Thrift

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1235455740|%B %d

The other day at the Internet Cafe, I broke a 50 rupee note. Literally. I was taking it out of my hot and sweaty money pouch, and it just ripped in half. Whoops.

But no big deal, right? 50 rupees is, what, like a dollar; maybe in India it has the purchasing power of about five bucks. I was about to shell out 80 rupees for our one hour each of Internet time. Oh well.

The guy who was running the Internet Cafe, however, had another idea. "Hey, can I see that?" he asked.

50 rupee note. Note the cute picture of Gandhi.
50 rupee note. Note the cute picture of Gandhi.

"Um…sure," I said.

He held the pieces together and squinted at them, evaluating. Then he nodded.

"Can I buy it from you?" he asked. "40 rupees."

Of course fourty rupees is better than two halves of a fifty rupee note that we won't ever use. So I agreed.

India is full of opportunists like this: people who figure out a clever way to make a buck and then hover around waiting for the right moment. The other day we were going up to explore the ruins of the Bundi palace, and we ran into a couple of kids.

"Monkey problem," they told us. "You will want a stick." Of course, they conveniently had a stick, that they were willing to part with for ten rupees (or "ok, five" as they offered when we turned them down.)

There's a long, gentle hill along this road, and as I sit and look out the window while I type, I see autorickshaws coasting down. They cut their engine when going down hill, saving some nominal amount of gasoline, which translates into some nominal savings.

Speaking of Internet Cafes, they often add random extra fees, like a "downloading fee" or a "skype fee" or a "webcam fee" or a "use your own laptop fee" … of course, it costs them nothing extra. But they watch, and they take note of what people will give them an extra ten rupees for.

It's a kind of thrift that we have totally forgotten in the US. I've heard stories of people's grandparents reusing tin foil in the depression; of old ladies who saved and reused every scrap of everything through their whole life, that when they finally passed away, what they left behind (a junk-filled, cat scented house) was more of a burden to their descendants than a blessing.

They still do this in India. More than once we've seen vehicles pieced together out of what is essentially junk, or typed emails on machines that look about two generations older than the ones I salvaged from CC's recycling program. MOre than once we've peaked into a closet in a guest house (that happened to be open) and seen huge piles of plastic water bottles. What they will use them for, I don't know, but saving them (particularly then intact ones) seems to be a high priority.

Indeed, when we rode the camels, I went to crush our used water bottle, but the camel driver stopped me.

"No no!" he said. "Don't crush. Just throw into the desert. Some goatherd will find, and will use. Very good, very much the better."

Are these behaviors relics of a past that is passing away? Or valuable habits for a new world order, where both wealth and resources are scarce? Who knows. In any case, it is interesting.

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