Saturday, July 25, 2009
Comparing India and Thailand
A visit to Thailand takes the Indian aback because .......
Thais behave as Europeans do.Traffic is disciplined, Bangkok has evening jams as bad as those in Bombay. But these are silent jams, people do not honk. Cars remain in their place, moving forward when their turn comes.
Because there is trust ..... In India the trust is missing and, that is why, so is the discipline.
The third difference is the approach to work. Thais do things themselves, as people do in the west. But there is also, unlike India, a culture of equality of work.....a comfort with one's status in life that is not there in our culture.
The fourth difference is cleanliness. Thais are one of the cleanest races in the world. India do not have a very appreciative sense of hygiene with the sole exception of Kerala which is probably the only state in India known for its cleanliness, both personal and public, Bangkok lives outdoors and life spills out onto the street at all times of the day. Few families cook at home, and so most meals -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- are had in stalls on the streets. Despite this, roads are always clean. There is also hygiene: the vendor of fruit on the street cuts and serves it without ever touching it with his hands.
Most toilets anywhere in the country, city, town, village, airport, restaurant, will not just be clean, they will be polished and fragrant. ....The culture is not me-versus-the-world, as it is in India where, outside our homes, we leave a place dirty because someone else will clean it up and we are not coming back to it.
The fifth thing we notice is respect for the individual and for personal space. And the knowledge that the individuals space must not be intruded upon physically or mentally without apology. To see it so entrenched in Thailand is puzzling.......their civic behaviour is not the result of a process of modernisation, as it would be in India, but inherent to the culture.
This is a most difficult thing for the Indian to swallow....Thais will wait a few steps away from someone talking to another person, and approach only when the other is disengaged. This ability to see people as individuals means that there is politeness of a sort that takes the Indian aback.
On a visit a few years ago, a woman whose village shop I was in was approached by a beggar, who was tattered and bleeding. She did not give him any money, but spoke to him with the same politeness and respect that she showed me...
Once, I heard the raised voice of an irritated customer in the showroom asking the saleswoman not to play games over the discounts available. It was a woman in an Indian group, of course, and I fled -- in embarrassment at the woman's behaviour but also in shame because I knew that it could just as easily have been me: that is how we behave with sellers. No Thai behaves like that. It means that there is something within Thai culture that makes them civilised, but what?
Could it be Buddhism, the dominant feature of Thai culture? If it is, then the message Thais absorbed from that religion is very different from the one absorbed in India, the source of Buddhism.
Thai culture is spectacularly aesthetic, and, unlike India's, fully engaged with nature. Flower pots have clear water, aquatic plants and little fish. The fish, I realised, also ate up mosquito larvae.
Architecture is first rate, whether the house owner is rich, middle-class or peasant. In Bombay you could spend a million dollars (Rs4.5 crore) buying an apartment and the building would look like rubbish.
Thailand's infrastructure is 30 or 40 years ahead of India's and, if anything, I find the gap increasing each visit.Thailand's per capita income is four times higher than India's, and its income distribution is superior.
India has a great religious heritage and one of the world's finest artistic cultures, deep and wide, from Indo-Persian to Carnatic, and we are justly proud of it. But an unemotional observation of our civilisation will reveal how it is also different, and wanting. We could tell ourselves, as Naipaul has, that we had something superior once which was disturbed by foreign invasion.
But the evidence for that is thin. The parts of India that have not been touched by colonisation are actually primitive. And there is nothing noble or civilised in the way that these communities live: the life of people in these villages is as short and as brutal as those of animals.
The best of India, intellectually, culturally and civilisationally is in its towns and cities, not its villages. And when we compare our cities and our civic behaviour with those of the world we are humbled by our mediocrity.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
It may be because we had appointed a shipping agent to do all the work for us including clearing the goods. I still had to be there in person when the 20' container was opened and examined. I am amazed at the number of boxes, 141, that were stuffed in to the container by a very skilled group of packers at Bangkok!
I had to pay duty on my TV, the music system and the electric oven.(The cake when baked will be a little more expensive!) No issues as I knew that duty was levied on electrical goods, but was very happy to see that my computer was cleared duty free. We could have got away, that is how we view our little game with the customs, with a refrigerator and a washing machine, no duty is levied on them on a transfer of residence. But we had decided to buy them here in India.
The real surprise was that I had to pay duty on the golf clubs, that too at a whopping 35%. I had no idea that sports goods, even used ones would be charged duty. Golf clubs are treated as a luxury in spite of the fact that every golfer would swear that his life depended on it.
A few were surprised that I paid duty at all as I was on a transfer of residence, that too after 21 years! They said that I had obviously not presented my case well and aggressively with the customs and had given up too easily!
In case of the golf clubs, they felt, but did not say in so many words, that I was down right stupid to have paid any duty at all. I could have brought it in as my baggage when I flew in and it was easy to get it through with out paying any duty. Very true!
As I write this I wonder about this universal attitude against paying customs duty. Even normally honest persons think nothing of deceiving the customs guys! If we get to talking about it over a drink, you will be surprised to hear the many stories of deception practised to avoid paying customs duty.
I even asked a few 'why did they have to cheat the customs as it were!' Their reply usually is: 'why should we pay when we know that it is not going to be used for any good purpose by these corrupt politicians?' Could arguably be true!
I would also say well done, only if the saved duty went to some good purpose, like a charity or towards school fees of a deserving poor student. Wait a minute! That is in addition to what you normally do towards charity!
Monday, July 13, 2009
First, I paid the water bill. This was a cinch as I had to just walk across. I reached the collection booth in about a minute. An attendant came forward immediately and helped me feed the money into a machine and I was done in less than a minute. He even advised me to pay by cheque next time as I could pay the exact amount and could just drop the cheque!
