Monday, June 30, 2008

Misadventures in Malarialand, Pt. I

(notes from mid-June)

I want to start this one off with an awesome passage that probably only dear Vinny will appreciate fully, what with his colonialist Raj dreams of yesteryear, with visions of sugarplums, pith helmets and Darjeeling tea plantations dancing in his head…..

I was waiting in a reception area in my office and was trying my best to be proper and genteel (as the following passage would surely demand no less of) when I came across what would perhaps be Vinny’s favorite “how to be a colonialist” book: a historical recount of the glory days of the local country club, sitting there on the coffee table. I had no choice but to pick it up and copy passages as fast as I could by hand on my notepad for immediate dissemination…..

[pretentious embossed Coat of Arms on brown leather cover, labeled “The Madras Club 1832”]
“The Ace of Clubs: The Story of the Madras Club”
By S. Muthiah

Chapter 1: Clubbing Together

“At home, in Britain , the club was very much an upper class institution. It was where people of the same social standing- and with, presumably, the same interests, could gather, talk about matters of common interest, unbend a bit and relax with equals, and drink and dine together with like-minded people who would neither cause offence nor upset the digestion. It was at the same time an institution founded for male companionship, to get away from the company of the ladies at home who, by no stretch of the imagination, the members felt, could be considered intellectually equal or capable of sharing common interest. In fact, it was also an institution where M’Lord could often be left in undisturbed peace and quiet to read a paper, cogitate over the state of the world and what it was coming to with the great unwashed increasing in number, or snooze genteelly, totally free from the natter of the women he had left at home.”

(on the next page….)

“…they frolicked, feuded, and fought with each other in an all-male society that shared a common dining room or “fort” or in rude taverns and coffee houses that provided the only access to recreation in a settlement, if you don’t count the liaisons with Indian women that was the accepted practice of the day and contributed to many a latter day “Nabob” who became a Lord bequeathing to his heirs a touch of colour.”

I swear I didn’t edit a single word. The “great unwashed” and “women’s natter” are, of course, my everyday concerns as well. Vinny, find this on Amazon and order immediately. Set up shop in NYC, Jon is the natural-born pretentious and exclusivist club president, but we can all be undersecretaries of some capacity or another, serving in the shadow of his greatness.

But on to the stories. Many of you have heard of my recent (albeit self-inflicted) losses; first, my guidebook (well, YOUR guidebook, Aunt Linda… woops) in New Delhi, my digital camera in Chennai, and last but not least, my wallet in Mahabalipuram (just to top it off, of course, as the number three is so auspicious and all). The searches for all have ended in great stories:

1) The lost guidebook was promptly found by my friend in Delhi and sent to me by courier. The courier proceeded to deliver the package (two days late) to “#8, New Mandapam Road” instead of the nearby “Old #42/1, New #8, Mandapam Road”… where I actually reside. Not to mention that my name is “Greg Meyer,” not “Bhavana Jayaraman” of the “Orient Nursery and Preschool.” The two are easily confused, I know. I received a call, not from the courier service – who is responsible for nothing but delivering the package to the correct addressee- but from the school by a teacher - who is responsible for her children’s education. She, out of the goodness of her heart, called the phone number referred to on the package. I would otherwise never have seen it again.

I highly recommend this capable, responsible and expedient courier service to everyone. *?!(#%* idiots.

2) The digital camera was left in the back seat of a hired car, sent by my company, to bring me from the factory site in a rural area west of Chennai to my home. I realized this two days later, after replaying the scene in my head. I gave as much detail to- and contacted as many- concerned parties as possible, but to no avail. I decided to go with “if you want something done right, do it yourself” and took the next day of work off to investigate this and other losses (the ones preceding and succeeding this particular account). My trip to the livery company that sent these cars out resulted in my rickshaw driver telling me “this address does not exist” and afterwards “we are here” (when we weren’t; he wanted to get rid of me and get on with collecting his fare, a common scene played out daily with these scamful schmucks). Suggestion to transportation board, government of India: street signs, a side-alternating (even/odd) numerical system, and/or descending/ascending numbers (instead of numbers that fluctuate wildly as you progress, depending on when the structure was built) MAY help in finding city locations!!! Anyway… turned out the livery cab manager had suspended my driver for two days on account of this “stain on his company’s reputation” and had his driver profess his innocence in front of me. He then told me his driver can’t drive for a few more days, while he "thinks about what he has done" (which was… to not check the floor to see if I left my own belongings for me as I left?). I attempted, using as many synonyms and British accented terms as I could, to convey that I didn’t wish for anyone to be suspended, or punished, or made an example of- I just wanted my friggin’ camera back. I posted an enormous (comparatively) reward for its return in the office, and attempted to get one posted at the client (who used the cab after me)’s place of business. After significant hesitance on the manager’s part, he revealed that, on second thought, my search was in vain, as: “if an Indian is honest, he will return it immediately” and “if he is dark-hearted, he will keep it for himself or sell it off, and a reward will not draw out either.” Translation: “You’re f$#ked.” Additionally, he said any of his workers that returned the camera would be fired on the spot out of assumption that they themselves stole it, which completely overrides my “no questions asked” addendum to my reward poster and third-party neutral escrow plan to ensure confidentiality. Thanks, that’ll certainly ensure the return of my camera- excellent tactic! The “carrot” approach, I see what you’re doing there!

