|How much are you ready to pay for potatoes?
Beginning of 2014, nice winter day, I came to canteen for lunch. There are days when I like to eat alone. It kind of help me to go through a lot of thoughts alone. No useful thoughts as usual for me, just some junk that I throw away in the air. This throwing out of thoughts happens over lunch and after lunch coffee. It makes me feel light and fresh to think about new things. Well, this is my way of justifying eating silently without regular lunchtime bitching. This was also one of those days, when I thought I will eat alone. But existence has something else planned for me.
I was sitting and having lunch quietly, when one guy asked me, “Can I sit here?”, and story begins.
It generally happens when there are not enough seats available in canteen. I looked around and there were many free seats. Not sure how to say No, I asked him to sit down. This person told me that he recently joined the company and just moved to Switzerland from India. All good, congratulations and all the regular conversation happened. He then started asking about places near by, cost of living, house rents, tax rates etc. He was looking for best combination of low taxes, low rates and even lower daily living cost. All the regular things, a lot of people do that. But, he suddenly added a line, “You know being an Indian, savings is the priority”. I kind of felt surprised, may be a bit insulted. There was no apparent reason, but it felt like he is calling me “miser”. Thankfully the lunch ended soon, but the thought remained with me. Opposite to the plan of thought clearance exercise, it left me thinking if this is also one of the stereotypes of India(an).
I read a story somewhere, which in someway I feel is related to this topic. Once a group of westerners came to India for travel. The usual ones after college or sometime they prefer to call them world travellers. They took a room on rent for a month. They will travel around the city throughout the day, talking to people, learning about the city and culture. In the evening, they will come back, play music, drink, eat, chat till late. Indian neighbours started talking about them. They looked upon the westerners as materialistic people caring only about worldly things and no time for prayers and others spiritual activities. As days went by, their feeling went stronger as this groups kept on bringing things in the apartment. Finally at the end of the month, the group left for their home. They left all the normal usage things in the apartment; utensils, beddings, some chair/furniture etc. Neighbours surprised by silence, came to look at the apartment. They found things and took it to their homes as per their needs. Who is materialistic now?
I understand that above is a story to deliver a message and probably exaggerated to one extreme. But, I felt that this story is closely related to the attribute of “savings”. I also realised that I had many discussions with my friends on big and small savings. Be it finding a low cost apartment, saving in travel, savings in the form of investments in multiple houses by taking loans or savings in groceries or carrying own food items while travelling than buying on they way. One can argue that some of the points are not about saving, but investments or way of life. I feel that overall idea is to save/collect money/things in order to have some safety feeling. It is not that this is only valid for Indians. We can see across the world, markets with signs of “SALE”. Shopping marts have queues only in front of these sections. SALE concept is so deeply rooted now that almost all items are bought on SALE and it runs throughout the year. Unlike before when we used to have seasonal sales, now we have “before season”, “during season” and “after season” SALE. Whole world is trying to save. But, still somehow seems like Indians show this feature more strongly than others. Or could be that being an Indian, I get into such discussions more about Indians than others. Question is why, why Indians stereotype themselves as a “saving community”?
I think this is because we are afraid. We have fears e.g. what if I lose my job today, what if some calamity happens, what if I get severely injured, what if I die tomorrow. We are so afraid and so insecure of our future. In the fast changing world, especially in Indian economy, we have no clue how much is good enough. So, we keep on running, keep on saving till the last moment. Recently, one of my friends told me a term related to it. It is called ” Scarcity Syndrome”. This term seems to define the very core of the “savings nature”.
It reminded me of a story, my language teacher told us in school. She told us how Indians approach lack of supply of certain things compared to other countries/cultures. She took an example that was the case in those day. She said that today potatoes are costly. Reason is unfavourable climatic conditions. Due to which a lot of produce got wasted. TV and newspaper are full of headlines, “Potato prices to go high due to lack of supply”. She said what we do after listening this news is that we rush to the market and buy big volumes of potatoes. We try to fill every jar, every bucket in our house with potatoes. We are afraid that prices may go higher or we may not get any potatoes at all. After buying big volumes, we are satisfied individually that now I am safe. But, this actually makes it worse. Prices go high as the demand is virtually increased than normal usage. We feel proud on our decision that we bought potatoes while it was still not too high. In some other cultures, they do the opposite. When they hear such a News, they reduce the consumption of potatoes. This ensures that market has sufficient potatoes and everyone can buy some of it all the time. This keeps demand and supply in control. Slowly situation improves, back-end supply gets normal and people start consuming potatoes at normal rate again. This way these communities tackle the problem by acting collectively. ( I am not targeting political and business interests here. These I have always failed to understand. )
I do not know, if there is any such community in the world as my teacher told us. But, I think it is a very simple and very effective idea at its core. If we can all change collectively in a very simple and basic ways, we can help each other a lot. I am not sure if any smart person can show the benefits in financial terms. I personally feel this change as one of those where we do not have a way to know the final results in the beginning. This is an idea like a sea exploration and finding new treasures. Somebody must have believed in positive outcomes of the oceanic journeys without knowing what we will find at the end. Without that belief, without that leap of faith we would have remained disconnected.
I hope one day we can get rid of this scarcity syndrome, feel more confident of ourselves as well our global society. Together, one day, we may bring smiles to everybody rather than lines of anxiety, fear and stress.