Archive for July, 2021

By the rule book

“Sir, your cabin baggage exceeds the permissible limit by two kilos. You need to offload few of the stuff and bring it down to fifteen”… the young lady at the check-in counter said in a matter of fact way as she shovelled my Samsonite stroller aside without the airline tag. I had booked my ticket separately for this family trip as two of us preferred an aisle seat not available on a single purchase. My daughter and wife had checked-in before me and the combined weight of their luggage read just about 25 kilos. “You may adjust my excess baggage against the below par weight of the other two… we are all travelling together.” I flashed the three identity cards carrying the same address across the glass counter to establish our family relationship. “That’s alright sir but since yours is a separate ticket we cannot swap it that way. You better transfer few of your things on to them.” I ripped open my bag as well as one of the other two, pulled out few shirts and a pair of slippers from mine, rolled them together in the faded green half-trouser and thrust it into the other bag in full view and to the amusement of all the peering eyes in that busy airport lounge. My baggage now weighed exactly fifteen kilos and I was issued the boarding pass as we proceeded towards the security check. That day my two year old home knicker became my most popular apparel!

On reflection I realised the idiosyncrasy of the entire exercise and the embarrassment that it caused to the three of us. We neither exceeded the aggregate limit allowed nor did we reduce the weight by transferring few clothes from one bag to the other and the aircraft did ultimately carry all the forty-two kilos of our luggage to the destination, albeit in different bags. But it did bring out the ways in which rules at times are thoughtlessly applied inferring them only in their textual meaning and are used not as tools to help and assist but as weapons to harass and inconvenience the citizens. The case of the cabin baggage weight is just one innocuous incidence where letter of the law took precedence over its purpose but there could be situations when rules recklessly applied prove more damaging and may also at times result in undesirable consequences. And the credit card business is one such area where many fall prey to undue charges on technical grounds. I too had my share of being fleeced by a credit card company, for no demonstrable fault of mine.

I paid by cheque the entire credit card amount on the 2nd of the month, three days prior to its due date and the cheque was promptly put to clearance the next day. But since there were two national holidays with weekends in between, the amount got credited to the company only on the 7th and I was charged for late payment in the next bill. When I took up the case with the company, the reason given was that I should have ensured that the amount is credited to the company well within the due date and the fact that the company received the cheque well in advance doesn’t automatically relieve me of that responsibility. The argument that I could not have possibly paid before the second of the month or the truth that I do not have control over national holidays did not wash with the credit card company and I ended up paying late fees for the amount that I paid before time. That’s the way rules are so insensitively interpreted and the hapless customers are made to bear the brunt.  

While the cold interpretation of the rules mostly leave the parties aggrieved, it could also at times lead to loss of recognition of merit. Recently, a girl along with a boy scored the highest marks in a fiercely competitive national entrance exam for the medical profession but the boy was declared the topper. The argument marshalled was that when two candidates score the same marks, the one who is older will be ranked higher while common sense tells us that it is the younger one who deserves the kudos.

In the famous essay “ All about the dog” the protagonist, a young lady was not allowed to board a city bus on a cold winter night just because she was carrying a little pet dog on her lap as animals are prohibited in public transport. The fact that it is a tiny cute puppy which would cause no harm to anyone around does not reason with the bus conductor who is hell bent on upholding the law to its last letter even as the lady is freezing in the cold winter wind. The author of the essay, A.G. Gardner’s advice that rules are instruments meant to help the people with and are not meant to be used as a whip to scourge the people with, stands more relevant today than it was in the early twentieth century.  

Yours

Narayanan

July 24, 2021 at 9:29 pm 8 comments


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