A Humans Of Bombay Moment

buoyantexplorer

Bombay is truly a city of the finest display of human resilience. Not to imply that people in other cities aren’t resilient, but there’s a palpable sense of the determination of this city to absorb anything destiny throws at it. These, of course, are just statements unless you actually hear them first hand.

On my way for a lunch date to Colaba, I hailed a cab driven by a pleasant looking elderly uncle. Still mildly hungover from the previous night, I rested my head on the seat for a quick shut-eye, until the scent of the sea filled my nostrils and reminded me that I was in the most beautiful part Bombay. Here was a chance to take in the beautiful sights the city has to offer. I opened my eyes and saw the famous Haji Ali (which I am yet to visit). I then remembered to tell my cab uncle…

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A Legacy in Life, as in Death

From Left - Deah, Yusor & Razan

From Left – Deah, Yusor & Razan

Many would argue that every life lost is worth mourning. I’d possibly lose the argument if I held a contrary position as a soul means something to someone at any given time.

The loss of 3 souls in the recent Chapel Hill Shootings, however, demonstrated to me how some losses entail more anguish and reactions than others. While the news is rife with savage killings of innocents at the hands of the beleaguered , this death compelled people to take note of a time before the brutal murder.

The three victims were young, American, and most importantly, they wished to live long, as Americans as much as Muslims. They carried their American and Muslim identity proudly on the same lively face, knew how to have a good time with their loved ones and showed that age’s no criteria when it comes to making a difference in society. They did not wear their Islamic identity up their sleeves and flaunt it when the world watched, rather their actions compelled the world to take note of this when they breathed their last.

In his early 20s, Deah Barakat tried to do for people who are mere spectacles for us on TV, and that’s only if they make it there. Deah was going to embark on a humanitarian trip to Turkey to help the refugees in Syria by using his expertise in Dental care, and was constantly involved in fundraising. He lost his new bride Yusor Abu-Salha who was on her way to join him in the same profession. Razan Abu-Salha, a competitive architect in the making, was laid to rest there where foundations of building stand – the ground.

Deah’s plea – possibly one that will resonate stronger after this death :

It was, perhaps one of the few times, that the death of 3 individuals dented not just the spirits of a community, but of the entire country. It was, perhaps for the very first time, that the funeral of 3 individuals of the Islamic faith was covered by the mainstream media. Some people reflect that the legacy of their lives is displayed through attendance at their burial service. Close to 5,500 paid their tributes at the funeral of the 3 slain Muslim student, an enviable turn out at a time when condolences can be shared on social media and text messages.

Death of 3, remembered by many

Death of 3, remembered by many

If their lives garnered little attention on their action and conduct,  their death has cast the spotlight on places where it matters the  most. It is as if their demise was an inevitable end to spark the spirit  in people to spot the flash points in society and work towards  mending them. Very few families can take pride in a death that  doesn’t go unnoticed. For the Barakat and Salha family, they enjoy  the support of 5,500 people, and the others who cried while the  family managed to hold back their tears. If in death is a reminder,  this is the greatest of them all.

Deah made some important observations before leaving :

A profound reflection on the incident and the 3 lives by an Islamic scholar and Imam in the West, Dr. Yasir Qadhi

Deah’s sister, Suzanne, musters up great courage for what is an emotional interview with CNN

 

In Sacrifice is Abundance

Pilgrims in prayer around the Ka'aba

Pilgrims in prayer around the Ka’aba during Hajj

Sacrifice is a motif for many people in this world. It is recurrent, an almost indispensable part of their lives in which progress is preceded and many a times succeeded by sacrificing things that one holds closely to the heart. A father quelling dreams in favour of his child is common, so is the selfless sacrifice of a mother who goes through the 9 month ordeal to deliver a new life.

When pursuing education in one’s land is difficult, more difficult is the choice of leaving the comforts of a house. The knowledge of benefits is not hidden, but the fruits are still not ripe for a mind to comprehend. The benefits of a sacrifice are the fruits, but only the best of men have the courage to sow the seeds.

Verily, one of the best of those men was Prophet Abraham. He did not agree to sacrifice seeking the material benefit of a fruit, rather he was the obedient creation who did what was asked of him by his creator. His agreeing to give up Ismail (AS; Ishmael) at the command of the Almighty is one of the greatest testaments to the literal test of faith – submission to the Almighty.

