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A Passage to the New India

How much do you need on a daily basis to live in Bombay?

August 29, 2000

How much do you need on a daily basis to live in Bombay?

India’s National Building Organization estimates that the subcontinent will be short 9.4 million housing units by next year, putting considerable inflationary pressure on an already thinly stretched housing market.

In order to be able to pay for a roof over their heads, many couples already depend on two incomes. Add children and the need for daycare, and many young families quickly fall back on help from their parents and grandparents — as well as cousins, nephews and nieces from their extended family.

Thus, the traditional three-generation household is again becoming a fixture of Indian life. But the revival of the extended family home, however, is not a mere copy of the traditional household.

Previously, a newly wed couple would move in with the husband’s family and the new wife would run the household. (After all, the family had paid a substantial dowry up front to the wife’s family.) Now, with the wife frequently employed outside the household, such an arrangement is not often possible.

Whereas a mother-in-law used to be able to take advantage of her son’s wife, it seems now the tables are turning. With both parents often working outside the household to bring home the masala, one of the essential ingredients of Indian cooking, the rigors of raising the children and running the household is falling on the grandparents or other in-house relatives.

Recent studies have even suggested that grandparents who look after their grandchildren are not as healthy as other grandparents.

It will come as little comfort to Indian families with average incomes that the Economist Intelligence Unit just ranked New Delhi as the world’s second cheapest city to live in. Mumbai was ranked fourth.

The list, designed to assist Human Resource departments of companies with sizable expatriate workers, is clearly of little relevance for ordinary Indians.

The survey takes into account factors such as the costs of schooling, food, transportation and housing. For companies used to compensating workers based in expensive Western cities, it is hardly surprising that the survey found India’s metropolitan areas so cheap.

Yet in India, where 35% of the population — that is, 350 million people — live below the poverty line, the perspective is somewhat different. The minimum wage for Maharashta, one of the largest Indian states and home to Mumbai, ranges between 8.50 rupees ($0.20) and 108 rupees ($2.40) per day. For that meager sum, you will see that life in Mumbai can actually be quite dear.