The office door that splits us

There’s a fine gentleman I know at work, he’s soft spoken, well mannered & very courteous. He acknowledges people around him, never cuts them short & seems to give everyone their space. I saw him at the supermarket the other day, and though he looked the same, he seemed quite different. He was pushing his shopping cart through a crowd of people, was rude & I saw him shouting at the Billing clerk. I think he might have a Split | Personality!

Sounds familiar? Ever observed someone you know at work, outside of the work environment, and felt they’re different, more like the rest of the people. I have, many a times.

In India, there are two cultures at play in our daily lives.

One is the real culture that’s out there on the street. The culture that’s come about living with inadequacies for the population. Not enough space on the road. Not enough seats in School. Not enough space on the Bus. In a culture like that, it’s Survival of the Fittest, with no regard to fellow men & women, They’re simply Competition. In a culture like that, a human is simply Demand, and there’s enough of it. In a country of over 1 billion, there’s definitely no scarcity of people, and what’s not scarce is often taken for granted.

The other culture is what the companies are importing from foreign shores, and individuals are adopting as they travel more & more. In that culture, people are well behaved, courteous, polite, acknowledge people, hold the door for them. Acts that exhibit selfishness are looked down upon. A kind of culture that comes out from abundance. There’s enough for everyone, so there’s no real reason to not treat fellows humans well.

Not to say that there’s anything Right & Wrong about these, both are appropriate for their individual situations & settings. In the first culture, Push & Shove doesn’t mean you bear ill intent for those on the receiving end, they are merely casualties of your selfishness, which is the popular way of life. On the other end, in the other culture, if someone holds open a door for me, it doesn’t mean it’s a heartfelt gesture. The gestures itself have become a norm in the society and a lot of times, are just followed for the sake of conformance.

The interesting thing is how living in india, we casually switch between these two cultures as we step in and out of our offices (and some other controlled environments). I might cut into someone’s lane, honking, on the road, but hold the door for the same person as he walks into the office*. This creates a weird duality of behavior, where it becomes difficult to gauge intent from action.

* But not do that for an access controlled door to avoid unauthorized tailgating 😛

Let’s look at four (theoretical) behavior sets someone could exhibit outside & inside controlled environments.

# At Work Outside Analysis
D-D Discourteous Discourteous Probably someone who doesn’t believe in courtesy, or maybe in acts of courtesy that are done without meaning them. Someone very practical. Might get strange looks at work. 
C-D Courteous Discourteous While in Rome, Do the romans … Err, I mean Do as the romans do. Most commonly observed behavior amongst the 4 buckets. On the side of practicality & conformance. 
C-C Courteous Courteous The idealist. A lot of people moving to India from West fall in this category. Gets strange looks outside work, and often people think he/she is going to pull some prank & might search for a hidden camera. Or, people might think it’s someone gone Bonkers, or visiting from SatYug. Once the initial apprehension fades, the courtesy shown by these individuals is misused, abused & taken advantage of, in full measure. People in this category often decide to convert to C-D. Some get really pissed off and convert to D-D.
D-C Discourteous Courteous Is a strange combination. Someone who loves fellow humans, but hates his Job & cowerkers. Individuals sometimes move into this bucket just before they are about to quit, or while serving their Notice period. Defiance!

Ok, so which bucket do I fall in? I’m not sharing that, you’ll have to stalk me to figure that out.
This post just ends here. If you’re looking for a logical conclusion or recommendation, I’m Sorry I have None. This is just about some things I’ve observed, and tried to analyze. No right & wrong, black & white here. Just shades of Grey that we can reflect on individually, so we understand ourselves better.

Honkless in the city (Learning to drive again)

Last month, I returned home to Delhi having been away for 9 months. One of the things I had been silently worrying about was reviving my “Delhi” driving skills. Arriving at the airport 2 hours late and 1 bag less didn’t lessen the enthusiasm and I chose to take the front passenger seat in the cab; THAT gave me the front seat to the roller coaster ride that driving in Delhi is. The cabbie was my teacher & so that was the first step: Learning by observation. I watched as the driver made the cab twist, turn and squeeze through narrow spaces to get me home.

Next in my agenda was a hands-on session and chose a small car for it, the advantages being that a hatchback is easy to park and of course the maneuverability. The BIG disadvantages of my choice: the car has L (Learners) signs on the front and back [how apt, or so I thought!!!] and the horn wasn’t functioning. I wasn’t sure then what I was getting into. When driving in Delhi, the horn is one of the most important tools in your toolbox, probably even more important than brakes. Being honkless would mean that you’re in a boxing ring with no gloves, or like being on a stock exchange trading floor and not be able to shout, its like being on a fast the day you have a team feast.

Initially, the experience was frustrating, being a mute spectator in the chaos, the hand would reach out & hit the horn with intensity but there would be no sound. Add to that, the Learners sign, and that adds 10X hostility when you’re on the road. People don’t honk when they see a L sign but immediately try to overtake you. But then an interesting thing happened: I started to slow down, give way more and observe a lot (by force rather than choice); it gives you a different perspective and makes you less aggressive. That ring of wisdom didn’t last for long though, and evaporated as soon the horn was repaired. Soon after, I regained my Delhi driving skills and re-graduated to my own car.

