It's a rich man's world

Money, money, money

It's a rich man's world

We are a nation that runs after money. Old money, new money, any money will do. However, we are not alone. The human greed to gobble up the good times is a global epidemic that joins us to our wealth-worshipping brethren all over the world, writes Shinie Antony

There is this version of happiness that’s gone viral. Every one is buying into it — literally. Money, moolah, dosh, cash, credit cards… No one is immune to the charisma of currency. With big bucks, the world laughs with you; be broke, and you cry alone. Whatever the crisis, the price-tag generation reaches first for its wallet. Nothing a little lucre won’t cure. Mankind is sold on the idea of enrichment like never before.

Spending makes us come alive. Retail therapy makes us better people. It gives us a high and it calms us down. We buy, therefore we are. Wherever we look, there is yet another hoarding announcing a fancier watch, a bigger TV screen, thinner laptops. They all make eye contact and scream, ‘Buy me, me, me!’ And suddenly it seems like we cannot live without them, that we must have them. Now.

The comforts of cold cash are old news; it is the unbridled, open, even ennobling pursuit of it that is novel. Where you earlier had to marry money or looked down on the nouveau riche, today you cannot comprehend those who do not toil towards a fatter bank balance purely for the sake of a fatter bank balance. Nothing covert or infra dig about this. Old money, new money, any money will do. We are all for the newly coined, the freshly minted.

The word ‘save’ doesn’t imply rainy days or slave-like drudgery in a pension-giving life imprisonment of a government job so you can get your three bespectacled daughters married anymore. ‘Spend’ is the new ‘save’, almost as if money begets money.

Professional people are called in to grow money on trees, and they come in like elves with briefcases when you sleep, and balance your account books every night.
Possessed by possessions, with wants that multiply by the minute, we are a window-shopping multitude. Social climbing is seen as spiritual suck-up. Health is wealth, but wealth is health too, what with all the medical advancements; you live on because you can afford to. A hometown trip is not considered a holiday these days. A real vacation has to be by the sun-kissed beaches of Hawaii or in a seven-star resort in Switzerland with swimming pools and spas right in your drawing room. Uber illnesses associated with richness gave us jargon like ‘rehab’, ‘shopaholics’ and ‘sex addiction’. You eat at a particular restaurant only because you can’t afford a more expensive one. It is all about upgrade.

Post-liberalisation brands became big business. The tailor in the street corner has been banished. No one wants to be caught dead in non-branded, cheap chain-store garments; that would be a wardrobe malfunction of the highest order. People are particular about how they dress, in what they dress, and strive never to wear the same dress in public twice. Everyone is a who’s who in the making with a wardrobe to match, and is dressed to kill.

Of course, the goalposts of security keep changing. Where previous generations bought kilos and kilos of gold and acres and acres of land to guard bottom lines, the current craze is for making smart investments, to watch money mate with money and breed in the bank. If our grandmothers were asked to kowtow to their bread-and-butter earning husbands so the latter did not stray, our mothers wanted us to be economically independent, to be able to buy a modest two-bedroom flat by the time we were forty. Today security means luxury, the ability to afford whatever the little heart desires. Money means never having to say, ‘My grandfather used to be loaded.’ Your own affluence must overshadow every penny previously owned by your whole family tree.

In most homes it is an all-expenses paid trip — this foraging for means. Even paterfamilias understand the need to invest monetarily in offspring’s flight of fancy. What they sow is what they reap, and paisa is that seed. Posh schools provide the kids with the right accents, contacts and degrees. From kindergarten onwards there is a conscious and unapologetic pursuit of status, a maintaining of moneyed backgrounds, to carefully cultivate the air of ‘privilege’. Children are used to this from day one and seek no other lifestyle. If the father lived coveting, he makes sure his son’s wants are met with. In fact, parents have brought down the number of kids from two to one/none just so the income per head is spread less thin. This family planning is meant to benefit the child himself; he doesn’t have to share property or inheritance with a sibling. Every member of this shrinking family has proportionately more money to spend.

Where you stay, your address, what you drive, how many cars are parked in your garage, your annual income, how much tax you pay: at college reunions, these are the things on everybody’s mind. Your kids are never with you; they are all studying abroad. And they are studying in another country only because traffic to Moon is yet to get the green light. Mere contentment won’t do either. Success has to be over the top, visible to the naked eye, and make others’ mouths water.

The welcoming of Goddess Lakshmi on auspicious days is a mere formality. Every day is yet another 24 hours to rake in the dough. Money can’t buy you love but all its best imitations are yours for a price. You are condensed to the wad of notes in the wallet in your back pocket. It is a hormonal itch, a genetically programmed inner command to hunt game, to accumulate and amass. The human greed to gobble up the good times is a global epidemic that joins us to our wealth-worshipping brethren all over the world.

Where money used to be all about survival, sending kids to a decent school, eating two square meals a day and going for one movie a month, the explosion of shopping malls in not just urban spots, but in the backs of beyond, proves the aspirational aspect of money. Oscar Wilde did say: ‘Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.’ With Lulu Mall coming up in Kochi, there is a marked lack of attendance in the other malls, signifying a hierarchy even in the matter of luxury. It is not enough that we get free air-conditioned space to hang out in, we want the best there is even when it is gratis!

Look at what money can get us: ostentatious abodes, half a dozen servants, page-3 parties, diamond necklaces, even hair implants on a balding pate. We just have to make it to those occasions that are ‘by invitation only’. Our fame, not our face, is our fortune. Whatever the cost, we have to pay the bill. So earning a lot is only common sense.
This single-minded devotion to money even has us break out in song now and then. We sigh over stress levels, lip-synching all the others on the subject, and pine for open spaces. We speak of going back to the basics, growing our own crop of pesticide-free vegetables, communing with nature, locking ourselves up without mobile phones or computers. This is only so that we come back to the jungle with a sharper appetite. Besides, without money, none of the above is really possible.

Temporary poverty is desirable, even recommended. It is hip to be an artist in some low-rent basement in a seedy part of town for a brief period of time, something to drop into conversations all your life; ‘Oh, you know, this was during my poor days.’ A quaint memory of being moneyless and silly, of slumming it. Flush with funds in your high-rise apartment, this is something to safely flashback about. But back to business now. To make the stuff hand over fist.

It is just that our habit of getting ourselves all we want in the material sense, of playing Santa to self, is to cater to the most elusive of emotions — happiness. Money means we are the Joneses, it is our neighbours who have to keep up with us. A lack of it equals depression, loneliness, ostracism and possible loss of face. Helpings of heartbreak would be the first to go if we could live our life in predetermined bits and pieces, isn’t it? Happiness would follow happiness and, frankly, we’d live in a continuous revelry of joy. And it is precisely this attempt to weed out the ‘sad’ from our lives, to insure us against bad times, that drives us so ferociously to the market.

Thankfully, in the hurly burly of cutthroat chases and unmet deadlines are couched moments of bliss that have nothing to do with the rustle of RBI notes. We watch a sunset, tickle our kid. Meet eyes over a hasty dinner. Say something funny and watch friends crack up. The fragrance of a flower, the tune of a forgotten song, lingering in bed long past dawn… We don’t have to pick up the tab for any of these!

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