I laid my head on my husband’s shoulder and said, ‘We have given birth to the reincarnation of Shylock!’ My insensitive husband guffawed at that, I snapped my head up, glared at him and showed him the white of my eye!
We were seated at my parents’ house in the summer of 2013 in Kolkata enjoying a few stolen moments while the rest of the family played up on the terrace.
This story is about my 8-year-old son, whose love of money has assumed legendary proportions amongst family and friends. Ryan has been often spotted sitting in a corner with his money jar, counting pennies and dimes. He saves everything he gets for birthdays and Christmases and puts it in his college fund (his money jar). He claims he is saving every penny from a young age to help us pay for his college since he has heard us talk about education in America being expensive.
Ryan’s Shylockism started innocently enough. On the second day of our vacation in Kolkata, his grandfather (dadai) asked him if he wanted to accompany him to the fish market. Ryan agreed. Upon return, I received an excited boy glowing from sweat and happiness and a chuckling grandfather.
‘Your son is something else. That boy will go far!’ His grandfather was still laughing.
I learnt, in due course, that Ryan offered to carry dadai’s tholi (jute bag carrying fresh fish) home. Dadai was touched by his young grandson’s offer to help and let him carry the bag. When they reached home, Ryan innocently asked if dadai thought he deserved to be paid for his services.
‘Paid? Why?’ Dadai played along.
‘Well, first I carried bloody fish and fish head which is extremely gross and second, didn’t you save some money by not getting on the rickshaw because I carried your bag? Don’t you think I deserve the rickshaw fare?’ He asked.
‘I hope you didn’t pay him!!!’ I exclaimed.
My father said with a chuckle, ‘How could I not? I was defeated by logic!’
A pattern thus developed. Ryan refused to go on fun outings, if there was a possibility of accompanying dadai on errands. Dadai let him keep the change from rickshaw fares and bus fares – which Ryan termed as his payment for ‘companionship’. This story spread far and wide. All of a sudden, there was an amusing competition among the adoring aunts, uncles, grandmothers (my aunts) and grandfathers (my uncles) to pay Ryan money for kisses and hugs. I have pictures of Ryan holding bills while a grandmother kisses his cheeks.
I laughed along for a while and then tried to stop relatives from playing this game. But as it happens whenever I go back home, my children hide behind the indulgent family members and smile at me cheekily as I get chastised for being too strict.
Ryan often counted his ever increasing pile of notes with a gleam in his eyes and proudly told his sister how much he had. I shuddered at his mercenary tendencies. I talked to him in private about not accepting money from family, he shrugged and said, ‘But they want to give it to me!’
The night before we left for home, Ryan carried some of his money when we went out for our last stroll in Kolkata. He disclosed he needed to find a toy store as he planned to buy a toy for 3 month old baby Khushi, who was living in my parent’s house at that time. Khushi is the baby girl of the young woman who cooked delightful meals for us during our stay in Kolkata. A toy shop was found, a toy for Khushi was bought, Ryan’s own money was spent to buy it. That made me smile.
As we headed home, Ryan ran into Bancharaam – the famous sweet shop in Gariahat. During our two week stay, Ryan dashed into every sweet shop or cake shop that we came across to longingly stare at the varied sweetmeats displayed in the show cases. We hardly bought any, yet he went in to see them and salivate over them. As he went into the sweet shop, he saw a little girl, about the same age as Ryan, tugging at my shirt for some money. He came out and whispered to me, he wanted to buy her some sweets. The girl chose the sweets she wanted and Ryan bought them for her. My smile widened.
On the morning of our departure, Ryan kept insisting that his parents hand him over all his money at once. He had given his money to us for safe keeping. He was getting in the way, so I gave him his money back and told him sternly to stay out of our way so we could finish packing.
In a little while, his grandmother came into our room, holding a bunch of bills with a baffled expression. Ryan had taken all the money and given it all to his grandmother to spend as she chose fit, after he was gone.
Sean and I exchanged glances. I gave his apple cheeks a kiss as I laughed and wiped away a tear at the same time.
Everything was alright with the world again.