Two recent events, both fairly minor, had me reminiscing.
I was at lunch yesterday, a fancy Japanese joint and the food, ambience, etc was all top-notch, as was the accompanying LIT. The place was fairly high-end, but I had a nice time, and few qualms about footing the bill.
Yesterday also marked my first anniversary at work. During the year I'd learnt tons and done well. But it wasn't so much about it being a year at work as much as it was about it being a year out of school, a year since my student lifestyle.
I've had a great life while at University. Indian boy, North American aspirations, half-decent grades, some scholarships. All of it panned out pretty well. It's not a story unique to me either, which is why I could summarise it for you as easily as I just did.
In this new life, away from home, everything I wanted was made of dollars, and as a result, 36.5 times harder to get..Or 4 times harder if you factor in cost-of-living indices.
Add to that the fact that I was in my mid-late teens and had planned to pay my own way through college, i.e. with loans that I'd be paying back later myself.
The truth is I'd never handled money before. At most, I'd ask my parents for cash to go out, and if any remained later that evening, I'd hand it right back. And then suddenly, here I was, handed what seemed to be obscene amounts of money, only to see it fly straight out of my account.
I'd spend hours forecasting my expenses, subtracting scholarships, applying for bursaries and more loans, keeping my fingers crossed about the exchange rate, scouring neighbourhoods to find places where the general cost of living (and not just the monthly rent) was cheaper, all of this learnt slowly, learnt well.
It was embarrassing when anything caused my budget to spike past the tiny contingency funds that I'd set aside every semester because then, I'd need my folks to send me money. And I worked hard to never let that happen.
While a full-time electrical engineering student, I held down three jobs. One at a library that paid near minimum wage, but afforded me time to study while on the job, another that paid better, but needed me to cut classes often during business hours and a third that paid very well, that I could do on my own time (read late nights and weekends).
The great thing about my combination of jobs was that if I was ever running short on cash, I could up the hours at one of these jobs such that my next pay-cheque was meatier. I'd be damned though if that's all I did to help my finances. I've eaten many a meal of bread and cheese, of eggs fried en-masse during the start of the week. On occasion, when I wanted to treat myself, I'd borrow burger king mail-coupons from friends I knew were never going to use theirs.
I'd also tried borrowing money from my friends when I knew it was only a question of money flow and timing. This is possibly the most embarrassing thing when it doesn't work out. It makes you question not just your friends, but also yourself for having either failed to forge the friendships you needed, or having misread them. I was lucky most times.
Yesterday though, I thought nothing of tipping the waiter close to what I'd earn for a day's work at one of my older jobs. It might be trite, but I wouldn't have appreciated my circumstances now had not my earlier ones been as vastly dissimilar as they were.
P.S. This was written while watching an interview of Ishmael Beah, a boy-soldier in Sierra Leone, who later wrote a book about his experiences called 'A Long Way Gone' . It's an amazing read. In the right perspective, bread and cheese sounds pretty good.