It was not a test that merely entailed trivial jubilation from the father, but the eventual slaughter of a sheep in place of his son is where the blessing for the whole Ummah lies – the celebration of Eid ul Adha.

In sacrifice there has been abundance, not just for the valiant father and son in Islam, but for every Muslim who testifies the Shahadah and takes cognizance of its meaning in full. Very few of us on even fewer occasions understand the context and story behind the feast that fills our dining tables on the blessed day of Eid.
It is not something to be ashamed of anymore if we stop for a moment and try to understand the stories of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and ones who came before and after him. It’s certainly not embarrassing if we devour on delicious Eid meals till our hands have extended out to the poor with the meat of sacrificed livestock.

The first 10 days of the month of Dhul Hijjah have been blessed. The events that fill these days are witnessed by the entire world, the most significant of them being the pilgrimage of Hajj. The pilgrimage is not a sacrifice any less. Many Muslims wait for their turn in for years and often save every penny from scratch to finance this journey to Makkah. The sacrifice of hair is just one of them in the wider scheme of sacrifices – leaving the comforts of their abode, the luxuries of personal life to interact with the communal congregation and sacrificing the certainties of travel for a greater journey of the spirit and heart.

Yet, this too is not a sacrifice in vain. It is a sacrifice that adds another pillar to one’s faith, that propels the believer to the soil of Madinah and the hills of Arafat so that his prayers are responded to, that transports him to the largest congregation in this world where the rich and poor brush against each other to defeat the devil of racial differences. In this sacrifice, as we see again, is abundance.

While we can strive make the lesser sacrifice of sleep to prostrate to our creator, we can hope to seek a fraction of the blessing that Prophet Abrahim received that night. That night, when he woke up from sleep to sacrifice something far more beloved than sleep, that night when God willed something else to be sacrificed so that in it we find our abundance.

Half The Faith

The office building I once interned in houses state of the art serviced offices, bedecked with the functional yet chic elements to create an environment that makes work fun and easy. It’s tall height is dwarfed by the gigantic Burj Khalifa that stands bang opposite to it like its big daddy. My story, however, does not revolve around the times when we feel larger than life, rather when our vanity goes down with prostration to the giver of life.  The building has a prayer room just big enough for a few Muslims to practice their daily prayers on time and in between the office hours. It is during during these times that I always met Shafi-ul-Islam – a young, soft spoken man from Bangladesh.

He seldom prayed with the congregation and would studiously stand by the sides of the abolution (washing) area and wipe the water that had splashed onto the seat. To ensure that the washing area was clean before the next group of men used it, he would swipe the floor even if it meant that the men had to patiently wait. When the meticulous yet repetitive and seemingly boring ordeal was over, he always had time for a smile and words of greeting. Even as I finished praying and wore my shoes preparing to leave, I would always notice him stand in an alert position with the mop by his side in one hand as if he’d made it his friend. There was something awkward about him standing this way, smiling and waiting for me to leave every single time. I then realized that he waited for me to leave so that he could continue swiping the water from the floor without splashing it on me. I was once late for prayer and found only myself and him in the prayer hall. He was in the middle of his prayer and I remember thinking to myself that he must have finally arrived at his optimum-tidiness and separated from his mop for a few minutes.

There is great emphasis on maintaining cleanliness and keeping the prayer area free from impurities. This discipline is something that I noticed even in the mosques in India – a country not particularly reputed for its sanitation and waste-disposing facilities. This order and spruceness is not made possible by waving a magic wand, but by the efforts of the brush, the hands that guide it and the man who is determined to guide his hands to task. Some volunteer to the job occasionally, while others are hired to dedicate their services in helping the worshipers in attaining half the faith. It was sometimes embarrassing to come across these ‘cleaners’ in the mosques of India. Embarrassing because many of them were frail and old, rigorously scrubbing the floor while I left the mosque having prayed with the age and comfort on my side.

We live in a time when parents pass on values to their children and teachers impart morals in the guise of stories. We have at least have lived in moments well before our ‘mistakes’ and ‘experiences’ could get the sobriquet of being a teacher. Stories and scriptures that emphasized the importance of cleanliness, for instance, is something I remember from school days. My parents explained the significance of cleanliness in the Islamic faith and philosophy with the popular axiom – “cleanliness is half the faith.”

