Sitting on the coveted window seat in a train to campus, looking out of a bleak-looking pane, I was at peace. The feeling of serenity had started to seep in right from the moment when I’d discovered a plug point to charge my laptop. To say that my, once-brand-new, gadget had passed its prime would be an understatement. A flickering TFT screen, a battery life mathematically equivalent to DiCaprio’s luck at the Academy, a touch pad that responds to knocks in the order of kilo-newtons; had become its salient features. But then the old man, he still runs- well, at least walks.
AC three-tiers smell nice (nice being a relative term here, we are talking about the Indian Railways), they are clean and the fans, lights- mostly function satisfactorily. The cherry on top? Big blue cotton curtains that ensure privacy! Might come in handy for Rom-Juliets with plans of playing tonsil hockey when the mood ensues- Life, as they say, is full of interesting possibilities.All said and done, the ambiance was pleasant-ish. Made one feel rich, I might as well add.
Like any other educated middle class Indian teen, being wealthy is a concept of which I have definite and unshakable beliefs-Not plain wealthy, na-ah.Filthy rich. Just enough notes of 1000 to fill a swimming pool-half a dozen unpretentious palaces-with enough servants to make a living chessboard-a page solely devoted to one’s news in all the local tabloids-widely publicized philanthropic drives-a private Boeing.A pet elephant (white one of course!) wouldn’t be a bad idea.Rest I need fill in after consulting Stark Enterprises.
Come on! In a world of at least a million millionaires, wouldn’t it be a shame if a Porsche didn’t sleep in your porch?
It wouldn’t be.
Want to know why?
[The following account is a flashback- the reader is requested to imagine in black and white and adjust to the below par sound quality. Sincere apologies for the grievances caused]
Turning a corner I noticed some irregularities in my cycle. The front tyre, to my dismay, wasn’t looking healthy. Much in need was a repair shop, but the commute to the nearest would take at least 20 minutes on two legs and a wheel. For lack of choice, I started on my journey cursing fate, using the choicest of expletives. Under a scorching sun, and minus all the fluids in my body, I reached my destination; sweaty and impatient. I was already late for class and a ‘deflated tyre’ didn’t stand high in the list of valid excuses.
Answering my high-decibel summons, out came a kid. Not more than 4,I’d reckon. Covered almost completely in grease; he wasn’t exactly Peter Pan to look at. Barely reaching my knees, chewing what I assumed to be some local variant of ‘paan’, he looked up at me in defiance and said-
“What do you want?” *spits out something to the side*
“Uh.. Is there any way I can get some air filled in t…”
“Haan, wait!” *waltz behind the door to get the pump, with which he emerges (the plastic pipe was longer than him), and proceeds to use his entire body weight for the down stroke of the piston. Checks the air in the tyre amid-st alternate strokes, which gives him time to catch his breath as well .Convinced of a job well done –
“You got money, na? No credit!” *aggression written all over the greasy face
“Eh…I do, how much?” *me- visibly shaken
“2 rupees!” *spits again
“Oh…ohk” *me- visibly relieved, takes out a 10 rupee note
“Gimme coins. Got no change!” *expression of disgust, maybe because he ran out of stuff to spit
“You can keep the change”
(A pair of widened eyes, a mixture of disbelief and wonder – I saw it for a second. Or two and..)
“Yeah right! Didn’t you get me? NO CHANGE! Gimme 2 rupees and clear off”
“Keep the change. It’s okay”
The expression of happiness that dawned on his face was pure. Trust me, he was glowing. Two rows of blackened teeth-a dimpled smile-gave away his innocence. I mounted the bike, and went on; looking back a few meters ahead, I could still see him gazing lovingly at the note.
Ten INR is all I need for a pack of Lays. A premium coffee, which I would throw away if I didn’t like the taste. A token for a run on the video game in the mall. An extra pack of mayonnaise. But for that matter, when was the last time spending money made me happy? Why couldn’t the feeling of owning a new garment, drown the curtness I feel on spending on it? Why do I see everything in terms of money? Why do we measure everyone in terms of paychecks and figures? And why isn’t happiness permanent? And why is life so fucked up more often than not? Darn. Depressing.
Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. Maybe I’m looking at it all wrong.
Money and Happiness.
Maybe it’s not about the numbers.
Maybe being rich is not about being rich, after all.
Does that mean the kid is richer than …?
I felt strangely happy on this new line of Economic thought. Chuckle.
Oh, for the record-afterwards, I took the next U-turn and headed back home. After all, I did deserve a holiday after meeting Richie Rich!
Ambareesh Sr Ja
(My first one to get published :D. BITS Annual Magazine, Sizzling Sands 2014)