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It is the worst of times...and the best of times

November 2008
It is the worst of times...and the best of times

By Parthiv Parekh

The sky has fallen. Or so it seems. The doom and gloom surrounding the economic meltdown is in the air.

This Halloween the spooks were for real. A depleting nest egg? lost jobs? slowed businesses? or the prospect of a new president (no matter who) that half the population was scared of (thanks to pictures painted by the “other” side) — there was enough in the air to make those dressed up goblins and vampires look like?well, child’s play.

Trillions (a number whose magnitude eludes me) of dollars have been wiped out. Forget venerable banks, even nations were staring into the abyss of delinquency. The mighty dollar’s strength as an international currency of choice came into question. There were attempts to put on a brave face: jokes about going back to the barter system started doing the rounds.   

What could be worse?

But wait! How exactly have we been affected? True, the losses to our pocket books are real and serious. Yes, some of us have had to cut back: drive less, go easy on the eating out—an overall tightening of the belt on the spending.

But surely, the first generation Indians amongst us have seen worse—economic crisis or not. Most of us grew up experiencing—either first hand or at close quarters—real hardships. Regardless of the economy (which did not seem to have such a pronounced sway on our everyday lives in those days), we always knew what it meant to juggle the household budget?and still come up short for important things such as school supplies and uniforms. Most of us have seen (if not directly experienced) real financial strain. Like the depression-era generation of America, we, the first generation Indian Americans, have seen gut-wrenching economic hardships. Buying a piece of clothing was a measured decision; eating out was a once-in-a-blue-moon luxury.

I don’t mean to draw a picture that suggests we were a God-forsaken lot. We had our pride and our joys. Some of us even enjoyed rich pedigrees and were chauffer-driven to school. But all in all, financial abundance had certainly not rained upon the masses of our lot. We still remember rationing lines or buying vital supplies like sugar and oil in half-a-pound quantities—as that was all that the cash flow would allow.

Coming from that time and place, today, despite one of the most unprecedented economic meltdowns in American history, we still have supermarkets loaded with dozens of varieties of bread and the most exotic of ice-cream flavors imaginable—to name just a couple of staples J.

While we may have cut back, even those between jobs can conceivably indulge their cravings and fancies for food and clothing, the only challenge being the overabundance of choice. A variety of cuisines that even the Royalty of days past would envy are just a short drive away from most of us. And while we may think twice about it, an occasional indulgence of a $4 latte will not necessarily have us cutting back on school supplies for our kids.

I don’t mean to undermine the gravity of the situation—which has the potential to get catastrophic. All I am saying is that while our retirements may have come up under risk, we can put things in perspective by looking back at where we have come from, both as Indians and Americans.

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