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Home > News > Opinion News > Article > How to value money I wanna know

How to value money, I wanna know

Updated on: 29 November,2023 04:46 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar | mayank.shekhar@mid-day.com

May I start a conversation on how you view wealth, because I can’t wrap my head around it. I’m wondering if you can!

How to value money, I wanna know

How do you make that money? From each other. Through work, i.e. delivering goods/services, sometimes with its own wonky methods of attaching value.

Mayank ShekharAs a li’l kid, somebody told me about a scene in a Tamil picture that’s stayed with me, while I never got to watch it: A clueless bloke at a bus-stop observes a fellow with a cigarette go up to someone, asking for matches.


The matchbox is instantly shared, that he lights up with, and leaves. It’s a light-bulb moment for the clueless bloke. He goes up to the fellow then with matches: “Okay, now give me cigarettes,” he demands. He gets thrown out. 


That was a comic flick. What did it say about the value of objects? In an economy with too many cigarettes and fewer matches, the value of the latter will be far more. The unlit ciggie is useless. 


Of course, the price of anything depends on its cost of production, first. The cigarette, therefore, is more valuable. It’s another matter how the price of matches has remained the same since I’ve known them to exist, over decades—still offered for free, if you ask for them in certain places. 

Relative scarcity and simple cost of production apart, how do you evaluate the price of an object? My sense is it depends entirely on who’s selling it. Take the surge pricing on Ola/Uber. It can go up to a flight ticket, depending on time/location. 

My Bombay airport cabbie tells me the pricing on his dashboard was R1,800 from Terminal 1 to Belapur last evening. He couldn’t confirm the ride. Somebody must’ve paid. “Itne mein, he could’ve gone to Poona,” he laughs.

Recall examples from your entire life, when the cabbie/auto-rickshaw guy has demanded “extra” for a ride he doesn’t find convincing enough to go by the all-weather meter. We’ve balked at the “over-charging”: “Don’t screw up this city, you cheat,” I blast him all the time. 

We quietly pay for surge-pricing on Ola/Uber, screwing up the market entirely for the less fortunate. The privileged become a burden on the poor. 

That money doesn’t go to the cabbie. It goes to the tech-bro, who once designed a ride-sharing app. Same argument extends from vanity art, posh real-estate to ‘luxury products’—atmospherics of happiness that money can buy.

People haggling with street vendors over apple/mango prices happily fish out 1,000 times that amount for Apple/Mango products. This bragging right, from phones to fashion, bear a non-negotiable price. 

This is how the rich get richer, by the rich alone, with big money mostly circulating at the top. 

The psychology of money suggests if you own an Apple/Mango/Merc, it merely means you’re less rich by the price you paid for them. The ownership is, however, meant to socially signal that the price doesn’t matter to you. Only if that’s the case, you’re fine. We all care for money. Difference is in the decimal. 

How do you make that money? From each other. Through work, i.e. delivering goods/services, sometimes with its own wonky methods of attaching value. 

You could also be “privately rich”, euphemism for inheritance, given your insecure ancestors, assuming immortality, acquired way more than their need. They laboured, left, you chill.

What does this money mean? Freedom, foremost. In the sense that you can just take that Ola/Uber at R1,800, instead of lining up for a BEST bus, after you’ve got off a plane. 

How is this freedom earned? By salaried classes, more often than not, through progressively surrendering personal freedoms—especially if money, the tradeoff, has become a natural trap. It’s oppressive/depressing to downgrade from material aspirations/luxuries/essentials, once you’re used to them. The bar is set. You soldier on. The employer is happy.

Unless, of course, you’re already doing something you could for free—primarily the definition for what we term passion. It’s rare. The pleasure is such that paisa doesn’t matter. 

You’re lucky if that accidental passion is to pursue, say, cricket. And not kho kho, kabaddi, carpentry—also, a coincidence that I’ve hardly ever met anyone equally pursuing the less lucrative passions?

Once you excel (also rare), the money is the by-product. It’s still in its nature to be passed on. From you, as the current source of origin, it can land anywhere. Not to sound preachy here. Philanthropy is beyonad most. 

But the feeling of having fulfilled something for someone else, especially a loved one, imbues money with a sense of pleasurable purpose, reserved exclusively for those with enough to spare. 

It is strangely self-fulfilling. The less privileged sadly don’t experience that pleasure so much. It’s their loss. And if you don’t indulge in it, regardless, you are only as rich as the poor, anyway. Misers splurge only on self. 

There is an old clip of an interview of mine with actor-orator Ashutosh Rana going viral on WhatsApp. Quoting his spiritual guru, Daddaji, Rana speaks about how, accounting for friends/family, if you consume 25 rotis, but hoard 80, what happens to the leftovers? 

“Like stale food diseases the body, stale/stagnant wealth diseases the mind. We own a 5,000 sq ft home. But we live only in 500 sq ft. In the rest of the 4,500 sq ft, resides our ego/arrogance!” 

For those (like me), who can’t afford the 5,000 sq ft anyway, ‘dil ko behlane ko, yeh khayal bhi accha hai’ (this is a good thought), Ghalib!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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