March 2006
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Tuesday, March 14

I recently met some people who teach at the American school here, who are about my age, and it gave me an odd feeling, sort of as I were hanging out with my own teachers. It was a crossing-through-the-looking-glass effect.

I went to an American school in Lima, Peru, and we had some very cool teachers in high school though it was never quite clear to me how or why they ended up as teachers. Our English teacher was this bright-eyed short-haired woman who shared the name of a town famous for burning witches – I think we read The Crucible in her class. She also taught journalism and I think many of the boys had crushes on her. Then there was Tom (or Tim?) who used to be a Catholic priest for eight years and then left to become an English teacher because he had no money and was starving. I think he became our English teacher’s gay boyfriend – we used to bump into them at the beach all the time or out eating ice cream. We had another English teacher who got fired later but who also used to teach photography and was really nice to me and my friends, who were all social misfits (especially me), and really unkind to the somewhat spoilt kids from wealthy and well-connected Lima families. I suppose that was childish of him but it seemed really fair to me. Apparently he was writing a novel called Cerulean Blue and we were all in it.

I must say, considering that there was all sorts of terrorism going on in Peru at the time and it could never find teachers to hire, our school wasn’t half so protective of us or our teachers as the one in Delhi seems to be of theirs. Even though my school once turned up on a list of future Sendero targets found by the CIA or the DEA or something.

Monday, March 6

the accident, act two

After three days of phone calls, one free legal consultation from a taxi driver and one police report, I think I have exhaused the possibilities for getting Accident Man to reimburse me. I may put in a few more phone calls to him (at dinnertime or early in the morning), but I think after that, it's time to let the matter lie.

I began my regime of phone calls with an informational call to the man's wife, in whose name the car was registered, and managed to secure his cellphone number before disclosing why I was calling (chalk one up to the journalism skills I have learned while in India). We had a very polite conversation in which I told her that her husband had rear-ended my car while she told me he was away at a wedding. Is this the Indian version of "Gone Fishing" I wonder? I promised to call the next day after taking the car into the garage.

I called their house again Saturday afternoon and again got the wife who was on the offensive this time. First she explained to me that they had been in accidents loads of times and never asked money for repairs from anyone so why didn't I take a leaf out of their book? But I felt their history of car accidents was neither here nor there to me. Then she said they were very poor and how could they pay thousands of rupees worth of damage? I pointed out that they had a perfectly nice car and an expensive add-on -- the metal bumper guard -- which is what aggravated the damage caused by the accident. The she said it was my fault. I said her husband had apologized and his car was behind mine. Then she said they had apologized so nicely, why not just leave it at that? So I finally suggested her husband call me since there was no point talking so long to someone who had not even been in the car.

The day went by, no call came.

On the way home from a friend's house the next day, I called the wife again and said her husband must arrive at my office with the repair amount in cash. She said he never leaves the house on a Sunday, but when I asked for him he wasn't home. So I finally called him on his cellphone. He said he was happy to meet me anytime, but not to give me money. The he said I should talk to his insurance company and we went on the merry-go-round about whose fault it was again. He then tried to call my bluff by telling me to go to the police. I tried to play the gender card by saying he would have offered me the repair money if I had been a man, but he matched me and raised me one by saying he wouldn't have apologized but for the fact that I was a woman.

The taxi driver, who had been listening avidly, told me when I paid him, "I took you for a life insurance agent first, dealing with a payout for a death, but now I'm wise to the whole story. Look these people are too clever for you, why give yourself tension, just forget the whole thing. How much was it anyway?" When I told him the cost he shook his head in disbelief and said, "You're chasing him for so little money? Just leave it, pal, anyway you'd only have done a little bit of shopping with it, so spare yourself the headache." I told him it was the principle of the thing, to which he said he had been driving 30 years and never got money out of anybody for repairs. I knew he was right, that I wouldn't get the money, but I couldn't believe that Rs. 1,500 didn't seem like a huge sum of money to the taxi driver. What is the value of money these days?

Anyway, I called Accident Man one more time for work and we bickered for half an hour during which he asked me, "Madam, why are you torturing me with these phone calls?" (I was pleased, as aggravation seemed the next best thing to reimbursement) and threatened to file a counter police report saying I hit him if I filed a report (was less pleased at this).

Today I couriered a letter in my best Indian legalese(not for nothing am I a bureaucrat's daughter) and the repair bill to the man and filed a police report in the Connaught Place police station. They were very amiable thought one of them told me "madam, your outlook is dim." I didn't think it was half as dim as the prospects of the ginger-haired Irish tourist who was trying to get reimbursed Rs. 2,000 for being charged for six nights in a deluxe hotel on a package tour to Kashmir when two nights were spent in a tent or a shack or something. In my case, the next step is for both the aggrieved parties to get called both to the station and argue it out in front of the police.

what to do if you are a girl and have an accident in New Delhi:

Jump out of car, gather mob, prevent other driver from leaving, cry, call police (if no police nearby, dial 100 from your cellphone) and then take money from the person. At the very least, triple their first offer. If you're not sure how much money to take, wait for the police, go to a repair place and get an estimate. Voila, roadside compromise!

