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Blog // Travel
October 29, 2005

Why I Am Fed-Up With Delhi: Number 7893

This afternoon was spent shopping in Basant Lok, possibly the most overrated shopping destination ever (that people can describe it as “world-class” and “fashionable” still mystifies me). The purpose of the trip was to buy Diwali Gifts for our various staff and helpers (nanny, driver, guards, gardeners and so on). These gifts are acompanied by […]

This afternoon was spent shopping in Basant Lok, possibly the most overrated shopping destination ever (that people can describe it as “world-class” and “fashionable” still mystifies me). The purpose of the trip was to buy Diwali Gifts for our various staff and helpers (nanny, driver, guards, gardeners and so on). These gifts are acompanied by a financial gift, which is equivalent to a western Christmas bonus. It is a tradition we happily take part in, as a way to show our gratitude to those who help make out time here more manageable. It gives us a chance to be generous and appreciative within an established cultural context.

Whilst out shopping I was also trying to pick up a case of wine. Now I should preface this by saying that wine here is hard to buy, restricted to a small number of government stores and subject to extortionate taxes (despite recent cuts in this area). Any decent wine you can get is savoured at dinners and very welcome as a visiting gift. So, there I was staring at a case of Rawson’s Retreat (six white, six red), is a passable wine that would sell in the UK for ¬£5.99 a bottle, less a case discount of 5-10%. However, here the cost would be 8400 rupees, or just under ¬£105.

I carefully counted out the cash, then handed it over. The guy behind the till counted, then counted again. Just like magic, a500 rupee note (about ¬£6.25) went missing. The thing is, I don’t believe in magic. The way he did it was to count out the four 100 rupee notes, then drop them in a draw with one of the 500 rupee notes, then count out the rest of the notes. When I called him on it, he pulled out three of the 100 notes, then had to rumage for the other one. He refused to admit fault and in the end I refused to take the wine. I’m guessing since this guy does not run the store, the lack of a sale may not have made any difference to him. However, that 500 rupee note might well have.

In one sense being scammed is not fun, but being so artlessly scammed is worse. This was certainly not like a scene from Nueve Reinas. This guy knew I could easily afford to reach into my pocket and pull another 500 rupee note out and I have no idea what he must think to see someone buy a case of wine that costs more than he earns in a month (though truth be told, staff in better wine shops in London would experience the same thing).

It is the juxtaposition that really gets to me though. The purpose of the trip was to blow some cash on nice gifts (to supplement generous bonuses) for the people we interact with on a regular basis; a blatant act of wealth-sharing. Yet whilst we try to do our small, real, act of dealing with inequality, we are scammed. Although part of me wants to put this in context of the suffering in this country, it is hard not to feel like no matter what you do, you can’t do anything.

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