Maa tells me that when she was a kid petrol was 40 p / litre. Baba earned 800 bucks a month. Their first dish of lobsters in Taj Mahal, Mumbai costed Rs 350. It was an extravagance, but they weren’t paying for it. My parents’ childhood sounds idyllic to me. Gosh, really, how inexpensive was life then!
My own childhood was not extravagant either. Once a week, Maa would be give me 5 bucks so that I could buy dosa for lunch at school. Or pepsicola like we called in those days…iced colas squeezed in plastic pipes.
Or a round of kala chana salad that I called ‘Vitamin’. The thrill of handling money was of great joy. At once empowering and full of responsibility. With a small amount given to me on certain days, I felt I had to account for every penny spent, or saved.
As I grew up, my ‘pocket money’ also increased. 50 bucks a month was such an extravagance. Sometime later, while still in school I started tutoring a little girl. Her mother out of gratitude paid me Rs 250 as fees. To a girl of 17, it brought the first thrill of earning her money. Then there was a dance competition that fetched us Rs 4000 as top prize. Between 10 of us, we shared not more than 400 each. I remember I bought myself my first high heels back then. Black in colour, I soldiered on in them for a long, long time. They gave the height my own legs didn’t. A confidence of having earned something. To be worthy of a prize. To be able to spend it. To make a choice of putting my money in the right place.
Money didn’t matter then. What did, is how I earned it. Or spent it.
Years later, I take my son out to the weekly haat. There are fresh vegetables you see. As a mother, I strive to put the freshest and healthiest grub on the table. Oh yes, it is a task to walk from one stall to another. To find the juiciest tomato, or the perfect lemons, or a flower of gobhi without hidden pests inside…to carry the heavy bags back to the car, sometimes five of them heavy with kilos of food for the family. Of course they are cheaper, but what is a good wife who is not penny wise?
Our trips to the haat are not about vegetables any more. They are also not about finding the cheapest onions that don’t sting my purses. It is about my son learning his ways in a market. Every Sunday, mother and son, we go to the haat to pick our veggies for the week. To haggle a little. To sort a little. To pick the best. To eat the best.
Hand in hand we walk from one stall to another. We sort the veges we want, we ask for the best rates. He likes the feel of soft, squishy tomatoes in his little palms. No, we don’t want them, I tell him. Look for the firm ones. They have to be tight…yes, look for the red ones. He picks one and wants to dig his teeth into it. Oh, you can’t do that yet! Wait till we get home and you can wash it first.
The firm form of green capsicum also tease him. He picks up one, just enough to fill his hand, like a little ball. He looks around, aiming for the weighing scale, wanting to throw it right in. He looks at me for encouragement and then at the shopkeeper. Both of us yell, No baby, don’t throw it…put it down! Disappointed and defeated, he puts it right back.
We pick our lemons. He notices that I don’t pick the ones with spots. A spotted lemon makes it way into the basket, and he quickly pops it out. While the shopkeeper weighs our pick, the little man quickly picks one and hides it behind himself. What do you think you are doing here? I ask. He flashes his dimples and puts the lemon back.
Me, me me…he screams when the pumpkin man returns 5 bucks to me. He wants it, you see. Three pieces of coins all for himself. I let him have them. He fingers them carefully and puts them in his pocket. Clutching it tight. Back home, as his Baba helps me carry the bags home, he pulls out his tiny hands from his pocket and says, taka..Baba, taka.
Oh yes, my boy…taka (money) is what you will handle when you grow up. But will you remember the innocence with which you went to the haat? It’s all worth a penny’s sake…but to me, it is worth it to gather a moment that will become a memory for me. And for you…
Memories are special…because they can never be bought. Long after you have grown up, you may remember our trips to the haat. And every time you do, they will make you smile…