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The waves

As the Wind Blows

Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India

21 December 2003

Anita’s woes with MTNL prompted me to republish this piece I wrote years ago for ET’s Diaspora page. In those days ET was not ‘online’. Hence this MS word copy from my archives.

Disclaimer: The piece was written during mid nineties, when the reform process was just catching up. The ad campaign “ India Shining” by Govt of India had another 8 years to arrive on the scene. And things like $ 100 billion forex kitty were only a dream then.

“I was more than a little disturbed when my nephew from California demanded “ one solid reason” why he should return to India. I was sad he lost faith in India.
But when I thought about it, I recalled all my own unpleasant experiences on my various trips to my home country.

"Things have changed in post-liberalized India", many of my friends said in my host country abroad. I was looking forward to come back. Boosting my optimism was periodic announcements by the gov. about one or the other reform. I thought, "At last,India was catching up with the rest of the world.".

But my “coming back” was an eye opener!

If renting out an apartment was an ordeal by itself (landlords prefer “company lease” – no “private party”please! ), getting the utilities services like phone, gas etc were worse.

With all my papers in place, and presuming connections would be quick in the new, liberalized India, I landed up at the nearest gas agency, dreaming a cup of freshly brewed “Madras Coffee”, for the next morning. The nonchalant clerk at the counter glanced up at me from his newspaper only after my ‘fifth “excuse me”. He put aside his newspaper and gave a fleeting glance on my papers. And the next moment he returned them to me,

“ No. It can’t be done today.”

I was crestfallen. “ Why not?” I asked, utterly disappointed at the prospect of facing another day without gas.

“ The papers are no longer valid. It is more than two years since you surrendered your connection last.”

“What do I do now?” I controlled the temptation to writhe his neck.

“ Take these papers to the company’s main office, get a certificate and a stamp to establish the authenticity of these papers.”

Well, at least he was gracious with this piece of information. Thankful for small mercies in life, I stood at the tail of a long queue at the consumer cell of that oil company at its “main office” the next day. When there were two or three persons at the queue, the person at the counter closed the counter. “ Lunch time”.

Realization number 1: Liberalization or no liberalization, the official machinery of whole India comes to a standstill for two hours everyday for the most important ceremony of the day called “Lunch break”.

The rest of the queue waited patiently. So did I for a cool 2 hours.

When the counter clerk returned, we all looked at her face anxiously. She was nothing short of goddess for us at that moment. After all, she has to stamp our respective papers. But no, she wasn’t ready yet. She began searching her drawers and purse seriously. Before she left forlunch, she had Rs. 500. It was missing now. Apparently, she has misplaced it somewhere. Now, her search put the whole queue out of gear. One man had the “audacity” to murmur. Unfortunaely she heard him and ‘barked’ in response. “What do you know about my problems? I toil here from morning till evening. And now my hard earned money is gone. How do you expect me to work?” Meanwhile, the queue was lengthening and time was dripping by.

At last to the reprieve of all, she found her money – tucked somewhere in a bunch of papers. And by the time I got my papers stamped, it was past five. And the gas agency was closed. So I had no other option but to wait for another day.

So the next morning – minus my cuppa of freshly brewed ‘Madras Coffee” I left for the gas agency. I was sure I had all the papers intact. He can’t send me away today. I shoved them into the counter. He gave them another quick glance and uttered one word, “ Ration card.”

Realisation Number 2: The ration card is a very very important personal document. You need to explain for hours why you don’t possess one – since you were out of the country for a long time. After much persuasion the officer grudgingly accepts your passport as a bonafide document.

But this time I had my old ration card and I proudly flaunted it in front of him. He saw that and returned. “ You have to go to the corporation and change the address. It is not your present address.” unfortunately both my ration card and the passport had the address of my previous residences in the city.

That was the last straw. I controlled the temptation to scream. I pleaded with him how it was difficult to go all the way to another office and chase another set of papers to get my address renewed in the ration card. I requested him to accept my rent receipt as proof of my residence. At last with great fuss he agreed.

Ah, at last some sign of “liberalization”!!

But he wanted photocopies – in triplicate – of all the documents. No problem sir. Done.

“So when will I get my gas?”

Kal jarur milega”. And the gas arrived finally next day evening – after 15 phone reminders from a public booth. I was yet to get a phone connection.

So, next was to get my phone connection. I had an old connection, which needed to be transferred from Madras to Delhi. Again confident that all my papers were in order, I set off to MTNL. First a visit to the consumer cell. Then I was directed to the concerned clerk who was dealing my papers. Another chase and wait near his table, till he finished his rounds of tea and chitchat. No one knew the procedure. So I was happily sent on a merry go round of tables chasing my papers for various signatures from various officials. But on one point they were all very crystal clear and were unanimous in verdict. “ Transfer Karbna hai? Badi mushkil hai na?”

Somehow, after days of chasing I landed at the “right” counter. The person waded through the maze of registers to track down my file. She finally declared – and was very sure – that my file had not yet arrived from Madras. It was over an year since we applied for the transfer!!. But strangely I had taken a proof from Madras that the file had actually been sent to Delhi! ‘May be a postal delay, she explained very “helpfully” and bang closed the register – dust hitting my face.

Disappointed in not being able to get a phone connection even after vigorous chase of tables in MTNL office, I approached an acquaintance in another section. There I was told that my file had already arrived and was dispatched to the concerned area officer. ( that the area officer was sitting two tables behind is immaterial. The file has to got through the “specific” dispatch channel only !! Talk about communication gap in an organization meant for communication !!

Postscript added on 21st December 2003:

For nearly 4 months I was waiting for BSNL to announce their Direct Internet Access Scheme ( DIAS) for our exchange. I preferred BSNL because it was a lot cheaper than the competitors. And every time when I contacted the Divisional Engineer, he was always very polite and very forthcoming with all the information I needed. Had the courtesy also to call me up and give me the current status in our excahnge. And one fine day he informed that I can now get my DIAS by giving my registration form at the centralized office. I went at 11 am. to that office. Got the form from the counter, filled and gave it along with a copy of my latest telephone bill. But I had not taken the draft for Rs. 2000. The clerk said "we can accept cash only up to Rs. 1999, madam. You may have to come back tomorrow with the draft". But I didn’t want to go away without finishing my job. After a few minutes of consultation with her seniors, she relented. And by 12 noon, I was out with a DIAS connection!

P.S 2: Well, did you ask how is the service?? Oh! That is another story !!!! not exactly as positive as getting the connection :-) Stay tuned to this page, for reading my share of woes with BSNL :-)


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