Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The dhania factor

Santosh Desai The Times of India - Saturday, July 10, 2004 
Paisa vasool. The ultimate Indian idea of good value; not to be confused with miserliness. 

Paisa vasool means that the purchased item was worth its price. It indicates a satisfaction in extracting every drop of consumptive liquid from each paisa. When you wring the act of consumption dry, and leave no discernible residue, it is then that you feel the warm after-glow of paisa vasool.
Our compulsive need to re-cycle things is a pointer to this need. Long before eco-trendism placed the idea of re-cycling on its current pedestal, the Indian has recycled. Not only re-cycled bur re-soled, re-collared and refilled disposable lighters with an injection. Selling raddi is an art form with the price as well as getting the raddiwalla to weigh accurately being high skills. Old clothes are exchanged for utensils, old bottles are sold, with scotch bottles commanding a wholly explainable premium. Old shoes used to be re-soled and all trousers had margins that could accommodate growing children.
A common sight in smaller towns is a handkerchief worn to protect the collar as is the ubiquitous purane kapdon ka doctor who specialises in coaxing a few more years of life from a recalcitrant garment flagging in spirits.
A corollary is our inability to throw anything away. Lift any mattress inside any home in India and you will see a proud collection of plastic bags lovingly gathered over a period of time. We hoard plastic spoons, grow plants in ice-cream tubs and buy insatiably large quantities of Pet jars in promotions. When we buy a TV set, we are actually buying a TV set, the thermocole that it comes packed in, the outer carton and any miscellaneous clips or pins or plastic pouches that accompany it.
A necessary skill for every housewife is that of bargaining because that ability is the most tangible way in which she converts her almost visceral need for value into everyday reality. She has that unique ability to have saved up that crucial little while having tended to her family's needs with very little to start with.
The skill lies in economising on the right thing and displaying largesse on a few critical occasions. It can be argued that this picture is changing as middle class India moves towards greater affluence. While this is true to some extent, it is important to recognise that the mindset governing consumption is not changing all that much.
Take the example of the way housewives buy vegetables. Regardless of whether she stays in an affluent neighbourhood or in crowded flats, she must get her dhania and hari mirch free. It has nothing to do with affordability; it is about sneaking in additional value helping make the transaction fulfilling.
Getting the right value then becomes an issue of fairness: of being asked for the theek daam, of knowing that one has not been taken for a ride. Of feeling re-assured that no consumption juice remains in the discarded object.
This ability to see utility in all its dimensions in any object and to not rest till every ounce of it is exhausted, has perhaps more to do with the ingrained cultural memory of scarcity, than with a real need for economy. We may not mind paying more, but our paisa must always be vasool. [Santosh Desai Times of India, June 12, 2004 Fly...]

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