I am not a spendthrift. I don't go stingy on the things that I really need, but I do think twice before shelling out for another set of clothes I don't need or a pair of shoes that I won't wear too often. So, like I said, I am not a spendthrift and I like to think of myself as a prudent, cautious little bird, putting away a stash in that little nest of mine. Part of this is perhaps a hangover from my childhood when money was in general more scarce than it is now. I remember, my mother always bought us new clothes for diwali or navratri, but when we went shopping, it was with a very clear budget in mind. And you couldn't play around with budgets like bollywood heroines changing costumes for a song, now Indian, now Western, now god-knows-what country-they-got-that-from. No sir, you made your budgets and you stuck to them. That's the way it was. And this is not a few decades ago - I am talking about, say fifteen years ago. Middle class Indians still prided themselves on truly owning everything they had, meaning bought with my own-money and not a loan from someone.
Today though, I got a bit of a shock to this wise-little-birdie image of mine when I dropped in at my library to return some books. These were due about a month ago. While I had realised that I was a little late, I hadn't quite got it that I was so so so late. Besides, there is always some excuse for delay. The rains. My cold. The traffic. The holidays in between. Thats how it went, and the books stayed home a full month after they were due, including one on general chemistry which I didn't even open, and the last Katha prize short stories that I couldn't bring myself to finish, despite all good intentions.
I walked in to the counter and returned the books, fully expecting to be fined, but when I saw my bill. Well, two hundred and twenty five may not seem like that big a deal. Actually it didn't. I dug out three new hundred rupee notes freshly withdrawn from the ATM, got back my change, and scooted over to Gangotri next door to have some pani puri.
That's when it hit me. I had shelled out one hundred and eighty rupees for nothing. Forty five for reading charges, and one eighty five for - just holding the books at night and going to sleep? And why hadn't I even felt anything about it? It wasn't the money itself - probably we all shell out more than that for the occasional lunch. But somewhere, I felt as though by my carelessness, I had devalued money. And in doing that, devaluing the hard work that goes into earning it. When I was young, I used to hear adults saying this often of demanding kids, oh, he will learn when its his own money. I am not so sure if I have really learnt that lesson well. On the one hand, I would like money itself to be relatively unimportant. I would like to pay far more attention to other things that matter - family, affection, friendships, interests. On the other hand, I would still like to treat money with the respect that it deserves - after all, its not just metal and paper - its the symbol of something else, the work that has gone into making it.
On a lighter note, I managed to find a copy of Vikram Seth's Two lives. Usually most of the new arrivals are snapped up immediately, but somehow there was one copy left. Guess I got lucky this time.