Monday, September 30, 2013

The Indian Gold Obsession

When you think of Gold and Indians, the first image that probably pops up in your head is that of Bappi Lahiri. Well, remove that memory now and try to think that image never came into your head.

A couple of weeks back, I went out shopping with my mother who wanted to buy something for her friend who was retiring. And what did she choose to buy? Silver. I couldn’t quite understand the Indian obsession with buying/gifting Gold and Silver and an argument ensued in the shop, about the sensibilities behind buying something that you very rarely use anyways.

And here’s the conversation that followed.
Me       : Why are you buying this piece of silver?
Mom   : It is a silver lamp da. They’ll find it useful. They can light it every day in their house.
Me       : Oh really? How many Silver Lamps have we been gifted?
Mom   : That’s there da. Quite a few I guess.
Me       : And where are they? I haven’t ever seen them at home?
Mom   : Illa da. It’s not really safe these days. They are all safely locked up in the bank locker.
Me       : Wow. And you expect your friend not to do the same with this one you are buying them?
Mom   : <Nearly agitated> See, don’t hurt my sentiments.
Me       : Now this is a sentimental buy and not a useful one? What will you do with the Silver stuff that we were gifted? Don’t they all blacken in the locker?
Mom   : Well, some of them do. These shops have exchange offers no. We come back and get it exchanged for something new at a minimal cost.

**Salesman in the Gold Shop gives a vigorous nod and talks about how high a price they give in their exchange schemes**

Me       : Wow. So someone gives you a gift in the expectation that you use it. You put it in the locker to keep it safe, and then when it blackens, you exchange it in these shops that give you an Extra-ordinary price! And buy something that you gift to someone else, who probably will do the same. I see only one beneficiary in this whole process. This sales guy and his shop!

**And the sales guy gives me a wry smile to indicate I am a mad guy to be arguing against the Holy Indian Sentiment of buying Gold & Silver**

The argument in the shop ended but I kept probing my mom and dad, and a few others on why people buy gold! And here are some of the arguments I got.

“Gold is mandatory for a girl’s marriage. So, I have started buying up now. What if the Gold Price increases later?”

What if the guy turns out to be good and doesn’t want gold. What if Gold is no longer the in-thing then, and people want platinum or diamonds or whatever. What if the rate of gold hits a rut by then and you end up getting it a lot cheaper then. And more importantly why the hell is Gold mandatory for a girl’s marriage. If at all you want to shower your love on her, give her and her husband something that they’ll actually use no? Not something that they’ll keep safely in the locker and use when their kid reaches marriage-able age!

“Gold is a form of showing love.”

What do people do with the silver and gold articles that you gift them. Put them in a locker and keep them safe, and then pass it on to their kids. What do they do. Wait till they start getting bad, come back to the jewel shops, return them and buy something new and put it back in the locker hoping for some fine day when they can do a Bappi da impression or buy something else to gift someone else!

“Having gold is auspicious. That too buying Gold on Akshaya Tritiya means wealth will flow throughout the year in our house”

And then you laugh at today’s generations who ‘celebrate’ Mothers Day, Fathers Day and XYZ Day. Are you sure this isn’t one of those more elaborate ancient versions of the ‘Archies-Hallmark Holidays’ like Rose Day, Teddy bear day and whatever crap? Isn’t this whole brouhaha around Akshaya Tritiya like those ones around the Special Discount seasons when sales get low. Because there aren’t enough marriages happening in that time, and gold sales may plummet?

“Gold is a form of savings/investment.”

Well, if your intention is to save money or investment, then do some actual investment no. Why not actually save or invest by putting the money in a bank or in a mutual fund/stock market or in the worst case one of those Fixed Deposit schemes run by Nationalised Banks and Post Offices? Or if you want to invest by buying something, buy something that you might actually use and is of value to you no.

And last but certainly the worst! “When you wear gold to marriage, you show you are doing good. That your family is treating you well”

So, if you wear gold when you go to a marriage, you display that things are going well. That you are well off. And want to flaunt your excesses through dazzling gold jewels. Why live for the society or to create a perception that you are well off, and can buy gold.

And today the Indian gold obsession has manifested itself in multiple forms. EMI schemes to save up gold by the time your daughter is of ‘marriageable’ age! Buy gold at today’s rates in the future. Gold SIPs. Gold this, Gold that and Gold what not!

And question all these with your parents or elders, they will say ‘You won’t understand now’. Next stage ’As if you not buying it as a single person is going to change the society’.
And the final bombshell: ‘Won’t you ask for gold when you get married’

Well, why the hell would I! 


Ratnabha Saha said...

Hi Shrinivas,
Well written. Like to comment on your last point to strengthen your argument of course.
For the last couple of years i have seen that even for marriages people chose not to wear gold as it is risky but wear imitations of them.
So practically there is no place where the consumption happens, it is bought and saved.
Even our films do not spare us lesser mortals :The perennial Losers: The Indian Husband.
Talk of Selling gold (which by the way is considered as ASSETS of WIFE: Everything in life is shared but not the YELLOW METAL)and you are reminded of the crime of being ill equipped and incompetent in your role of being a HUSBAND to safeguard the ASSETS Of WIFE:-the Yellow Metal.
Below is an excerpt from one of the typical Hindi Films:-
Hus:- I am jobless. I am incompetent. I can't take care of you.
Wife:- No Dear, It is just bad time. It will pass. You are my Hero. You will find some way out. I am with you. Why worry.

Hus:- Really!! Wow!! I agree this bad time will pass and i have found a way out. Why not sell your gold jewelries and let us be entrepreneurs.

Wife:- Bloody incompetent Fool!!!Did i marry to see this day?Why did you marry me if you can't take care of me.You dimwit, black heart demon.In reality you are a failure you can;t do anything in your life. You are BIG ZERO.

So Moral of the Story:-
Wanna Divorce, Ask your wife to sell her gold. :) :) :)

Liked this post of yours very much. Come out of writer's block soon and give us some more enjoyable reads.

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