“Don’t ask what money can do? It can buy you Pizza and Coke.”
I read that line about a decade ago; I felt that it is telling only partial truth. The value of money is much more than these mundane things.
“What is the value of money?” is obviously a strange question. The value of money is clearly pointed on the note/coin/currency that we use. Even non school going kids can identity various coins and notes and know its capacity (and limits) to purchase things. What we do not generally understand is that the ‘Purchase Power’ changes from place to place. I am not talking about the changes happening due to currency – like when one visits Europe or US of A. There too the value changes have many socio-economic dimensions. But even within India the value of money changes.
I know, you don’t believe in this statement. Even I would not have believed in it had I not this experience!
When I first visited Chitrakut (to be more specific Karvi, the district place) I faced the problem of local travel to a great extent. Chitrakut being a religious place was always crowded. But in such cases, people travel in large groups. The Government Guest House where I was staying in; was about 15 kilometers away from my office, so traveling everyday was a must. Even with such a large number of visitors to the city, the public transport system did not exist then. People were left to the mercy of private transport. All the parties, the local administration, the local transporters and the people seemed to be satisfied with the arrangements – and all was peaceful. It was weird to call that ‘peaceful’ because every day I saw hundreds of people (all men) with their gun on their shoulders. The gunmen drinking cup of tea; the gunmen laughing loudly on joke; the gunmen consuming food together was a common scenario.
My colleagues were naturally concerned about my safety and security. One of them used to pick me up in the morning; and someone would drop me in the evening on their motorbike. But I was concerned that just to ‘take care of me’ people had to travel 30 kilometers extra – which I thought was a waste of their time and organizational money. And by that time, I was so frequently visiting the place, that I was no more a complete stranger to the local situation.
One option was to take a ‘six seater’ auto rickshaw. Of course, here ‘six seater’ is just a name given to that particular vehicle. Unless and until there were 15 passengers, the vehicle won’t start. Being part of crowd is one thing, but being part of crowd where people are drunk and smoke .. I was finding it difficult to travel. Being an only woman in the crowd worsened the matters many times. With all this, I had to take another 15 minutes walk or take a bicycle rickshaw to reach my office. That added not only cost but time too. Once I traveled the 15 kilometer distance by bicycle rickshaw – but it took such a long time and I was feeling guilty while looking at the tired face of the bicycle rickshaw man!
I was no doubt trying to figure out the best way to travel from the guest house to the office. One morning, one six seater rickshaw driver was waiting for passengers. I asked him, “How many passengers sit in the front?” He looked at me very strangely. He told, “Sit there, the front seat is empty now”. But I asked the same question again. Without much elaboration he answered “three” – meaning three passengers sit in the front row – at the side of the driver. Then he asked me where exactly I wanted to go. I replied. Then he started shouting “five rupees seat, five rupees seat” in search of more passengers.
I told the driver,” I will sit in the front portion. I will pay you for three passengers, don’t allow anyone else to occupy the front seat.” The driver was confused. Here the custom was - if a group traveled together, they would negotiate with the driver and get concession for one or two people. He did not understand why I was ready to pay for three persons when I was traveling alone! My calculations were indeed simple. By spending ten rupees extra, I was trying to gain some comfort, some convenience. However, in that area, to have extra ten rupees to spend, was a luxury. And to spend ten rupees extra was a sign of richness.
I was constantly trying to convince the driver about this arrangement and he was not convinced. He was just smiling and chose to ignore me. When the security person of the guest house saw that I was talking to the auto driver for a long time, he rushed in to find out the problem and to help me. He listened to my proposal seriously and told to the driver, “Madam is from Bombay.” That worked as a magic.
That was a scene which was watched by many for the next few years. A woman sitting alone in the front of a six seater rickshaw! After every two minutes, the rickshaw would stop to accommodate new passengers; people would rush to the front seat with joy as they saw only one lady sitting there; the driver used to shout – “go to the backside”; the passengers kept wondering why they are not allowed to sit in front and why the driver is taking his rickshaw empty! Then some passenger sitting in the back (in the crowd of another ten people) would whisper, “Madam is from Bombay” – as if that was the sufficient explanation! And it always proved to be a sufficient explanation. But still someone would add, “She is traveling alone, but paying for the other two seats too.” That was beyond anybody’s understanding. The wondered, they gossiped, they looked at me, and they thought various thoughts.
Then it became a routine. It was a win-win situation. It was convenient to me, because by just paying additional ten rupees, I was able to travel more comfortably – saving trouble of my colleagues to pick and drop me. The auto drivers had to wait less for two passengers. Initially they had apprehensions, but once they realized that I pay those ten additional rupees, they were enthusiastic to have me.
I was conscious that I was lucky that I had those ten extra rupees to spend. I never asked passengers to get down and go to the backside, if someone was already sitting in the front, I would not take that auto. But auto drivers knew my time of travel, so they themselves would ask passengers to make the front portion free. None of the passengers ever objected to it. Nobody said, “She might have money, so what?” No one told me to “travel by your own car” if you want so much luxury!
During the four and half year period, I visited Chitrakut area at least 25 times, and the local journey was made in this fashion – by paying for two more persons!
Actually I tried to purchase comfort of ten rupees, but in the process I realized that I was having ‘Power’ of ‘Ten Rupees’. It was not an unlimited power – it was limited, it was gross but it was also subtle! The power of money is not about what is indicated on the currency – it is always about what it can give you in comparison with others! When we earn money (and we always want more money), we are certainly aware of this subtle nature of power that money brings in. The urge to happiness is natural, is also the urge for power natural? I do not know.
Can we do away with the urge of power? Because what I have experienced (and you too might have experienced) is once we start comparing ourselves with others, the happiness and satisfaction wane. Money is no doubt needed for food, clothes, shelter, education, entertainment, health! But it is up to us to decide how much we want and if we can stop running after money, we may be less powerful... but in reality we become more powerful!
The value of money is much wider, subtler and deeper than it appears!