In hindsight, I’m not especially stunned at how little new I’ve learnt about my friends after our weekend together. We met after more than a year and at the end of a marathon ten hour conversation, I couldn’t pledge to know how any of them feels about the past year or life as it stands now. Given that our friendship has hardly been about sharing “emotions” and “feelings” (quotes are appropriate and intentional), this isn’t entirely unexpected. What we know about each other has been mostly through inference from facts rather than expression of thoughts. And that is OK.
If you are catching my drift – I’m mildly vexed about this weekend. It isn’t as much about our squandered opportunity to indulge in a sincere tête-à-tête as much as it is about what we spent the entire evening talking about. Money! We spoke in detail about stock markets and quietly ruminated about all the missed opportunities for profits, argued about the mechanics of real estate market and cogitated if it weren’t in a bubble, discussed about politics to the extent that it affects wealth creation rather than social justice and, if you will excuse my rude exaggeration, exchanged notes about the parity of incomes among us. This might be what all boys do at golf vacations and poker nights. But I’d have preferred a glib nostalgic banter to this peculiar intensity of “how to get rich(er)” panel discussion.
Money talk, it turns out, has dominated my visit to India this year. Some of my colleagues, it seems, have eagerly awaited my visit to inquire about every nuance of my salary, tax burden, grocery expenditure and savings and how it compares to their own personal balance sheets here. My late father’s legacy according to my aunt, it seemed to me, is established entirely on her opinion about how financially secure he left his family compared to those other dear departed. My grand mom felt it fitting to impart words of wisdom about how I must hold on to my inherited shard of land for its anticipated extraordinary appreciation (never mind the extraordinary inflation) in between her hour long oration which sailed effortlessly between estimation of years remaining in her life to musings of times when she struggled for money. Remarkably, her sole recollection my late grandfather was when he switched to tendering his salary to her instead of governing house expenses himself – and of course, how this was his life’s canniest decision.
More unnerving are conversations with my mom which have assumed even a remote semblance to prominence only when it has been about return on investment or funding of a new property. Nearly all strangers who, I emphasize against my will, have brazenly shoved their private phone calls into my ears in public transit, office space, on streets or movie theaters (phone calls here, by the way, are less of a private conversation than a broadcast really) did so when talking about Money.
I suspect this is a phenomenon of a one-dimensional (economic) prosperity unaccompanied by progress is culture or social consciousness. Forget as a reflection of legitimate concern, pity isn’t even on offer for the less fortunate so much as a whimsically alternate point of view. If there is, it isn’t articulated as emphatically as the free tips and tricks pointers for wealth management. Barely is there a grievance about lack of artists or, for that matter, a discovery of one. None appear gifted to chart a life course that even remotely deviates from the standard template of a job, a car, a house, a spouse, a child, a job title, a retirement and a coffin.
I wonder what to make of all this? Is it just human nature to singularly focus on Money? Do I find it strange only because I just so happen, at this point in life, to less worry about money? I’m perplexed. I’m thoroughly agitated.