Getting a Seat Belt: Jan. 14th
A journal contribution from Sue while Ashok is in the USA:
Yesterday, Jude and I went to a well-known car accessory store to have seat belts installed in the back seat. The concept of safety is alien to India. No new cars come equipped with rear seat belts, and the front belts are only used by nervous expatriates who defy caste conventions and sit up front with the driver. The conversation went something like this:
Sales-wallah: For the Maruti Esteem, madam, there are two types of seat belts that go across the shoulder -- automatic and ordinary.
Sue: What’s the difference?

Sales-wallah: One is automatic.

Sue: (I should have seen that coming) May I see the two different types? (The automatic recoils, while the ordinary lies on the seat) I want the automatic type.

Sales-wallah: Sorry, madam, not available for the Maruti Esteem.

... Several hours later, the installed ordinary seat belts are ready to be turns out both parts of the belt come from the base of the seat....
Sue: How do you adjust this seat belt; it is too tight.

Installer-wallah: Maximum length, madam.

Sue: The seat belt is too small.

...The installer disappears a moment and comes back with a salesperson. The beginning of a crowd starts to gather.
Sales-wallah: These seat belts were designed for Indian people (his voice lowered because he didn’t want to embarrass me in front of everyone), Madam, you are very tall.

Sue: (After assessing his girth and determining it more than made up for my height), You try it.

...The salesman got into the car and ultimately managed to rearrange his stomach long enough to actually fasten the seat belt for a few moments, but it was a very tight fit. Further discussions ensued between the salespeople and installers, with an ever-expanding crowd enjoying the show. I was soon approached with Plan B—having the belt just go across the waist, instead of the shoulder. Thinking that some safety is better than no safety, I agreed, as long as the seat belt was easily adjustable. A demonstration of how easy it was followed. All you had to do was step out of the car, remove the entire backseat, adjust the seat belt, replace the backseat, and sit in the car again. They looked at me expectantly for approval. While trying to quiet the sound of the theme from The Twilight Zone in my head, I explained the seat belt had to be easily adjusted while the person was seated in the car. I was graciously escorted to a chair inside the store to await further developments. Somehow, as always, somebody found a solution. Twenty minutes later, as we were driving off with our adjustable, over the shoulder (!), but still ordinary seat belts, I asked myself what I had learned from this experience. And, as usual, the answer was nothing in particular, except to just roll with it.