Money has risen to the top of the list of all the factors that have divided and fragmented the society. Now money is not the same as wealth. While it is common to say that someone is wealthy and prosperous, the term ‘wealthy’ is not always used to describe someone who possesses money. We never call someone ‘rich and prosperous’, and there is a reason behind this. Wealth adds value to our lives in various forms, and that is how we become prosperous. Money only helps us buy things, and each of those things are perishable. That is why money does not add value to our lives – as it can never make our lives prosperous.
Back in 2008, when it was supposedly my ‘peak age’ for marriage, my parents wanted me to buy an apartment in Bangalore, where I was working at that time. I was aghast. There was no point in buying an apartment under the assumption that I might be getting married soon. Then, there was the demon of the housing loans to reckon with as well. I am bemused by how people queue up to take housing loans to buy apartments and houses, especially in burgeoning cities like Bangalore and in exhausted cities like Mumbai.
Now let’s say I take up a housing loan for 20 years. I am effectively committing myself to pay back the EMIs every month without a break for 20 years. And how can I be so sure that I am going to be alive and healthy for the next 20 years? The funny part is, people are okay with reducing the monthly EMI amount by extending the loan repayment period. Banks are all the more happy because they know they will end up getting back more money. The sinister thought behind this is – the longer the repayment period, the less likely it is for proper full repayment. This also means when borrowers default, banks can easily take over their properties.
The ideal way of repayment is to pay almost double the monthly EMIs and close the loan as quickly as possible. The advantage here is, even if we default on payments for a few months, banks will not proceed with any action. But the catch here is if we try to close off a loan faster, we have to pay some extra money as a penalty on foreclosure. This is the best indicator that banks are more interested in what the borrowers have given as security to the bank, than the money they have lent.
In cities, parking space for cars is available only in apartment buildings. This means to own a car; we need an apartment that costs maybe 5-10 times or even more than the car. This is how money lures us in into its honey trap. The education system trains us to become employees in the corporate world. Then everything that is associated with money takes over our lives. And the social status comes into the picture and rises – when we start “owning” things.
This perception pushes our needs to ridiculously high levels. Own a house, own a car, the list goes on, and we embark on our Sindbad journey, in the pursuit of more and more money, with little realisation that we are being turned into money churning machines. We are simply working hard and enslaving ourselves to the banks to hold on to things we have bought. Add to this the fact that everything we have bought is perishable and may need replacement sooner or later, which means even more money required.
Money never makes us prosperous, because it does not allow us to add value to our lives and without adding value to our lives, we cannot add value to other’s lives. Antilla, the mansion of India’s business tycoon Mukesh Ambani stands out in the extremely crowded and harsh living conditions of Mumbai is the perfect example. Prosperity reflects on us only when our surroundings are also prosperous. Money keeps us locked to the extent that we actually stop noticing the value of everything else in the world.
I was between jobs in 2013 after completing my MBA, when my dad went down with a cardiac arrest. As he is physically very strong, the experience did not shake him even after reaching the brink of death. But he took doctor’s advice of reducing salt intake way too seriously and stopped taking salt altogether. After a few days, I noticed strange changes in his mannerism and behaviour. On a Sunday evening, I insisted and dragged him to the hospital for a check-up and that was when we found out that his sodium level was fast declining and he would have possibly gone into a coma in the next couple of days.
What if I had been employed at that time? First of all, I would have been working in a city away from my parents. My mom would have never noticed the changes that I was able to see in my dad. He would have most likely ended up in a coma, and I would have spent almost all the money I was earning on his treatment and my travel. It was a massive learning curve. My keen sense and a better understanding of human anatomy made sure I did not have to spend money when I was not earning.
If there is a way to earn money, there will always be many ways to spend that money as well. We can never hold on to money. In a place like India with ever-rising inflation and the decreasing value of money, the concept of “owning” a house, having a “decent” bank balance and living a “retired” life has taken the biggest hit. We have evolved into a situation similar to that of animals and birds in the wild. They have to seek out their food every day regardless of all the difficult situations, or they will die. If they stop trying they will die. We have also reached that critical state where we have to find ways to earn money till we die. Ironically, as per the Bible, when “God” created us, we were created as beings that were meant to lord over the animals and not live like them!
Now, here is what I have learnt from these experiences. First of all, we need to find our balance with nature again. No living being can destroy nature for its own needs except us. We cannot cut the same branch of the tree we are sitting on. The branch will take us on its way down. More money is alarmingly proportionate to more destruction of nature now. Bangalore’s geography is dotted with numerous lakes. Almost all the small lakes have been covered up for construction, and many of the bigger lakes are being openly used to drain human waste. Why are people keep complaining about lack of drinking water then?
Bangalore has been taken over by the migrant community from all over India who come in search of jobs in the IT industry. Now, these people are in Bangalore to make a living and have no time to understand and solve environmental issues of the city. The result as per reports is that Bangalore is set to become the first unlivable city in India very soon. When we make nature unstable for our needs, nature will take course corrective actions to bring back its stability, and the consequences can be disastrous as we saw with the recent floods in Kerala.
More people move into cities like Bangalore every year, creating more need for living spaces and water, further depleting the city’s already stretched and dwindling natural resources. We must stop our war with nature because we will never win and it will only lead to our destruction.
It is funny how so much has been said about finding ‘work-life balance’ without understanding it correctly. We wake up in the morning at a particular time so that we can finish n number of chores and activities and leave for work at a particular time – so that we can reach our workplace at a particular time. In the night, we sleep on time so that we can wake up the next morning. So, mostly, when we become corporate employees, the corporate take possession of our lives and time. Our entire day gets sucked up into our jobs, but we get paid only for eight hours!
The balance we need to find is not in work and life but in our need for money. If we learn to find contentment in what we have and look at our needs sensibly, our demand for money will decrease considerably. This, in turn, will free our time and energy, and help us to focus on adding value to our lives. IT industry in India is notorious for the fact that as employees gain more experience their value decreases. Plenty of IT professionals have become stagnant in their jobs or have lost their jobs and are unable to find employment again. This is because they just do not know anything other than what their IT jobs required and they never considered learning or mastering new skills.
It no longer makes sense to “own” anything. This has given rise to business opportunities like renting cars, bikes and even household items. The amount we spend on renting a house or apartment will invariably match up to the amount we spend on maintaining our own. Back in 2008, a colleague in the Netherlands was refusing to own a car because of traffic and parking space issues. Our population has only increased in the last ten years. From owning a house, the challenge has shifted – to living in a decent neighbourhood with the availability of drinking water and in proximity to essential outlets and services.
But paramount now is to not get stuck in a single source of income. Develop skills that would open up potential opportunities for several streams of money. Chasing money should be just like how our body reduces fat when we start working out. Our body instinctively knows how much fat we need based on our daily requirements and burns only what it understands is excess fat. Similarly, if we have a better understanding of how to simplify our lives, we will automatically seek just the money we need to live that life.
I never chase money because money destroys human values and relationships and maroons us in our own little islands. Money clouds our judgement and often makes us take wrong decisions. I make sure not to judge anyone in terms of money. It only takes an hour of madness in the stock market for a millionaire to become a pauper. Not having to focus on the money I was earning, was what helped me focus on my dad and save him. I seek skill development, self-improvement and building good relationships with people.
Money, wealth, prosperity, everything will come, but there is one question that always keeps bothering me. When all of it happens, will I be ready to use it in the best possible ways? This is what keeps me on my toes and always alert to every potential opportunity. Understanding the nuances of money and its potential hazards is the only way to not get enslaved to it.