When I walked into Class 8 yesterday, I was a little unsure what to expect. Usually there is a little bit of a catch-up phase after vacation when everyone has to reacclimatise to the sounds of English and become comfortable with these words coming out of their mouth. Couple this with a subject as vast and abstract as ‘time’ and I was not sure what I was getting myself into.
The first few questions received lukewarm responses and monosyllabic answers. Would you go back in time? Would you want to know your future? Do you think time travel should be a thing? And then I hit the jackpot. I did a word association exercise with ‘Time’ written in big block letters on the board. Tell me every word you can think of when I say time, I asked them.
Day, month, year. Day, night, seasons. Alarm, clock, watch, mobile phone. Late, early. Postponed, advanced. Punctuality. Money.
When I heard that last one, I pried a little more, asking what the boy meant. I fully expected him to tell me Thought for the Day-type quotes of time being money and how neither should be wasted. He entirely took me by surprise when he said things become more expensive over time. Ok, I thought. This could be a chance to do an Economics 101, perhaps the most ignored part of what TN government counts Social Science and arguably the most dry for middle schoolers.
So we wrote the words ‘inflation’ and ‘free markets’ on the board. When asked why the prices increase, the answer was ‘taxes’ so that was written on the board too. There began our class, a slight deviation from my intended plan on composition and tense.
I chose the whiteboard marker in my hand as weapon of choice. If you were to put a price to this, what would you say, I asked. The average answer was between Rs. 20 and 30, with one kid saying Rs. 10 and another saying Rs. 35. Assuming you are all shopkeepers right next to each other selling only markers, who would get all the business, I asked. The girl who said Rs. 10 very excitedly put up her hand. I would, Akka. My shop is only cheap. And what would you others do, I prodded. Get angry, Akka, the girl quipped. I chuckled and asked what after that. We’d reduce our prices, they said. By how much? Lower than hers. What else could you do? Give offers, Akka. Great, perfect. So who is deciding the prices? We are, Akka. And how do you decide? Seeing who wants to buy, Akka. And this, is demand-supply 101. My fingers (and the muggu in me, I accept) was itching to draw the graph and take it from there, but I stopped myself. The concept was more important that x-axis y-axis, I reminded myself. Ok, so markets are any space where people want to sell and others want to buy. Whether it is your sandhai or it is Flipkart. Yes, ka. Even if we can’t see it, selling and buying is happening. Perfect. Free markets done.
Now, had anyone heard your parents cribbing about how cheap things were in their time? Yes Akka, my father said he could even go to the theatre with Re. 1! Perfect. What can you buy with Re. 1 today? Chocolate. And how much do you need to go to the theatre today? Around Rs. 150, Akka. Great, so what used to cost Re. 1 costs Rs. 150 now? Yes, Akka. Is that entirely because of taxes, you think?…Umm. You tell, Akka.
Ok, detour number 279401. What are taxes? GST, Akka. Income tax, Akka. Those are examples, what is a tax itself? Something we need to pay, Akka. To whom? Income tax department, Akka. Which is a part of what? The government, Akka. There we go. So if you had to pay Rs. 20 for something, and the government asked for another Rs. 20 as tax, would you be happy? No Akka. And if you were not happy with the government, what can happen? We will not put vote for them, Akka. Great, so they will not get re-elected? So the price of something increasing by Rs. 149 cannot be entirely taxes? Yes, Akka. So what is it?
Today you need Rs. 150 to buy something that used to be Re. 1. Alternatively, the Re. 1 that could get you a full movie can now only get you chocolate? Meaning how much that Re. 1 can buy has fallen? This fall in purchasing power is what has led to Re. 1 becoming Rs. 150, an increase in prices? This is inflation. Now imagine this at a much larger scale. If you can buy a bike with Rs. 1 lakh today but I told you in the next few years, you will need Rs. 1 lakh to buy bread, what would happen? We would become poor, Akka. Now if that happens to the whole country? Everyone would become poor. So when this fall in purchasing power happens at a huge scale like this, when people’s entire savings are needed to buy bread, it is called hyperinflation.
And with this, the English class came to an end. I had not touched tenses, no one had written a word in their notebooks, but I came out of that class rejuvenated, refreshed, and hopeful about everything we can do in the classroom. Growing up, I enjoyed Economics even up to college but never counted myself confident enough to teach it. I remember my own Economics teacher in class 10 and how he struggled with us to labour through the graphs and definitions that IGCSE demanded. I would have never thought I would be on this side of an Economics lesson, even if only inadvertently.
Later in the evening, when I was narrating the incident to someone, they asked if I had taught entirely in English (yes), if they had engaged (yes, asking for repetition and clarification through it) and if they had understood (I’d like to think so). My phone buzzed in response. Wow, the text read. My sentiments exactly.