Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why We Are The Way We Are

Over a period of time and after numerous airport visits I have realized that the one thing that doesn’t work is picking up a book at the airport book stall and hoping to finish it by the end of the journey. Nevertheless, after waking up this morning with a stiff neck and realizing that during this travel, I may not be able to carry out my favorite airport pastimes of reading items on my Google reader, watching the news on airport television or talking on the phone since all these activities in a way require some unrestricted neck movement, I decided to pick up a book from the Higginbothams book store at the Chennai airport.

Among the books that caught my attention and displayed well enough to beg being picked up were, ‘The Automatic Millionaire’ – something I have been wanting to read for a very long time, ‘Emotional Intelligence’ – after the rave reviews from my boss and about how it is going to help me on my next assignment and ‘The New Age of Innovation’ – just because I saw some posters on campus!

After long consideration, past experience and an acknowledgment of my own habits I decided to pick up a rather unusual but seemingly interesting book. ‘Games Indians Play’ – Titled close to the old psychological classic and the brief introduction on the back cover of the book was enough to provide a brief of the contents of this book. But would this book do justice to what each one of us felt about India and about ourselves as Indians? I wasn’t yet sure about that.

Not for long did my apprehension remain unanswered. This is what I read on page 7 – the second page of the first chapter.

' Why do I spit with a free will, as if without that one right I would be a citizen of a lesser democracy? Why do I tear off a page from a library book, or write my name on the Taj Mahal?... Why do I run the tap full blast while shaving even when I know of the acute water shortage in the city? Why don't I stop or slow down my car to allow a senior citizen or a child to cross the road? Why do I routinely jump out of seat in a mad rush for the overhead baggage even before the aircraft comes to a halt, despite the repeated entreaties of the cabin crew? Why do I routinely disregard an airline's announcement to board in orderly groups in accordance with seat numbers? Why does it not hurt my national pride that in international terminals abroad extra staff is appointed at gates from which flights to India are to depart? ... Why do I jump red lights with the alacrity of a jackrabbit leaping ahead of a buckshot? Why do I block the left lane, when my intention is to turn right? Or vice versa? Why do I overtake from the left? Why do I drive at night in the city with the high beam on? Why do I jump queues with the zest of an Olympic heptathlon gold hopeful?'

-Excerpt ‘Games Indians Play’ by V. Raghunathan; Chapter 1, Page 7-8

This last statement ‘jumping queues’ – as much as it catches the attention of the author deeply saddens me as I recognize the truth in it. After a fateful twist of events preceded by a goof up by the travel agent, I was forced to take a rather late Indian Airlines (or Air India like the way they call themselves now) flight back home. During the 10 minutes wait to reach the agent at the check-in counter there were three passengers in my own queue who insolently decided to join the queue mid-way (by mid-way, I mean right at the point after the current passenger was being serviced). After being reminded in an increasingly impatient way, they sheepishly walked to their rightful place after admitting that they hadn’t noticed the queue. The scene was worse at the adjoining queue which seemed to move relatively fast and hence attracted more queue oblivious passengers.

This takes us back to the questions that V. Raghunathan rightfully poses. I have some more to add to that list. Why do we tend to go directly to the counter without even bothering to find out if there are others waiting? Why do we peep into the book/ laptop of the stranger next to us? How come we never listen to flight announcements and wait for the stewardess to remind us to not recline our seats during take-off and landing? How come we automatically tend to adhere to rules and regulations when in a foreign country and how come these very rules and regulations become our right to break when in our own country?

A few pages later, the author moves on to more serious issues such as the leaps in economic and infrastructure development made by other countries over short periods of time and how we are still bragging about the invention of the zero and the Harappan civilization. As I read this it doesn’t escape me that the headlines being beamed over all news channels at the airport is about the trust vote that is rocking the parliament and the politics that is playing out at the cost of the country’s development. The front page of today’s ‘Chennai Times’ carries two articles side by side – The shaky UPA government which is split on the issue of the nuclear deal and another about the city plunging into darkness for a few hours every week due to the shortage of power. The scene is worse in the city of Bangalore which already plagued with crumbling infrastructure issues is also being subjected to 4-5 hours power cuts in a day. In the face of crisis like this, you would expect the country’s politicians to consider the trust vote as one that decides whether the nuclear deal is important to India’s development or not. But no my dear sir, our dear Mr. Siddiqui shifted loyalties this morning from the UPA (and hence nuclear deal) supporting SP camp to the ‘Mayawati-will-one-day-become-our-Prime-Minister’ supporting BSP camp. And his reasoning ‘Nuclear deal is anti-muslim’… and how did he come to that conclusion? Because ‘America wants us to sign the nuclear deal’ and ‘America is anti-muslim’. A=B and A=C, hence B=C.

Mr. Siddiqui is just one of those numerous politicians who play these games. The BJP is no less is putting its own party and ideals before that of the country. Its eagerness to see the UPA fail so that it can take the nuclear deal forward when elected to power in the next elections and hence add the feather to its cap is so damn obvious.

I love how the book is going so far. And before you jump to conclusions, V. Raghunathan is the not the ‘I-crib-about-India-thankfully-I-don’t-live-here’ types. While he has traveled and taught abroad, over the past couple of years he has been working in senior management positions in India. Currently he serves the Corporate Social Responsibility wing of a very ‘Indian’ infrastructure major that is weaving magic across airports in India and the world (and for those of you about to grin at that… no, I didn’t know it before I picked up the book).

Right now I am at that juncture in the book where the author beckons the reader to read on only if he/she finds truth is all that is said so far. I don’t know how the book is going to end, but I know it speaks the truth not in a judgmental or haranguing manner but in a logical way with the usage of concepts such as game theory and behavioral economics. While we all acknowledge that a solution cannot be found overnight, whether even a micro-solution is in sight is what I await from this book.

1 comment:

Poornima said...

ha! happy coincidences, and yeah i did grin for that...