Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Me and my capitalism
It was 2nd October, 6:00 am, Bombay airport. It was about Capitalism and the way I’m thriving in it!
The markets have run wild. Crazy times at Wall Street! I’m a poor Consultant and shouldn’t have a lot to do with this. Well, it’s not a lot. Except that when anything significant happens in the world, I find it difficult to keep my nose out of it, and end up feeling left out if it doesn’t have a direct impact on my life. So here’s how I got a little bit of the great banking crash into my life. I’ve met several bankers, brokers, traders in the last 3 weeks. Its co-incidental because unlike you’d expect, I didn’t meet any of these people in connection to employment in my firm (my lovely, safe, happy firm). These were just random meetings, over mail, beer, music and Facebook-- from ex-clients, to old classmates and friends’ bosses. And I’ve changed my mind a bit about them. They’re still the aggressive bunch of gold hunters that I always thought they were, but they’re fun too. Any way, I’m glad to be a part of the mess, in whatever insignificant way.
The other thing that has been on my mind is Affluenza. I was reminded of it when I picked up the latest issue of India Today. Affluenza is used to describe the condition of a growing state when its civil population is running wild to realize the quintessential American dream. Puzzled!
[Pth: I love most things American. I don’t like Bush, fried chicken and American chocolates. I like everything else. Actually I like most things American, European, South Asian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, and of course, most of all, Indian! On my way back from New York last month, I got into a ‘1 vs. 5’ argument on how welcoming Americans are (Any argument where it’s me against 5 men is any way much fun!) I hear a lot of people Indians face a culture clash when they work in the US. I find this hard to fathom. I haven’t spent a lot of time in the US-- 10 weeks of investment banking in NYC and several one week stop-overs. Apart from that, my interaction with Americans has been limited to random conversations over Beer on Friday evenings. I do have 2 really close friends who are the whitest people I know. So American, but lovely! So I think I understand a bit.
And there is no place in the world, where I have felt more welcome. Whether it’s the immigration guy at JFK, or it’s the mid-western girl friend, or the big boss who now heads one of the big banks in India. They are all American; I’ve known them all in America and never felt better about being away from India. This against what the 5 men argued at JFK. What they said didn’t sound so wrong either.
“I feel out of place when all people want to eat is steak”
“I hate how they don’t understand my accent”
“They don’t know Bombay from Delhi”
“They are surprised when they hear me speak good English”
“They think we’re only software engineers” (Pth: This one is so true though. I’m at the Coffee Day at Bombay airport, and I bet if I randomly pick a guy and ask him what he does, he’s going to say he’s an engineer. Ok, you know what? I’m going to do it. *****************. Structures engineer from Gurgaon (What’s that?), here to finalize a place for their Bombay satellite office)
There is some truth in all this, but to cut this long story short, I think most of these things become a non-issue the moment you try to fit in. Of course the American in Dallas will not want to have Dal Makhani and Butter Naan with you every day! And if you’re obsessed with hanging out with desis while you’re in the US, cry away. This was my pet peeve in Singapore as well. There is a strong desi network in Singapore, and while that’s great, it prevents you from moving out and meeting other people- Indian, Asian or from any where else in the world. I miss every moment I spent with my friends in Singapore, but I know that my next transfer is going to be in a place which actually shakes me out of my comfort zone, and really is worth taking up.]
So after this long digression, back to Affluenza! The dogged pursuit of more! Addiction to prosperity! A condition of societal stress. Excesses in excess!
This is definitely the American dream, beautifully and seamlessly blending into the Indian mind. Affluenza manifests itself in the Dior clutch, the Armani glasses and the Tumi bag. In the 28 year old novice who destroyed Barings and the experienced men who led Lehman Brothers. In the college boyfriend who snubbed the inexpensive (but highly functional) phone, and in the love that left the rising city for the exalted one. In the first divorce in the family and in the constant questions on salaries. In the nasty one that yapped about her Chloe dress, and in the girlfriends that spent last Saturday trying to find a dress that’s classy and understated. And in a bit of what I do. My Affluenza is about pretty sandals, black blouses, white skirts , multiple magazine subscriptions, books I never finish, Sennhieser earphones, Clinique superdefense cream, 1,300 candles, coffee mugs and peg measures, air tickets, post cards, and lots more. We all have our explanation for it. I have mine. I love it!
Running away from Affluenza seems like an even more disaster-filled alternative. Wasn’t it desire that turned dust to gold over the ages? The idea of reversing this magnificent and relentless pursuit of growth is revolting. Would this airport be much fun if people were all dressed in unflashy clothes, the shiny, transparent blue umbrella at Coffee Day was a black, opaque one, and the economic dream in peoples’ eyes was replaced by a dried look of contentment and passivity? (Yes, I do love airports, and I will continue to do so. And I bought the umbrella. I have 5 transparent ones now. Happy)
My definition of Affluenza is slightly different from the conventional one. What I call Affluenza is probably a lot less acute than the stressful social condition I attempted to describe above. I like Affluenza, as long as it permits me to write, go without make-up, wear un-ironed shorts, love the way I do, tell a lie that I must, speak the controversial word, sing out aloud! The trick is to find a fantastic outlet for all the stress built through these desires. One that pulls you away from every Affluenza-afflicted part of your life! I love letting the desire build up, and then venting it out on Word, at Bombay airport 3 hours ahead of a 9 am flight. My Pink linen shorts, red chappals, hair undone (it’s a holiday!), great music, hot black coffee and type-hungry fingers make me a conspicuous exception to Affluenza in this setting. I love it, just as much as I love the Monday morning attire, when I’m difficult to spot in the sea of people, all dressed in black trousers, white shirts, carrying heavy laptop bags and ambition dripping out of their eyes. With that balance, Affluenza doesn’t feel like a menace. Remove unsustainability and stress from it, and its fun!
Something similar came up when at dinner (er…beer) with a friend the other day. Let’s call him FYI now. He wanted to me to give him a Chuck, or Tony or Warfield pseudonym. I like FYI. He might apply to school soon, and mentioned how he often wonders if he’d prefer taking the time off and working on a farm in, well…the South of France (hehehe, you know that isn’t true), where he’s originally from. I was 2 beers down when this conversation happened, but I’m pretty sure I encouraged him to go ahead with it. I wish I’d be as encouraging to myself. I often dismiss it by saying my job lets me do what I want. Except that I was working on 2nd Oct!
On this note, I love the new Max New York Life ad. They made an awesome come-back after the morbid Sanjoo ad, with the ‘Zyaada ka iraada’ ad. For the benefit of my friends overseas, its start with a cute curly-haired single guy dressed casually, looking longingly at this biker dude, who has a girlfriend holding on to him as he zooms past on his snazzy bike. The girlfriend gets distracted from her boyfriend as she catches a glimpse of a woman who’s spending a playful morning with her children. The woman who appears to be enjoying the kids’ tantrums, gets pulled away for a moment as she sees a beautiful diamond necklace a bald guy is paying for at the jeweller’s nearby. As the bald guy steps in to his car, carrying the diamond necklace under his arm, he sees the curly-haired single dude, and runs his hand over his bald head with hope filled eyes. The pursuit of more!
The music is Doorie (House Mix)! And now I know what freedom is- listening to Doorie House Mix after over a year, singing along, several times a day and not having to change the station when it plays on FM radio, and being able to put it on repeat………. because it means a lot else now!