Monday, October 18, 2010

People, Perspective and Transition

"You told me you both belong to same country and same city" inquired the Philippine guy I and a friend met at the Los Angeles Metro rail station few years ago.

My friend and I decided to visit Universal Studios in Hollywood and were looking at the route map in the Metro station when we noticed a guy who seemed to be looking for the same destination. We introduced ourselves and got talking. He was working for a shipping company and he said he was the Captain. We told about our work and that we worked for the same firm and belonged to the same city in India.

He asked this question when she(my friend) and me were communicating with each other in English. We answered in affirmative to which he asked again "Then why are you two talking in English? You can talk to each other in your common language". The fact was that she and me did belong to the same city and we did have 3 common languages between us - English, Hindi and Kannada; though our native tongues were different. Yet both of us were very comfortable and fluent in English and thats why we used English to communicate.

Now to explain this to this person was difficult. He was like "When we meet people of our country, we speak in our local language. Why do you guys use a foreign language to communicate?" Now boy!! how do we explain that this was one language we could express ourselves well than our local language? He was not able to understand. I told him - Do you want to understand the meaning of Diversity? Come to India :-)

I have learnt that people are really good. Its just few insane rules and laws of the land set by group of selfish folks that has resulted in misunderstandings and incorrigible differences. Why am I saying this? As I was writing this post; I recalled an incident when I seemed to have got lost. This was 5 years ago. I was loitering outskirts of a town in the Bay area; and I lost my way. I didnt carry a phone then. I had to get back to my hotel. I didnt know what to do; whom to ask for help. A flea market nearby; all the shop keepers were busy packing for the day. I just approached a man and asked him if he could help me find a nearest bus stop or if I could use his phone to call a cab. He offered to drop me to my hotel. I was apprehensive in the beginning but sometimes; you need to trust people. On the way; he told me that he was a Pakistani and he guessed right that I was an Indian. It was a pleasant surprise the way the man treated me; respect and care. Long lost siblings? He talked about how much he likes Indian movies and he has few Indian friends. He was feeling sad for state of affairs between the two countries. My perspective changed a great deal that day. I can never ever forget that guy and his help.


Mark is an American. He is a driver with the hotel I generally stay in the Bay area. We have small talks whenever we meet and recall the incidents of my earlier trips. He got married in the year 1982 and I told I wasnt born then. He told me that he felt too old now :-P We were discussing about how public transport is in the Bay area and he was curious to know how it was in India. When I mentioned about people hanging off the bus and traveling sitting on the roof; he was shocked. Repeatedly asking me with curiosity - "Really?"  But what he confessed made me ask him "Really?" It seems the last time he rode a bus was in the 60s. :-|

American way of life people!!

 A young lady managing a shop in Costa Rica figured out I was an Indian. She told me how she watched an Indian soap that is aired every week. She was curious to know if everyone of us here dressed so rich and colorful. She asked me was it true that parents decide on their child's marriage and also choose the girl/boy to marry. I said yes. She was like "How can that be possible". I went at length explaining the concept of "marriage is between families" in India. When I left the shop, I could see her stunned with a gaping mouth :-)

THE TRANSITION - I am undergoing few behavioral changes now that I am back in India.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do!!

From smiling at strangers to keeping my face grim and suspicious. Else I will be under suspicion that I am trying to fool them to something by my charming smile!!

From wishing a guy a "Hello" to put my head down and walk away as soon as I can. Else; forget "Hi"; a mere look at a guy is enough to send wrong signals here in India.

From greeting "Hi, how are you doing today" at a store to straight down to "Get me the menu" with a cold stare.

From mentioning "Thank you, You have a great one" to keeping mum and going my way as no one acknowledges a Thank you. It happened with the rickshaw driver today. He gave me a queer look when I thanked him :-S

From waiting for the Ped cross signal and crossing the road at designated crossing to jay walking. Else you can never cross the road; walk across even when vehicles run amok as if you are invisible and challenge them if they can hit you; my body is made of steel :-P

From hearing to "Let me be fair" to "Can you take care of me please. Will process it faster for you" - Bribes!!

From standing in queue to barging in.

From walking in an organized way to nudging and pushing making way.

From giving right of way at YIELD to steering way ahead almost knocking off other vehicles.

