollars.
When her son was four years old, she did what she felt she needed to do to keep them both alive; she left her son in an orphanage so that she could get a job as a full time live in and increase her salary. She moved with a family to Mumbai and then New Delhi, India’s capital, and did see her salary increase to 1,500 rupees a month, but even at that rate it would take her one hundred and ten years to make two million rupees, and even that would only be worth $57,000.
It is now time for Anil Kumar to enter the stage. Anil was born in 1958 to a wealthy family in Chennai, which I’m sure you know is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (one of my three favorite Indian states!!!). After going to an elite private high school, he was ranked among the top 100 nationally in placement exams for the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. He graduated third in his class, writing his thesis on renewable energy, and soon after received a scholarship to study at the Imperial College at the University of London. There, he completed the two year program in applied mechanics in a record ten months, graduating first in his class. From London, he went on to study at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, one of the top five business schools in the world. After all his schooling, it was clear that Anil Kumar was going to make a lot more rupees than Manju Das…
In 1997, Anil and his wife Malvika hired Manju Das to do their housework and to care for their only child, a son with a vision disability. After giving her a trial for six months at their home in New Delhi, they got her a visa and moved her with them to Saratoga, CA, one of the wealthiest suburbs in the state. In the big beautiful house in Saratoga, Manju worked twelve hour days; cooking Indian food, cleaning, doing the laundry, babysitting. She did get an increase in salary to 8,000 rupees a month, and now she was living in one of the most beautiful cities in the US, making $2,200 year.
She was not treated well by the Kumars. Once, while running to get a breakfast muffin for their son, she slipped and injured her hip. For weeks, the Kumars refused to address it, giving her painkillers and telling her to soldier on. Eventually it got real bad, so they sent her back to India for surgery because she had no insurance in the US. Today, she cannot work because of that hip injury. Even when she didn’t have an injured hip, she worked incredibly hard, for almost nothing, with very little recognition.
When talking to an acquaintance, she found out that by law the Kumars were supposed to pay her minimum wages, but when she went to Anil with this new information, he told her that the law did not apply to her because she was living in their house and eating their food. By the time her ten year stint in the US was coming to a close, she was making 400,000 a rupees a year, about $8,500, most of which she sent back to her son in India. So how did she end up with close to two million dollars in her bank account?
Let’s go back to Anil Kumar for a moment. Anil was a rising star in McKinsey & Company, the most prestigious consulting firm in the world, which consults eighty percent of the world’s largest corporations. While at McKinsey, Anil founded their Silicon Valley office, then founded their India offices in New Delhi, where he developed two new forms of outsourcing (This is where he met Manju Das). He was called back to the US to found and lead their Internet practice during the dot com bubble, and soon his practice was responsible for 25% of all McKinsey business! After the dot com crash, he moved with his family to Manhattan, where he worked closely with Rajat Gupta, the chief executive at McKinsey.
Anil was looking to bring more business to McKinsey, so he reached out to an old friend from his Wharton days, Raj Rajaratnam. Raj, a Sri Lankan expat, founded the Galleon Group, one of the most successful hedge funds in the US, soon after graduating Wharton. Raj’s fortune skyrocketed and soon he was a billionaire, ranked 236th on the Forbes 400. But even the most successful people are not above playing a few dirty games from time to time.
Anil Kumar came to Raj, hoping that the Galleon Group would hire McKinsey for some consulting. Raj was not interested in Anil’s consulting, but he was interested in confidential information that Anil had. Raj offered Anil $500,000 a year for nothing more than talking to him 4-6 times a year about companies he consulted with.
Thus began what became the largest insider trading scandal of the last decade. Anil would call Raj and tell him about which companies were going to report bad earnings, which companies were about to be bought out, and which companies were beating earnings estimates. Raj would buy or sell the stocks relative to the information, the Galleon Fund would make a boatload of money, and Raj would then pay Anil based on the value of the information. This is all highly illegal, and unfortunately all too common (it landed Martha Stewart in prison, where it was rumored that she had the nicest towels and sheets).
