This is an article, that for some inexplicable reason, hit real deep. Perhaps it's because I'm an old soul, perhaps it's just because I'm Hindostaani... x-x-x-x-x-x Will India lose its charm as it becomes ‘world class’? By Anand Giridharadaas From: The Teheran Times WASHINGTON (New York Times) — “But you haven’t eaten anything! Come, come, you must have something. At least take some bread. Please.” They barely serve peanuts aboard American airlines these days. But just a few years ago, in India, it was not uncommon to encounter flight attendants who took it personally when you did not eat. Their behavior was not that of a pre-programmed employee following a script. It was the universal response of an Indian to an Indian, a horror at the thought that someone in your charge might go hungry. Then the Indian airline industry became what business-book writers label “world class”: it got with the global program, signing on the dotted lines of the contract with modernity. Delays waned. Aerobridges were erected. New airlines were born. Thinner, younger flight attendants were employed. Miniskirts replaced saris. To fly the Indian skies today is to have a perfectly modern experience. But it is not to have a very Indian experience, because they don’t care if you eat anymore. These thoughts stirred as I traveled in America in recent days, on a short break from life in India. Here, of course, the notion of flight attendants’ caring if you eat sounds laughable, since they don’t even serve you food much of the time. And yet it is toward this colder, more detached relationship between customer and employee that India is heading. India has long been a jazz republic, functioning without a written score. People involve themselves in each other’s lives without regard to propriety or privacy. They insist on feeding you even when you want nothing. They insist on paying a price other than the price listed. They pack as many cars onto a road as possible, without regard to the painted lanes. They pay as little tax as they can get away with. If you call Domino’s after closing time, you can sometimes cajole them to reopen and deliver a pizza anyway. Everything is a negotiation; everything is improvised. Things are a “no” in India until they are a “yes.” But a kind of modernity is coming to India, with a Western emphasis on regimentation and formalization. The flight attendants now walk down the aisles carrying out their detailed training, offering food if you want it, moving on if you don’t. A new breed of companies resists hiring the cousins and friends of senior managers; they insist on children’s educating themselves and working hard in order to inherit the family business. More and more people faithfully pay their taxes. And yet now when I visit America, where I grew up until moving to India six years ago, I wonder if this is where India is bound: a society that is fairer and more ordered, but in which something of the warmth of improvisation is gone. It is especially visible in customer-service relationships. In India, those relationships are often hierarchical and tinged by a blend of fear and reverence in the service giver’s eyes. But India has not yet crossed that line beyond which such transactions lose their human aspect. Moving through America, I was struck again and again by the superficial politesse and underlying coldness of so many customer-service moments. In restaurants, the waiters have become performers, not merely hosts seeking to tend to a guest: “May I ask if it’s your first time dining with us? Wow! Well, it’s wonderful to have you here. Can I begin by telling you about our wonderful specials?” And then the sparkling-or-still-water dilemma, and the practiced Disappointed Look when you want tap water. And the 50-percent-too-elaborate “Are you finished enjoying that?” Language was invented to connect us, but it sometimes drives us apart. You see it, too, when you fly. There are the airport-security officials who grimace at you with a “What? You think you’re better than me?” face when you ask them to replenish the stack of trays. Or you finish your glass of water on a flight, and now you wonder about asking the flight attendant, who is now just moving forward to the next row, for a refill. She might do it; but she might, glaring at you in the manner of a headmistress, tell you that she has to serve other customers first and that she will get to you, sir, thank you very much. And she is right, in a way. Why should you drink twice before others drink once? The attendant’s fidelity to her training is impeccable. But one senses something robotic at work, cutting between what are, at the day’s end, just two human beings. And yet, with India as the foil, one can see a deeper meaning in the brusqueness and coldness. So much of this behavior seems intended to draw a red line of dignity around the individual, to declare to the world that she is somebody whom no one can push around, that no one is better than anyone else. But which is more real, this cold dignity or India’s warm servility? In my six years there, India has begun to go the formal way. An oversweet, artificial politesse is audible now on certain airlines and customer-service calls and in restaurants and bars. The rules, which have long existed in abundance in India, are no longer things to be broken. People seek space for themselves and give space to others. They fuss less and less over others, including over whether they have eaten. And one wonders whether, as modernity comes, India will lose a certain warmth, a certain tender involvement of everyone in everyone. Is the warmth that lingers just a product of this stage of history, residually feudal and agrarian and poor, a stage from which India will eventually move on? Is destiny the barrier between us? tehran times : Will India lose its charm as it becomes ?world class??