There is an interesting post over on Our Delhi Struggle in that puts words to something I have felt since I got here. In India it seems, there are lots of people whose job it is to run errands and just plain do your chores for you.
I’ve wondered what it really is that bothers me so much about this.
Western countries are not as egalitarian as the ideals that we are ingrained with, but this “peon” system seems to show a systematic lack of respect. One is the boss. He orders the other around. Often – usually in fact – the “boss” is not very respectful of the other’s dignity.
I’ve seen this a few times where upper-class Indians have been less than respectful towards our driver. A neighbor of mine talked about him in the third person as if he were a pet while he was standing right there. Wrenzo is a good man and deserves better. Sure, he is a working class, self confessed “rowdy chap” and not a refined whatever. That does not mean that he deserves to be treated disrespectfully.
Simply treating them as equals in the western sense does not go over so well though and it caused more than one cultural faux paus on my part.
The worst was when we were at Bandipur. While there, we stayed in a safari lodge. There is a beautiful gazebo where meals are served. It also has the water filter. Wrenzo wanted to refill his water bottle and had walked up to the gazebo to refill it at the filter. We were in the gazebo with other guests at the time, watching a film on leopards. Wrenzo loitered in the nearby shadows, probably waiting for everything to be over so that he could refill his bottle. We saw him and waved him over since it would be awkward not to.
Then came time for dinner.
We asked him if he wanted to have dinner with us. It would be impolite not to ask. He accepted. In retrospect, this was probably more out of politeness than anything else. The servers challenged his presence. I asked for his dinner to be added to our tab. The headwaiter accepted, but I noticed something…
I noticed that it was an awkward situation. Now if I, a foreigner from a low context culture, notice that the situation is awkward, it must have been extremely awkward for all the Indians involved. You just don’t have dinner with your driver in a restaurant it seems. There is even a sign in the clubhouse here in Palm Meadows that drivers are not allowed in.
I wonder what story prompted that sign.