Friday, June 20, 2008

The Best Policy

There is a joke, if there are a bunch of drunken, unruly Englishmen in a pub, how do you get rid of them? It’s rather simple really, you just go and say, “Please leave!” This, of course, is impossible. Even a race as allegedly disciplined as the English do produce football hooligans, they have their brand of rowdies, and they are in no way a backward nation when it comes to rioting, looting, stealing, colonizing, politics, raping, and all such noble things.

Having said that, one must, nevertheless, appreciate the basic honesty of the English in England. It might be true of all Europeans but I have only first hand experience of English systematic. It is wonderful how people will obey each and every signboard, not do what they forbid, and do what they ask to be done. There is little surveillance required to ensure that the prescribed rules are being followed or not. I remember going to the 9 century old Norwich Cathedral. There was a ban on photography inside the Cathedral until one donated £3 (although I am not against such donations because I realize the cost of upkeep of these huge structures, but trust the English to put a ticket booth wherever they can, Napoleon was not very wrong with his shopkeeper remark!). I went to every nook and corner of the Cathedral, with a camera visibly dangling from my neck, I found no one keeping watch. There were no receipts for the donation – a simple transparent plastic box received all the money. If I took photos and claimed that I have donated no one could legally argue. People were taking snaps – no one asked them whether they had bequeathed or not. Such trust makes you become honest. I did not feel the urge to take photos inside as I did not donate (at that point £3 was a lot of money to me) and I believe that no one but the most crooked would do it.

My friend was posted in Taunton at that time. He is as big a fan of cricket as I am. So he made a pilgrimage to the Taunton cricket ground because Sourav Ganguly was the Highest Indian Run-getter in the World Cup (1999) against Sri Lanka there. He told me that it is a lovely ground, and there are yards of low fencing around it. In India fences are minor details, they signify little. Unless there are other security arrangements, one can be fairly sure of the fence being defenceless – sorry for the pun, couldn’t resist! I remember there was a huge uproar because one of the golf clubs in Calcutta had wanted to repair a breach in their boundary wall, but people said that it served as a short cut, so it could not be repaired, the fact that it was private property did not matter. Thankfully the club-owners were expectedly rich and hence logic won. Anyway, my pilgrim friend told me that there was a little signboard “Please Leap” in a certain place. No Englishman would ever think of doing that, they will walk round and round and round, and go back with broken hearts. But the moment they come across this sign their faces will light up.

The other surprising thing I saw was that there were Luggage spaces in buses and people coolly left their bags and stuff and go to the upper deck! Even in the empty bus from Heathrow to the Hotel I had sat next to my suitcase and held onto it as if my life depended on it (to be fair to myself, it did actually did). This bit is not at all common in London. Of course, that is a place where you will actually have to make an effort to see an English face, I would say the ratio of ‘others’ to the English would be 3 : 1; of course they are redefining the term British to include all.

The image of the honest Indian is becoming something rather rare even in India. The Orientalist image of the spiritual Indian might be all very objectionable, but becoming corrupt is not the way to protest against it! The signboard thing I can understand. Recently I saw this huge expensive electronic signboard put up in Shyambazar Five Point Crossing – it advised people to drive safely. Such effort on part of the cops is quite appropriate but for two facts, first, people pay no attention to any kind of advice; and second, most people cannot read. The target audience being drivers, they barely manage to read Bengali and Hindi, and all these signs are in English. Otherwise, the other wise people already know that they should drive safely! As far as corruption is concerned, it is a global phenomenon. Poor countries with rich rulers would always have such problems.


Aleta said...

What a fascinating post. I look forward to reading more on your blog. I've always admired how people remain ethical when in poor environments. It speaks volumes for their character. At the same time, I find more people who don't have much are often more considerate and ethical than the majority. It's not an easy world to live in when the pace is fast and furious.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Here in Mumbai (more 'western' in many ways than Kolkata), people are slightly more law-abiding when it comes to traffic rules. I've seen drivers wait patiently at unmanned crossings, even if there are no pedestrians or policemen. And if anybody does break the law, we all dismiss him as definitely being from ..., er, Raj Thackeray's bete noire.

sidhubaba said...

Raj Thackeray's "bete noire" - did you assign a Hindi meaning to the first word of the phrase?

jyotsana said...

wow wow what a fresh funny way of putting things in place. i loved the beginning ... it tickled me.... i really appreciate the way u can laugh on indians being an indian yourself without being bitter... such benign humor is so soothing.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

ahem, no hindi please, we are in land (and tongue) of the marathi manoos!

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