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By ...and Uddalak Mukherjee wanted to bid goodbye to an old man he hates
  • Published 4.01.09

The New Year isn’t only about pledges. It is also about confessions. I have one to make. I loathe a man. He isn’t real.

I meet him every day, on my way to work, in one of the Metro stations. He is perched on top of a wall, and smiles from an advertisement hoarding of a private bank. Sar utha ke jiyo, he says, puffing out his chest, his face lit up.

Life teems below him, in constant motion. People rush to work, a year comes to a close, blood spills on another city’s streets, markets crash. The man I loathe is unmoved, and continues to smile.

But I have seen him move, and talk, elsewhere, on my flickering television screen. He creeps into it in a commercial, in between a favourite film or a cricket match, asking his wife, gently, whether she remembers how to cook and do the chores.

He has retired, he says, and cannot afford a domestic help. The woman asks whether they should get some money from the son (why not the daughter? Don’t they have one? Perhaps they never wanted one). The old man bristles at her suggestion, and reminds her that the only favour he has ever asked in his long life was from her father for her hand in marriage.

Of course, we learn later that the poor woman wouldn’t have to cook or do the chores. Her wise husband had said it all in jest, having saved enough to manage the household expenses, and even take her for a holiday to Singapore.

I know why I hate this man. It isn’t because he asks his wife to work, albeit jokingly, while he sits with a book or a plate laden with food. (The woman is at fault, choosing to spend her life with him.)

But it is because of what he embodies, and what he wants us to aspire for. The man represents the sway the market has over our most private choices: decisions about money, a way of life and even love.

Men like him are forever telling us what to do: how to earn, spend, save. This chilling intervention infantilises us and our lives, deluding us to believe that we are empowered, that we are in control.

This man, in a way, also exposes a dangerous abdication by the state. Unlike the West, India’s grey population — which is expected to touch 177 million in a couple of decades — has little support from the government, be it in the form of an efficient care-giving system, or social security. The vacuum, created by a colossal failure, has been filled by the market and its institutions.

But then the market isn’t impregnable. It has faltered recently, and faltered dangerously. There are fears that our money and our investments may not be safe. This nightmare is also the beginning of my secret dream. Why not splurge on the things that I have always wanted to buy?

An outrageously priced music CD, a copy of a rare film, clothes that are out of my reach? This feeling, of being able to do exactly what I want with my money and not having to feel guilty about it, is so deliciously rare, it makes me feel free.

Of course, this cannot be. I have to save to survive, to be able to lead a life and retire with my head held high. The crafty old bird knows he has won and won’t stop smiling.

For the New Year, I only have one wish. I want the old man to take his holiday, in Singapore. The ride to work would be so much better then.