Liberalization is the buzzword today. Private enterprises have sprung on the ruins of public undertakings and they are just going from strength to strength. Couriers, private airlines, insurance companies, hospitals, universities, cable televisions now abound in private sector spreading their presence to small towns and important rural centres. There is a surfeit of competition everywhere; entry barriers are going away. So, the customers are going to get their things cheaper and better, at their hands' reach with all the frills and assurances.
But are we to believe this half-truth? And unquestionably?
I remember I had bought a scooter some twenty-two years ago, a Bajaj--Hamara Bajaj. That was the time liberalization was just an item in the wish-list; the only item that afforded a different look to our roads was the brand Maruti. Yes, it was Maruti that came to India, not along the wave of the liberalization but by riding the piggyback on the youthful fantasy of a political scion.
So, I was the proud owner of a Bajaj scooter and I took pleasure in attending to its every need like I would have cared for a lovely pet. I embellished with all the frills--a plastic cover to wrap the handle grips; an extra mirror for added safety; an assortment of steel guards around it; an extra lock at the stand and so forth. Come the servicing day I would be ready to go to a place called the authorized service station. Yes, authorized service stations were a cut above, not like the roadside repairers, and they had the certificate of reliability from the mighty creator of the beautiful brand, Hamara Bajaj. I used to be in the queue, eager to be allotted to a particular mechanic and a particular service bay. Then, in time, my turn used to come making me hectic and happy.
Knowing the mechanic who would be servicing my scooter was the beginning of the process: I used to go to him with my most amiable smile, but the mechanic would not be impressed. Hours would just fly by and I would still be waiting for my turn. Finally the most revered mechanic of the authorized service station of the premium brand of scooter in India would come to do me a favour--he would open my scooter with no care or concern. Open he would, part by part into the depth of the engine, and that was all he used to do. Then he would just leave it like that and go to scratch the other vehicle. It was not before an hour that he would return to my scooter. Standing there with great patience, I used to feel as if my heart were cut open and bleeding and the surgeon had left me like that to attend some other personal affair.
In time I came to know the reason of my neglect in the hands of the all-powerful mechanic. It was my foolishness. I was not giving tips to the mechanic whereas others used to. One day I revolted, took the matter to the manager and found to my utter dismay that he was not willing to accept my version. That his mechanics were honest people and that they would not be doing any hanky-panky used to be his considered responses.
Two decades past many things have changed in the meantime. Now my sons own their scooter. They share it between themselves and the brand is not the old Hamara Bajaj; it is rather trendy--a Honda Diu. The young fellows have learnt their riding at an age much younger than I had done, say 13 years younger than me. They are happy about their possession-maybe as happy as I used to be or even more than that-and the way they take care of their scooter reminds me of the intensity of my feeling some twenty-two years ago when I had succeeded getting my scooter after a long wait.
Last week I came to know that they had given their scooter for repair after hitting a stray bull on the road. They had earlier decided not to bother me for the repair and had chosen the authorized service station of Honda Company.
'Your scooter is in the queue and it will be taken up for repair as soon as its turn comes. So come after two days.'
'We have started opening it and repair will be over in a couple of days. So come after two days.'
'Some repair is needed to be done outside and we've given it there. So come after two days and you'll take the delivery.'
'Parts have been requisitioned from our other outlets and come after two days'.
'Blah, blah, blah….'
I observed my children going to the service outlet with a lot of hope and coming back from there frustrated. It just continued for twelve long days. Then I decided to intervene.
As I reached the service outlet of Honda I could easily see through their game. They were after money. By now they had already changed parts that were probably not needed, changed the colour that was not ordered and had entered into some understanding with the insurance fellow. I knew it was time to get angry while I was sure that my words of reprimand were not going to make much difference. They are thick-skinned yet I gave the piece of my mind.
They even made me run for two days and probably enjoyed my getting out of temper. Finally it was time for billing. The bill was a computer printout but the impressions were so faint that it was only next to the illegible. I was reminded of the tickets handed down by the bus conductors. It was no time to argue-all rates were fixed and the software would detect if they charged less.
So what is the new thing called the liberalization? Only a few more brands? And listen what they announce: Customer is the king! And what kind of kingship is that?
So, whither liberalization? Even the scene at the service centre of an MNC two-wheeler brand has not changed!
A. N. Nanda