The politics of freebies – houses for all vs no tax under 35


Day 286*

One of my earliest childhood memories is from some time in the first 3.5 years of my life. I know the same with such surety because that was my age when we moved houses – from living with a joint family in a big flat in the relatively posh Prabhadevi to living nuclear in Goregaon, the then outskirts of the city (Mumbai) in a 400 sq ft Hall-kitchen flat – a space that on reading might seem extremely cramped up for a family of four (with two of us less than 4 years old), and yet a space blessed with the most large-hearted neighbours I can recall having from memory. Three out of the four 400 sq. ft houses kept their doors open, and the kids (a total of 5 from three houses) would wreak havoc in the flat of our choice. But all of that’s for another day.

My earliest childhood memory is from when we still lived with our grandparents and my uncle & aunt. I remember having slept next to my grandmother, everyone called her Baa (it means mother, but in our and a lot of other Gujarati families the previous generation (those born in the 1950’s/60’s calls their mother Baa whereas the current one (1970’s onwards) calls their grandmother Baa and mother Mummy), on most nights. As a child I was very fond of her. And maybe she was of me too. Every evening we would leave home at 4 ‘o’ clock (I even remember staring into the square black clock with a white dial waiting for the white hour and minute hands to fall into place for 4 ‘o’ clock), then we would walk to the bus stop, take a bus to CP Tank, hopefully double-decker and hopefully she would agree to climb up to the top deck and hopefully the front seats of the same would be empty. We would buy some flower, go to the Bhuleshwar temple, and come back. It used to be a long walk on a quiet road, with trees on both sides, from the bus stop to our house. I don’t remember the Bhuleshwar temple, but I distinctly remember the bus rides and those walks, clinging on to my grandmother’s hand.

A few years back, sometime in 2012-13, she died. I hadn’t seen her in many years. Sometime in the mid-90’s she had moved to our hometown in Gujarat, along with my grandfather. He died in 1998, she continued to stay on, alone in the ancestral house for the next 14 years, well into her late eighties, despite repeated urging from both her sons in Mumbai, to move in with them. Her moving to Mumbai would have been convenient for them. She preferred her freedom. There was a lot of talk in town about her continuing to wear coloured clothes after my grandfather’s death. She didn’t really care. Can we call her  a feminist? Not really. My mother doesn’t paint as great a picture of her as I do (not bad, but not great), but that’s for another day. Was she an individualist? Hell yeah. She was notorious for being an extremely quiet person who just wouldn’t budge and would always do what she felt like.

It was a Saturday, when I learned about her death, on the phone. I had spoken to her a few days back. She was hard of hearing in her final years. She had asked me to come visit her sometime. It was around 6:30 pm when I spoke to her. I remember having been extremely distracted. I was multitasking – checking out unread office mails that I had skipped opening all day,  packing my bag, convincing myself to not miss going to the gym (we had an office gym on the second floor of our office building. It was only my 3rd/4th day and the enthusiasm didn’t last for long). When I learned about her death on the phone, a tear did roll down my cheek. My first reaction was to go to our hometown for the funeral, but my father insisted that’d it be a long journey from Kolkata and they would not wait for that long. I still planned to do it. I went to my boss’ desk in the next building. Before I could say a word, he was like, “Oh I was about to call you, good you came. We need to prepare a presentation for…” I can’t believe I didn’t say a word, just pulled a chair and got on with the work. Did I harbour ambitions of making it big in the corporate world back then? I am not sure. As I look back upon my life, and it’s not been all those many years, there are so many things that I would want to change . Not much – just my reaction to circumstances. I did visit Mumbai to attend the ceremonies for the 13th day after her death. Hmmm. I feel like slipping in a cheeky joke about the difference between an assignment submitted in the 11th hour and in the 13th hour.

Anyway. Let’s begin with the main topic.

