For what its worth…

The Friday Times, 25th June, 2010

Saadia Gardezi

The budget allocation for the health sector this year is close to what David Beckham had insured himself for in the event of an injury or illness in 2006, which is a little less than half of the yearly line losses at WAPDA

This strange thing happens when people go abroad. Every time they try to purchase anything, they convert the price into rupees. With our currency having chronic depression, mental math is becoming harder. What simple times when the Pound Sterling was exactly equal to 100 PKR. It is an annoying compulsion, especially for people who are not good at math to be on top of the currency jumble. I on the other hand, am pretty great at mental math, especially equating thinks based on monetary worth. And I can do it without using numbers (or greek).

I stumbled on just how good I was at math last week, when I walked into this square shaped eatery where some of the seats have no backs (and so are actually stools) opposite a women’s college.

I navigated my way to my table though a crowd of teens dressed in apparel that when compared to mine made me feel I was wearing the entire stock of a textile mill. I reached my table to wait for my friends who had told me to be on time, but themselves were late (how gullible was I to have been punctual, and that too in Lahore!)

As I waited at this swanky restaurant for the next forty minutes or so, I wrote this in my head since I didn’t own a smartphone. My phone which sported ancient technology from 2006 caught me gazing longingly at the iPhone of a pre-teen celebrating her birthday and looked apologetically at me. I thought it was time to break it to my phone, “It’s just not enough, I need more. No there’s nothing wrong with you. We had a good run. It’s not you it’s me.” But an iPhone? I could finance a girl though an FA degree at Kinnaird College and still have enough change to buy myself a new phone.

As numerous housewives with perfect hair buying washing power on TV would say, “Uff, yeh mehangai.

My grandfather blames Shaukat Aziz for the boost in consumerism in the last decade. Old school sentiments feel that buying on credit is a mistake and from the Great Depression in the 1930’s to the Sub-Prime crisis of today, living beyond our means is a major problem. Not that I agree. Not that I disagree either. I am the most indecisive person you will ever come across and I’d rather leave political economy to the news section. But life is all about “things” one owns.

When my hungry friends decided to (finally) show up, my phone was giving me the silent treatment, and I was trying to move on. The devouration that fateful Tuesday was worth a month’s minimum wage. I could have given my cook a hefty bonus. The same day I bought myself a blackberry that cost as much as a motorcycle.

Here’s a look at disparity, just in case anyone decides to swap things:

The budget allocation for the health sector this year is close to what David Beckham had insured himself for in the event of an injury or illness in 2006, which is a little less than half of the yearly line losses at WAPDA. The cost of a four year education at LUMS is the same as a membership to that club on the canal, the one with the plethora of weddings. For a meal for two at Cafe Aylanto, you can fund an orphans education and livelihood at the SOS children’s village for a month. In fact, for the price of a Toyota Hilux, you can build a house for ten children at SOS. For the price of a Sana Safinaz stretch of cotton, the common man can buy a wardrobe at Itchra. For the price of a box of Pringles, you can get two dozen eggs and make a very very large omelet and feed the mahalla.

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2 thoughts on “For what its worth…”

  1. Saadia, I look forward to your blogs and read them with interest and often with a wry smile. Johan is also a regular reader. East may be east and West may be west but the twains do meet at times: there’s much in common, particularly at the political sub-zero level.

    I still convert all prices when I’m abroad to Swedish prices and, belonging to a generation that did mental arithmetic at school, I can still convert in my head. When I compare prices in the UK with my childhood levels, as I do, prices are always astronomic even for sale goods. Your great-grandmother never learned to convert from old to new pennies. But I still bought an iPhone, which has turned out to be worth every penny (new or old). But as it’s only a 3g version I couldn’t even give it away to any one of my grandchildren: iPone 4, iPad, or nothing. But what does Ali say about a Blackberry?

    I am engaged in an exchange of e-mails with a Swedish friend who has retired to the Phillippines on degrowth: there is apparently a Degrowth Movement in the UK. He cites a UK government report titled “Prosperity without Growth” with Tim Jackson as author. Are you aware of the movement or the report? I doubt that degrowth or setting a ceiling for economic growth and development is possible, mainly for political reasons. At the upcoming meeting of the G8 group in Toronto I read that Europe is told to “focus on growth”. Which supports my argument.

    I am certain that degrowth is a non-starter in your part of the world: definitely unacceptable in, for example, India and China.

    Perhaps something to comment on?

  2. You could give it away to me, I have no qualms about outdated gadgetry! Ali carries both the iPhone and BB around, busy and industrious as he is.

    I am really glad you and Johan read my blog, I write for a news paper and I try to keep it light. There is enough moaning and groaning with respect to current affairs in Pakistan. Maybe you could subscribe, I update every week.

    I have heard of de-growth and I wish more policy makers would sit up and read the report. Similar ideas of growth without development, happiness vs growth etc., have also been around for a long time, but the liberal capitalism has been unwilling to make space.
    I think not only economically, but ethically this is a good policy to pursue. Of course, it is too radical
    for economists to accept.

    Definitely something good to comment on, and maybe even write about in the future.

    Best regards from Lahore

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