Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Greed and Contentment

What is the value of 10,000 for someone who earns 5,000 a month, vs the value of 500,000 for someone who earns 500,000 a month?

I learnt the answer to this from my maid last week. Her name is Meenu. She worked for me for 10 years. She used to earn 5,000 a month and left last year to get married. I gave her money and other household things as wedding gifts, but she also borrowed 10,000 rupees from me which she said she would return after about six months when she came back from the village. I happily gave her this loan.

There was no news from her or her husband for many months. I called on the number I had, and learnt she was back in town but unwell and could not talk to me or come see me. At first this did not bother me, but as time moved on I realized that perhaps she was not coming to see me because then she would have to pay the ten thousand back. She did not want to pay that and therefore did not want to see me, simple. I reconciled to this thinking she deserved to keep the money and I should let it go.

Last week I heard this story from a friend who mentioned that a senior director in their company left them a few months ago. I don’t know his name, let’s call him Manish. He earned a salary of 500,000 per month. He had taken an advance of 500,000 from the company which he refused to return under one pretext or another. To date he has not given it back, and has told them clearly that he does not intend to. He threatened legal action if they pushed him too hard. Even though the money was rightfully theirs, they decided not to waste time in legal battles and reconciled to this.

And then my maid turned up last week to see me. She had genuinely been unwell and came to see me as soon as the doctor allowed her to. And she brought the 10,000 back! I could not believe it. I gave 5,000 to her husband right away as a gift since I met him for the first time.

Once Meenu left I wondered, how do we decide how much is enough? Where does greed stop and contentment start? How is the value system of a maid different from that of a director in a company? We may have coined words such as the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) and so on based on economic parameters, but in my view Meenu is at the top of the pyramid (ToP) when it comes to morality and a value system and Manish at the bottom.

What do you think?

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