Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thoughts on Not Having Money

I’m thinking, how did the phrase “as poor as church mice” come about? 
I mean are there mice that are rich, mice that live in Bill Gates’ basement, for example. 
Or mice that hang around in the Sultan of Brunei’s godowns? 
And what is “rich” in rodent terms? 
Or “poor” for that matter? 
What do church mice not have that other mice do? 
I know we make very unkindly references about rats and their mercenary tendencies, but if I am a rat running the rat race, what would I be in the race for? Stock options in the company that makes Kraft Cheese?  (Which, I am told, is now part of the guys who makes Marlboro cigarettes…strange mix, is it not? Tobacco and cheese….ah well.) 14 Cat-stretch limos with my own personal army of Black Cat Commandos? ( Which would be befitting rodent-justice, no?)
And is that the real difference between mice and rats? (We all know the difference between mice and men. We think) Which is that mice, particularly church mice are less money-minded than rats? 
Do rodents have a Nasdaq? 
A Forbes list of the 100 richest rodents in the world
I thought these thoughts while I was thinking about not having money. 
Again, “not having money” is relative, is it not? 
For example, it would different depending on whether I am a church mouse or Mukesh Ambani. 
I am neither so, here’s what I mean when I say I don’t have money. 
I don't have a job. 
And I stopped writing - my weekly columns...oh, let me see now... let's just say " a few years ago".
I wrote a book after that but while lots of people thumped me on the back and crowed what a great book it is, I'm not Arundhati Roy. Or Jhumpa Lahiri. Or that 28-year slip of a lass who won the Booker Man Prize
Who knows, I might just be another Alice Munro when I'm 86, but that is a while away yet
So, in other words, I do not have money coming in every month. 
Or, you could say, I don’t have money. I mean I can pay my Internet bills and buy clothes and the occasional Biotique kajal and everything, but broadly speaking, I don'y have money.
It is good that while I “had money” (I used to be a Mumbai corporate rat), I did not develop any expensive habits – alcohol, Ecstasy, gigolos, diamonds, Lamborghinis …. You could say that I am a low maintenance girl.
So, I have savings and stuff, but I don’t have money.
Now not having money is a dangerous existence. 
Again, dangerous is a relative term. 
So, I’m not talking about free-falling-and-pulling-the-parachute-ripchord-when-you-are-4-feet-from-the-ground kind of danger but swimming in the deep end of the pool when you are used to doggy-paddling in the baby pool. 
It's still scary and I am terrified because till not so long along I lived a good, safe existence with not one but several safety nets under me to break my fall if I ever fell – salary, EPF, PPF, FD’s…you get my drift
So let’s see all that this state of being has done to me.
First of all, I am learning to live with insecurity and to tell you the truth, it’s not that difficult getting used to.
Actually, we all underestimate our quotient of elasticity. 
You can get used to anything. 
Either that or you die.
I think of how many million people live a few millimeters from Mumbai’s suburban  railway tracks on which trains hurtle past every deafening few minutes. I think of how many mothers have and bring up two, three, four babies while cooking-cleaning-housekeeping AND going to work 6 days of the week on the 7.39 Ladies Virar-to-Churchgate special.
So, I'm gotten used to it.
I've learn to live with envy and jealousy when I see people who were colleagues/batch-mates, even subordinates earning in a month what I earn, sorry - not spend - in a year.

I've learnt to how to not to let that envy and jealousy get to me. Initially, it was a deep, burning pain. Now, mostly I don’t notice what it is.

So, you can get used to anything.

Every now and then, I remember a survivor of the 2005 tsunami who I saw on the Oprah Winfrey show. She was an old lady and she had lost everything. Money, home and her entire family of children, grandchildren. All gone. Only she survived.
Aid money had rehabilitated her with a new home but it couldn't give her back the family she had lost.
She was shifting into the house when they interviewed her and even through her tears of gratitude, she said something that I will never forget.
She said she now knew what you need to have in order to live.

Insecurity is a good thing.
Fear is even better.
The feeling that the bottom may fall out of everything any minute soon is a good thing.
And being “a failure” in the eyes of the world is a good thing.
When the safety nets go, the sight of chasm below trying to whoosh up and swallow you starts to clear the fog inside your head.
But the fog is thick, stubborn from years of having taken up residence and it's going to take a while for clear, blue skies

And you start looking for who you really are.

