“Rs. 32/day?, you must be joking”

At least, that’s been the unanimous opinion of people we talked to in Karukachal so far (sample size 5). And, it isn’t the case that we are talking to people shelling out loads of money on living expenses. A majority of them are consumers of PDS (Public Distribution System) goods at Below Poverty Line (BPL) prices. Primarily, our conversations involved the issue of food, which is supposed to take up Rs. 17/day. Our sources implied that it would take the willful suspension of disbelief to even imagine spending such a paltry amount on food. They cringed at the possibility of eating a limited menu, which wasn’t very appetizing, and dismissed outright the possibility that a manual laborer would get the adequate nutrition at that price point. An insightful audio interview with one of them – a local day laborer who also taught Matt to play soccer – can be heard here (translation included)

We couldn’t agree more, sitting in comfy chairs typing away on our computers. And, we don’t have to worry about the education and healthcare expenses for which the govt has allocated only Rs. 2 and change (details here). In reality, however, some people, like our interviewee, spend close to half their incomes on their kids’ education! But, wouldn’t having access to BPL prices and other subsidies provide some relief? Wouldn’t the expenses seem more reasonable then? Our guess is yes and no. Yes, people under government protection will always be in the safe zone, no matter where you draw the line. And no, because those above that line are the ones that will be adversely affected. For them, the expenses are certainly not reasonable at Rs. 32/day or just above (perhaps, even all the way till Rs. 100!)

For days 2 and 3, 32 has been the number on our mind. On both days, after sleeping for too long, we woke up extremely hungry.  As was the case on day 1, we had a banana and a few Parle-Gs on day 2. We were still hungry, but the black tea with spices found around the house made it more bearable. One of the big realizations from day 2 was that Parle-G, whose virtues we sang to everyone we met – our tagline “nothing can beat Parle-G: 27 paise and 25 calories per biscuit” – during Rs. 100/day, is not quite the wonderfood given its price. We are better off making rotis or dosas and eating it with a bit of condiments or curry for breakfast, as we did that on day three – 3 dosas for Re. 1!

On Wednesday, after doing some finger tapping on plastic squares, we walked to the center of town to look for bicycles to rent. We tried running there barefoot, but found it excruciatingly hard – not because we were barefoot, but our bodies were just not responding to the minds. We found out that there is exactly one bicycle store in town, but it does not have a rental facility. Tushar refused to accept the fate that he may not see the famed backwaters of God’s own country. We finally were able to locate 2 bikes in Kottayam, 20 km from where we are. How are we gonna get there? Plan is to run 10km and walk the rest. Lets see if that works out tomorrow, or the day after, on our diet. Yes, this is our idea of fun on 32 a day..

Also on day two, we stopped at the local UIDAI enrollment center, which had come to town about two months ago, to get an on the ground perspective of the world’s largest identity project. We have both given ~1 and ~2 years respectively to the project and it was satisfying to see people aware and excited about “Aadhaar”.

On both days, by the time we came back home to have lunch, we were starving, to say the least. The rice and sambar, along with yam curry and pickle was just what the stomach ordered. We did eat a lot of rice. Perhaps, it is the high fiber content of the Kerala matta rice, but we’ve been feeling really full after lunch and dinner over the last couple of days. Tushar is already sick of it and can’t wait to start eating roti instead! Oh well…

More day 2 updates: After a post-lunch lull in energy levels – the high carb intake is definitely raising and lowering our blood sugar levels at higher frequencies than what we are used to – we went to the local PDS store. We had some very insightful conversations there – one with the shopkeeper, one with a migrant laborer, and another with a local. We hope to put an interview up soon along with a separate post on nutrition. Stay tuned!

Meal cost breakdown in Rs. Total Rs. 18

Got back to the house on a pitch dark road just in time for dinner. In fact, we stomped all the way back, afraid of snake bites (and costs of anti-venom!), and had the same menu as we did for lunch. Cooking once for two meals is definitely a big boost for LPG and firewood savings. And savings, and not variety of food, is the key – something we realize more with each passing day at Rs. 32/day. Our total budget of only Rs. 17 a day meant that we had to be more careful than lunch. Our typical dinner is smaller than lunch. Much like irrational consumers, we tend to overeat during lunch, and can’t have enough for dinner, managing only limited calories (around 1400 calories – for details of calorie distribution, see the previous blogpost).

On Thursday, Shantamma aunty finally gave in to not making rice. We were busy making dosas, dry dal and homegrown green papayas for lunch/dinner. Today, we hope to spend most of the day walking around town and talking to more people about their lives and finding walking directions to get to Kottayam and beyond.

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One Comment to ““Rs. 32/day?, you must be joking””

  1. Hi Tushar and Matt! I am a reporter for BBC and the German broadcaster DW. is there a contact number where I can reach you? Do let me know. Look forward to hearing from you!
    -Pia Chandavarkar

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