~By Anu. A man from the electricity board turned up and informed me that all the meters in our building are being replaced with new, tamper-resistant ones. All over Delhi, BSES, a private power distribution company is replacing overhead lines and installing new meters to stop people literally rigging up a free connection, or slowing down their existing meters to run air-conditioners and TVs for free. In parts of my neighborhood, according to BSES's website, power theft runs at a staggering 87 percent!!!!!!
Indeed, last year when our electrician started rewiring the flat because plugs were bursting into flames, and we were getting shocks from our keyboards, he found that the previous occupants had wired one of their ACs into the upstairs meter! (We had it rectified of course!)
So to make a long story short, the BSES technicians replaced our meter and rang my bell to ask me to sign a confirmation form.
"Madam, I can do something for you," said the man, clipboard still in hand.
"Yes?" I said.
"You see, these new meters are very fast," he replied with a straight face. "Before I seal it, I can slow it down..."
I paused, savoring my very first opportunity to participate in the vast mill of illegal Indian activity. I have heard so much about the corruption and malfeasance that exists. Here, suddenly, it was standing before me in the flesh, hoping to make a small fee from my greed.
Who could blame him? The poor man is probably trying to earn enough to feed his family. How enterprising, in a way, to have already cracked the supposedly 'tamper-resistant' meters!
I looked at him... wondering how to let him down gently. Even if I owned this flat (which thankfully, I do not), I would never have said 'yes'.
For an explanation, read this column by Anand Giridharadas, who contributes a "Letter from India" to the International Herald Tribune, which despite its segregated regional editions (the paper I get in Delhi is much thinner and more parochial than the one I get in London)... is still the best international daily paper around. Anand's columns are sometimes laden with misplaced sentiment, but this one summed up India's current dilemma beautifully:
"[Indians] love the word "leapfrogging." It began as a description of agrarian India's rapid evolution of a services industry, absent a solid manufacturing base. But it now signifies the ambition to jump, in that and every other way, from the back to the front.
And so India has not developed as the West did: slowly, systematically; first getting railroads right, then cars, then planes; first bringing drinking water and toilets to people, then figuring out how to bring them Wi-Fi. No: India prefers Last Things First."
The next day, perhaps having worried I would complain, the BSES technician turned up again, his manager on the line, apologizing profusely for their 'lapse' in judgement and made a big show of proving to me that the meter had been properly sealed, untampered.