How not to do things in India

#3 – Provide workingfolk with dignity

Meet Crazypants.

Crazypants is your archetypical upper middle class urban Indian. Busybody by nature, deaf-to-reason by choice, smug by appointment.  Crazypants also comes in both genders, and is usually of an age where the presence of grey hair can – and is – used as a weapon.  If you live in urban India, you will know a Crazypants (and if you don’t, you’re them).

If you hear a prolonged almost-an-argument in your neighbourhood, that’s Crazypants showing off how she knows best.  If you hear somebody giving another person excessively detailed, condescending-to-their-intelligence instructions, that’s Crazypants treating everybody but him as an utter idiot.  If you suddenly notice a spray of water from the third floor of a building falling onto a car parked below, that’s Crazypants taking an innovative approach to carwashing.  If you find yourself constantly being coerced into signing petitions and helping out with sundry minor issues that don’t need addressing, that’s because Crazypants has nothing better to do with their life now that she’s retired and the children are all gone.

Crazypants is unpredictable, and unreasonable, and unexplainable.  You will never be quite sure of what ridiculous new idea will be offered, what daft counter-argument will be put forward in response to your requests for peace, or what pointless battle will be attempted in order to keep busy.

One thing, however, you can always rely on Crazypants to do – stiff a tradesperson.

When hiring somebody to do some repairs or installations or upgrade, a Crazypants will never ask them how much they will charge.  They will simply point out what needs doing, give a long lecture on how to do it, stand by the worker all the while and tell them how they’re doing it wrong, make them do two other minor jobs “since they’re already there”, and then, at the crunch, give them what they apparently deserve.

Which is usually half of what the worker quotes.

Crazypants will then loudly refuse to bargain with them, while explaining why how much they’ve been paid is correct, and in fact, more than they were going to get originally. There will be a lot of “na na beta” and a few “dus meenut ka toh kaam tha” and then a fair amount of highlighting-of-grey-hair and repeated reminders of how the worker’s been doing this sort of work at this house for so long and why are they now suddenly charging so much.  Crazypants will also glare at you and mock you and give you a lengthy explanation in private if you happen to suggest that really, what about dignity of labour and the cost of inflation over the years and really an extra 100 rupees is not such a big thing.

And then, finally, when they’ve slouched away sullenly, Crazypants will tell you that this is why they prefer not to call that person for work, because it’s so cheap na to haggle over money, and besides, they never turn up even when phoned several times and who has the time to chase them when there are so many other people around who will do the work.  And you will also discover that apparently you’re a soft touch, which is understandable because you’re young and you’re not from the city, but really you don’t need to be paying so much because otherwise these people get ideas above their station and then they start charging everybody more and not everybody can afford these prices you know, so really, next time you call in a plumber to do machine-related work and he works less than an hour, 150 rupees is more than enough.  Besides, it’s not like he spends any money on fuel, is it, he’s just got a cycle.

And then you realise how people like Crazypants end up with three flats in central Delhi, and why they are always rushing off in one of their three cars to the Gymkhana.  And why the inequalities in our system are just growing wider.  And why almost every tradesperson you’ve employed has been sullen, half-incompetent, and unprofessional about things like timings and following-up.  And why you will get taken advantage of more than Crazypants, simply because anybody who offers fair and equitable terms has to be a mark, right?



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How not to do things in India


#37 – Fly with Spicejet with any hope of retaining your sanity

1.  You need to take a flight out of Pune. Despite not being overly thrilled with their service before, you choose “India’s most preferred airline” as they offer the most convenient timings.

2. At the airport, you screen your little stroller, which will go in the hold, through the CISF scanner.  You then realise you have to scan the bag again through the airline’s scanner, which you do.

3. You inform the stooge looking at the screen that the three jars in your bag contain biscuits, honey, and pickle.

4. You express surprise at being asked to open the bag to show him the jars.  On not receiving any answer but a standard “For security reasons” after repeated questioning, you decide to humour him.

5. You express bemusement when told that you cannot carry two of the jars as they contain liquid food products, which have been packed at home, and there is the risk that they may leak.

6. You point out that the plastic bottles are wrapped in paper, covered all over in masking tape, and placed in ziploc bags.  You further note that whether they leak or not is not his problem, surely, but yours and if you are happy with the packaging what goes of his mother. And you remind him that they are all going into the hold anyway, not the cabin, so there are no limitations as to what you can carry so why is he creating a fuss.

7. You look around for hidden TV cameras, convinced you’re being set up for a prank show, when he proclaims that there are “limitations on how much liquid can be carried in hold luggage”, and that his airline is responsible if the products leak and spoil bags.

