An Idiot's Tale

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An Idiot's Tale

Cacography of a madcap story teller, JAYEETA GHORAI

My favourite holidays are to little known places, villages hidden behind cow patches and fog. Nameless beaches that don’t merit a sign post, the inhabitants feel lucky they have a bus stop. Secret settlements that city people pass their noses over and never consider, because these are downmarket and offer no ‘facilities’ to suit their taste. I like holing up in homestays and old-fashioned lodges that locals in entrepreneurial genius have turned part of their residence buildings into.

I negotiate over prices, not too aggressively because I can’t, and give up halfway, when the benchmark reaches what I can afford to pay. I’m willing to give a fair price to people who have little other means of income. Taking someone’s subsistence away is not my aim, but surrendering mine is not so either. We smile, over the first phone call, settling the bill, kind and kindred souls who are in perfect sync.

In big cities I look for cheap apartments. My only demand for creature comfort is a tolerably clean Western toilet.

In hindsight, maybe also a well-ventilated kitchen whose odour doesn’t leak to the corridor.

‘Budget’ is my favourite word while seeking accommodation. I will research high and low for what serves the purpose without going overboard. Any money I can save by this will be spent away shopping. Coming home with mementos and gifts spouting out of bags is another pleasurable part of travelling.

Who doesn’t like soft down beds and lily white linen, regular housekeeping and room service at the end of a working phone? But ideally, only if my employer is picking the bill.

Sometimes I’m lucky I can buy such luxuries within my means. Optimal is the key to how much I’m spending. What is value for money depends on shrewd permutations of location, amenities, hygiene, accessibility and some glorious silence within my walls please.

Of course comfort would be the higher priority when other family members come along. Parents cannot be expected to take the kind of roughing our still envigourated limbs can manage. But travelling alone, I’m a no frills, cheap thrills voyager game for anything.

I cannot understand when this undervaluing of the word ‘cheap’ began.

 I don’t mean in the sense of worthless goods but in the sense of value for money vis-a-vis how much we can afford. I don’t mean in the consistent Indian behaviour of diehard haggling over everything even when we know it wouldn’t cut our pockets to pay but would cut into the subsistence margin of the sellers’. I don’t hold it against someone from the middle or low income group trying to set a price within his budget; but when the buyer is sitting on tons of cash he will flush down the toilet or from his window in a hurry during a revenue department raid anyway yet makes himself hoarse trying to deny the seller his minimum latitude of profit – now that is unforgivable.

It is this buyer community, unamusingly, who will hold up the staff’s salary for months or won’t clear the credit notes of suppliers but swipe their credit cards to acquire the latest iPhone or Blackberry, spend a wage earner’s fortune on one evening’s revelry at the nightclub, habitually shop when they don’t have a need for that extra silk shirt and flaunt that exotic vacation at plush parties over imported whiskeys.

I am a self-made man’s daughter. I come from a generation when money was something you worked hard to earn and were ashamed to be obtrusive about. Showing off was frowned upon and considered the opposite of etiquette. We counted filled bookshelves and brains as our assets.

Where did those refined and modest gentlemen and ladies disappear?

Why is everyone so underconfident of their achievements today that they will compulsively flash their own brand equity?

Since when has the concept of ‘achievement’  become so impoverished that financial wellbeing is the sole criterion to measure it with?

Personal ambition was largely divorced from social status in the times I was born. Everyone had his or her own definition of good life and pursued them. Meritocracy was admired, short cuts were criticized, there is no substitute for hard work, they chorused.

Jealousies surfaced over others’ prosperities, as is the unchanging tone of human nature, and yes, there were stray characters who boasted of the sundry office promotion or new pressure cooker. But this conduct was censured back then. These people were soon deemed unpleasant and gradually dropped from social circuits, or at best gently suffered, made negative examples of. My parents’ generation didn’t have any patience with nouveau riche mannerisms, social climbers were laughed at – behind their backs, of course, no one was cruel or impolite to their face, it was as equally ‘uncultured’ – friends were none the richer or poorer when they met over tea in their respective homes.

Value Education is not something learnt off text books but in silent imitation of parental behaviour. A lot of useful things besides charity begins at home. My parents’ friends were college professors and domestic helps, bankers and their doormen, country cousins and derelict landlords, liberal left-wingers and extreme conservatives, undergraduates and retirees, the genteel and the debauched. Bank balance never opened any doors in our house, nor closed any.

Precious fabrics came out of folded tissues for winter weddings. Gifts, price tag irrespective, were the hangover from children’s birthdays. A dinner at Park Street had to warrant an occasion. Celebration had to meet the criteria of really very special and happened infrequently. Photographs became loving memories in after years, not something you use to announce your venue to the world over a pricey gadget on a social networking website. People were gloriously hogging to care. The menu was the invitees’ chief bother, food was literally the plat de resistance in any gathering.

And yes, such a thing as Private existed.

Where exactly do we draw the line between being happy, sharing that happiness and broadcasting ourselves?

I clearly have learnt the wrong lessons in life. Why else can I not understand the evolution our society is going through?

Money equals security equals peace of mind, is Maths I understand.

Money equals buying power equals quality of life, I definitely understand (like the next man I appreciate good stuff and fine dining and God, books cost the earth.)

Personal aspiration plus efforts equals personal achievement equals material possessions equals social status equals personal aspirations, now this I cannot understand. My small brain can’t tackle this convolution.

If you have use for the Smartphone features, a businessman or busy executive for instance, it is a purposefulness I understand. If sending Facebook updates is your only use for it, or as decoration for your arm, I refrain from commenting. Purposefulness of consumption is a concept which has relaxed to the extent of vanishing today.

The index value we assign to such purposefulness has gone awry.

It isn’t about whether I can spend more but if I will spend more when a lesser priced item serves the need.

You see, expenditure should be a choice. Not compulsion.

How neighbour’s envy can be the sole criterion of owner’s pride is marketing bait the world is happily hooked onto, but beats me nonetheless. I have particular objection to ‘envy’ and ‘pride’ being the two poles of our existence, individual or societal.

I will not upgrade a phone or computer operating system or vehicle till the old one serves my purpose. When I spend a small fortune on a photography gear or unique travel experience – going jolly broke the rest of the month –I may share my elation through photographs and vacation updates on social media, too, but wouldn’t mention the price tag of my fantasies. I sometimes buy first editions or first day show tickets, only because I can’t wait any longer to read or watch a favourite creator but am too embarrassed to state the amount I wasted for my impatience.

Forget ‘I’. I cannot be the parameter of the world. Let’s talk about us, the small number of dinosaurs who still think cheap is reasonable, excess money is better saved or spared for worthy causes, happiness is essentially close-knit, a gift is none the lesser for being non-material but should be possessed discreetly if high-priced, that acting down-to-earth is way better behaved than acting well-to-do.

For heaven’s sake, our new equation with money is totally screwing our old equation with manners.




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