I have full intention of calling paisa vasool, the economics of passion… but I know you will be the one to say this by the time you finish reading this article.

We’re totally intoxicated and infatuated by gains that come again and again. Repeatedly. Non-stop, if that is possible. Makes us say, ‘I live a premium life!’ So what if it is the economics of living that makes us say this… we’re quite happy with premium economy, if I may put it in this form.

My paisa vasool life

Look at me and look at what I did today. I went for a brisk walk when the sun was high in the sky. Why did I do this? Before I get to that let me add that I was able to do this because I do not have a regular 9-to-5 job and I sit at home and write. A writer’s privilege to go anytime for his walk! But writers are sedentary people and tend to add a lot of unsolicited weight all the time. So this is why I went for an afternoon walk… not just to open my ligaments and muscles but to sweat and lose weight. And today, the second day, I stood on the weighing machine and chortled: ‘Paisa vasool! I’ve lost more than 5 kilos and am also preparing for my Valley of Flowers trek that we have already booked.’ Money invested means I need to be able to trek and hike. Remember… we love the economics of passion!

Bargaining with ‘bar bar gain’

So this is what is ‘paisa vasool’ for us… or ‘bar bar gain’ (again again gain, as some online translator might say!) We love our gains to repeatedly manifest themselves. It isn’t just bargains that we look for and fight for… but bar bar gains. ‘Bargains repeatedly’ fascinates us.

But listen, we are smart enough to know when we’re being passed off junk because we look for value all the time. Some of our logic on ‘paisa vasool’ can sound almost like these observations & exclamations…

‘This homestay in the Yorkshire Dales suits our budget. But ask the dear fellow if he can also let us drive their car to nearby places!’

Sabziwale bhaiya! Thank you for Dhaniya but give me just one lemon for chutney. Please.’

‘I’ll rhyme your needs with mine, my dear
But you pay and I’ll claim, you hear?’

Well, I realised as I wrote this that I also needed to ask Specky, my wife, what she thinks of this concept.

‘What do you think of this very Indian trait of paisa vasool?’

Specky speaks her mind

She asked me to follow her to our Study and showed me at least a dozen books that were full of tips on how to put to use things that were already past their prime. These books were full of ideas that many of us have anyway been practicing at home. Old socks that can be turned into a scrubber in the kitchen, old calendars to line shelves and drawers, previous year’s diaries for rough work, cardboard and plastic boxes for sweets reused to carry lunch while travelling, milk pouches washed, dried and kept aside for applying henna on hands… our repertoire of reusing objects is indeed vast. This list doesn’t exist only on paper but can be seen in use in most of the homes here. And no, there is absolutely no reason to hide this fact or to be ashamed of these practices. We love to even keep our old newspapers, old bottles, old containers, and old clothes too to be resold to the ‘kabadi’ who sells them all further… so there are people buying old newspapers from the kabaddi to turn them into paper bags. Let me add here that even our khansama or cook loves to creatively use all that anyone in any other part of the world might throw away… she made a hand-fan using sacks that contained atta and scraps of cloth material that the tailor had thrown.

Ganga, our cook at home... with her hand-made fan that is a symbol of 'paisa vasool'

Ganga, our cook at home… with her hand-made fan that is a symbol of ‘paisa vasool’

Paisa vasool and re-use are siblings

Recycling for us isn’t as dull and colourless as dumping everything used into a big black bin liner and throwing it all into segregated municipal bins. We love to hand-paint old bottles and use them as planters… I’ve seen friends cleanly cutting the top off coke and beer cans and use them for growing cacti. Believe me, this looks lovely and even the cacti must be smiling at such a lot of variation in their pots… something tells me that we don’t really like too much regimentation or uniformity in anything and this is possibly the reason why place a plant in a beer bottle and have a newspaper cutting with Salman Khan’s photo to cover our English Reader! Look, this is what paisa vasool is all about… not letting anything feel discarded and disregarded – not even old newspapers! Yes sir, we are emotional about everything… well, this is how we calculate the economics of our passion!

A friend once asked, ‘Is re-use exclusive to India?’

