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?