A month ago, if you’d told me that India has 120 crore people, I might have replied along the lines of, “I’ll be sure to check them out, although if there are only 120 of them in a country of a billion people, I can’t promise you I’ll find one.”
If you’d then told me that India has about 50 lakh rickshaws on its roads, I certainly would have struggled to decipher this mysterious statement, searched for clues in the tone of your voice, called upon the sincerest tone of my voice to mask my ignorance, and concluded that a lakh rickshaw, due to its apparent rarity, must be an air-conditioned sort.
After this, perhaps I would have read in a local newspaper (as I did last week) that over the next 10 years the infrastructure of India’s national power system will need 20 lakh crore rupees’ worth of upgrades in order to provide continuous electricity to all of the country’s inhabitants and institutions.
Ergo, I’d have thought, the monetary equivalent of 20 air-conditioned rickshaws from the crore people will solve this problem. (Nice try.)
A month ago, almost everything I knew about India was contained in the remnants of my grade-eleven world-history class (that paragraph on the Indus and Ganges river valley civilizations 4000 years ago; the menu at Jodhpur Club in Toronto’s Baldwin Village; and Slumdog Millionaire.
I didn't even make it all the way through Gandhi.
Having suffered through two university degrees, the Arabic and French languages, Proust, and an absurd amount of sports trivia, my brain has effectively reset itself to a flashing 12:00. I’m like a baby. Or a half-blind old man. I’m a half-blind old baby. I don't know anything, and what little I can see I can barely make sense of.
(Also, have I mentioned that it’s 20 lakh crore degrees Celsius here and my brain actually may have melted?)
Well it turns out that a lakh is equal to 100,000 and a crore is 10,000,000. India’s numerology takes a few deviations from standard base-ten.
Here, you might see the number 50,00,000, which is 50 lakh or 5 million or the number of rickshaws in India.* 1 lakh is 1,00,000 and 99 lakh is 99,00,000, but once you get above 99 lakh you’ve hit a crore.
120 crore is 1,20,00,00,000 or 120-ten-millions or 1.2 billion or the number of people in India. It’s also equal to 12,000 lakh, but you wouldn’t say that.
And finally, 20 lakh crore rupees is 20,00,000 crore or 2,00,00,00,00,00,000 or 20 trillion rupees or (with the current conversion rate of about 44 rupees to the Canadian dollar) about $455 billion.
Everyone got that?
* This figure has not been fact-checked; in three weeks I’ve only seen half-a-lakh rickshaws.