Incredible India

We like to say we're a jolly Bollywood-loving singing & dancing bunch who leave life in the hands of fate. We also proclaim that we believe hospitality is next to Godliness and we welcome diversity and learning. I think those perceptions are as grounded in reality as talking elephants and purple unicorns. 

Each person in this (vastly overcrowded) country likes to behave as though they're the only ones in it. 

I can forget about being offered a seat, or a slightly wider berth, even at eight months pregnant. Worse, I can guarantee that someone will elbow their way ahead of me, pretending a line just doesn't exist. And the cashier will just go ahead and serve them, whether we're at a small store, or at a five star hotel. Entitlement is the only language that speaks loud and clear in India.

People will spit millimeters away from my feet. Cell phones will be on loud in every theater. Trial rooms and toilets in malls will be taken over for hours together, without any hint of remorse or acknowledgement that anyone else is waiting for their turn. Red signals won't stop traffic. Green signals won't stop pedestrians. Traffic policemen will yell... and be yelled at. Likewise bus conductors, train ticket checkers, and anyone else who supposedly has any authority. And it'll be impossible to tell who's in the right, but by-standers will jump in to fight anyway.

It's been one of those weeks when it's hard to believe anything can change. I was at the maternity hospital yesterday. This is a place that takes twenty patients at a time, and the fees reflect this exclusivity. You'd think if you could afford it, you could afford some manners, or at least a basic level of common sense. So. I walk in at 3:50 for my appointment at 4, and find my doctor's been called away for an emergency C-sec. I don't have plans for the evening, so I say I'll wait for an hour, no problem. There's AC. There's water. I've an internet connection. It's hardly a hardship. And if it were, I'd just reschedule and come back another day. Isn't that what anyone would do? Apparently not. 

A family on my left is shouting about how the doctor can't treat them like third rate citizens, and how rude it is that they'll have to wait. Do they have an emergency of their own? Nope. Standard visit. If they had an emergency, would they be happy for the doctor to pop out and check on someone else's standard visit? Yeah, right.

On my right, another couple is indignant that they paid such-and-such amount, because they were guaranteed a 10 to 15 minute wait time, maximum. This, despite the fact that boards everywhere say that the only reason for delay will be if someone's having an emergency, and to know that they'll do the same for you. This, despite the fact that these people can probably read, given they're sporting designer handbags and shoes. This, despite the fact that being in your third trimester, you likely know that babies don't always get born within 15 minutes. And, may I add, having observed Indians abroad - this despite the fact that in any other country in the world, you'd tuck your tail between your legs and at least pretend to understand.

We like to talk about how Western civilization acts entitled and takes everything for granted, but I don't think anyone can beat our sense of absolute privilege. You should see the way a watchman/shopkeeper/auto driver's eyes light up when you say 'please' or 'thank you.' It's such a small thing. Why doesn't it just come automatically? It's an interesting dichotomy: how egoistic we are, while also being supremely insecure. You see this in the way people treat their household help, shop assistants, security personnel. (Of course, some service staff think when you're polite, you must be a push over; and so then they're happy to have a chance to throw some attitude around).

Over here, nothing comes without a fight anyway. Our public systems are overcrowded and underfunded, our policies are redundant and unhelpful. So why do we add our tuppence to make it even harder? Why does an ambulance get stuck in traffic for hours together because no one wants to be the first to give way to it? Why do we consciously say we won't be nice to people because if we do, they'll just take advantage of us? When will we grow up at least a little?

Yes, this country has certain problems that are inherently hard to solve. Then there are others that we just refuse to acknowledge. These are the issues that, on a day to day basis, make life here so hard. Not the fear of rape, or air pollution, or whatever else. Just plain selfish, self-centered, insensitive loutishness, passed on from generation to generation. 

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