Note: I did end up loving Delhi! (A little)
If you’ve ever lived in India, you would have noticed murmurs of Mumbai’s unrest and Delhi’s seeming ease, Mumbai’s hot winters and Delhi’s dramatic monsoon, Mumbai’s friendly crowds, and Delhi’s hidden competition.
Yet, India’s theatrical contrasts are not just between its most well-known cities. Within each urban hub, there exists the greatest dissimilarity to which reflects India’s social structure – its socioeconomic difference.
For many foreigners, Delhi is hard to grow accustomed to. Rid the streets of vibrant traditional attire and fancy cars, the nice neighborhoods with beautiful apartments and perfectly trimmed plants, the carts of fresh fruits and vegetables and high-end pubs and bars and restaurants, Delhi is sweat and tears and inequality.
Of course, this is a condition in many developing countries. But Delhi hit me hard. The smell, the dust, the pollution that gave my ‘fragile’ Canadian lungs episodes of asthma attack. The bugs, the temperature, the viruses that gave me Chikungunya. The landlord, the fraud, the confrontations that made me question confidence. But what hit me most, was facing poverty head on – looking at 3-year-olds in the eye when they begged for money, not because they thought it necessary for survival, but nonetheless conditioned to believe it part of their livelihood.
It is in this Delhi that I lived for four months.
Before I left for India, I confidently told my family that I made the right choice. Great internship, great research project, great people I’ll be working with and great fun.
And psssssh what do you mean culture shock. I’ve never experienced culture shock. Besides, India is one of those mystical places you hear about, where people convert to Buddhism and live in the mountains to understand the meaning of life. Where’s the harm to that? Of course, I wasn’t keen to become a yogi by any means, but breathing in some spirituality on holy land wouldn’t hurt.
Boy was I wrong.
I set foot outside the Gandhi airport on a hot summer July noon. Right away, I noticed the welcoming/curious/aggressive stares I received from men crowded by the airport door. Pulling my cardigan a little tighter, I waited for my friend to pick me up.
We rented a small two-bedroom apartment in Lajpat Nagar, a sweet place that cost around $120 a month. To save money on electricity, we opt to share one bedroom so we can lessen the workload on our 1990s’ AC. The initial days were hot. We’d roam around in our underwear and cook on a knee-high stove, making sure our sweat won’t drip into the pots.
On the fourth day, monsoon got the best of me. While on a rickshaw home from work, it started pouring cats and dogs. My phone went to waste after losing a hard-fought battle with the depth of a pond formed inside my bag. I do seem to have real bad luck with phones.
Two weeks later, it became apparent that our landlord was overcharging us. Each with a considerable amount of student loans on our back, my friend and I decided to move to a more affordable location.
Initially, our landlord and her family had a crying fit. We had to stay for six months. She said. We must pay all the rent. She said. We will never get our deposit back. She said. While sorting out the legality of this whole fiesta, we asked our friends to secretly help us transfer our luggage into the new place.
This second place cost $74 a month.
It was here that I truly understood what budget living meant.
I mean, it wasn’t all too bad. Disregarding the broken window, the door that didn’t lock and our outdoor kitchen, we had a pretty nice backyard in a great expat neighborhood. Though, when it rained, it would pretty much flood our entire kitchen/balcony. Our western toilet leaked like a summer’s day garden hose and our India squat toilet was in this tiny 2×2 walled room. I’m being completely discreet when I say that I could have died in there on multiple occasions from the lack of ventilation. :'(
There was no AC. On the hottest nights, we’d blast the fan and the air cooling machine to drown out the street dog/cat fights, a regular occurrence in the neighborhood.
The most interesting part were the bugs. Because of the lack of window/ viable door, we’d have hundreds of friendly black flies drawn towards the light every. single. night. Their lifeless bodies lay across our covers, atop the table, on the walls.
Once in a while, we’d have something a bit bigger. Sometimes a grasshopper, other times, unknown, six-legged beasts.
We would run around screaming our heads off while these lost souls fly around dazed and confused. Over time, my roommate developed the ultimate skill of insect entrapment. We even had a dedicated water jar just for this whole new sport. *For my insect lovers: no harm was done/all released afterward.
Then I caught Chikungunya.
Chikungunya is this virus transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Polka dots decorated my whole body and I could barely walk with all the joint pain. Thankfully I survived the episode with only some spiritual fatigue. *For the love of god, please get your shots as recommended by a doctor before venturing South East Asia. I thought it wise to wing it without any prior medication. I’m clearly stupid.
Coming back to the rest of my expenses. During my time in India, I rarely ate out except for the occasional fresh fruit shakes. Every day, I’d stop a vegetable cart and give the vendors 30 rupees, which was roughly 40 cents, and ask them to fill a bag for me. Since we didn’t have a fridge, this was the only way to attain fresh veggies. True, I lost some 10 pounds within weeks, true, sometimes I’d go to bed a bit hungry and true, I began losing hair and getting crappy skin problems. But this ended up being more of an experiment if a bit unhealthy.
My roommate and I would wash our clothes and bed sheets by hand in buckets (:real fun during the sweaty summer months)
We also used our buckets as speakers.
Honest to god, if you can get onto a bus in Delhi with ease, you can probably do anything in life.
I’d take the bus with the locals and spend around 20 rupees a day on transportation. Once in a while, when I’m feeling extra fancy, I’d grab a rickshaw for 40 rupees.
Definitely not lying when I say getting on the bus in India is rough. However, after a few times, I really got the hang of running, grabbing onto complete strangers and jumping onto moving buses.
Not to mention that buses were super entertaining. Men would generally give women seats and when they fail to, others would scold them. Whenever there was an argument, the entire bus becomes involved.
- My share of the apartment, which was $34/month was around $1 a day.
- Including food and transportation, it came to about $2 a day.
- After a friend lent me a phone, my bill came up to $5/month through Airtel.
- I also took two trips during this month that amounted to another $30 (yay budget travel)
Cheap? Yes. Worth it? I don’t know. I don’t think I will ever be able to live through the constant hustle of this again.
A few days after the first month, I met a friend who was generous enough to invite me to stay with his modeling agency. So, I spent the rest of my two months in India with a bunch of international models, met producers, actresses and a ton of people in the entertainment industry. But that’s a story for another day.
Happy traveling! xx
P.s: And don’t forget, no matter what, we are a privileged lot.
- According to the most recent estimates, in 2013, 10.7 percent of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day, compared to 12.4 percent in 2012. That’s down from 35 percent in 1990.
- This means that, in 2013, 767 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day, down from 881 million in 2012 and 1.85 billion in 1990.
- A vast majority of the global poor live in rural areas and are poorly educated, mostly employed in the agricultural sector, and over half are under 18 years of age.
The work to end extreme poverty is far from over, and a number of challenges remain. It is becoming even more difficult to reach those remaining in extreme poverty, who often live in fragile contexts and remote areas. Access to good schools, healthcare, electricity, safe water and other critical services remains elusive for many people, often determined by socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, and geography. Moreover, for those who have been able to move out of poverty, progress is often temporary: economic shocks, food insecurity and climate change threaten to rob them of their hard-won gains and force them back into poverty. It will be critical to find ways to tackle these issues as we make progress toward 2030.