If your car is in driving condition, the accident was the other person's fault and nobody is injured, drive away. If someone is injured or you cannot drive, lock your doors tight and call everyone you know. Do NOT call the police until your near and dear ones arrive, the more muscular the better, but you could call an ambulance. Do not roll down your window to talk the other party unless the other party is a lone woman, or maybe a couple.

and why I didn't file a claim with my own insurance

Believe it or not, everyone who has a car here appears to have insurance. I guess the likelihood of being caught and having to pay a hefty fine to the police is too great a risk to take, especially given how often accidents happen here. But your insurance company won't pursue the other person's insurance company even if the accident was caused by the other party, they just pay for the repair. In the case of a repair in the thousands it's worth it but in my case it wasn't because even though my car is new they depreciate the cost of the plastic bumper by 50 percent and there's also some sort of a deductible so I probably would only have got back about Rs. 250. And I would have forfeited the no-claims bonus which can be up to Rs. 3,000.

Saturday, March 4

the accident, act one

I may not be learning a lot about the laws of attraction but I certainly am getting a crash course on the rules of the road. On Friday, shortly after turning into Connaught Place's inner circle (the equivalent of driving into Times Square) and putting on my indicator to go left, a most ferocious tearing, mangling noise came from behind. Poor Rosie (I've just decided to call the car that). I leapt from the car and saw that my rear plastic bumper had been severed on the left and ripped from the screws attaching it to the body of the car by metal guard on the front of a car that was trying to overake me (illegally) from the left. The man driving the other car emerged as well and we began fighting about whose fault it was and what to do next.

I was fairly sure that since he hit me from behind it was his fault but he presented a varied list of reasons for why the fault was mine. His main point was that his front had sustained no damage and therefore the fault could not be his. I couldn't follow this logic. As we discussed, a large crowd gathered. Actually, the crowd was there anyway as it always is, but it turned its attention from loitering, littering, urinating and so forth and focused on us. I think the mob was on my side. I must commend the mob on its honesty, as in my nervousness to prevent the man from departing the scene I left my car in the middle of the road, engine running and unlocked, with my bag and ipod inside. And it was all there when I got back in it later.

The mob was full of ideas as well. Some of them suggested calling the police, others took up my call that the man give me his phone number and other details. From watching American films where people in an accident just exchange insurance information and drive away (and sometimes fall in love if it's a really bad movie but this man was really not my type and also married) this seemed to me the correct course of action.

Later on my work people told me the correct action was to set the mob on him and then extract as much money as possible in a "roadside compromise".

Instead, after half an hour of fighting, and the presentation of my business card with "press" emblazoned upon it, Accident Man apologized, emphasizing how magnanimous of him to do so and still insisting the fault was mine.

With my fighting Hindi exhausted and his recourse to ageism having chastened me mildly, I thanked him and departed, having secured his phone number, his wife's name, his name and the like. It's unfortunate, but I find that in situations that demand eloquence and rapid responses, my language skills tend to depart me. Why is it that at the times one most needs to be eloquent and clever, one's language skills are never up to snuff?

Here is a list (In addition to romantic astronomy -- see February in the archive -- listmaking is my most favorite way to make sense of the vagaries of life) of times that I speak most badly when I want to speak well:

1. When fighting (with friends or strangers). I stammer, I stutter, I mangle words in an enraged attempt to explain how right I am and how wrong they are.
2. When trying to impress cute boys with crooked smiles (lapse into dour silence)
3. When boss makes small talk (in attempt to respond quickly and wittily, loudly interrupt boss)
4. Making a public presentation (heart in throat makes it difficult to talk, lose train of thought, end by staring at ceiling)

5. When mingling in groups at parties (venture to speak just as attention is turning elsewhere, find myself speaking into a void or to someone's back). But my most recent bad party talk experience was, I think, no fault of my own. I told someone my name and they burst into tears. I tell you, what can you do?

And times when I am most eloquent needlessly

1. When speaking to self in head
2. When speaking to self aloud (until realize am speaking aloud, then same outcome as no. 2 above)

Today I took my car in to the garage. The bumper will have to be replaced at a cost of Rs. 1500 (about $35). So now, armed with phone number and useful hindi words (lawyer, police report), I must convince Accident Man to reimburse me. Stay tuned.