Friday, July 18, 2008

Luxuries and Basics

In India, the luxuries are cheap the basics are not
I wanted a massage. I wanted my traveler’s checks cashed. I wanted a manicure and a pedicure. And a facial would be nice. I told my sister this. No problems she said. She made a few phone calls. I got a nice massage at home yesterday for a few bucks. Some money exchange guy came to my place in the evening with wads of money. He took my traveler’s checks and gave me the cash. I think that the beautician comes home today. My sister is going to call a tailor who will come to my house, takes measurements and stitch some clothes for me. She is also going to ask a jewelry repair guy to come to my place and get all my broken jewelry fixed. All this while I am shopping, eating or watching a bollywood movie.
Oh the luxuries. They are so easy to come by in this country. All you need is to make a few phone calls. My sister is an expert at doing this. Luxuries are so cheap here. In US, I pay 80 dollars to get a massage. Here, it is only a couple of bucks. I want to move here. I really do.

But then my sister reminds me that the basics are not so cheap. And you can never rely on them. Things we take for granted in USA like electricity and water are extremely expensive. And you can never depend on them. Electricity goes off for hours every day. You never know when. You can have 3 air conditioners in your house. But what good is it if there is no electricity to turn them on? Sure everyone has a backup generator. But then it can only pump so much juice so you have to forgo the air conditioners.

Getting clean running water too can be a challenge. You can live in a mansion and install the latest shower system and Jacuzzis in the bathrooms. But the water will trickle down the shower head. And it may stop completely while you are shampooing your hair.

My sister told me that when they built their house, they had to drill for a well. (I don’t know the technical terms). But they had to do something. But after a few years, they needed to go through the drilling process again. It cost thousands of rupees. But they paid for it. Unfortunately, the water that came from the well was very bad. It was salty and tasted very strange. So they paid more money to drill another hole. The water was a little better. They can use it but never drink it. They can never drink water from the tap. They have to boil it first and run it through water filters. Every single day.

In Mumbai (Bombay), the entire city had no water for a day. But mumbai-ites took it with stride. They filled up pots and pans with water. Most apartment complexes have a water tank. So they could take showers. And flush toilets.

Luxuries are cheap and easily available. McDonalds delivers food to your door step in Delhi. Even if you want a vegetarian burger for about twenty rupees (30 cents). You can also order gourmet meals from restaurants and they will deliver the food. Last minute guests? No problems. Call the shop in the neighborhood and order fresh samosas. They will deliver in ten minutes. Rental cars come with drivers. If you give the driver a 3 dollar tip, they will make sure that you have the most pleasant experience.

But life for the common man is full of struggles here. The days begins with dealing with water and electricity problems. Then the transportation. While Bombay has good public transportation, Delhi does not. In Delhi, at any given point, you can see jam packed buses. If you get a seat in a bus, it is a luxury. You are having a good day. Jobs are very hard to come by. Rent is very expensive. Food is very expensive. About sixty percent of one’s income is spent on food. Eating chicken for dinner is a luxury.

Luxury is a relative word. What is luxury for me, is often way beyond the reach of the common man here. I take things for granted. Like electricity. Blackouts make the evening news in USA. Here, It is an everyday occurrence. Getting the basics are a luxury. Getting the luxuries are a basic thing and almost a necessity. Need someone to come to your house and give you a massage for 3 dollars? Sure thing. Need 24 hours of running water and electricity? Well… good luck!

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