My earliest memory about life is of waking up all happy one morning when I must have been 2-3. I had gone off to sleep next to my grandmother. It must have been a little late in the morning (around 7-8 am) when I woke up, all smiling, only to notice my father sitting on a sofa frowning and saying something to the effect, “He has still not stopped peeing in the bed. Children generally stop by this time, don’t they?” He was talking to my grandfather, then already in his late mid/late 70’s. And then my mother came from the kitchen and asked me, “Hasi su rahyo chhe…” “What are you smiling about!” – I don’t recall if I had started speaking yet. They say I started speaking very late, only by the time I was three. Or maybe later. But I do remember them discussing this.

I have a small bladder. When I am having beer, I need to go to the washroom twice as many times (maybe thrice as many times) as a normal male my age would have to. It’s a statistically significant observation. I must have had beer with close to a 100 friends on multiple occasions, and I keenly observe the frequency with which we head to the loo.

Bladderdash – is the term a friend, well, a girl I liked, had coined for it. She apparently has an equally small bladder. Or maybe I had coined it while we were discussing this. I never got to have beer with her a statistically significant number of times to compare. Sigh. This article is going to be about comparisons.


What is the first major comparison that a parent would draw for his/her child comparing it to other children?

  1. When do they stop peeing in the bed?
  2. When do they start crawling?
  3. When do they start speaking?
  4. When do they start walking?
  5. When do they say Mummy/pappa?

Or maybe it’s even before then. I would know when I have a child. I don’t really think I am ready to have one. I would love to play a role in the upbringing of children of people close to me (experimenting what works and what does not – like exposing them to Hans Zimmer, Max Richter, Yann Tiersen, Rachel Portman at a very young age), but I don’t think I want to have one of my own. Am I weird?

I remember comparing myself with other children, as a child, on how tall we grew, for a long time. At some point in time it moved to how many marks we scored. And out-scoring my friends was my single obsession, till about fifth-sixth class.

By the time we reached sixth class, it extended to things like how well one played, whether one had a computer in the house (desktops had just become a craze in India – 1995/96).

In the mid/late nineties, for a few years, the dangerous concoction of puberty and SRK movies (bollywood actor) ensured that all other comparisons took a back seat and life was all about finding true love in the eyes of every girl that stared at you for more than a couple of seconds.

But the comparisons didn’t stop. There are comparisons that are made by the self and then there are ones made by the parents, the friends, the society. Teenage primarily comprised of the below comparisons.

Comparison – By

  1. Have a girlfriend – self/friends
  2. Score well in  board exams (10th, 12th) – parents
  3. Learn to ride a bike – friends/self
  4. LAND IN A GOOD COLLEGE FOR GRADUATION – parents/friends/self
  5. Buy a bike and share it with us – friends
  6. Get rid of them pimples – self
  7. Excel in sports  – friends/self

And then we move into the 20’s and comparisons comprise of the below.

  1. Find your passion – self
  2. Find true love – self
  3. Have a short/longterm relationship – self/friends
  4. Get married – family
  5. Get a good job – self/family
  6. Travel the world – self/friends
  7. Do a post-graduation from a great college – self/family/friends
  8. Buy a house – family
  9. BUY A CAR/BIKE – friends/self
  10. Do something about the receding hairline – self

It is not that all of these boxes are checked, but some of the ones that are not, become an unsheathed sword hanging over your head in the thirties. The ones in capitals indicate the comparisons for which the sword gets an inch closer to your head with every passing year in the thirties.

  1. GET MARRIED – friends/family/society/self
  2. BUY A HOUSE  – friends/family/society/self
  3. HAVE A HEFTY BANK BALANCE – family/society
  4. Get promoted/switch to a high paying job – friends/family/self
  5. Have a kid – family
  6. Find true love/wait for one of your true loves to get divorced – self
  7. Pursue your passion in which you suck, and which wouldn’t make a penny – self
  8. Quit your job and try something new – Self
  9. Lose weight/join a gym (Not have such a huge belly that you can’t  check your pubic hair when you stand straight and look down)  – spouse/family/friends
  10. Get hair transplant done – spouse/friends
  11. Travel more countries – self/friends

I guess once one has kids the cycle comes a full circle and it is about comparing when your kid stops peeing in bed vis-a-vis the others’ children.

