Consider this Gmail chat transcript:
me: big nerd
Rahul: what u r doing
good job updating ur blog
me: shut up nerd
Sent at 10:58 PM on Wednesday
So this goes out to Rahul, who - like many of you - has had many questions of what we have been doing, how work is going, where we are living, what it looks like, how our maid is working out, whether Naya is feeling any better.
First, some context: We have spent the last few days discovering what it means to rent an unfurnished apartment in New Delhi: No gas cylinder, no washer, no drier, no curtains, no ACs, no stove, no oven. And we have also fallen victim to what everyone who has moved here or anywhere else overseas warned us of: a delayed shipment of our household goods. Somehow, Dec. 5 has become Dec. 27 has become sometime in '07. So between the former and latter, some serious shopping has been in order.
Perhaps that is all we ever write about here but to move is to shop so here we go...
Prices in India are uneven. I was expecting higher prices on electronics and appliances (hence, our multiple trips to Sam & Raj) but we were pleasantly surprised to bargain the salesman down to Rs. 57,000 -- for a Samsung refrigerator, LG washer, Samsung microwave, Samsung television, Hoover vacuum and a Philips mixer grinder juicer (known by my Assamese aunts as a 'mixie' not to be confused with their nightgowns, which are 'maxies') . That's just over $1,200.
What is not cheap is the unexpected. You know all those dollar stores, where you can rack up little garbage cans for the bathroom and toilet bowl cleaners and bins of cheap, imitation Tupperware? Well, I have just returned from INA market (just five minutes from our house) and spent much more than I wanted to -- like Rs. 75 each for toilet bowl brushes. Toilet paper - four rolls for Rs. 200 -- almost $5 - seems ridiculous. But I guess shopkeepers know their target market. I would guess a very very very slim minority of Indians use toilet paper.
We also bought some secondhand furniture - through this site from a nice family in Noida. Finally, we got a lot of stuff made in Kirti Nagar, a section of Delhi boasting at least 75 furniture shops. We liked the styles of Furniture Cottage, buying a king-size bed for about Rs. 25,000 - around $550 - that looks just like my old one that I got off eBay. (Since this posting is in honor of Rahul, I give props to him, Shaan Akbar, Krishan Patel and Yishen Gu for not just helping me move it from Brooklyn to Queens five years ago but surviving through the one and only time I have ever driven a truck.) We also bought a sofa-cum-bed, which is really like a cool futonwhere the mattress is kept in a sliding box under the cushion, for Rs. 7,000 -- about $150. And finally, we ordered a drawing room (no, not the room where Nitin will do his thang) set for about Rs. 30,000 -- $650 - for two loveseats and a proper three-seat couch. Nitin wanted modern, I wanted ethnic but practical and durable for a child -- so we settled on a contemporary cut with a Thai-looking leather and a maroon-tinted cloth pattern underneath it.
After the shopping in Kirti Nagar, we rushed to an agency in Kotla Mubarakpur -- an area just a stone's throw from tony South Extension, with its galleries, shops and neon lights, but definitely a reminder of how some Delhi-ites are still living pre-India Inc. Naya loved it because there were cows and goats and children everywhere. Our car jammed bylanes many times because it was not clear where the bazaar ended and the road began. When we reached our destination -- a second-floor servant placement office overlooking an alley that smelled of urine, sweat, cow and other mammals' dung -- and met Sylvester, the fast-talking owner, we were skeptical. Then he introduced Felicia, who was quiet but neat and well-dressed and said she had worked for a family that had just moved to Malaysia. Nitin looked and me and said she seemed homely. (That's a good thing here.) I said she seemed honest and hard-working. Only time will tell (she is sleeping in the next room as I type) but when we asked Sylvester what her wage is, it became very apparent what remains cheap, almost too cheap, in India still: human capital. We will pay Felicia $67 per month. Her contract says she is to work from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. and gets off two days per month...