This whole scheme worked really well for a while, but Anil had one problem; where to put the millions of dollars he was getting from Raj. (#WallStreetProblems) It would look real bad if regulators ever saw direct transfers from Raj to Anil, as there would be no legal scenario to explain those transfers. Instead, Anil set up bank accounts in the name of Manju Das. He falsified documents to make it look like she was a wealthy Indian woman living in New Delhi. Galleon would send money to a Swiss bank account under the name of Pecos Trading, a shell company in Geneva. From there, the money would go to Manju’s accounts. The money came in like clockwork, $125,000 here, $250,000 there, I don’t need to explain it, I’m sure you all know the feeling. Soon, Manju Das was millionaire, with more money in her name than she could ever dream of. Unfortunately, she never knew about it.
In October of 2009 everything fell apart. Raj and Anil were arrested, and a few weeks later, Manju was packed up and shipped back to India, the money transferred out of her accounts.
So what happened to Anil, Raj and Manju Das? Anil decided to turn on his former partner in crime to get out of a jail sentence. He testified against Raj (and Rajat Gupta his former boss at McKinsey), and got off the hook with two years of probation, returning his illicit gains, and a $25,000 fine.
Raj was sentenced to eleven years in prison, and was fined $150 Million. He is serving that sentence in a federal hotel, I’m sorry- prison, for white collar crimes where he spends his time with other famous white collar criminals and mob bosses. Don’t worry about him too much; when he gets out in 2021, he’ll still be a billionaire. Word on the street is that he really enjoys his time in the hobby craft room and music practice room at Federal Medical Center, Devens.
What about Manju? She was promised two years pay as severance for over a decade of constant work at far below minimum wage, but the Kumars never delivered on their promise. Her dream was to take that severance pay and build a hotel for her son to run, but instead she found herself cleaning fish and cooking in her son’s roadside stand to help the family get by. After a few years, the pain from the hip injury she sustained in the Kumar’s mansion in Saratoga became too overwhelming, and she was no longer able to work.
Manju Das, once a millionaire, now can’t do much more than hobble around the hut she calls home. Her nephew brings her two meals a day, while her son supports the family by driving a secondhand three wheeler taxi.
The greatest tragedy in life is never what is but what could have been. Had Manju ever known of her wealth, she could have simply withdrawn the funds from her bank account, and lived like a queen for the rest of her life back in West Bengal. Two million dollars may not be anything of great consequence here in the US, but in India it’s a veritable fortune. For two million dollars she could have built a mansion as big as her employer’s home in Saratoga, she could have had the best medical treatment West Bengal offers, supported her son and his family lavishly, and still had enough left over to buy her whole village out of poverty. But she never knew of the fortune she had, and there lies the tragedy.
Reading about Manju Das made me wonder, “what fortune am I leaving behind?” We know that as human beings endowed with a soul that is a tiny piece of G-d, we have incredible capabilities. We also know that as Jews, part of the people that G-d calls his Firstborn Son, we have even more capabilities. We’re part of the people tasked with bringing G-d’s light into this world, and we know that G-d didn’t give us this all-important job without giving us the capability to carry it out. Somewhere out there is a bank account with our name on it filled with enormous light, but are we withdrawing from it like we can, or are we not even aware of it?
We just finished Chanukah, the holiday that celebrates the victory of the Jewish light over the Greek darkness. What was so dark about Greece? They had beautiful buildings, great stadiums, a powerful army, and a huge empire! But the darkness of Greece was that they wanted you to believe that your entire value was tied up in the physical. It was all about how beautiful you were, how beautiful your home was, how strong you were, etc. But they left so much of mankind’s power and light in the dark. They left most of mankind’s power in the bank account. When you see a human being who thinks his entire value is how far he can throw a javelin, or even worse, a human being who thinks his entire value is tied up in how far his team can throw a football, that is darkness. The biggest tragedy is never what is, but what could be.
Manju Das encourages us to think about what is still left in our bank account, to make sure we never run around after the scraps in life, when we can be living like kings and queens, casting a glow of light and love, sanctity and selflessness on everything around us. The goal of life is to die with our capability bank empty, to use every bit of our wealth, and to discover just how deep that bank account is. Can we be better parents? Better spouses? Better sons and daughters? Better Jews? Do we have a fortune of capability that we can unlock by simply trying new things, and developing our spiritual muscles?
I’m betting we’re all billionaires, and not just in rupees…
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s parsha Yosef reveals his true identity to his brothers. He then asks that they bring down their father Ya’akov and the entire family so that he can provide for them for the rest of the years of famine. The Torah tells us that when Pharaoh heard about Yosef’s family arrival he was very happy. “The news was heard in Pharaoh’s house that Yosef’s brothers had come. This was good [news] in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants.” (Gen. 45:16) What element of this news made Pharaoh happy? Why would he care wether or nt his viceroy had family?