On another occasion, my teacher shared the story of a stained window that led to the viewer’s perception that her neighbour’s clothes on the clothesline were perpetually soiled. The folly does not always lie in one’s character, but the frame of reference, the window of perception that one uses to know and understand a fellow being. Dirt, in this story of the stained window, was not the literal impurity welcomed with soap and water, but rather it is an unlikely hero that rose from the dust to provide wisdom. It’s the philosophical process of scrubbing your attitude and cleansing it off the stains of judgement and prejudice.

What I chose to portray through my encounter with Shafi-ul-Islam is a path where literal cleanliness intersects with philosophical purity. A nexus where faith meets morals and values. Had there not been people who volunteer to get their hands dirty, practicing a religion which is particular about cleanliness would become a challenge and most worshipers would look only after themselves in their endeavour to reach the desired level of tidiness.

It is men like the one in my story who don’t just take on the onus of such community service, but also give us the opportunity to scrub our thoughts clean of ignorance and appreciate small things. It helps us to philosophically cleanse the tiny window through which we try to view a world which in actuality is much larger than our lives spent in vanity. Many times, we are too engrossed in the faith and forget to dedicate a thought or two to those who facilitate its practice.  If cleanliness is half the faith, then indeed, Shafi-ul-Islam is a humble, smiling face of that faith.

Shafi-ul-Islam – He smiles wider than in the picture

When Thoughts Took Off

airportTwo weeks ago, I was stranded at the Jakarta Airport for almost a day with an unconfirmed ticket. Along with the flights going full, there was my mind willing to squeeze one thought after another with a willingness to process observations. I’ve read and heard of people making the most of their experiences at airport and taking to pen and paper to immortalize the moments. Of the most notable, certainly, is Alain De Botton’s ‘The Art of Travel.”

Here are a few thoughts that kept my mind occupied at the airport despite my eye-lids failing me often –

1 – I understood why many people celebrate the success of an expedition with a travel partner. While travelling is a fun and adventurous experience that keeps you occupied, some circumstances eventually make you realise that man’s happiness is a reflection of the company he shares. A traveler’s misery can reduce greatly if accompanied by a trusted comrade who shares the discomforts in times of uncertainty.

2 – I understood the wisdom in the Islamic teaching of giving Zakat (alms) to a traveler to help him/her financially. This charity can be addressed to both Muslims or non-Muslims. While a man may live a comfortable life with community support back in home, he could face unforeseen difficulties during travel. Though a man would like to flow like the stream, he may be forced to remain stagnant like the pebbles underneath. The reasons could be many – the traveller may have prepared for limited number of days with limited money, the currency he carries – though abundant – may not be accepted for exchange, he may have been robbed during travel and so on. Act of kindness is not affixed to national priorities to help fellow citizens, rather it lies in your heart which understands a traveler in need as a brother in humanity.

3 – When there’s a technical glitch in an aircraft mid-air, the pilot does not lose his cool and manhandle the control. That’s an option that would not make it to the pilot’s conscience and common sense, leave alone a manual book. A passenger is no less a pilot in ensuring a smooth travel for his co-travellers. Either a traveller could be peeved with a  situation to the point of making the discomfit contagious, or he / she could empathize with the situational demands and cooperate with those who work to rectify the issues. During the testing times at the airport, I came across a bunch of crass, rude, loud and indecent passengers who faced the same situation as me and others. Their uncivil behaviour with the staff of the airline suggested that travel methods of the modern world have failed to command their respect and dignity for the humankind. With the fear of stereotyping, I couldn’t help but wish that such people be limited to their ancestral vehicles marked by camels and horses. Even then, I wondered if an unsettled camel would have to be at the receiving end of their ire and whimsical nature. When you lack a travel companion to comfort you, it helps to adopt all your co-passengers and staff as if their comfort depends on the words that leave your tongue.

4 – Economic  differentiation does not fail you anywhere, including the airports. Passengers are divided into Economy, Business or the First Class, and with the new schemes of Frequent Flyer Programmes (FPPs) – into Platinum, Gold and Silver. We have internalized differentiation based on wealth, and are never surprised when we are not necessarily treated the same as our co-passenger.

My stay at the airport has to it a poignant build up of some unfortunate events in the history of civil aviation. And another fact – as real as economic discrimination –  stares us in our faces. However rich we may be as an individual and as a traveller, and how so every the airline’s services may have favoured our clout, an unfortunate accident would leave us as a trivial residue in the same debris that constitutes every other passenger – be it from the Economy, Business or the First Class.

Maybe the best of human values can be applied every day, in or outside the airport. After all, the most celebrated of all travels, is the journey of life.

