Receiving Pebble in India
My journey in the corridors of dark Indian Govt. Offices
Disclaimer: For all legal purpose, this post is fictional.
As you all tech enthusiast might already know, Pebble is one of the coolest thing floating around since last year, since it made it debut in the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever.
My loving wife, after watching me drool over it several times, gifted me one by ordering it online on 2nd Jan 2013. It was supposed to reach me at Bangalore by early March.
Well…it did not.
It took Pebble guys 3 more months to ship it finally on 13th June 2013 from a Singapore facility. The shipping was free, hence they utilized Singpost instead of a private courier service. While I am sure Singapore Govt. postal dept is fine, but it meant that Indian Postal Dept. will take over the delivery process in India.
From the day I received the shipping update, I would refresh this page at least 20 times a day. After few days, it showed that my watch reached India on 17th June. The wait now became intense and the refresh count increased to 40 times a day.
10 Days Passed and still no news.
I then made a calls to Chennai GPO on 27th June and they directed me to some other phone number and so on. After 20 directs and attempts at talking with and being hung upon or shrugged upon, I finally asked my Tamil friend to talk to them in local language. (30 languages are spoken in India and I know just 2!).
After 2 days of calling and frantically tracking it from Chennai to Bangalore, I finally got some information. My parcel was detained by Custom Dept. in Bangalore and I should wait for a letter from them.
I was impatient and after waiting for 5 days, I decided to go to the office personally on 3rd July. It looked somewhat similar to this one below.
The real story starts here. I enter inside and there is a huge sign board hung on the entrance which says something like “Do not Bribe the officials here.”
And I had a strong feeling that I am back to real India where you have to deal with the corrupt Govt. system to get the work done. I resolved that if someone asks for a bribe, I will report the case promptly. I am after all an AAP member by heart.
I was directed to a cabin of some officer who instantly got up from his chair and greeted me with a big smile and asked me to take a seat. He asked me if I know the case number. I tell him that I do. He takes out a list of some sort which contained information on cases and mine was one of them. There were other 3 rows as well which said “Pebble”. I finally breathed relief that my watch is indeed here.
This guy then asks me about the watch and how I ordered it etc. I tell him that its a gift from my wife and this is the first time we ordered something from abroad.
He then tells me that they are receiving these watches in huge numbers and that Govt. has applied Anti Dumping Duty on these watches. So the overall duty would be around Rs 4000, around 50% of the price we paid for watch in January. My heart sinks as this is the 7th month into my Startup and things are not so rosy as they were in Jan. Wait…Anti Dumping on Pebble??? But before I could express my doubt, he asks me if this is for personal use? I say, off course it is. He then states that then I should not worry as he would “help” me out. He asks me to write an application which says that its a gift from my wife and that I intend to use it only for personal use. I promptly write it as it was as true as it can get. Guess what he tells me then? I am exempted from all the duties. Seemingly the personal gifts are not levied with duty upto certain price point.
I thought that I was wrong all the way and that these guys are not the leeches they are considered . This joy lasts precisely for 5 seconds. He grins widely and tells me in low voice, “Look Vardhan, I saved you Rs 4000, you can now pay half of that for my advice.”
I felt very uneasy at the moment as it was my first such encounter. Years of opposing the act in principle, it was now confronting me in all its glory. I should clarify that I am not an Arvind and I have gone through moments where I preferred easy over right.
But this time I refused politely. I tell him that I would like to go for the duties and that if he could help me with the break up and if I can still save on some duty by any declaration/ proof.
And I get this age old dialogue from Office Office:
Vardhan, don’t worry or feel bad. This is not for me. Its for all those sitting outside this cabin.
And here comes the what can be termed as a Go-for-the-Kill part:
And anyway, things here get lost often and very easily. I am just trying to help you as I like you as a person.
WTF. I now had to choose between paying this sleazy MF or a chance of losing my watch, for which I was waiting since last 7 months. I started feeling weak and wanted support for taking the morally right decision. I get out of the office making some excuse and call my most upright friend and then my wife. Both embraced silence at the end of the conversation. I then recall the face of my father and other elders when I used to tell them that I would never indulge in bribery. They used to silently wish me luck with an empathetic look.They knew better than me how unlikely this was. Similar to what we feel when a kid tells us that he wants to become a pilot.
I am ashamed to declare that I went down. I chose the easy over right. I saw myself getting destroyed internally and losing the right to ask others to not indulge in corruption. I could not let go of the worldly pleasure and consumerism. I was totally under the spell of the future imagery filled with promised magic of Pebble.
And then I went further. I became as Indian as I could ever become by invoking this great indigenous power. I Bargained. Yes, I bargained over the bribe amount. I told him that I could not pay more and that I sort of know that anti dumping is a false story and that the gift part is true. He accepted whatever I had to offer, i.e. Rs 1000 which I had in my wallet.
While leaving, his smile and “comforting” parting words made me feel like a new prostitute after the first fk, who blames her circumstances for her misery and disgust, but carries on by trying to believe that the “customer” is probably a nice guy. He said that this is for the welfare for everyone in this office and for me and that he would be happy to help me in future or any of my friends if they needed any of his assistance.
Thanks for reading a long confession letter.
P.S. I received my watch safe and without any duties few hours after this post was written.