INDIA: A Lawyer's Life in Bombay

Eric Linge, Pitt Law '09, files from Mumbai:

Settling in Mumbai after having spent my first quarter century in the U.S., I have quickly developed a new personal pricing index. What I mean is, a $4 lunch is now a rather expensive lunch. A one hour ride in an auto rickshaw for $3 — wow, that's a lot. And now that India's cheap prices have made me so stingy, the price of a Western lawyer's favorite drinks can really sting. A bottle of beer can easily double the cost of an average meal.

Import tariffs for alcoholic beverages range from 150% to 550%, on top of local taxes. A bottle of domestic Scotch here goes for $5 but the real whisky (not whiskey) from Scotland starts at around $40. The U.S. and E.U. feel the pain of their expats, and have filed complaints in the W.T.O., asking for a legal review of India's spirit tariffs. Tariffs are not per se illegal under the W.T.O. agreements, but the W.T.O. Dispute Settlement Body could rule that India's spirit tariffs are illegally excessive.

So maybe us snooty expat lawyers in India should go native and drink domestic? Drinking domestic is cheaper but still expensive by my Indian personal pricing index. The taxes levied on domestically produced beverages are around 100%. Kingfisher far and away dominates the domestic beer market, and a price of about $2.75 is usual at an average restaurant. Imported beers at the same restaurant will be nearly double this. One time I paid $7 for a Kingfisher at a nightclub. Because there is a brewery in India, Foster's — as in, "Australian for beer" — is not subject to the import duties and is always the same price as Kingfisher. Foster's is the second most-likely beer to be found a drink menu after Kingfisher.

Still, by U.S. standards, $7 for a beer at a nightclub is not that bad, and neither is $2.75 at a restaurant. When I'm saving so much money on food, I can't complain. Plus, it's so hot in my apartment, it's like getting a free sauna every night. And speaking of hot, unless you know the right shop or restaurant, your heavily-taxed red wine will be served at Mumbai room temperature, which is usually 90def F. Warm red wine, however, tastes better than I thought it would.

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