A Cake Called India

India Independence

India celebrated its 67 years of Independence from British colonialism on 15th August, 2014

Fresh out of the oven, my country India always leaves an aroma of stories that can be discussed and reflected upon forever. It is the most eclectically flavoured cake, with 1.2 billion candles poised on it with their part of the story. But alas, this cake is not the sweetest to bite into. Especially not in areas where 180 million candles  prop up, weak, and their flames dimmed to virtual darkness. It’s a cake wherein the cream carries the strongest flame, often dwarfing what remains of the weaker ones. Their clout gets them to re-ignite their wick in times of momentary despair, distracting the decorator from the others who live with flimsily for ages. It’s a cake, the crumbs of which are never picked up from the floor. Instead, birthday hats and ribbons join it to fight against the science of decomposition.

It’s a cake on which the candles multiply at a rate that rings ominous with the limited ingredients in it. Sadly, not all candles are placed to equal height. Some claim to have been from an elite packet and are entitled to a bigger space on the cake, not realising that their greed has been witnessed by other confectionery shops. It’s a cake which witnesses, from time to time, the extinguishing of many flames – just as they had been prolifically born. The reasons are too many to cite – some could not yield enough from the batter, some had accidentally tripped over the surface due to the chef’s carelessness.

The mantle of melancholy is borne by one certain group of candles who have known to the be producers of fresh candles. They are subservient to the whims of the chef, often losing their shine & dignity to stray pieces of wax in areas not well lit.  It’s a cake that carries a stigma of not being able to handle tiffs between two groups of candles for centuries. A certain group complains of the other carrying a shade of green in their flame, while they themselves have been accused of imposing their tinge of saffron on the rest. It’s a tussle that follows into the mouth of the consumer, often leaving a bad taste and needless to say – memories. History has seen some portions of the cake burnt, leaving a narrative of exclusion and intolerance.

But there’s a reason why the many candles have drawn the attention of every other confectionery delight to this one cake. It is a cake that has been baked with tender hands, fighting the oppression of imported ingredients that did not blend well with the cake mix. The light that some candles emanate with their skill and diligence is a topic hotly discussed in kitchens, restaurants and plates around the globe. Often, the signature dish of chefs is marked by candles from this cake – their positions high in the rank of importance. Despite the hypocrisy of many, there are stories of candles being united only by the belief in their ability to banish darkness and overlook trivial differences.

The candles that constitute the middle portion of the cake and also its core struggle to make ends meet, but their philosophies are often sweetened with emphasis on honesty, integrity, humility and wisdom. They remind the ones around them never to forget the first humble slice of cake they feasted on, the efforts that went into baking that part and the forks that felt short on the table. It is this middle portion that often reminds others not to be lured by the fluffiness on other sides, and be content with the chef decided for them. When pursuing their dream to immigrate to other cakes, the candles carry the crumbs of their parents and teachers and strive to shine brighter on cakes that host them.

The lives of some carry perpetual sacrifice, selflessly dedicating their years of shine for a sparkling future of the young ones. The candles enjoy some freedoms that others yearn to achieve, the ability to elect their chef lies in their genesis while others melt away dreaming of it.  This cake can also easily be regarded as the most celebratory one, offering itself to hundreds of festivals and moments of joy.

It’s a cake, the recipe of which is too convoluted for a passive observer, and too commanding for a cynic. It’s a recipe that stands as a special contribution to literature itself. It is a cake that has stood the test of time, temperature and the impulse of the mouths to feed.

It’s a cake where a few may get to be the cream, but every candle is an icing in one way or the other.

A very happy birthday, India. And let’s not cut this cake, for we have been splitting it in pieces for far too many years.

When I Thought The Imam Erred

Imam leading the congregation of worshipers

Imam leading a congregation of worshipers

I wonder what to explain of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, whether as a countdown to commencement of Eid, or to the end of Ramadan. It depends on whether your heart will be stricken with a gentle grief of bidding adieu to the most blessed month of the year, or welcome celebrations of feast and joy as your gift for giving up earthly desires.

A similar choice of perspective occurred in my mind on the last night of Ramadan for several years.

As a background – Muslims are encouraged to begin and complete the recitation of the Holy Qur’an in the month, apart from the daily recitations that are prescribed.  Imams (the one who leads the player in the mosque) begin their recitation from memory in prayers and continue it in extended prayers in the evenings. In the last 10 Ramadans the prayers are also performed in the depths of night.