Maybe in the 40’s/50’s people compare themselves with their friends as to who has lower visits to the doctors/lower number of operations.

Maybe in the 60’s and 70’s the ones who are around keep a track of how many of their peers they have outlived, how many still have spouses that are alive, how many are still staying with their children, how many teeth they still have left.

Maybe the final comparison would be about ‘How many people have turned up at one’s funeral?’

I wonder if like Maslow’s hierarchy, there should be an age-envy-comparison matrix. It will come in really handy for marketers to identify consumer need-gaps/emotional tugs for consumer communication by age group.

Maybe the politicians too have such matrices in place.

Earlier this week, one of the oldest political parties in India (centre-left) Congress apparently announced that it would waive off taxes for everyone under 35 if it came to power.

As I type this, apparently they have back-tracked on this freebie, and rightly so. It was a very badly thought out freebie.

By the time it’d be time to pay the first tax if they win the next year’s election, I’d be 35+. I would definitely not vote for them on this point.

35+ – still not married, still nowhere remotely close to buying a house, now without a job too. Anyway with only 3-4% of the population paying taxes, this freebie hardly appeals to enough people. And taxes per-se do not figure in the age-envy-comparison matrix we tried to prepare earlier.

Earlier this month I attended a friend’s wedding in Vijayawada. A group of us had planned to drive from  Hyderabad to Vijayawada. So I took the previous evening’s train from Chennai to Hyderabad, via Vijayawada :D.

Early in the morning I landed up at a friend’s place (he was a very close friend back in college, we have met just a couple of times over the past 11 years though).

He has a wonderful wife, and the loveliest of daughters. So do most of my other friends.

What struck me about this friend though was the update that he’s bought a house in Nagpur, leased it out on rent and is planning to buy one more in Hyderabad.

That got me thinking.

I can just look back at years of endless alcohol in costly pubs, and think about the moment when I had considered downloading Splitwise way back in 2013-14. And then had forgotten all about it. Just the way I had thought about investing in Bitcoins in 2015-16. And then had not. I started using Splitwise towards the end of 2017, three months before I quit my job and stopped earning. I bought Bitcoin, in late 2017, around the time when it was about to hit its peak of $20k. I would still have doubled my investment if I had sold it off when it was at $20k. I did not. I still haven’t. The Indian exchanges on which I had bought the same, do not allow you to withdraw your money in Indian Rupees any longer. Our Central Bank has banned the same. Even if I were to withdraw the investment, it’s just 40% of what I put in. Like they say, there are no shortcuts to anything.

Long story short, I had wondered for a long time if I should have saved up enough to at least buy a house. Or should have invested an equivalent amount in the bourses.

And then the prime minister of the country, Mr Modi, came to my rescue earlier this evening. He has promised that every Indian will own a house by 2022. What a man! He has surely mastered the age-envy-comparison matrix.

After reading this fantastic promise, all I can do is open my mouth wide and stick my tongue out to all those friends of mine who prioritised buying a house over getting sloshed at an expensive pub! Now I am going to get one tpo, without having to plan for it! 😀

The political campaigning for 2019 is well and truly underway. It remains to be seen which party identifies the need-gaps for each of its core constituencies accurately and designs freebies that become offers they can’t refuse.

I am wondering if there’s any announcement any of the parties can make with respect to marriages and having children, that can make me jump out of my chair with joy, open my mouth wide and stick my tongue out.

What’s the offer that you as a voter can’t refuse? (of course relevant to your context and yoru country).

PS: In 2014, the current Prime Minister had promised that we would all have Rs 15 lakh in our bank accounts. I have quit my job certain that the amount is on its way 😀

*Day 286 — If India’s general elections for 2019 are held on the exact same dates as that in 2014, there are 286 more days/opportunities for the incumbent and the opposition to put political dead cats on the table. I have borrowed this interesting thought from an  article written by Shivam Vij, I read a couple of days before I started The Political Commentator.

Categories Longread, PoliticsTags , , ,

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