March 7, 2011

Things are cheap in India. There is no question. Unless you are rubbing shoulders with the movie stars, you are often paying half of what you would pay in the States, and a third of the cost in Europe.

There are three main things that I can see which inform the cost of something here – labor, location, and class. The first, labor, is relevant because anything that utilizes local labor is cheaper. That is to say, buying a book published and printed in China is not going to be that much cheaper than in the States, but getting a puncture fixed on your scooter is going to be unbelievably cheaper (80rs=$2), because most of the cost is in the labor (in this case, twenty minutes of work), not the materials themselves ( the patch and glue).

The second, location, is pretty straightforwards. In Bombay, things are more expensive than in a village in Tamil Nadu. Its not a massive difference, perhaps only %125-150 more, but it is still a factor.

And the third, and perhaps most important, is class. In India, if I may generalize for a moment, there is a pretty broad spectrum of wealths between the lower, middle, and upper class citizens, and usually they are all living together in one place. The largest number is by far the lower class, and then the growing middle class comes somewhere behind that in size, and then the upper class is a small but very wealthy minority. So what does this mean for the costs of things? It means that you can walk into, lets say, a South Indian restaurant and order a full thali for 30rs (75 cents), and then go next door to the place with a nice sign and tablecloths and order a nearly identical thali for 150rs ($3), and then go to the snazzy rooftop restaurant and order a third thali for 500rs ($10). In the States, this lower class option is just not present, partly because of the high cost of labor, and partly because there isn’t a strong lower class to demand it. Think about how much a sandwich costs at the local deli, at a nice lunch spot, and at a classy restaurant. I would guess it would be somewhere around $5, $10, and $15 (in the northeast).

And, to give a comparative idea of prices, here is a list I have been making as I go:

a new BMW 5-series (530d): 7,000,000rs ($155,000)
a new, small car (Chevy Spark): 500,000rs ($11,000)
a new 350cc Royal Enfield: 90,000rs ($2,000)
a used 350cc Royal Enfield: 30,000rs ($650)
a one hour plane ride: 3500rs ($75)
a cocktail at a classy bar: 400rs ($9)
a beer at a normal bar: 75rs ($1.50)
a custom-made kurta: 500rs ($11)
a kurta off the street (literally): 150rs ($3.25)
a DVD of a new movie: 250rs ($5.50)
a bootleg DVD of a new movie/autoCAD 2011: 75rs ($1.60)
a 5-star hotel room (think: resort): 10,000rs ($225)
a 3-star hotel room (think: small but clean): 700rs ($15.50)
a 1-star hotel room (think: dingy and questionable): 200rs ($4.50)
an A/C sleeper train ticket (15 hr): 1,200rs ($26.50)
a 3rd class, unreserved train ticket (15 hr): 175rs ($3.90)
a taxi ride (30 minutes): 175rs ($4.00)
a rickshaw ride (30 minutes): 100rs ($2.25)
a rickshaw ride while being ripped off (30 minutes): 300rs ($6.50)
a bus ticket (4 hour): 33rs ($0.75)
a bus ticket (1 hour): 7rs ($0.15)
a kilo of rice (at a middle class grocery store): 30rs/kg ($0.30/lb)
a kilo of onions (at a middle class grocery store): 13rs/kg ($0.13/lb)
a pack of 15 “Dark Fantasy” cookies (oreos): 45rs ($1.00)
a pack of 30 butter cookies: 20rs ($0.50)
a full meal (thali): 30rs ($0.65)
a chai off the street: 5rs ($0.10)

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