The Great Depression

Five much-needed tips on how to be happy in a depressing economy.

ByAnuvab Pal
The Great Depression
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In the Woody Allen classic, Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character, Alvy Singer stops doing homework at the age of ten much to the dismay of his mother and teachers. He’s taken to the doctor who asks why. “What’s the point?”, replies a despondent Alvy, “The universe is expanding”. The advice he’s given is this: “What is that your business? You live in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding. Go do your homework”.

In India today, everyone seems really angry. Whether it is newspaper headlines, TV experts, the online world – all have a similar complaint. Everything is a mess.  Foreigners are fed up and gone, business says bureaucracy is indecisive and policies are inconsistent, bureaucrats say businessmen are corrupt non-tax paying gold hoarders, women say Indian cities are unsafe, the public says politicians are to blame, politicians say the public is mad. There’s apparently a scam in everything from fuel to food, our submarines are creaking, files are disappearing, our Prime Minister is eloquent in his silence. Some say Narendra Modi is the solution, some say Narendra Modi is the problem, some accuse the media of creating panic without facts,the media says the public aren’t any better with their Twitter trolling. The government wants a bill to ensure food for all, critics say the government can barely pay for imports, how can they buy everyone lunch? Parliamentarians show up every morning, throw things at each other and leave.  No one is listening to anyone, interest rates are going up and down quicker than a Bollywood temptress’ clothing, layoffs are everywhere, the Indian rupee is competing with Bigg Boss to see who can fall lower in worth. And the most worrying of all- Rahul Gandhi is still single.

All the middle class seems to discuss- at dinner, on Facebook, in columns, over drinks – is how bad things have gotten.  And by things one doesn’t mean a Santro needing repair, one rants at a whole country in despair (sorry for that rhyme). And most things one reads now are corroborating that despair – further explanation on how things have gotten so bad (It is bad for foreign women because of so and so factors, the current account deficit is because of this and that, jobs are disappearing because the economy got here this way etc). All of them address India with a capital I, the whole country, all its problems, summarised, wrapped up, easily understood. The comments from people reading are similar in its morbidity – (“We should be ashamed”, “We Indians are always so and so”, “We were arrogant” and so on).

It is commendable that people can do that, understand and solve and comment on a whole national situation, when I can barely understand the problems of my bathroom. (And it has many.A leaking tap for one.)

Being a relatively simple unintelligent person, I have limited knowledge of most things and therefore a simplistic view to its solutions.

I can barely figure out how to open a can of soup (it’s tricky) so what can I do, as a middle class person, about all the millions of problems supposedly facing India? Absolutely nothing.

So here are my 5 tips on how to be happy in a depressing economy.

1. Stop constantly talking about India. Talk about a shoe you might buy, your bottom, your old love, a sofa you just repaired, your building society chairman (they’re usually annoying), John Abraham’s hair, The Hangover, a girl you once loved, anything else. Complaining about the state of the country isn’t going to make it any better. In my college days in the United States, no American I knew woke up every morning and asked, “Is America living up to its promise? I wonder what the dollar is today to the yen?” No, their worries were far more basic and illiterate. “I wonder if Amanda likes me?” If there were pressing questions, they weren’t, “Man, I hope America finds those coal files”. They were, “Dude, if an elephant and a shark had a fight to the death, who would win?”

Complaining on social networking sites and tweeting depressing articles about how messed up it all is the equivalent of not doing your homework because the universe is expanding. Go to your work and do what you usually do- gossip, smoke, flirt, enjoy, go to a party. If you’re lucky, maybe some romance. If you get all this simultaneously, the nation will slip out of your thoughts.

2. Stop talking about other people’s money. Yes some people have gotten rich by being corrupt or stealing spectrum or illegal mining or whatever. People may have made black money, yellow money, tangerine money but gossiping about the colour of their cash is time you could be using learning a foreign language, playing a sport, reading a novel, learning to cook, making love. Big corruption makes no difference to your daily life. If they say sorry and return the money, they won’t give it to you. They won’t find you love or buy you a 2 BHK for caring about honesty in our workplace. So forget them and let the courts do their thing. Constantly talking about Mukesh Ambani’s house and whether he deserves it or how he got there won’t make it any smaller nor will he move out. Enjoy what you have, let them enjoy theirs.

3. If you were going to do something- do it. Enough with all these ads on TV from insurance and mutual funds always telling us to save for tomorrow, keep everything for later, so you can have x amount to spend when you are 340 years old. Put it away in some 67-year investment so like a captured pirate on a ship, you can wait and count the time till you can spend it by etching year after year, on wood, waiting. Saying to yourself, someday I’ll enjoy. And then you’re dead. And your life was just waiting. Or you waited as told and it is 9000 rupees to the dollar and you’re now 85 and going back to work. No one knows the economic future of anything, no matter how they convincingly lie to you that they do, so might as well enjoy when you can. Don’t be a complete fool and spend all your savings one drunken night because you read this or met Sunny Leone. There is a line between enjoying life and being an idiot. At the same time, remember, if the old wise guys giving you sound advice to think of the future always, in those financial planning ads, were so wise about their future, they wouldn’t be doing TV ads in their 70s. They’d be retired in Goa with a mojito.

4. Don’t think about the economy – You can’t control what the US Federal Reserve is doing, unless you were sitting in Ben Bernanke’s lap stroking his chin and even then you couldn’t control US Bond rates which will determine where emerging market economies go. And even if you show up outside Mr Chidambaram’s office and take off all your clothes demanding the job market improve, there’s not much he can do. It will be what it will be. There’s no single answer or a man or government to blame. Again to quote Woody Allen when he was asked why the holocaust happened, he replied, “I can barely find the TV remote, how do I know why the holocaust happened?” The best you can do is show up to work and do the best you can do at whatever it is that you do. If your best means being generally useless, then it will result in that. If your best means a skill the world can’t do without, you’ll be fine in a soaring or sinking economy. And even if you do get fired because you’re useless, think of the first three points, do them, then go learn a skill the world can’t do without.

5. Don’t Get So Mad- Get a drink. It usually works in any nation, under any situation. If everyone was having a drink and a laugh instead of saying everything is going to hell, it, by default, wouldn’t.

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