By S V L Narayan
When I was at college, a Raj Kapoor film, `Around the world in 8 dollars’ reflected the reality that an Indian traveler faced. Foreign exchange was scarce and a lot of explanation had to be given even for a small amount to be sanctioned. Any shopping abroad was dependent on the host’s benevolence.
Today the peripatetic Indian travels all over the globe. Honeymoon in Bali, gambling in Las Vegas, even a cruise in Alaska. Foreign currency is no longer an issue with a liberal government doling out almost as much as one needs.
On my first foreign trip to Singapore in 1979, we were allowed a grand sum of $250.It was like being let loose in paradise. That is when I got hooked on to some wasteful shopping. At one store I saw these small two-pronged plastic forks meant for Hors d’oeuvre. As I was paying for them, I imagined my wife serving hot tikkas and kababs with the guests being duly impressed by these forks. Thirty two years on, the two packets lie unopened in our crockery cupboard.
Those days an average Indian used to go ga ga over anything with a foreign tag. There was always the reluctance to use the product as one was not sure when one would get fresh supply. A friend once brought me a bottle of spicy salsa from Spain. When I finally opened the bottle after two years, the contents started frothing and oozing out like something from a Hollywood horror film.
A management guru once said that five percent of all expenditure incurred on shopping goes towards products that an individual does not need. My percentage is much higher, particularly after my frequent overseas sojourns. Our home is strewn with such unused items like baseball mitts, all- weather clogs in case of snowfall in Bangalore, Harley-Davidson motorcycle goggles, and something called a salad-shooter.
I bought a pair of expensive stainless steel cocktail shakers from a store in the US called ‘Bed, Bath and Beyond’. On opening the carton, I found that they were made in India from Salem steel. I still have a pair of padded knee protectors, bought in Houston after seeing Akshay Kumar wearing them in one of his ‘Khiladi’ films.
My ultimate purchase was a large battery-operated parrot. It automatically repeated twice everything that was told to it. My sons did not want anything to do with the bird and it was lying in the loft for several years. I recently discovered it and displayed the toy at a party. What followed was a raucous session with my friends challenging the parrot with the choicest cuss words in Kannada, Tamil and Punjabi. It was a show-stopper hearing those words repeated in a twangy American accent.