Parag Tembulkar
Guest Article

The rich frugality of a Konkani

More doesn’t do what less does. That’s why less is more than more... Lockdown musings from the desk of Parag Tembulkar.

Konkan is the Asterix-ian region of India that refuses to concede to the lavish and loud. Hugging part of the west coast of India, it’s a region that’s forever on the cusp of God-given fertility and Man-made poverty. A rare combination, rather than an imbalance, that gave rise to some of the most observant, sarcastic and independent minds you’d never have known. (Feel free to Google.) My ancestors come from that part of the world and, hence, so do I, by default and DNA.

The rich frugality of a Konkani

The hallmark of a proper Konkani is living within means and waxing eloquent about it till your ears fall off and you have no more teeth to grind, or fists to clench.

“Less is more” is the general motto. “If you need this much, why have that much” is a way of life that pretty much straddles effortlessly across the economic and social strata. Money is a reluctant transaction rather than a philosophy of greed.

So, while we all went through the (COVID) pandemic and the journey of self-conservation, I hibernated in my Konkan part of New York, my home, working my way through every bit of coconut and “kokum” (Garcinia Indica or “amsol” used in “sol kadi” or never-mind-it’s-hard-to-explain). “What if it gets over and I never get any?” being the age-old existential fright that is, subconsciously, more of an excuse to ration.

The Konkanis may well have invented the term “hunkered down”. It is more than a term. It is a perpetual discourse and a state of mind of every Konkani worth his or her “masya chi amti” (fish curry). “Puraon puraon” are the two(?) words I heard most growing up other than “gharatlya gharat”. (Loosely meaning “ration it, make it last” and “why spend too much, keep it simple and homely” respectively. Gee, I really must stop trying to explain the inexplicable.)

When you spend less, you have more. As the Squirrellean proverb goes, “For those who are frugal are the ones who have everything come doomsday.”

(Speaking of squirrels, Sunil Gavaskar never gave away his wicket but accumulated an astronomical number of runs. That’s one frugal-rich Konkani for you.)

I carried this quirk as a badge of honour and pride — wherever I went, whatever I earned — defying the gravity of upwardly mobile lifestyles. All this, much to the perplexion and annoyance of my large-hearted wife from a large-hearted family, who remains forever stupefied with my Silas Marnian ways, even after years of togetherness. So you see, the scene at home is always set for a bout on a daily basis. Konkani versus non-Konkani.

But all that apart, there’s something here, in this self flagellatory observation and baring.

This frugality sits on my shoulder as an advertising writer and creative, reminding me a few things time and again:

People don’t want more, they want less. Less of you yelling into their ears to buy stuff they don’t want. They don’t want you to sell them more, they don’t want your spew. Your best chance to get to them is by telling them less, not more. Just a bit, that tiny bit that gets them and makes them want a bit more.

I got this frugality as inheritance; luckily and unfashionably. It’s the same frugality that crept into my words, visuals and emotion. Something I wish for you folks of non-Konkani extraction (especially those starting their careers in brand storytelling) can adopt as a way of life. If not anything, at least, it kinda helps during times of pandemics and lockdowns.

What else can I tell you to explain what I rattled on about? Well, it's the difference between shouting, “there’s a tiger behind you” and whispering, looking into your eyes, “there’s a tiger behind you”. What's gonna frighten you more, eh?

(The author is a New York-based creative consultant and writer.)