Two nights ago, I came home to Karen's flat and the power was out. Strange, all the hallway lights were on, and no other tenants had their doors open. Karen was on an errand, so I texted her. At first she was flummoxed too. I checked the fuses (all fine). This was a mystery. I had nothing to do, so I just got into bed early (which was perfectly fine by me).
In the morning, Karen had posted this on Facebook:
"apparently, never receiving any electricity bill at the new flat or any notices doesn't mean they don't expect me to pay. wonder what the process is for getting the electricity turned back on, esp when I don't even know the account number or whose name it is in! Cold showers and no cell phone battery tomorrow..."
It turns out that the electric company hadn’t sent a bill since November. Nonetheless, they shut the power since Karen hadn’t paid. A bill she never received. As Karen says, Ah, India.
Even more fun is that the names on the electricity bills don’t get updated in India. So the person that originally set up the electric account has their name on it for all eternity. Karen has never heard of this person, so might not have even known if a bill was for her. There are no mailboxes, so something left on the doorknob might have blown away, or even delivered to another neighbor with the same last name as the original account holder. (The bill was in the name of DeMello – yes, that’s right, the Catholic neighborhoods are filled with Portuguese descendants – and there is a DeMello downstairs.) Any number of things could have happened.
So, during my interviews yesterday, Karen went down to the Electric Company office to figure out what happened and get the lights turned back on. One cold shower was fine, but two would get a little annoying. Here is her facebook recap of the events and conversation at the office:
"Sept: move in
Oct: no bill
Nov: receive bill in some random name (not my landlord or prior tenant), with no flat number
Dec: no bill
Jan: no bill
Jan 28: electricity shut off
Jan 29: receive bill in a totally different name, with my bldg address but no flat number
Reliance: (laughing) actually we had to shut off electricity to both flats for non-payment
Me: but, Which bill is mine? And why don't I get proper bills?
Reliance: ma'am the problem is your landlord. They didn't put the flat number in the address.
Me: so add the flat numbers?
Reliance: no ma'am we can't do that. It can only be done by the landlord. It was their mistake only.
Me: what can I do to properly get the right bill every month?
Reliance: ma'am, you can come here each month and ask us to print it for you
Me: really? That's the only way??? (repeat 3 times) there is nothing else you can possibly do to actually send me a monthly bill?
Reliance: ok... Give us your mobile number. We will add it to your account and send you sms billing info
Me: ok seriously? You can do that but you can't add a stinking flat number to the address line?
Reliance: correct, ma'am"
Note that Karen has employed here the Law of Three Reallys. This is a technique that she developed about six years ago to deal with Indian businesses that refuse some simple request. It goes like this: “Really? There’s no other way to do that? (request denied) Really. You can’t find any other way? (request denied) Reaaalllly?? There’s NO other way to get that done?? (request granted)” This is the Law of Three Reallys. Karen swears by it here.