So while Dhanno and I are having a what seems to us desi types bred on Dominoes and Pizza Hut, an authentic Pizza Prosciutto e Funghi at Cafe Concerto by the Lakeside in Pokhara and Teja has been saddled with a spinach ravioli with ricotta cheese which he is trying hard to like for our sakes, he sighs happily and says, “We should do this every year.”
“How much money do we need to go abroad every year?”, he asks me, since I’m the treasurer and accountant of all our monies.
I say, “If we save around 300,000 rupees a year, we can do it.”
Teja says: “Yes, I suppose we can. How many days in Europe can we do in that much money?”
“10-15 days”, I say. “Maybe more in some places where we can stay with friends.”
He says, “But I don’t want you worrying about money all the time. I can keep the accounts.”
Dhanno goggle-eyed whispers, “Mama, no, don’t let him do that. He’ll never keep a hisaab, and that will make me more tense.”
Teja laughs, “What is with this hisaab? Look, we just take the money, and have fun till we spend it. We may have to budget our meals a little, of course, eat at fancy places like this, a little less.”
Dhanno retorts, “I think if you budget your beer and cigarettes, we can eat where we like.”
Teja laughs, “No, I’m not going to do that. What we’ll do is just have a bigger budget. Or go for a holiday in India.”
OK, so I keep accounts like a munshi. I even have excel sheets of holiday expenses. Teja thinks I am mad. I say, well, I can look them up and tell anyone how much things are going to cost when they want to go somewhere. What he doesn’t realize is that the numbers comfort me. First of all I cannot remember trivial details. So if I have written down when we have paid the service bill for the water filter, I can just look it up and not go glass-eyed when faced with the question of whether I am meant to pay the water filter repairman or not. And I can file our tax returns fairly easily as everything is written down and organized into categories. I have worked out a system over the years, and I keep tweaking it to make the year ending easier and easier for me. It also helps me in my work, I can budget for films in a day.
I look at old account books and they are like delving back into old diaries. Oh, we saw that film that time, we had dinner there, we stayed there, we bought that bag, those shoes, that book. In our paper conserving family, I still have an accounts register book, the typical red covered pothi, that belonged to my father from a business he ran before I was born. When I look at it and see his handwriting, quite similar to mine, I can see him as a young man, with his ambitions and dreams, trying to set up on his own.
As we grow older, the numbers in old accounts books seem smaller and smaller. The one thing I find absurd however is saying, “When we were young, we used to get chocolates for 1 rupee and now even a beggar won’t accept a rupee.” It’s like saying, I used to be so thin when I was young, or had such thick hair. The thing is, today I am not thin, and nor do I have thick hair, and I’m doubtful about giving a rupee even to a beggar. But even so, it’s nice to look at old photos sometimes and seeing how thin you really were, and how thick your hair really was.
But the important thing is that I like numbers. Just like words that run through my head almost all the time I am awake, numbers do too, to some extent. I’m anal about numbers in other ways. For instance, when I’m watching TV, the volume always has to be at 50. That’s too loud for DVDs, so for film viewing, it has to be either 25, 30 or 35. I need to brace up to get myself to put the volume to say – 28. Though I’m slowly learning to accept 27 or 33 as acceptable levels, because they are multiples of 3.
And even though I had difficulty walking on the Annapurna Base Camp trek, I liked noting down the heights of where we had reached, and how many hours it had taken us to get from one place to another. It’s the first thing I did when we sat down.
Every guest house had a trekking information board up, with a map and distances in hours. And though the numbers did not always match, and certainly never with our own timings, the maps were a pleasure to look at. So here are some for you, shot by Teja.