Monday, December 7, 2009

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy

The billionaire oil baron John Paul Getty was famously frugal. When his 16-year-old grandson was kidnapped by Italian gangsters, he initially refused to pay the one million dollar ransom. He believed that Paul III had staged the abduction himself. He eventually relented after six months of hostage negotiations that prompted the kidnappers to lop off one of the boy's ears, put in an envelope and send it to a newspaper.
Even so, the incident cost Getty very little. The one million dollar was only a loan to the boy's father at four per cent interest.

I read this aloud to my Dad, then set the book down and looked at him – long and close, waiting to see if he had got the point that I was trying to make.

After, a long sigh, he turned and said, “No, I am not an oil baron. I am only a banker. If Deb III were abducted, I would not wait for his ear for six months, and I have loaned money to Deb II many a times on zero percent interest and I am yet to be repaid.”

Assured about the fate of the nonexistent Deb III’s ear and reminded of the debts of the one and only Deb II to her father, I swallowed my pride and waited for the rest to come, and sure enough, there it was.
My Dad for the six hundred and sixty sixth time in my life said, “I was four years old when my mother passed away. I was brought up by my uncle in a household with twelve kids around me and money was tight. I had only rice and cereal for my meals, lived off two shirts for twenty years of my life, and had it not been for my scholarship, I would not have been able to graduate at all. And you my dear are the rich daughter of a poor father.”

Now that’s true, I was brought up fine by my parents, never been denied too many things in life. I was given a good education; my college was paid for, I had good food to eat and the latest trend to wear.

Never mind, the refrigerator and the television that have been around at home since my parents got married thirty years ago.

My dad’s argument:
Why do we need a new refrigerator if this one still cools and freezes things?
Why do we need a new TV, if we can still hear the 8 o clock news on this one?
You should not be surprised to see us giving the TV a few lashings every fifteen minutes to make it work. It was a good work out session watching the three hour long Ben hur as the whole family took turns at the lashing.
You might walk into my parent’s house and see it transformed into an electronics workshop almost every Sunday. You’ll see my dad sitting with his box of tools and the TV or refrigerator parts strewn all over the place and my mom practising her projects on vocal variety and body language. Her organization has improved substantially over the years. But she is yet to graduate to persuading and inspiring her one man audience.

I am sure, a few more years, and my dad would be selling these precious possessions at a greater value to some antique dealer, had it not been for me.
When I got my job, four years ago, it was time to make changes.
I gave the whole house a thorough makeover. My Dad said, “Don’t treat your salary young lady as if you have won a lottery.” But who cares, I had what anybody needs – my new and shinny credit cards. The world was at my feet. After I gave the whole house a makeover, I looked at myself in the newly installed mirror. I realized I too needed a makeover. It was time to get rid of my old high school sweater and the old pair of jeans. I got myself a whole new wardrobe.

When all was brand new and shinny, and my credit cards old and worn off, they started coming - my credit card bills, and then more bills and then more. They seemed never ending. My life went from pay check to pay check, sometimes with loans from my father and then loans from the bank.

The sleepless nights, the worries, the sighs - I looked back at my life in the old sweater and the old pair of jeans, hitting the old TV, yet watching it, and drinking the cold coke from my old refrigerator.

I asked myself what was all the spending for? My parents were content with what they had, I would still be the same person with an old wardrobe. But it would matter a lot, if I were just a bit more responsible with my money. A close watch on my expenses, an extensive plan on how to repay my loans and strict adherence to my monthly budget - I finally managed to declare myself debt free after eighteen months. I realized there was nothing more important than the contentment and peace of mind and a little money stored away for troubled times. I even managed to repay my dad the expenses he had incurred for my college much to his protests.

And as I did so, I thought of my dad, not as Shakespeare’s villain anymore, as he said, “Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy.”

Friday, December 4, 2009


I watched this interview by Konkona the other day (http:// , labeled in the typically filmy Bollywood style as "Secrets Out!! What is Konkona Sen Sharmas ideal date?". I thought it was worth mentioning, not b/c I wanted to know what her idea of an ideal date is, don't think I am interested to know that as far as actors are concerned. There are better things to know about them.
What I particularly loved about this interview was that when she was asked which one was her favorite Aparna Sen directed film - she answered Parama, it is the same for me, just brought back a lot of memories - I remember staying up night after night as a school girl trying to understand Parama whenever they aired the film on tv - as Ms. Biswas, my Bengali teacher had once said, watching the film was a distinct step in my life towards making me the WOMAN that I am. The film gave me a better understanding of the woes of a WOMAN, lost in the roles that she plays in life - as a wife to her husband, as a mother to her sons, as a friend to her teen age daughter, as the person who holds the family together as a daughter-in-law and as a daughter to her parents - but when, when exactly does she get to be HERSELF ? I heard the silent screams of such a woman who exists in every society around the world !!!