Only greed

It is only greed. But it ruins.

Let it be known, I am not just thinking of that 4th bar of chocolate. And who am I to tell you of your choice of poison? I just know from experience that Greed is a clever sneak that waits for you to feel insecure with what you currently have. And then, it pounces, ravaging your promises, resolutions, values and scruples. It is not easy to fight it. You know it, don’t you? But is it impossible? Adidas thinks there is no such thing as impossible (Impossible is Nothing, the adverts scream). No wonder it is admired the world over. Even if it isn’t, it’s doing good.

Greed and I have been reluctant companions ever since I can remember. Well, reluctant me, at any rate. Ankur’s birthday party is engraved in my mind even though it’s been 30 years or so. (I must’ve been four or five). There was nothing remarkable about the party, no not even the cake. But his room, where I’d ventured during my exploration of his home, had the most wondrous collection of pencils and erasers and sharpeners. The best in the world, surely. And it was inhuman to let him have it all. My enthusiastic companion pounced. The frock I was wearing had no pockets. I had to think of something, and quick, because the voices from the party zone told me that someone was going to come looking for me. I gathered all that I could, picked up my frock to my chest and shoved them all into the temporary pocket this ingenious trick had created. Walking gracefully, as I am wont to, I said my ‘byes to an aghast Ankur, and ran out of the door. Or almost.

“Priya! Stop. Would you like a bag to carry that?”

“What, aunty?”

“There’s something you’re holding along with your frock.”

“No there’s nothing, aunty. I just feel like walking like this.”

“It’s not a good idea, Priya. Let that frock go.”

I usually manage to attend parties without being the toast of it. Or even be invisible at the point where the light occasionally limes. They call it limelight, I think. But at that moment, all eyes were on me. If I said no and ran away, my mother’s teachings of listening to elders would all go wasted. If I listened to Ankur’s mother, I’d lose the treasure. The choice was difficult. After a moment’s hesitation, my hands let go of the frock. The pencils and erasers and sharpeners fell at the doorstep. I had lost the treasure.  And I ran back home as fast as I could. Greed lost.*

Unbridled desire to own more, and apparently better, had succeeded in pouncing, nevertheless.

I now keep my frock well in place, thank you very much (the ingenious ideas have advanced with age), but I do find myself greeding after less interesting things like a quiet night under the stars. How do you get that? How does one steal a quiet night under the stars? But that’s not a part of this essay. The question I wish to ask is, how does one stop feeling greedy for the inaccessible or the extra cheese? Or why stop at all (for the more adventurous)?

This sin of excess wouldn’t have survived as long as humans themselves (we know our propensities) if it were easy to eliminate it. Who’d want to get rid of a thing that gives the kind of joy it does? However ruinous it may be.

Sadhus and saints talk of meditation. Sit, and think of what greed does to you. Concentrate on the evils of excess. Focus on the one energy that makes this world worth living in. Thank God there’s more of us walking the planet. It would’ve been such a moderate world if these killers-of-joy had been allowed to have their way. There’s no possible way to stop the Devil from throwing in carrots when I am trying to look at the One Energy. No, sorry. Perhaps meditating on the sins of excesses is not such a good idea, after all. At least not in my opinion.

Try focusing on what you have, if you ask me. And while you’re at it, it’ll answer the “Why stop?”

* If you are wondering about what happened after that, here’s the rest of the story:

My mother was surprised at my early return. Ankur was my best friend and it was surprising that I came back so soon. I just made some silly excuse and hid my pounding heart. The next morning, Ankur and his mother came with all the things I’d coveted from him. He wanted to give them to me, his mother informed. He ran away after putting them on my lap (I was sitting on the verandah floor). My mother later asked me if I wanted to keep them. Strangely, I did not. So, I went back to his home, and gave him all of them back.

It took much toing and froing, as you see, to realise that I did not want to overcrowd what I already had.

The word ‘aunty’ needs to be explained here. Aunt, as it is used in the west, precedes the name and is always capitalised, like Aunt Pinktoes. The same goes for ‘Uncle’ — Uncle Browneyes. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

In India, the British legacy has been customised a little. First, everyone who’s much older to you is an aunt or uncle, regardless of whether there’s love lost or a relation thrust. Second, the word always follows the name. And it is always aunty and not aunt. Like Pinktoes aunty. And Browneyes uncle, of course.


17 thoughts on “Only greed”

  1. So interesting, Priya, and such a good reminder to me to think again of my own way of looking at the world. All of us experience longings and limits. When overcome by longing – perhaps for pencils? – what are the appropriate limits? And if we are surrounded by people who refuse to acknowledge the importance of longings, people who seek only to limit us, what then becomes of our life?