From walking peacefully on the walk path to walking cautiously so as to not to fall inside a opened manhole.

Let me wrap up with this series of incidents. Dubai to Bangalore flight had only Indians. The pushing and jostling started right there in Dubai. People were rushing as if they wont get seats in flight! I had to politely ask a woman to watch her way and when most were doing the same, I gave up. Next were the commanding behavior by few passengers.


A foreign couple were finding it difficult to fill the immigration form. They approached a staff for help. He redirected them to someone who wanted "currencies" (dollars/euro) . Aaah, what a first impression of our country and people.

The immigration officer invites people with a cold stare and suspicious look; making visitors feel "Oh I am sorry I am here". No smiles, no greetings, ask few stupid questions; make themselves feel important and treat visitors as if they criminals. What about "Welcome to India. Have a nice stay here". Wont the visitors feel happy and comfortable that they are at the right place? Instead make them feel apprehensive and paranoid!

Clear immigration, come to customs. Inspect, inspect, inspect just to flick some more "currencies" or flick some nice stuff they seem to like. A police at the customs requested a passenger to get him 2 bottles of liquor from duty free; he thrust $100 in his hand. I could see that he had wads of dollars.

Clear customs and come to the baggage claim. When your baggage arrives, someone offers to help you lift it off the carousel. Just nudges as if he is helping; when all he does is just touch the baggage and it was you who really lifted it. You try to show some gratitude by tipping. Offer him INR; oops! "Ma'am give me some currencies" is what you hear. When you say him to make do with INR 50; he says "Thanks, you keep it".


  1. Nice post. At this young age, you have met various kinds of people. Excellent experience for you. I envy.

    You mentioned exactly what we experience at the Indian airports. If I write, some people will say I have thimir (I don’t know how to translate that in English) coming from USA.

  2. Personal experience articulated so well.

    FYI, I don't make any change in myself when I visit India. It works for me but I agree it is different for females. :)

  3. well written
    the guy is far away from the concept of global village.
    like the pic.

  4. Our perceptions get a wild shock only when we travel and are observant.You pointed out quite a few idiosyncrasies unique to the Indian psyche, be it a guy from Mararashtra, West Bengal or Kerala.

    I do not hold the view that it is perfect in other countries. There is still a considerable racial superiority feeling in Germany and America is not still ,( at least a section) reconciled to the fact that coloured skin are here to walk with them.
    The painful irritant that I notice in us is the inconsiderate attitude to another's privacy.Then talking about the customs , immigration etc etc one will have to write a post .

  5. different countries and different perspectives.

    I remember in the height of Swine Flu, the chinese made people through thermal scanners, personally xrayed people, quarantined every tourist !

    In India, we did something fantastic. Asked them to sign a form, which declared they didnt have swine flu !

    Simple no ?

    Anyways, wonderful perspectives on your travel ! Thanks for sharing

  6. SG,

    Yeah I consider myself very lucky as well :-)

    Experience has enriched me a lot. Dont envy :-)

    No, no people who observe know what happens at Indian airports.

  7. A,


    Glad it works for you. So you dont have problem walking on footpaths or crossing roads? :-)

    Females; have to change their behavior a lot for sure!

  8. anil,


    Not at all; we dont have a perfect situation in any country. Be it the USA or England or the Far East. There are bits of racism strewn everywhere.

    Privacy is the concern here. You got it right. We have not learnt the true meaning of privacy yet. Oh wait; you gave me a topic to write about. Watch out for more :-)

  9. Kavi,

    You should see the immigration and customs forms in India. Its a cheap imitation of the US 1-94 form.

    Talking about scanning people for diseases; it happened with me in Mauritius. My friend got a call from the embassy ordering me to go have a test done for malaria. This was even after mentioning I returned from the USA. They are so strict about the rules and policies.

  10. wow..thats one hell of an experience no?/ Lets not just talk of how GREAT india is [we know that} There is so much we can learn about being hostile and helpful from people there..aint it?

  11. Quite a nice and thoughtful post.. even I get stares from most of the rickshaw drivers when I thank them :-D

  12. Madhu,

    Yup yup! We do learn a lot :-)

  13. Meety,

    Thanks. Hahahaha nice behavior are abnormal for auto drivers! :-)

  14. very good post. Great experiences,very good observation and presentation.If I say 'hugs' will you give me the queer look, the auto wallah gave you?

