The price of an ice cream

As a young child in the 1960’s my grandparents used to take the grandkids driving through France to holiday in Spain. It was unusual for a working class family from Sheffield (grandad was a steelworker) to go on holiday abroad. What a great experience!

One of the things I noticed changing during these occasional visits over the years was the price of ice cream.

In Spain and England it was at a very low price and affordable on my pocket money. In France it was a little different. You know, more classy with prices to match. ūüôā

The price of ice cream was of course significant in my world!

Over the years the prices gradually increased and merged. They became global and consistent. The price (and quality) changed dramatically.

In retrospect I was experiencing from a child’s world view both globalisation and the way products are now priced ie at a level that the ‘market can take.’ Price was increasingly determined not by the cost of raw materials plus the cost of production plus a profit. There was a dramatic shift towards the price-we-can-get-away with charging. There were key stages of this change, including; the increase in international travel especially holidays, higher disposal incomes amongst more people in society, middle class growth, the moving on from the effects of the war, decimalisation, sales taxes such as VAT and of course globalisation and not least internet sales .

In a few short years the cost of ice cream went way beyond my pocket money. Obviously my own disposable pocket money income didn’t keep pace.

Now, I’m here living in Indya age 61.

I often say that India is a good teacher it illustrates and illuminates many contemporary issues.

We’re seeing exactly the same process going on here. Ice cream was and still is cheap but now there’s a whole range of premium quality options so prices differ wildly. There is a massive surge growth of the middle classes so new demands and greater disposable income, India has always been the world leader of flexible pricing (the least local you look the higher the price you will pay). Now we’ve the introduction of GST (a General Service or Value added Tax) and the idiotic demonetisation which resulted in over 80% of currency becoming worthless overnight, so another reason for prices shooting upwards! So the price of ice cream, amongst other things goes up and up.

We often think that India is a cheap place. That’s both true and not. It can be incredibly cheap and shockingly expensive.

A case in point.

Medicines.

The big box of twenty tablets costs, …….. wait for it……. 1760 Rupees! (That’s one GB pound per tablet) I’ve managed to get a 15% discount and I’m not paying firangi (foreigner) prices. The minimum daily wage here is 250 Rs per day how is someone who is poor, supposed to manage? I can tell you as an exceedingly rich (not) foreigner it’s hard to handle! Imagine what it’s like for poor people, or Manjula for that matter if she didn’t have access to our resources!

So what’s the point?

So, I’m seeing the same process of prices increases at work, here in India over fifty years later.

Prices are becoming more consistent around the world, reflect what’s possible to charge rather than actual costs, are often increased when there’s a convenient policy change such as change in taxation. It also serves to accentuate and polarising difference, it reflecting the severe differences in levels of income and wealth, life and death experience in society.

Wow 3

 

Some are not even that lucky. The current shouting in our street is from the guys rebuilding the drainage channels. The boss hasn’t got any money to pay them. Some are paid daily (around 600rs,) weekly or even monthly. So how are they supposed to manage?image

village life, visiting family

Extraordinary ordinary

Manjula’s brother Raju, and his wife Deepu, daughters, Amrutha and Hamsa live in a small village of 290¬†people with around a 100 houses. Its 3 hours away from Mysore. It isn’t a quaint picture book village, even by Indian standards. It’s people are very poor. They do however have great character.

God only knows what they think of us arriving in a car, having¬†driven here just for the day. At one point Manjula points out that the other villagers (not her family) will be shocked¬†as she sits in my presence, they think I’m her boss ;-). Imagine how her life has changed.

The family always look forward to Manjula’s visits and this time, especially so, as it’s the first since the BIG trip to the UK.

At their house, the only door leads into the ‘hall’ which is maybe 9 metres square, in which there’s a couple of plastic chairs (probably borrowed for the guests to sit on) TV (gift from us) cabinet holding absolutely all their worldly goods, it’s where all the family sleep, eat and the copper/fireplace for heating the water is in the corner where there’s also space for bathing. ¬† The only other room at the back, is where Deepu cooks on a stove.

Well, of course they had to look at the holiday snapshots!… whatever the culture, its a friend/family obligation ūüėČ to have to sit through the photos. With pain there is gain!!! …. The rewards from the DIG trip are presents of clothing (suitably labelled ENGLAND and LONDON), perfume, soap and ¬†English sweets: chocolates, sherbert liquorice, the ones that go pop in the mouth, were clearly a big favourite. Discreetly Manjula placed some money next to the Goddess Lakshmi.

It’s a poor village and most people are related in one way or another, they are all from the same caste. They are mainly farmers. The odd person, such as Raju,¬†works in construction. They do however have two small schools and children once they reach age 11 will go to school,¬†at the next village.

So what’s this?

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Growing ginger…I’ve never seen it growing before and together with sweet corn, potatoes, Ragi,¬†and the ubiquitous coconut, in the dark rich looking soil, it seems to show that this is a very fertile area.

We take a walk around the village. Most houses are similar, just one or two small rooms.¬†We nip through the fields to visit Deepu’s uncles. They have a larger house but it has had two families living there.

