I’m living so far beyond my income that we almost may be said to be living apart
~ E. E. Cummings
Back in the good ‘ol days, young naval officers used to draw a princely salary of few hundred rupees. Things like motorbikes and imported stereo systems were status symbols few could afford. Others simply bought helmets and rode pillion. Posted in cities like Mumbai, Vizag or Kochi, with such modest means most of us had a spartan lifestyle while few continued to cultivate their refined tastes. They ate & drank to the gills and relied on friends for signing the bills. I believe such freeloaders abound in every walk of life. So do gullible ‘Quick Gun Murugans’, their fingers always fastest on the wallet.
We all have come across friends who make big plans and prod us to go out to the movies, eat at fine dining restaurants, and then insist on stopping by ‘Naturals Ice-cream of Juhu Scheme’ – all without even carrying a wallet on their person; or even if they do, putting on the Buddha expression when the bill arrives. I have had more than my share of such freeloaders during many years of glorious bachelorhood. As a person used to settling for the lowest common denominator of ‘do rum ek soda plus masala peanuts’, I have signed many pegs of scotch whisky and steaming plates of chicken tikka for my friends with more cultured tastes till I realised I was the one who had ‘culture’ while others had ‘taste’. My smart friends understood ‘Going Dutch’ differently. They turned north when the bill arrived. Mundane chores like settling bills, tipping the waiter etc. fell below their status.
As young officers from the nineties, money never seemed enough to cultivate expensive tastes. Unlike today where banks are falling over each other to extend loans with easy EMIs for stuff ranging from lingerie to iPhones, the only non-banking financial institution that extended credit those days were defence messes and officers’ institutes. Sign all you want during the month, whine all you want at end of the month. While people like me ran up P&L statements with a 4-digit income on the assets side and burgeoning wine bills on the ‘expenditure & liabilities’ side, my cultured friends added 2BHK houses, 30’X40’ housing plots and blue-chip stocks to their portfolio. For the longest time, my inventory comprised just two bedsheets, one CD player and two speakers. And I kept wondering why.
A typical scene played out on weekends. Impromptu parties start as coursemates gathered around dark corners of the ‘Harbour Bar’ or ’Elbow Bender’. Once the bell for ‘last service’ went off, there would be a flurry of activity while people ordered multiple drinks that ensured dinner in the mess was long closed when we wound up. If you were a freeloader, all you had to do was sit tight diagonally away from the waiter closing in with the evening’s damages, put on a beatific smile, and wait for the chit-signing frenzy to abate. Soon, another tray full of drinks would be wheeled in and glasses start to clink again!
Scene would then shift to a restaurant in town (Tandoor restaurant off MG Road, Kochi was a favourite for all seasons). Ordering was easy since at that time of night only two things played on our minds – butter chicken & tandoori roti! After ordering enough to feed a marriage party, the person doing the honours would either pass out or pat his stomach and claim ‘I am feeling full’, meaning he won’t be party to the fat bill that would soon arrive. The person sitting next to him, in all likelihood the next fall guy, would start shifting uncomfortably in his seat. For a short while, all is forgotten as people tear into the food with vengeance. When the bill arrives, strange things happen.
Coalition politics kick in as people forge alliances that would put the Samajwadi Party to shame. “Dopey will pay for both of us” or “Venky, you pay for three of us, we will square up later” etc. Some fail to forge alliances while some like RaGa fail after forging alliances. Some excuse themselves for a STD call, while some claim to have forgotten their wallets. Teetotallers brave enough to tag along are left particularly vulnerable as some take refuge under the ‘too drunk to handle math’ excuse. Some wickedly recollect that year-old loan you had taken and decide to invoke it. Some are overcome by a sudden desire to visit the washroom. In the end, somebody will have to nurse a new headache apart from the hangover of morning after – collecting dues from people who seem to have little recollection of last night’s shenanigans.
I thought we were beyond all this when some years ago, I visited the United States as part of a team of Indian defence officers. Now, everyone knows about American tipping etiquettes, right? Well, we didn’t. People had already made other plans with their daily allowance of USD, tipping certainly didn’t figure in there. So when the hotel porter unloaded a bus full of our luggage at the Embassy Suites Washington DC, each guy calmly picked up his bag and walked away, leaving the business of tipping to the last man standing – yours truly.
I quickly multiplied 25-30 heavy bags with standard tipping rates and decided against playing the lone paragon of virtue. The fuming porter called our game, “Hey, what is this?? No tip? This is too bad, man! Where do you guys come from anyway??”
I quietly picked up my bag, answered “Pakistan” and followed my colleagues into the hotel.
Cheers freeloaders, I am in!
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2017. All rights reserved.
Image Courtesy: www.theplunge.com