Notes from an Indian Diwali …

It’s 12:20 AM and people are still out having a gala time bursting fire crackers – even though the guidelines set by the commissioner of police said it should be done by 10 PM max.
But what can you do? We’re a democracy right?

In India, I have learnt this the hard way – you just need sometimes to let go.
In a very funny sort of a way, you have to are forced to respect the collective decision of many people at your own expense even though each individual in the collective is being a selfish idiot!

Speaking about diwali, a couple of interesting incidents took place in the days leading upto the festival.

The first incident has to do with our dead telephone and the line repairman.
Mysteriously, about a couple of days from diwali, our main land-line phone went dead. I raised a complaint on Saturday but we were all pretty sure that nothing would get done until the long diwali weekend (stretching upto Thursday) was over.

Imagine my dad’s surprise when the phone magically rang on Sunday morning and the person at the other end of the line was the repair man asking whether the phone was working now. (Apparently there was a fault with the underground wiring … apparently)
My dad was so elated and surprised at the same time, that he profusely thanked the repair man for fixing the phone a day before diwali – and that too on a Sunday! He even wished him a happy diwali.

Imagine our surprise, when the repair guy says “Thank you for your wishes. I’ll come to the premises myself and meet you in person!”

Come he did, in a good 10 minutes.
And when he left, he had downed a good glass of soft drink, some exquisite sweets and pocketed an easy Rs. 51/- (diwali bakshish)

You give your little finger and pull out your entire arm :)

The other incident however was to do with our maid.
All through the diwali cleaning – which lasts a good week, my mom asked our regular maid to help out with some of the nitty gritties. Now, all maids in Pune (and I’m pretty sure in India too), look forward to demand an extra bonus during diwali.

My mom promised the maid a whole month’s pay for the bonus – provided she helped her with the extra cleaning of the place.

So today, on diwali, when my mom finally gave the maid her one month’s pay and two boxes of diwali sweets (which she had specially gotten packed and gift wrapped for her) our maid instead of graciously accepting it and thanking her, turns around and asks my mom “Where is my sari?”

My mom was completely taken aback and couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Definitely dented her trust in the human kind a bit I’m sure.

Ofcourse she didn’t get her sari. There was no talk about a sari. An extra month’s pay itself was a substantial amount. Another case of giving someone your little finger and they trying to pull your entire arm out.

But what can you do? C’est la vie!
I read that in Japan, it is impolite to leave a tip. They believe a person gets paid for doing his / her job to the best of their abilities. Expecting money for doing a better job (that they do right now) is just insulting.

Sigh …

5 Comments

  1. Welcome to India!

    Even I had difficulty watching Heroes right now at night, with fire-crackers bursting till 1 AM. But chalta hai, it just happens once a year. I guess this is the attitude that makes us Indians “tolerant”

    Not to forget the incident that our office phone line (BSNL) was installed and set up last week, within a day, even though we had applied for the connection in August.

    Happy Diwali :)

    Reply
  2. so you guys didnt tip the waiters in japan?
    no wonder you got served sea-weed soup!!!
    :P
    it’s the law of the land matey, you learn to live to live with it…heck, you learn so bad, you can’t live without it!
    imagine if things always went by the book…there’d be so many hurdles that you’d have to cross even now! i’m thankful there is scope to bend the rules just a little every now and then!
    although, i do wish things wouldnt bend too much sometimes!
    and hey, long time no write?

    Reply
  3. Just to throw another thought into the whole debate—and I know it’s going to raise a lot of scorn and disagreement—what if we just looked at “bribes/baksheesh/tips etc.” as a quite necessary part of the Free Markets Model. I know tips will be accepted without much noise, baksheesh maybe, but almost no one would agree to saying that “bribes are okay”. But why not, I ask?

    I would like to know if there is a strong, logical libertarian/Free Market refutation to the acceptability of bribes.

    Also, you didn’t have to give the telephone repairman anything, if you didn’t want to. It was a personal choice.

    Reply
  4. I kinda agree with your bribe theory.
    In India, we should just make the entire system of bribes legitimate – or to make it more white collared – call it a priority based service.

    You want to get something done quicker?
    Well, it will cost you a bit more. You see, time is money! :p

    Once, I overheard a lawyer telling his client:
    I really don’t mind the cops asking for money. But then, they should atleast get the job done.

    And this was when the client was the plaintiff and was requesting the cops to start their investigation (or basically just do their jobs)

    As for the repairman, I think it was a completely understood agreement when he turned up at our place from his exchange – as to what he wanted.

    We could have of course not given it to him – but that would have just caused bad blood and we would be getting extremely low priority service from then on.

    In a different incident at our office – when we got the BSNL line fixed, the guy would not leave the premises till we parted with Rs. 101/-

    He however did give us his cell phone number – to call him directly when a problem arised :)

    Reply
  5. That’s a good term for it—“Priority Based Service”. In any purely capitalist society, that’s the way things would (and ought to) be—you want something better/faster, you pay more for it. Hence bribery within the private industry is completely justified. Anything else is regulation—and I am dead against regulation.

    Now, the only place where bribery is really questionable is within the public industry/government.

    Some points here. Firstly, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that it does its job correctly (and thus our responsibility to enforce it). For example, you break a traffic signal and instead of paying a fine, you hand the cop a hundred rupees and get away with it. Who is losing out here? Not you or the cop. Both of you’ll are better off with the bribe instead of the fine. So the two of you’ll are both absolved of any blame—you’ll just acted rationally. The first obvious loser appears to be the government—instead of getting revenue from the fine, it doesn’t get anything. It is their job to ensure the cops do not have an incentive to take a bribe, because otherwise they lose on out revenue. However—and this is important—the government doesn’t REALLY lose out. What they from fine revenue, they will take from either taxes or printing more money. In both case, every other citizen (other than you and the cop, obviously) is losing out because of your deal. I either have to pay more taxes (to settle your fine) or my money is worth a little less due to the inflation caused by the printing of that extra money. Hence, it is MY responsibility to ensure that you don’t pay a bribe.

    We’ll look at some solutions and exactly how they can be implemented, in our next session. Thank you for tuning in. That’s all the time we have for this week!

    Reply

Leave a Reply