Thursday, August 21, 2008

Feudal spirit

Some of the drivers of the tourist cars that I hire in smaller towns have this tendency to jump out of their seats, to run around quickly to the other side and open the door for me, as soon as the car stops. Not that I am a VIP or something, but they do it for most passengers.

I once asked a driver why he was demeaning himself by this obsequious conduct. Surely, the passenger was perfectly capable of opening the door by himself and getting down from the car. Or was it because he felt that it would improve his chances of getting lavish tips? He replied that, in his experience, some of the passengers expected this behaviour from the driver. He had, at times, been rebuked sharply for not opening the door. How was he to distinguish between a passenger who did not expect the door to be opened and one who did? So, why take chances?

Foreign visitors, in fact, wonder that we have the luxury of toursit cars and drivers ( point-to-pont taxi services are different) used as they are to renting out cars at the airport and driving them around by themselves. We have a long way to go, but till that time, surely we can ensure some dignity for the driver?

Politicians, of course, revel in this kind of sycophancy. Most of them are waited upon hand and foot, with one serf carrying their bag, another holding an umbrella, yet another clearing the way in front, while His Lordship or Her Ladyship walks on majestically in and out of the car. When an MP boards a flight, an attendant will carry his briefcase and place it on the overhead rack.

“India may be changing at a disorienting pace, but one thing remains stubbornly the same: a tendency to treat the hired help like chattel, to behave as though some humans were born to serve and others to be served” says this article in the New York Times, while commenting on a provocative new film depicting India from a servant’s-eye view. The movie, “Barah Aana,” by Raja Menon, tells the story of three migrants to Mumbai from the ailing villages of northern India. They work as a chauffeur, a waiter and a security guard, sending most of their earnings home. They are heroes in their villages, but in Mumbai they are invisible men, enduring the callousness that comes with being an accessory to other people’s lives.

6 comments:

perplexed said...

i agree.
Here in India, domestic helps are look down upon by so many of them. Even in the so called educated families. They are all literates alright. But not educated!!

Every human deserves some form of respect, whatever his/her designation is! I don't understand why in our country this biasing exists... we are supposedly the highly cultured ones right?

Oh how wrong are we!!

maduraiveeran said...

Its one of those things that is carried over as ancient tradition. Landlordship or Lord Labakku dasship. It will take the younger generation to eradicate these Feudal spirits.

Vaidy said...

Thoughful article Raj.
Maduraiveeran, not to simplify the issue but if you had followed your chain of thought it should actually lead to "education" being the key. Aren't our political parties too to blame, after all they are the ones who divide the vote bank based on caste & religion? This leads to "type casting", right? This will not disappear soon, sadly.

Raj said...

perplexed, who ever claimed that we were the highly cultured ones?

Madurai veeran : Haven't many other societies managed to shed their feudal baggage?

Vaidy, thanks. Politicians are to be blamed, of course, but alll ofus are equally guilty.

Escape.... Great Escape said...

People look vaguely at me when I say thank you :-).

I still say it though... hehehe

RaviKR said...

I think this obsequiousness is also seen in certain restaurants and people perhaps give the same explanations. In a society where we often see people walking into restaurants with a servant or helper who hold their children or shopping bag.
Sorry for posting this late. Enjoy your blog.