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From the Panama Papers Files: I Love Money

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I want to become rich, very rich, so rich that I lose track of my own money. I like to grab money whenever I get a chance to do so and then store it. I like money so much that I have developed a natural likeness towards words such as amass, pile, heap, stock, collect, store, hoard, reserve, collect etc. I like to sum up these words in a single word: accumulate. I like accumulating money and derive a great sense of satisfaction from the fact that I have more money than yesterday.

There is something about money, perhaps a mysterious power that resides in it, that makes me crave it. I like to possess this power, the ultimate power of them all. But the more I have it, the more I want it. But I know that this drive is just temporary and when I have accumulated a lot of wealth I will stop. But for now, I want to continue accumulating wealth to the point that it becomes a very large sum, so large that when I mention the sum to people they look at me with disbelief. And then ask me “how much is that in Pakistani rupees?” And when I tell them, they look shocked and lost because they cannot wrap their heads around the largeness of the sum that I told them.

I want to embarrass them by showing them how small their idea of “wealthy” is. I want to see people kneel before me, well, symbolically, under the weight of that large sum. I want to be included in the company of the world’s richest people, not just the richest people of my country. The rich people of my country have small numbers, may be millions of dollars. I feel that a billion is a proper unit in which my wealth should be talked about, because the sound of this unit is very impressive and appropriate for people of my standing. It sounds dense and seems to pack lots of other smaller units of wealth in it. So when I say a billion, I know that I am a thousand times richer than a millionaire because there are one thousand million DOLLARS in a billion! When I walk among these men, I feel the largeness of the sum of my wealth in my body. They look like to me and to themselves as small objects. I, in contrast, look very large. I guess “heavy-weight” sounds about right for the kind of wealth we people have.

Wealth is now measured in very large numbers, so when I talk about my wealth I want to say a 700 million dollar business, a 55 million dollar villa, a 125 million dollar bonds holding, a 1.5 million dollar watch. These numbers satisfy me because they give my existence a kind of numerical gravity that I think suits my temper. I secretly wish I could get all my wealth in cash and see how big the stack is. I bet it’s huge! Oh, I feel a rush of adrenaline that shoots a pleasure-wave through the core of my being. I secretly admire a prime minister of Iceland or a petroleum minister of Russia, who, too, have also amassed wealth in very large numbers, numbers we don’t hear just rich people, or ordinary rich people, talk about. When I will go to the next international summit on human rights, or the 70th General Assembly session of the UN, I will ask people there advice about where to store my money. I remember on my last hajj trip the chief of Saudi Police introduced me to a gentleman in a slick suit from Luxemburg who worked for a firm which helped him manage his money. But, I wonder if it is safe, you know what I mean. The police chief said it is safe and secure and there are many important people, even from first world countries, who are the clients of this gentleman. I will put that down in my diary as the most important business for the next trip abroad. Oh, and I should tell Safi and Malik too about the gentleman from Luxemburg, I think they told me that they, too, have very large sums of money that they wanted to store away.

But I also know that there is a man in my country who walks every day to work despite the fact that there is a bus service that charges merely 20 rupees for a ride. But that 78 year old man makes a calculation every day that if he takes the bus rather than walk eleven miles he will end up spending 320 rupees every month. For this old man 320 rupees is a significant and large number. How can that be? What is this man thinking? 320 rupees a month is just 3 dollars a month. His daily life revolves around saving 10 rupees here, 25 rupees there. He will let go an extra paan, or an extra cup of tea so that he can accumulate 1000 rupees at the end of the month. This thousand rupees gives this man satisfaction which he can’t share with anyone because he knows that a 1000 rupees in nothing in the eyes of others. But for him, he knows that it is still significant.

He can buy eight kilos of rice of good quality, for example, if he wanted to. Or, give salamee at the next wedding. He schemes, plans, not to let his objective of saving 1000 rupees come in the way of fulfilling his social obligations towards his relatives who show up unexpectedly. Oh no, he has to spend 75 rupees to serve soda and biscuits to his daughter in laws because they showed up unannounced. Well, he still has 925 rupees. But he knows that this is not very much. This social visit upsets his plans to accumulate money. What should he do? He overcomes his urge for accumulation and goes to the market to buy soda and biscuits. As he was getting biscuits and soda, the man saw a group of charged-up men on the road beating another man. The man being beaten had just picked the pocket of one of the members of the community depriving him of 50 rupees. He was being taken to the cleaners, blood gushing through his head, after all, “it was no joke, he had stolen FIFTY rupees!” the old man heard a man say while beating the culprit. He silently agrees, “yes, 50 rupees, one could buy a bar of soap with that”.

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Shafqat Hussain teaches anthropology at Trinity College. He is the author of Remoteness and Modernity. Transformation and Continuity in Northern Pakistan. Shafqat is the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s Emerging Explorer Award.

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