Saturday, July 16, 2011
Have money; will spend
There’s a new disease affecting the middle-classes: it’s called affluenza
Growing up in a middle-class home, I didn’t really give much thought to money. But some things were taken for granted. Going out for a movie and dinner afterwards – even if it was just idlis and dosas in the local Udupi joint or kebabs at Kwality – was a major occasion. When we went on a picnic, the food was always home-made parathas or sandwiches. Holidays were spent with relatives to save on hotel bills. And when we felt like French fries or pakoras, they were rustled up in the kitchen by our mothers – or our cooks, if we were a little bit better off – rather than ordered in from the neighbourhood fast-food joint.
No matter how much money our parents made, they were always obsessed with putting some aside. Sometimes it was for a big purchase like a car or a home of our own. Sometimes it was for a social occasion like the wedding of the eldest daughter. Sometimes it was for the proverbial rainy day, in case everything went belly-up and we were left without a regular income. But whatever the reason, putting money away was always considered to be A Good Thing and it was something that we were encouraged to do from the time we started getting little cash presents on birthdays, Diwali, Eid, Christmas, Rakhi or Baisakhi.
Money was always better when it was tucked away somewhere safe for a day when we would really need it. And no, we did not need another pair of shoes; those school Bata shoes were just fine for a weekend trip to the shops. We did not need to splurge on cold drinks every evening in the marketplace when Mom could rustle up perfect lemonade at home for a fraction of the price. And we certainly did not need big parties thrown to celebrate our birthdays: a few friends, a shop-bought birthday cake (a special treat, you understand), some chutney and cheese sandwiches, home-made chana bhatura and you were set for the year ahead.
See, that was the time when parents – well, okay, let’s admit it, mostly moms – had the time, the energy and the inclination to play what we would now call a Domestic Goddess role. And when families actually spent time doing stuff together rather than out-sourcing all the boring bits because frankly they were too darn busy and, in any case, they could afford it – so what was the problem, exactly!
I guess it all began with the advent of double-income nuclear families when there was plenty of money to go around but not enough time. And that’s when affluenza struck: the condition in which we throw money at every situation that we don’t have the time, energy or inclination to handle on our own.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of affluenza among the cash-rich but time-poor. Let’s see on how many counts you qualify.
• You have a gardener to mow your lawn, window-cleaners who turn up every week to ensure that those glass French windows always look pristine, and a guy who comes every morning to clean your car inside out (sometimes, of course, he’s called the driver and also ferries you around all day). There’s the live-in maid who does all the cleaning, dusting, ironing, grocery-shopping. And the cook comes in every morning and evening to make a three course meal and stick it in the fridge for when you are ready to re-heat and eat.
• Your child can’t master the first principles of physics (or geometry, algebra, chemistry, insert subject of choice) no matter how hard he allegedly tries in class. And frankly, the thought of going back to muddle through middle-school text-books is too much to bear. Not to mention that you’re knackered by the time you get back from work. No problem: just bring out the cheque book and hire a private tutor.
• Both of you have high-pressure jobs that involve long hours and bringing work back home. And you have that whole competitive tiredness thing going on where each one of you acts more put upon than the other. So when you finally do get away for that long weekend without the kids, you spend more time getting massaged in the spa rather than in bed with one another.
• Your kids are home long before you are. And you don’t want them vegetating in front of the television, watching endless re-runs of Friends or worse, The Simpsons. So bring on the tennis coaching, the piano classes, the salsa sessions, horse-riding instruction, hell, even synchronised swimming will do. Try and get the little mites to learn every skill that money can buy. Keep them so busy that that they don’t have a moment to call their own until Mummy and Daddy finally stagger home. And then you can appease them by ordering in a nice, large pepperoni pizza with all the extras.
• A large house and a lovely garden just cries out for a dog, doesn’t it? Or maybe even two? But given that the entire family is out all day, either earning money or spending it, who is going to take the cute little thing out for walks and the like. Yes, you’re right – yet another member of staff, bringing up the grand total of home help to a grand four or even five.
See, that’s the thing with affluenza. It strikes when you’re not looking. And before you know it, you’ve got a full-blown case of infection to deal with.