8. On realising he’s being serious, you point out that -a) No airline in the world has restrictions on carrying food or liquids in the hold luggage.
b) In the 22 years since you first got on a plane, not one airline in any of the dozens of cities you have flown out of has ever cared about what’s in the hold luggage before getting on the plane.
c) His own airline has no such rules stated on their website, their tickets, or even at the airport itself.
d) Even if they did, and for some reason had hidden it from public view, the same airline had never objected when you had carried such goods several times before – from the same airport.
e) He doesn’t seem to be worried that the bottles of shampoo, shave gel and moisturising lotion also contained in the same bag might leak – even though they are not sealed or packaged.

9. After five minutes of attempting reason, and realising your flight is soon to depart, you demand to see his superior.

10. You shake your head and draft in the support of fellow passengers when the Shitejet’s senior security officer backs up the stooge.

11. You offer to pack the jars up with their own tape and paper, which is on their desks, till they are satisfied with its condition.  And finally explode in anger when they say it doesn’t matter how much you pack it, because the contents are liquid, and they may leak, and they won’t clear your bag till you leave the jars behind.

12. You once again go back to demanding to see where these rules are written, and wonder if you’re in a Kafka novel when you’re told that not all the rules have to be declared publicly, and it’s a rule because they say so, and that’s the end of that because they’re in charge and your plane leaves in 20 minutes and you’re not taking those jars in your bag.

13. You ponder briefly, yet again, at the old adage about the petty tyranny of minor bureaucrats, and the slavish adherence to idiotic rules that is the hallmark of modern air-travel the world over.

14. You demand that they give their reasons to you in writing, and after suppressing your editorial instincts at the one badly written line of explanation, insist they sign alongside their names to validate the note.  And almost, almost punch a pillar when they refuse to do so, claiming they “are not authorised to sign any paper, or stamp it” (but decide you don’t hate your knuckles).

15. Realise that this is one of those rare occasions that you regret not having a smartphone to be able to record this conversation, and highlight the state of your jars, and highlight it to the airline via Twitter.  Instead, you pass the jars onto one of the airport cleaning staff, taking scant consolation that you just made somebody less fortunate than you a little happier (and healthier).

16. You use the time before the flight departs to write a courteous, yet indignant, letter inquiring if they really do have such rules and if so where eet ees and why.

17. You wait for three days after receiving an initial standard response.

18. You send off another mail, reiterating your points.

19. You wait another two days, before sending out yet another mail.

20. You worry about the quality of English being taught in Indian schools, the paucity of qualified staff in the customer-service business in this country, and the soreness in your strained vocal chords after reading their eventual answer, which states:
We would like to inform as per the SpiceJet’s Conditions of Carriage of perishables are to be removed from the check-in luggage. SpiceJet will not accept responsibility for these items”.

21.  You escalate the matter by writing to the Nodal Officer, pointing out the blatant falsehood in their explanation, as the Conditions of Carriage do not mention anything of the sort.

22. You wait. Without expectation.

23. And you vow that, no matter how urgent and how price-attractive and how convenient it may be, you will never ever fly with this airline again. And will go on a lifelong rantcrusade to convince anybody you can not to either.  And will from now and forever more, refer to it only by the name that (to you) utterly defines its service –

Idiot of the day

Commenter on a news article about the Odisha cyclone –
“Will this affect flights out of Bhubaneshwar?”

Because who would expect planes to have any problem taking off from an area hit by 200kmh winds, thunderstorms, and flooded with water?  After all, they’re made of metal and they still manage to fly!

This is why people should have to undergo training courses and pass an exam before they’re allowed to have and raise children.  So that they don’t inflict such complete mooras on the rest of us.

These worlds of ours

A yellow cap, a striped shirt, trousers of indefinable colour, all faded by the decades of scorching daylight that he seems to have weathered.  A grizzled face seemingly sucked dry of belief by the daily trauma of his life. He looks 75. He’s probably 50.

He bides his time, and at the right signal, he approaches all the waiting vehicles, trying to sell his magazines.  He makes no special pitch, makes no real attempt to convince hesitant customers, doesn’t even really properly show his wares. Just folded hands and some mumbled pleading words heard by nobody, protected as everybody is by their shut-off windows, focused as they immediately and constantly are on their gadgets.

He makes his way through the masses, tap tap tap, but nobody pays attention, nobody buys anything.  He lingers a little longer whenever he chances by the occasional auto-rickshaw, finding a little more pep for his delivery, making the rare sale.  But as the machines get restless in anticipation of being let loose again, he returns to his spot by the pillar, hands full.  He stares at nothing, having seen it all countless times before, hunched into himself, preserving his energy for the next round.

Waiting patiently, resignedly.  Just waiting.

*    *    *    *     *     *     *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     *     *

Look at us then.  In our small cars with no A/Cs, always ready to squeeze in one more (or four), windows down to catch the breeze, hands on alert to catch the hair, breezing along for joy rides.

Look at us then. Snatching random conversations along the road, buying the occasional random object thrust upon us, snapping and swatting at an excess of humanity who could only wonder at the shininess of the fake leather seats, aware of the sounds and smells and composition of the air around us.

