Originally published on the Times of India blogs, 21st September 2011
A good friend of mine, who’s also studying Hindi, is in the middle of that painful process we call househunting. It’s difficult enough back home, but here in Delhi there’s the added frustration of negotiating with money-hungry property dealers, and, as foreigners, we’re also subject to interrogation sessions from landlords, who want to know exactly why a Western woman would want to live in Delhi. In the past, the fact that I’m not Indian has stopped me from being able to rent several flats.
So my friend has focussed her search on a website that deals specifically in the queries and requests of Delhi-based expats. While ads for reasonably priced rooms in shared apartments do occasionally pop up, most posts seem to have been made by people from a completely different world to ours:
Spacious, semi-furnished room available in Hauz Khas Village. Rent Rs.35,000 p/m excl. water, electricity and broadband charges. Private balcony, ensuite bathroom and ample parking. We also have a maid, cook, gardener and security guard (cost additional). Call 123xyz if interested.
And it’s not just property adverts. There are plenty of other examples of unneccessary expenditure:
Voucher available for laser hair removal at a reputed salon in Greater Kailash. Underarms, legs, bikini area etc, worth Rs.66,000…
I’m looking for a music and yoga teacher for my two-year-old daughter…
I understand that much of the Capital’s expatriate population will be earning a salary similar to that of the same job in, say, London (and quite possibly having their accommodation paid for too), and it goes without saying that these people are entitled to spend their money on what they like. But come on. Toddler yoga classes? Antique mahogany coffee table wanted? Looking for a partner to go horseriding with (must have own horse)? The list goes on.
Other adverts are just plain patronising: Does anyone know of a competent tailor in Vasant Vihar? Or I need a dentist for a good clean, but not one who’s going to damage my teeth.
Being in South Delhi, I’ve come into contact with the expat scene a bit more, and to be honest I find it all a bit frightening. I have met up with foreign acquaintances in bars where everyone drinks 500 rupee cocktails and whips out their Blackberry to call their driver at the end of the night. Fellow goras ask me how much I pay my maid and cook, and are taken aback when I explain that I sweep my own floors and make my own daal-chaval. I think that many of these people forget that, unlike them, I’m just a student here and not on a massive salary.
In blinding contrast to this is the other type of foreigner in India: the tourist. I have felt equally incredulous when a videshi struts out of IGI Airport with a hundred dollars, expecting it to fund a month of travelling. ‘Well, India is a developing country, isn’t it,’ the bearded backpacker will say in justification. ‘So that means it’s cheap.’ Wrong, my friend. Very wrong.
What actually sparked off this post was the frankly ridiculous news of the updated cut-off figures for the poverty line in India. At first I thought the headline’s mention of spending Rs.32 a day (in urban areas) and not being poor was a joke – I’m far from rich but I’ve already splashed out on a 30 rupee coffee today, and the idea of having only another Rs.2 for the rest of the day (and that’s to pay my rent, too) is quite terrifying.
Really, though, insane statements like ‘a daily spend of Rs1.02 on pulses, Rs2.33 on milk and Rs1.55 on edible oil should be enough to provide adequate nutrition’ are so utterly implausible that I can’t help but wonder if the government can really be serious. As a few of the commenters pointed out, try giving the PM Rs.32 a day for a month and we’ll see how he gets on.
So yes. I realise that I’m in absolutely no position to complain about a lack of money, but I do know what it’s like to live in Delhi on a budget (and a typical student budget is, of course, miles and miles higher than the poverty line). Dr Singh, my Hindi teacher, was explaining yesterday about the features of very early Hindi literature, in which the poets would go out and fight in battles so that they’d witness, first-hand, the very essence of war and fighting and thus be able to write vivid and honest accounts of their experiences. He illustrated the point with a more contemporary example, saying, ‘if you have spent your whole life in an airconditioned room in a five-star hotel, how could you possibly imagine what the heat of the midday sun feels like to a farmer working in the fields?’
I think that pretty much sums it up.