Monday, July 26, 2010

And the problem refused to go - part 2

Sometime back I had blogged on my burgeoning electricity bill and some of you were kind enough to express your sympathy and profess that the problem would eventually go. But it didn't. So I thought to bring you up-to-date on where it stands now, in case you care to know and still have some sympathy and patience left for me.

Few days after the meter guys checked the meter, I met the landlord to give his rent. I again told him the entire episode and he repeated that the problem was that of power theft and the culprit was the jeweler. He informed the jeweler had not been paying his rent and the landlord would soon oust him. The landlord and the jeweler were close friends once and although I had suspected they had fallen apart, I couldn’t work out why.

The landlord fished out his cell phone (an iphone he uses only to make and receive calls; he doesn’t know any other functionalities) and called his electrician with a sense of urgency, asking him to fix the problem without the jeweler getting a whiff of the problem being fixed. He assured me he would also be there (the landlord doesn't stay in the building) with the electrician to make sure that not only was my meter ridded of the problem but all other meters were protected from future power theft with an iron cage put around them and the door locked. But, he added, he would have to find out a time when the jeweler would not be there. He sounded as if he was planning an income tax raid.

I understood the landlord’s presence with the electrician would cause embarrassment in case they were to bump on to the jeweler. But it’s difficult to be there and not find the jeweler because the meter is located next to the jewelry shop and the jeweler remains in his shop the whole day with occasional venture-outs but at no fixed time. I sensed under the pretext of being there in the absence of the jeweler the landlord would procrastinate.

I was not wrong. I neither saw the electrician nor the landlord nor his iron cage. When I called the landlord to check when he would send the electrician, he didn’t receive the call. I decided it was time to look for a new address. Few days later I received my meter bill. Bingo, it was Rs 200 fewer than the last bill, although still much higher than my actual power consumption. It will be interesting to see how much it’s next time and how long I can be patient.

In case you didn't read the earlier blog, click this.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bandh and its Price

As a kid, when I was growing up in Calcutta, I used to equate Bandh (or strike) with holiday. Bandh meant trooping out to the road, putting up stamps 22 yards apart and playing cricket without any concern for traffic. Calcutta, as a city ruled by Bandh-friendly leftists, has a fair share of Bandhs every year.

The Bandh yesterday, which was called for rise in fuel price, took me back to my days in Calcutta sans the cricket. Every shop in the locality was shut. The streets were deserted with only a few souls here and there. Some goons were roaming the streets on bikes to ensure total compliance to the Bandh.

Had it not been for a guy selling tea in flask, I would have gone through the morning without the all-important day starter. For lunch, I had stocked some biscuits and butter the previous day.

The Bandh was successful – and I wondered how a successful Bandh affects local economy. The Internet has minimized the impact of Bandhs as many forms of businesses can be transacted indoors, but businesses that depend on daily cash collections like shops have not become Bandh-proof.

Do Bandhs really manage to force a government to alter an unfavorable policy? Even if they do, it comes at a price: the local economy and the image of the place. It is also not easy to decipher whether the policy was changed due to the Bandh or general protest against the policy.

One might argue that Bandh is the most effective way to take a message to the commonest of common as it directly affects their lives, unlike protests voiced in public offices or via media, which many don’t come to know about.

But: a) by affecting the local economy, a Bandh affects the interest of the very poor that it claims to protect; b) the shopkeeper doesn’t keep is his shop shut to show solidarity but to avoid incurring the wrath of party goons. Bandh is largely an Indian concept that the western democracies today are hardly familiar with. And even in India, some cities see higher number of Bandhs than others.

So next time when there is a successful Bandh, enjoy your day indoors – there is no point fighting party goons trying to defy the Bandh – but also spare a thought for the shop next to your house.
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