Living on S$2.60 a day for one month

Posted on 31 October 2011

Ex-expat from Singapore experiments and blogs about living on S$2.60 a day in southern India.

Tushar and Matt go to Bangalore. On $2.60 a day. (Photo borrowed from http://rs100aday.com/)

When he was in Singapore, 26-year-old Indian expatriate, Tushar Vashisht, worked as an investment banker with Deutsche Bank and stayed at a Holland Village condominium.

He scuba dived for fun.

Classy.

But when he began his month-long lifestyle experiment that started on Sept. 25 in Bangalore to live like an average Indian, he had to think twice about not just what to eat but when to eat, and what mode of transport to take.

Everything he did, he realised, cost precious money.

Not easy.

Living in southern India for three weeks, Tushar and his friend, Mathew Cherian tried to survive on 100 rupees a day, the equivalent of S$2.60.

On the fourth and final week, they reduced their budget to 32 rupees a day. Or, S$0.80 a day.

And they lived to blog about it in a journey that fulfilled their curiosity as to how the poorest lived in one of the most democratic countries in the world.

Why 100 rupees to begin with? The duo figured that the average Indian income is 4,500 rupees a month, and from there, they worked backwards.

Removing one-third of the budget as cost of rent for accommodation, they are left with 3,000 rupees per month, or 100 rupees per day.

So why 32 rupees in their fourth week? Apparently, this is the working definition of absolute poverty laid out by India’s Planning Commission.

And they had to try out this limit to see how low they can go. With good explanations about why they did what they did.

According to their blog Rs100aday, set up for the purpose of tracking their month-long experiment, Tushar wrote that he never had the chance to truly experience how life is for the average Indian.

Now that he is out of a formal job and its associate commitments, he figured this would be a good time to find out for himself.

It all started in 2009, when Tushar quit his job with Deutsche Bank in Singapore and moved to Bangalore to work on a government project, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), that would see India collect biometric data on its 1.2 billion population in a pioneering project.

He took a 90 percent pay cut in the process, but was still making 10 to 20 times the average wage of an average Indian. (Editor’s note: Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes 38 times the amount of money made by an average Singaporean. Ahem.)

After Tushar and Matt completed their stints with UIDAI, they embarked on their experiment, which the duo insist, was a personal journey, and not some political or fashion statement.

Besides dropping 9kg of their combined weight, the two men made some other interesting findings about staying out of the absolute poverty zone. Barely.

– Food takes a huge chunk off the daily budget. And travelling is just as expensive since fuel doesn’t come cheap.

– Remember the 32 rupees per day definition of absolute poverty? This, presumably, was setting the bar too low. There were widespread protests in India regarding this definition when it was revealed.

However, one of the government ministers Tushar and Matt spoke to during their experiment thought that 75 rupees was more like it for a life of dignity.

– The poorer you are, the less water you consume. And this is, unfortunately, because the poor are generally geographically located in rural areas with poorer access to running water.

– India’s Planning Commission, when they came up with the 32 rupees figure, apparently forgot about budgeting the cost for communication.

With 900 million mobile subscribers, somebody’s got to be using the phone once in a while to call somebody else, no? Yet, the commission never worked out an amount dedicated to making a single call.

Got a comment about the duo’s shoestring budget adventure? Talk to them at http://rs100aday.com/

Do you know how much it cost to watch Lady Gaga live during the F1 Rocks concert in India this weekend? Find out how much here and why Indian Metallica fans flew into a collective blinding rage when the band bailed out on them at the same F1 Rocks gig.

This post was written by:

- who has written 556 posts on New Nation.

Belmont plays the guitar, made Jamie Yeo sing his song, shook hands with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, swam in the river above Bangladesh, visited Nagaland, outsmarted pickpockets in KL, was the editor of The Campus Observer and worships the writings of Nassim Taleb and Christopher Hitchens. He intends to be an astrophysicist, take up salsa and watch Led Zeppelin live at least once before offing it.

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