Incredibly Impatient India


Last Thursday, I hosted a panel in Bangalore on future of innovation in India . One of the panelists was my buddy Abesh B from Kolkata . His comment was “Indians have always been innovative – our word for it being jugaad”. It immediately resonated with me – I could totally visualize his explanation of wearing a helmet while cutting onions to avoid tears . I have seen folks cutting onions next to a burning stove, and the heat apparently burns away the acid that makes your eyes burn .

Jugaad is one side of the coin – it cannot seem to exist in India without impatience as the other side of the coin. So let me give you a taste of the impatience factor .

Growing up in India , the busiest I have seen of any city was Mumbai . A guy who has absolutely nothing to do that day and idling away in bed at his home – when he needs a chai , he will stride out in great hurry and jump the line at the way side chaiwallah and get his tea – only to go back to his bed and idle away . Ok – that was purely fictional , and please don’t flame me for being Anti-Mumbai . That is the impression I got as a resident of the sleepy town of Trivandrum , visiting Mumbai . Many years later – I had the same impression visiting NYC from my sleepy hometown of Chandler, AZ . Everyone is crazy busy – including Indians who live there . It has never stopped fascinating me till date .

When I learned to drive in India in early 90s – I had no idea what lanes meant . I asked many an elder , but was none the wiser till I moved to the US . I have never seen any one stay inside their lane while driving in any city in India. If a road has 3 lanes – on an average there will be 8 vehicles trying to be parallel to each other . How do I know ? I sat in traffic and counted every day last week :)

Honking is the national pass time of drivers on Indian roads . We honk if we have to pass someone , to attract the attention of anyone we know who is walking past us while we are driving , we honk when there are 8 cars using 3 lanes in parallel , we honk if we are happy, sad , mad or bored . It is a group event – if anyone honks on the road , everyone else honks too. Everyone honks all the time . Most trucks have a “sound horn to overtake ” sign on their rear ends . It is the most natural thing for Indians to do . It was really hard for me to unlearn this habit when I moved to US . We don’t honk because we think honking will work – it is involuntary , like breathing . All things being equal – the vehicle with the loudest horn wins on the road .

My mom rarely takes me with her to temples any more when I visit . She cannot deal with me picking up arguments with everyone there who will refuse to stay in the queue . I never quite understood why anyone would jump the line in a temple – does Chitraguptan ( who has a similar role to Saint Peter as the gatekeeper to heaven , but for Hindus ) give extra credit on judgment day to those who try to elbow their way to the front while they are alive ? I wonder if he secretly promotes texting while driving too when he needs to hit his KPIs.

And then there are the airlines – all of them . Boarding a plane in India should be able to replace trying out for college football or rugby . It is a full contact sport – with 20+ walkie talkie bearing airline officials trying to act as referees .

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It is nothing but absolute unadulterated chaos . I clicked this picture yesterday while trying to board a plane to Delhi . This was roughly 10 seconds after they announced that boarding will begin in 10 minutes . Don’t ask me how many people stepped on their grandmothers to get into that plane :) . That was a small domestic flight . It was much worse boarding the huge Dreamliner from Delhi to Frankfurt . I didn’t have to fight my way in . I took a deep breath and got in the middle of the passengers – the momentum carried me literally to my seat . Along the way, the passengers were yelling at each other and the crew , the crew was yelling at each other and the gate agents , and so on .

What was incredibly funny was this Marwadi business man (who eventually sat next to me) – he was on his phone yelling at someone the entire time in boarding area, and every two minutes he took his attention away from phone to yell at the passengers pushing him, only to return to yelling into the phone . Although the flight attendant tried his best – this dude wouldn’t stop yelling into the phone till he lost his connection at 10000 feet after take off . He immediately fell asleep . I was woken up by his familiar yelling about two minutes before we touched down . He yelled his way to the passport control way ahead of the rest of the passengers .

Indians are incredible at adapting to their environment quickly . Case in point – I have probably honked twice in the entire time I lived outside India . You won’t see Indians jumping the line at the movies in Arizona waiting to get tickets to “Hunger games”. But if it is an Indian movie – usually brought in to the town by an Indian association , with a 100% Indian audience – the elbowing magically returns .

You may be able to take us away from impatience with some effort , but you cannot take impatience away from us . That is how we interpreted it when Steve Jobs said “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

I am walking into a plane at Frankfurt to SFO – and it honestly feels weird to not have my businessman seat mate from yesterday sitting next to me yelling at everyone . I am tempted to yell and push at some one – you know, just because …. :)

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6 thoughts on “Incredibly Impatient India

  1. Love the write up! I watched your panel discussions from TechEd and particularly enjoyed the one on innovation in India. During my visits to Mumbai and Delhi, the “jugaad” has never ceased to amaze me….on multiple levels. Aravind Eye Hospital of Dr. V from Madurai is for me a flagship example of phenomenal entrepreneurship and serious innovation…What drives this?
    On the topic of impatience, I always attributed it to the need of survival (you fight for the air you breathe pretty much), rather than to some innate impatience…But I guess you’re right….being an Indian…:-)

  2. Pingback: Enterprise hits & misses – December 23 #ensw

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