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.


- 4 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Mathew Mannion

    As a comment on your journey to Leicester, I know it well – I live near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, a mere hour’s bus journey from Leicester. I find it a bit strange that you go through Nuneaton (it’s strange because the link from Coventry was closed for the past 3 years, but for other reasons too), since it would be much faster to get a train from Nuneaton to Birmingham New Street and then from Birmingham to Leicester, since that’s the same train that goes through Nuneaton. Also, getting a bus from Leicester train station to the city centre is a bit of a waste – it’s barely 5 minutes walk to get right into the centre of Leicester, although I suppose it depends on where you’re going.

    The UK rail infrastructure is extremely shoddy, but a lot of money has been put into improving it. It’s a shame that it’s been written off by the majority of the media (and as a result, the majority of the general public) before the money can filter through into real improvements to a system that lost out majorly to privatisation by the Conservatives.

    As another note, unless it’s changed recently Leicestershire has free water :) Also, I don’t think there’s really any danger in walking past three pubs at 11pm – druken thugs generally wait until later and hunt in packs. Keep your head down and you should be okay, although I can’t say anything about any prior experiences you might have had to the contrary :(

    19 Dec 2006, 11:38

  2. Are you related to Koel?

    19 Dec 2006, 16:58

  3. Mathew

    I live in Warwickshire, where water is not free! I will not believe stories of improvements in railways until I see my trains arriving on time and with enough coaches so that I don’t have to stand all the time on my way home. A few days is acceptable, but when there is a rush on a certain time, its inconceivable why the Stanstead-Birmingham train has 2 coaches! The platform is big enough at Leicester, so that argument is preposterous. Also, why all the waste of money installing new information boards at stations when the money could be better spent at increasing punctuality of trains.

    And about the racism experience, in my 6 years in Britain, I’ve seen enough ugly things.

    Olivia

    No I am not related to Koel. There must be tens of millions of Mukherjees in India and abroad, so its not very surprising.

    20 Dec 2006, 10:57

  4. Mathew Mannion

    I also live in Leamington, I know the water isn’t free.. but there is free water in the UK :) The Bimingham-Stansted train ranges between 4 and 2 coaches depending on what time of day and what time of year it is, and not usually in a way that makes sense – I’ve stood in the middle of the day at Nuneaton and had a train with 4 fairly empty carriages, and at 5pm on Friday with 2 packed ones. I think it depends on where the train stops; the 2-carriage one stops at more stations, I believe, some of which aren’t big enough for 4 carriages.

    21 Dec 2006, 07:44


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