If there is one thing I have learnt in the decades spent on Earth is that there is no quick and easy way to make money or save money. Having grown up in a two frock childhood ( recall my blog https://myhumerousbone.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/the-two-frock-childhood/ ), I am most decidedly middle class and no matter how much I earn, I am not getting rid of that tag. There is something unbelievably sexy about being middle class, I can easily list the top 100 sheer pleasures of my middle class existence. We in India staunchly believe in the concept of जुगाड़ and if we find anything free anywhere, we grab it like our birthright. Even though we understand there is no way to make the quick buck, and we have read about being penny wise and pound foolish in school, we persist, just in case.
As a kid, I loved picking up all the सौफ at the restaurant. Open the tissue paper, pour it all in, hide it under the armpit and walk out nonchalantly. Assume nobody is watching. Later I did start wondering what the waiter, who I handed the miserly 5 Rs tip, would be thinking. Covertly sneaking a glance at him, I could see him shaking his head in a resigned manner – another middle class family. But who cared? We paid for the meal, but the free stuff gives infinitely more happiness.
All my college friends, the ones who stayed at the hostel would barge into any party/ wedding locally just to get good food. Hand over an envelop with a 100 Rs note ( +1 Re coin for शगुन ), 5 of them would eat like they had been starving for weeks. A low cost to pay for a hearty meal for so many.
Even middle class folks acquired some degree of sophistication over a period of time. They graduated to picking up all toiletries, slippers, and even toilet roll from the three star hotel where they stayed in for a day. The next level hit when you stay for three days and stash away everything every day, forcing the housekeeping to replenish the stock daily. Squeeze them dry. As you go for breakfast- which has to be included- ( no self respecting middle class Indian would ever stay in a hotel which does not include at least one free meal and these days, wifi), you pick up all the fruits and cakes and sandwiches you can safely carry, all the while eyeing the waiter, which would then serve as lunch. The level of sophistication only impacts the items you pick, not the intent. The better the hotel, more stuff you can pilferage. Which one of us has not picked up Air India cutlery and the salt, pepper and ketchup sachets (and also the wet tissue)?
Once upon a time there was something called STD when calling friends and family used to be pretty expensive. We once got an opportunity to make free calls and I think we would have spent at least 3-4 hours, calling up every relative who existed in the diary, even ones who we may just wish Happy New Year once in a lifetime. And of course, everyone spoke to everyone, 2 raised to n. Thrilled at the coup, we were mentally calculating how much money we saved that day, and phish, the motorcycle developed a problem and we spent a few thousands in its repair. That is when I realised that nothing in life is free.
Then there are these schemes, where you fill the “lucky draws” in every mall and you can win a free trip to Bangkok and other gifts of varying cost and taste. I hate filling that form and giving my number, I always tell them I am not lucky, but my husband fills it almost always. The ever optimist. Once we got a call, you have won a free gift and you need to come and collect it from somewhere about 20 kms away. This was our first time and we were excited enough to go. We spent 6 hours listening to the reasons why we should invest into some housing scheme and at the end, we got 6 bowls. Trust me, I have got many such offers post this incident and I absolutely did not increase my bowl collection.
My husband loves credit cards. Firstly you save on the interest, secondly you get some “free gifts”, whether it is movie tickets, or a discounted spa visit or some money off on the next purchase, or maybe an extra 5% off at Shoppers Stop. So he has a box-ful of credit cards and tells me which one to use when going to the market. He even has which days to use which card so as to yield maximum yield. Well, I have no issues so long as he pays for them.
When my slippers are worn out, or break, I am reminded that it can be repaired at a lower cost till I yell. We like our “scents” which we buy when we see a 1+1 or better still, 1+2, and the whole family smells the same for the next 6 months. Haggling is a prime distraction whether it is with the haat vendor for Rs 20, or when buying a 55” TV, -can I get one more set of 3D glasses. I still can’t bring myself to buy a 4000 Rs dress because- कितना expensive है ! And I wear that salwaar which is torn from the bottom- घर में क्या फ़र्क़ पड़ता है। . Why can’t Anuraag wear this tricolor track suit, it just has India written all over it (and was given to his niece). And because we store that non-working shredder for 3 years on top of that Godrej almirah (which itself is 20 year old) since ‘ठीक हो जाएगा. And if you don’t like the shirt you got as a gift, pass it on to someone you don’t like. If ever there is a competition in being middle class, we will win hands down.
We are also visually impaired to a large extent. The first thing we see when we open the newspaper is SALE. It is all pervasive. Sale, Sale go away, come back to haunt me another day. As Sheldon would have put it “It is a Singularly Addictive Literal Euphoria of the human mind leading to acquisition of impractical ensemble of unnecessary material possessions which necessitate quikr for clearance of the clutter” phew! But I don’t like sales, it takes away the sheer joy you feel after you have saved all of 100 Rs post haggling. Yeah, I am almost feeling like a pure proud middle class Indian.