Take the other evening in Guwahati*. I went into a shop to buy some washing powder. It was a fairly smart shop: security guards at the door, assistants inside etc. So I chose my washing powder and took it to the Cash Counter. I handed it over, paid, and received a receipt in return.
Then my washing powder vanished. Not very far, admittedly, just to the side of the Cash Counter where a young man was taking the purchases and receipts from the cashier, wrapping them if necessary, stapling a receipt to the bag and then walking them 20 feet to the Delivery Counter.
I gestured that I was perfectly happy to just take my washing powder, carry it myself and leave, but no. "Please go to Delivery Counter, madam" gestured the bag-stapler.
I progressed to the Delivery Counter, followed by the bag-stapler, who gave my plastic bag to the Delivery Counter Checker. He then tore the receipt from the plastic bag, compared it to my receipt, stamped it and handed me my bag.
I was in a rebellious mood, so I plucked the washing powder out of the bag (I didn't even want a bag), smiled at everybody and left the shop to do some laundry.
Later on I read the receipt. It had been stamped in red with 'No Exchange. No Refund. No Credit'.
Exchange? Refund? Credit? How many people would that take?
*Assam in North-East India. Banks of the (mighty) Brahmaputra River
Words and Pictures © Louise Heal 2008