Incidents Short story Thought and Reason

Changing times

The last time I visited Chennai – a year back (I think) – everyone I met raved about the new City Centre. I decided I must visit. And I wasn’t disappointed at all. I stepped in, and there was Valet parking. Cool! But I was shocked to see how modern the girls were… everyone of them clad in tight jeans and short sleeveless tops. Boys and girls jay-walking hand-on-waist (Gone are the ‘hand-in-hand’ days). Sipping Cokes, munching sweet-corn. To put it simply, I felt…antique (“out-dated”, if you must choose to hear the bitter truth).

Anyway, the rumbling started in my tummy. I had felt very generous that morning…you know, the thrill of converting GBP into INR … I had given away Rs.20 to a beggar. She didn’t go ga-ga but I was too elated to be back home, that I didn’t quite care, though I was a wee bit surprised. Coming back to my rumble, I spotted a nice little latticed stall in a corner of the complex. The guy smiled me a welcome. I nodded affably, and ordered a delicious-looking paneer-sandwich and musambi juice. I was startled by the contrast in customer service, between now and a few years ago. Earlier, we would see unshaven men wiping off their nose before handing over spilt juice in a thick, dirty glass tumbler. And here was a neatly dressed chef-like gentleman handing over a tall clean glass of chilled juice in a nice little tray. “Wow!” I thought aloud, suitable impressed.

The guy smiled politely. And handed over the bill. I opened my wallet with a flourish and took out the solitary crisp Rs.100 currency note, and handed it to him. “Keep the change”, I said graciously, in appreciation of the ambience and service. Wait! Something was wrong. He returned a glare that seemed to ask “Which village are you from?!!!”. He shoved the bill back into my hand. It read “Rs.75 + Rs.55”. My eyes popped out. I thought I wasn’t able to read well because of the dim lights. I re-read the bill carefully. Yes, it was a WHOPPING Rs.130 “plus service tax”.

“Er…um…actually…” I started…”Do you accept credit cards?”, the brilliant thought suddenly struck me.

“Yes, we do, but not for small amounts“, came the carefully-worded reply, as he pointed to the board hanging on a side. “Credit cards – minimum amount Rs.250”.

“Humph…rude!!”, I thought, but all I said aloud was a meek “Oh”. “Strange practices here”, I added lamely. And I returned the sandwich (as I could not return the juice)!!!

And walked away as fast as I could. I could still feel the bugger muttering behind my back.

4 replies on “Changing times”

Hey Pallavi,
Your problem is the same as mine…we have been away from india for too long!
I was just as shocked when I went to India this time…earlier a Rs500 bill wld stay intact for days and was a huge contingency fund! Today, I treat one friend at a mediocre restraunt and the bill is well over 500!

And the most shocking bit is…people back home dont seem to mind anymore! I find I am the only one complaining about how everything is expesnive!:(

Same here Pallavi and Yashada. We have been out of India for 7 years and it is just not the same as before. We do feel ‘antique’

Thanks, girls, for giving me company! As someone else said, we are suddenly on the wrong side of the generation gap!!!

All these wonderful and kind people gave me feedback on Ryze, and I forgot to update it here earlier.
Bina Ashok: True! With going global, we’ve forgotten the staying local!
Also the price we pay for many things is quite global indeed!
Shiv Gahlot: Being a Gurgaon-ite, malls and multiplexes are my usual haunts when on leave.

I remember when Priya was the only place in Delhi worth going to see a movie at. A balcony seat would cost 25 bucks, and we used to curse the theatre’s management for being a step short of highwaymen. Even when I had to take a girl on a date, i’d still go for the Rs 4.50 tickets available from a hole in the wall off to a side…

Now, I have to go around shelling out a whole k every time I step across the threshold of a movie joint, and kids today think it reasonable.

Yup, Pallavi… suddenly, we are on the wrong side of the generation gap. Good writing there.

srinivasan Rangarajan: very realistic Pallavi. I am a chennaite and I always keep two rs 500 gandhi notes as emergency whenever I venture in these places !
Shankar Bali: Lovely post Pallavi!

I thought your acknowledgement post to Bina, Shiv and Srini should have had a final line…

…For everything else there’s Mastercard.:):):)

As long as the bill is more than 250/=

Rita Mukherjee: Great post. Just couldn’t resist posting my two bit too. When I was a kid zillion years ago only ONE rupee could buy us a feast. In the summer holidays some generous aunt would dole out a rupee and off I’d go an ‘party’ with a bottle of coke, a cadbury slab, a vanilla icecream cup AND a samosa or rosogolla too (each item then costing the princely sum of 25 paise!!!)Good old year 1962

Pragya Thakur: Good stuff Pallavi. I can imagine the mortification you must have felt after asking the guy to keep the change and then being told you’re short.

But inflation happens everywhere and it only appears stunning and stark when one hasn’t been around for awhile. For others, in India, they probably felt the prices going up in a slow creep, ratcheting up little by little, the shock spread out over years.

We go back, thinking about the times when cold coffee at DePaul’s in Janpath, Delhi was Rs 2 (probably really dating myself here) and in some unbelievable 3 figure number now!

Thank god we don’t see a 900 million percent inflation per year in India like they do in Zimbabwe. Apparently one can fill up a cart with groceries there and by the time they are at the checkout prices have risen. I read that their biggest import is paper so they can print more money!

Anyway…as for times changing in other ways…that is always an eye opener…the hands on the waist etc.


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