Corruption or tradition?


Continuing from yesterday’s posting on the “price” I had to pay for my wireless internet through MTNL: The telephone technician, who has been to our place at least 3 times in the last 7 days, came for the 4th (and hopefully) final time with the magnificent router. I was elated! As usual, I was kind in asking the man if he wanted a glass of water. And as usual, he declined. He did his magic in setting up the router with the phone and, presto, I was half way to becoming integrated into 21st century technology!

He then said that he would come back in 30 minutes with the engineer, who would do the final part of setting up the wi-fi, and as he left he was very clear in expressing  that I should “take care of the engineer”; not take care of him, but of the engineer. Keep these words in mind because it will be handy toward the end of this blog.

I simply nodded and saw him to the door after which i dashed to the telephone and got in touch with a friend asking him for his input on how I should respond to the technician’s demands. He counseled me stating that it would be in my best interest to humor the gentleman because should I encounter any future problems with my wireless, the chances of a scorned technician responding to my pleas in a timely manner would be quite slim. I was deeply saddened and knew I had to make a choice, quickly. So I decided that it would be OK to “tip” the guy for his good work; I rationalized him asking for a tip as a way of me saying thank you for all his hard work. I also rationalized that it would have been a different story if he asked for a bribe even before he started the wi-fi assignment.

Of course, not 30 minutes, but 75 minutes later, the technician and the engineer waltz into the house and get started on the internet connection, all while being polite and professional. The time comes and they are walking toward the door. I handed some money to the engineer and a little less to the technician. The engineer says, “What is this? Don’t give it to me, give it to him”. I was shocked that after i was told to “take care of the engineer”, the engineer himself refused. So, I handed the money to the technician and while the engineer insists that should anything happen, I should call him directly and not hesitate even once to do so, the technician had a baffled look on his face. As the engineer walked toward the door, the technician said to me, “Madam, yeh kam hein” (this is less). I pretend i did not hear him and walked toward the door myself thanking the engineer, who was now waiting at the bottom of the staircase. Again the technician tried to get my attention and alert me to the injustice I have done him with my paltry tip for all his hard work. His third attempt, as he approaches the door, infuriated me and I curtly, but politely asked, “Aap bateyein. Apko kya chahein?” (you tell me, how much do you want), to which he responds, “Do sau theek hein” (r.s 200 is fine). So i go to my wallet and retrieve rs 40, give it to him, and tell him, in a half joking way, that I will give him the rest later. He too, even though he did not get his rs.200 tip, insists that I can call on him anytime and he would be more than happy to help me out with any kind of telephone problems.

This whole exercise left a bitter taste in my mouth, as well as showed me a window into a reality. And i though to myself, “What would Anna Hazare say?” Indeed, what would he say to an act that was selfish and that contributed to the exact mess that he was trying to eliminate from the face of India? I couldn’t help but feel that I just betrayed his cause…. on the other hand, I realized that I also did what I needed to do in a country where only you take care of yourself, because nobody else will.

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