Saturday, 27 July 2013

When people eulogise the West for scientific advancements, the computer and the internet, I don’t turn around and say “But we gave the world the zero!”
When Rajnath Singh denounces the use of English, I don’t take to the streets in my saffron robes in support.
I don’t blame all of society’s ills from corruption to violence against women to inflation on the insidious Western culture.
But I still don’t understand the transplanting of every Western custom, especially when some of these are not natural fits.
In the West, people refer to each other by their first names. Neighbours, friends’ parents, in-laws. So it’s natural for them to address each other similarly even at work.
Here, everyone who is older gets a familial suffix. People make generous use of Uncles and Aunties. Friends’ parents, parents’ friends, neighbours, shopkeepers, domestic help all get one of the two. Friends’ siblings, younger neighbours, older children of parents’ friends, the children of domestic help have a ‘didi’ or ‘bhaiya’ attached. And even this is the more generic nomenclature in Delhi. In Bengal for instance, mother’s friends would be mama/ mashi, dad’s friends would be pishi/ kaku. Neighbours slightly older to your dad would be Jethu, Jethima; neighbours slightly younger would be kaku/ kakima.
Yet, when we go to work, we are expected to forget all that and address people considerably older by their first names. Why can’t I call someone senior Sir/ Ma’am, why is that so offensive? Such a form of address is not a mark of servility in India, just a mark of respect. Why is professionalism confused so much with Westernisation? Why do people forget context?
Take McDonalds. Every time you go in, a staff member smiles at you, enquires after your well-being (in English) and then proceeds to take your order. I am not arguing against hospitality or good manners. In its initial days, I am sure McDonald got a more niche clientele, but since then things have got more inclusive. The patron more often is not English-speaking (though he/she may be English-understanding and English-reading). The servers too are hardly ever comfortable with the language, beyond the two-three niceties they are expected to mouth. Is this, not then, a cultural imposition?
But while I recognise the importance of context in the above instances, I am sometimes less willing to consider it in others. Feminism, for example. It seems wrong when people talk about how important women are in society, with respect to their position as mother, wife or daughter. Yet, in India, everyone (men and women) are defined according to their relationships with others...So do I suddenly agree with that school of thought?

Just ruminating. 

Friday, 26 July 2013

The 25 Step Guide to Getting Your Passport

1)    Register yourself on the website Download the e-form required to make a fresh application, and skim through it to see the details required. It looks easy enough. So close the form and procrastinate.
2)      Get prodded at work to expedite the process. Rush to complete the form the same day, upload it where it needs to be uploaded.
3)      An appointment with your nearest Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) needs to be scheduled. Make an online payment of the passport fee. Encounter a glitch in the process and panic.
4)      The glitch gets resolved. Relax.
5)      Relax some more as no appointments are available.
6)      Log in the next day, five minutes after the time at which the appointment booking for your PSK starts. All appointments have been taken already.
7)      Next time you try, log in half an hour before the appointment booking starts. Practice the process twice, so that you can be really quick. Succeed at booking appointment, finally. It’s in two days.
8)      Look at the ‘Document Advisor’ link at the website.
i)        Realise that your parents have no idea as to where your birth certificate is, necessary for everyone born after 1989. Begin frantic search.
ii)       Scour the neighbourhood for notaries who can help prepare an affidavit for you, attesting to your address and identity. 9 times out of ten, they also double up as passport touts.
iii)     Rack your brains about Government servants you know, who can vouch for your good moral character, deemed a necessity for those applying under the Tatkal Scheme. The government servant needs to be at least a rank of Undersecretary to the government. Conclude that the only person you know (of), that high up is Umbridge.
iv)     Get your misconceptions corrected. Undersecretary is not that high up.
v)      Appreciate your tardiness in not consulting the Advisor before taking an appointment.
9)      Organise your documents the morning of your appointment. Notice that your father’s name on the character certificate (issued by the government servant), is written incorrectly. Panic.
10)   Rush to the office of the government servant, in the opposite corner of the city. Reach before the peon has unlocked the cabin and the secretary has arrived at her desk.
11)   Hover over the secretary’s computer getting the changes made. Silently will the government servant to hurry up and sign. Shoot down his offers of tea, and make your way to the PSK, again to the other end of the city.
12)   Mentally abuse the driver for following traffic rules.
13)   Reach the PSK 15 minutes late, then pray while in the queue of people waiting to be told whether they have the required documents. Notice people being sent back. Pray more fervently.
14)   Reach the top of the queue after a 45 minute wait. The guy at the counter will ask for a ton of things, none of which were mentioned on the website. Thank God for giving you the sense to carry all the documents (really, all) you accumulated since you were born.
15)   Get approved. Enter the waiting area to await your turn with the passport officers.
16)   Wait.
17)   Wait some more.
18)   Meet the first guy in the process. He will scan your fingerprints, check your details and snark about you being late, conveniently forgetting the three hours you have waited subsequently for the process to begin.
19)   Wait again. Meet the second guy. He will ask to see some of your originals again. As you dive into your folder to extricate them, he will grow impatient, and tell you to let it be. Move to the final stage.
20)   Notice people being sent back even in the third stage, about six hours into the start of the process. You will be too exhausted to worry, just wait your turn.
21)   The guy at the third stage will notice something amiss in your documents. Examine them minutely to find a way out while he threatens to send you back. Succeed at convincing him.
22)   Leave the PSK with a receipt.
23)   Two days later, get a visit from the post-man. He will have your passport. And will want a ‘dakshina’ from you to hand it over. Be humble, do not remind him that he is just doing his job, not granting you a personal favour. Pay up.
24)   Behold your passport.

