Dear Dr Raghuram Rajan

Laila with the RBI Governor, Dr Raguram Rajan, at the office of the RBI Governor in Mumbai. Photo Courtesy Times of India

Editor’s Note: Selflessness is not measured by how much you can give for a cause, but by how much you are ready to lose for it. Giving us this lesson was Laila Indira Alva, a ten year old girl, who was ready to give her entire piggy bank to shore up national currency reserves. In monetary terms, her contribution would not even count in the 10000th decimal of the RBI treasury chest, but in terms of national pride she would come right at the top. This story was reported widely in the media, including the BBC doing a piece on Laila. We hope this article would inspire our children readers. In the act of Laila echoes the famous quote of John F Kennedy “Do not ask what the nation can do for you, ask what you can do for the nation”.

Managing a country’s economy is no child’s play. Dr Raghuram Rajan who in September 2013 joined the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as its governor, had a difficult situation at hand. The foreign exchange reserves of the country were at record low, the rupee was weakening and the economic growth rate plummeting. As the key manager of the Indian economy, the governor had a tough job to handle. Amidst meetings with his advisors, going through reefs of data , penning policy notes and briefing the Finance Ministry at Delhi, the governor took out time to read a curious letter from a 10 year old girl addressed to him.

Letter written by Laila to Dr Rajan. Photo Courtesy: BBC

The letter requested the governor “to bring some new ideas that will improve our economy”. It went on further to state “I want people to come to India and not think that it is corrupt and a dump”. The writer added “I have heard about the fall of the rupee with respect to the dollar. I have saved these 20 dollars on my last trip abroad with my parents. I thought that I could use it but the country needs it more than I do”. Appended with the letter was a 20 dollar bill for deposition into the India’s foreign currency account managed by the RBI.

Surely there was another person as much concerned about the Indian economy as the Governor of the Reserve Bank. And this person was willing to be comrade - in - arms with the Governor in her own small way to salvage the Indian economy.

This  letter dated 5 September 2013, was written by Laila Indira Alwa, then a class V student of Sanksriti School, Delhi and resident of Gurgaon.

Laila is not someone who tracks the Indian economy. As any ten year old she is busy with her studies, games, music, athletics and friends. What got Laila thinking about the Indian economy was the daily newspaper headlines of the tumbling national exchange reserves, the doomsday prediction by the experts on national television and the discussion on the falling rupee at the dinner table with her parents and elder brother.

Ofcourse no one was expecting her to do anything about this. What could a child do and for that matter what could an adult have done in an individual capacity. The management of the national economy is the job of the economists and the national policy makers.

However Laila wished to do her bit  and decided to give all the money she could call her own to the RBI. This was a $20 bill which she had been given by her parents during their last vacation abroad. She had kept it safely meaning to spend on herself. In a spontaneous gesture she penned a letter to the RBI Governor, appended the dollar bill and posted the same.

Reply from the RBI Governor to Laila

The letter from this little girl touched a chord and despite his busy schedule and the serious economic crisis at hand, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India took out time to send a reply..

Dr Rajan’s letter was as touching as that of Laila. The Governor acknowledged that the economy was going through difficult times and assured Laila that things would look up. He added that he was impressed by Laila’s gesture and said “ I am returning the $20 note you had sent with the assurance that we have adequate foreign exchange reserves in RBI to manage the situation”. He extended an invitation to Laila to visit the RBI and ascertain firsthand how the RBI is managing the country’s foreign exchange reserves. He also added that he would like to meet her and would answer all the questions she might have. And in the end he remarked “ Your parents should be proud of you!”.

Later during her interview with the media persons Laila said that she had not expected the Governor to reply. Why would the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India bother to take a little girl seriously she pondered.

Laila did visit RBI and met the Governor himself at his office. She asked the Governor why he does not order printing of enough currency so that everyone could have enough and no one remained poor. Dr Rajan, one of world’s foremost economists, patiently explained to this 10 year old the concept of inflation and why printing too much money was not such a good idea. On seeing the portraits of ex RBI governors on the wall in the Governor’s office, the curious Laila asked why there has been not a single lady RBI governor. Dr Rajan quipped, maybe Laila could become one someday.

Dr Rajan and Laila met as equals, two people concerned about the Indian economy. Their ways and means to help out of the crisis might be different, but they pursued the same idea- to get India its place in the comity of nations. Thank you Laila, Thank you Dr Rajan.

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