All entries for Tuesday 19 December 2006

December 19, 2006

All that Glitters is Very Expensive

The Telegraph, 19.12.2006

People in India largely think of non-resident Indians as a group of extremely privileged people soaking in all the comforts Western urban life has to offer. After all, we must be earning in millions and having no problems in life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“We’re sorry to announce that the 18:24 train to Bournemouth has been delayed for 24 minutes.” This loudspeaker announcement at the Coventry railway station means that I’ll be late home from work, and reach only by 7:30 pm. Did I mention that I leave home at 6:30 in the morning each day for work? I take a bus to Leamington station, then a train to Coventry, then one to Nuneaton, then one to Leicester, then a bus to the city centre and then a bus to my office. And when the last leg of this journey is delayed by half-an-hour, you want to just give up and go away. But you can’t.

And this particular train has been late for 99.99 per cent of days since I started taking this route more than two months ago. So you see, trains are not just delayed in poor countries with shoddy infrastructure. And the waiting room in Nuneaton remains shut on most evenings, an inexplicable decision taken by the station management, given the freezing temperatures. And we’re not rich enough to afford a cup of coffee whenever we want — a cuppa at a station can cost more than £2 (or Rs 175). The whole ordeal is not made easy by crammed trains running to and from busy stations like Leicester in rush hour — and these people allow bicycles and dogs to be stuffed in the same compartment as men.

“So what, the money makes up for it.” Does it? Few realize that the living costs in the West, particularly in Britain, are sky-high compared to India. So the higher salary is easily cancelled out by the higher expenses. Not to mention the exorbitant rail fares (about to rise by 7 per cent), soaring utility bills (no free water here) and a hefty council tax bill (to rise very soon).

“You NRIs at least get value for money and have a comfortable lifestyle.” Sure. That is why I’ve been living in a flat without central heating for the past 20 days. I have to use a fan heater which eats up my electricity credit. When I ask the estate agent, he blames it on the electricity company. The company says it’s going to take 3 weeks to sort. If I ask them about compensation, they put my call on hold and wait for me to get bored of the music and hang up. The floorboards are coming off in the bathroom, the TV aerial doesn’t work, and the place was filthy when I moved in — I could go on and on.

Just the other day, the taxi driver took me on a longer route to get me to fork out £ 2.50 extra. And I would have walked had it not been 11 pm and the road wasn’t laden with three pubs with a high possibility of me being beaten up by a drunken and/or racist thug. If trains being delayed every day isn’t inefficiency of the system, then I don’t know what is.

Let me say here that not for a moment am I comparing my life to a subsistence farmer in rural Orissa who lives on $1 a day, hoping that a steel plant doesn’t encroach on his field, throwing him out of his land. I am speaking to the anglicized middle classes in metropolitan India who think that going to a foreign country will get them out of the daily slog of the third world. The grass is always, and there’s an accent on always, greener on the other side.

December 2006

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