25) A few days later, you will get a visit from the neighbourhood policeman, as part of the verification process. He will be nice enough, filling up a form, stapling photocopies of your documents together (again not bothering with the originals), refusing offers of tea and water. Then before leaving, he will glance sideways, averting eye contact, and ask with a smile "Kuch denge nahi?"
What can I say, when in India, always pay up.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Second Day at Work

It doesn’t quite register the first day.
You are too worried about whether you have all the documents, that you haven’t gone through all the “Culture at the Workplace” videos diligently enough, that you don’t have an inkling of what the job entails, you don’t have an inkling of what the day entails, that you aren’t good enough, you got through by a fluke, that the job isn’t good enough, it’s going to bore you, maybe academics was your forte.
The second day, the other things seem to matter a little less. You know the set of people you will be spending the day with, and you figure you will worry about the work when it starts. It sounded good when you first heard of it, you couldn’t take another day in the classroom you are now so nostalgic about, these people must have been hiring for years, they wouldn’t take you if you were that undeserving.
With all that sorted in your head, as you enter the gleaming office building, the second day, that’s when it hits you-the happiness, the almost-pride. You have to dig your fingernails into your hand, to prevent yourself from smiling like an idiot, as you go through the glass door, as your heels click smartly on the marbled floor, as others in the elevator notice the tag you are wearing. That’s when it hits you-the pleasure of starting your first job.

(This was written after the second day at work-which was actually a day of training. I didn’t know then that I would spend the two actual working days, after the three-day training period, in a state of perpetual confusion, or that I would be working most of my weekend, again being all confused, and unsure of even whether I was working correctly. But still.)

Saturday, 6 July 2013

My Grist with Western Formals

  • It's the first step by Corporations at homogenising people, throttling overt displays of individuality.
  • A kurta clad, jhola toting individual does not have to be a rabble-rousing commie. So don't give me shaky logic about reflecting 'professionalism'. (Also, anybody who believes that it's the first step by Corporations at homogenising people, does not have to be a rabble-rousing commie)
  • They are shit expensive
  • They are really not suited to the Indian body type. At least to not a person with an Indian body type with curves thrown in at exactly the wrong spots.
  • Related to the previous point, they have a way of making a person with an Indian body type (with curves thrown in at exactly the wrong spots) feel really bad about herself. A Fabindia Medium can barely squeeze into a Van Heusen Extra Large.
  • There is not enough choice for women. (If someone with access to all the brands that post-1991 India has to offer, says this, he/she is definitely not a rabble-rousing commie).