Money

Punjab of the Popular Imagination

There is a stereotype for the people of Punjab that is known across the country; perhaps no other stereotype is as stereotypical as this one. And so that stereotype has played a major role in depicting the entire state of Punjab in the popular imagination, as we know today. Most people know Punjab through the veil of that stereotype, thanks to how it influenced the popular imagination.

That Punjabis are loud-mouthed. That they have a tendency to utter and blabber what they actually feel, that they wear their heart on their sleeves. That they may say things that might not sound great, but they have their hearts in the right place.

The most famous symbol for Punjab is the Golden Temple, which stands for peace and serenity such as you might have never known before; the beautiful temple made of gold which stands shining as much in the night as in the day.

Punjab is also known for its food; oh, the food. The dollops and dollops of butter that they use, the scrumptious choley they cook, the beautiful way in which they cook their chicken, the makki ki roti and the sarson ka saag of course. More than the food, they are known for the generosity they extend with the food, the langars, with the belief that food is meant for everyone, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.

Punjab, oh, if anyone were to ask me, Punjab is a riot, full of colours, and bhangra, and generous, kind souls, and delicious food, green fields, lots of sunshine, big houses, giggly girls, outspoken men, but a good place, overall a good place.

So I liked Udta Punjab- it swooped in and destroyed the Punjab of the popular imagination and replaced it with a much grueling reality, which hasn’t really been done properly before. We have Amrish Puri romanticizing Punjab as ‘home’ which is, although ever so humble, irreplaceable and Shah Rukh Khan coming in and sweeping away the bride in the mustard fields of dear Punjab in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. Skip that, we have two of the actors in Udta Punjab, Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor Khan, who when last worked in a movie together glorified the very stereotype we just spoke about.

The overbearing, kind-hearted, all-knowing patriarch who gives the way for love, giggly, supportive relatives who like to stuff guests with food, colorful clothes and bhangra sequences, the beat of the dhol which sets everyone in action- Punjab for beginners.

But I loved it how Udta Punjab brought about a new Punjab in the popular imagination, the Punjab of drugs. Corrupt policemen, dirty politicians who’d do anything to win elections, youth wasting away in syringes lying in abandoned fields, girls being forced to go on drugs, families which coalesce and support the men in their family to keep a girl locked up rape her turn by turn.

The people of Punjab here were cunning and sly, not loudmouthed and outspoken.

The picture painted was the opposite of serene; in fact, the only way Alia Bhatt could figure having some peace in her life was through staring at the board of Goa through her window and imagine diving into the ocean.

And the food? Udta Punjab broke all notions about Punjab’s food when they showed Alia Bhatt hungrily gnawing at the leftover chicken bone her captor left lying around.

Although I did feel that Abhishek Chaubey could have depicted the drug problem as a more generalized phenomenon, affecting people of Balli’s age, as opposed to concentrating on individual stories, for the problem affects people at large. It is a sociological ill, not an individual one, and hence, would have been much more appealing.

And yet I am happy to see a new Punjab, away from the Punjab of the Popular imagination, for we must know, and all the four actors’ performances show it as well as it could.

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Happy New Year, Said the Doorman

Suited up

He holds one hand in the other

Standing in attention

Instructions memorized

Professional attire

Surveying, judging

Who is for real

And who isn’t

Who has the money to enter

And who doesn’t

Cover charge, he says crisply

Six thousand.

He mocks those who exhibit outrage

And welcomes those who reach their wallets

Behind the grubby streets and the dirty walls

The shiny board rests

‘Rooftop Restaurant and Bar’

He looks up in pride

Thrilled to witness the party

Gleaming shoes and red lipsticks

Luxury bags and fitted clothes

Expensive cigarettes in the pocket

The moneybags behind the imported liquor

He smiles, warm and courteous

As the music blared

And the glasses clinked

As notes were counted

And cheers heard

So he looked onward with pride

Noticing an aberration

Something that didn’t quite fit

Gangly boys, with teeth so yellow

And faces so dirty

With feet so strong

That they never felt the midnight chill

Needed no fur or leather to keep warm

Just a patch of blanket

To hide their syringe

And the unkempt bellies

And oh the dirty hair

Which turned light brown

Similar to the people who could enter

And he looked at those two again

In annoyance

Shooing them away

As they poked those who went inside

Asking for money

Nothing less than ten

Mocking them if not obliged

And he shooed them away

Once more

Cursing under his breath

About irritants

And rodents

And pests

And filth

And spoiling the landscape

And troubling the good folk

With their poverty

And their degradation

And so

We say

Happy New Year.

 

Picture source: GB Times

Money Can’t Make You Work

Marlo Stanfield, an unbelievably young drug kingpin in the city of Baltimore, is caught in a multi-million dollar drug bust. Behind the drugs lies a trail of murders and black money, pinning him responsible for all these crimes, something that can ensure that he stays in jail till the day he dies and yet have years and years left in his sentence. His snarky lawyer is able to cut a deal for him that allows him to walk free with all that money, and let his subordinates take all the blame. Guilty of a drug conspiracy and more than two dozen murders, Marlo Stanfield walks away with more money than he can possibly spend in ten lifetimes. It is nothing new; with democratic legal systems, it happens all the time.

Now imagine this.

