12 rupee meal anyone?

Raj Babbar, in defense of the poverty figures, said that a full meal is available in Mumbai for 12 rupees. My colleague Shawan went out to find out if this is really possible. By a full meal, I hope Mr. Babbar meant, main course – dal/sabzi, chapati and rice, because sadly we found out that the cheapest such full meal comes for Rs. 30, which is a little less than the minimum the UPA thinks is enough for survival in a city. While my colleague went out to figure the current rates, I decided to draw from my own experiences of living in penury  during the initial days of my journalistic career (dear HR, pls ignore the description :-P). Being a perpetual bargain hunter, here I shall list out the cheapest way of spending a day in Mumbai. But of course, you can’t live on cheap rent in Mumbai, everything else, you may still cut corners with. Even so, Mr. Babbar do not rejoice, because the average daily expense, not inclusive of rent, will surely be 100-150 rupees.

So let’s start with the beginning of the day. Of course, you need tea/coffee. The average cycle chai wala sells a 20 ml glass of chai at 5 rupees and coffee at 7 rupees. If you want to have it at a proper stall, chai costs around 7-8 and coffee 10-12. Going by the minimum, say you spent 5 rupees for 2 full sips (that’s how small the glass is) of chai from the cycle chai wala. The average wada pav wala now sells vada pavs for a minimum of 10 rupees. A plate of poha/seviyan upma/rava upma/dharavi idli would also cost around 10 rupees. So you have spent 15 rupees on breakfast already, which is about half the amount, the government thinks you need to survive.

Now unless you sleep on the pavement outside your office, you very likely stay pretty far from your workplace; which means you will either take a bus or a train, considering the minimum rate of autos and taxis would mean that you will completely exhaust your daily limit of 33 rupees. And to give the benefit of doubt to  Mr. Babbar, lets place ourselves either in a slum in Dharavi (Mahim east) or Kurla. From both stations, going towards CST/Churchgate or Andheri side where you are likely to find work you would spend atleast 10 rupees by train and 20 by bus, so lets take the train, shall we? That’s an expenditure of 25 rupees already. According to the poverty figures, you can have lunch and dinner in the remaining 7 rupees. NOT.

The average thela that sells a full meal, a place frequented by taxi/auto drivers sells a plate for atleast 30 rupees. Most of these are places are just a small table placed on the roadside where people stand and eat. Some of these around BSE and Zaveri Bazar sell biryani/pulao for 25 rupees a plate. A place with creaky chairs and a roof will charge you atleast 50 rupees for a thali. These are those establishments that have come up under empty places under the flyover or just outside railway stations. Everywhere else, the average rate for a thali is 70 bucks. If you are penny pinching and let go of the full meal concept then there are sandwich walas who will give you a simple sandwich for 15 rupees, but we are talking of a full meal here. So by lunch time, one has already spent 55 rupees, a full 12 rupees above the minimum level.

Dinner would cost you another 30 rupees and you might have one more cup of chai in the evening, the commute back home will cost you 10 rupees more. The sum total therefore is around 95 rupees. Beware that this does not include clothes or rent. By Mr. Babbar’s standards one would have to sleep only on the pavement because even the smallest kholi in a slum costs you around 3000 per month, which you share with atleast 4 other people. Let’s even assume that one uses only 2 pairs of clothes a month, which one has presumably picked up from the Mahim church Wednesday market or from Kabutarkhana (both places where one gets second hand and sometimes even stolen clothes) for 50 rupees a piece. The average monthly expenditure along with rent therefore is 5950 which translates to 198 rupees a day. Of course, if one lives on the pavement and cuts out on rent, then the average monthly expenditure just for mere survival is 2950 which translates to about 98 rupees a day. This assuming you are only fending for yourself. If you go on a vada pav diet 3 times a day, 30 days a month and live on the pavement, then maybe, just maybe you can live within the poverty line figures.

In fact, wherever this place is, that serves 12 rupee meals would be a boon not just to the poor, but to all of us, because even cooking your own meals has become costly in Mumbai thanks to vegetable prices. So Mr. Babbar, please pass along the address of this place, in this shaky economy, even poor journalists like us need to save money in whatever form we can (again, apologies to my HR team, this wasn’t meant for you). However, I have a sneaky suspicion that the honorable MP has perhaps wrongly assumed that the Indian parliament is located in Mumbai because my Delhi counterparts inform me that is the only place where one can still have a full meal for 12 rupees.

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Lootera – the Ankahee

O’ Henry’s The Last Leaf was a part of our school syllabus, so having heard that Lootera was loosely based on that, meant I knew a little of what to expect. When I saw the trailers, I wasn’t really impressed, the Bhansali-esque blue frames are really not my thing. One of the things that changed my mind somewhat was the music, especially the song Ankahee and I thought that maybe, just maybe I would watch it. But in the week running up to its release, there was a lot of positive buzz about the film and with so much being said about how it will be a great watch, I decided to give it a go. Certain 5/5 reviews also helped the case.
But the 5/5 reviews are probably more responsible than the actual film for my disappointment. Lootera is the kind of movie, by which film professors can demonstrate cinematic grammar to their students. The frames are well thought out, the colour tones change with the mood of the characters, the background score aids the narrative. The actors are well cast and they make an honest effort.
So if everything is right, why did I feel disappointed? In a way, Lootera was like that perfectly chiselled model, whose looks guarantee eyeballs and hence you decide to cast them in a film, only to realise acting is not just about looks. At no point in the movie, despite a brilliant performance by both the protagonists, did I end up empathising with any of them. I waited for that one moment when my heart would well up, when I would cheer the protagonist on, when I would be so invested in their story as to be eager to know what happens next to them. Instead, I was merely observing the proceedings. And this comes from a girl who can even shed a tear looking at how Deepika Padukone was bullied by her friends in Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani for being ‘chashmish scholar’. So why didn’t I feel anything? Isn’t Lootera supposed to be a romantic drama and isn’t romance only worth it, if you feel for the characters? But the only character I actually felt something for was the Zamindar’s, a political representation of those times, rather than romantic. The pathos that reading an O’ Henry story evokes was missing.
I kept coming back to this question and it continues to baffle me. Why, when a movie is technically all that it should be, didn’t I feel anything for the protagonists. I imagine it was because I read reviews about how poetic and great it is, I read of how the camera lingers and caresses (which it does in pure cinematic grammar terms), of how it engrosses. And perhaps that was the biggest disappointment, that some of the descriptions in the reviews, were more lyrical and impactful than the movie itself.
Which brings to mind the fact that there is now this clamour amongst a certain group of critics to laud anything that is supposedly ‘different’ as fabulous. From an era of impromptu scripts, the transition to bound scripts that are strictly adhered to, must have been exhilarting for this group that has closely seen the decline of cinematic excellence in the ’80s and ’90s. But that doesn’t mean anything that follows cinematic grammar is a good movie. But, cinematic grammar has become the trademark of film makers, who want to portray themselves as different from the Dharma-Yashraj camp in Bollywood. To that extent, I guess Anurag Kashyap, Lootera’s producer, has succeeded in creating a niche for himself. However, the only trouble is that now if one wants to watch the same old cliched fluff, one watches a Dharma-Yashraj production and if one wants to watch the same old cliched ‘different’ then one chooses a Phantom production. And so despite all the brilliance, Lootera just didn’t move me. Its a good film but not one I’ll remember fondly for making me fall in or out of love.