Memorizing the entire book in its Arabic language is undoubtedly a feat, and there’s little surprise that the ones who perfect this to memory with practice adding their touch of mesmerizing reading techniques get the sobriquet of leading hundreds and thousands of worshipers behind them. Just for the numbers – there are about 6236 verses that span a total of 114 chapters in the book to memorize.

However great a merit that is to the Imams, I was convinced for a long time the Imam of the mosque I visited for night prayers in Ramadan had got his calculations wrong. Instead of ending the last night with the last chapter of the book, he always overshot the number of chapters recited, unable to match it with the number of rounds (Rakat) of prayers at night. Such that when it was the last round of prayer on the last night of Ramadan, he failed to end perfectly on the 114th chapter, and instead began the first chapter of the Qur’an – in a way starting the Qur’an again. It’s obviously no big deal, but for someone who would like the Imam’s calculation to be as spellbinding as his recitation, I concluded that the Imam had made an error.

It’s not before I seriously gave this seeming error a thought. How would a man who has committed a voluminous book to memory repeat the same mistake over so many Ramadans? Truly, there was wisdom to be derived which I hope, in all my humility, I did.

The Imam’s deliberate attempt to mismatch the number of verses with the round of prayers was his way of welcoming the next Ramadan. By starting the first verses of the book, he tries to spill the blessings of that night into the one that we would have to wait for another year. It is a reminder from the learned leader of the congregation that there’s very little to be content from this year of Ramadan and that we should always hope we get to welcome the next one with as much dedication, if not more. It also seems to be like passing the baton to us of sorts, that the Imam has completed the Qur’an that he was entrusted with, and now it’s our responsibility to continue reading the book throughout the remainder of the year . The Imam has helped us start the first few verses, so we may respect it and continue it from there the very next day and continue till the next holy month where we are reminded of what the Imam left us with, again.

If there is a kernel of doubt in our minds about Ramadan being more than just giving up food, water and other desires, then banish them. For surely, there are things beyond what the stomach can digest that leaves us in deep thoughts and introspection, much like these moments when I thought the Imam erred.

The Perfect Internship

I agree that I do get easily moved by kind gesture, and many times I find myself recollecting some things for longer than its impact on my life. But a month long internship experience that I had during my college is something that I fondly recollect even after a year of its completion. The  images of those days at internship flash in my mind  these days since I am on a hunt for job openings. And to begin with an allegation, the Perfect Relations office in Mumbai should be held guilty for a grave offence.

Or let me spare the other departments in the office and focus my allegation towards the Digital PR team that I was a part of as an intern. This was a closely-knit team with an energetic spirit. They may have come from different walks of life with varied experiences, and maybe the only common string between them may have been that all of them braved the horrendous travel ordeal in Mumbai to arrive at office. The ones to be charged with the offence me go by these names – Nicole, Purva, Yuvraj, Ankit, Vishal, Tanvi, and Sushant. Amit Sir can be let off with minor charges as he graced our college once as a guest lecturer to redeem himself. And I request for the severest punishment for Urvashi for reasons too many to  mention. (Surnames have been withheld to protect their reputation.)

Their offence – providing me with the best internship experience a student could have asked for and spoiling me to such a degree that I cannot imagine a better work environment than the one they created for a stranger like me.

The background of the internship is as important as the internship itself. This was a phase when I, like other students from college, was on a relentless quest to get the first industry internship. So much was the desperation that I was mentally prepared to make-do with even an average opportunity or less. Turned out that landing up with this internship (for which Urvashi had been instrumental; but she should still be charged) was not the only lucky thing to have happened, my luck would introduce me to some of the best people I have come across.

I was a studious observer of their ability to strike a great balance between work and fun, the success at each supplementing the other. While I came across admirable professionals who knew their job well and worked to excel at what they do, I also witnessed their vibrant side marked by friendly banter and mutual care. Tracking the social media meant that each of them had come across a hilarious meme or some ridiculous activity by the Indian users of social media. Loud laughters were interspersed with pronounced silence as they went about their way in getting their work done, possibly driven by individual aims of earning for their families or progressing in the industry. They weren’t all too consumed by their work or incessantly bogged down by the pressures of work load. They always made time to inquire if the interns were comfortable, often advising me to leave office early and visit a doctor when my blocked nose made me sound like a breathless toad. Taking work from them was more like helping them in playing a sport rather than sharing burden. They greatly appreciated the little work I could do as an intern, and even today I would say that what I did for the team fell way short of what I gathered from their affection.

