Saturday, June 28, 2008

By Cheque Or Cash


E didn’t want to get involved with the money. Money was alien territory to him. It was impossible to handle. He had decided at the start of the first year of college that he would be careful. Careful about everything, every expenditure. Foreseen, unforeseen, anything. It was something he had imbibed from school. He needed to preserve money. Just as he needed to use it carefully, he needed to save it up for something ultimately nice. Like a trip somewhere, a hike in the mountains. It’s grossly exaggerated when people say the mountains are cheap. The mountains are not cheap. They don’t only involve the trip up till the hills, they mean staying there. Staying is expensive. No one really says that on the brochures. They only have enticing pictures in these. That’s it, besides a little tidbit about the “top of the world” or the “abode of the clouds”. So, that’s what E wanted. He wanted a parsimonious life. And he was going to live it. But, like all good people in their first year, he, in fact, has grossly exaggerated his own cautiousness. Well, he was stingy. He knew that obviously. But he wasn’t cautious. Some abominable things happed by the end of the first year. He had lost approximately, well, not approximately, really, really, four phones. This meant he had bought five by the end of it. A disgusting number. And very hurtful, too. He knew it was totally in waste. All the phones, all the interminable conversations, all the purposeless running around and all the lousy, corny messages. He hated it all. The only thing that didn’t hurt him was the fact that he had now a rather decent phone. This one would survive.

The laptop was lost in the middle of the year. It was the penultimate effusion of guilt into an already depressed bursary burgeoning with self-reproach and biliousness.

In his own mind, there was a clear indication of things to come. He would have to spend some time with S in the various restaurants they went to, the pubs, the drinking places. Investments in drinking-binges. Investments in trips to their friends’ houses. All such other nice things. But he wasn’t clear about how it could cost him. For instance, the liquor was expensive, but how much exactly? It couldn’t be much, he surmised. As he always did, he leant too much on estimation. He estimated everything. Even the potential costs of visits to the loo. He knew they couldn’t be much. Well, they were that much, and more. It took quite a heavy toll on the dwindling coffers. He needed these binges not infrequently, but he needed them on time. He couldn’t possibly wait for long dry-spells and intervals. They were meaningless. Badly mistimed. He had a penchant for instantly done things. Immediate gratification and the like, you see. He was very restless. S didn’t keep a tab on her expenditure. She could spend money, and she did. She never felt the pinch of it, so why bother? In fact, she was incredibly conscientious. Only not in this department.

The restaurants were essential. He would have to go there often too. He couldn’t be cooped up in the hostel mess. Inadequate food and inadequate life. They were all moribund. Even the food was moribund. They sucked so hard. They were a miserable lot of pariahs feeding on cadavers. They sucked. He couldn’t eat there happily. He hated the dreary staring, hated the facetious, meaningless, semi-completed sentences, the bland conversations. One can’t converse like this, while eating, or sitting in a row of teeming mongers intent on feeding. One can’t really talk, or say something important, well, maybe important-sounding, when the others aren’t even looking your way. They looked here and there, above your head and beyond your right shoulder, at all the people floating in, but hardly ever at you. The whole place was at best an opportunistic set-up.

At home by the end of the year, the rains had started. There was this time something very universal about the rain. Normally, it deluged the small town, flooded villages irreparably, took away cattle and crop. It did the usual things, caused the usual inconveniences. Made the usual sorrowful depredations. This year, it wreaked havoc. Not only here, but everywhere. In every city, and in every country, the news proclaimed the onslaught of the rain. Very merciless rain beat against people in Sechaun, and in Myanamar, and even in faraway Iowa. How considerate of the news, it’s presentation always said: Sechaun – Iowa – Myanmar. Very tenuous link, but all in the throes of rain-damage. Here, it rained and it flooded the town; it smashed against the pavements and jolted umbrella-wielding, emaciated old pedestrians on to the road. It flooded already muddy, unpaved by-lanes. But all in all, it also attacked other people, in distant lands. Their distant sorrows, in distant places, somehow, in one act of compassioned unconcern, assuaged those here. Meanwhile, E received a formal bank statement. He realized he had spent much beyond his own stipulation. It was bad, bad maladministration. He looked at the statement. It was quite accurate. He had made a withdrawal that day. He had taken out an additional sum on that other date. All the dates were conspicuously written against their sums. So were his exact recollections. His exacting, accounting mind hadn’t skipped a beat. It had calculated pettily and wrongly scorned its more corporeal paper counterpart.

E waited then for a week for his stipend. He had worked for a month. He waited and waited for the stipend to arrive. He waited for egregious, lazy, lying accountants to send it to him. He waited and he wished, very much, that he could kill them all.

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