I said, ‘No, reusing is something that is done everywhere in some measure. They have allowed scientific recycling concepts to enter their lives. But here in India, it isn’t just reusing, but using something until it is completely unusable.’ There is this subtle difference between mere reuse and to use until even God possibly mutters, ‘What is this thing that I created?’ The moment God utters this, believe me, paisa vasool has happened!

For Indians, old clothes are passed on from the eldest son to the youngest grandson, and toys are kept aside carefully for generations until one smart kid searches the net and shouts, ‘I just discovered that the real name of this board-game is ‘Battleship’.’ This is true. Packages can be messed up over time, but Grandpa will drone on, ‘You don’t get this kind of sturdy plastic now. This battleship is the best battleship you’ll ever get.’ The same is true for a pressure cooker that no longer stands still because it still does the job doesn’t it, the crazy ball that is crazy no more but stays because there will always be a toddler in the growing family to roll it, wall hangings that have seen umpteen shifts and are now happily grinning at your family that stands naked in the bathroom because a gift is a gift and must be respected, pens that have had their refill spring replaced dozens of times because the pen is either imported or was once used by grandpa’s father and must not be thrown, and everything that you see around you has an intrinsic value. Some people call this paisa vasool but I call it bar bar gain or the real bargain between passion and economics in an Indian home.

Another avatar of paisa vasool

I remember a friend telling me that he had once booked a cinema ticket for a movie without reading its review. There was a scheme going on where he was able to buy tickets at half the price and some sponsor had thrown in a beverage as well as the popcorn that cine-goers find so attractive. The movie turned out to be ridiculously boring and he couldn’t stand it but kept sitting until the interval when he had our beverage and popcorn and then just dozed through the remaining part of the film. He ended his story with a line that stunned me: ‘Paisa vasool bhai, the film was useless but I had fun dozing in that air-conditioned hall and the cold drink and popcorn too were tasty! I had all this at fifty percent price. Imagine! Paisa vasool bhai.’

Who says we don’t have an evolved sense of humour? We spend money for a movie that we do not see and yet feel we managed to get a great deal! When I hear about such incidents, I get a feeling that ‘paisa vasool‘ is more of an advantage that the mind conjures up… and yet, smiles and happy faces tell a story that seems real enough.

The sneaker buyer

Let me tell you the story of another friend who had a really different definition of the concept of paisa vasool. His logic while buying expensive sneakers was simply unbeatable. He shared this secret with me once, ‘You know if I spend four thousand on sneakers, I need full paisa vasool. So I don’t take a bus and I walk. Now if I walk the three kilometres to my office daily, I will have walked six kilometres daily which comes to 150 kms in a month.’

I looked at him and asked, ‘So how does this connect to paisa vasool?’

‘Simple. In two years I will have walked 4000 kms if I take this walk to office and other times when I walk. I use the money saved on bus tickets that I would otherwise have bought for tea and snacks. So I use my sneakers to give me money for tea and snacks… paisa vasool!’ I nodded my head as I know this to be one of the myriad ways in which the Indian mind connects with the concept.

Bull’s eye

The best example I stumbled upon was in an aircraft while flying to Coimbatore to drive with Narain Karthikeyan. There were a group of people carrying home-made parathas and pickle. Soon the aircraft smelt like the kitchen in an Indian home and this group was happily having their parathas in a no-frills flight that served nothing unless it was bought.

I asked one of them, ‘This flight will last for barely three hours. Couldn’t you have waited until you reach the destination to have your parathas?’

The man looked at me and said, ‘Less money for flight ticket and parathas in the air… don’t you think this is paisa vasool?’

Ok. Ok. I agree with everyone that paisa vasool is interesting, has many ways of expressing itself, and we Indians love it. I’m sure we will love the #LufthansaPremiumEconomy that will give us yet another reason to find extra value. I’m sure flying Lufthansa will be a perfect analogy of ‘paisa vasool‘ and only once I’ve flown the airline will I be able to tell you all its ‘exxtra value’ features in detail.




Face to face with paisa vasool... in India

Face to face with paisa vasool… in India




Arvind Passey
17 June 2015