I went to settle our bill tonight, or at least the charges we have accrued until now. The people at the front desk had kindly informed me that we were over the allowed limit, and although they trust their customers, management needed payment. No problem. We were actually very surprised they hadn’t asked before, since the neighboring hotel requires the bill to be paid in full weekly.
A month’s hotel bill in any country isn’t cheap. In Whitefield, it’s mind boggling, at least to me. I am not used to amounts in the 5 digits. I am not used to this type of luxury and appreciate every minute of it. We don’t drink wine, I don’t go to the Spa every day, we eat breakfast at the buffet since it’s included instead of ordering cozy room service. But all of it adds up fast.
We have become friendly with the staff here. I wouldn’t say friends, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we kept in touch with some of them on a personal basis. They are courteous, helpful, funny, friendly and efficient. But most of all they are the epitome of professionalism. Every little bitty problem we have encountered (nothing is perfect) has been taken care of with the utmost professionalism. That’s why I was a bit surprised when one of the guys at the front desk volunteered that our current bill is equivalent to 8 years of his salary. Eight years. It puts everything into perspective. And India changes your perspective on a lot of things, especially money.
A friend from high school asked me lately about the poverty we see. Honestly, we don’t see much. But I would need to preface this with a definition of poverty, which I won’t. Poverty is personal opinion. I teach (taught) about relative and absolute deprivation. Absolute deprivation is having nothing, zilch, nada and struggling every day to find food and a safe place to sleep. Around Bangalore, you see a lot of blue tarp tents, even in the city. They are usually located close to a construction site. I believe they are temporary shelters for construction workers and their families, since sometimes you see cooking pots and little kids playing. There are beggars, but not as many as I had imagined. I have seen more beggars in Hyderabad. Remember the pictures of the walking closet in Whitefield? I think some people may live there, so I decided not to post new ones, out of respect. What I have not seen are families living in dumpsters, because I haven’t seen the city’s dumpsters. Thirty years ago, like most French teenagers at the time, I read “Flash”, followed by “The City of Joy”. Then came “Salaam Bombay” and lately “Slumdog Millionaire” exposed India’s underworld to the West. I loved “A Fine Balance” and “Necropolis”. Sometimes I meet people, foreigners, who are proud that they went to see those areas, and then warn you “you can’t imagine”. Thanks, I can. I have seen similar situations in South America when I was 11 years old, and I have one picture etched in my mind for the rest of my life. I do not see the point of driving by some of the world’s worse poverty in the comfort of my air conditioned car, just so I can see. India’s not a safari.
Eight years salary. I had read that a tuk-tuk driver brings home about 250 rupees a day and have used this as a benchmark to assess money questions here. As of today, a rupee is $0.02, so the driver brings home about $4.00. Less than $1500.00 a year.
I am appalled at the rent we will be paying. Foreigners are cash cows, I knew that before coming here. We will be funding the owner’s kids and grand-kids’ schooling! We are helping the middle-upper class move up in the world. Real estate is a good investment in Bangalore, if you can afford it. But it does little for others. We feel compelled to have a gardener and a maid/cook, so the foreigners’ money can trickle further down the social ladder. Bangalore is bound to have a lodging problem soon, as more luxury building are constructed everywhere (hence the people living in the blue tents). The common man is pushed to the outskirts, has to take public transportation to and from work, adding to the unimaginable traffic problems and pollution of this city.
I read the newspaper religiously. Recently, the price of onions was highly debated and became a political hot button. Onion and tomato prices have doubled in the country in the last few weeks. People have been killed for their onions. They have armed guards around trucks transporting onions. Considering that they are two staples of the Indian diet, it is a nightmare for many. Imagine your food expenses doubling in a week, while your salary remains the same.
We haven’t had to buy our food yet, but we have eaten out in many types of restaurants around town. My favorite restaurant, a South Indian restaurant that serves the best dosas in town, can feed two for under $3.00.
We met a group of kids while at the Bannerghatta National Park. They were from a village north of Bangalore. We talked with one of the chaperons who told us it had cost them 8000 rupees to bring 30 kids, so about $130.00. The price of a meal for two at the fancy restaurant here at the hotel.
So, to answer my friend’s question, no we haven’t seen abject poverty (as if there is any other kind of poverty). But we are reminded everyday of how lucky we are in this world. I was talking to our driver about some minor issue we were having (I even forgot what) and said it was a problem, but a happy problem. Most of the problems and annoyances and frustrations we face lately are, all things considered, happy problems.
Because in India, if you only have one leg, and no money for crutches, you walk like a dog.