Home / Mint-lounge / Mint-on-sunday /  San Francisco, Vienna or Mumbai?

Every once a while, a thought crosses my mind. Why do I continue to live in this crappy city called Mumbai? I suspect, if you live in Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad or any other big Indian city, you may have asked the same question of yourself.

There are no public places I can ramble around peacefully without somebody honking in my face. The streets are crowded, cheek by jowl. Everybody is in a tearing hurry to get to god alone knows where. 

Then there are moral guardians in each city who want sons of the soil to be offered jobs, instead of migrants. In Mumbai where I live for instance, a close friend had his car vandalized by so some so-called sons of the soil because it carried a number plate registered in Tamil Nadu. 

What the idiots didn’t know is that the man driving it possessed one of the sharpest minds. If nurtured by the city, his intellectual prowess would have generated wealth and eventually employment for many of them. 

The incident rattled him enough to leave. Cosmopolitan London gratefully grabbed him when he applied for a job there. The company he works for now could see his value. 

Times like these, I can’t help but wonder if the moral guardians are so morally and intellectually bankrupt that they cannot think of better ways to capture votes than pander to the lowest common denominator? I can go on and on with my rant. But because this is by now a familiar theme and embedded in middle-class conversations across India, I’ll stop. 

The solution, everybody concludes, is simple. Get out and move to a better place. I’ve listened in over the years after graduating from college as friends migrated to different parts of the world—North America, Australia, parts of the Middle East, Singapore, Europe and so on and so forth. 

Everyone comes back with the same tale. “Man, Mumbai’s gotten worse since we last left this place." As always, I listen in with much interest. Oftentimes, I get defensive because this is where I live.

That said, there is no taking away that when I land in Vienna or San Francisco, I ask myself, “Dude, what are you doing back in that place you call home?" 

Vienna is my favourite city in the world. You can argue the place is cold, the people are colder and frostier still, all things are stuck in time, and the place can get terribly depressing. I think of it though as a city embedded in time, history, culture and romance. 

I can walk for hours there through its various districts and discover something compelling each time. And I’d much rather be left alone without having to tip my hat to every passerby on the street and offer a polite, fake hello for the heck of it.

San Francisco is my other favourite. Old-timers there argue the city sucks. Commute times are long, public transport is a mess, the class divide is obvious and obnoxious. Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant. If you don’t look out for yourself, you can get mugged, and so on and so forth. 

To my mind, it is cosmopolitan in character, the air is crisp, the ambience is invigorating, and once there, you know you are in a city surrounded by people building the future of the world. It is with much reluctance that I leave the place. 

Then, why do I continue to live in Mumbai? Why not maximize the quality of the number of years I have left to live—of which I don’t have too many left as I had pointed out two weeks ago

Finally, it boils down to one question: Given where I am in life, where am I best off? Whatever answer I come up with, my reason had better be pretty damn good. 

In attempting to do that, I stumbled across a rather ingenious calculator on a website called Numbeo, a user-driven calculator that allows people from various parts of the world to input the cost of living in their part of the world. The idea is to figure out how their city compares with others in the world. The more data the calculator collects, the better it gets.

Some playing around with it later, all thanks to the altruism of strangers, and some informed guesstimates on my part, I got my answer. The outcome of which is explained in the chart below. 

Take your time to go over it. I’ve reproduced a few data points for the sake of brevity here. Whenever you’re up to it, do play around with Numbeo. We can debate online on the worthiness or unworthiness of the data as the case may be.

The data show that residents of Mumbai have an average monthly disposable income (after accounting for income taxes) of $684.55, a meagre sum compared to $2,065.78 for Vienna and $4,419 for San Francisco. That translates to annual incomes of $8,214.60, $24,789.36 and $53,037.12, respectively.

Now, there is a very interesting study that dates back to 2010 by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, both of whom are Nobel laureates for their pioneering research into psychology and economic behaviour. Their research suggests that once an American household’s income crosses $75,000 per annum on average, there is no reason why they ought to be unhappy. Anything over and above that does not make them any happier. So, they concluded, $75,000 is the “Happiness Plateau". This was reported upon extensively.

Based on this theory, some vocal critics of the consumerist culture led by economists and environmental scientists John de Graaf, David Waan and Thomas Naylor argued in Affluenza, a book I am reading right now, that the Americans reached their Happiness Plateau way back in 1957. But they continue to remain unhappy because their society is one that is driven by greed and the want for more. So they work harder to consume more, but affluenza is actually reducing the quality of their life.

Interesting thought that, I told myself. 

By that yardstick, where am I really now? On the back of my inputs into Numbeo, to maintain my current lifestyle—which insists I have full-time domestic help at home and a driver who is also doubles up as a handyman—I would need to earn Rs1,20,000 a month. 

Now, an economist would suggest I look at my life in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). That is, the amount of monies I have left on hand after paying for income taxes to spend and pay in dollar terms. That gives me a monthly income of $6,224.07, or $74,688.80 a year.

If I moved to San Francisco, I wouldn’t be any happier because I’d be way above the global average and earning a little over $93,000. On the contrary, Affluenza suggests it is an indicator I am on a consumerist treadmill, am in the pursuit of more, and therefore, condemned to unhappiness.

If I were living in Vienna, earning $43,000-odd a year, it would just about allow me meet my current lifestyle. But I’d have to slog my backside off and work harder to get closer to the magic $75,000 to be happy. Now I understand why my former mentor and good friend chose to give up on his life there—he sold his home and every possession, got a trailer van, and now moves across Europe with his lovely wife to whatever part of the continent they think will make them happy at any given point in time.

If I stay put in Mumbai though, I am barely $300 short of maximum happiness. I can live with that. Give or take or some junk food and I’m good—perfectly happy.

What do I say? Except that Jai Maharashtra and Me Mumbaikar are now music to my ears.

Charles Assisi is co-founder of Founding Fuel Publishing.

His Twitter handle is @c_assisi

Comments are welcome at

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Recommended For You

Trending Stocks

Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsWatchlistFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout