Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's New Year Eve, but should TASMAC outlets be overcharging?

I returned from office much earlier than usual. With half of my family not at home – on vacation abroad – I had to be back to be with my mother for whom New Year eve is probably just another day. She’s past 82 and gets about in the house doing some small job or the other. She hardly ever steps out because she is highly prone to catching infection. As it is, she has a load of medicines she takes every day and is just coming out from a treatment for urinary infection. So, I didn’t want her to be up and waiting for me to arrive late into the night. Past some age, people not only want to sleep on time, they also lose sleep if the time goes awry. So, here I am thumping the keyboard even as she is lying on the bed waiting for sleep to come, after wishing me goodnight. She hasn’t wished me ‘Happy New Year’. That is usually reserved for the morning. Many a time she hardly utters such words as ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Happy New Year’ but she obviously remembers – her actions speak louder than words and I have got used to all that now.

This yearend, people are eagerly waiting to usher in 2010. Somehow, the new millennium is a decade old and when you come to think of it, ten years have simply whizzed past. It almost seems like it was only yesterday that we heralded the coming of the year 2000. Time does just fly. And so, on the threshold of a new decade, there are new hopes and aspirations and, especially after the economic slowdown in some parts of the world and recession in others, people all over are now hoping that things will definitely change for the better soon. And in 2010, they sense something much better happening than what the earlier years of the millennium hade brought.

As I was driving back home, I noticed some of the roads packed with people on bikes and in cars. Most streets were brightly lit; at many spots, outside shops and entrances to public halls, there was an air of festivity with balloons and buntings. TASMAC shops were packed. Most of these outlets have a small portion by the side where people drink – they are not supposed to anyway, but they do. Tonight, beer bottles were being sold for more than Rs 10 over the MRP (maximum retail price). There was no way you could get a word in, the staff hardly cared. It was clear they had fixed the going rate and if you wanted to buy a bottle of whatever you had to pay the price they asked.

I was thinking of the amount of money TASMAC shops make in this fashion, charging customers over and above MRP. A few weeks ago, at the same shop, a beer bottle was being sold at Rs 5 higher than MRP. I let that pass. But tonight, I was left wondering whether customers like myself must take such corruption lying down. What if an article is written in the newspaper? Will it help get rid of the problem once and for all? I doubt it. There may be a few raids after the story appears, but the heat will die down after a few days and it will be back to square one all over again.

So, on New Year eve, I am left thinking what can be done to rid our society of such ills. Does all this happen only in Chennai or in Tamil Nadu? After all, you wont find TASMAC outlets anywhere else. I remember going to a supermarket in Bangalore and seeing customers pick up their beer, whiskey or wine bottles with minimum fuss. Because there was really nothing to fuss about. You paid the price marked and left. The ambience was clean and good, unlike in any TASMAC outlet you’d half-expect. Sad, when you come to think of it.

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