3) I lost my wallet/got it stolen (OK, I was reading a book, I was at the really good part) on a packed-like-a-sardine-can bus to Mahabalipuram over the weekend immediately after the lost camera. While this isn’t a “search” story, as a “search” never really occurred, the ensuing bureaucracy I encountered while trying to report it made me wish I could have paid the value of the contents of the wallet just to have gotten my 6 hours back! …. In the most elaborate possible inefficiency scheme you could ever POSSIBLY dream of, the object of even Rube Goldberg’s circuitous envy, I present to you the following example of organizational ineffectiveness:

(first, imagine being in a beach town in an arguably third world country, in a police station. There are seven large geckos creeping along the walls and ceilings, open-air entryways, people walking in and out barefoot, a solitary rusty ceiling fan slowly whirring, and officers in excessively decorated uniforms engaged in heated discussions in Tamil with complainants. The two closed doors in the building have signs over them; not “detective” but “sub-inspector” and “inspector.” The temperature is over 90 degrees and the humidity is around that number, percentage-wise)

I was first told to file a report ("submit a complaint"). I asked to be given the paperwork, and was handed a blank piece of paper. Upon five minutes of misunderstanding, frantic gesticulation, and mistranslation, I discovered that this blank piece of paper was to be the report- there are no forms to fill out, no templates, nothing. In stark contrast with the infamous bureaucracy I had heard so much about in Indian government, or perhaps in perfect harmony and actually the crown jewel of bureacracy (for what is bureacracy really if not the ultimate time-waster), thirty minutes later my efforts resulted in what looked like a 3rd grade art project. I handed over a piece of paper full of writing, diagrams, a timetable, and two abstract pictures, whereupon an officer told me to come back four hours later, where it would be typed up and ready to go. After those four hours, I returned, only to wait another hour in the waiting room. I then told the officer that, while this game was fun, I did in the end have to be somewhere at night and could not continue playing. In different words, of course (well, different gestures and facial expressions, as her English was as developed as my Tamil). So, discreetly, only THEN did she start to copy it in her own handwriting (all the while here I am handing a phone back and forth with my coworker on the line to translate for the two of us), misspelling things and omitting crucial information along the way. At this point she handed her garbled recitation of my 3rd grade project off to an office boy, who beckoned me to sit on the back of his motorcycle to travel two blocks away. Why travel elsewhere to type up a routine police document? All precinct electronics were down, so another person (at an internet cafe) had to type it up and print it. This additional process, of course, resulted in even more lost and garbled information. We rode back to the station and waited once more for the same officer to simply stamp the printed form and sign it, which is, if you read it in its entirety, even funnier than the process, as it reads essentially: "Greg Meyer is in search of his wallet and its contents, which included ____, the search for which ended in vain". The part about a search is an interesting addition, as they never endeavored to search anything or anywhere, despite my specific details and tip-offs, because that would require walkie-talkies, action, and effort. Anyway... good thing I have proof of a search that “ended in vain”... what would I do without this newly obtained proof!!! The next cab driver that wants 100 rupees will be immediately presented with my new “complaint form” as government-tendered paper payment. I’ll see how that goes. Don't really understand the Indian police.... I guess I’m perpetually “that American tourist.”

….And just imagine how much better that lost wallet story would have been if I could have taken digital photos.


1 comment:

ganesh said...

I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

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