I’m trusting and used to paying for things in advance back home in the West. However, India is a different beast, and I quickly found myself being ripped off. Once you give someone money in India, it ain’t coming back.

Whenever you can avoid it, do not pay for services or utilities ahead of time in India. “Why?” you ask? Let me tell you…

Summer in Delhi

It was March in Delhi. Tourist season was nearly over as the weather begins to melt the black tar on the roads. You can fry an egg outside in the peak of the Indian summer. I can handle sleeping in the heat up to about 30 degrees at night, but for the hotter nights, I’d need air conditioning. So my landlord got hold of the local AC man, Bintu.

Bintu came a day later and installed the AC and requested upfront payment of 13,000 INR for 8 months use. “Fine, this guy seems genuine,” I thought and paid in advance. I thought I’d be in that apartment the rest of the year.

The Monsoons

Monsoon rain. Photo by Koshy Koshy.
Monsoon rain. Photo by Koshy Koshy.

The monsoon rains arrived in June. White plaster was falling from the roof all over my kitchen top and appliances. Mold was growing on the bedroom walls. The air itself in the apartment was more than damp, it was wet. The apartment felt like a sauna. I climbed to the roof, and that’s where I saw the paddling pool of water collecting. The apartment wasn’t water-tight and I had to get out of there before the roof collapsed.

My local friend, Manu, called Bintu and asked him in Hindi to please come pick up the AC and refund the following month’s payments because I was moving. “No Madame, no refunds.” Huh? What? I was about to learn a lesson.

A heated argument followed on the phone. Manu was fierce. Living in India, you need fire in you to cut through the nonsense. If you rollover here, you’ll be rolling over and be taken advantage of for the rest of your life. At a young age, Indians develop this toughness they need to deal with people like Bintu. Something I’ve since acquired living here.

Preparing the Indian wrestling pit for a fight. Photo by nevil zaveri.
Preparing the Indian wrestling pit for a fight. Photo by nevil zaveri.

Not so fast

Bintu eventually agreed to meet us the next day and pay back 2000 INR. But, of course, it wasn’t that easy. He was a no show. Manu got back on the phone, and another heated argument ensued. He’d gone back to “no refund.” That’s when Manu knew she needed to take things to the next level. She turned into a goonda (Hindi for gangster) and told him “If you ever want to see your AC unit again, then pay up!” Of course, she was bluffing, but it paid off! He relented and agreed to reimburse part of the amount owed. There was no amount of arguing that was going to get the full amount owed. Real goondas are only used in India to recover large sums of money.

Back at the apartment, the landlord was needlessly interfering to try and avoid us returning the AC. He said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll organise its return.” And when we were trying to get him to speak to Bintu on the phone about AC removal he would say “No, no, call this other guy.” For what reason, we have no idea. Bintu and the landlord were doing everything they could to keep, and most likely share, the remaining money I was owed. That’s how it is here.

Moral of the story

Getting money back from people in India is like getting blood from a stone. Pay as little in advance as possible.

This goes for anything you’re paying for. Don’t pay until a job has been completed to your satisfaction. Don’t pay for services months in advance. You never know when something might change and you want that money back.

My mistake was paying in advance for the AC. I should have paid for the AC monthly. Lesson learned.

The only thing I’ve paid for in advance now is my gym membership because the discount for 6 months is good and it’s an international chain so I can use their gyms worldwide.

When renting an apartment, you will have to pay 1 month of rent as a bond. This is the maximum you should give. Landlords will try and make you pay more, don’t let them.

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