Monday, June 28, 2010

It Happens Only in India!!

Spend a few months away from home and suddenly you see things you were accustomed to, in a new light. No, this isn't 'Bloody India' syndrome. I can't stand being here anymore sort of rant. No, instead I believe it is us who need to introspect about what we always champion as our cultural superiority. It's time we kept the championing zeal aside and took a second look..

When I got to England, I was uncomfortable acknowledging random strangers saying a cheery 'Hello' or 'Good Morning'. The first thought in a doubting Indian mind is 'What vested interest do they have in saying it?'. I have never cracked a smile at random people while in India, 'We don't want to be thought of as loony, do we?'. Men are highly likely to take it as a come-on, while women would just give a frozen stare back in cold rejection. Why can't this be just a basic civility? One that is such a polite, trusting gesture. It takes no time, but puts a smile on the face, doesn't it? I do it as a matter of course now. The shuttle driver who drove us from the Mumbai airport to the aircraft had a stunned look in his face as I walked out thanking him - wonder if I imagined it or if he thought I had passed a snide remark as I was leaving.

My biggest grouse with people here would perhaps be their need to extract the last ounce out of the money they spend. See it this way, why else would people make such a hue and cry about queuing up to board their flights. As soon as the boarding announcement to Mumbai was made at the Heathrow airport, my Indian fellow passengers showed their true colours. It was a scamper to be the first to board the flight. Could it be the remnants of having to fight for the best seats in Deccan Airways that make people forget they have allotted seats and that the plane won't leave without them? Jet Airways made repeated announcements to ensure people remained seated till boarding began batch by batch. They perhaps forgot they were dealing with Indians. Dutyfree shopping bags jostled with hand baggage ensuring that no one could cut ahead of them, so there formed two lines. Repeated announcements for a single file to be formed fell on deaf ears. Ditto at Mumbai airport too. Boarding call announcements to various cities saw mad scrambles as early as 3.30 AM - as if there was a SALE on inside the plane. No one bothers to check if much time is actually lost in queuing up. I see more time, energy and effort wasted in trying to get ahead of the others. The only thing I see people getting out of jostling others rudely and edging themselves, one-step-at-a-time ahead is the mental satisfaction of having eked out the best value for the money spent by getting in first. After all, doesn't the plane get everyone to the destination at the same time?

Getting out of the airport, I noticed something else, that funnily never bothered me before. Maybe these days, I consider honking horns very rude. Time to report another pet peeve. If your car has to be eased out, you see another car blocking your exit while the passenger loads up his baggage, what do you do? Honk your horn continuously, making life miserable for you and them and anyone else in the vicinity? Does that actually make them stop and move their car and let you move on? Not really, right? Then why the wasted effort? Aren't a great deal of the traffic jams we see here caused because everyone tries to squeeze past - regardless of whether your attempt is inconveniencing fifty others behind you.

It's time we learnt some grace, some consideration for the other person. People who do it as an accepted gesture abroad, turn into heartless natives the moment they breathe in the Indian air. Yes, it might set us back by a couple of minutes, but won't you be in a better frame of mind, better disposition for having done a good deed for a stranger you will never meet again. Why is this culture missing? Will we ever learn? We pick up so many convenient Western customs, why not their civility?


  1. I agree. Completely, totally and heartily.

    I thank car drivers, grocers, waiters..almost everyone who has provided me with some kind of service. I don't know why I do it. I just do. And I stay away from rude service providers. Even if I have to shell out extra elsewhere.

    I don't know why people are so suspicious in India. Most of them are. Specially in the south. Or so I have noticed. And the current generation is just more educated and if I may say so-more crass.

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  3. This article reminds me of a RD Article which ranked cities based on courtesy, good manners etc. and I guess Mumbai was on the bottom. The ranking was done based on service tests which included the common courtesy of thanking a customer, which is not that common here. "Door Test" to see whether someone would keep the door open; in India it is almost impossible to find someone stop the car and then hold open the door, And on queues of our country are the worst as you pointed. Horns are for free use here I guess, use them at will.

  4. I too detest the pointless fight to scramble to the front of any queue but far, far worse, is the endangerment caused by those who deem their cell calls home more important than my life... again something where repeated announcements and signs are ignored by the masses. (Please look up Faraday cage for anyone not familiar with the effect of using a radio transmitter in a metal box / plane).
    This phenominum is so widespread that myself and several colleagues who visit India now play the landing game: Who can observe the lowest number of seconds between the first set of wheels hitting the ground and the first cell activation bleeps / seatbelt unbuckling?
    The record currently stands at 3.6 seconds at which point we were still hurtling down the runway at 200mph...
    Having got that off my chest, I think you are being overly hard on your countrymen Deepthy! India is also a country of impeccable manners and politeness. As a foreigner, when I am intentionally rude in pointing out a queue or asking that someone observes common civility, the miscreant is invariably apologetic and obviously intensely uncomfortable. However, this intentional rudeness is only ever required in airports and occasionally on trains at all other times I can recall India is far more polite than most western nations. Perhaps the enthusiasm for modernity is sometimes overpowering but surely such excitement is no more than it has been / is elsewehere?

  5. Choco: Nice to see you back after such a long time..I wish we had better manners..India would be so much lovelier, wouldn't it?