  15. As ever, a feast for the reader! No denying the facts you mentioned about Indians' behaviour. But a layman like me might be misled to believe that foreigners, esp., Americans are paragons of virtue.

    My knowledge of course, is limited to Hollywood movies. Friends and relatives in US always paint a vaguely beautiful picture of their life there. For their sake, I hope it is so.

    # India was/is/ will not be a single nation on the basis of a shared language, culture or religion. The best we can hope for at present is Cricket.

    # 'Mark' could not have been a black, could he? B, have you seen 'Bowling for Columbine'? I prefer India to that; but of course, we are catching up.

    # Last year I read Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan's 'I am Here', basically because she is the daughter of a highly regarded Malayalam writer, N S Madhavan. Going by that book, urban Indian youth is progressively debauched; so good reason to be hopeful.

    # A friend of mine narrated this a few years ago. He and his Indian friend were travelling by car somewhere in the US. Car broke down and the chauffeur absconded. The two middle - aged men managed to walk a few miles and got to a petrol pump. It was early evening. As soon as they approached the office and said 'excuse me', the guy sitting inside jumped up with a shot gun and screamed to get lost or he will shoot. Of course, it is hearsay.

  16. chitra,

    Thank you. If you say "hugs" I will say "hugs to you too". I wont give you a queer look :-)

  17. Bala,

    Thanks so much, glad you liked the post. No way, there's no one out there who can claim they are paragons of virtue.

    If your friends and relatives paint a beautiful picture of life there, just pray that life is beautiful for them. Trust me; it isnt.

    Yeah, you are right. Mark is not black.

    I have seen "Bowling for Columbine". We can talk at lengths about the fears and the gun culture and how they cant cope up with even simple issues. Indians; on the other hand; take everything light which is not really helping us. We forget and move on. Anyway we are getting closer :-)

    Such weird things do happen; I am always on guard not to invade privacy of people as they treasure it so much!

  18. I have been out of the country only once and that was to Germany. We did not get smiles at the counter there though we had small kids with us. We flew via Doha which was like any of the Indian Bazaars. People of all ages, several pieces of luggage - a melee but the whole surrounding exuded a warmth.

  19. hey,

    #this is THE longest post I have ever read on the blog-o-sphere,that too with patience and a smile . Interesting one indeed.

    #reading about Mark, I remember when once I was placed over the top of the bus and once hanged just by the door side. ;)

    #all these behavioral changes appears familiar but we don't realize such things till we hear it from the 3rd party.
    Interesting observations.

  20. You've been many places, seen many people. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of the kind of people you've met and understood. And the transition phase / behavioural changes that you've listed, sounds funny, but saddens me immensely (truth hurts!).

    Why is it that we behave in this way in our own homeland and become well-behaved citizens of the world, anywhere else in the world, I fail to understand!

    I was born and brought up in India. I smile at neighbours and say hello, but get the cold stare or indifferent glance in return. I say thank you after an auto ride or any other service. Sometimes, I get a smile / welcome in return, but only sometimes. I try to follow the lane, whatever there is (we don't have a clear division of lanes down here) and refrain from honking unless absolutely necessary. I'm totally against bribery - giving & taking. And such small courtesies that don't take much of an effort, but makes a difference (however small it may be).

    If I can do this, and so can you and many others, why are we not able to present this picture as a country?

  21. Holy Lama,

    Germany is one country known to have discrimination and rude behavior on that charts. Warmth is welcome; but jostling, pushing and cold stares are NO NO :-)

  22. Anurag,

    Thank you so much. Your first statement made me apprehensive; but glad that you didnt find it boring.

    Hahaha, I did tell Mark about our commute in India. He was shocked and surprised.

    Yeah, these are all there all around; we just have to observe :-)

    Thanks so much.

  23. vallah...gr8 experiences...abt customs at the's a shame..hope more bloggers expose such unscrupulous officers..

  24. RGB,

    My pleasure. Just want to share with readers my experiences and perceptions.
    The transition phase - I intentionally listed them in a funny way; though its not. What to do?

    You end up being a fool; I have actually ended up like a fool so many times with my very good etiquette. They dont let us behave good in our own place.

    How many times I have been treated indifferently for failing to throw trash on roads? Or failing to jay walk? or failing to leave without thanking. I am said I am acting plastic!!

