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In Glasgow, counting the coins as conversion psychology gets to work

K. P.S. Menon’s Many Worlds was one of the books – like Lonely Planet to a meticulous tourist setting sail — I, as an aspiring diplomat, had read with great interest. An unforgiving mosquito attack, from the unforgettable Madras of yore, willed otherwise. While the mind was still willing, at the civil services examination, the shuddering body had to surrender to shivers. After Essay and General English, it was a Hobson’s choice to quit the remaining papers, get checked up to diagnose the villain, malaria.

Suffice it to say, dreams of becoming an Ambassador, “…an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”, were shattered. May be fate, that I should be cast in the Malabar coast and not in Ivory Coast! After years of slogging in the home cadre, came a welcome opportunity, under the Colombo Plan, to do an M.Phil. in Economic Planning at the University of Glasgow. To a student of Economics, nothing like studying on the campus where two centuries ago the father of modern Economics, Adam Smith, taught and thought aloud. So thrilling was the opportunity to sit in the library and peruse the very same books that helped make an inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations. Traversing the ocean of books and journals, Gunnar Myrdal’s Asian Drama: an inquiry into the poverty of nations was captivating.

Making ends meet

The meagre stipend from the British Council was only half the unemployment allowance in the U.K. At home that meant twice the salary of an Indian civil servant. These thoughts — ‘conversion psychology’ — haunted everyone who chose to live within one’s means. Many Worlds came to the rescue here, too. ‘Spend every penny as if you spend a pound’ was the advice given to KPS when he set sail to England for higher studies.

Right from day one of the autumn I landed in Glasgow, to the summer in the heavenly highlands of Inverness, hopping to sight the invisible, enigmatic Loch Ness monster, my effort was to live true to the above dictum of KPS. Although a poor accountant, I acquired, perforce, the practice of noting down all my expenditure down to each penny, whose value was to me so great.

Glasgow University’s epitome of benign ‘co-habitation’ was our austere hostel — ground-floor for gentlemen: five cubicle-rooms, with kitchen, shower and a shared toilet; an identical first floor for ladies, with separate entry/exit points.

An American, a Mexican, a Scottish, and a Tanzanian were my happy comrades. We fought fiercely on any faulty discharge of common tasks rota, like toilet cleaning, that had a contingent cost, too. The University’s periodic eagle-eyed inspections to unearth the least visible bit of dirt, threat of engagement of contract cleaners at our cost, kept us on tenterhooks.

British Gas bills inflicted a serious dent in our tenuous budgets, leading to protracted deliberations,. I argued and won — a daily cap of one hour on heating, rather penny-wise. We were witnesses, not posthumous by the grace of God, to a historic night. Pound-foolishness dawned on us the next day when the BBC announced, that Scotland had slept through the century’s frostiest night — minus 27.2 C.

Unbroken discipline

All the four seasons, not a single day was the Spartan discipline broken. Shakespeare’s advice, “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be” guarded me from friends who borrow money and turn foes. Yet, once, only once, I got caught off-guard. Back in Kelvinhough hostel, the budding poet penned:

She wasn’t pally with me;

Nor I with her, too;

Not even wee

Bit near a ceilidh;

She looked a lean and hungry

Scottish poor,

And I, an Indian poor;

Once it happened,

University coffee vending


The only witness;

She ran out of change,

Or euphemism for money?

And borrowed two pence,

Or short-changed poor me?

Spending every penny,

In penury,

As if you spend a pound;

I couldn’t but

Note on the Excel

I had just learned

On my pre-owned Notebook.

Days, weeks, months on:

My defaulter would scarce

throw a glance

At the coffee machine,

Nor return my two pence,

Nor cast her eyes to say

Don’t care twopence!

What a small NPA!

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 5:08:29 AM |

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