Sunday, August 28, 2016

Between 2000 and 2005, when I was at university, I was always broke. I had fought with my father and accepted only enough money from him to pay for my education, not necessarily my upkeep.

Most days, for five years, I had a Rs 10 packet of junk for a meal. It was affordable, easy (cooking was hard work!) and it was food.

I quickly learnt to never say no when parents of friends invited me to a meal or snacks or even a couple of biscuits.

I started freelancing in early 2001. The payments were not regular but there was occasionally money, which I spent on French classes, novels (my father's money bought my textbooks), outings, taxi fares. I often paid for my boyfriend as well as myself because he was equally broke, though he did have a family to go home to, and food on the table. It took me a while to recognise that while I usually had more money in hand than he did, I spent far more time being hungry or debating between an outing (travel fare, possibly cover charge) and some meals. There were apparently different ways of being penniless and mine was the one that didn't merit any sympathy. I felt that I needed to be the scholarship student struggling to buy textbooks to actually qualify as poor.

Quite quickly into my battle with pennilessness, it stopped being about my father's harsh words. It was about my absurd pride and refusal to accept more from him than I absolutely had to.

So I made do, somehow. Lived off the generosity of friends, learnt to say no to lifestyles I could not afford. Learnt to befriend people whose love for me was not founded on what I could pay for while I was around them.

With the end of college and the start of a marriage and motherhood, came a different kind of broke. When you couldn't afford to pay for your child. When basics like fresh fruit and diapers and the good rice and clothes were provided quietly by grandparents who were forced to watch from the sidelines.

In the decade gone by there have been good times, when we had money to waste on trivialities, but overwhelmingly it feels like I have spent my adulthood this far worrying about a child needing hospitalisation (the bills! the lack of work hours leading to lack of income!), car needing repairs, us falling ill (freelancers can't afford the time off) and similar worst cases scenarios. Rahul has always gone to a good school, with moderate to high fees, and I don't grudge the money we paid for the services received but I do know every increase in the fees had me sitting down in a panic and re-working the monthly budget.

We have dealt with credit card debt, emptied out savings, a total lack of investments and I think at some point money worries drove me to forget all my blessings -- the healthy children, the loving husband, the supportive parents, the lasting friendships.

This brave article by Gayatri Jayaraman became a point of strong debate a while ago. People argued about the validity of sympathy for privileged adults who would rather keep up appearances than stay sane. I spoke up exactly once, trying to say that sometimes sanity is too expensive a luxury but obviously this hits me too close to the bone for me to explain myself as lucidly as I need to. All I can say is, not all poverty is the obvious kind. And if you can't spare sympathy, be kind and scroll past. Spare the abuse. I promise you the ones struggling with empty accounts and lives lived paycheck to paycheck already have enough to deal with. They really do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sue, I know what you mean. I've been through many years like that. And I agree, poverty is not always the obvious kind. There are many ways of being poor, stressed out. It's the same attitude that says, you have everything, you don't have any reason to be unhappy. But thanks for sharing this.