The friends with whom I went to dinner (and the temple) last night are all visiting faculty of some nature, spending a semester or a year teaching at U-Hyd. I’ve heard them all comparing salaries (guess that’s not a taboo in India), and so have figured out about how much they take home each month... if I did the math correctly. ^__^
But the number is small enough that when they try to bargain auto drivers down, they are serious. A five-rupee difference “means something,” and not just the satisfaction of having bested the driver.
It also means that they think I am wealthy, or at least comparatively so. And, perhaps, I am.
But the irony (the “paradox” of the title) is that, of all of us, I am actually the least wealthy. They have saved assets and I have debits. I am, to wit, broke. This entire trip is being financed through a loan.*
I’ve explained to a few people about the typical American debtor lifestyle and they are astonished. Even I, if I truly think about it, am astonished, because mathematically it doesn’t add up. If one considers the national debt as well as the hundreds of thousands of dollars of individual debt… exactly how is America getting by, anyway? And what exactly is it using to keep the economy going?
Because a lakh or so stored in a bank account isn’t much, but it’s something each of these visiting faculty have, and something very few Americans can claim.
* Editor’s Note: She hates the fact that she couldn’t set enough money aside to pay for this trip, particularly after working all summer. She would like to refer you to this recent NY Times article on the rise in “student fees.” Her tuition is paid by the university, but paying these fees eats up forty percent of her teaching stipend. Thus much of what she earned this summer went towards paying debts incurred during the school year, and working over winter break will begin to pay for this designated “internship semester” (in which she receives no teaching stipend or other income, but still must pay the same amount of fees), etc.