Tag Archives: class

The case of the disappearing workers

In today’s morning paper (The Hindu again), I read something that really shocked me.

In a nutshell: There is a shopping mall tower being built about a mile or so from here. It is a prominent feature of the skyline if I stand on the roof of our house and look towards the East. Yesterday, there was a construction accident when a portion of an upper floor collapsed, triggering a World Trade Center style cascading pancake. Luckily, nobody was killed, but several individuals were injured.

And then they disappeared.

That is right, the company, Prestige Group, a prominent property developer here in Bangalore actually hid the injured workers from the media and police. They claim that all of the workers were given outpatient treatment and then released.

That is simply mind boggling.

In America or Europe, the company’s PR machine would be kicking into overdrive right now, but they would not dare interfere with a police investigation. This would get the CEO of the company sent to jail on obstruction of justice charges and would forever tarnish the company’s reputation. Somehow, the fact that they did this seems to indicate that they feel that there will no repercussions.

So let me say it:

Dear Prestige Group, you disgust me!

Daniela and I have agreed not to go shopping there when it is finished.

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The Pooja – Part II

So the puja was over. Now it was time for everyone to go over to Guru’s house for lunch. We hopped into various vehicles and drove the short distance over to the “house”, which lay down a dirt alley. It was a typical three level concrete box, ringed by concrete balconies, that is used for a house here. The thing is… the house did not belong to them. They had rented it out for the occasion. Was their house too small? Were they simply embarrassed that it was not “good enough” for the expat guests?

Then we were called into the living room to eat. There was a television running, with some cartoon channel on. Why they had a TV on, I’m not sure about. Was it because Indians are all like my mom and just leave the TV on at all times? Or did they want to make us more comfortable by running the TV? It could be the latter. It could also be the former. Back in grad school, we would often go over to eat at the house of one of Daniela’s labmates, a woman from Jaipur. She and her husband also always had the TV on.

We were served lunch, rice with a delicious type of red vegetable stew that I commonly see in budget restaurants when they offer a generic “South Indian menu”. As we ate, Guru’s boss, a German who works for the same company as Daniela and I, told us (in German) that they had to spend about $2000 on bribes in order to start the business; mostly buying the goodwill of the local police inspector so that background checks of potential maids could be carried out in a timely manner. It seems that you have to bribe them ¾ of a year’s salary to get them to do the job that the public is paying them to do.

What I did not notice at the time, but Daniela did, was that only the expats were eating. All of the Indian guests waited outside during this time. I know that often women in conservative Indian families won’t eat until after the menfolk, but I never realized that that this extended to certain categories of guests eating before others. Dani was particularly disturbed by this. Somehow, after being here for a coupel of months, I’m not surprised by it anymore.

The Boss and the Other

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.

Juxtaposition

People in the west sometimes talk about “inequality”. They usually mean something along the lines of “one person is driving an old beater and someone else is driving a new beamer”. There is something to this of course. Humans are by nature competitive and status oriented. Studies show that primates (not just humans) of lower status are under more chronic stress than high status monkeys. It is not my aim in this blog to get into discussions on the ethics and merits of some people having 50″ televisions while others only have 30″ TVs, but I will say this; westerners don’t really have any concept of real inequality.

The video is a generic roadside scene in eastern Bangalore. The photograph is from the gated community where our temporary apartment is. The difference is night and day. Already when you step out of the gate, you go from a place where rents are $2000 a month or more and there is a small army of servants to keep things neat and clean to a street where people live under tarps.

There is a building site down at the corner, where a new high rise is being built. Women in sarees and men work with hand tools. There is no crane, there are no hard hats and nobody is wearing the steel toed boots that are de rigueur at western building sites. The most shocking is the small children at the site – probably the children of the builders – who are incredibly dirty and just seem to listlessly loiter. No matter how smart those kids may be and no matter how hardworking they may be, the deck is stacked against them.

When we walk past, we feel ashamed of how wealthy we are in comparison. It is so extreme that it feels unjust. The difference in wealth is certainly out of proportion to the difference in achievement. Strangely, we don’t feel any bitterness from them, but rather only curiosity or even awe. I really don’t know what to say about this, other than how stunning it is. It does encourage a sense of modesty.

Orlando in India