The Kerala elephant mela

The Gift of the Magi: Mar. 12th
There is a famous O’Henry story called the Gift of the Magi. In the story two newly married lovers on their first Christmas give gifts to each other. The wife has long beautiful tresses she treasures. The husband has a beautiful pocket watch. At Christmas the wife gives her husband a gold chain for his watch, and the husband gives his wife an equally precious comb for her hair. As is befitting an O’Henry story, there is a twist. To get the money for the chain, the wife cuts and sells her hair. To get the money for the comb, the husband sells his watch.
Since I have been away from home so much, Sue decided to get both of us gifts for Valentine’s Day. For herself, she ordered a pair of gold earrings, and for me she bought a VERY expensive gold miniature painting from her travels in Rajasthan.
The earrings arrived, but being designed for Indian ears, they didn’t fit. The usual nonsensical exchange* with the counterperson followed:
"These earrings don’t fit, please replace the posts"

"Oh no, madam, posts are right, your ears are wrong".

"No. My ears are right, posts are wrong".

"Madam please take the earrings. In America it is not so hot, and the humidity is different - trust me, the earrings will fit".

"No, they won’t please replace the posts with thinner ones"

"Madam, please stick garlic cloves in your ear. It will widen the holes".

"Please take these earrings back. If they don’t fit, I won’t buy them".

"Ok, madam, we can fix these earrings - please come back tomorrow".

While waiting for earring fixing, Sue took the miniature, along with 5 other paintings to Shri Balaji’s framing shop, a shop we had dealt with for the last 35 miniatures that had been framed. Sue was very careful to tell the shopkeepers that this painting was very expensive, and that it needed to be ready by February 1st (two weeks before Valentine’s day should be enough lead time to actually get the painting by the 14th). February 1 came back with the usual reply, "Not done, madam, come back in one week". The next week gave an unexpected response, "Painting lost, madam, so sorry madam, come back in a week madam, maybe we find it then."
The interchange continued like this for two more weeks until Sue and I had lost our patience with the unethical storekeeper. It was time for me to get involved, and in turn for me to get the police involved. The president of InfoSys, Narayana Murthy, once had offered his help if I ever needed the police. Now was the time to take his offer. So one of the most powerful people in India made some calls, and a week later a police inspector called me on the phone to take down the story.
Mr. Balaji was not interested in returning Sue’s money. It was clear that he had sold the painting for a small fortune to some other customer. So we asked for our money back. The inspector, however, said that the most he would do is find an equivalent painting. This meant we would get some cheap miniature worth 5% of the original. No deal. I wanted Balaji punished, and I wanted our money back.
That was the end of the story I thought. I couldn’t move the police, and I couldn’t budge Balaji. I let Mr. Murthy know of our lack of success. Another day went by, and I got a call from the police inspector’s boss. A meeting was set up a few days later in Balaji’s office at 6PM. We brought the documents and evidence, and proceeded to do the People’s Court, the honorable police sergeant Mr Nagarajan presiding. Sue started by going into her best rendition ever of a devoted Hindu wife. She told the sergeant that she bought the picture as a special gift for me. She regarded the picture the same way she regarded her husband - irreplaceable. It took an hour of cajoling and threatening, while simultaneously ignoring the name-calling, spitting, and general rudeness by Mr. Balaji. Finally, he became convinced that serious damage would come to his store, and it was time to bring in the senior Mr. Balaji. Sue then read the letter she was going to publish in the expatriate newsletter. This was a serious threat to their business, and although he dismissed it lightly, I think inside, he was seriously weighing options. Another hour of spitting, name-calling, and threatening ensued. Finally we got our money, in cash. I asked Mr. Nagarajan if he received his mail directly. No fool, Mr. Nagarajan, his reply was "Oh, no, no, no, thanks but I am doing this for my country". Astonished by meeting an honest police officer, I thanked him profusely. When I told his boss the next day how honest he was, a big smile broke over the boss’s face. Thanks Mr. Nagarajan - we hope you have a great career.
Sue got her earrings. They fit. They’re beautiful. I never got my painting. But I have Sue, and she’s irreplaceable.
* A traveling businessman told me a joke: "If you ask a German company for a purple car, and they don't make it, they will tell you it's not in their catalog. If you ask a French company for a purple car, they will tell you "It's in bad taste to do a purple car, and we won't give you something so tasteless. If you ask an Italian company, they will ask you for the exact shade of purple". I'd amend that joke. When you ask an Indian company, they tell you "No problem, sir", then they give you a green scooter.