I am Bankim Biswas and I what I write is a lot of bunkum and wishwash. This issue of Fundamatics is themed around the students of IITB. Students learn an awful lot in 4 years inside the classrooms. There is a lot to learn outside the classrooms too. Sadly, one important lesson from yesteryears seems to have gone out of the outside-the-classroom-curriculum. Let me try and explain.
You’ve all heard about a toothbrush, right? You’ve all used it in the mornings. Some have used it also at nights and few have used it once a week. When some obstinate old school students persisted with datoon and coal and Vajradanti, toothpaste manufacturers sold a toothbrush free to every family that bought a deluxe pack of toothpaste. Some brushes came to us via Colgate, some via Binaca and some others via brands that folded up, thanks to bad marketing ideas from guys who charged lakhs to name a toothpaste as Promise. (remember that “oof oh! Ek aur naya toothpaste” by a middle-aged nanny whose teeth were delicious enough to bite into?) We are told that she was actually using close-up.
Anyway, let’s come to the point. We brushed our teeth till the brush wore out, sometimes faster than our teeth and sometimes not. But our moms, grandmoms, aunts and servants did not let us cast our brushes away into the dustbin. In fact, they retrieved it from there and used a used-up brush to polish steel vessels and clean stain marks from curtains and kitchen sinks.
We brushed our teeth till the brush wore out, sometimes faster than our teeth and sometimes not. But our moms, grandmoms, aunts and servants did not let us cast our brushes away into the dustbin.
Years later, the bristles wore out. Faster than the hair on the bald man’s pate whose teeth had also fallen off by overbrushing his dental infrastructure. Never mind! Said the nannies and other practitioners of the paisa vasool culture. They used old discarded scissors to shave off the brush and were left with a solitary plastic handle with an eyehole that was once used to string the brush onto a hook above the wash basin. This eye hole now served as an anchor… a placeholder for the pajama cord (nada, if you please) that was quickly knotted into the hole and the now neo handle was an agile contraption that would embark on a tour of the cord slot and ensure a cord’s firm travel from one end to another. This was a crowning moment for the Indian machismo male. One who could not hold a pajama up without a cord. Nimble fingers, used up handles saved by paisa vasool womenfolk often came to the rescue of these gents who knew how to oil their hair, wear kurtas, but knew not how to make a cord permanently stick out of both ends of the narrow tunnel that was designed for thin strings, not fat fingers.
At most times, brushes outlived their owners. In their journey in this world to wear out enamel, polish sinks and run through pajamas, toothbrushes lived slightly less than four score and ten, while the owners of teeth and pajamas lived much less than three score less ten. In short, paisa vasoolism was in and a fashion statement. People who could afford to hire an upstairs maid and a downstairs maid, and even a mid-landing maid recounted to us tales about how they asked for a “teesra panama” at 5p when the rates were 8p for 1, 15 p for 2 and 20p for 3, in the H4 canteen. There was a compulsive and an urgent need to show that “I am not a fool”. Save money, spend it wisely, make a purchase go far into time and into distance–these were the mantras that came naturally to most conservative Indians. Indians who were conservative because they conserved, not because they were non-liberal. Similar examples of practising paisa vasool culture abounded. A shampoo was good if, and only if, its bottle could host chilli flakes within its environs, long after its erstwhile contents had disgorged egg and oil on hair that was going to wither away anyway after practising so much paisa vasoolism. Plastic bags that screamed Amarsons were used to buy vegetables….bhindi and mutter…..from Amar Singh’s son’s grocery store. Your Charag Din shirt, after travelling from your torso to your younger sibling to your son to your driver, is now used to wipe your windshield by your driver who now sports a Tommy Hilfiger, thanks to castaways from the non paisa vasool neighbours. How often have you retrieved phone numbers from tissue papers that you scribbled into before you blew your nose and snot into its cellulose structure? Even the wealthy who spend more time making money than saving it, like the guys who buy an expensive treadmill in the hope that they will knock off flab from the nether regions when and if they have the time, eventually hang their towels on the treadmill while looking at it forlornly and say, “Don’t worry dear! I’ll walk over you sometime before I become fatter than my bank balance. Till then, hang my towel and my undies on your SS arm.” Have you heard the tale of 3 friends who used to hang out at a tea-stall in the capital of paisa-vasool territory viz. Amdavad (sometime known as Ahmedabad in a pre-Modi era)? The instruction from the 3 friends to the waiter boy was standard: “Aye Chhokra! Ek cup chaa! Teen rakabi (saucers), aaj ka chhapa (newspaper), pankha (fan) full aur baar ek najar (nazar) cycle par.” That was the ultimate in paisa-vasoolism. Maximise your returns on the one rupee investment. A tea split into one-by-three. Each drinker gets a saucer, a newspaper, fan and a watch on the cycle parked outside.
Concept was good. Learning was swift. Practitioners of this cult were near perfect. Perhaps IIT should have introduced a course on this important aspect within its classrooms. Learning outside the hallowed halls lost out due to impossible demands of submitting assignments on time. There were two adverse effects of this learning process. Most learnt that paisa had to be vasool, but did not learn how. One learnt that tomatoes could be bought cheaper by a rupee to a kilo in the market 10 kms away, but did not learn that he would expend 100 rupees of fuel to save 10 rupees. Guys woke up early morning, polished and gleamed their BMWs to participate in a treasure hunt that would give them a 1K prize after expending 2K of fuel. Guys bought cars only because their cousin promised them that he would give them a 10% discount on JK radial tyres after he got that agency. Folks rushed to a store that sold a compass at 50% discount without realizing that when they needed a compass next, they would rush to the store again because they forgot that they had bought a compass, leave alone remember where they had stored it. The concept started failing because the practitioners didn’t learn it right. If you tie an electron microscope to a string, lower it from the terrace to the ground to measure the height of the building, is it the fault of the microscope? the string? or the practitioner who should have picked a pebble and not bought a microscope?
Paisa-vasoolism was under a siege. A threat. Condemned to extinction. Just try this experiment some day.
Guys had started learning this bad. But there were a few who learnt it worse. Some forgot the message that there was an attempt to save money and conserve. They picked the end result and aligned that with their primary objective. When they saw a senior wearing jeans faded and torn, they liked it (facebook-ly speaking). They forgot that it was still cloth that covered most of the body. They saw a fad in the fade and the tear and they now flocked to posh malls to buy jeans that were equally torn and faded. Except that they were pre-torn, pre-faded and paid for overheads of an air-conditioning system and English speaking sales-girls. They ripped the plaster off their walls in their Worli seaface flats, bought cowdung at exorbitant prices (rued the fact that there was no decent brand selling cowdung in posh stores with home delivery facilities), hired designers to plaster their walls with dung and announce a glitzy house-warming for their natural home which was designed with eco-friendly and green objectives. (Yes cowdung was green, but available at a premium because the city environs now resulted in dung that was mostly a sickly yellow/brown). Paisa-vasoolism was under a siege. A threat. Condemned to extinction. Just try this experiment some day. Get an old toothbrush handle. Print Adidas on it and market it as a “nada leader”. Guys will trip over each other to buy a pack of a dozen. They will then buy a dozen pyjamas in order to use this cool dandy contraption. Much like they buy hookahs to imbibe grape and apple and cider.
Come to think of it, paisa-vasoolism is extinct. Isn’t it because the paisa itself is extinct? If you like this piece, donate 10 lac paise for Fundamatics. We promise to vasoolify it for you. 10 times over.