Every time I come to India, I entertain the thought of moving here as a primary residence. For my cost of living in Los Angeles, I could live like a prince in India with a gigantic apartment, a cook, a maid, a driver. It is only after a month or so in India that I begin to remember the conveniences of first world living are too precious to give up.
In the Third World where technology is lacking or wildly expensive and infrastructure is literally poor, you need the support and help of others for the simplest of tasks. If you were to try to do everything yourself, you’d end up mad with less than half accomplished.
The concept of convenience stores does not exist. There is no Duane Reade, CVS, or Rite Aid where you can purchase both toilet paper and Aspirin. For medicine, one visits the chemist shop, for fruit one visits the corner stand, for shampoo the beauty store.
At home, I don’t need a maid because I have a washing machine and dishwasher. I don’t need a cook because Whole Foods and Trader Joes prepare my meals for me. I am my own driver. I prefer this unencumbered existence to one where people are constantly coming and going, where I am dependent on others.
My Indian friends don’t know how to do laundry or pack a suitcase – they have simply never done it before. Their families had one or several people whose job it was for these types of tasks. They have never cleaned up after themselves so they tend to be messy when taken out of their normal environment. It is not their fault; it is simply part of the culture where the population is so gigantic making the cost of labor exceedingly cheap. It is less costly to have one hundred people do the task of one machine.
Most everything is ridiculously cheap. A toothbrush can be bought for twenty-five cents, a bar of soap for fifty cents, a hand-embroidered shirt for two-dollars. Of course, the flip side is that the quality is often dubious. I bought a mop for $4 which promptly fell apart the first time I tried to clean the bathroom floor.
We have paid our maid 3,600Rs for the month, or $60, to come and clean our flat every morning, make breakfast and do the shopping. I stayed for a night in a palace once used to house the maharaja of Mysore’s guests for $60. I had an hour oil massage for $18. One can have a huge meal for less than $5.
The other side to this is that customer service is generally lacking due to a minimally educated populace. A friend and I went to a restaurant which caters to Western yogis. She asked for an iced coffee. The server said it was not possible. Coffee was on the menu. I told him to bring her a coffee and ice cubes on the side. The simple logic of adding ice to coffee went beyond the realm of his imagination. At the same restaurant I ordered a green tea smoothie, which I had there previously, and was delivered something brown. It was supposed to be green. He insisted it was the same smoothie until he realized he forgot the main ingredient.
Anything imported is wildly expensive. A jar of Ragu tomato sauce which costs $2 at home costs $6 here. Electronics can cost nearly double.
You may only pay a rickshaw driver $2 to take you across town, but the ride is full of stomach-churning potholes, exhaust fumes and a constant cacophony of car horns so that the ride is a Hellish experience, making you wish you had the option to pay full price for an Uber.
One can live like royalty in the Third World – the only issue is that you’re the king of a cesspool.