Monday, March 17, 2014

Theater that pays

Two kinds of people hover about the driver's window in Delhi - stoplight denizens such as vendors and beggars, and petrol pump attendants.

The former, while a great deal more pesky, are by far the more benign. When a petrol pump attendant offers to clean your windscreen, and engages you in small talk, or patters on about windscreens, don't look him in the eye. 

Watch that meter! 

This morning, I was in a particularly benign mood - it was Holi, there was not much traffic on the streets, and I was going to drink a friend's home to drink a cold beer in the warm sun. I paid for Rs. 2000 worth of petrol - roughly 27 liters - and then chatted with the smiling, blue-faced attendant who asked me to squirt water on my wind-screen, so he could squeegee it off. I didn't stop to think, "Nobody ever asked me to do that before; they use the squeegee to rinse the windscreen with water." After I had spread some of the good cheer around and received the receipt for my money, I turned the key, and noticed my tank was way less than half-full. I asked the attendant to look at the gauge. He protested, but weakly, and concurred that the amount of gas filled was less than Rs. 2,000 worth. I told him we could do get into a whole drama of reporting and tests, or he should top my tank up by as much as they had tried to steal.

He quietly added another 10 liters into my tank, and I quietly drove away.

I wonder how many times a day this drama of distraction works.

Lucrative theater! Barry John once told a group of young actors we were working with - look at beggars on the street. See how realistically they act. Their very livelihood depends on how convincing they are at evoking the right emotions. 

The petrol pump attendants are equally professional actors, ensemble performers. It requires at least 2 or 3 of them to have worked the whole act out. I wonder how often they change the script. Over their chai, at the beginning of the day, do they toss a few improv ideas around - today, let's try it with a scratch card offer. Or, how about you try - Uncle, how come you've stopped coming to our pump so frequently? 

It is a sad commentary on our nation that you always have to have your wits about you. Even in the most mundane of transactions, there's every chance you'll be fleeced.


  1. When the big companies are fleecing people off their daily livelihoods in the lap of luxury ....while forty percent of the worlds malnourished live in this country..whats a poor illiterate parking attendants small theft compared to that?

    "If a man has an apartment stacked to the ceiling with newspapers we call him crazy. If a woman has a trailer house full of cats we call her nuts. But when pathologically hoard so much money that they impoverish the entire nation, we put them on the cover of Fortune magazine and pretend they're role models. "

  2. Recently, the founders of WhatsApp got bought out for a fancy price and made pots of money. They also invented a free app that became wildly popular as a no-cost way to message and keep in touch with friends, family and communities. Whom did they impoverish? Except, perhaps, the telecom companies!