When I was a little girl, my parents used to give me an allowance of 10 rupees. It was actually fixed per day, but every afternoon when I came back from school, I would put that unused 10 rupee note carefully on my desk, in case I needed to spend it the next day. We were far from poor, but my parents taught me early on the importance and value of having money. 10 rupees in those times was quite a lot (according to me). I wasn't stingy, but I was happy with whatever lunch I got from home, and only once a week I would indulge in getting something (Candy or a drink) from the school canteen. So, basically, 10 rupees were enough to last a week. My story goes like this:
I have a very clear memory of walking one evening to a nearby general store with my mother. After she had bought all the items on her list, she asked me if I wanted anything. My head could reach barely above the counter, but I scanned the candy and chocolate jars carefully. I settled on a big Mars bar, the biggest I had seen yet. There was another child right next to me on the counter, looking greedily at where my finger was pointing. This child was a little beggar girl, probably the daughter of a local maidservant or maasi; she was wearing old clothes, and a rag as a shawl on her head. She was older than me and a bit taller. I remember her yellow bleached hair peeking from beneath the rag shawl, and her greedy look as she too stared at the big Mars candy bar.
My mother asked the price casually. Rs 20 was the answer. I turned suddenly towards her and I said I didn't want it. I chose a smaller candy bar for Rs 10 that I used to buy often. “I want this one, Ammi”. Rs. 20 was too much to spend on a candy bar, I thought in my childish brain. ‘Ammi gets so many other important things for the kitchen in that amount. I could buy a book in that much money, why just a big candy bar?’ I thought.
My mother asked me if I was sure, and she got me the smaller candy. As we picked up our shopping bags and turned to leave the counter, the little beggar child demanded that big Mars bar from the counter person. She quickly took out two 10 rupee notes from somewhere in her shawl, and grabbed the big bar. She gave me a look of pure superiority as she walked out of the store ahead of us.
This incident is marked vividly in my memory. It has changed the way I view the lifestyle of our ‘poor’.