Putting things in order

I don’t really have any particular skills but I am a well practiced worrier. Whilst this is probably not much good for my health or having unbridled fun it does have the beneficial spin off of making me quite good at sorting stuff.

Professionally, this usually involves finding a way and convincing people to get things done with limited resources and time. It’s sometimes given grandiose titles like ‘project manager’ or ‘strategic consultant’ – but basically it’s just solving a problem in the cheapest, quickest way possible and making the right compromises to ensure no one dies or kills anyone.

Domestically it pretty much amounts to the same thing but with a few less emails involved.

India is not a place for project managers. Every day my internal need to fix things and make them more efficient clashes with the external world of Indian systems until I want burst.

I’m sure there must be some deeper cultural understanding that I am missing but to my uneducated eye it is just plain daft!
Here are some examples that may seem very petty to most but that had me reaching for my spreadsheet and flow charts:

On the train from Delhi to Jaipur the inspector checked our tickets and told us we had to pay an extra 30 rupees – apparently there had been some form of fare increase that day although I’m still not 100% sure of the rationale – anyway after questioning him, he brought out a large pile of printed paper and in the column headed ‘pending’ next to each of our names was 15. So it seemed genuine although unexplained and we paid. He then proceed to the next seat and demanded 15 rupees. Just like us the gentleman asked what this was for and why. The inspector explained as best he could, got the sheaf of papers out and showed the man who then paid. Then the inspector went to the next person…. And so it went on and on and on…

Meanwhile, the train announcement made regular updates on how many kilometres we would travel but no one thought to use the same system to make one announcement about the fair increase and solve hours of minor squabbles the entire length of the train.

One to many doesn’t seem to be a common solution here – one to one solutions no matter how repetitive are preferred.

At a toilet in Mumbai there was a sign to say it was a pay toilet but it didn’t tell you how much. A man sat at a desk at the door. I asked him how much. He asked me what I wanted to do. I didn’t quite understand as I assumed it was fairly clear I wanted to use the toilet. However he explained. ‘2 ruppee pee pee 5 ruppee poo poo’. I gave him 2 rupee. Behind me a queue was forming all with the same question and the same answer and the same routine of “pee pee or poo poo?” And it wasn’t just ignorant white tourists like me who were confused it was locals too.

One to one to pee.

Getting any information from someone is like getting blood from a stone and you are expected to either already know or to know the right question to ask. It may be this cultural trait that makes India a hotbed for maths and computer scientists as there is a painfully rigid computer like way to the processes at times. This often takes form in stamps – rubber stamps have real power here.

In Jaipur city palace once you have bought your ticket and it has been stamped and checked by the security guard you can enter the main museum. Inside the museum however is a small room displaying textiles. At the door is a man who you give your ticket to so he can stamp it. There is no additional charge, anyone who has come into the main museum can go into the textile bit and you can reenter whenever you want. There is no way of getting into the small textile museum unless you have a ticket at the main museum gate – this is a royal fort after all. No one looks at your stamp after you get it.

In other words the stamp has absolutely no purpose other than in the act of getting stamped. This would be fine if the man who gives the stamp was using it as an opportunity to get some data or provide additional info. But no. He wasn’t counting people in, he didn’t ask any questions of anyone or provide any information. In fact most of the stamps were done by what seemed to be his 5 year old grandson. The grandson seemed to enjoy the whole business immensely and so I guess at least someone gained from it.

The same thing happened when we went into the royal reception room in the same museum. Except here it was a different shaped stamp and two guards with impressive moustaches.

Security people (usually with impressive moustaches) REALLY like stamps. At Jodhpur airport it was our first internal flight and so we were not aware of how the system works. As frequent flyers we are well versed in liquids, laptops and metal detectors but we were unprepared for stamps.

Security is tight (and for good reason) but it seems the medium now outweighs the message – and despite nine circles of interrogation security is actually scarily lax.

Hand luggage needs to be scanned and the tag stamped. You go through the metal detector and some one also frisks you. Then they ask for your boarding pass so they can stamp it. My boarding pass was in the tray with my bag (in Europe and US you have to go through the detector with nothing in your hands or pockets). After some back forth with the stern faced security man he let me go to my bag to get my pass. However the woman who was checking the bags wouldn’t let me touch the tray as I didn’t have any stamps to show her I had been frisked. Some more back and forth and I grabbed my boarding pass from the tray turn round hand it to the frisker who stamps it and I turn to get my bag but the woman refuses until she can see the stamps on my pass. Just to note the three of us are stood almost toe to toe in a tight circle with only the small table and the stamp between us so everything is in plain view of everyone. But this security lady took her stamp checking job very seriously. Unfortunately She took her bag checking less seriously. Watching the system unfold I noticed a guy carrying a man purse and a bottle of water in one hand and his boarding pass in the other approach security – he gave his half drunk litre bottle and man purse to the frisker man who casually put them on the the little table whilst he stamped the mans pass. The man then collected his bottle and purse showed his stamp to the bag lady and got his main carry on bag. At no point did anyone check, scan or stamp any of the contents in his man bag or the 250ml of liquid in his bottle. But he did have his stamps and so everyone was happy.

As you can see it gets pretty repetitive and a marvellous way to waste time – If you’ve read this far you probably have an internal project manager too and you probably share my exasperation and are gutting loudly. If no one reads this far it’s ok because it’s some kind of therapy for me to get it all out. I remember reading in an Oliver Sachs books about a man with a severe form of Tourette’s who would walk down a street quite calmly but every now and then he would duck into an alleyway and unleash all his ticks and spasms in one blast. Then, with all the built up tension expelled, he would continue on his way down the street.

This has been my Indian logic Tourette alley. Thanks for joining. Don’t forget to get your stamp.

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One comment

  1. You really need to get your own stamp and ink pad and a little book. Whenever anyone attempts to stamp your items get the book, stamp and pad out and stamp your little book. In this way you are not a passive stampee, you attain the power of a stamper. Be aggressive. You may induce envy or even fear but you are now also a stamper and deserve respect.

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