Over the last few years, Rs 50 has become a sort of benchmark for expenditure, for me and other friends who aren't exactly rolling in it. Because Rs 50 is a cup of coffee at a cafe like Barista or Costa.
When picking up cotton fabric at Lajpatnagar, or new earrings, when seeking membership of the Delhi Union of Journalists, when deciding between waiting for a bus or taking an auto, when tempted by a colourful glass bauble: expenses are tested against this standard - if something costs me the equivalent of two cups of coffee, it's justifiable.
Do I hesitate before walking into a cafe and blowing up Rs 50 on a cup of coffee that isn't half as good as the filter coffee at office?
I usually don't. Most of you reading this, don't.
And yet, most employers hesitate before giving Rs 50 as a yearly raise to the people who wash their dirty coffee cups. Or their dirty underwear.
We walk into a store, pick up a nice pair of heels for Rs 700, at a monsoon sale, and count ourselves lucky. We wear fancy heels maybe twelve times in a year and then get bored. Or the fashions change. But what if a cobbler asks for Rs 50 to mend a pair of shoes? How many of us have paid a cobbler Rs 50? Ever?
The price of a cup of coffee.
Sukku (10) comes from Gadgaon, Jharkhand. In her village. The job was supposed to be entail 'playing' with someone else's kids. But a little prodding revealed that Sukku, about 8 or 9 at the time, also had to wash clothes. and dishes. For all of this, the family paid her a grand sum of Rs 50 per month.
For some time, my cup of coffee is going to be coloured by that little fact called Sukku.
I asked her whether they gave her food.
They did not. "What do you think, they said - We'll give money also, and food also?"
Sukku went to work at 8 am and stayed till 4pm. An eight-hour work-day. She doesn't even know the mistress' name. all she knows is that she took care of a boy called Rohit and a girl called Kamla (both less than 3 years old). One comfort was that they didn't beat her.
She worked for a year. But before that, things were harder. She used to go to the brick kilns. "I lifted bricks on my head. Five bricks at a time. Don't know how much money I got. I never saw any. They'd give some food in the afternoon."
Sukku has never been to school. If she did, she could have got that one afternoon meal for just attending classes. That much is her due. If we wanted, we could make sure she gets her due.