Friday, March 25, 2011

From the Belly of the Fly

Hindi and Urdu have quite a few colorful phrases. My all time favorite is one that describes most of us Indians quite aptly. The phrase "kanjoos-makhichoos" is quite commonly used to describe a miserly person, with the word kanjoos doing a pretty reasonable job. But the second part of the phrase is usually reserved for the super accomplished in the community of tightwads. Simply translated, makhichoos refers to a person, who sucks a fly dry. Perhaps, it needs a little more explanation?

Imagine that you lead the community of tightwads in your city and you sit down for a cup of tea. And suddenly, a fly drops dead in your cup. If you were simply a kanjoos, you would use a teaspoon to scoop the fly out and throw it away before resuming your sippa with the cuppa. But, if you are a makhichoos, you will actually suck the fly dry before throwing it away, because after all, it did drown in your precious tea, did it not?

Why this sudden fascination with the semantics of niggardliness? Well, I just read this story in the New York Times about Warren Buffett's recent trip to India, imploring its rich to give to the poor. In case you don't know, Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, has made arrangements to give away most of his wealth after his death. So have Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft fame. And, so have 59 other wealthy American families. So, what was Mr. Buffett exactly doing in India? He had a closed door meeting with an undisclosed group of the super wealthy in India, to convince them to give something back to the society that they got so much from. I cracked up when I read that their identities were not disclosed to the general public, lest they be shamed into giving some of their money away, after the world found out that they attended Mr. Buffett's pep-talk.

Why do people even try to convince the super wealthy in India to do something like that? India has more than a billion people, and most of them are extremely poor. Many belong to the middle class. And, the most random acts of kindness I have come across, are always from these two groups of people. I have never personally witnessed an act of kindness from our super rich, but, I once came close to being run over by a BMW in a big Indian city. The fact that I was spared, was perhaps an act of charity.

Last year, Mr. Buffett's net worth was  about 50 Billion dollars. And, the strength of India's burgeoning middle class is expected to be close to a 100 million people (households with annual incomes in the range of 2 to 10 lakh rupees per year). So, if each middle class person in India contributes 500 dollars, which is about 25,000 rupees to charity, over their life time, we will collectively match Mr. Buffett's record of giving. I am sure that the remaining 900 million poor people in India, would gladly give a dollar each, over their lifetime, to bump the contribution up, so we can actually beat Mr. Buffett on giving. And, I can guarantee that these two categories of people would be glad to give that kind of money, based on what I know of them.

So, why is Mr. Buffett wasting his time with the super wealthy in India? As you know, I have my own sources for such privileged information.  I talked to a fly that was sitting on the wall in the closed-door meeting. Mr. Buffett tried to tell our super rich that it is now fashionable to give away one's wealth, just like it was fashionable to own Ferraris and Football teams in the last decade. And just as it was fashionable to build mansions in Beverly Hills the decade before that. Apparently, they didn't buy it.  And, the poor fly also told me that it almost fell into the tea-cup of an Indian multi-millionaire. It was lucky to escape with its life since this one is not known to spare poor flies that fall into his drinks.



  1. Slurp,

    The western individual has a certain way of thinking and doing. One of them is, though they conduct white collar robbery (for eg. colonialism)during their prime time, in the end or towards the closure, when they count up their money, say for the purpose of writing up a personal will, they get a sense of shame, unlike the Indian fly-chewers.

    so they do not believe in dolling out all the dirty money or good money they earned straight to their children for which they truly have not made any effort. They believe every person has to earn her own luck though her own hard work. In whatever way, that is through stealing, colonizing or some decent means. So when they write their will they only keep a small portion of their wealth to their children. The rest they give away to charity.

    Now, look at the average Indian family. I met a father last time I came home, who stays now staying a rented home. he said he sold out his home to share the money between his children -to marry away the girl and to the son as his inheritance. And the children had no qualm in receiving it.

    What does your secret source tell about them?:)

    very nice writing. keep on.

  2. A Kanjoos on his death bed:
    My wife, where r u ?
    Wife: Yes, I’m here.
    My sons & daughters r u all here?
    Yes, Papa.
    Kanjoos: If all of u r here, then why is the ceiling fan on in the nxt room?

  3. Thanks Prasanna: I agree that philanthropy is a cultural thing and may be, in India, the culture is to pass everything on to one's family. BTW, as much as I think "slurp" is a really cool name to have, that is not really my name ;-)

    Anon above: Awesome joke, I was laughing for a long time! Will look forward to more jokes from you!