Recently, the television channels have been beaming this nostalgic, retro-looking ad for Cadbury's Dairy Milk Chocolate, where a dhoti-clad man is given a wad of currency notes by his Boss, "Banke, tumhara pagar (Bankey, your salary)" and the chorus breaks into the happy-go-lucky jingle, "Kuch meetha ho jaaye, aaj pehli tarikh hai (Let's celebrate with something sweet, it's the first day of the month)" - the "meetha" obviously referring to the chocolate.
When we were young, my Baba (father), who was an engineer working with the West Bengal State Electricity Board, would come home all happy and flushed on the first (or second, or third) of every month, one hand joyfully holding up a celebratory cardboard box of mishti (Bengali-style sweets) and the other hand cautiously clutching his trousers-pocket, which contained his monthly salary in cash (less the amount spent on the aforesaid sweets).
Most of his trousers had a special inner pocket (hidden under the lining of the front pocket) sewn on to them specifically for the purpose of guarding the salary - it was always paid in cash those days. As he usually travelled by local train, he had to be aware of pickpockets, who did brisk business in the early days of each month. In the crowded trains from Sealdah to Barrackpore, you had to take every precaution to guard the amount in your secret pocket.And that four-figure amount (which now looks almost impossibly meagre) was sufficient to provide for a family of six (my grandparents, parents, brother and myself) - food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare and the occasional indulgence like the box of sweets.
The box usually contained the lethally high-calorie and syrupy "atom-bomb mishti". Perhaps Baba felt it was appropriate to start each month with a big-bang splurge. Sometimes, especially towards the end of the financial year when tax-cuts truncated the take-home pay, he would be more prudent and come home flourishing an earthen pot (a BIG one, mind you) of rasogollas (the famous Bengali sweet made of cottage-cheese balls boiled in sugar syrup).
For us, however, the effect was same. The beginning of the month meant a worthwhile wait for Baba to come back from 'office'. Sometimes, he would come late, because he would refuse to board too-crowded rush-hour trains. He would let the crowded ones pass, before getting up on a train which had space to sit, which made it difficult for pickpockets to pilfer your salary. But, late or not, come home he would. Spreading happiness and sweets. While we carefree-ly chomped on the calories, Maa (mother) carefully counted the currency and put the notes in various envelopes (for various household expenses) in the money box in the almari (cupboard).
Today, our salaries have increased by a few more zeroes at the end, and they are conveniently credited to our bank accounts. But the tangible thrill of clutching a fistful of hard-earned, my-own money and the small but immediate pleasure of splurging on a treat for myself and my loved ones has perhaps decreased to zero.
ANY FIRST DAY, CASH-PAY MEMORIES?