Look at us then. In our few cars with no power windows, forced to realise our place in and contribution to the world around us.

And look at us now.  In sleeker, ever-bigger cocoons of soothing air and soft seats, increasingly rejecting more shared modes of transport for the convenience and perceived safety of our own vehicle.  Choosing to drive everywhere, all the time, even when having the choice of using public vehicles.

Look at us now. Rushing from our protective homes and offices into our protective cars, trying to avoid undue contact with the external environment, swarming as it is with pollutants and diseases.  Sitting in miles of tail-back queues, going nowhere slowly, updating the world about how horrible it is in this smog-inducing traffic, and how you hate the government for your high fuel bills.   All while refusing to acknowledge how we are responsible – by using cars to drive down to the local grocer for some milk, while running the air-conditioning maintain artificial levels of comfort, even as we constantly use smart-gadgets that are electricity sinks.

*    *    *    *     *     *     *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     *     *

In many cases, and for many people, cars make more sense than public transport, which can be so often unreliable and unsafe.  But there are many places and cities which offer good (even great) services, and yet the minute anybody can afford a car, they choose never to travel by a bus or train again.  Nobody car-pools either, because my car is my car and it’s my freedom and go get your own.

And every day it gets worse, and it gets worse for governments to offer alternative solutions, because really, where’s the space.  And more demand for roads for bigger cars means less choice for pedestrians means more people choosing to drive because there’s no way to walk to your destination means more demands for roads means ….

Choose again.

Take a local train occasionally, even for part of your journey.  Get onto a bus.  Cycle in your neighbourhood.  Walk.

And if nothing else, switch off that a/c and roll down the windows and smell the fumes and feel the particles on your teeth and look at the residue you just wiped off your face.  Experience a little discomfort, and convince others to do so too, so that you know what it is we’ve done to our world, and so that you get motivated to improve it.

Because it can only get worse.  And someday we will run out of roads, run out of fuel, and run out of time.

Who knows, you may even end up having a few interesting conversations with your fellow drivers.

*    *    *    *     *     *     *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     *     *

I pass him by weeks later, and he’s still there, hands full, tap tap tap, no sale.

I wonder what he thinks when he sees his reflection in the windows of all the cars. I wonder whether he would be more forceful, more hopeful if he could just talk without these barriers.

I wonder if he even cares anymore.

Things you cannot do in modern India

#17 – Sleep uninterruptedly in a city in an area that has a residents’ association
Cities are dangerous places.  But it is at night that they become truly scary.

And Indian cities at night are the realms of dreadful nightmares, particularly for respectable folk that are constantly in danger from the vile depredations of lower-class louts.  Which is why groups of sensible, like-minded neighbours are increasingly realising the need for protectors, and have been banding together to find heroes.

And such heroes. Fearless, mighty warriors who defend them and theirs.  Dedicated souls who have trained hard to transform themselves into the one phenomenon that no nightly terror can even hope to withstand:
The Wearer of the Blue & Gray.
The Disdainer of Wailing Canines.
The Scourge of the Enveloping Dark.
The Carrier of the Mighty Staff of Resounding Echoes.
Modern India’s greatest, newest weapon – The Whistle-Blowing Night Sikyurtee Guard.

You will find him in every walled-off enclave, every gated society, every semi-private road.  You will rarely spot him, master as he is at the art of camouflage and misdirection, of being where you least expect him to be. But you will always hear him, and you will know his approach by his unmistakeable, unstoppable, and inescapable signal –


Oh, you will hear him. All through the night, every  night. On the hour, every hour.  A clarion call that announces his approach to any ne’er-do-wells, causing them to flee before he even comes within half a mile of them.

Driven by the desire to chase away all evils and the fear of the General-Secretary-ki-Warning, he is ceaseless, unflagging, and ever-vigilant against any scurrilous attempts to silence his voice.  He will resolutely wander the limits of his appointed beat just so that you can lie in your bed comfortably at 3am, secure in the awareness that he is out there. Somewhere.  Everywhere.  Waiting, waiting, ever-so-patiently, before once more unleashing the Horn of Doom.


Do not be deceived by his slight physique or his slow, shuffling gait – he will be there with his piercing tones when you least expect it, and just as you’ve stopped expecting it.  Do not be deceived if he claims that he does not need to use his mighty weapon, that it is forced upon him by paranoid home-owners to ensure that he  hasn’t deserted them – this is just a cunning ploy to lull any miscreants into believing the joint forces of middle-class decency are ridden with petty-mindedness and resentment, so that those evil-doers will be tempted to attempt some villainous deed, only to realise the trap when they hear the inevitable hunting call …


And with the dawn, he will silently drift into the shadows, not asking for any gratitude, content with tending to his weapons as he prepares to emerge again that night and renew his vigil.
Outside your window.
Inside your head.
All night long.

Lucky, lucky you.