In a city like Mumbai. there are difficulties posed by travelling in local trains, harsh weather, rampant crime, cramped spaces and people at times literally trampling over you. I believe part of what keeps a Mumbaikar going is the mutual effort of colleagues and friends in ensuring that the hours of work in the office leave them refreshed and energised for the fresh set of challenges on their way home. While work can be very stressful at times, it can be diluted with some helping hands with genuine care in the well-being of each other. Looking at the positive attitude of the team, I would often feel bad myself for not being able to match with their enthusiasm in life and at work.

Any cynic, including the one in myself, would joke that this sounds like some PR move for a PR agency. Disregarding the poor joke, this post is less about the organisation than its ability to attract such great people into their work ethic. Or maybe it’s the ability of the current employees in the team in bringing out the best in an otherwise less enthused member joining them. I wouldn’t know if this culture that I grew fond of runs beyond the Digital PR team and is all pervasive in the organisation. But this is something I wish every young, aspiring communications person comes across. The level of respect amongst the team members is exemplary and something that needs to be cultivated in a world which is marked by arrogance and harmful slander. Being in the midst of a team like this one would compensate for the headaches of surviving in a chaotic and help sport a strong mind and a gentle heart – both at work and outside. In this respect, to use a PR jargon, this agency has certainly gathered some ‘earned’ PR.

Beyond a few tricks of the trade, what I learnt from the internship was that it is, after all, human beings that make up a workplace.  All goals at work, though translated into statements and monetary figures, are met with ultimately to make some other beings happy who have a stake in the goal. And while financial incentives may bring delight towards the end of the month and carry on for a few days, humans are innocent beings that absorb happiness at an given moment. Nothing is more frightening than the fear of grief. The rattling of the keyboard keys in the office will always be dwarfed by the crackling laughter of employees. A sharp mind at work will always need a tender heart to deal with individuals. And many times, the most expensive meal bought from ones salary may fall short of the gratification one receives from sharing a meal with a great team.

And while I am yet to experience the former, I can boast about having lunch with a bunch of people who, possibly without their knowing, left me with some food for thought.

The Parting Gift

My parting gift from the team at the end of my internship

Beneath The Froth

This happens almost every time. I sip onto the rich, thick foam of coffee and gracefully acknowledge it as my first encounter with the romantic journey that would last one cup (at a time). After a couple of subsequent sips from the creamy layer, my tongue is met – to its burning surprise – with the hot liquid coffee liquid. The tip of my tongue goes numb, and quite so to my advantage for if it could then speak, it would remind me of the numerous times it’s cried out to be careful and not be misled by the lukewarm texture of the forth. 

The steaming coffee after the creamy froth is like a jolt to my sleeping thought. It reminds me of how the surface of any situation – despite the rich, creamy and gentle countenance – has a lot to more to offer. The depth of this situation is multi-dimensional and it should be approached with ease and calm lest you get carried away with the creamy froth and burn your tongue before you can even enjoy the coffee. The first sip of the hot coffee is always critical, and more often than not, this inaugural sip is the difference between the joy of your receptive tongue or the numb sensation of a repulsive one. Quite to our disappointment, the depth of our situation can at times be contrary to its froth. How often have we left our coffee unfinished despite slurping onto a delectable froth?

I believe the same is with the world around us. There’s a lot to be mined and learnt from the elements of society. Scratching the surface can only be a start to an endless quest to understand more about a situation. In every failure could be a story of vanity, and in every success a legacy of disappointments. Every new concept ever propounded could have remnants of what we already know, and everything we know could have a surprise of the unknown. Everything that seems comfortably predictable could have an unearthed reason for uncertainty. Everything that makes you unique could have a connect with me, and everything that’s peculiar to my life, could surprisingly be peculiar to yours too.

Beneath the gentle froth is hot, steaming coffee. And if the temperatures of both match perfectly according to your tongue, something’s really wrong. Heat the coffee again…look for new information.

The Mirage of Money

Image

I stare at the still frame of what I believe was my early indoctrination into the concept of money and wealth. The memory of this photographed moment is rather fuzzy. I was told that I’d have to drop a coin or two every day in this little ‘piggy bank’. (And till date, I never quite understood the significance of this little box shaped as an animal)

And there I stood with a coin almost half-way into the slit of the porcine back, but still held gently between my fingers. It seems like I was hesitant to drop the coin into the box. What I don’t remember is the sound of the coin meeting the base of the metallic bank. It’s like a frozen moment. There’s an air of uncertainty in this monochrome image clicked by my mother, the fear of unknown.

