Saturday, March 07, 2009

Oh, THAT recession

Times are tough all over the world, but the experts say there’s no point running around panicking like chickens with our heads cut off. I expect they mean that it’s wiser to stand still and quietly fall apart, so as I watch the unhappy tide of recession turn inexorably onto Indian shores I’ve tried to respond with the snappy moves of a deer caught in the headlights: keep turning down work, eat out a lot more than before, and put all your savings into the stock market.

Who could blame me, then, for being utterly unprepared for the phone call I fielded the other day from a publication I consult with, telling me nicely that that gig had suddenly flatlined—turned pale, lain down and died. It turned out that the publication had regretfully blah blah decided that it was going to have to streamline blah blah and stick to its in-house editorial team from now on, due to revised budget constraints blah blah.

This was, sadly, the job that really paid my bills. As it happened I was in a nursing home at the time when this phone call came through, accompanying someone who was undergoing some tests, so after the nursing staff had determined that my breathlessness and the pain in my left arm was only because I was still holding the phone to my ear and sobbing, I was able to order four cups of overpriced tea I didn’t need, and then head out to a restaurant to consume some unmemorable wine and pricey pizza with friends.

I have consistently been told that the word ‘consultant’ is more credible than ‘freelancer’. Despite the hideous self-importance of the word I’ve gotten used to it, and, as part of my ostrich strategy to deal with the global downturn, have assiduously failed to acknowledge the changing winds. Just five minutes before the grim beeper rang, the universe had sent me (and I had duly failed to recognise) a portent of things to come: I’d been snickering over a New Yorker magazine cartoon that showed a pest control chap carrying his eradication equipment, telling the office receptionist: “We got a call about a consultant.”

The New Yorker is such a great magazine. I wonder if they’re outsourcing work they could do right there in New York, to consultants in Delhi.

Now that I’ve been personally bitten in the fundamentals, I’m suddenly really upset about this whole downturn thing, and am actively wondering how to save myself from the train wreck that promises to be next month’s bank balance. If you’re one of those annoying people who divide the world into ants and grasshoppers, I fall squarely into grasshopper category: I spent this entire financial year’s earnings on airline tickets, movies, extravagant dinners, good wine, wine dinners, and more extravagant meals.

On the other hand, I can console myself with the thought that the recession happens to have wiped out the ants as well, and that if we are all destined to wind up insolvent and dribbling with fear about our old age, I may well have taken the happier road there.

I like to think that something else will come up before I have to hang myself from the fan with my shoestring budget. In the meantime, the cheapest way to generate endorphins is to put on my shoes—while I still have some—and heave my sweating bulk over a few kilometres of track. It’s a strategy that dovetails nicely with my needs in the wake of all those meals and bottles of wine.

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