Wednesday, June 22, 2005

How a red light led to the purchase of a piggy-bank

Traffic signals serve a purpose: they streamline traffic flow, both the vehicular and the pedestrian kind.

In India, particularly in the larger cities, traffic signals serve quite a few other purposes as well. Given the immoblie and therefore captive consumer base at a red light, traffic signals also serve as prime real estate for street hawkers (selling anything from ear buds to cell phone ear pieces) and beggars.

While I never, ever, buy anything at a traffic light, I do give money to anyone that looks like they are incapable of working. This logic may not work all the time - I may be giving to the wrong people and not giving to deserving ones. But, it has the virtue of being a bright-line rule that's easy to stick to and I stick to it.

One day, at one of those interminable red lights, the ones where the clock starts counting down from 160, a guy walks up to the car window and holds his hand out. I wave at him to go away. He did not meet my criteria.

"What does he want?" asked N*, my son.

"He wants us to give him some money."

"Can I give him some?"

There is a fine line between compassion and cynicism that got even finer as I tried to explain to my four year old why I did not want to give the pan handler the money. I gave him my reasons and he said, "Oh."

Silence for a few minutes as I braced for the questions.

N*: "Then why doesn't he go to the bank and get some money?"

Me: "The bank can't give him money like that. It's not their money."

N*: "How come you go to the bank when you need money?"

Me: "People go and put their money in the bank and the bank keeps it safe for them until they need it. I don't think he put any money in the bank."

N*: "How do you get money to put in the bank?"

Me: "When you grow up, you figure out what you like to do and you work and you get paid for your work. Then you can have money to go put in the bank."

N*: "So why doesn't he work then?"

Me: "I don't know."

Back to my dilemma. Is my bright line really that bright?

N*: "But I'm only four-and-a-half years old. How do I get money to put in the bank?"

Aha! The silver lining in a depressing life lesson! After some struggle, we came up with a list of activities (definitely not among them: chores around the house or helping people) that would earn him money.

We stopped at a store to buy a piggy-bank before going home.

3 comments:

L said...

Not a bad idea. I thought, they started selling piggy banks @ red lights!
BTW, your son is 5. Remember? :D

Sujatha said...

Hey Reyn! He was 4 when this happened though!

Anonymous said...

suj...

hmm..nice..

cheers,
tECHJ/anish

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