Mankind appears to be in no hurry to give up its desire, indeed craze, for the glittering metal. Neither sop nor deterrent may work
Whenever the balance of payments position becomes precarious, the government imposes restrictions on gold imports. Finance Ministers seek to wean away people from the lure of gold. But can a country of over a billion people madly in love with gold be weaned away so easily?
From time immemorial, Indians have been enamoured of gold. Marriages seldom happen without a golden mangalasutra being tied around the bride’s neck. Wars have been fought for gold. Love is declared with gold. The yellow metal is considered to be an enduring asset. It is passed on from mother to daughter to grand-daughter.
Television serials depict how harshly a mother-in-law treats a daughter-in-law who does not bring the expected streedhan in the form of gold jewellery and cash. Girls are brought up to believe that wearing jewellery enhances their natural charm. The craze for gold is not diminished by instances of chain-snatching, housebreaking and occasional murders, all for gold.
There was a flood during monsoon in the village of my grandfather in Kerala decades ago in an age when dams had not tamed ravaging rivers. Since water entered their house, my grandparents had to leave for a safer haven. It was risky to carry gold jewellery to strange places. My grandmother packed her jewellery in a cloth bag and concealed it in the attic below the tiled roof. They engaged a boat to sail to a nearby town which was not flooded and where a close relative resided.
While seated in the boat, grandfather asked grandmother, “Did you lock your jewellery safely in the cupboard?” Grandmother then informed him of her wiser stratagem.
After the floods receded, they returned home and found the concealed jewellery missing from the attic. Thieves had removed a few tiles from the roof and dropped down to the attic and removed the valuables. Grandfather blamed it on the boatman who might have overheard their conversation and passed on the information to professional robbers or did the diabolic deed himself. Grandfather worked harder and saved money to replace the lost jewellery of his wife.
The epics say Hindu gods rode golden chariots. The origin of the golden throne owned by the Mysore ‘maharaja’ is traced back to the Mahabharata era. Most ancient temples had gold jewellery in their vaults being offerings from kings. Despite invaders plundering temple treasures, a few like the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram managed to retain their gold and other precious jewels.
The craze for gold is not limited to India. Throughout the world, mankind has hankered after gold. The pharaohs buried gold along with mummies in pyramids, and King Tutankhamun had a funeral mask made of gold. According to the scriptures, King Solomon had a huge stockpile of gold and he built a golden temple. The Spanish and Portuguese vanquished the Incas and the Aztecs and dispossessed them of their gold. History shows that whichever kingdoms were rich in gold were pillaged by conquerors. There were gold rushes in California and Australia leading to a surge in immigration.
Mankind is in no hurry to give up its desire for gold. To make matters worse, men are also nowadays having themselves bedecked with gold jewellery. Looks like no sop or deterrent can wean away mortals from the nugget that glitters.