Monday, October 26, 2020


Now that frugality is back courtesy a pandemic,

it's time to acknowledge that our middle class upbringing was our saviour.


My childhood resided in the pre-liberalisation era when everything from television hours to material pleasures was rationed. Romantic intimacy on screen was left to the imagination of the audience while flowers were made to violently collide with each other. Kwality had yet to merge with Walls and was served in paper cups and plastic balls with a lid. Eating out was reserved for special occasions. For us it was always at the same restaurant and we ordered the same dishes every single time - chicken sweetcorn soup and tandoori chicken that came on a sizzler tray. My brother and I would leave the restaurant with fistfuls of mishri and saunf and savour one mishri at a time on our drive back home.

Image courtesy Google

With both my parents working we were blessed to have never faced any financial hardship. Yet my parents, especially my Mom, were terrified that I’d immediately transform into a wastrel with a future as dark as our neighbourhood during load-shedding if she allowed me to go on a school-arranged overnight excursion with my classmates. 

I kind of understood where she was coming from after having heard countless stories of their austere childhood where new clothes were handed over like good news in 2020. Her growing up years were devoid of colours like the movies of her time. It was every vamp’s moral duty to smoke, drink and wear western clothes. I doubt if she had ever set foot inside a movie theatre. Maybe my Dadu thought exposure to censorious content would turn her into a rebel and she’ll throw her chappals in the air screaming ‘down with tyranny!’

Compared to that, I had a Disney-world like childhood. I had the joy of looking forward to annual family vacations even though it was a painful exercise in how to save money. I was exposed to stellar cinema-making  of Basu Chatterjee, Sai Paranjpye, Satyajit Ray and Basu Bhattacharya, but an ice-cream coupled with a movie day was frowned upon vehemently. 

Sometimes I end up blaming this forced austerity as a child for my penchant for overindulgence as an adult. Buying that flowy ensemble in teal that I absolutely don’t need with a pair of heels that will be impossible to fit in my shoe closet. The elation is as short-lived as clean air in Delhi NCR though. My middle class upbringing makes sure I always test guilt positive till I feel I have done enough to earn my moments of short-lived highs. Worked myself to a frenzy, sprouted brand new stress lines on the forehead and shed half my hair. It also makes me stop, think, evaluate and then discard the idea of buying that insanely expensive watch as wasteful.

For many of us the first few weeks of the lockdown was the toughest. While we were bursting our capillaries scrubbing the house clean, cooking meals and washing stacks of dishes, there were no rewards or self-pampering in sight. It was a constant emotional yo-yo of patting our own backs for living like saints, our credit cards lying forgotten in some dark corner and bracing ourselves for an unhappily ever after in our frayed pyjamas and having aloo gobhi for lunch. 

The uncertainty brought many of us at the precipice but also taught us the importance of savings and living within our means. Over optimistic businesses surviving on over-borrowings collapsed. YOLO died a quiet death.

Interestingly our parents were cool as cucumbers through this forced imprisonment in their nightie and pyjamas, treating it as just another weekday. Unlike us they were not fancy meal addicts, didn’t take off for a vacation every few months, didn’t land up at a pub every weekend! Their frugality was their children’s saviour as well. Many went rushing back to their parents at the first hint of financial and emotional distress. 

It'a not as if the older generation was spared of anxious moments. They had to deal with agony of being told again and again they were the most vulnerable to Covid... That it will be really long till they get to see us again.... What if there’s a medical emergency and then feeling terribly lonely....

Maybe our obsession with indulgence goes back to our childhood when every good job done was rewarded with a gift. It felt hard-earned and well-deserved. Though I made sure I denied my parents the opportunity by being lazy and unyielding by choice.

We carried this tradition to our adulthood and made sure we rewarded ourselves amply for even the most minimal of efforts. Couple it with constantly seeking the thrill of new and voila - we have created a culture of excess. Your favourite pret brands get this. Which is why they come up with a new collection every few weeks and we end up buying more and more even though we know fast fashion is killing our planet.

An all you can eat buffet with 65 mains, 120 varieties of starters, and a separate hall for desserts, where diners waste more than they eat. Weddings with 15 ceremonies, a guest list bigger than the population of Helsinki because this is how weddings are meant to be celebrated- like public events!

We’ll cry for the dry, depleted, stressed ecosystem we are leaving for our kids but will do zilch to change our lifestyles. And when we are forced to thanks to a pandemic, we grieve endlessly.

It’s been 8 months since I have traveled with my family. We don’t eat out as much. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in extreme distress especially in peak summer when memories of my past vacations would appear unannounced on my Instagram feed. Reluctantly I learnt to adapt.  I discovered new interests like looking at other’s travel pics with lust, making travel plans and then cancelling them. Explored the beauty of Aravalis, the city we tend to take for granted, looked for monuments to visit during weekends - just like my parents did when we were young. It also made me wonder why our cities had so many malls and pubs and so few parks, botanical gardens, running and cycling tracks! 

Perhaps it’s time we rationed our many wants. What if we try an intermittent fasting of our indulgences? The first few days will be awful, angsty, restless. We may end up with fewer hair on our scalp but eventually we’ll calm down. Soon it’ll start feeling perfectly normal (not the bald part). Wheee, I survived 2 weeks without trawling the net for yet another useless thing to acquire! And when the cravings gradually dissipate, it’ll feel as special as vanquishing the invincible Ravana. It will also help us figure out what is really important and what is unnecessary. Most of them are manufactured anyway by our favourite social media platforms.

I just hope my mum doesn't read this because when she does I know exactly what she’ll say - See, I was right all along! 


  1. Less is more is one lesson we all learnt. The point is taken so now can the virus just go away?
    Moms are always right

  2. Extremely insightful! Perhaps a tyrst with reality where we clearly need to demarcate our needs and wants! A realisation that bare minimum is the actual maximum if that makes sense😊

  3. Extremely insightful! Perhaps a tyrst with reality where we clearly need to demarcate our needs and wants! A realisation that bare minimum is the actual maximum if that makes sense😊

  4. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

  5. I took a trip down memory lane reading this one. Can very well relate to school excursion fiasco.


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