Self-discovery in India is a well-worn cliche, but I think I’ve gone one better and unexpectedly discovered an entire new theory of economics, one that turns the old axiom “You get what you pay for” completely on its head. I’m calling it the inverse proportionality theory, and it can be summarised as follows: The less you pay for something, the better it is. I’m basing this entirely on my observation of two things: chai and crappers.
First, chai. Buy chai in a restaurant, and it’ll cost you upwards of 10-15 rupees and will invariably be vile. Over the course of the past month, I’ve discovered that you only buy chai in one place: on the street. A wander down the streets of any Indian city will soon bring you to a dhaba, a little establishment which is roughly equivalent to a cafe. At a dhaba, chai will generally cost you 5 rupees, and it’ll be good. Not amazing, but good. But you can do better.
Continue your walk, and you might come across a chai-wallah cooking up chai on a gas stove in a pot that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned for days. This chai will cost only 4 rupees, and it’ll be better than anything you’ll get in a dhaba. And if you’re very lucky, you may stumble across the holy grail of chai, the sweet cardamon and ginger-laden nectar that is the Three Rupee Chai. I’m yet to come across a 2-rupee chai, but I’m sure that if I do, it’ll be life-changingly good. The search continues.
On a less pleasant note, the same pattern applies for toilets. My first encounter with an Indian public toilet was at the Diu bus station – having heard all sorts of horror stories about the general revoltingness of such toilets, I only went out of sheer necessity (ie. the remnants of Delhi belly and an imminent 10-hour bus ride)… but I was pleasantly surprised. I was charged 1 rupee by the attendant, and the toilet was spotless. Since then, any toilet that’s charged me 1 rupee has been similarly sparkling. 2-rupee toilets have been clean but stinky, and 3-rupee ones rather unpleasant.
And yesterday, my theory was proven conclusively! I had the unfortunate experience of stumbling across the festering cesspit that was the 4-rupee toilet. Never again. Yech. It should be noted here that anything that comes for free doesn’t fit the mould. Toilets that you don’t have to pay for at all are indescribably squalid and should be avoided at all costs. In summary, then: Pay as little as possible, but pay something.
Of course, there are still troubling teething problems with the theory (namely, that it doesn’t really work for anything except tea and toilets – although expensive food here has generally been disappointing), but I’m confident that this can be explained by the fact that I simply haven’t found cheap enough examples of the items for which the theory doesn’t seem to hold. In the meantime, I urge everyone to try it out! Be a raving cheapskate! And be *proud*, goddammit!