The CPI-led inflation has been falling. From 7.01 per cent in June, the July inflation has eased to 6.71 per cent — hurray! And yet, when I went shopping for bread, biscuits, fruits and milk in July, the shopping bag and the pocket felt distinctly lighter compared to June. The only thing that felt distinctly heavy was my poor heart. As is often the case with heavy hearts, I remembered Mirza Ghalib. ‘ Bill-e-nadaan tujhe hua kya hain, akhir iss marz ki dawaa kyaa hain’, I hummed ruefully. As if in answer, the shopkeeper put on the radio. A popular Madhuri Dixit number came hurtling out at me. ‘ Bill toh pagal hain, bill deewana hain!’ Ooof, has inflation made everything go crazy and filmy around me?

I walked around the store, picking out a ketchup here, a packet of biscuits there. Instinctively, my hands were turning the products over to check the killer prices. Consumer behaviour has definitely changed in the past 3-4 months. Before four months, this is how the Indian consumer used to shop — wish, pick the product off the shelf, pay, done! Now, its more like this — wish, pick the product, turn it around to check the price, make a ghastly choking sound, look at the product again wistfully, do I really need this thing in my life, turn it again to see if it became cheaper by magic. ‘ Jahaan teri yeh najar hain, meri jaan mujhe khabar hain!

I eventually reached the vegetables section and picked up a bunch of nice, green coriander with a shaky hand. And turned it to the price label, which read — what? Is this right? ₹50? The aforementioned ghastly choking sound. Never have I seen such an atrocity! ‘ Ham pe ye kisne haraa rang dalaa?’, crooned Kavita Krishnamurthy melodiously. Well, the lady was going on about some ‘ khushi’ in the song, hmmm, definitely the missing emotion in my mind just now, I thought. But on one thing, she was absolutely right. ‘ Maar dala!’

If prices were the only variable, errr, varying in the shop, I would still be one cool customer. But these companies also change the weight to strange numbers. I suddenly find shampoo bottles on the shelf holding 108 ml or 650 ml and I am simply clueless about what the price per ml was in the last month. So now I am in the unenviable position where I know that I do not know — pretty much anything. ‘ Aage bhi jaane na tu, peeche bhi jaane na tu, jo bhi hain, bas yun hi ek price hain!’

Costly credit

Now this inflation does not only bother the retail customers. Small entrepreneurs have been in big trouble. Product pricing has not really kept pace with the costing of materials, and net incomes are getting squeezed out. The entrepreneur gets an order and runs into the bank, wanting to take a working capital loan, only to find it is becoming more and more expensive. If one wants to service the expensive loan, one needs more net income. But then, how can one have high net income after one services the loan taken at super high interest rates? RD Burman gave me the answer this time, by playing me the peppy song from Amol Palekar’s Golmaal. ‘ Paisa kamaane ke liye phir paisa chahiye/ Golmaal hain bhai sab Golmaal hain!

As the RBI raises rates to arrest the inflation and depreciation, there is an inevitable compromise on growth. You can’t have the cake and eat it too; no subject teaches this better than economics. So, it’s a question of managing the challenge, rather than curing the situation. As Lata Mangeshkar reminded me so very melodiously, ‘ Ye Roshni ke saath kyun, dhuwan utha chirag se’.

As I stood in the payment queue at the billing counter, seven brothers joined me in appealing to the shopkeeper. ‘ Inflation humein kis mod pe le aayaa, ke bill kare haaye (haaye!), koi ye bataaye kyaa hoga!’ What we hadn’t accounted for was the response. The shopkeeper suddenly looked at us with a different, wicked face — he had morphed into Don! The original tune given by Kalyanji-Anandji with a racy, wicked twist by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, came blaring into the shop. ‘ Jaraa bill ko thaam lo, daam do!

I left the shop to find Alia Bhatt looking smart and happy on a poster right outside the kirana store. Hmmm, does she feel the pinch too, I wondered. Looking at the poster, I firmly told her that I was not  Raazi to pay these kinda bills. She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. My sister told this to us a long time ago, she said. ‘ Bill hain ke mantaa nahin’.

The writer is a brave economist trying to laugh against the odds

social-fb COMMENT NOW