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.