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Friday, Jun 07, 2002

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Why `afford' is unaffordable

D. Murali

ONE argument against war is that we can't afford it. Because we have a lot of other problems to attend to, such as laying roads, providing water, building schools, and so on.

I look up `afford' in and it dates the word as of 14th century with the meaning `to manage to bear without serious detriment, or to be able to bear the cost of'.

But this is something that seems to have lost its edge now. Kids can't afford to waste time at the telly, but they do. You advise teenagers that they can't afford to ride bikes without helmets, but speed thrills. Diabetics know they can't afford to accept the laddu offered as prasad in the temple, but they take an extra dose of medicine later. Commuters trying to wake up at 5 a.m. remind themselves that they can't afford to miss the 5.45 local for the long haul, but shut the alarm. Taxpayers know they can't afford to pay tax and still live happily but they still file past the filing counter obediently.

Patients can't afford doctors' errors, public can't afford politicians' extravaganza and parents can't afford their wards' lavishness in hostels. Errors of judgment can cost the life of accused, and printers' devils have been notorious in sending people to their graves hastily. But these are a matter of routine.

Afford is out of context now, because that would be the last thing on anybody's mind. One doesn't mind adding things to the shopping cart, even if the wallet is empty, for you can always swipe the card. Similarly, many can afford to violate traffic rules because they are prepared to pay the price, either white or black. Peep into a shamiana or kalyana mandapam and you would have trouble spelling `afford'.

Babies don't check whether the pop and mom could afford to rear them. Nor do people die after verifying that their successors can afford their funeral. "I can't afford a Ford," you tell the salesman, but he says, "That's okay. Ford can afford you."

Financiers would cease to exist if everybody gave `afford' its due.

Naik doesn't foresee that you would stop taking your car out just because there is a steep hike in fuel price. And Sinha would be the last to expect you to hold back on taxes just because you can't afford to pay them.

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