    Analyst: Really? Mumbai most discourteous. I thought Mumbai is one of the few cities where you could expect a few courtesies and gestures of politeness

    John: Considering the experience you have in travelling to India, I'm glad you think that way. This wasn't meant to be an India bashing piece, just a heartfelt one at things I wish we did better..Mobiles, hmmmm...true! Now why didn't I think of that?

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  7. ... because you're Indian and you love your technology and your bling?
    - a mobile coiuld be said to represent both

  8. ahhh I know what you mean...I will have to unlearn a lot of good things if I want to adjust in India...its been 3 years since I have been back...

  9. Haha, we love our bling and technology..true, John..

    LP: Seriously V, some courtesies are harmless right? But you will be made to feel abnormal for advocating them..I just hope that someday we learn to be courteous and deferential. Life would be so much more pleasant..:)

  10. i agree with all you say but things are changing now. as an explanation not justification i would like to say that the rush for boarding an aircraft is not for the seat but for the space in the overhead bin for the hand luggage. if you have boarded last you might have noticed that space for hand luggage is hard to come by! as far as the honking goes may i remind you that we are a highly populous country and to get heard in the multitudes we have to shout resulting in a lot of noise all around. if you dont honk, it is presumed that you are in no hurry. :)
    so chill. if it were not for all these maybe unwanted quirks it would be so boring.
    as far as being polite is concerned, it might have been your assumption that the driver of the coach was surprised because nowadays people have started saying the mechanical 'thank you' and 'please' to all and sundry. a smile of acknowledgment is generally the otherwise preferred mode of gratitude.

  11. Well, it happens abroad also.As an example , here is a latest extract from my niece who arrived from US-
    "Our fun has started. In Dallas we boarded out flight and waited for it to take off. After a considerable wait we were abruptly told that due to bad weather realted traffic back-up in CHicago our flight was cancelled. We got lucky (or so we thought at the time!) that we were re-routed via London and instead of reaching here last night at 8.30 PM we arrived here at 2 AM via London on British Airways. We had checked in all bags except camera and medicines. Well, we made it but none of our bags did and BA cannot tell us when we will get them. So we have been on the phone with British Airways and our Travel Agent. We will now have to stay one extra day in Delhi hoping our bags will come at least tomorrow. Anways, right now we are leaving to the nearest mall to buy some essential clothes so we can at least take a bath and wear clean clothes".

  12. I'm new here, but loved your post, and what I've seen of your blog so far (I had a little nose around yesterday).

    I'm English and I think queuing must be in our blood. Eddie Izzard joked in one of his standup shows that the English will join a queue even if they don't know what's at the front.

    Maybe we need to find a middle ground...

  13. Magiceye: I think Mumbai is the most cosmopolitan city in India, the only place where I'm really happy living. I think people are normally more courteous and professional there than anywhere else. Half of these observations are more generic. Trust me, do get to Kochi and you will realise what I'm talking about. Sometimes, mentality wise I feel people are still in a time warp..:)

    Ayyangar Sir: It's so true. Soon, I shall be coming out with a British special. Need to word it like the Brits. You can't get work done for love of God or Glory..:)

    TbR: Cheers, welcome to my blog. I look forward to hearing your perspective often..:)

  14. Is it not ironic how easily we get unused to the bad and the ugly.
    Sadly we Indians are always in a hurry. We honk, we jostle,we push and yes we have scant regard for others.

    I hate it when people think it's their birthright to jump queues- as if the rest of us are a bunch of fools.

  15. well you wish it would be different......but the race to see the inside of the plane is bigger than tour de France..........

    and people know they have will get the allotted seats but still they try to grab that window seat.......... well that's the only way to recover the money you paid for the flight..... :D

    yup, It always happen in India... :D

  16. Indeed Purba..I just wish when we increase our access to technology and modernise our way of life, it doesn't translate into us forgetting some basic etiquettes..

    Hitesh..exactly, poora paisa vasool mentality

  17. after u left, all i wanted to do was go home myself.i suffered from homesickness :( thats what i told people to explain my grumpy face.

    Thanks deeps for writing this blog because now i dont feel like going home anymore. haha

  18. Oh my God...I wrote a long comment and posted it and in a hurry closed the page before the word verification....Please try change it so that everything appears at one in a to make puri and then go to the Lab...

  19. The scramble for seats is something that we have retained from our prehistoric phase I guess. Might is right, isn't it? I appreciate your note that it is not a 'bloody India' rant, but we have to come off the high horse and accept our lack of courtesy and civility.Enjoyed the post!

  20. Shut up, Satty, good or bad, India is home..Home is the best..:)

    Nalini: :( My loss....word verification was introduced after the Chinese began guerrilla spamming my blog...

    Zephyr: I was wondering why despite the increased exposure to international standards and realising the merits of 'civilised' practises, people revert to 'Indian ways' the moment they get here. I guess the so called NRIs are to blame more than even the desis.

  21. People here sometimes look through you, it's like you are non-existent. Even in office, a lot of colleagues don't acknowledge / greet you...strange culture (if we can call it 'culture'!)

  22. Yeah, they are either distant or just a little too intrusive- they want to know everything about you...from the name of your cat to the year you had your appendix removed

  23. i m joking deeps :) hehe.. it is indeed the best