Today morning I alighted from the 16316 Kochuveli - Bangalore Express at Bangalore Krishnarajapuram at 0725, bang on time after a very comfortable overnight journey from Ernakulam. The real ordeal however, only lay ahead of me: I had to get home from the hellhole called KR Puram railway station junction. Usually I wouldn't think twice: cross the road, board a BMTC bus and be on my way. However, today I was in possession of a fairly large bag which warranted transportation help. I considered my options, which were either one of the Internet cabs or an autorickshaw for my six kilometer ride (note the distance).
Any of the first species were conspicuous by their absence anywhere near the vicinity of the station, though Uber compared to Ola was marginally more helpful by being available. But they made their intentions clear by asking me to shell out 4.5X of their advertised rate due to unavailability of cabs, maybe because only losers travel in train, the movers and shakers all fly; that is where all the money is and the cabs are, at the airport, yo! Deciding that shelling out 500 bucks for a 6 km cab ride was not really the best way to burn 1/100th of my salary, I decided to take the evillest of them all - the autorickshaw bull by the horn. Ensues:
"Saar saar, aatto saar?"
300.. 280... 250... 225... 200... 180....
"Put the meter. I will give 1.5"
"Hahaha Saar! What morning morning telling joke saar? Here and all no one puts meter. That only in central city. This outskirts saar! If you want, come for 180."
*Me addresses the gathering of around 10 autodrivers*
"I will give 1.5 on the meter if anyone is ready to go by meter."
Autoguys look at each other and smile, some look up at the sky, most look past me at other people.
"Fine. I will go by bus then."
The wall of khaki shirts part as I make my way to forward to cross the road. Then something happened.
One guy comes to me and asks:
"Boss, all you people easily give 200-300 rupees for these cabs. Then why can't you give us also? We also need to live!" ("naangalum pizhaikkanum thaane!")
I looked at him, unable to find an answer. I crossed the road lugging the bag (almost got hit by a well-dressed corporate asshole in a white Vento talking on the phone and driving), got on a 500D BMTC Volvo, paid 35 bucks and went home.
The Perception of Prosperity
Have you ever thought why autorickshaws overcharge? Why everything is so expensive in our metro cities? One simple meal in a half-decent restaurant in Bangalore costs Rs.200 while in a city like Kochi you can eat for two days for Rs.300. Anything that does not have an MRP stamped on them, anything whose pricing is decided by local vendors - all services from taxis to plumbers to fixing a dent on your car, apartments both sale and rent, schools, extra-classes and everything - can be seen hitting the stratosphere. Why?
Look at the flashy lifestyle of the typical guy/girl/family in Bangalore or any Indian city, employed in new-age corporate jobs (mostly the IT sector), the car-mall-eat out-party lifestyle of materialistic splurging. Though we try not to think about the lesser fortunate, this creates a perception of great wealth about us who are mostly from outside the city/state, among the have-nots and local people. This lifestyle of ours, this huge make-believe bubble created out of the now-dying IT boom, is not even real, running on the non-existent wealth of revolving credit. We have created this facade or an impression of great wealth to keep up with our peers, show the world how successful we are and so on, or in simpler terms "IT people have lots of money" when in reality there is none. But the less privileged ones, like the auto driver who asked me the pizhaippu question doesn't know this, and it does not matter. In his eyes we spend money like peanut shells and lead super-jolly-comfortable lives with amazing creature comforts; all which point towards big substantial earnings. He must think all of us earn lakhs on lakhs every month, taking all that money home in gunny sacks, thus enabling us to pay Uber 300 bucks for a 6 km Indica ride and thousands on a TOIT bill. When he sees this, that we look like we have so much, it is only natural for he who has so little and is hardly able to eke out a living to believe that he is entitled to a share of our (supposedly) enormous wealth and demand it. Hence, overcharging.
A long time back, when I outraged at his suggestion of "double meter", an auto driver asked me "What, only you Software people have to earn money? We also want to move up in life".
All this is our own creation. Thanks to our lifestyles, everyone from the real estate developer to the vegetable vendor believe IT people roll in cash, or even if they don't they know that we will fork it out to buy that overpriced shitty apartment or tin can car because the guy across the cubicle has, and they will extract their pound of flesh to which we will happily oblige. Well, there of course are very many who earn six digits every month, but the vast majority do not, but the lifestyle of all our "corporate job" classes seem the same to an outside observer, partly because the have-nots among ourselves splurge too because we have to keep up with the Sharmas. When we have created such a perception bubble just out of hot air and made it so believable, it is simple economics that market forces will demand that this wealth be redistributed from those who have it so much to those who do not. Have you ever wondered if he overcharges those who do not belong to our "affluent" sections? He does not. He even provides them services for free. Everyone knows vegetable vendors set prices by looking at the person. And as long as this inequality persists in our society, this will continue.
"He has money, so let him pay more."
You don't have money? Then don't act like you do!
I go to extreme lengths to let people know that I am not a "software people". And it pays!
I am not saying we should all go to the Himalayas and live frugal lives like the monks. Splash it, by all means. You earned it, of course. However, realize that overpricing of goods and services is the price you pay for the perception you have created about your prosperity (also called showoff) in the society. So own that up and pay through your, well.