I was discussing this with a friend a few days back. The conversation keeps playing in my head and many passive memories (ones I’d rather forget, actually) keep coming to the fore. So I shall write. Maybe then I can close the chapter once and for all? Or at least bury a grudge.
I attended a Public School. In Public School standards, I was the “rich kid” in class. We weren’t really rich, of course. But we had a car and that meant I was rich. It didn’t matter that the car was bought by dipping into years of savings because two of the three members in our family were asthmatic. That my dad still used the train to travel to the other end of the city while my mother and I used the car within a 5 mile radius because we couldn’t walk without wheezing.
I was almost always in this ambivalent limbo – where at home I was trained in the importance of being thrifty and in school I was somehow the brat who got dropped to school in a car and who’s mother travelled to the US on business every few months. It didn’t help that I did well in exams.
So I did everything I could to blend in with everyone – which meant I took every means necessary to hide any signs of “affluence”. I saved my favourite pens for homework and used the cheaper ones at school. I hid the pencil box mom bought me from the States under my desk so no one would see it and tease me about it. I even made sure my father dropped me to school much earlier than required so no one would see me get off the car. I pretended to enjoy standing in the sun even if the dust meant I’d spend the night scratching the rashes senseless. I took buses even when I had the pocket money to hire a rickshaw.
In short, I truly believed money was something one needed to feel guilty about. I hated money and everything to do with it. My tuition teacher, who also happened to be a classmate’s mother, often remarked that I would never see the “real world” because I was privileged. It made me sad. I wanted to see what the glory of this “real world” was all about. Money was the absolute worst. It seems every time I did badly in exams, it had to with the fact that money makes you take things easy. Surprisingly, even when I scored well, it could be attributed to wealth because I had access to everything. At the time I wondered how the hours I spent practising math had anything to do with my parents’ income.
By the end of school, I was convinced one didn’t need money, and one definitely shouldn’t want money. At a time when my choices should ideally have been informed by interests and priorities, I was mostly driven by guilt and the desperate need to be liked. Thankfully, I don’t regret the choices I made – because had I not made them, I would never have met the people who taught me that I did not have to be ashamed of who I was or where I came from as long as I knew how to respect others. Another reason I don’t have regrets is because it ensured I didn’t make a choice motivated solely by economic prospects. (Though it would have saved me a lot of trouble had I given it at least some consideration)
It was only once college ended and I actually got to the “real world” my friend’s mother had warned me about that I was forced to acknowledge the hard truth – that I actually desired money. Not in the sense that all I need in life is money or that wealth is my sole purpose in life. I just realised I wanted to earn a decent living and enjoy a comfortable life. Comfortable – I will admit – in the standards that my parents set for me.
Even then, for the longest time, I wondered if my career choices should be informed by these new discoveries about myself – because I couldn’t shed the feeling of overwhelming guilt every time I considered the monetary returns. Shouldn’t I be thinking of more important things first – like society, humanity, people, country?
It took many years, some failures and some introspection to realise something that should have been obvious right from the beginning – Yes, I want to earn well. Yes, I want to provide for myself and my family. Yes, I want to have the luxury to spend if I want to without having to worry about affording dinner. If I ever have a child, I want to be able to provide him/her the best of everything. An education in a private school, to begin with. And no – this is not something to be ashamed of. This isn’t even shallow. I have some priorities in life and this is one of them. It isn’t a terrible thing. No it isn’t. This desire isn’t at the cost of everything else but it is a desire.
This doesn’t make me less of a person, less of a patriot (my country is doing everything in it’s power to shake this though), less of a woman, or less of a citizen. I follow the law, I vote, I never spit or litter on the roads, I volunteer for social efforts, I pay my taxes, and I try to be a responsible citizen the best I can. I try my best to be kind to others. For me that is enough.