Saturday, May 4, 2013

Making money profane

At some point in life, we all start getting money. And, at some point we become comfortable with spending bits of it without being too afraid. This post is a partly inspired thought experiment after I read the post on Suspended Coffees (Read: 'Suspended coffee' helps those in need) that went viral probably a month or two ago. The idea is that you pay for an extra coffee in a restaurant and that can be given for free to anyone else who might not have the money to buy one. In a time when trust is really a rare commodity in our interactions in public, this phenomenon inspired and moved me a great deal. I was determined to try it out in my own locality (somewhere in India) to see how people react. However, there is another question I have been battling in the past year: how do I make spending money more fulfilling?
So, let me tell you of the three instances where I tweaked this "suspension" experiment and the different things I felt.
Part 1:
First, of course, was a straight replication of this suspension idea. I was visiting a friend in Bombay and told him about suspended coffees. He was also excited. So, while we are at the beach and this kid badgered us to buy a rose, we thought of trying it out there. The way I saw it, was simple. Buying a rose for someone we like at the beach seems so cliched and corny. But, wouldn't it be really amusing if we randomly got a rose that we never paid for (or realize we have an admirer whom we may never meet)? So, we paid for a rose and the kid gave it to a boy clicking pictures of himself at the beach. From what we could make out, the boy was not only astonished but also a little intrigued. He was visibly happy and I'd like to think it made his day.

Part 2:
While I was really happy with the rose incident, I kept asking as to what really happened there which was disruptive. Some possible causes to describe this: unexpected, good faith, personal gesture. So, I wondered if I could buy other things in the same vein but increase the utility part. And, the most obvious things I could think of were: food, travel and education expenses. So, again while in Bombay I found a taxi driver and gave him a hundred rupees. I roughly explained my idea to him - told him to take people where they want and in the end deduct hundred rupees. He seemed baffled but he could see the twinkle in my eyes. (This may already seem a bit hipster to you) I am assuming he actually executed my plan because he nodded in satisfaction, just like the rose boy earlier.

Part 3:
This I did in Delhi. For a year now I have been not-so-broke and I can't recall the days when I used to be down to a hundred bucks for the last week of the month. And then, something came up for photocopying or printing. So, I went and gave three hundred rupees to Sonu, my university's photocopier and told him to use this for a day and offer free copies. My university has a very high moral ground and such so I knew Sonu would do it. I went back to him the next day and he told me that people spread this "offer" and used it wholeheartedly, to copy anything and everything!

I am sure a lot of you already do some form of charity. My mum also feeds X number of needy people on special occasions. But, the purpose of my experiment/exploration was different. I wasn't interested in generosity or personal happiness or equality so much. And, I realized that was my kick was in disrupting routines, seeing if I can momentarily change how we are used to feeling about the world around us. When we don't have the money for that taxi ride or photocopy or tattoo or movie or gift, money seems like a really big deal. When we do have money, many of those things don't seem so special anymore for several reasons.
Can I make money absolutely nothing by inserting it in places where people expect to struggle for it? Money and struggle, the relationship is routine and obvious - one that you can't escape. But, in this routine living is where the jadedness seeps in and thinking for oneself (instrumental reason) sets in. That is why deeds of kindness, honesty, loyalty etc which are the given foundations of our society seem to take us by surprise. At times using money against its own logic can give the maximum satisfaction, at least to me.


sahilk said...

Would've liked to see if the people on receiving end gave back as well. Just like in the actual experiment.

But yes, not having to spend that money does mean a lot to people. That paired with the element of surprise – what you've got is pure delight.

Now, to think of it, if only most brands could understand the importance of that.

Lily said...

Reminds me of this thing called academic karma. A mentor/friend would keep footing our food bills implicitly hoping we would do the same to others. I am glad you understand that I am not working with the assumption of poor people. I feel everyone values money but my delight of having some has significantly reduced since childhood pocket money days. :)

sahilk said...

The more money you have, the more green tea you could drink. Thought that'd be all the delight possible. :)

Also, everyone doesn't value money at the same level.