In the evening of our first day in Hyderabad we visit a nearby internet browsing centre. (The internet connection at home has stopped working; our complaint is number 18 in the “queue”). The lady at the reception appears busy working on a computer; we wait. When she does not pay attention for a while, I ask her if we could use a machine to browse. Without looking up she shakes her head – No systems free, come after half an hour. We can wait, I reply, and enquire if they have any facilities to send faxes. She continues to look at her screen, smiling occassionally while typing short keystrokes; when I repeat my question she shakes her head again – No fax here.
We take a seat. Her lack of alertness is disturbing, but Wife shrugs it off: spend a few more days here, she says, and you’ll get used to it.
Five minutes later the lady looks up from her computer and asks us to take cabin number 4 inside. No one has left the place, so how did a free computer materialise? I ask Wife. We’ve got what we wanted, she replies, so just walk in and occupy it before she changes her mind.
* * *
A few days later I visit an optical shop. There are no other customers inside, and the shop appears to have just opened: a woman is sweeping the floor on the far side, and some sections are still dark. The clock on the wall reads a half past eleven.
I approach the lady behind a counter and ask if they offer an eye-test service. We do, she replies, but our optometrist is not yet here; she will come at half past twelve.
I tell her that I’ll come back in the afternoon half.
On my next visit the optometrist is in but the eye test cannot happen as there is no electricity. When is it expected – is it a scheduled cut ? They do not know. Fine, I’d like to purchase some frames at least – do they accept credit cards ? They do, but the credit-card machine will not work since there is no electricity.
I thank them and leave.
* * *
A week later someone from BSNL comes home to check our internet connection. He is a middle-aged man, dressed plainly in an over-sized half-sleeve shirt, and is accompanied by another man who, by his subservient attitude, appears to be his assistant. This person is carrying a laptop bag. The senior technician switches on our computer and verifies the internet connection. When it does not work he asks his assistant to open his laptop – the assitant pulls it out of the bag, places it on the table and starts it. The technician then copies an installation program into our computer, and starts an installation. After that, as if by magic, the connection works.
He gives me his number to call in case there are any further issues. I thank him, and before he leaves I ask if I can offer him something. To my surprise, he refuses. At the gate I ask again, and he says if I want to give something I should give it to his assistant. I offer my tip to the assistant, who pockets it without even giving it a glance.
* * *
I’m at Cochin airport, standing in the queue for security check. It occurs to me that security has been rather relaxed this time: all checks I’ve passed through have been mere formalities, and I’m glad it is so. It makes me feel good about the general feeling of peace and safety that prevails here, which is such a contrast to the insecurity that drives all the checks and interrogations at U.S airports.
After passing through the metal scanner I stand in front of an officer who runs the detector from shoulder to toe. He is chatting with a colleague while he does this, but I’ve stopped being surprised at the casual attitude of these security check personnel. He stamps my boarding card and returns it. As I bend forward to gather my hand-luggage, I pick up one last bit of his conversation in Hindi: “…you know, I just got back from a vacation, and after a vacation one simply does not feel like working.”
I collect my bag and turn away quickly, before my smile turns into laughter.