The other day I was sitting with my 70-year-old neighbour who looks nothing more than 50, and who is such a wonderful conversationalist, full of stories and anecdotes that I wish I could spend more time with her. That’s just for the perspective, not the point though. She was telling me about her grandson, who’s getting engaged to his girlfriend sometime soon. So the young chap told his mom he wanted to gift his wife-to-be a diamond solitaire on their engagement, at least a 3-carat diamond solitaire. The family’s not a steeped-in-riches, leave-your-son-an-eye-popping-inheritance kind of family. So the mother refused, saying she just didn’t have that kind of money (3 carat diamond at the family jeweller would cost about 7 lakh rupees approximately). No problem, the son retorted and said, I’ve saved enough.
This young chap I’m talking about is all of 26! And hold on. The boy’s also bought a three-storey house in Delhi. Already! I mean, what is this if not a wow-inducing moment? Saved enough for a 3-carat solitaire set in gold? And a house to boot at 26? Wow indeed!
I’m sure you know at least a couple of these kind of youngsters – who’ve already been there, done that at 26 or some age nearby. But I don’t how to react to such awe-inspiring success stories (except, of course, to be a little in awe of them), because there’s some part of me still rooted in childhood memories of people using up all their savings of a lifetime to get a home. Remember, all those stories we heard of our grandfathers and fathers using their hard-earned money to build a house? At 40, if not post-retirement? People who owned houses were usually landed people, from families who could give their sons a house in viraasat. In India, owning a house is the surest symbol of social security. It’s great that we have social security so soon in our lives, but is it right? I mean, shouldn’t people in their 20s be living like they didn’t have a care in the world instead of thinking of EMIs that gobble up half their salaries? Weren’t we supposed to wait for our 30s to settle down and the 40s to look for social security? Such redundant concepts, eh?
It all sounds good, these fat pay cheques that can get you anything that money can buy. But up close, it’s not that rosy a picture. A friend’s husband is climbing up the corporate ladder so fast, it seems he’s taking two steps at a time. He’s bought a house in the NCR at 27. He’s second in command in his company. And he has no time for his family. My friend works too, but not like the workaholic that her husband does. And she complains that he wants to move up so fast, he has no time for her. Guys like him say they plan to earn enough by 40 to retire. Seriously, do you think such people can ever quit the race?
Contentment and satisfaction were considered virtues in our society. They’re looked down upon as cover-ups for complacency and lack of ambition in a person now. A person who comes home early from work is considered either to be wasting his time or downright lazy. That he may want to spend time with his family means nothing these days. What if someone did make the choice to be happy with just enough money and more than enough time and to be back home early? And what if that person was living in a rented house? How bad would that be?
And even while I say this, I realise that of the two kind of people I’ve mentioned – ambitious and not – more people will still aspire to be the ambitious sort of person. Is that what happiness has come to mean for an entire generation of people?