What can you live on

What can you live on?

Tushar studied the University of Pennsylvania. Matt studied in MIT. Both are ethnically Indian and decided to return to their roots and give something back. Both decided to return to India and took time from their jobs to work with the UID project in Bengaluru (Bangalore). They initially shared a flat and got to talking about money and began an epic journey to see what was “Average”.

The Average Income for an Indian is Rs 4500 a month. Rs. 150 a day. People generally spend a third of their income on rent which works out Rs. 100 a day. $2 per day. This does not make you poor here, this makes you average.

75% of Indians live on less than this amount.

These young men then moved into the tiny state apartment of their maid. Now a word here. Maids are common in India, a lot of people have them because food and cleaning is more labour intensive. This meant restaurants, even the dhabas and street food shops that power most Indians through the day were off limits. Milk, Yoghurt, Meat, Bread, Butter were all off the table. Their passion for cooking got them experimenting. Soy nuggets replaced meat. Cheap biscuits replaced meals. Bananas got fried to make them a dessert.

The Rs. 100 budget made their life smaller in scale. They couldn’t travel by bus very far and had to walk nearly everywhere. Electricity was a luxury and they had to share lights and fans. Soap needed to be rationed and even water had to be sparingly used (since you need electricity or gas to purify it). When you live on that budget you realise that you have precious little you can afford. A simple packet of crisps (Chips to you americans!) or a ticket to the movies becomes a luxury that you cannot afford. And no electricity means no refrigerators which means water and food storage becomes harder and harder since you have to live on a meal by meal basis.

Healthcare becomes a luxury. These two men lived in fear of disease because it would either mean risking their health or giving up their experiment.

I will point out to you that outside of rent and indeed because I get “food”, I live on Rs. 125 a day myself. The food I eat is what we feed our patients. Rice/Lentil soup/And maybe an egg for lunch. Dinner is chappathis and some vegetables. Travel eats Rs. 40 a day and the rest goes into a fund for good food on the weekend. I splurge on a Subway sandwich (700 Kcal and all the vegetables you can put inside there? YES PLEASE! It’s the only way I can get any vegetables down me since they are so rare) and or if I am lazy? A few dhaba meals and street food. The rest of my money towards Internet and the like.

These young men lived on a lower rate than I do so I understand how tough they have it.

But they weren’t finished. Remember we are the middle class! The relatively comfortable. Why? I can eat out once a week if I control my diet judiciously.

Rs. 32 is the Indian poverty line in cities. Rs. 26 is the poverty line in villages. Yes so in terms of money I am 5 times richer than the poorest people I provide healthcare for. Remember “V“? He lived on Rs. 50 a day. It is estimated that 30% to 35% of India live below this line.

So they both went to a village and lived on Rs. 26 per day. Remember 1/3rd of your money goes on rent so that leaves Rs. 18.

They ate a diet of parboiled rice, yams, bananas and black tea.

For this, they decided to go to Matt’s ancestral village Karucachal in Kerala, and live on Rs. 26. They ate parboiled rice, a tuber and banana and drank black tea: a balanced diet was impossible on the Rs. 18 a day which their briefly adopted ‘poverty’ permitted. They found themselves thinking of food the whole day. They walked long distances, and saved money even on soap to wash their clothes. They could not afford communication, by mobile and internet. It would have been a disaster if they fell ill. For the two 26-year-olds, the experience of ‘official poverty’ was harrowing.

It left them wondering whether they really needed the things considered “Excesses” and whether they deserved their money or not and wondered why these people didn’t have the tools for self development, material wealth or the benefits of healthcare, water and electricity.

So remember, there is no shame in being rich, but remember that the poor need things too and to think what your actions have on them and how you can use your wealth to make others lives better. You don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes. You just need to be considerate.


  1. Seeing/analyzing says

    I think everyone should live a version of this experiment for a time to make them realize just how hard it is to live.

    Two decades ago I was finishing up my university degree with a job offer in hand, so I signed a lease to an apartment (I had been living on campus). I found out through the apartment manager that my job had been rescinded, so no apartment. When I called the company that made me the offer, they admitted the position had been cut; too bad, so sad. Meanwhile, the apartment complex was allowed to hold on to my deposit and first month’s rent for “up to 6 weeks”.

    I had less than $30 in the bank and no job, and also no place to live. I had no car, either (it took all my money just to get through university). I lived in a series of friend-of-friend apartments, sleeping on the floor or on couches, while trying to both feed myself and find a job. I’ve never forgotten what that was like.

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