Without the phablets-that-you-change-with-every-new-phablet, the car-bigger-than-your-ego,without the friends (yeah, one of the side-effects of 'having money" is lots of friends), the vacations to I-have-no-clue-where-peoplewithmoney-go-to, the perks, the gymkhana membership.

You start looking for who you really are.

It is not easy. You are not easy to find.

But somewhere in that search, you realize that the tsunami survivor was right.
You really need very little to live. Maybe even to be happy

“Very little” because you don’t need money to have it.
In fact, no matter how much money you have, you can’t buy it.

A good night’s sleep.
A satisfactory crap every morning
A good appetite
And good health 


It’s not that I don’t heave a 1000 sighs of craving when I see that ad for the Samsung Note 3 
It’s not that a thin trickle of acid doesn't sometimes burn a trail someplace inside when I see a used-to-be-my-flunkey’s 6 figure take home or COO designation

But, I weigh the options

Hassan Ali Khan, the Pune- based horse trader implicated in a high profile hawala case not so long ago has several expensive cars including a Porsche, a Bentley and a Mercedes, huge properties in Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. And 35000 crore rupees in 10 Swiss bank accounts.

He also has cardiac problems, liver trouble and diabetes and has to be regularly hospitalised. 

So, is he happy? 

I’m thinking 35000 crores sprinkled with a couple of penthouses and garnished with a Porsche and a Bentley is not such a bad thing and if you offered it to me, I wouldn't pshaw it.

But is it better than a digestion good enough to eat 3 dishes of malai-kulfi- falooda AFTER 3 plates of dahi-chat and golappa?
Or the ability to sleep a straight seven hours at night?

I dunno, really
Because I know about the kulfi-paapdichaat-7-hour sleep gig. But not the 35000 crores-Porsche-Bentley-diabetes-dickey-heart-kaput-liver one.
So, I can't say... 
I mean Mukesh Ambani can say "Poor as church mice", but does he really know what poverty is unless he has been and/or has acquaintance with the above mentioned rodent species? 
(Of course, Rahul Gandhi will tell you that even with church mice, poverty is a state of mind and they could easily be tootling around in rodent-Bentleys, munching mice-caviar and sipping musaka-champagne, if they just put their minds to it...)
Am I saying then, that I want to experience 35000 crores-Porsche-Bentley-penthouse-diabetes-dickey-heart-kaput- liver life before i answer?
But minus the kaput liver and dickey heart. 
So that, whenever fancy strikes me and the penthouse bores me, I can rush off in my Porrsche to eat  3 dishes of malai-kulfi- falooda etc.etc. 
And not feel a twinge
Or missing a beat on my 8-hour kipper through a rain-washed night.
That's true wealth.


Komathy Ganesan - Mogan said...

Really good one Ratna. I have suddenly become Jobless of sorts in the pursuit of Pardesiness! I want yo travel around the haunts of the Masters in India, spend more time in Tiruvannamalai etc etc. cheers Sister.

Anonymous said...

This is so well written.

Not having a source of income didn't rankle me as much 3 years ago when I left my job as it does now, when as a 30 year old I watch everyone around me "making" as this money and can't help feel I'm being left behind.

Parts of this post resonated so strongly with me. The insecurity is just killing. But it also exposes our own ability to cope. I do know I'll get back to a full-time job someday. But until then, I need to learn to not get affected by those around me :-)

Ava Suri said...

Sometimes when I sigh over how low my income is, and the hours I have to work in an inhospitable environment, I think of the poor rickshaw wallahs and all other roadside workers who probably don't know where their next roti comes from.

I like living in a quieter place where I do not need to commute so much. I do earn much less, but I don't think I could live in a place like Mumbai, with its crazy speeds.

I remember reading an article by Pico Iyer whose house burned down. He had to rush out, and managed to take just his girlfriend's picture. For the next few days he parked with his friends and ruminated on how little you really need how to live.

Angel Divine said...

Am never going to write this well . Glad that's sorted out:)!

Achla Grover said...

Well written. I loved it !

Shankar Bali said...

Its so good to restart reading by visiting your blog :) Thanks. I just quit my job in Bangalore and came back to Gurgaon :)