And thus returned the sweet sound (ahem!) of the horn, and so I was able to contribute some musical notes to the orchestra on the street.

So here my friends, I give you Top 5 tips for driving in Delhi:

1. Changing Lanes
Active observer: When a car in front signals to change a lane, the driver following in the destination lane shall speed to not let the car change lanes.
Actor: If you need to change lanes, first safely get your car 50% into the destination lane and THEN signal. (Rule of thumb: signal after the remaining space in destination lane &lt width of the car that’s following)

2. The L sign
Active observer: L stands for Loser, not Learner. When you see a car with this sign, speed and get ahead as you need to be the Winner. Be a good citizen: don’t distract the loser by honking, let him drive at his own pace.
Actor: Try and get rid of the L tag ASAP. If you had applied a red plastic tape to draw the L, remove any remanents of it completely. An leftover impression of “L” on your car screams “Fresher”.

3. Overtaking
Active observer: Always drive in the fast lane and never give way to cars behind. If they really want to overtake, its their problem not yours. If you don’t like to be overtaken, speed when cars try to overtake you
Actor: If you’re trying to overtake, do so in a fashion and speed such that the driver you’re overtaking doesn’t notice you. Tip: use blind spots.

4. Traffic Signals
Active observer: If the car in front of you stops at a traffic light, honk repeatedly, the guy has no business stopping like that, the color red is over-rated. Also, research has proven that traffic signals change color in a few minutes if you honk.
Actor: Traffic lights and signs are suggestions really.

5. 2-way streets
Actor: On a 2-way street with no divider, be a leader…start a lane instead of joining one. If the lane you’re creating obstructs traffic coming in the other direction, well…a wider road is needed and should be built.
Active observer: If you’re in the traffic that’s coming from the other direction, relax, there’s nothing much anyone can do. Just utilize the lanes left so that no new lanes get created.

Disclaimer: The above is a work of fiction…..Of course I don’t drive like THAT!

A matter of respect

Theres always an argument when we compare culture of India with that of the West.

The general perception is “kids in India are taught to respect more than those in the West”. I dont agree; in fact have beliefs to the exact contrary. I believe Indians respect age while in the west, individuality is respected. Indian kids are taught to bow and touch the feet of elders. How many children actually know the reason behind that action? Very few (I didnt)! Still, kids grow up touching elders feet and then they pass on the tradition to their kids, minus the reasoning*. Dont get me wrong here – I dont have anything against age-old customs and am sure there would be valid reason behind the action. What Im against though is respect with too many “where” clauses.

Lets take some examples:
In India, if you meet an elder (outside of the workplace) whos not related to you, you would probably address them as Uncle/Aunty. In the west, you would address them by their first name. By placing elders on a pedestal, we cage them in our expectations. Elders in India are expected to conform to a typical image set by the society. We start setting standards for what an elder should or shouldnt do. In the west, everyones privacy is respected and what they do in their life is no-ones business but theirs.
An example: A person in their fifties remarrying in India would raise quite a few brows in India, whereas in the west, no-one interferes.

Indian society tends to set the norm for “when” people should do “what”. Out here, if youre 30 and still single, your relatives would be very worried and would express their concern at every possible opportunity they get. If you married for a few years without kids, people would be curious about “whats going on”. And you get asked over and over again till you come up with something that satisfies their expectations … for the time being that is.

I once attended a session on cross-cultural sensitivity and was delighted to know that in America, its considered rude to ask someone whether theyre married. Wow, I wanna go to the US of A!

We tend to judge people by their profession and tend to look up to people or look down upon them based on what they do. So, a driver, a steward, a cleaner would be treated like an untouchable, someone inferior whereas an executive as an equal or superior. In the west, people arent judged by what they do, no work is considered low. Its nice to see people interact freely with people they meet in their daily lives with no hang-ups about what they do. People are not afraid to take a break from work or to try a different profession after a few years.

In the west, basic courtesy is shown to even people you dont know. People wait for pedestrians to cross streets, people give way to others in lifts, corridors, even on busy roads. If someone snicked against your arm by mistake, most people would be courteous and apologize.

People are disciplined and respect queues, rules, protocol. Often, youre delighted when strangers smile and say Hi as they walk by. In India, there is major havoc on this front too. Rules are broken without much thought, we jump queues, push our way through anything and everything: buses, lifts, roads, malls, restaurants. Look around consciously and you will see even the so-called-“educated””creme of the society” honking on roads, driving on high-beam, parking in reserved slots, grabbing seats for the handicapped in buses and trains.

Lives are lived selfishly, oblivious to the existence of other people around. We feel pride in saying we are religious but if you go to any popular temple, youll see people pushing other people aside to pay their respects to The Almighty, to reach Him, to touch Him. What about the divinity that lives in each one of us: in you, in me and in the person you pushed aside to speed up your “darshan”?

Then, thinking of all this, arent people in the West more respectful than we are?
Is touching elders feet any good if we dont have an iota of respect for people we work with, live with, travel with? Arent we in shackles of other peoples expectations? Is respect for an elder any good if we cage them with our expectations and refuse to treat them as individuals?

I guess each one has to figure that out on their own!

* http://www.swaminarayan.org/faq/charansparsh.htm