The ‘Money ki baat’ that every Indian wants to know

The ‘Money ki baat’ that every Indian wants to know

Vasanthi Hariprakash. Credit: DH.

When mother, sitting on her cane chair, removes her glasses and looks up from the newspapers, it means there is a serious question coming at me. Sure enough, it was: “Sridevi’s daughter...how many years has she been in the film world?”

Me: Ma, sorry, I haven’t done research on this subject of national importance.

She: “No, tell me approximately. Four years? Five, maximum?”

Me: Will you tell me what this Ramanujan-level mathematics is about?

She: “See, it is written here – the Kapoor daughter is moving into her own flat in Mumbai with her own hard-earned money” …which is Rs 39 crore! How did she earn this much?”

Correct…how did she? But wait, why are we bothered about it?

Back in the day when I was a television reporter travelling through remote regions, absolute strangers would ask me what my closest buddies would flinch from asking: “Samblaa yesht baruthhe?” (What is your salary?). While a Westerner would balk at this “intrusion into privacy,” I see it as an honest transmission of thought: What is on our mind, is on our lips. It is India’s secret national obsession – to know how much money everyone else is making! It feeds right into our goal-oriented approach to life: Marriage should lead to children. Education should lead to a job – money, money.

Simple, no? No, the relationship status of Indians with money reads ‘complicated’. Our ancient texts exhort us to aspire for a higher truth. To go after money is greed. To think of profit is not noble. To have money and flaunt it is vulgar. To spend it without saving it is reckless. Dharma always higher than dhan, Moksha than money. Yet, as a society, there is grudging admiration for -- and envy of – one who is richer than one who is more virtuous.

But if a person comes with a combo pack -- wealth and virtue – the envy turns into respect.

That fine difference explains what an average citizen feels towards, say, an Azim Premji vis-à-vis an Ambani. The ‘giving’ Indian though is not always the all-having Indian; and giving isn’t always about money either. Often, those who have less are the ones who contribute more, via Seva, Zakat or Langar -- service via one’s labour for a cause.

Sattva, a consulting firm, did a first of its kind report on ‘Everyday Giving in India’ in 2019 that said India has the most number of people volunteering and donating money in the world, ahead of the US and China, as per the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) World Giving Index. The report had another heart-warmer: Millennials, too, show a keen interest to involve with social impact, the giving galvanised by online fundraising platforms.

As earning patterns change, the attitude towards spending, too, is changing. An entire generation of parents saved, scraped, deprived themselves to be able to give the best of education and living to their kids. No wonder they were shocked when those kids spent Rs 200 for a coffee at a café that could be had for Rs 20, or for free at home. Now, kids of those kids do have that coffee at home…with cookies that are dropped home, with a neat fat bill. A few years back, when my little nephew pestered me for a costly chocolate at a shop, I told him in mock-sadness, “Look, there is no money in my purse to buy that for you.” Unfazed, he told me, “Go stand before the ATM, it will give you money.” Last week, I had a chat with the same fellow, now 8, over an online mobile game that he wanted money from his piggy bank for. I upped my argument this time, saying “You know, you should save that for when you grow up, you will need it to go to college.” Without looking up from his mobile screen, the little gamer replied, “No, when I become an adult, they will give me a debit card.”

(Vasanthi  Hariprakash Radio anchor and former TV journalist, the founder of Pickle Jar, a media company that tells stories of a changing India, Can chat with a stone and get a story out of it.   @vasanthi.hariprakash)