IN UPAMANYU CHATTERJEE’S 1993 novel, The Last Burden, the 20-something Jamun recalls a Faustian moment: he had once offered to take care of his parents until their death if they made over all their money to him. His father, Shyamanand, dismisses the idea, so Jamun says gravely, “Even when I urgently need money, I shall not thumb yours. When you feverishly need me, I won’t be within reach.”
The memory of this attempted pact, which the family laughed off, is triggered by the realisation that Jamun and his elder brother Burfi don’t really need their father’s money; they’ve done reasonably well for themselves. What the family cannot abide is Shyamanand’s compulsive squirreling away of his measly savings. Burfi says, “Oof, such a dismal lower-middle-class exercise, a babyish sport—to mothball the interest on a Fixed Deposit—never wade into it—with that interest after months to archly open a Recurring Deposit, and with the interest of the Recurring Deposit to start some Term Deposit, or National Savings…”
Jamun reminds his brother that he is as fixated on money. He recalls Burfi’s wife Joyce once reprimanding Pista, their young son, about his habit of getting off the school bus at the wrong stop and detailing to him the horrors of being kidnapped. Burfi had intervened to point out to mother and son that the real horror would be the cash they’d have to fork out if the little bugger was abducted.
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