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Thursday, 11 July 2019 | TS Sreenivasa Raghavan

When I was a kid, my grandmother looking at my palms used to say rather severely that I would end up as a spendthrift when I grew up. “But not your fault, it’s because of this,” she would add, consoling me, pointing at the wide gap between my index and middle fingers.

The gap was so wide even an elephant could have vamoosed through it with no one taking any particular notice of its vanishing act. In fact, the gap was not confined to the index and middle fingers alone. It was there on either side of my ring finger too.

To tell you the truth, I was a scrawny kid with long, twig-like fingers, an oversized head, ballooned belly and lackluster eyes and I lived in the shadow of a perpetual danger because bones at different parts of the body always almost threatened to pierce through the thin layer of my dark skin.

The total effect of the specimen that I was, was so startling, it reinforced one’s conviction that Darwin’s theory of evolution, after all, was not that flawed as some of his detractors would want you to believe. So, no wonder, I grew up hearing, speaking and seeing the undesirable, in my conscious efforts to differentiate myself from the predecessors!

The point is, like millions of other children in the country, I too survived mostly feasting on meals that never existed – an achievement before which even the best Houdini feat must pale! This being so, any person with a rational mind could see that the gaps between my fingers were an indicator of malnutrition and they had nothing to do with my future fortunes. But, there was no way of telling that to my grandmother. “Ithu ottakkai. Panam nikkaathu,” (This hand has holes. Money won’t stay), she would reiterate with absolute conviction.

I could not help recalling my grandmother’s prophecy when I watched Nirmala Sitharaman, the country’s first full-time female finance minister, present her maiden budget in the parliament. The fact that she spoke non-stop for over two hours without even drinking a drop of water was quite impressive.

But, it may though have worried Prime Minister Narendra Modi who seems

to be obsessed with fitness. The key to health being Yoga, Modi keeps his body fit by stretching very often. He is also equally enthusiastic about improving the nation’s health by turning it into a $5-trillion economy by 2024.

And, if some ‘professional pessimists’ see his grand plan as a ‘stretch’ of imagination, then, they deserve to be whipped in their bare bottoms! Being an optimist like Modi, I am already smacking my lips at the prospect of a $5-trillion economy like a greedy jackal that has set its eyes on a juicy, plump rabbit.

But, I have only one doubt:  would the trillions be of any use to me? I ask this question not because I see holes in Modi’s theory but in my own hands! The pawky holes, which suck in the money as my grandmother prophesied.

The old lady, I must however confess, had read my future accurately. For, I have, in general observed that money only has a guest appearance in my life. It comes and stays for a day or two, eats into whatever meager resources I have, gets fatter at my expense and then vanishes into thin air, leaving me poorer and more miserable.

Why does this happen? Is it because of the hyper holes or the company that I keep with Saraswati instead of Lakshmi? It is a valid question since many people who choose Saraswati over Lakshmi end up being perpetually broke. Ustad Bismillah Khan, the Shehnai maestro and a devotee of Saraswati, who many times had to plead for financial assistance, often just to stay above subsistence level, remains a tragic example.

But that does not seem to stop or deter our finance ministers from falling head over heels in love with the devotees of Saraswati. They, in particular, turn poetry fans, overnight, and pep up their budget speeches quoting liberally the couplets written by famous poets; dreamy poets and writers most of whom tend to lead a life bordering on anarchy, caring a damn for money or the art of financial discipline and dying finally without even a penny in their pockets! Now, you might want to say that the Union Budget of India, perhaps, is the only commodity in the world which is marketed and sold showcasing such self-defeating, unworkable models.

Be that as it may. I do not know whether the financial difficulties that maim me are on account of the holes in my hand or the company that I keep with Saraswati.

 But, the fact that the finance ministers have unshakeable faith in the writers gives me immense hope, probably, because I am also a writer, an unknown writer in the world of literature that is already overcrowded. 

So, it does not really matter whether I understand the budget or the slippery ways of the money that keeps bouncing like a cranky tennis ball, never staying in one place. It also does not matter anymore why I failed to see the brighter side of life under the past finance ministers despite their pronounced love for writers.

All that matters now is that I have tremendous faith in the current finance minister. Not just because she quoted an Urdu couplet by poet Manzoor Hashmi in her budget speech, and in the process proved that she too is much like her predecessors in her approach to writers.

Instead, it is also because she is part of a “jee boom baa” government which at the snap-of-a-finger took the 500 and 1000 rupee notes out of circulation and flooded the market with currency notes of different hues and colours putting to shame even those Bollywood costumes reserved with taste for the dream sequence of love-smitten couples!

My wife may not be very much impressed with my thought process. Like the gong of a punctual school bell, she keeps bemoaning at regular intervals, “I would’ve led a better life if only I’d married the ‘other guy’ seen by mother originally.”

Let her fret and grumble. I am not going to be intimidated by the ‘other guy’ or the holes in my hand or for that matter my grandmother’s prophecy. I consider it a closed hole, nay a closed chapter!

(The writer is a senior journalist, political analyst and communication specialist)

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