Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Author’s Note: I have a seven years old grand daughter. Recently she had an argument with her mother over her pocket money. I was privy to their conversation and hence this story.

Sylvia was waiting for her father since afternoon. Her father had promised Sylvia and her mother a week end vacation. Sylvia’s holidays had started about a week ago but her father had still not finalized any holiday plan. Sylvia was getting impatient with nothing much to do at home. Many of her friends had already gone on vacation and Sylvia knew all of them would boast of fabulous time when they returned.

It was Friday afternoon and the holiday plan was still not in place. Her father talked of several hill stations mostly where official guest house existed and in fact where official transport could preferably be provided by some sister unit. Sylvia appreciated that that was necessary to cut down the costs but what worried her was that most of the time her father’s leave plans amounted to knots. In fact, the experience was that nothing was certain until they had boarded the train. It was for this reason that she would keep them secret from her friends. It had often happened in the past that her father had come up with some excuse or the other to defer the holidays at the last moment, generally attributing the postponement or cancellation in final terms to pressing demands of his office.
The long wait that Friday ended in what Sylvia and even her mother had apprehended. Her father had sent a message through his secretary late in the afternoon that he had to go to Kolkata next morning to resolve a sudden labour problem of serious nature in Khyderpur docks.

Sylvia was Nineteen, a first year student in the Arts faculty of St. Mary’s College, Delhi. She was proud that her father was a senior officer in the government. In fact, she never missed any opportunity of talking about her father’s arduous and important job of national importance. She had become adept in making policy statements on behalf of the government nonchalantly with load of confidence. Her rich friends didn’t like it and they would soon change the topic to safaris, picnics or dinner parties and discothèques. That was where Sylvia felt left out. She would back track with a wry smile but it hurt her inside.

“Mom, you better stop my pocket money, it is an insult. With it you can’t even buy a cup of coffee,” she told her mother one day.
“Your father has a fixed salary; we have a budget to live within.”
“Mom! Do you ever realize that the money I get is a pittance when compared to what my friends get?”
“Syl! You must also realize that the prices all over are shooting up rapidly on day to day basis whereas the increase in salary is once in six months and mind you that is not related to the soaring market prices.”

Sylvia hated to hear the same explanation every time she asked for extra pocket money. She needed money, at least once in a while to treat her friends. But she never picked up the courage to broach the issue with her father.

She often talked of it to her cousin Barry, a final year student in the same college appreciated her problem for his father was also in the government and in a much lower position than Sylvia’s father.

“Sylvia, I know a guy who is a tour manager. He is taking a rafting group to Rishikesh this Sunday. He needs some one with life guard certificate. Since you have one, why don’t you take up the job?”
“It is one week affair, Sunday to Saturday,” he added after a little pause.
“You Dumbhead! What do I say to my folks?” Sylvia snapped.
Barry had anticipated the question and hence ready with the answer instantly.
“Say, you are going out on a college excursion sponsored by some NGO. I will join you in convincing your parents.”
Sylvia thought over and felt the idea could be sold to her parents.
“What is he paying?” And then she added, “How much do I get out of it………. I mean what is your cut?”
Barry ignored her query. He always thought Sylvia was a skeptical type, particularly when it came to money. The ground reality was that they knew each other too well. Both of them were convinced that the other was mean.
“I have a feeling and it comes to me too often that you could beat the greediest bitch hands down,” Barry responded nonchalantly.
“Well, my dear cousin, thanks for the compliment but
that doesn’t take us away from the truth of the matter. I don’t mind being called a bitch if that is necessary to protect my interest.”
“Look, you get three hundred rupees a day and all
meals. That’s all and what I get is none of your business.”
Sylvia stared at Barry and then said with a placating smile, “How about five hundred a day.”
Barry seemed to have been bitten by sudden ulcerous pain.
“Syl! You are a limit……. You ……. You, he stammered.”
“Five hundred bucks and no less. Take it or leave it.”
Barry was still clinching his fists. “You are mean…… in fact, meanest of the means I have ever known.”
“Yes my dear cousin, I am mean but so are most of us including your benign self. I know you still must be making enough for yourself.”
The arguments however concluded with Sylvia holding to her price tag and Barry giving in reluctantly.

“By the way, what are you going to do with so much of money?” A naïve question but Barry couldn’t hold himself asking.
Sylvia was quiet for a moment and then suddenly she turned somber.
“Barry! You may laugh at me or disbelieve altogether. I have been feeling slighted when ever my friends take me out for a treat and brag about it thereafter and the worse is, I can not reciprocate.”
Barry was in maize. Sylvia continued, “You know the monthly pocket money I get is not good enough to enter a coffee house. For once I want to give a decent treat to all my friends.
Barry didn’t buy the story. Sylvia was not the person he knew who would spend her hard earned money on her friends. It was hurting him inside that due to circumstantial compulsion, he had agreed to a high fee for Sylvia. It was a legal requirement to have a life saving guard with a rafting group and he was aware that those guys always acted pricey.

All went well. The group was very happy with the expedition and with Sylvia in particular. They complimented her and loaded her with small goodies. The tour operator too was quite pleased with Sylvia.

Sylvia was very pleased with a fat fee packet under her belt. On the following Thursday she invited half a dozen of her friends at an expensive joint in a popular Mall for a treat. Since the money had come through Barry, she thought it proper to invite him also.

Sylvia went home, had a quick wash and changed in to her favourite purple gown. She took an auto-rickshaw to reach the party joint. She was in an effusive mood humming her favourite tunes. She paid the auto driver, alighted from the auto and entered the Mall. Suddenly she had an urge to buy her favourite perfume and apply it before joining her friends.

It was a grand treat, more than her friends could have expected. They were enjoying and Sylvia for the first time felt herself an integral part of the group. She was in high spirits and then she wanted to distribute the goodies amongst her friends. She looked in to her bag and suddenly she realized her purse, which she had put in it was missing. She searched the bag several times with no luck. Sylvia was now frantic. The party was in full swing. Her friends were in expansive mood and so was Barry who knew the extent of Sylvia’s fee.

Sylvia got up and asked Barry to come out with her and then she told him that her money bag had been pinched in the Mall.
“What are you talking? How can it be? And now how will you foot the bill?”
“Barry! Please go to the manager. Try to explain the situation to him.” Then handing Barry her gold chain she said, “Pawn this with him until I find money to pay the bill.”

Barry was apprehensive. He had an inhibition that it could be a prank from Sylvia. I will be doomed if I were to pay the bill. Besides, he felt it would be impossible to recover the money from his cousin.
“Let me see what can be done,” he grumbled taking the gold chain from Sylvia.

Sylvia joined the group back trying her best to look normal. Barry was in the back room with the manager. Her friends were busy enjoying but they didn’t miss to see Sylvia’s distraught face. Besides, the party time was getting lengthened beyond normal expectation.
“Any problem Syl?” One of them asked.
“No, no. Please carry on,” Sylvia managed to say feebly looking towards the manager’s cabin and praying that Barry succeeded in persuading the manager and that the manager didn’t create any fuss.
It was seemingly a long time since Barry was closeted with the manager. Sylvia prayed and prayed for the success of the mission.

Sylvia turned stone when she saw her mother entering the restaurant. The old lady came over and hugged her with a smile.
“Child! Take it easy. Barry has told me everything. Don’t you worry darling. I appreciate; you do need extra pocket money once in a while. Now tell your friends to continue and enjoy the party,” she whispered.