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Remembering the ‘good’ old days

Remembering the ‘good’ old days
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K S S Pillai
I no more speak about the low cost of living in the past in front of my grandson. “How much was your salary then?” he would ask, making me shut my mouth. Fortunately, there are some people of my age in the neighbourhood who like to spend an hour or so with me, reliving the past. We enjoy the conversations, though some of them are repetitive.
Among the things I don’t tell the new generation is the stories I had heard during my childhood about persons who retired from the services of the regional king (India had not become independent then). Some got a pension of Rs.7 every month, which was sufficient even to prepare a few dishes with pure ghee. When I had become old enough to understand those stories, I, like my grandson today, believed them with a pinch of salt.
As I grew older, I would accompany my parents to the only cinema house in the village. It had a thatched roof and was run with a generator. As the supply of electricity, a new entrant, was erratic, it used crude oil as fuel. The cheapest class was ‘Thara’ or floor, costing two annas. It was nearest to the screen. Since there were no seats, the spectators would sit on the coarse sand. When small children wanted to urinate, parents would ask them to relieve themselves in the sand and later cover the spot with dry sand. Those habituated to chewing ‘pan’ also used to do the same thing when they wanted to spit.
My elder brother was, in the latter half of the 1950s, a clerk in the Taluk Office on the pay scale of Rs.40 – 60. The annual increment used to include fractions of a rupee. When I started attending a college 20 kilometres away, the one-way concessional ticket for students cost 30 paise.
I came to Indore in MP in 1960. The restaurant where I took meals charged Rs.30 per month for two meals daily. Curd and papad were served only once, but the old timers revealed how to overcome that hurdle. We paid Rs.2 every month clandestinely to the man who served meals. He would dump curd and papad on the plate when the owner was not attentive. On Sundays, there would be only the afternoon meal, in which one could consume Gulab Jamun or some other sweets as much as one wanted.
I bought my first pair of Bata shoes for Rs.15. I still have a copy of my letter to my employers, asking them to deduct Rs.2 extra every month from my salary towards my provident fund. I had a life insurance policy for 30 years for Rs.6000 sum assured, and the monthly premium was less than Rs.10.
I left Indore in 1968 and came to Navsari in Gujarat as a lecturer in a government college. The UGC pay scale was Rs.300 – 600. With dearness allowance and other allowances, I got Rs.450 every month. The restaurant charged Rs.60 a month for two meals daily. The city bus service charged five paise as the minimum fare. The fare was 15 paise from the railway station to the junction near my college.
I had a newly married friend with an old scooter. The cost of petrol was Rs.5 a litre. When he did not have that much money, he would ask the attendant for half a litre!
Now that multiplexes have replaced the old cinema houses, the cost of seeing a movie has gone up. Most of them do not allow water or snacks from outside, citing different reasons. As going to a multiplex has become a kind of picnic rather than seeing a movie, buying packets of popcorn or bottles of cool drinks has become an integral part of the visit.
I know inflation is bound to go up and so will the salary of employees. There is no doubt when my son tells his grandson about the present cost of things and services, he also will believe it with a pinch of salt.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to ‘The Kashmir Vision”, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)


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