Jimmy McNulty, a police officer who has caught several murderers in his service to the police, puts his career at stake by misleading his superiors into allocating funds to their department, funds that will catch Marlo Stanfield, funds that do catch Marlo Stanfield and his associates. But once Jimmy McNulty’s fraud is caught, he is fired, and could possibly face a criminal charge.

In the face of a situation so contrasting wherein a drug dealer walks free and a police officer is fired for bending the law in trying to catch the drug dealer, one can wonder what inspires people to take up certain jobs. What can inspire you to be a police officer, with salaries that can barely sustain you, when you witness first hand how much money lies in being on the other side of the law? What inspires people to take up certain professions that seem too dangerous to us? What can inspire you to be poor policeman, when you can be the rich criminal?

It is simply the difference between doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing.

A difference that is underrated and overused, the one with the very thin line in between.

The difference between right and wrong.

It is this which convinces me that money is not the motivational factor, that it is not even close. Some people work for money, yes, but there are some things that can drive people in a way money never can. Marlo Stanfield, despite his millions, despite a fortune that can be spent without heed, is unable to leave his drug dealing. He is unable to quit. Just like for McNulty, it is not about the money, for Stanfield too, it is not about the money, but the thrill of the game.

Money is something that is needed to function in a society, money is something that is needed to buy our comforts and our luxuries.

But money cannot make you work.

That is where money fails.

It’s all about the money, But

[Image source: http://www.tv.com/news/breaking-bad-how-much-cash-was-in-that-storage-unit-29497/]

A lack of money is often seen to be compensated by possession of spiritual wealth- they don’t have a lot of money, but they are good people, which is what matters. Often, it is implied that limited monetary resources help inculcate good value and morality systems in people. Then the converse must also be true- an overhaul of wealth would signify a debauchery of the mind. In the same way, the city and the village binary is also used- people in villages may not have as many facilities as city life provides, but atleast they have peace of mind.

Power corrupts, and in most parts of the world, money is power. But then we can ask- is this discourse appropriated only to comfort ourselves in our shortage of money? When we maintain that we do not have money, we also maintain that we have something that money can’t buy- spiritual contentment, tranquillity, a clear conscience, honor, dignity, and blamelessness. We validate our ways of living, and put ourselves on a higher pedestal- so what if we don’t have money, we have some things that money can’t buy.

MasterCard banged all the right doors when it said, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” Money might not be able to buy abstractions, but it sure can buy everything tangible, which makes you think, who said there isn’t happiness in money? In a consumerist world, it can buy you the best of apparel, and the best of household possessions- thereby, it can buy you admiration, praise, style, and envy. Money can buy you travel, and by implication, it can buy you not just good times, but also practical experience. Money can buy you the best of medical services, and the most prestigious of education systems. It can buy you nutritious food and personal safety. More often than not, it can buy you time.

And yet I would assert, after everything seen and done, money is not the answer, and it is never the answer. Money, when you look back and realize, whether now or at the end of life, is the least enjoyable thing.

A scene in Breaking Bad intrigued me. Walter White, a man dying from cancer afraid of leaving his family penniless and debt-ridden after his death, turns to making methamphetamine, and quickly makes unthinkable amounts of money. But the drug business was never so clean and simple. In the process, he is forced to commit several crimes, not the worst of which was murder, and turns into a hardened criminal, breaking bad, losing the trust, love and respect of his family, and especially his wife, Skyler.

“Take a drive with me”, Skyler asks of Walt and leads him to the compound where they have been storing their money. They enter a room full of money, so much money that even ten generations of their family could not exhaust it, living in luxury. There was so much money that it was impossible to count it anymore- “How much is this?” Walt asks her, to which she says she has no earthly idea.

As they stand in front of a future full of luxury cars and yachts, condos and summer houses, glitzy parties and unshakable glam, their whole lives stretched out in front of them where they wouldn’t have to work a day in their life and yet live like royalty, Skyler looks at the pile once again and says to him, “I just stack it up, keep it dry and spray it for silverfish.” Millions and millions of dollars, a dry stack free of silverfish.

“Walt,” she tells him, “I want my kids back. I want my life back. Please tell me- how much is enough. How big does this pile have to be?” as they both stare at that meaningless pile, bereft, empty, speechless.

In another scene, Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s partner in meth-making, got his cut of the deal in the business, but having a more troubling conscience than Walt, he is unable to spend that blood money. In a deranged state in the middle of the night, Jesse drives across the town, throwing stacks of dollars, in front of every home, finally collapsing at a deserted park.

It may be all about money- life may be all about money. Money for treatment and money for college, money for survival and money for luxuries, money to win and money to lose. Money to get you out of jail and money to protect you from bad neighbourhoods, and yet

Money is the least enjoyable thing. Possessions are useless unless they can be shared with someone, and travel, dry, unless the stories can’t be laughed over dinner, unless souvenirs can’t be brought back, unless it can, again, the experience can be shared with someone. Money can’t buy you the practical experience that travel brings along with itself without immanent curiosity, without an eagerness to explore. What fun is excellent food if had alone, or worse, with sycophants and sullen faces? What good is time, if there is nobody to return to? Money can buy you a living, it cannot buy you a life- it is always that something other which comes along with the money that makes life meaningful.