Money and the luxury of choices

When you look at what has driven people for thousands of years and examine your own life today, you realise that if you take away the Starbucks, cell phones and some of the other stuff, the basics that matter most are strikingly similar


Bloomberg
Bloomberg

“Yet he was not content. At first he could not say why. He and Akun....could look back upon great achievements: he had led his family on their epic journey from the tundra: he had found warm lands. They hunted well and raised fine families. Both of them were now treated with honour and respect—surely he had done all that it was possible to do. But with each passing season, the feeling of unease and disquiet grew.”Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd. This is a book based on Salisbury that begins from prehistoric times.

“The dynasty? What will become of my line? Will it endure?” The king’s voice reached me, and then was lost in a cacophony of other sounds that filled my head—the sound of battle trumpets, the shouts of men in mortal conflict, and the ring of bronze on bronze. I saw the sky above me, and the air was dark with flights of arrows arching overhead.” River God by Wilbur Smith. This book is a story about ancient Egypt, based on some real events.

“In AD 731, the prosperous Pallava kingdom in southern India faced an existential crisis. The Pallava king , Parameswara Varman II, had died suddenly without a direct heir. He had been on the throne for barely three years and it is likely he had been killed in a raid by the Chalukya crown prince, Vikramaditya. There was grave danger that the neighbouring kingdoms would support rival claimants to the throne and then gobble up territory in the ensuing civil war.”Ocean of Churn, by Sanjeev Sanyal. A book that documents the history of India, as shaped by the Indian Ocean.

“The rift within the Samajwadi Party may have widened after party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav on Tuesday (25 October) declined to name his son, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, as the face of the ruling party campaign for the assembly polls.” Mint story on the Yadav versus Yadav family fight over power, 26 October 2016. (Read it here: http://bit.ly/2eGKy9v)

From prehistoric times to today, the stories are the same.

But each new generation imagines itself to be unique in its pursuit of what it imagines is happiness. But nothing much changes over time.

We’re still driven by money, power, love, lust and territory. I’m a recent fan of historical fiction and history. Not the boring old textbook history, but the modern re-imagining of history.

Edward Rutherfurd writes historical fiction and writes about cities from prehistoric times to current times—telling stories of different epochs through fictionalised subaltern characters, with famous historical characters and events as the backdrop.

Wilbur Smith, in his Egypt series, fictionalises events from ancient Egypt. In River God he writes about a period that dates back to about 1780 BC.

Sanjeev Sanyal is writing Indian history from an Indian perspective, moving away from a largely western view of Indian history.

And of course, the Yadav clan fight is a story that has played out thousands of times across history all over the world.

I find it useful to read these books, not just for the reading pleasure but also for the perspective they give to my own life.

When you look at what has driven people for thousands of years and examine your own life today, you realise that if you take away the Starbucks, cell phones and some of the other stuff, the basics that matter most are strikingly similar.

Reading these stories shatters illusions of uniqueness: the things that drive us today are no different from those that motivated people thousands of years ago.

Just the form and substance has changed, the underlying is the same.

They also give me a sense of continuity. We have survived much worse periods of human history and lived on to see better days. It makes for greater responsibility. In story after story you read about that one person because of whom the course of history changed.

It need not have been a decorated hero, but may have been the stable hand on a highway, who was just doing his job and had a fresh horse ready when the King’s messenger rushed in at midnight, en route to getting reinforcements to fight off the enemy attack.

The attack was foiled and history took a different course.

Diwali is just over—those reading this are lucky enough to have the luxury that education and freedom from poverty can give.

The festival season is still on. It’s a good time to go back to the basics and rework the purpose of life and your place within it.

That’s the luxury of money that the newly emerged Indian mass affluent has, which the previous generations did not.

Monika Halan works in the area of consumer protection in finance. She is consulting editor Mint, consultant NIPFP, member of the Financial Redress Agency Task Force and on the board of FPSB India. She can be reached at monika.h@livemint.com.

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