Yesterday, the Mumbai Mirror ran the following cartoon:
I am still trying to adjust to the currency difference here and grasp how much things cost. This cartoon got me thinking about how much Rs. 28 a day actually is. In dollars, Rs. 28 is about 50 cents. For a month, that comes to about Rs. 840 (USD 15.17). That figure annualizes to about Rs. 10,200 (USD 184). That’s right. Just under 200 bucks a year is the magic number for the poverty line in India. By comparison, in the US, the poverty line is just over USD 11,000 for a single-person household.
Making that comparison does not really explain how much Rs. 28 a day really is, however, because you can’t directly compare US prices to India prices. Some things cost more here, but many things cost less. I asked myself, if I had to survive on Rs. 28 a day, what could I buy? Like in the US, whether I am over or under that line determines my eligibility for government assistance. When the government lowered (yes, lowered) the poverty threshold this year, many people were upset. They say that it is not possible to survive on Rs. 28 a day, and the threshold should be higher. Several journalists have done this study already. The results were the same: I cannot live on Rs. 28 a day. In one study, living on Rs. 100 was equally difficult.
The (possibly deliberate) irony of the cartoon is that toilet paper is not one of the things I can afford on Rs. 28 a day. The four-pack in my bathroom is about Rs. 170, which works out to Rs. 43 a roll. The following prices are all items in my pantry purchased at local stores.
Things you can buy for Rs. 28:
- Aquafina brand bottled water (Rs. 10 for a half liter). If you want proof that the US bottled water market is a total racket, here it is. The same half-liter in the US would cost about USD 1.25. In fairness, bottled water here is not really a luxury item like it is in the US. Like the taste or not, in the US, our drinking water from our taps is safe. The same cannot be said in India. I have a water purifier attached to my kitchen sink for a reason.
- Kellogg’s brand individual serving cereal packet (Rs. 10 per bag or Rs. 50 for a five-pack). Here, we can get the individual packets for much less than they would cost in the US. But, not all cereals are created equal. A box of Chocolate Cheerios is Rs. 550 (USD 11), if you can find them. A typical box of cereal is about Rs. 250 (USD 5).
- Lay’s Magic Masala potato chips (Rs. 20 for snack-size bag). Yep, that’s right. Just like in the US, junk food can be cheaper than real food. This pricing might explain why heart disease is the number one killer in India, just as it is in the US.
- Bread (Rs. 24.50 for wheat). This is a traditional loaf of bread like you would see in the US. Indians tend to eat different types of bread equivalents like naan or chapati. They make those at home, and the ingredients are not terribly expensive.
- Eggs (Rs. 25 for half dozen). You can only buy eggs by the half dozen here. They do not sell them by the dozen, and they are not refrigerated.
Things you can’t buy for Rs. 28:
- Carrots (Rs. 33 for a small bag, which is about 1 kg). Like the US, carrots are a cooking staple.
- Rice (Rs. 35 for 1-kg bag). Rice is a staple starch here. This price is for regular white rice. Larger bags are cheaper per kg, but run about Rs. 140. Basmati rice is even more expensive.
- Lentils (Rs. 56 for 1-kg bag). Lentils are a staple in Indian cooking used to make various dishes including dal. Like rice, the larger bags are cheaper per kg, but the price is about Rs. 150.
- Milk (Rs. 60 per liter). This price is for skim milk in an ultrapasteurized container. Milk is sold in bags here in smaller (half-liter) quantities. This bagged milk is what we would call whole milk in the US. It tends to be cheaper (Rs. 28), but not always. My neighbor has hers delivered every day.
I included only food in my price lists, but you can imagine how other costs impact that Rs. 28 a day. If I had to take the bus back and forth to work, that roundtrip might spend the entire amount. On Rs. 28 a day, a scooter, the petrol used to power it, housing, and electricity are out of my reach. On Rs. 28 a day, I cannot buy enough food or consume enough calories to survive.