Thursday, August 4, 2016

Father, Son and Matters of Money

Father, Son and Matters of Money

"Done" I said, as my father sat mesmerised. He even received a message saying the transaction was complete. Only, he wasn't convinced by the exercise. He didn't feel the satisfaction of transferring money and helping his son who was in dire need. 
"Something is missing" he kept mumbling. Always.
Not that he is technology averse. But he is someone who still believes in walking the couple of miles to pay out an electricity bill at the counter. The sense of purpose he derives in setting up a separate day for paying these bills, the responsibility of  "handling cash" and the subsequent sweat and satisfaction once he successfully pays those bills and returns home - he misses them with the onset of technology.

"If you can transfer money with the click of a button, where is the value?" he wonders. And somewhere, I connect with him. Cash. The clinking of coins in the piggy bank. Or the thrill when father brought his month's salary home in a white envelope and asked us to separate the five hundreds from the hundreds and the hundreds from the tens - home felt like RBI. Mother would invariably decide how much went where - some notes into the steel container with rice, some into the wardrobe, some more into a secret corner under the cot(I assume this was the sacrosanct emergency fund). We brothers would eagerly wait for a tenner or two(depending on her mood and our behaviour) and drop it into the piggy bank.

Now, all we have got is an abstraction. Or at most, a statement. Instead of the white envelope, my father gets his payslip home. There is an excitement in his voice when he announces the figure - but he misses the envelope. However, we are a generation where our salaries are being credited to an account from the word go. We have plastic cards that melt money in a swipe. I sometimes wonder if what my father tells is actually true. The effort is the same - be it a hundred rupees or a thousand for that matter. I swipe, and the money is gone forever from the account! And in a curious way, there is a sense of detachment - I do not know how the thousand looks like or feels like. It is just a number. All too simple. A decade ago, for my father, a thousand was probably a few hundreds, a couple of fifties and twenties and tenners. The twenties and tenners were probably more valuable than the hundreds - they were results of continuous haggling with the vegetable vendor or the kirana store owner. And to part with it was an emotional loss along with the obvious monetary loss as well.

Online banking, mobile banking, wallets and related applications make our lives terribly simple and relegate paper money into the background. While we revel in the ease of transactions, father still remains skeptic. His debit card pin remains carefully hidden in his shirt pocket, on a soiled piece of paper that has existed forever now. We have never been able to convince him to adopt net banking. He religiously makes that bank visit once every two months to get his passbook updated. While I put it to a certain inertia in embracing technology, I can't help but feel there is an attachment with the bank and its people that he cannot forgo.
"My account has been with the bank for thirty years now" he says proudly. He knows quite a few people there - from the manager to the clerk. "And I never find the bank visit tiresome. You have to work hard to manage money." It is quite a sight to watch him analyse the bank statements in the passbook and match them with his own monthly expense chart  - which is usually a piece of paper. Though we are better off than we were a couple of decades ago when this practice actually started, father carries this exercise on with fervor, a passion bordering on obsession. "It is because of this discipline I was able to afford your education without a loan" he declares, the pride evident everytime. I try to coax him to use one of those money management applications or atleast a spreadsheet, but he hears none of it.

The dissonance doesn't end there. While I find myself browsing every available option to invest and grow my money - from stocks to mutual funds to what not, father finds peace in depositing them in the bank. "Why the risk? You should always play safe with money" he suggests. I candidly admit to him that I want to be rich overnight and retire at forty. And then he starts off...with what is to be gained by working for those extra twenty years.

Through all this, I manage to hold my father in awe by showing how efficient I am when I pay bills through one of those mobile wallets, getting a handsome discount along the way. But my show ends there. It is always him that wins the conversation, with stories of long lost relatives who slept on mattresses whose insides were stashed with cash!


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