I am out for a Saturday lunch with the husband and his friend. They meet regularly to argue over whether RD (Burman, not recurring deposit) was God. They almost cause a riot arguing about Bappi Lahiri (don’t even ask). Soon, sanity comes along with the food and the conversation turns to the friend’s portfolio (thank you, God). He is using some adviser who floats around in his office and seems pretty happy with him. I ask a few questions and feeling a bit like Gregory House (those who watch the TV series House will get the reference), I set out to destroy his warm, fuzzy feelings towards a guy who is obviously incompetent.
We ask this question all the time when we’re shopping. Whether it is the veggie or fruit vendor or the kirana store,kitne ka hai? (how much does it cost?) is the most heard phrase in a shop. Go to a mall, and barring the super cool, super rich, everybody else is busy struggling to find the price tag on the shoe or piece of clothing on display. Displays are all geared to get your attention to a good deal. And in shopping, a good deal is one that has a discount, costs less or you get something free with it.
’m not a celebrate-the-day kind of person. The Valentine’s Day circus irritates me, as do the other commercially driven days to celebrate a relationship. You need a “day” to remember your mum? But I’ll make an exception and mark 8 March as Women’s Day and turn all the attention generated into having this conversation. I want to talk about the difficult relationship that women have with money. It begins with a stereotypical classification of genders according to the ease with which they handle numbers. Girls are not good at math and boys are. If you hear this often enough as you grow up, is it any surprise that you begin to believe that it is true? And that is the first brick in the wall between women and their ability to deal with money.
The looming clouds of disaster are now overhead as economic data quarter after quarter show how serious the downturn is and expose the government lies, doublespeak and market talk-up over the last three years. As veteran employees, we learn to decode the signals of a slowdown fairly quickly. At the beginning of an economic slowdown, the first few cost cuts are around training, offsite events, office parties and travel budgets. You know the slowdown is deepening when fresh hiring is frozen and then travel. You know that things are getting really bad when even replacement hiring gets hit. Other signals that the company you work for is struggling are delayed salaries, restrictions on tiny expenses such as beverages and publications. And then when the news is all about shutting down of a business unit and of mass firings to reduce employee costs—you know that the economy is in a hole that will take a long time to dig out of. The macro problem of a slowdown comes home into individual households when jobs are lost. The job losses for the urban Indian mass affluent are hurting even more because our lifestyle costs have got pegged to an economy that was growing at 9%.
I’m talking to an old friend. The conversation veers around to ageing parents and he speaks of the difficulty in talking to his 80-year-old father about end-of-life choices, putting his assets in order and writing a will. Over the past decade-and-a-half he says he’s been through various stages—indifference (this will sort itself out), denial (my old man won’t cop it so soon—we come from healthy stock), guilt (what am I doing thinking about the death of my own folk?), worry (gosh, the run-around XYZ went through to get basic bank accounts unfrozen and don’t even talk about the real estate mess) and then courage (I’m going to nail this talk next time we meet) and finally to despair (dad doesn’t want to discuss it!).