Rs. 32/day: Day 1

Today began with 2 sleepy heads getting up early in the morning to get blood tests done in Kottayam in Kerala. After that, we indulged ourselves with a banana and 5 Parle Gs (total Rs. 4) each before taking a rickety bus ride to Karukachal, a sub-urban town 17 km from Kottayam. To those unfamiliar with Kerala bus rides, they are one of India’s must experience great adventures: High speed competitions between private bus companies on single and double lane roads that would put most hollywood thrillers to shame. We were contemplating getting bicycles in Karukachel to travel to Kottayam or Kumarakom; but after witnessing the roads, are having second thoughts already! Burning through the last piece of our reserves from the days we were rich (aka lived at Rs. 100 a day), we finally made it to Karukachal in one piece.

As excited as we were about entering the new phase in our experiment, the reality of it finally hit us pretty strongly as tiredness set in. Don’t know if it was the low blood sugar levels from the light breakfast or the hangover of the 14 hour third class train travel in which we had barely split a railways meal, so that we could scrape through without overdrawing on our reserves. As we walked to Matt’s ancestral home to pick up our sheets, the heat, hunger and exhaustion got to us and we slept off at the house – Matt in the verandah itself!

Next to our room in Karukachal

We were woken up by the sound of the warm Mathaikuttichayan (Mathai = Mathew; Kutti = little; Achayan = elder brother). He is a close friend of Matt’s family and knowledgable in all things Karukachal. He took us on a not-so-beaten path to his home, where his wife, Shantamma aunty, had prepared some food for us. We immediately took out our mental calculators and were relieved to find that lunch was only going to cost us Rs. 7.0 if we ate right (or wrong, depends on the way you look at it). See, as long as you load up on the cheap Parboiled rice (costing Rs. 23/kg), you are okay. We decided to eat 100g each of it costing only Rs. 2.3! We unwillingly said no to the omelet that was served fresh off the pan. Would all this not skew our diet to be extremely carbs heavy? At this point we couldn’t be bothered about that. The rest of the money, we spent on eating a local root (arbi) that costs only Rs. 10/kg – again carbs heavy – along with Rasam, pickle, slightly fried raw plantains, and little bit of Moru (spiced Kerala buttermilk), a small banana and water from the courtyard well. Thanks to the fact that most of the vegetables and spices come from Mathaikuttichayan’s courtyard, we can expense for them at slightly lower than market rates. Our energy came back as if we had been shot with some wonderdrug and by evening we were feeling a lot better.

Distribution by calories

Distribution by calories

The post-lunch-carb-high got us through the rest of the day, which included shopping for groceries and moving into a small room in Mathaikuttichayan’s house with semi-open roof. We ended our day eating a light dinner (we surprisingly weren’t that hungry) made up of lunch leftovers that took our total to Rs. 17 and change and our calories to 1200 (ouch thats a low start!). Attached is the nutritional breakdown. We really miss our soy proteins (we couldn’t find open, cheap soy nuggets in the market here). Why only Rs. 17? Click here to find out. Thats the amount allocated by the planning commission to food at the proposed poverty level.

Distribution by type of food had (in Rs.)

No snacks today or for the rest of the week and chai can only be had black. We did benefit from one act of charity. We saw a roadside vendor selling lemons at Rs. 40/kg. When asked if we could buy just one, he surprisingly gave it to us one for free. We ended up making the cheapest nimbu pani (lemonade) of our lives 🙂

What of the non food expenses? Now this gets complicated. As described here, there are a lot of costs that we cannot expense for such as rent, education, medical, clothing, durable goods, etc leaving us with us only Rs. 8 for toiletries, electricity, gas and entertainment. We are using a chopped off lifebuoy bar, (no shampoo), RIN and VIM bars (Rs. 5 and 10 each), colgate toothpaste, a single CFL and cooking gas to account towards that. Is that enough? We shall blog about it soon. One thing conspicuously missing from the Planning Commission’s allocations is communication costs. So, we have completely minimized personal calls/SMS. In fact, today we made none. What of internet? Well, that we had to cheat on and use our datastick. Else you guys couldn’t have read this blog!

Other than the morning sugar low and overall low calorie intake, (and a room full of bugs as they gather around my computer screen!) we did alright for the first day on Rs. 32/day. Perhaps, it was the adrenaline that kept us going, but we really hope that wasn’t the case. Because, if so, it’s going to be a really long week..


17 Responses to “Rs. 32/day: Day 1”

  1. Congratulations on being brave enough to go through with this! I recently started thinking if there is any relation between living a frugal life and clarity of thought. One of the most debilitating effects of poverty is surely that it doesn’t allow you the freedom to think, because survival is the looming issue.

    Any thoughts on this? Do you personally, feel it is liberating mentally or is it mainly debilitating?

    • Dear Kalpana, to be honest, its been tough to think. With energy levels on an all time low, most of our energy goes into calculating our daily budget and the rest in analysis for our blog. Can’t even begin to imagine how the manual laborers do it. Poverty is a romantic idea when you are rich and is a harsh reality when you are in it. Thanks for your comment.

      • You are right. My question is a bit patronizing. Kind of like those news reporters who ask the family of a farmer suicide victim “how does it feel?’. Best of luck for your efforts and great job with the blog!

  2. Hats off guys! Will be following your journey.
    Just saw the article in NDTV and am completely captivated!!
    All the very best.

  3. YOU guys are awesome.Something like gandhiji’s experiment.

  4. Touching to know abt ur unique experiment. My best wishes to u.
    U will gain rich experiences which no management institute can teach. Thanks for sharing the details in this site.

    (If time permits, have a look at my site to inspire youth).

  5. As you no doubt know, the only way many people living below the poverty line survive is by taking multiple loans from family, friends, employers, moneylenders and the like. Wouldn’t you need to take similar loans, and try to repay them, to *really* know what it’s like to live BPL?

    • Dear Sparky, we can never *really* know what its like to live BPL, for indeed there are many things that come as part of living on that income that we cannot hope to replicate – we are merely trying to get as close as we can given our constraints. However, to respond to your point on loans, yes you need them to survive, however you only need them if any economic shock hits you. You cannot use them for daily subsistence, else you will get into an unsustainable debt trap pretty soon. Now, if an economic shock hits you, you will only need to take a loan for the amount that exceeds your reserves. Poor people do try to maintain whatever reserves they can in form of limited gold or assets. We did our bit when at Rs. 100 a day, by saving more than Rs. 8 per day per head. Adding any leverage however would be difficult, given the short timeframe to pay it back. Poor people also rely on their social network for short term loans that are interest free – we witnessed someone close to us do that here in Kerala recently. Hope that answers your question to an extent!

      • Yes it does, thank you. My broader point was about whether living without taking such loans (as you are) is actually harder. I don’t mean to criticize your experiment, or make it seem like BPL families have it easy – they most certainly don’t – but even very poor people seem to borrow for ‘non-essential’ expenditure like entertainment or alcohol, and not just during emergencies (i’m relying on second-hand data to make this claim, including the book ‘portfolios of the poor’).

  6. I applaud your bravery guys! I hope that these guys on the Planning Commission are made to live a day on Rs. 32/day!

  7. Excellent beat ! I would like to apprentice at the same time as you amend your web site, how could i subscribe for a blog website? The account aided me a applicable deal. I were tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided bright clear concept

  8. What’s up, after reading this remarkable piece of writing i am as well cheerful to share my familiarity here with mates.


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