The government wants citizens to make the best of whatever they get. So everyone learns to evolve, to deal with whatever life gives them
My wife and I were preparing for a visit from an old colleague and his wife, who had recently shifted to Mangalore, when he called. “We’re going to be an hour late,” he said, “If you get hungry, eat, and we’ll eat when we get there.”
“Don’t worry about that,” I said. “We can wait an hour or two. But what’s happened?”
“Well,” he said hesitantly, “we had a brush with a bus.” It turned out that they were in a minor accident just six kilometres away, and the bus had gone on without stopping. “We’re fine,” he said. “Shaken but not stirred. The car’s still running, though the side’s caved in a little. We want to take it straight to the service centre and finish the insurance paperwork so we can get it back as soon as possible.”
“How about seeing a doctor?” I asked.
“Not necessary,” he said, “we hardly felt the impact.”
“Do you want me to pick you up?” I asked.
“No, thanks,” he replied. “We’ll get a cab.”
“Right,” I said. “We’ll wait.”
The doorbell rang as I hung up, and on the doorstep stood Murthy, who, with his sixth sense for scotch, had divined that I’d bought a bottle. I couldn’t turn him away, so I invited him to lunch, telling him that it would be late. “Oh, that’s all right,” Murthy said, “I’m in no hurry.”
The wait turned out to be two hours, not one. “I hope you’re all right,” I said, when the couple finally turned up.
“Oh, yes,” said my friend. “I thought we’d take the car to the workshop and finish off the insurance paperwork. That took time.”
“Ah!” I said. “Red tape?”
“No,” he replied. “It’s a long story.”
“Right,” I said. “Tell us over lunch.”
“We were at an intersection,” he explained when we were seated, “waiting for traffic to go past. A Kerala government transport service bus was just behind us. The driver saw a gap before I did, and he charged past us, on the left. He misjudged the pass and his bumper scraped the side of the car.”
“Did he stop?” asked Murthy.
“No,” replied my friend. “He just kept going. Maybe he didn’t know that he’d scraped a car, but we can’t be sure. At the service centre they said government bus drivers tend to do that.”
“They do,” Murthy said. “They don’t care about accidents. If it’s nothing serious, they’re safe. If it does turn serious, their unions protect them.”
“So why were you delayed?” I asked.
“We went to an authorised service centre,” my friend said. “You don’t have to worry about the paperwork if you go to one. All you have to do is pay the difference between the cost of repairs and the insurance coverage.”
“That’s very good,” I said. Then, seeing his expression change, “Isn’t it?”
“Not for a five-year-old car like ours,” he said. “Authorised service centres don’t repair dented panels: they replace them. When we worked out the details, we found that the insurance covers just about half the cost of the repairs, and even that was a lot. We’d called a cab to bring us here, and the cabbie, who turned up while we were considering our options, figured out what was going on. He told us to take the car to a workshop he knows, where they repair body panels. We did that and discovered that this mechanic can do the repairs for less than half what the service centre charged. So we’d lose less if we went to him and didn’t claim insurance than we would if we went to the dealer and did claim it. And he’d do some of the paperwork.... That’s what took us so long.”
“Good,” I said.
“The story doesn’t end there,” my friend said. “The owner of this other workshop told us that he can pad his bill a little, by listing repairs he wasn’t going to make. That, he said, would reduce our burden.”
“Did you take him up on that?” asked Murthy.
“No,” said my friend. “That would be cheating... But I know people who would. They’d think me a fool for paying for a bus driver’s mistake.”
The conversation moved on to other topics, global warming and the Ukraine war and so on, until my friend and his wife left. Murthy stayed back to finish the bottle, and, between slugs of scotch, turned the conversation back to the accident. “Your friend’s conversation was revealing,” he said. “Most people would have taken up that workshop owner’s offer to pad the bill. Cutting their losses.”
“Yes,” I said, “but I wouldn’t do it either.”
“I know,” he said. “Your principles get in the way.”
“They don’t get in the way,” I said. “It’s a matter of choice.”
“Are you saying that you choose to pay for someone else’s mistake?” Murthy said. “That doesn’t seem much of a principle, does it?”
“I’m glad of that principle,” I said. “I can sleep at night because of it.”
“If you choose to give yourself sleepless nights over harmless little lies,” Murthy said, “you’re missing the whole point.”
“Perhaps I am,” I said, “So what is the point?”
“It’s government policy,” he replied. “Insurance is governed by government guidelines, as are government transport services. The government wants citizens to make the best of whatever they get. So everyone learns to evolve, to deal with whatever life gives them. That’s why Indians do so well abroad. The government is just doing what good parents do to their children. And you know what that means, don’t you?”
“What?” I asked.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child...”