I Think

The Birthday Tax

Sometimes I can be a dick, a big tactless dick. Only recently I got into an altercation over a forward email and came out as a spectacular dick. I could have avoided it, but it was too good a chance to avoid. I dont deny I enjoyed it. But sometimes I am compelled to be the dick. And between voluntarily being a dick and being forced to be one, I prefer the former.

In the course of social evolution, people have developed the quality of appraising anything in general and people in particular. We try desperately to stereotype people into categories. Take for example my case. A software engineer, who has been working in a decent establishment is expected to do well off. I am in fact well off in an objective way, as far my primary needs of food, shelter, clothing, freedom of thought and action, good friends are concerned, I am doing remarkably well. But this is not the wellness that the society had in mind when pronouncing that I am well off. It expects a well doing s/w engineer to have coffee in Barista, luncheon in Basera, evening chat at Ananda Bhavan, dinner in Kumarakom, the occasional weekend at Geoffrey's, a Honda Unicorn to roam around, a 1200 sq ft apartment in OMR… I could go on. But being a guy with a fair share of domestic responsibilities and a dislike for needless* spending I play cheap in most places. The point is people expect the likes of me to be something which disappointingly I am not.

Coming to the being forced to be a dick part of the story. The software industry had developed this tradition of having team lunches, dinners, treks, trips etc to promote camaraderie among colleagues. These occasions are seen as essential stress relievers these days. I dont remember my father ever needing one, but maybe that explains why he is so gruff. A team of reasonable size has enough reasons to go on a treat, product releases, weddings, a new car, birth of a kid, birthdays and so on. I suppose this custom started as a innocuous voluntary activity where a willing person would offer to treat. And another did on a different occasion. People started taking turns and at the same time, the team grew in size. Slowly, the whole thing snowballed to the tacit yet freely spoken social protocol where one person has to treat others once in a year, and to avoid controversies and to attain utopia, a fixed amount of a measly thousand five hundred would be given 'willingly' by each member of the team on the occasion of their birthdays. Quite naturally, I am the only dissenter and the dick of the team.

Funnily enough, I have been reading this book called Consolations of Philosophy, which though not deeply philosophical is consoling enough. The author looks up to lives of various western philosophers to draw consolations for sentiments such as frustrations, feeling of not being loved, economic difficulties and so on. The first consolation ironically is for unpopularity and the philosopher cited is none other than Socrates. Socrates if anything was guilty of questioning the status quo. Despite being offered a chance to renounce his philosophy and avoid death, the philosopher chose to defend his beliefs rather than rat out. Admittedly I am not in such a predicament, nevertheless I run the risk of unpopularity on account of being a cheapskate, in which case I shall draw consolation from Socrates and move along without selling out.

*atleast to me, I have my own need based spending that others may find needless, for example my dad thinks my spending on books is needless. 

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