The Ohr Hachaim (1696-1743, Talmudist and Kabbalist, born in Moroco and moved to Jerusalem in 1733) explains as follows: as long as Yosef’s family was unknown, the only identity Yosef had in people’s minds was as a former slave. It’s shameful for a king’s right hand man and viceroy to be a former slave. However, now that Yosef’s family was revealed and they were actually Jewish royalty, it gave honor to Pharaoh that his viceroy was from royal blood.
We can take this a step farther. All Jews are related. When we disparage another Jew, we are actually bringing shame to ourselves as well through association. However, when we build a fellow Jew up, and praise him, we not only bring honor to him, but to ourselves and the whole Jewish people as well Everyone who is still reading at this point is a wonderful, kind, warm, considerate, spiritual Jew. See, I just gave myself a lot of compliments, and no one is going to look at me funny. What a tool!
This week’s parsha, Vayigash, starts off at the charged moment where we left off last week. Yosef’s special silver goblet had been “found” in Binyamin’s sack, and he was hauled back to the palace to become a slave. The ten other brothers are not willing to see their brother taken. They follow him down, and stand to plea before Yosef. Notably, it is Yehuda who speaks with Yosef because he was the one who guaranteed Binyamin’s return. Yehuda launches into a long explanation as to why it is imperative that Binyamin be allowed to go back to his father. He explains that if Binyamin doesn’t return, their father is liable to die from the anguish.
At this point, Yosef decides that it is the right time to reveal himself to his brothers so he orders all the Egyptians out of the room (so that they not witness the brothers’ humiliation upon realizing the enormity of what they had done). Then he says, “I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” The implication is – why were you not concerned with our father’s health when you sold me and let him think I was killed by a wild animal? The brothers were so disconcerted that they couldn’t speak. But Yosef was not one to rub salt in old wounds. As soon as he saw that his brothers were contrite, he consoled them, telling them that selling him was all part of a divine plan so that he would be able to support the family throughout the remaining years of the famine.
Yosef asks that his family come down to Egypt where he would provide them with fertile land and food. Pharaoh seconds the motion. Yosef sends the brothers back with bountiful supplies and special wagons which were symbolic of the last Torah lesson Ya’akov gave Yosef. These wagons were meant to show Ya’akov that Yosef was still on the straight and narrow.
Ya’akov hears about Yosef’s situation, and he sees the wagons indicating his son’s spiritual position, and his spirit is revived. On the way down to Egypt, G-d comes to Ya’akov at night and tells him that He will be with him, and will make sure that his descendants come out of the land of Egypt.
The Torah then recounts the lineage of Ya’akov’s progeny. It also mentions that Ya’akov sent Yehuda ahead of him to Goshen (possibly the first Jewish ghetto ever), the place the Jews inhabited in Egypt to set up a Yeshiva. He did this because he recognized that the only way the Jewish people would be able to maintain their Jewish identity in Egypt is if they have significant Jewish education, a realization that rings very true today.
Ya’akov and Yosef have a tearful reunion after a 22 year separation. At this momentous occasion, Ya’akov recites Shema, indicating that every joyous occasion should be experienced with G-d. When the family goes to meet Pharaoh, Yosef instructs his brothers to tell Pharaoh they are shepherds, as this way he will leave them alone (whereas had they told him they were warriors he would try to draft them). Pharaoh and Ya’akov share pleasantries and bless each other.
The parsha concludes by telling us how Yosef managed Egypt during the famine. He was the only person who had any grain, so everyone sold him their land. He told everyone they could have land as long as they moved (this way his family wouldn’t feel out of place when they settled in a new place), and that they had to give one fifth of their crops to the Pharaoh as tax. Back then they didn’t charge a Social Security tax, and today they shouldn’t either because there is very little likelihood that I’ll get the benefits by the time I retire, what with the S.S. crisis. But that’s a discussion for a different time. That’s all folks!
Quote of the Week: We all want to be in the city of happiness, but the city of happiness can only be found in the state of mind! ~ Yabag Licnep II
Random Fact of the Week: The trunk of the African baobab tree can grow as large as 100 feet in circumference.
Funny Line of the Week: The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face!
Have a Nifty Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham