Miracle in Benares: Last night a store manager saved my life
As you can probably imagine in these days of online interconnectivity, a journalist without their laptop is about as much use as soldier without their gun or a pastry chef without their butter – pretty much useless. So last week when I was in the sacred Indian city of Varanasi reporting on the remarkable, centuries-old death industry, it was pretty much a disaster when my laptop died on me. I'd just finished editing a piece of copy on Pakistan when a message popped up indicating that there was a crucial software error and then everything went dead. I joked, briefly, that in a city known as place where for generations people have come to die in order to obtain instant release, or passage to nirvana, it was perhaps appropriate that my computer had taken this opportunity to give up the ghost. The humour did not last long however; a quick phone call to the sympathetic but essentially helpless IT help team back in London confirmed that I was going to have to reinstall Windows from scratch and that unless I could find someway of retrieving my data I was going to lose three years worth of documents, photographs and music.
The following day was the eve of Diwali, one of the most important celebrations in the Hindu calendar and a day celebrated by Indians' huge enthusiasm for shopping. As it was, I had a day of interviews lined up for my story and it was not until early evening that I had time to set about trying to find someone to try and rescue my computer. It was at that point that I was directed to a computer and electronics store that went by the rather unlikely name of P.P Electronics and Surgical Aids. Inside the store, there was barely room to stand as people were busily buying televisions, computers and other gadgets, the belief being that Diwali is a fortuitous time to purchase items. The manager, Prashant Verma, was friendly but not very hopeful; he could fix the computer but it was going to take some time and there was no way he could even start to look at it until tomorrow afternoon. I begged, I pleaded, I explained the crisis at hand. Mr Verma looked at my sympathetically. Come back at 8pm, he said. It should take four hours. When I arrived Mr Verma seemed almost swallowed by the sea of customers. There was a group buying a television set, another buying a cable package and some others trying to decide on which laptop to buy. No-one seemed to pay with either a credit card or cash and large wads of notes kept changing hands. Mr Verma smiled and was patient with every customer; the perfect salesman. When the last of them had gone, he turned his attention to my computer. First he salvaged the data on the hard-drive, then he set about reinstalling the software. The hours passed by and Mr Verma's wife kept calling, wondering how he was getting on and when he would be coming home. I'm with the last customer now, he assured her. It was half-past midnight by the time I wandered out onto the quiet streets to flag down a bicycle rickshaw to take me back to the hotel. My computer was repaired, better-than-before, and for more than four hours of bespoke service Mr Verma had charged me 1,000 rupees, or the equivalent of just 13 pounds, before he waved me on my way. As I climbed into the rickshaw there was a spring in my step.
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