The Budget and Other Snacks

March 01, 2007
Uma Ranganathan

I woke up this morning feeling a shade depressed and wondering why. I don't often feel that way but yes, some mornings it's as if the gray smog outside my window in Bombay fills up not only my lungs and eyes but seeps into my mind as well.

When I reached the breakfast table I found the budget report splashed across the front page of the morning papers. Then I knew it. The reason I felt depressed was the budget. I couldn't understand it. Over the next few days some would say it was good, some would say it was bad and I would sit here scratching my head.

Scanning the papers I discovered that the budget was not the only thing I didn't understand. There were stuff about Baghdad and Egypt and the CIA in Europe. I realized that in general I didn't understand politics and economics and never had. It is depressing to find out that there is apparently something that makes the world of human beings go round and you can't understand it. It robs you of your self-importance.

There was a time in my early twenties though when I pretended to understand all these things, and managed to con not only myself but a number of other people into believing I did, through having mastered what had earlier seemed like totally incomprehensible themes. I started devouring newspaper editorials and books on political theory and began to bone up on international affairs and modern Indian politics and before long found myself using a lot of very important sounding words and phrases which I would give anything to remember now so as to reproduce them here and make you believe me. People began to look at me with new respect and the more admiration I got the more determined I became to plow through even more chunky tomes and articles to back up my impressive "grasp" of politics.

But then you see, the reason I got started on the road to politics was not because politics or economics interested me per se, but because a handful of individuals I'd got to know at the time and whom I was trying desperately to befriend, were themselves deep into Marx and Mao, or things like the Balfour Declaration (wow, I'm patting myself on the back for remembering that one!) and all kinds of really intellectually meaty stuff which provided us with so many hours of rich conversation over beer and kebabs in the evening.

So what went wrong? Did the beer lose its appeal? Was I waylaid by other interests? No. I think what happened was this. I realized one day in the midst of one of my really wise sounding statements on the future of Chinese agricultural reforms or something similar, that I was walking on thin ice. Although we seemed to be making a lot of sense to each other, I hadn't a clue as to what I was saying. I had just become very (really very!) good at putting words and concepts and some basic information together on topics which my friends wanted to discuss, without knowing what I meant. I panicked to think that at any moment I might be found out. I felt a little like Frank Abagnale Jr. (Catch Me If You Can) attempting to pass himself off as the various people he really wasn't.

Then I thought to myself, if I don't know what I'm talking about, do the others? I couldn't be that sure. I felt my entire world of ideas collapse about me. And to this day I am not convinced that people who spout clever sounding theories which remain inaccessible to the common man, really know what they are saying. I ask myself whether they are not being clever out of a deep rooted need to command the world's attention the way I found myself doing years ago, rather than from a genuine concern for mankind. Because, let's face it, with such a large pool of intellectual talent at the world's disposal and so many knowledgeable individuals in positions of power wherever you look, you would expect a lot more to happen in the way of peace, and economic justice than what you see happening.

So at the end of the day I am left with the feeling that real change comes from a source other than politics or the kind of economics that we are familiar with today. It comes from how we feel about each other, and (maybe it sounds naïve to say this) but it has to do with how much we really care about each other and the world we live in. It doesn't have to do with theories, it doesn't have to do with weighty explanations about how the system works. The trouble with that is, it means you and me having to look at ourselves and at the changes possible for us to make as individuals, instead of constantly discussing the lives and pronouncements of other people threadbare.

I guess that's why we prefer to bury our heads in the sands of abstractions which are meaningful only to an exclusive club of intellectuals and not to the ordinary people who make up the world. Oh well. Now you're going to tell me that I shouldn't be so judgmental and that all those debates and arguments and sermons do have their place in life. I know, I know. I agree with you totally, they do. Sigh. They go really well with beer and kebabs in the evenings.

Having wandered through various fields from special education to environmental conservation, Uma has been working these last fifteen years or so as a psychotherapist, mainly in India. Along with friends and colleagues, she conducts workshops and sessions in self awareness and is looking for people who are interested in creating an environment in which people actually listen to each other. Her book “Bombay to Eternity – memoirs of a laidback Rebel” was published in 2004 by Penguin India.
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The Budget and Other Snacks


Author: Uma Ranganathan


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March 1, 2007
04:17 PM

Uma, you are my new favorite author on desicritics!

I'm not sure I always agree with you but I enjoy reading your posts which are always so heartfelt. And I like how in this one you manage to make a point without sounding anti-intellectual.

Best of all, you don't get defensive when responding to comments. Which means you'll always get a good discussion going for your thoughts.

March 1, 2007
08:29 PM

great post
saw a lot of myself though it was not beer and kebabs but chai and bun omelettes!

March 1, 2007
10:56 PM

Feels good to be in contact with you guys. (Recently read a piece which said "guys" is a sexist term but am using it anyway). Been following your posts and enjoying them and Aspi, I feel for me this is a good place to start "listening" to what the other person is saying instead of always reacting.

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