Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: retirement, savings, Suketu Mehta, thrift
His grandparents scrimped and saved and deferred for a dreamed of retirement of leisure – only to die young. Their son – Mehta’s uncle – saw the waste and did the opposite: lived every day to the fullest. He also died young – a family cursed with bad hearts.
Live now, don’t defer happiness waiting for some elusive thing.
When people dream of moving to America it’s not just so that they can be prudent, studious, restrained. My uncle Vipinmama would tell me a story about his parents, my grandparents who had emigrated from Ahmedabad in Indian to Nairobi in the 1920s. All their lives they had denied themselves luxuries in the new country in order to store them for their retirement. They had rented a room in Ahmedabad, which they filled with refrigerators, washing machines, steel cupboards, juicers – all the goods and furnishings of life which they abstained from in Nairobi. When they retired they were going to buy a house and stock it with their hoarded treasure.
As the room in Ahmedabad bulged with the goods send from Africa, the ranks of appliances waiting to be turned on one distant day, their lives in Nairobi continued in great simplicity and thrift. One day in her 50s my grandmother had a heart attack and died – she ‘went off’ as the Gugaratis say. My grandfather left Nairobi then and went to Ahmedabad and bought a house. But he could not bear to live in their dream without the one who was to share it. So within a month, he sold both the house and the goods they had so patiently saved up, without ever having used them, and left for London.
This had a powerful influence on Vipinmama, and he lived every day of his life in the pursuit of happiness. Every good bartender in Bombay, New York and Antwerp knew him. He played the guitar. He played cricket for his college. He went on vacation even when it wasn’t good for his business. He too went off, following a heart attack at 34 from congenital heart disease – but it was not after a life postponed. Whatever he purchased he brought home and turned on immediately. If it was a stereo, he danced to its music; if it was a VCR, he invited all his friends over to watch movies that very evening. You might think my grandfather would have wanted my uncle to be more prudent, more restrained. But in fact my grandfather was very proud of his son – prouder than any of the fabled Indians in the email he sent around – because his life was not spent deferring happiness, waiting for power.
Suketu Mehta, The Superiority Complex, Time Magazine, Feb 2014
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