Remember as kids how much we loved receiving ‘ashirwad’ money? When the fifth cousin from Dad’s side would visit in what was a once-in-the-lifetime (or once-in-a-long-long-time, or why-do-I-even-care-how-long-a-time) family visit and hand us a rolled-up bank-note (or two, if they were feeling generous) with the customary tagline – beta, isse chocolate kharid lena (buy yourself a chocolate with this)? Remember how Mom would then look daggers at us for being uncivilized ingrates who thrived on freebies and beamed at faces to extort gifts? Don’t roll your eyes at me, I know you liked it. Admitting it won’t make you a money-grubbing good-for-nothing. After all, as my Grandma used to say, such blessings are every child’s janm-siddha-adhikaar (birthright). I may be getting a little liberal with her words here, but she used to say something like that. Honest.
Aah those days when I wouldn’t have to grovel to Papa for stuff, when I wouldn’t have to cajole Mumma with promises to finish my chores just to get a tenner, when visits from boring auntyjis and unclejis would become tolerable only because at the end of the visit was the prospect of receiving a slim envelope with money inside, with a gleaming one rupee coin pasted on top of it, because we Indians believe that 0 signifies the end, while 1 and its multiples signify the beginning. So ashirwads were always given as 51, 101, 1001, in keeping up with the tradition of gift money given in such numbers being a precursor to good fortune. Yeah baby, let the ashirwads roll! No one’s complaining here,
Because usually all my janm-sidha-adhikar money would be snatched up by my parents even before I had the chance to hold and smell the bank notes. While my parents would engage our relative in a wrestling match over who could transfer the ashirwad faster – the giver or the unwilling parent, I would stand in the corner with a hand outstretched asking for alms of ashirwad. This wrestling thing, by the way, is also a mandatory manoeuvre of the great Indian tradition of giving gift money. Parents don’t want to come across as greedy folks. So each time someone pushes those glitzy envelopes with money inside to the kids, there has to be at least five minutes of amicable arguments consisting of forceful protests and this – you shouldn’t do this and they don’t need it. I dunno about the relative but of course, kids need it! I would be dreaming of that new ice-cream flavour I could finally taste. Instead, I would get this – we have to give them something too. And I would mournfully watch those same bank notes being taken out by my parents and stuffed into another envelope only to be pushed into the hands of the relative’s children. How I hated having cousins then. And oh how abominably convenient! Why didn’t parents get that that money was our wages? Wages we earned by being patient, well-behaved ‘bundles of joy’, indulging the visitors with our off-tune nursery rhymes, doling out the right yes, pleases and no, thank yous that only served to make parents look better? But no, rob the poor kid of the money in the name of give and take, and teaching them money management. How do you teach money management without money in hand?
Some enlightened (and kinder) parents would hand their kids piggy-banks, gullaks in India, to teach them money-management, and they would become repositories of ashirwad money and our wobbly faiths in our parents’ capacity to not raid our gullaks for meagre change that they generally held within. But parents are crafty things. They can manipulate a child into believing that they are poor and money will feed them, or that the money parents take away is for ‘nice things for you only, na’, or that the money is a loan to the parents. So we Indian kids learn early on that…
Money once lost in the parent trap is never coming back.
I don’t ever remember having spent my gullak money on myself. I always remember the money being syphoned off bit by bit for stuff like stationery and maybe an ice-cream or two. Never for what I really, really, really wanted. Most of the ashirwad would be stowed away in Mummy’s purse that carried a black hole within.
Another thing about Mummy purses you should know – what goes in never comes out.
First of all, I come from a generation of kids who weren’t even allowed any pocket money. Like never. Our encounters with money were limited to Mummy making us run to the kirane ki dukaan for a loaf of bread or a kilo of potatoes… and of course ashirwad. Whatever we needed would have to first be approved and paid for by the Ministry of Family Expenses, my mother, but only after an endless debate over why we didn’t need what we thought we needed, followed by a sermon on responsible spending and learning how to be contented with what you have. I shamelessly blame my parents for my spending spree when my brother earned a fair bit of ashirwad money because he delivered a speech in his four-year-old lispy hindi that everyone oh-so-adored. Of course it’s for him that I bought those cheap plastic goggles and the bitty flute that played only one note. Of course, I knew he needed those cavity-inducing-gummy-gooey candies. Of course, I did it for him while I took the lion’s share of the candy I bought… from his money, but hey, bhai-behen mein chalta hai. But through most of my childhood, I don’t remember my gullak being a repository of anything more than an empty wish for more money.
Now that I am a parent myself, I get why parents have this urge of robbing their kids of their hard-earned ashirwad. Because we, in turn, have to give ashirwads to other kids. And parent pockets aren’t deep. Mommy, Daddy, grandparents and girlfriend/boyfriend pockets are deep, but never parent pockets. I have tried to (and failed at) keeping my daughter’s money away from my spendthrift hands and have mostly succeeded at only giving it away as ashirwads to other kids, or putting it to use to buy her something that I thought she needed, but I worry someday, when she’s a little older to understand that money once lost in the parent trap is never coming back, she’s going to ask me resentfully – Where’s my gullak?
Copyright ©2018 Pradita Kapahi.
All rights reserved.