The Spectre Of Dollar Poverty

With the rupee plunging, fears of the neglected “urban middle class” being pulled closer to BPL territory are palpable.

ByIndrajit Hazra
The Spectre Of Dollar Poverty
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Things have taken a bad turn. A really bad turn. Ferrero Rocher chocolates,Hindustan Times tells me, is now Rs 30 dearer at Rs 295. I thought that the guy at the Khan Market shop where I buy my weekly chocs from was duping me. But now the papers have confirmed that he’s not pulling a fast one. Washington apples now at Rs 200 a kg may soon be beyond my budget. Three months ago, they were Rs 180 a kg, and now they have breached the Rs 200 psychological barrier. The question, of course, is whether I’ll give up eating apples or buy desi ones from the Mother Diary outlet out there somewhere where, I’m told, Safal apples come at Rs 79 a kg and the bigger ones at Rs 100 a kg but completely lack any American Beltway taste. To drown my monetary tension, I can’t even reach for a normal bottle of blended whiskey. Teacher’s is a whopping Rs 40 more expensive in Delhi than its price of Rs 1,010 in April. As for single malts, many liquor stores have stopped stocking them, such is the hike in their prices. It turns out now we’ll have to pay as much as 30% more for imported alcoholic beverages thanks to Manmohan Singh. Imagine my horror when I learnt that the new consignment of Chilean wine now costs Rs 1,800, up from the Rs 1,300 price because of the downward spiral of the rupee.

Such doom in the form of a mangled rupee is creating havoc among members of the “urban middle-class” like myself. As the Times Now anchor thundered on Tuesday prime time television, the middle-class is being made to pay a terrible price for the government’s utter failure in saving the Indian economy. The poor, of course, have it good. This being an election year and all stops being pulled out by the administration at the Centre for their benefit.

The very same day I had to use a calculator to figure out how much (more) I would have to pay to purchase an e-book on Kindle where dollar prices tauntingly remain the same while I pay more rupees out of my wallet, the UPA chairperson launched a food security programme in Delhi. There were photographs on the front pages of two pro-BPL (below poverty line) papers — most of the others carrying them in the inside pages — of a very happy and grateful Parmeshwari Devi receiving a blown-up replica of the first Delhi food security card from an even more happy and grateful Sonia Gandhi at Talkatora Stadium. We even got to know through the photographs that Parmeshwari Devi’s food security card number is 077000674248, although Times of India had her age down as 70 while Indian Express mentioned that she was 80 years old. Personally, I don’t know whom to believe any more.

Except Arnab Goswami, the sole voice for the “urban middle-class” like myself. I may not pay my driver, my cook and my maid in dollars — and it seems that none of them yet know that life has become harder for their employer since the rupee breached the 64 mark – but I have already cut down drastically on basics such as food. The Tyrrells crisps that I now source at Rs 265 a packet will now surely cross the Rs 300 mark imported as they are from Herefordshire at a time when the sterling pound is equivalent to a hundred rupees. Again, I may be forced to buy Opera crisps that come at Rs 50 a standard-sized packet. But its crisps, fine as they are to taste when they come in “Salt and Black Pepper” and “Italian Herbs” flavours (the rest are awful), are manufactured in Greater Noida and they don’t have a salt and vinegar flavour despite me writing to the company at the email address –

So where will we, the “urban middle-class” go as we are squeezed pincer-style by the rich who feel the pinch only when they have to deal with “urban middle-class” employees like us who ask for a raise in these hyper-inflationary times and by the poor who are getting freebies that must be curbing my enthusiasm to download music from iTunes or go on a vacation abroad (where I can buy packets of Tyrrells in bulk). Would Rajiv Gandhi, the messiah of the “urban middle-class” predating Arnab Goswami, have allowed this?

The irony of the food security scheme in Delhi, Haryana and Uttarakhand being rolled out on the same day as the late prime minister’s 69th birth anniversary is telling. The government of Rajasthan took out advertisements marking the occasion in national dailies with the tagline –“There was an expression of compassion on his face”. Would Rajiv Gandhi, the architect of India as a global software and IT-enabled services godown, have watched mutely while the “urban middle-class” found themselves denied of the new iPad or Xbox that made us finally at par with consumers across the developed world?

What pains me is the pre-election neglect shown by the Central government towards us, the people, who in Arnab Goswami’s powerful words, “control the levers of India’s growth story” (through our consumption, of course). There are real worries in my household now. Already there is talk that we’ll have to forego French bread from L’Opera, the Indo-French patisserie chain with outlets at Khan Market, Saket and the DLF Promenade mall in Vasant Kunj in Delhi, not to be confused with the Indian crisps brand Opera.

But what can I do? Thanks to Manmohan and his unfeeling, uncaring gang, I’ll be saving Rs 340 per loaf when I mournfully switch from L’Opera’sbrioche to Britannia’s Rs 20 a pack bread. That’s a saving of $5.36 per purchase (according to the August 21, 12:45 pm exchange rate) that lasts us about two days. Which with our driver earning (excluding overtime) $4.47 each day in salary, that now leaves us at a “loss” of $3.58 every two days. For dehatis like us, that’s a whopping Rs 226.90 every couple of days! This government has to go!


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