07 June 2014

It’s a ‘buddy’ kind of life*

Society has for a long time trapped itself in dichotomies. We have the rich and the poor; the strong and the weak; the big and the small; the enlightened and non-enlightened; god and the devil. It is a neat way of categorising this complicated world, the equally complex thing called life and of course the mercurial thing called social process. Dichotomies are for the most part misleading.  Then again, if you were to play with that line for too long, you don’t get white you don’t get black but you are left with ‘f***ing grey’ as my friend the Bard of Thimbirigasyaya once said.

Among the many things that come out stark these days, is the interesting phenomenon dichotomised as "buddy-mega". A long time ago Dr. N.M. Perera recommened that the State Distillaries Corporation start selling arrack in quarter bottles so that low-income earners could get a clean drink within their budget. We have come a long way since that particular buddy-sized delight hit the market.

Today we have buddy-coke, buddy-fanta, and in fact a whole range of buddy-drinks. In addition there are a number of products which now come in a "hurubuhuti" pack, i.e. budget packs. We have toothpaste, butter, powdered milk, shampoo, chocolate, and I am sure many other things that the supermarkets are stacked with. After a carefully calculated length of time, the cost of the "buddy" product is raised, and soon we are paying the "mega price" for the smaller pack.

I am pretty sure that the companies that put out these products are not operating under the illusion that the vast majority of the people are somehow endowed with smaller stomachs, shorter intestines or smaller appetites for the good life. Being in business, it is more likely that they are acutely conscious of what the average income earner can afford.

The buddy-syndrome is something more than benevolent businesses wanting everyone to get a slice of high living, so to speak. Just like god becomes "great" in relation to the devil, the worth of the "buddy" can be measured vis a vis its opposite in size and volume, "mega". Mega, we are told, is meant to quench the big thirst. The problem is that it is not only the rich who have parched throats. It is just that only the affluent can afford to consume in mega proportions.

The buddy size is meant only to give a taste. It ensures that the poor consumer actually gets to "thola gaanna" the mega lifestyles of his/her dreams. It can by no means satisfy his/her thirst, but it will give just enough hope-juice to continue believing that someday the mega will be within reach.

"Buddying," I would venture is just another indication of the fact that people have been forced to tighten their belts. It is interesting to note that as our incomes rise, our purchasing capacity declines. I am not saying that people are stupid, and that they don’t know what this buddyism is about. For it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that there’s a point beyond which a belt cannot be tightened; you just run out of space to punch a hole to insert the frog of the buckle. You can’t sell "sips" of packeted Nestomalt or Milo. You can’t market toothpaste saying "just enough to brush your teeth in the morning!"

How are people to react? There are two ways. First, one can resolve to say "to hell with this buddy-mega joke, I will grow my own food". Tough, but worth a try, I would say. Such a strategy would include a reconsideration of our culture of consumerism and might even succeed in putting a little perspective on things.

Another way in which the buddy-mega bubble might burst is through protest, i.e. a more direct kind of response that aims to attack the syndrome of unequal distribution from the root. With buddy strategies, buddy agitation, or a buddy insurrection? I doubt it. The word "buddy" is not in the dictionary of desperate people. Do we want our buddy-mega world to be obliterated through a bloody revolution? Someone once said "those who make peaceful social change impossible, make violent revolution inevitable". Time for such people to start taking a buddy step backwards from their mega worlds and reflect, I think.

*First published in ‘The Island’ on June 20, 2001