The Price-less pleasures of nostalgia

The other day I paused to lend an ear to a couple of economists discussing inflation.

Published: 26th May 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th May 2019 05:43 PM   |  A+A-

The other day I paused to lend an ear to a couple of economists discussing inflation. I thought I’d find out something about lack of liquidity in the market, the increase in money velocity, the over-appreciation of the dollar against the rupee, and the effect of the repo rate on the fiscal system. Instead I found out what I already knew: That in 1955 a bottle of Coke cost four annas. Was it ‘charsies’ (four annas) or ‘aathsies’ (eight annas), asked one D-school type. Aathsies? 

In those days aathsies wouldn’t just get you a Coke, it would practically get you in the supertax bracket, countered the other, turning to me for corroboration. Absolutely, I concurred, throwing in my own ‘charsie’ bit by recalling how you got four phutchkas (Kolkata-ese for golgappas) for one anna, five if you haggled like hell. My credentials as an expert of inflation established, I joined the discussion which began to sound like Bretton Woods revisited.

Economics has—wrongly to my mind—been described as the dismal science, the bugaboo of inflation being one of its more depressing adjuncts. I agree that inflation does play havoc with one’s daily hisaab. 
But think what it does for nostalgia. Would nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ exist at all if it weren’t for inflation? Would the good old days exist were it not for the pneumatic hiss of inflation, like a resuscitating oxygen cylinder, which revived la belle époque in the ICV of memory?All our memories come with price tags. I remember, I remember. When Flury’s pastries were five annas each.

When a matinee show at the movies was 10 annas if you sat in the bhutts (the Lower Stalls, the preserve of the great unwashed, which included hard-up schoolboys like me), one rupee and four annas if you went posh in the Middle Stalls, and if a rich uncle had just died and left you a zillion, you went Dress Circle for all of three rupees and eight annas.

What the hell are these bloody annas he keeps babbling about? A generic term of anglophone ayahs or nannies? You’ll ask, thereby revealing that in the nostalgia league you’re still wet behind the years.It’s better than carbon dating, money and its comparative purchasing power. If someone starts reminiscing how in the good old days you’d get a bottle of scotch for eight bucks, you don’t have to sneak a peek at his janampatri to figure out the guy’s more likely to have 80 candles on his birthday cake than 70. Unless they had really liberal liquor laws back then and people switched to the hard stuff before they’d quite got the knack of DM diapers.

And if someone tells you that when he was a stripling they’d pay five rupees, four 
annas, three pice and two pies for a maund of rice, you know you’re in the presence of a real old-timer who belongs to a different world.

A world of maunds, pice 
and pies. (I never met a maund, or a pie, of which three made a pice, the one with a hole in it, which looked like a washer, and four of which comprised an anna, 16 of which constituted a rupee.) A world somehow more dense, more real, more valueable than ours. A world where somehow the sunshine was sunnier, the rain rainier, smiles more joyous, and tears more poignantly tearful.

Suddenly our tin-tacky present-day world seems enriched by a forgotten wealth that only memory can buy. So while I worry about inflation, I don’t worry about it too much. For what we lose on the swings of inflation, we gain on the roundabouts of remembrance.

Without inflation, what tales of past glory would grandparents tell their grandchildren? How would they entice their imaginations with stories that began “Once upon a time...”? Or better still, make that “Twice upon a time”. Or, even better, how about thrice? After all, these are inflationary times. Thank God—as in, good old days—for it.jugsuraiya@gmail.com



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