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From Our Archives: Colin Todhunter in India
Natasha and the Juice-Bar Owner
Colin Todhunter

To a westerner, fed on a diet of European rationalism, India may seem a strange place. It has a different logic, which can be unfathomable to most westerners. But what about Indians? Our ways may seem even stranger to them. East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Rudyard Kipling's belief that we are joined only at God's judgement seat may well hold substance, given what follows. Although the world is being shrunk, the qualities that make civilisations different still exist - almost to the point of absurdity.

Natasha was from Germany and was having a horrendous day. She was from "near Munich." I have never met anyone who actually lives in Munich, only "near Munich." Maybe it is the name of a city close to Munich where ten million Germans live: the city of "Near Munich." Anyhow, I had met Natasha in the hotel. Apparently she was running short of money and had decided to do a little bit of insurance fraud by reporting to the police that someone had stolen her video camera. She thought that the police would be a pushover. How wrong she was.

She had told them that she had been sitting at a street side juice bar when someone had snatched the camera from off her shoulder. At the police station she had been surrounded by police officers in a small room, and they were not taking this lightly as she had hoped. The more they grilled her, the more she became self-conscious that she was lying through her teeth. She felt that they knew it, and the more she felt that they knew it, the more the sweat began to pour. The grilling was getting too hot for comfort.

Two officers accompanied her to the juice bar. She had never expected that they would uproot themselves to do a bit of hands-on investigating. Quite strange really considering it is part of their job. Her bogus story began to disintegrate before her eyes. She had forgotten that there had been a power cut at the time of the alleged incident, so no one was serving juice at the bar. What is more, the owner did not even recognise her. She hadn't thought it through. The police knew she was lying, but she managed to wriggle out of the situation. Unfortunately, the juice bar owner was not so lucky - he was frog-marched off to the police station with the police probably believing that he had been in on the failed scam.

Natasha gave fraud a bad name. But she is not unique among travellers in India. I always come across foreigners trying to get some money from their respective insurance companies. Most of the time it seems to work. When it fails, then I feel sorry for all of those juice bar owners in India who end up getting frog-marched to the local police station through no fault of their own. And, people like Natasha - who feel disappointed because they don't get their insurance money and end up feeling terribly guilty for placing some unsuspecting juice bar owner in trouble - go on their merry way. And all of those poor unsuspecting juice bar owners across India probably wonder what the heck is going on.

It is all rather weird really because a lot of foreigners are always moaning about cheating rickshaw drivers, cheating hoteliers and whoever else crosses them. They suddenly become quite high-minded and self-righteous people when in India and will argue the toss over a few rupees, saying it is a matter of principle. Yet they have few qualms about ripping off their insurance companies. Double standards? Perhaps, but I can't really say. Maybe Kipling was right after all and never the twain shall meet. That is unless the whole thing ends up in a court of law.

© Colin Todhunter November 2003

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