Money is great, money is essential but money can’t buy stuff that matters in life, says Manjulaa Shirodkar
I grew up in a middle-class nuclear family. Both my parents were government servants and I have an older sibling. This was back in the 1970s-80s and we stayed in the allotted government quarters in South Delhi. We were both, sent to a girls’ convent school, one of the city’s best educational institutions, located in the heart of Delhi’s Diplomatic Enclave, otherwise known as Chanakya Puri.
As kids, we weren’t given any whiff of trouble where finances were concerned, for though our parents’ salaries may have been low, so was inflation. So, we had our share of new dresses made by mum on birthdays and festivals, new books and stationery as and when required; toys and game boards when demanded or a much-coveted bicycle which was promised (and made good) when we did well in studies.
Our school fee was deposited punctually, new uniforms and shoes purchased every school year; we were allowed on school trips and NCC camps. There was the princely sum of Rs 2 as pocket money too and enough change lying around in the house if we wanted to indulge in ice-creams or sweet buns or even golgappe! Plus, there was always a treat of samosas and jalebi the 1st of every month when dad brought home salary.
Owning a car back then was somewhat of a luxury, but dad had his Royal Enfield and that was enough for all of us to take a ride when we went to India Gate for ice-creams late nights on weekends or visited relatives. He later sold it to buy a second-hand Vespa scooter and made do with it until he had an accident which splintered his knee cap entirely.
I remember vividly parties with Hindi songs and ghazals being sung late into the night; family friends dropping by for dinners every Sunday evening or vice versa; when the family took vacations to different hill stations in the North; planned an occasional vacation to South India during winter break or Calcutta during Durga Puja and Dussehra break… all that a regular middle-class family could afford. Back then, it was enough.
It was all good, till I became aware of the discussions around money my parents were having behind closed doors. There was a crunch here, or a desire to defer purchase of an appliance there. Slowly, the discussions grew louder and began to take place in front of us children – as we grew up and became old enough to understand. And they felt the need to share their concerns, which were becoming difficult to contain between them.
As I entered teens, hand-me-downs from my sister’s wardrobe became almost a given, till I realised the reason behind it. School trips in and around the city were fine but outstation ones which came with a cost, were curtailed. Over the next few years, one learned that managing the expenses, on government salaries, of a household which had two adults and two growing up girls was just not enough. The disagreements grew.
Made worse by the fact that there was no denying any purchases that my sister demanded, since she was the older pampered one and would have her way, no matter what. And my parents gave in – each time, albeit unhappily. So a television or a refrigerator or a water cooler (ACs weren’t in fashion in middle class households), were purchased on loans. Then as she finished school with excellent grades, all her books (including expensive, hefty reference material which could have been sourced from the college library) were purchased too. Her taste in refined clothes and shoes was indulged as well. So were her college trips or trips taken independently with friends. Enough storms brewed and relations stretched their limits. But what will be will be.
To add to it Dad took a loan from office, purchased a plot of land on the city’s North-east periphery and constructed a 3-bedroom home there. He was paying the EMIs until his retirement day. Both of them retired the year I joined college.My sister married the following year, exhausting their savings and retirement funds completely.
Dad took up a private job and the household was run between their pensions. My under-graduation was somehow funded but three years down the line, my father announced that he could not afford any further studies. Either I could fund it on my own or forget about it. I decided it was time. So my first job was at the front office of an HR agency.
But none of this was to prepare me for the hardships that I faced when dad left us without a warning around the time I was still pursuing studies. He suffered a cardiac arrest and was gone in a matter of minutes. If I had hoped to take up a career of my choice in motion picture photography, it was not to be. Instead energies had to be diverted to add up to the family income.
Today, as I run my home, I realize how tough it would have been for mom who must have surely found it very difficult to manage with paucity of funds and the insecurity that comes with it. As a wife, mother and a woman of the house, she must have needed it all, desired it all but found it frustrating to live in less, resulting in a lot of unhappiness all round.
And so, the story continued. But this is all not sad. It is possibly just as painful or as factual as the story of any other individual out there, trying to make it on their own. Life was tough but not unbearable. That was yet to come. Some of it has been laid bare in pages elsewhere in this work.
Yet, my father left me a legacy. He was a simple, well-read man with a PG diploma in Journalism and a Masters in Economics from University of Delhi. Books were aplenty around the house and we were always encouraged to sign up for public libraries around town. An idealistic man of high principles, great sense of humour, melodious voice and minimal needs, he managed within his means. He truly believed that a great education would be enough for his girls. If they had that, they would make it big in life. That men would come looking for his daughters and he would not go groom hunting.
All in all, money remained the focal point in our lives and the so-called lack of it, made much of by us, when it actuality (if we looked reality in the eye) it was sufficient. Depends now on how you define sufficient. Is it food on the table, a roof over your head, new clothes on birthdays, festivals and special occasions and visits to and from friends?
What defines sufficiency? Or is it the mindless consumerism of today where clothes, cosmetics, gadgets, shoes, perfumes, cars just about anything under the sun are purchased endlessly and thoughtlessly and we don’t even know where to put all the stuff? Where we justify debt in order to fulfill these so called ‘needs’? Where we reel under loans and think that’s the only way forward? Where we eat mindlessly without caution and then go onto gorge on expensive medicines to get back to normal? Why not eat normally and stay normal, in the first place? But the pity is, we don’t even realize when our wants have turned to needs!
Why must we be driven either by peer pressure or by our desire to feel complete only with the material stuff around us? Why can’t we accept that money is – unfortunately or otherwise only a means to – help us live a quality life and no more? That less can be more. That being wise and content is so much more important than being unwise and discontent. Money has the capacity to buy you everything except mental peace. If there isn’t any, you won’t be at peace until there is sufficiently enough. And if there is lots of it, you can be sure you’ll have a great bed to sleep on but not good enough sleep. Ask the Trinamool Congress minister Partha Chatterjee who stored wads in his bathroom when he ran out places to hide it in and goods and services to spend it on.
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Manjulaa Shirodkar (nee Negi) is an established film critic and author, having worked in leading national publications. She is also a Film Selection Committee member for various film festivals.