Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
Wealth : August 27, 2000
The collective unconscious
Expert on Child Development based in Chennai.
Creating the Universe had been fun! Inventively, yet playfully, God had created such complex systems that it would take centuries for human beings to identify the components, unravel the intricacies and understand the diversities of cultural phenomena. There was a master plan, a Grand Vision for the Universe, of course, but underlying it was God's sense of humour. Tucked away under every serious issue was God's little private joke. In philosophical treatises, this has been referred to as divine play (Bhagwan's "leela" in Indian usage). Humour has many forms; whimsy, irony, satire, punning, clowning, juxtaposition. It exists along with weighty matters of State. Humour is God's rope bridge for man to cross over the rushing stream of life's daily problems, even an unpredicted flood.
But to come back to the beginning. God had invited all the Devas (the gods with the "g" in lower case) to take over their duties. Aakaasa was summoned first and told, "You must pervade space, occupy the sky. You should generally wear azure blue or grey or spangled black. Interspace it regularly with brief splurges into shades of amber, red-gold and sunset-saffron. You will be intangible and unreached. For many humans, you will be the repeating dream, the sigh, the hope, the aspiration. Go with joy." Aakaasa bowed low and left to fulfill his allotted duties.
The next on the roll was Agni. God called out to him and said, "Be my messenger. Carry man's prayer to me. Burn brightly in every kitchen, fireplace and camp fire. Play your part in the Homa, the Havan consuming the devotee's offering. Be witness to the solemn vows made by the bridal couple. Destroy what is consigned to the flames, but don't join hands with the wind and run wildly through the forests, unless you are doing it as a specific message. If people are indiscreet in their invoking of you, their very survival will be threatened. Go carefully."
God then called out "Yama!" (subverting the alphabetical order he had started with. I warned you about his sense of humour). He went on to say, "Yours, Yama, will be the task of bringing back the souls of people when their time has come." Yama fell on his knees, imploring God not to give him a duty that would make him unpopular with humans. He worried that they would hate him. God knew what kind of mindset was characteristic of human beings. He counselled, "Have no anxiety. People will explain death by tangible causes like heart attack, cancer, snake bite, road accident, drowning and so on. No one will think of you and the ordained life span. Go peacefully." Yama climbed on to his favourite buffalo and rode away.
Next, Kubera was ordered to God's side. He was given charge of the wealth in the world and made head of the wealth department. Kubera was not clear about his duties and expressed his confusion. Should he give wealth equally to everyone, or to those who need it or to those who ask for it? Should he give gold to those who work hard, to those who spend well, or just randomly?
God laughed. "What a lot of questions you have. You seem to have sensed that your post carries tremendous responsibilities. You will have to use your own judgment. However, there is an expert, without portfolio, whom you could consult. Her name is Lakshmi. Not everyone will send petitions through the proper channel; those that come to me directly, will be forwarded to you. And remember that human beings will be continuously deconstructing and reconstructing your boons. There will be some confusion between means and ends. But report to me shortly, maybe in the Earth Year 2000. Go zestfully".
The God of Wealth proved to be a keen observer and a meticulous documenter. However, human beings have not been able to crack the code he used, but we do know some history. In the earlier years, forests and animals, sharp stone and hard mineral were wealth; rivers that flow and fish that lived in them, sheep that could be herded and fleeced were wealth. As communities settled, land for tilling and cattle constituted prosperity. The family and the clan that contributed unstinting labour filled the granaries. Progeny was wealth.
God was right, thought Kubera. With each decade, each century of earth time, the definition of wealth changed. The skill and craftsmanship that constituted wealth in one era were replaced by machines that could make everything faster. Speed became wealth and the unique elegance of the lovingly crafted artefact was gone. Barter was replaced by tokens that could be exchanged. Gold and silver, cowrie shells and salt were soon out of circulation and nickel and tin, copper and brass coins jingled in pockets. Specially printed paper was called money and banking became big business. In a while, banknotes were replaced by credit cards. Later, the ubiquitous plastic cards that opened all doors gave place to mice that scampered along a net. One had to take the net on trust: it was invisible. It was also enormously powerful. Kubera, who had seen God, had no problem understanding the concept of an invisible power and he started responding on his state-of-the-art PC.
Not all human beings yearned for money. Some deliberately spurned it, living simple, austere lives. These people were labelled as "odd" or "eccentric" by the public, unless they were religious recluses and could be more easily slotted. Sometimes, the affluent gave charity to the poor, making up for Kubera's oversight.
A story that made the rounds at that time went like this. The ruling king of Thanjavur was righteous and wanted to make suitable bequests to the deserving. Finding the composer Tyagaraja, saintly and immersed in his devotions, the king considered him most worthy and gave him sixteen houses, hoping that he would never be in need again. On the next meeting, the king enquired gently if the houses were useful. Yes, said the composer. "I have moved into one house." A peculiar response! Kubera wrote up a case study of Tyagaraja for discussion at the next meeting with God. In Kubera's general observations, money was no longer valued for how it could be spent, but for how much of it one could have that wouldn't need to be used.
Much else was happening on our planet. People from temperate climes sailed on the high seas in search of new places to acquire or annexe. Some overcame resistance and settled to govern, others came back with hoarded gold and gems, and sometimes with people they could force to work. When factories were set up and grew in scope and size, there were streams of migration, rather like the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In all these activities, Kubera was the central figure. As always, people prayed to him for money, but now they were smart enough to specify the currency. And gradually, the nature of the "product" changed: it was not something tangible, but information itself. The road to affluence was the Information Highway. Information of any kind, even trivia, was considered to have value. Data on preferences in shampoos, ice cream flavours or walking shoes, of a particular category of people could be sold for a fortune. Electronic process was all and people traded thin air for fog or vice versa on international stock markets.
Kubera considered it about time to report to God. He wanted to complain about being overworked and having more e-mail than he could download. He went to check up with Lakshmi, who told him with a chuckle, "My name originally meant radiance, but earth people are treating it as though it is a synonym for money. There is a temple to my eight forms on the seashore and can you imagine that devotees are queueing up only for my form as Dhana (wealth)? Oh what fools these mortals be!" she said, quoting Shakespeare rather absent-mindedly. Kubera was definitely going to ask for an assistant to be appointed, to handle the millions of money-crazed earth people. She wished him Godspeed.
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