Money has created a world of its own and mankind has made it an integral part of his universe. But the question that many people have asked and to their dismay, have always had to be content with unsatisfactory, and sometimes an abstract answer is – “What is Money?”

Money – the cause of both material pleasure and anxiety. It is the driver of most arguments and the agent of many settlements. We hoard it in case we don’t die, or sometimes, we spend it all knowing that we eventually would. There’s variety in money too, going beyond the usual differences in colours and denominations. There’s good money, black money, blood money, booty money, hush money. It has managed to boost sentiments of the general public, and at the same time has brought their dreams crashing down.

What is it in this instrument of paper – the currency that usually represents money- that has been detrimental in deciding as much as the leadership of nations? What is apart from the complex and often argued irreplicable chemicals in use that gives money some intrinsic value, something of its own to cherish. Is there anything called value that could justify this sensitive relationship we have with money?

We are married to money and we fear to divorce it. The trust we have managed to put into this mysterious lover is insurmountable. Money has never managed to assign itself some value and it has always been at the mercy of individual perceptions and validations. Like the character of Gekko said in the 1987 film ‘Wall Street’ – “Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred – from one perception to another. Like magic. “ So if we tried to define money, it would be something ‘X’ that buys us something ‘Y’, with that something ‘Y’ having an implicit value. So a commodity vouches for the worth of the money that has bought, thus proving its innocence in this quest for merit and a rational assessment.

But think of this – are the stacks of jeans in a Levi’s store or the gleaning MacBooks lined up in an Apple Store devoid of any value till we assign it a monetary backing? The money that exchanges hands for these commodities does little to support the worth of its construction, engineering and labour in its entirety. And to be fair, the fact that pieces of paper adjudge the value of such wonder products is, to put it humbly, a little demeaning of sorts.

This intriguing nature of money elevates in criticality when the entire macro scenario of a country is regulated with a money generating mechanism. The sub-prime crisis, the credit crunch, cash-strapped banks lobbying for bailouts, and today, entire nations demanding for the same altogether has led to a phenomenon called Quantitative Easing, or QE. It is a tool used by Central Banks to increase the influx of money in the market. As arbitrary as it sounds, it is indeed simply printing more currency, and voila, the result of such printing gives us another member to the family of names – Fiat Money. This controversial mechanism pumps billions of dollars into the economy annually. Once created, it dissolves in the market like magic. But it does all this not without entering the realm of sensitive economic variables, like inflation.    

So much for being devoid of any implicit value, money fails us on any ornamental worth as well. Pick up a note of any denomination and you read a text “I promise to pay the bearer on demand a sum of (denomination)” It has a historic context and it means that upon producing  this currency, the holder is promised to be redeemed Gold of the same value. So that no one is left baffled by this revelation, the previous statement started with the words ‘historic context’.

This scenario of exchanging gold for money would prevail in the Gold Standard System. But after several tries of revival, most importantly through the Bretton Woods Agreement post World War II, the Gold Standard System was abandoned in early 1970s. It now remains inked on the notes as a rhetoric statement that would never make sense. If we took the Gold out of the question, like we rightly should today, an inquiry could sound funny. If the bank promises to pay me a sum of Rs. 100 for a sum that I already have, why do we even need or have this promise? It’s a paradox of its kind – a promise that cannot be kept because it has already been fulfilled.  

Citing these very elusive aspects of money and also to combat the pressing problems of the global economy, some economists now argue that a return to the Gold Standard would be a worthy alternative. We couldn’t know if this return is the answer to the pressing problems of the economy, but what we do know is that this would help the Central Banks of all countries make sense of a statement that has lost a direction it was never headed for.

I try to recollect those hazy moments from my past. I probably don’t remember listening to the sound of the chink of coin because it never made any. After all, I was yet to grow up in a world where money quite comprehensively reigned over sentiments, mood, success, failure, celebration and dismay and where money made the loudest noise. I was yet to grow up in a world where the difference between value and materialism would be bridged by money, where people placed their undying faith in an instrument. And in a world where people, apart from carrying their own identities and the pictures of their loved ones, would carry a few inexplicable promises in their pockets.