Intriguing India

February 19, 2010 in India, Travel by

I was feeling disconnected from the world because my fancy new phone was out of credit. I went to a Nokia dealer in a spanky new shiny mall and asked him if he sold Vodafone credit.

“Do you want to do it the easy way or the hard way?” He asked.

Bewildered, I gave the predictable response: “The easy way.”

“Not possible” he replied.

“Okay, the hard way then.” I acquiesced, feeling sure we were already doing it the hard way.

“Where is your phone from” he asked.

“Mumbai” I said.

“Not possible.”

Here is his loveable helpful self

This is not an unusual occurrence in India, and it usually frustrates me enough to write a rant blog. Luckily for Nokia dude, I’m trying on something new. Rather than rants, I’m committing myself to writing blogs that are positive and life-affirming rather than critical and cynical.

India is obsessed with relationships and interaction, and that takes precedence over efficiency and accuracy. As a westerner I am befuddled by the rather pervasive Indian habit of offering multiple options to somebody for whom those options aren’t available. It seems inefficient and absurd.

Indians love to have a variety of choices available to them, and expensive restaurants will cater to this by having menus that number over 200 options of food. It is unlike the west where the fancier you go, the less options there are.

This obsession with choices permeates every area of life, and in large part explains the prevalence of corruption. If told there is only one way to get building permission, the Indian mind will always look for another option, following its other great love: Building relationships.

To Nokia dude, talking me into circles is not wasting time; it’s having an interaction that he values. I get the impression that the quality or tone of the interaction doesn’t really matter, either. One only need see how Indian men become when screamed at by western women to be certain that they’re aroused the intensity, and barely concerned by the content.

Similarly, if you’re sitting by yourself reading or typing or just musing, Indian people will take pity on you and come over for a chat about your country of origin, marital status and sexual proclivities. It’s their way of showing you that they care. It comes from a wonderful and caring place.

There is an avenue for further frustration: Nokia man can give me credit. I know he can, but I’m upstairs blogging about it instead of downstairs buying it. There is a further element to Indian culture: Inaction is always preferred over action.

Westerners usually come from ‘one shot’ religions, which offer only one lifetime in which to get your stuff done. These religions favour action in order to have been as good as possible before being dead and incapable of doing anything ever again.

Eastern religions have a ‘keep going till you get it right,’ Groundhog Day kind of mentality. To live a good life is to live a blameless life, which often amounts to doing less bad stuff. Doing nothing is preferable to doing something wrong, which is why there is a heavy preference for inaction (particularly if you have an eternity to get it right). Meditation is the art of spending as long as possible doing and thinking absolutely nothing at all.

As a result, downstairs Nokia dude is unsure about whether selling me credit is the right thing to do, so he is not going to do it than to risk it. As a result, he’s one sale poorer and I’m disconnected from the world. So be it.

The positive to all of these cultural quirks is that Indians are very ecological, in the environmental and the ethical sense. They are not prolific consumers, they are selfless and inclusive, humble and kind.

It still drives me nuts, but I just wrote a blog about how lovely it is, in keeping with my commitment to focus on positives. Hell knows how I’m going to upload it without an internet connection (via my awesome HTC HD2 phone which can become a WiFi hotspot, when it has credit).