Great Encounters with Indian Bureaucracy: Phone and Internet (Part 2)

DSCF1085The funny thing is, when I wasn’t telling Kaveri about how incompetent her fellow countrymen and women were, I was having a wonderful time. And, I have to admit, this was partly down to our lack of phone and internet connection.
Every day I hurried down the beautifully landscaped gardens of our apartment complex and out on to the tatty street, my laptop bag over my shoulder. With one step past our gate I was transported from a pristine, glossy world of dark green leaves and ambling, underemployed security guards, into India – full power. The throaty rasp of rickshaws filled the air; packs of dogs scratched their genitals or hurried around, unseemly teats swinging as they went; cows ambled about, eyeing up tasty bits of cardboard to munch on; venders pushed carts that looked like they were made from bits of old 1970s bicycles and shouted themselves hoarse about the virtues of their coriander or limes.
Everyone, everything, sidled and weaved, as if orchestrated by some unseen hand. In fact, as I said to Kaveri’s friend only yesterday, the chaos is so perfectly choreographed there is a beauty about it, as if just before you step into the street a director has called action and a well-rehearsed dance begins.
The Internet cafe itself was opposite a church and a temple, which were squeezed together under one corrugated roof, their iconography and vibrant colours so similar only a cross on the former and trident on the latter distinguished them. Outside these religious institutions, and with alarming regularity, two fluffy white Pomeranians shagged away. Meanwhile, just outside the internet cafe, a farmer milked a herd of cows amid the chaos of rickshaws, mopeds and cycles while the chap at the reconditioned mobile phones shop shouted at yet another customer who complained about his dodgy goods.
This is what went on outside while I sat in the internet cafe and downloaded client briefs about kitchen cleaners and omega 3-fortified breakfast cereals. As for the internet cafe, it was coated in dust and cobwebs. A bank of modems looked like it had not been touched for 1,000 years. The internet was some ancient technology here, as old perhaps as the Hindu Vedas.
And my visits to the Internet cafe were just a part of my office adventures into greater India. Tasks that were trivial and unremarkable back home became significant, transformational. A search for A4 paper on a busy street ended, after an epic journey amid hooting horns and gaggles of goats and chickens, with a furious round of haggling with a photocopy shop proprietor over the price of 200 sheets.
A work call to London (about, ironically enough, a new range of Indian cooking accompaniments) took place in a small ISD phone booth inside a shack selling earthenware pots and plastic Ganeshes. An ancient lady with long white hair and a vermillion sari sat on a stool counting a huge wedge of money. It was hard to concentrate on my conversation about mini papads and authentic chana masala. It was hard to care.
Incidentally, after that call, I bought a lovely big clay pot for 50 rupees. Buying clay pots was not on the agenda after phone calls from my home office in Cornwall. Usually, what followed my calls back home was a long sigh and a trudge down to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee.



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