In the summer of 1981, a man who called himself a consultant turned up at a young woman’s home in India’s western city of Mumbai.
She was starting a small business and he said he could help her secure a new telephone connection for a bribe.
The process usually took up to two decades back then – a government-owned monopoly was the sole source of phone connections. By the mid-1980s, nearly a million people were waiting for a phone.
Before July 1991 – when historic reforms threw open the door to India’s economy – such “consultants” roamed outside offices in the country, offering out-of-turn phone connections, driving licences and passports for a hefty premium.
Otherwise, Indians queued up for everything. They waited 10 years for a scooter and seven years for a car. A columnist wrote of how he had to “pull strings” to get milk powder for his first child.
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In the case of the Mumbai woman, the consultant’s fee was 15,000 rupees ($201; £145), nearly 15 times her annual pay. He said it was so expensive because a part of this money would go to a federal minister’s family.
“They will get you the connection and take a bribe,” he said. The woman, who did not want to be identified, dipped into her savings and paid up. She got a new connection in two weeks.