    Much to think about, here. Lovely.

    1. Thank you for appreciating this effort, Linda.

      The limits, I feel, are best set by ourselves. Most of us still retain our inherent goodness. (I am keeping my fingers crossed at that). And instinctively, we’ll know where to stop. The people who refuse to acknowledge the importance of longings have probably been thwarted by people who refused to acknowledge the very same longings. The chain has continued, and sadly, it will.

      The ones who are able to take that immensely painful step out of this debilitating magnetic field of such people are able to start their own, healthier chains. I don’t have to keep my fingers crossed here. I firmly believe this happens. We’ve all seen it, haven’t we?

  2. The birthday party story is so perfectly told from your five-year-old point of view that I found myself thinking, “Of course she has to take those things.” And maybe that’s the lesson you’ve delivered: That child who has trouble fending off Greed is still there, inside of us. The question is, have we learned when to overrule our impulses, and when to give in to them?

    Your writing, as always, is distinctive and authentic. I love the dialogue between you and aunty, and especially: “I just feel like walking like this.”

    I do disagree with one thing. A quiet night under the stars would be no less interesting to a harried adult than the world’s best collection of pencils, erasers, and sharpeners might seem to a young child. In fact, it sounds irresistible.

    1. It is always about choices, I feel. It is not humanly possible to ignore the carrots around. Like you say, the important lesson we need to learn is whether to take a bite, or move on. And when. Surprisingly, it differs from person to person and situation to situation, which is what makes our experiences too extensive to be put down into teachings and scriptures and sermons. (I wonder where they teach all this, then?)

      You picked my favourite sentence from the dialog. I am very proud of myself for having said that!

      Thank you for appreciating the value of my current greed, Charles. Anything that deals with the intangible senses is slowly becoming less interesting. That’s what makes the world a little less livable these days. But then, happily, there are some people left who like to talk of them and indulge in them, too. There’s still hope.

  3. I see a big difference between want or desire and greed. They really have different meanings and connotations to me. Perhaps it’s my American culture. Greed doesn’t feel good to me. The outcome of greed is usually deprivation to another person — at least here in the U.S. We have too much greed in the U.S. It’s a fundamental lack of morality that drives a person to look at others with less as being also less deserving or at blame for their predicament.

    But I can appreciate your wanting the pencils and erasers. And it doesn’t feel as sinister as feeling greedy for them. They were taken not with the intent to deprive someone else of them, and they were taken not to say, “I deserve these. You deserve nothing.”

    I hope I’m making sense and not just parsing words. I love your tales, Priya. You are such a treasure to me. I will probably not ever travel to far away places, but knowing people like you and Charles and all my other blogging friends has enriched my life far more than I thought it ever could.

    1. Greed’s everywhere, Jean. Writing about this emotion occurred to me while I was responding to the comments on the post about India. It is because of our greed that we’ve created hell for ourselves and the rest of world. No matter where you go, the U.S. or India or even the much less corrupt (they say) Scandinavia, humans have not failed in allowing the seven deadly sins to sit in their drawing rooms and drink red wine.

      Though I want you to continue thinking of me as a good person, I must confess that I do see my frocking those items as a greedy gesture. One of the many things my parents succeeded in ensuring we had was good stationary and good books. It was greed to want more than I had. I confess that due to some lack of timing, I did not have perfumed erasers* at that time (mmm heaven), which may have made me do what I did, but to want more than I ‘need’ is greed, I think. And to be fair, Ankur would’ve been deprived of his collection if I’d had my way!

      If I am a treasure to you, then you are that strong vault that makes me want to be kept safe there! 🙂 Thank you.

      *we called them scent rubbers.

  4. Well. Val aunty (who in true Jewish tradition is pulling her weight over her younger friend Priya, and would probably do so even if her friend Priya were only half a minute younger, has this to say: you were four or five and that’s what four or five year olds do. And now you’re not four or five and there is life out there that you long for in the form of all sorts of things that you feel you must have (even if they aren’t essentials*) and that’s what 30 somethings do. And 40 and 50 and 60 plus somethings. We all have desires and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    *Who’s to say what is essential to life? I go for weeks and weeks counting the pennies and then, out of the blue, have to buy a book. I rarely know what book I want, but I have to buy a book. And then what happens? I find myself buying more than one book. Is that greed? I’m kind of with Snoring Dog Studio on this – it’s not depriving anyone else of anything, so no, it’s not greed.