Then I had this electricity bill to take care. I hailed an auto asked him to take me to the nearest office where I could pay my electricity bill. He said he had a rough idea where it was and said he would take me there.
We believe that the time (galige) you start from home is very important. Obviously I chose the right time today.
The driver found the place after asking a few people for directions on the way, he even got out of the auto to inquire! A real polite and helpful guy. He even gave me the change back and was happy with the small tip I gave him. There were only four people at the booth and I was done in about 3 minutes. Many opt for ECS scheme now, a direct deduction from your bank account, hence there is no real rush at the booths. I collected a form, a mandate, which will enable me to pay my next bill through ECS.
Then I had requested a friend of ours to call a plumber to come to my vacant apartment in Malleswaram. The painters who were working there had informed me that there was a leak in one of the taps. The plumber promised to be there at around 11 am and he was there right on time, in fact 5 minutes earlier. He fixed the leaky tap in about 15 minutes and was very reasonable with his charges for the work. An unbelievable day!
Next, I had an appointment with my Income Tax consultant and before meeting him I needed to collect form 16a from one of the banks with details of Tax deducted at source. I reached the bank by 12.45 and was done in again 5 minutes. A form was printed and signed and delivered to me with a smile.
I probably should wear the same clothes next time. May be it was my T shirt!
I reached the consultants office almost on time and we soon filled up the returns and up loaded them on-line. (The server did not hang!) It took a little longer with all the details that needed to be filled up. This also included a phone call to Tara for some details. Thank god for the cell phone and more thanks to him that she had carried the phone and responded. She rushed home and gave me the details over phone and we filed the Tax returns as planned.
Then I remembered that I had to buy rail tickets for my trip up north in September and again I walked to a shop just opposite to our house and was done again in 10 minutes. I could do it from home once I get my credit cards organised. It could have been even faster, but the girl at the desk took time off to attend to one more customer who seemed to be in a real hurry and she accommodated him and I chose to ignore the interruption! (A miracle as I do object if people butt in and they do it all the time!)
Then Tara said let us go to the Saibaba temple and I said yes. As we were waiting in a queue of 6 people at the temple, a group of girls formed a secondary queue and butted into our queue. Saibaba tells us to be patient and I was patient with the impatient girls who could not wait. May be they were getting late and had to be home on time!
Friday, July 10, 2009
You must be wondering what I am up to here! Well thanks to Laksminarayan and Raji we had a dramatic change of scene yesterday away from carpenters, painters and so on!
Lakshmi was invited for this do at the Royal Orchid's by its owner Mr. Baljee, a very nice hotel with great ambiance and he included us as his guests. He only knew that it was a music program with Mahesh Bhat.
We later found out that it was a preview of music of Mukesh Bhat's movie Jashnn, claimed by the producers to be a movie 'For every Nobody who wants to be a Somebody'. Anyway I have no plans to be a 'somebody'.
Lakshmi is 'always on time', part of his German culture and a rare quality among us Indians, so we were there at 7.40 pm, a bit late by his standards, but it was Friday traffic! We were ushered in to small hall which was empty. It was also too cold for us ex-Bangkokian's, so we walked out and in to the garden and it still felt cold. Bangalore weather is really amazing. We need to wear warmer clothes till we get acclimatised.
As we saw that the hall was getting slowly filled, we went back and took our seats. We then waited (Of course!) for the Chief Guest Mahesh Bhat. We were served cocktails as well as snacks that were veg and tasty. The spicy peas were, I am sure, from Bangkok! We later had an excellant buffet dinner outside the hall.
The show was on as soon as Mahesh Bhat arrived, about an hour and half later, and I was impressed by his fluent speech in English. Then all the actors spoke in turn, also in English, and they did well! I specially liked the way Shahana held her own as an actor and did not go 'jee-jee' all the time while acknowledging the great support they received from Mahesh Bhat. I did not see anyone touching Mahesh's feet!
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Notice the small cottage in the center? That is the quarters for the gardner. He has probaly one of the best locations in K P West with an open access to the garden!
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Today the weather was just glorious! As I had planned to meet Col Murthy at Malleswaram in the morning, I thought let me walk up to his place. This is a walk I could probably do blindfolded 55+ years ago and without thinking about the alternatives! Not that I had many, I could go on my bicycle or a take a bus (a no-no!).
It was not too bad until I reached the main road connecting to the linking road excepting that the two wheelers were riding on the wrong side of the road and practically aiming at me! It was a bit puzzling as there was not much traffic on this cross road. Heavy traffic is the time when two wheelers go berserk and weave thru' the traffic as if possessed and tempt fate. As I walked down it became clear to me. The other side of the road was full of pot holes and added to that was a speed bump across the road. For some reason the speed bump is designed with a gap at one end of the road and the very clever two wheeler riders take advantage of this design. Who can blame them as I guess that they would be already late for whatever they intended to do and they need to speed up no matter what!
It was something else when I reached the main road, while the rains are still elusive, the torrent of traffic was relentless and non stop. I saw a slip of a girl somehow weave thru this (I saw one car driver who was taken unawares by her shouting at her!) and I felt tempted to imitate her as I saw no hopes the traffic yielding to a pedestrian. Very sensibly a slightly younger person waiting patiently along with me, restrained me with these words in kannada 'Why be hasty, 2 or 3 minutes wait is not that long!'
He was right, not that the traffic stopped for us, but got a little lighter so that we could take a more reasonable risk while crossing over to the other side. I saw no change in the traffic flow and realised that it is better and safer to take ride in an auto did exactly that!
A pity as the weather really wonderful for a walk! I am now looking forward to my next weeks golf where it is not as crowded and I do get to walk reasonably safe except on hole no 1. (That is another story!)