They seem to be completely off the network of canals so, they irrigate from rainwater and borewell. I have seen one toilet (the very basic toilet that’s supported by govt funds) while walking around, so I assume that everyone otherwise uses the fields.

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Here’s Manjula using one of our established signals. She had just been for a no1. I know, I know, too much detail, so here’s a bit more. I’m now sitting here back at the family house. I’m stuffed. We’ve had rice (two types) a selection of fried bhaji, (carnivores had some chicken) all followed by Keer, and helped down with generous glasses of Lilt (lemonade).¬†I’m wondering if I’ll manage the journey back before I need the loo. I’ve already used the bushes!

Electricity is maybe three hours max during the day and most of the evening, sometimes. It really brings it home to me, how materially rich we are and what a different life we lead! Its been a great trip and so nice to see the family happy to be together.

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I’m now very aware that we should be sharing more and wonder what it is they really need.

Farrell Factoid

There is a massive shift of the population from rural to urban areas. Raju’s wives uncles had three children and two have moved to the cities. It’s not surprising when people are so poor and they can earn maybe three or four times the usual rate, in work that’s more regular, ¬†if they shift to the city. If they are lucky to get a thorough education they’ll definitely move.

We have a variety of signals. (see no 1 above) Another, is used (in other contexts) to signify glass half-full or empty, is used when we meet someone who’s a bit negative, a Marvin the Robot or Eeyore type or alternatively a very positive and optimistic person.

Postscript

As I’ve said, it is a very poor village but it’s still important to respect one’s Gods and build Temples. The last picture is a relief copied from the Temple they are replacing! Manjula says it’s not to go on facebook so it’s hidden at the back here. This can’t be such a surprise,¬†after all its in the country that gave us the Kama Sutra.

 

 

 

Manjula’s Background

379003_10150528283149937_1371457865_nManjula is from a poor background. Her poverty, family instability and her experience as a woman in a patriarchal society is not atypical. She ¬†has shown great determination, fortitude, even stoicism. It’s a common story in India. Women (and men) managing to survive through very challenging backgrounds and life circumstances.

Manjula’s story helps illuminate what life is like for so many people living in contemporary India. There may be explosive growth of the economy and the middle classes – we can see the evidence in many ways – higher disposable income, rising prices, spare money sloshing around, building-building-building, the glorification of ‘development’, leisure holidays, flash cars, waste everywhere, traffic jams, disposable nappies (diapers), house dogs… you name it, we’ve got it!

But as with everywhere else and even more so in India, the rich and poor whilst living cheek by jowl are far far away from each other. People are left out and behind, there is the risk their story is not told or realised, their needs forgotten, a myopia of the modern age.

 

 

 

Houston there’s a problem

BUT we’re not aiming for the moon. We just want a passport for a ‘Passage from India’ is that too much to ask for?

 

We now know what this statement on the acknowledgement letter means..

Documents Verified with originals, however, confirmation from issuing authority is required.

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No one told us at the time, of course, the officer just said (ie lied) we could have the passport and get Police verification afterwards BUT we now realise there’s a problem with the TC

prepare for re-entry

I telephoned the office and we are called back to the main Regional Passport Office in Bangalore.

 

To make this happen,¬†we have to go all the way back to Bangalore, that means, book a taxi, three hours on the road, and a further hour through the treacly traffic jams, an eight hour round trip, a relatively short queue to get our number and interview time, then come back four hours later for another queue to see an officer. Unfortunately the location isn’t good and any interesting place or attraction is too far to go, so we enjoy a late breakfast and chill out in a local park.

It seems that The Babu (civil servant), on our first visit, (she had a bit of a rant) was not impressed that Manjula didn’t answer questions quickly enough and didn’t know her proper school name. In the Civil Service World it indicated that she might not be legitimate. In another world it might show that she was only seven at the time, have hardly ever attended the school and that she was a woman from a poor background who’s had crap schooling.

How did she not know the name of the school? It seems that it’s known, by the local children, as the name of the slum area: Bamboo Bazaar. Manjula, who attended there when age seven (35 years ago) didn’t know the proper name of the school. Bugger.

That’s raised the Babu’s suspicions or at least provided an excuse for a right old runaround.

Because of this they require  her TC (transfer certificate from school,which serves as her proof of date of birth) verified by the headteacher. More uncertainty and delay.

So they plan to write to the headteacher to verify the TC is correct.

I’m not at all sure why we needed to be here in Bangalore for all this… So we do try get useful and help it along a bit…. and get the letter sent fast!

We provide another two copies of the TC. On top of the ones we’ve already provided. They are scanned on the first floor.

Back to ground floor, officer signs chit that acknowledges papers scanned in.

Up, to second floor to trigger the formal letter to go to headteacher.

Back to ground floor for something or other.

Back to second floor, God knows why.

One more trip down and then up. They promise to get the letter off tomorrow. (we’ve become part of the team so we wander in and out of the office up on floor 2) That’s why we did all these ups and downs, we’re running out of time to get the passport and apply for visa for the BIG trip.

I now have a new worry: Manjula’s Disappointment if it doesn’t work out. How has this become so bloody difficult?