    Nevertheless, I know the feeling that goes with these indulgencies. Here’s true story:

    When I was able to get out and about more, and when I lived in London, I went into town to buy myself some music books (I was addicted at the time to rock music books). I picked one, picked another, picked another, and on… Took them to the counter. It was near Christmas time, but I was buying them for myself. The girl serving me said: “Some people are going to be very lucky to receive these.” “Mmm.. yes, they are, aren’t they?” I mumbed, ashamed to the core!

    1. Oh, dear Val! Nothing like a bit of guilt to ruin such a wonderful outing in London! I’m sure you were quite deserving of the books. Besides, you brought that store quite a few sales.

    2. Val aunty!

      Do keep coming and making the 5-year-old inside me squeal with delight at such a beautiful ‘exemption’ of my indulgences. It feels good.

      This is a story much shared within our family to remember the times I was quite insistent on succumbing to temptations. Regardless of the subsequent retraction, which happened every single time, I tended to initially think it was alright to shut up the angel perched on my right shoulder from time to time. But more than anything else, this story (secretly) makes me remember my brilliance in finding a way out of slippery situations. Like Charles above, I loved my reaction “I feel like walking like this.” It may have been “This is how I walk sometimes” instead; but whatever it was, it never fails to make me admire myself.

      Phew, vanity’s peeping in.

      1. Lol! I get times like that, too, when I admire something I’ve said.
        You’re tugging the inspiration strings again, Priya, do you know that? But how to get these not-quite-formed images and ideas to gel in my mind. I’ll think about it.

  5. Apologies for the typos, including ‘mumbed’ which should have been ‘mumbled’. And any others you find. I’m still wilting a bit from the last few days.

    1. I find myself scattering an equal amount of typos, if not more, Val. And try as I may to think of a “Why”, I cannot. You are very excused.

      And please continue to bloom. We’ll together make our typos ‘wilt’ each other.

  6. Priya, such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post, as always.

    I did have to smile about the pencils because I experienced something very similar at five or six. Each Sunday, my mother bought and brought the New York Times to our neighbor, Aunt Gladys. (I also referred to adult friends as aunt or uncle.) Both women would chat for an hour or so, and I would get extremely restless. In my mind, I would snoop invisibly around the house while they conversed.

    One day, I discovered a cabinet with beautiful red, blue, and white plastic disks that I imagined would be the source of all kinds of creative games. They were poker chips, but I had no clue. I quietly stuffed a handful in each pocket.

    My mother was horrified and mortified when she discovered my loot when we got home. She marched me back to Aunt Gladys, where I returned the treasure. I apologized with my head down, which, now, seems appropriate since greed had reared its ugly head when I stole the chips.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your advice: “try focusing on what you have.”

    1. Isn’t it amazing how undiscriminating Greed is? It chooses its subjects without a second thought. 🙂

      I must confess that the way Val and SD feel above that the urge to pick up the pencils could not be called greed, I do think that your desire for the poker chips can hardly be called greed either. I know, like me, you might want to counter this; but it remains a fact that there is a difference between malicious lust and innocent fascination.

      I wonder what eating that 4th bar of chocolate within the 10th minute of waking up would qualify as? Malicious lust? Innocent fascination ( 😀 ) ? Such a dilemma.

      Thanks for coming and appreciating, AA. As always, you bring in a breath of fresh air.

  7. This post made me think about what I–as a parent–can do to help my children learn to keep greed at bay. Right now, they are always wanting more. More food, more toys, more fun. When they ask for more, more, more, red flags go up for me. I picture them becoming unrestrained, uncontrollable adults. My gut tells me to say “no, no, no.” But then I remember that depriving your children often ends up causing them to be even more greedy–to seek after all that they were denied. But when they are always asking for more, I fear for them. I want them to be content, satisfied and happy as adults–at least as much as is humanly possible.

    Thanks for the post, it was very thought-provoking for me!

    1. It must be a difficult task to parent children in such a difficult environment, Kevin. Greed is quite in vogue, it appears. While we were not necessarily spared of the emotion, we didn’t have external pressures to exacerbate the feeling. It probably in turn made life easier for our parents. Things have changed so rapidly since then. It would be difficult to find a conversation like this “Would you like to keep these (pencils, sharpeners, erasers) now?” “No. I am going to return them.” There is nothing spectacular in the decision of the child or the mother’s consideration in asking and not instructing. They are just very endangered concepts.

      I feel fortunate that these words have helped you think more towards finding a better means to have your children grow up the best way possible in our impatient world. Your sensibilities tell me that you’re already doing well!

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