Thursday, 3 May 2012

Taxi Fraud - Facts and Interpretations

There was an interesting incident yesterday, combined with today. While narrating I have tried my best to separate facts and my opinions. Let me know your opinions (and facts, if available).

After a trip to Jhansi over the extended weekend, wife and I reached Dadar by train yesterday (Tuesday) around 8 pm. A taxi driver in dull pink shirt asked us as we got down, "Kahaan chalenge?"
"Borivali", I said.
"Thik hai, chaliye, meter se chalenge."
I was mildly surprised at his offer, since he had approached us first. But I had nothing to lose, so I just nodded and went with him.

We dragged the luggage towards his taxi. It didn't have enough space behind since it was CNG-fitted old car. I think it was Maruti 800. We kept some luggage above in the tray, and a bag in the front seat. He seemed reluctant to keep it there, but I insisted. It appeared that another friend of him wanted to sit there. The friend, a sardar in white turban, managed to push the bag a bit and sit there.

Then sardar friend asked if we had two notes of 500 in exchange of a 1000 Rs note. I took the note, drew my wallet, and handed him two notes. He turned them back saying "thousand diye na". I looked at the notes again, and noticed that they were two 100 Rs notes, not 500. I was mildly surprised again. We took those notes back and gave him two 500 notes instead. He walked off.

Later the pink-shirt requested that we take another cab instead as he didn't have enough fuel to reach Borivali. He guided us to another cab and helped move our luggage. The new driver then drove us home from Dadar station.

Halfway to Borivali I noticed that I should have had more 500 Rs notes, and I had more 100 Rs notes than I should have had. Then it struck me that the sardar friend must have exchanged them. I had heard such stories with Bangalore rickshaw-wallas, but it didn't strike me at the instant when the same fraud was happening with me. As a friend had commented earlier - I am too nice.

We had failed to note the registration number of both - the earlier taxi we sat in, and the taxi we eventually took to Borivali. Angry with ourselves, we came home, cursed, ate and slept.

Today (Wednesday) I was staying a bit late in office, but left and reached Mahalaxmi station at around 7.41 pm (since 7.40 Borivali local was already gone, and 7.43 Andheri was next). I like 7.40 Borivali, it goes to platform number 8 at Borivali, from where I can walk home easily. Next Borivali train was 7.50 which goes to PF7. Not so bad, but... meh. So I thought let's go to Dadar and check out if I can find the pink shirt and the white turban again.

I went there. There was a similar looking (though I am not really sure whether he was the same) sardar at the same spot. I roamed around and tried to observe him for five minutes. Eventually he took an old couple to his taxi. Now I was watching him like a mom watching her two year old walk in the park, without the affection of course. Another sardar, with dark blue turban sat in the front seat and engaged in some talk with the old couple. After two minutes the couple came out of taxi, being walked to another one.

Now reasonably sure of the culprit, I confronted the sardar driver (with white turban) and asked him where he was yesterday. He came out of the taxi. I maintained that he had embezzled me of 800 rupees yesterday. He listened curiously to my allegations and denied being there the last day. 3-4 people gathered around the drama. I explained the whole sequence to everyone and accused that he was trying the same trick with the old couple. I ran to the uncle and asked him whether he was asked for change of 1000 rs note. He submitted that he was asked but he didn't have change. Lucky him!

So now back to the driver I asked for my money back and threatened to report to police otherwise. When I was walking away from him, another fellow sardar (third one) and a non-sardar driver tried to console me and asked me about the details.After much exchange of facts and descriptions of the people and taxi involved, they said they knew of the taxi and it belonged to a rival taxi union. Now here comes the twist. They fully reimbursed me my loss, and noted my mobile number to verify the fraud at a later stage of investigation.

I asked them why he had to suffer because of someone else's mischief. One of them said they will recover it from the actual culprit since they know him, and "customer is god". Even after more hesitation in taking money, they insisted that it was not a big thing. I finally walked off with the recovery.

End the facts, start the thoughts.

First, did the fraud actually occur, or was I too suspicious? Cues - taxi driver approaching and then asking to go by meter, reluctance of bag being kept in front seat (pre-planning of fraudster coming and sitting), my estimation of number of notes in my wallet, similar incident heard in case of bangalore rickshaw-wallas, guiding to another taxi to avoid questions later using an excuse of low fuel (he should have known earlier). Or I was downright cynical. I am betting a 95% probability of fraud.

Secondly, did I catch the culprit or ended up victimizing someone else? Frankly I have no idea.

One possibility is that I was mistaken about the identity, it is hard for me to distinguish one sardar with white turban from another. They either knew the real culprit and were in a position to get the money back or just wanted to shut it off since the costs of the matter reaching police may be very high - suspension/fine. Supporting cases - their narrative, a general opinion of sardars on average being truthful and honest, seeming rivalry between taxi unions. Second case is more disturbing since it is equivalent to harrassment.

Another possibility is that these guys or their friends were the real culprits. So to avoid the matter from reaching the police, they kept it amongst themselves. Supporting facts - same episode with elderly couple, readiness to reimburse me, the insistance that it was not a big thing (he actually showed a bunch of 100 and 500 notes, which together would have been approx cash 5k), and "customer is god" jargon.

Put with these facts and interpretations, I would take a 20% bet on them knowing, 20% on them paying me off (the first possibility cases) and 60% bet on the second possibility. Let us see if I get a call for the promised investigation.

Thirdly, should I have taken money from him at that instant, or waited for investigation and then asked for it? Given the above bets of mine, I now think I did the right thing by taking it.

Fourthly, should I have reported the incident to police anyway? I did not put myself into the agony, since there was a natural justice received. I am still not sure how to proceed. What if policeman takes advantage and harrasses them unduly? What if the fraud keeps on happening to others?

Also, why is it so hard to take note of taxi numbers, or why are we so lazy in such basic things?

As Nietzsche's famous quote goes - "There are no facts, but only interpretations." My interpretation is that I am nice, but not too much. Also, management bullshit lingo has gone mainstream.

PS: Finally off from my blog-o-sleep. Only such incident could wake me up. Comments welcome.