The word “miscellaneous” is a standing joke in my family.
My father gave us, his children, access to the cash box in which money for weekly expenses was kept. He also had his famous account books – you know those long broad ones used in offices. Whoever took money from the cash box had to make entry in the cash book. At the end of the day, he used to check the account book. The difference between the debit and credit was entered by him as miscellaneous. When miscellaneous expenses exceeded permissible limit, he used to inform us. That was an observation that the entries were not being made properly.
It so happened that, at one point in tme, the miscellaneous expenses began to exhibit an unrelenting tendency to move up steadily. My brothers called an emergency meeting to conduct a post-mortem. I was around 8 years old and had just been given access to the cash box. Since the erratic behaviour of the 'miscellaneous' was a recent phenomenon, they realised that i was responsible for this inflation, which, they feared, would end up in controls on the cash box operation.
“Molly, you are the one messing up the accounts book”, accused brothers No.1. I had six brothers, by the way.
I was annoyed, cos there was some truth in it. I kept a grumpy silence.
“Have you been forgetting to make entry when you take cash?” cross examined brother No2. (The numbering, incidentally, is not in the order of seniority, but in the order of appearance in the narrative)
“No. “, i replied, angrily.
My younger brother (i have only one) who was three years my junior, and who had been the beneficiary of my recently acquired access to the cash box, played the Brutus on me.
“When she takes 4 rupees, she writes only 3”, the smart youngster yelled accusingly, trying to win his way into to the senior males’ good books.
I pounced on the traitor, rightly indignant, but was restrained by my older and wiser siblings.
“Take it easy, Molly, can’t afford to antagonise him. He’ll spill the beans with ichayan too. So better to humour him.” Said brother No.2
“The one rupee extra is for the Sea Lord ice cream for two of us – and now he is squealing on me”, i raged in high pitched excitement.
“Why don’t you write that you took money for the ice-cream? Ichayan won’t say anything”. That was brother No.3.
“Amma’ll scold me’, i sulked. “But i gave this stupid fellow ice-cream or sweets or bombay mittai each time i bought these. In fact, i bought them mainly for him”. I couldn’t get over the betrayal.
“Leave it Molly, he’s only a kid”, pacified Brother No.3
“But a real kandhari”, i said glaring at the little villain. ”You wait and see”, i told him shaking my index finger at him.”I’ll never buy you Sea Lord ice cream again”, i said viciously.
He started bawling, loud. “I’ll tell ichayan you took the money”, he screamed between wails.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry, Mon”, said brother No 3.”If she doesn’t buy u ice cream, we’ll give you. We’ll buy you condensed milk and Cadbury’s too. You can dip Cadbury into condensed milk and eat, It’s so tasty”, said No 3, smiling encouragingly at him.
The wails stopped in a decrescendo while a smile slowly spread on the little fellow’s face.
After dealing with the probable threat from him, no 3 turned to me. “Take whatever you want but enter it in the account book. If you don’t want amma to know you bought sweets or ice-cream don’t write it, but show the correct amount.”
“But amma knows that six puffs cost only 3 rupees (i usually took money from cash box for household expenses, to be given to the helps who go out to buy things). So if i write 4, she’ll want to know what the one rupee was for.”
“Then you must write Puffs, pencil, eraser, foolscap paper or something like that and then show 4 rupees as the expenditure. You know amma won’t check the stationary items.” said No.3.
“What if she checks?” i said, not quite liking the idea of lying.
“Don’t be such a pedichhoori (lily livered). How do you think we buy condensed milk and Cadbury’s and badam kheer and go for movies?”
Years later, i discovered the truth that this accounts adjustment tendency is inherent in the male genes. When my son Mathew was in the plus 2, my husband was away in audit, and i had to take care of the accounts in the house – something which i hated. So i entrusted money to my son who was in the 11th standard. I soon discovered discrepancy in the balance, and told him this should not happen.
“OK, amma”. He said.”I’ll take care of it”.
Next weekend, when i checked the account book (it was a diary converted), i found a new entry had appeared as the last item in the daily acounts.It was XYZ.
“What’s XYZ, Mathan?”
“The money that i can’t account for.”
“Can’t or wont? ”
“ I don’t know when it went, amma. X, after all, stands for the unknown factor’ he said, grinning.
"Another unknown. Z still another". This was followed by his stupid heh, heh, heh.
As long as he was the accountant in the family, the highest expenses in the family were for XYZ.
The grandfather’s ‘miscellaneous’ metamorphosed into XYZ in the hands of the grandson.
XYZ- the letters which fig leafed Adam’s weakness!