My brother and his family lives as expats in Chennai (previously Madras), in the province Tamil Nadu. There are more people here than in the whole of South Africa. India’s population stands at 1.1 billion. It should then come as no surprise that in a land of many, that no one will wait for you. If you want to get ahead (or in front) you should fight for it. Queuing was a good case in point. Our tour party of the ‘Golden Triangle’ (Delhi/Agra/Jaipur) consisted of myself, Grant, my brother and my dad. Often, we will leave each other some personal space, only to find moments later an Indian wedged between us. Addressing the ‘perpetrator’ evoked, without fail, repeatedly the same response: “sorry, I didn’t see you”. Uhm. How can I put this to you mildly? How can you possibly miss four much taller, much paler people, who speaks a language unfamiliar to you, in an ocean of homogenic contemporaries?
Street vendors found a new way to fleece tourists. It is called “fixed price” and they have notices posted all over to advise this. Apparently, they do not want to haggle any more – this now from the nation that introduced us to this concept in the first place. Grant and myself developed a good strategy. I will keep a sales person busy and he will be on the lookout for pricing given to the locals. (Don’t think for a moment the wares are visibly priced.) Soon we have proven their notices to be incorrect and haggling back on the menu. The best tactic to get a price moving south, is to touch the article. Pick it up. Speak a few words in Afrikaans (the power of being bilingual!). Put the article down. Say you are not interested and walk away. One must love the tenacity and entrepreneurship of this nation. Two stalls later and “fixed” dropped to “best” plummeted to “final”. It is this price that is the closest to the local price and normally at this level, a deal was clenched. You convert the sale back to Rands and come to realize that you have just invested 25 minutes of your time to save R20. Money exchange hands and you are still not sure who got the better deal. It is a good jog for the brain and exciting, but equally tiring.
In a land where there are more people than what there are seemingly work for, job creation seems necessary I guess. Most sight-seeings followed this pattern; you buy the entrance ticket, 5 metres later someone wants to punch a hole in it, 5 metres on someone wants to tear off a corner and then for good measure someone later-on wishes to stamp you ticket (or what is left of it) as well. Deep into the palace/museum/mausoleum/whatever randomly some official wishes to see your battered ticket. My good man, how do you think I got here? I sky-dived in? What sort of job satisfaction can these employees possibly have? Yet they do not seem unhappy or ungrateful.
The pinnacle of job creation seems to be at airports. No less than 11 people engaged with us, our tickets, luggage or passports on Chennai airport. The first touch point was outside the airport (you must show your tickets and passports before you are allowed to enter the building) and the very last, a perplexed stewardess reading off my boarding pass my seat number back to me. I can read too. They check the pass actually just to confirm that you are on the correct flight (and not boarding the wrong plane), but telling me my seat number just feels to me like you are sadistically sentencing me to an uncomfortable seat in the poor class of the plane. I also suspect they deliberately let you walk through the better classes, just to dent your self esteem and confirm your insignificance.
As a smoker I know flying with a lighter is problematic, as I can hijack the plane with it, right? It is up there with tweezers. Land this plane right now, or I trim your eyebrows. Job creation however does not equate to higher levels of productivity or effectiveness (nor efficiency!). With about 6 metres to go before we board the plane, there was a make shift baggage check point (the third one thus far for the day) and it was only here that my lighter and a box of matches was confiscated. He did such a poor job, that I still boarded with another lighter (plan B) and a box of matches (plan C).
(Please don’t judge me for wearing Crocs. In a country like India it is extremely practical, as you rinse them every night. Plus, it being plastic, you are allowed to wear them at most tourist attractions … if you wear leather products, you sometimes need to leave your shoes/sandals outside.)
Continue reading India – part 4 (of 5).