Have you ever thought of money as just a piece of paper, like the one in your notebook that you tear off with impunity? Have you actually tried tearing it into pieces or burning it? What would it really feel like to do it? I couldn’t imagine it. Well, not until he made me do it.
My father is a businessman, and a baniya, if you please. He loves his son, of course, but he loves his money too. And he definitely loves the idea of his son showing a similar love for the money in his pocket. Now, you know how it is with love, blinds people and all that, makes them do silly things.
It was a pair of shoes costing Rs 800 that I had bought, which evoked such strong feelings in him. It may not be a lot for you, but in the context that I am writing, the figure matters — just take my word for it. So, as soon as I completed the purchase, I rushed to show him the shoes in excitement.
He was silent the whole time I was displaying the shoes to him from every possible angle, my eyes shining with adoration for a newly acquired possession. Silent, while I was telling him that it cost me only Rs 800. Silent, when I told him what a steal it was.
By this time, I had figured something was amiss.
In that silence, he took out a Rs 10 note from his wallet. Eyes blazing, he handed me the note, commanding in an icy voice that froze my insides, “Faado ise (rip this apart).”
It was beyond me to have put up any kind of resistance at that point.
For all the shock I felt, my hands went right ahead and finished the task they had been assigned with the cold blooded precision and detachment of a state executioner.
After the deed was done, the feeling of anxious incomprehensibility remained. I was at a loss for two reasons — one, why on earth did he make me do what he did (there were other ways to explain the same thing) and two, why was I reacting so strongly to what I had done. The lesson was clear as daylight — value money. Plain and simple. Of course, he then proceeded to elaborate on the same in his typical heavy-mouthed style. I, meanwhile, sat rooted on the spot, all euphoria and excitement of my new shoes having evaporated.
As I sit here and analyse the event in retrospect, a silent laugh escapes my lips. Yes, my father had a thing for theatrics. He had gone for dramatic showdowns when it came to driving his point home. And to a large extent, truth be told, he managed to do that pretty well.
I understood two things well that day — one, naturally, was to be more careful with the way I spent my money, and two, surprisingly, that something as small as just Rs 10 also mattered a lot. It is hard to value the penny when one spends by the pound, but when one is pushed to deal in pennies, every single coin makes its weight felt. At the end of the day, I just can’t escape being a baniya myself, I guess.
Today, I can safely say that I handle my money well. I live comfortably. I dress well, I eat well, go out once in a while and all that — but I am certainly not negligent or careless about my finances. I must admit it pays off pretty well, knowing where and at what rate my bank balance is drying up. It helps me value what I have and exercise control over my desires. And on a lighter note, it does give me an edge of smugness over those who are way too wasteful and those who are stupidly frugal.
So, his methods notwithstanding, he wasn’t wrong, I guess. It was just his way of saying, “You have a head? Use it then.”
Siddhartha Gupta is 22. He is a fellow at the Young India Fellowship, New Delhi