I’m intrigued by the way business operates in India. In Australia, if you want to get a taxi from a hotel, you get the person behind the desk to call 132227, and an anonymous cab driver turns up at the location. If you want to do the same thing in India, the person behind the desk is likely to call a taxi driver friend. It is better to ask the hotel operator than to randomly hail a cab, because you have the added surety of a relationship.
Let me illustrate: today we wanted to get to a relatively remote beach via auto-rickshaw and pay the driver to stick around for a couple of hours so he could then drive us back to Gowri Residence, where we’re staying. We asked Wali, a staff member from Gowri, what was a reasonable price and was told: “Rs350 – I will arrange a rickshaw for you.” Wali made a call to somebody he knew who was a rickshaw driver, so that when the driver arrived, we didn’t have to explain anything. We felt confident that we could trust this driver, because he had more to lose than he could gain by ripping us off – at stake was a personal and business relationship with the people at Gowri.
We chatted with the driver both ways on the journey (David has made a point of finding out what’s going on with the cricket and it’s an invaluable way to make friends!). At the end of the trip I said to the driver “Rs350?” To which he answered, “You decide.” He knew we wouldn’t rip him off either, because we’d already established an amiable relationship. Plus, and perhaps more significant, we had an interest in keeping on good terms with the people from Gowri, which would be undermined if we paid the driver less than what was fair.
So that’s how it works – through relational ties. People aren’t afraid to help each other – even if it’s the opposition. If one stall doesn’t have change, they go to their competitor next door to get some. You constantly see people hitching rides on each other’s motorcycles, or on the backwaters, larger boats looping ropes around canoes and pulling the smaller vessels along for a bit. People own their own plots of land, but they farm it together. There’s a great collective spirit here.
So that’s Part One – David tells me that Indians also have a great capacity to rip each other off. The tension between the collective and the individual is one that marks every society, and I suppose there are people who are collectively orientated and individually orientated in India as well. Right now it’s Day 5 and I’m still in the honeymoon period. Please don’t burst my bubble just yet.