    I was just joking yesterday that we Indians dont understand the concept of Straight Line. We always zig-zag!!

    It doesnt take any effort to behave this way; but we have been fed by the idea that being rebel and breaking rules is cool!! What to do!

  25. Ramesh,

    Thank you. Yeah please share such experiences with us if you encounter :-)

  26. interesting incidences :)
    so many different kinds of people you have met :)

  27. Rajlakshmi,

    Thanks. Yeah it gets interesting!

  28. Airports are always a torture, traffic is a mess, I wish we had the system of press the button, to ask them to stop and let us cross in peace like in other countries ;)... you just put it so well.

    The captain incident: I've always felt irritated when same language speakers meet and begin talking their tongue in front of the non-native speaker/s. I find it only courtesy to involve the non-speakers in a conversation if we are in a group and not let them feel ignored! It's like saying you have the freedom of expression but you also have the duty not to disturb others with your loud prattle!!

    It's a mix, I would say about the people you meet... these days autowallas give a charming smile, sometimes a welcome when I say thank you for their service :)

  29. great know, I have missed a flight once as people of chennai didn't cooperate cos I didn't know Tamil..and this man helped you..amazing :)

    I always thank the autowala or's a habit..i don't care what kinda look he gives..thank you just comes out :)

  30. I have traveled to many places ,but haven't faced the kind of questions I faced at Trivandrum.It is clearly written on my passport that my profession is a doctor,and any fool would know I flew in from Dubai.Still,every time I face the same questions..What is your job? Where are you coming from? And then a suspicious look as well ,like you said.They act as if they are showing you some kind of mercy letting you in.This is stupid and crazy.As if they have some kind of vendetta.The only reason I could find was that( I am sorry if it appears rude and unkind) many of these immigration staff were scheduled caste or so from their looks.
    There is discrimination every where.In Dubai they discriminate you by giving different channels for Asians and Europeans.But,at least,no one has asked such stupid questions.My son told me that he was questioned for about an hour when he went to the US.Finally he said,he is not interested to go in and wanted to go back.
    It is unfortunate.But we carry our nationality on our faces. Wherever you go and live,you are still an Indian and cannot hide it.

  31. pinashpinash,

    Welcome to B Log :-)

    Oh I dont know which part of India you are from. But the ped cross button exists in Bangalore. The first one was installed in the year 2007.

    Guess what? It didnt work out here. The button and the signal was never considered; pedestrians didnt use it; people on vehicles didnt respect it either. You dont need such buttons if people cooperate! Dont you think so?

    Cooperation and adjustment are things that we cant expect in this country. Exactly, it is rude to speak in a language unknown to others in a group. But the Captain was overwhelmed with our diversity in language and he couldnt comprehend how people from same place converse in English even after having common languages between them.

    You are lucky to have met such nice auto wallahs. :-)

    Thanks so much for your views. Keep visiting.

  32. Thanks Neha. Yeah, as I keep telling, there is no worse racism anywhere else in the world than what we find in India. Here; we are biased on language, caste, religion, sub-caste, community, color, regionalism......and so on.

    Thats nice. I dont even bother to hunt for their reaction anymore; I just say thanks and leave :-)

  33. dr.anthony,

    Right said. They behave as if they are doing a great deal by letting us inside the country. And all those stupid questions; doubting what we claim regarding nature of work and profession irritates me further.

    Maybe they have that personal grudge or sadistic pleasure by torturing travelers.

    Be an Indian, have an American passport and then look at the treatment you receive :-P What to do; its pathetic state of affairs for us.

  34. There are in Bangalore, oh! it's been a long time since I stepped into that city :) But if people don't cooperate, there's no use.. agree

  35. pinashpinash,

    You should visit Bangalore. I am sure you will be overwhelmed.!

    Its exploding.

  36. The experiences you've had and the people you've met! Must say you have been lucky :)

  37. Destiny's child,

    Yeah, I consider myself very lucky. And considering the number of years to go; its a nice feeling.

  38. scarlet pimpernel,

    Thanks so much. Glad you liked it

  39. walk across even when vehicles run amok as if you are invisible and challenge them if they can hit you; my body is made of steel :-P
    this was my favorite. :-)

  40. Gautam,

    :-P Thats what I do each day :-D


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