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Lock up your wallet


YOU OFTEN wish there weren't so many "sales" happening round the year. Or you wish you hadn't allowed that hapless-looking, but extremely persistent marketing executive (salesman, if you are old-fashioned) to convince you that life isn't worth living without a credit card. For, which earthly mortal can resist when there is a whole world waiting to be owned — from books to bandini duppattas to solitaires — at the swipe of a piece of plastic? You promptly go on a guilt trip after every shopping binge and reel in shock when the credit card bill lands in your post. You say "Wow!" when you read about a Spanish woman who refused a free gift of a three-hour shopping spree (worth 6,000 euros) simply because she was "too busy". But none of this stops you from rushing to the next crafts fair or Levis half-price sale.

If you are part of this hungry-for-more urban middle-class, this new "Day" is sure to catch your attention — Buy Nothing Day, on November 28. "Stop shopping, start living," is its slogan. Like all those Special Days we have suddenly woken up to — in the name of friendship, motherhood, marriage, love... — this Day too is an import from the First World. But unlike all those that urge you to buy (a gift, a card... ), this one beseeches you to keep your wallet under lock and key.

Buy Nothing Day was launched in the Pacific Northwest 12 years ago as part of a campaign to promote consumer awareness and simple living. Observed on the day after Thanksgiving — one of America's busiest shopping days of the year — it's a day on which people make a pact with themselves, as a personal experiment and public statement, to step out of the consumer stream for 24 hours.

The idea of such a day was mooted by Kalle Lasn, the President of Media Foundation in Vancouver. Besides campaigns through various media and direct action, the foundation also runs a quarterly magazine called Adbusters (adbusters.org) that lampoons the American market, consumerism, and the advertising industry's manipulative ways, calling into the question the lopsided logic of economic progress. It aired, for instance, a programme called Affluenza, which focused how American-style overconsumption results in ecological degradation, unfair distribution of wealth, and makes even the "war against terror" inevitable.

The ways people have marked this event are varied and interesting. The milder ones "hawk" hope and happiness or distribute what they call "gift exemption vouchers". The more audacious set up credit card cut-up centres outside shopping malls. And the daredevils go a step further — the members of the Ruckus Society, a California-based direct-action group, once dropped a huge banner ridiculing over-consumption right in the middle of a mall.

Understandably, this is one idea that has not been easy to sell in some circles. The three big television networks of the U.S., ABC, CBS, and NBC, have consistently refused to air any spots on this campaign saying that it "threatens the current economic policy of the United States." And a report in Adbusters confesses: "The handful of quixotic counter-propagandists were outnumbered nationwide, perhaps one million to one, by glassy-eyed shoppers."

The First World logic that guides Buy Nothing Day does not, of course, apply to us on many counts.

Apart from the larger economic factors, November end is not the shopping season for us. Around Deepavali or Pongal would be more like it, when we get discounts and special offers by the sackful. Not a bad idea to have our own version of Buy Nothing Day around this time, considering how, increasingly, we can hardly think of any "outdoor activity" except shopping and eating out.

BAGESHREE S.

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