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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How different!

I have always loved travelling, but fate has decided that I should get to travel comparatively little in the flesh – so all my life I have travelled in my mind, through books and movies and stories and pictures that my favourite old-boys bring me from around the world. I travel through their eyes and minds, and I don’t regret it: it’s so much safer, less taxing, less hectic, less of a strain on the pocket... all strong arguments for someone getting on in years, and no longer eager to exert himself as much as he was twenty years ago!

One young man, just back from a trip to New Zealand, brought me a story this evening that I must share. He put up for a couple of days with family friends there – Indians – and by way of explaining why he had elected to settle down there (not a very common destination for Indians), the man of the house told him the following story.

He (let’s call him Mr. X) was tanking up at a petrol pump one day, when he saw a smartly-dressed man, obviously a well-heeled businessman or executive, who had just driven up in a Mercedes, reading up a notice saying ‘Help wanted for a day’ for some sort of manual work. On finding out that the manager of the pump was willing to hire him, he took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and set to work at once. It took him only a few hours. As Mr. X found out afterwards, he finished his work, collected his pay – a bunch of small notes which he didn’t so much as look at – shoved it all into a collection box for some sort of children’s charity, and drove away. By way of explanation for his ‘weird’ behaviour, he only said that he had driven into town to look up a friend, and learning that it would be a few hours before they could meet, and not having anything to do, and being unwilling to spend his time guzzling away in a bar (one of the few pastimes available), he had opted for this one-off job.

On hearing the story, Mr. X decided on the spot that this was the country where he wanted to live. He has been there for about five years now, and holds the status of a permanent resident (something like a Green Card holder in the US), and has no plans to move out.

If some of my readers feel that this sounds like a fairy tale, I shall only say that I am glad that such places exist on this planet (still), and I hope I may be able to die in one. Physically, too, NZ is a dream: hardly any people around, lots of unspoilt natural scenery, endlessly variable weather, all mod. cons, decent folks… to me, it sounds like heaven!

Another old boy, Tanmoy, has been stationed in Auckland, NZ, for more than a year now, and he has written variously and often on his blog (link provided along the right sidebar). I hope he enjoys this story.

I shall be delighted to hear more such interesting and unusual stories from other ex-students scattered around the globe. The really good ones will be narrated here…


Shilpi said...

This is a cheerfully unusual post and an unusually cheerful post. Delightful story as well. I can quite see the man getting out of his car and looking up the sign and getting down to work, and then there's Mr. X watching and fervently saying, "I'm not budging from this country."

Good to read this post of yours because I've been feeling rather uncharitable, mean, unkind and rather misanthropic for a couple of weeks (if not decades) at least.

New Zealand does sound and look like a lovely place. I do follow Tanmoy's blog and enjoy reading his observations regarding the place and its people. It is indeed a relief (incomparable) to be able to live in a place, which is quiet and clean and lovely with some good services and also has decent non-interfering people, on the whole. I can see you living in Oregon actually even though I have never been there myself. Maybe you will some day - who knows.

For the life of me I can't think of any similarly interesting tales though I'm quite sure I've heard of some myself but nothing's hitting me just yet. I feel like I'm on-stage with the lights and all but have forgotten to bring my memory with me.
When I do remember something I'll be back.
Take care.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda,

First, apologies for writing a comment bigger than the post itself.

Thanks for posting this story. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and yes, I have met many such people (like Mr. X did) after coming here.

I can’t help but compare the general intent here with people from my homeland. While on one hand, I agree many times circumstances don’t allow Indians to do lot of work which many of us would have liked to do in India, but on the other hand I do believe many of us use those circumstances as a mere excuse for our lack of intent.

A middle income earning Indian for various reasons does not enjoy doing physical activities. As soon as income is adequate, we hire services of a maid, an ironing guy and many other people. The concept of doing things on our own does not exist among Indian middle class. Go to any of the old markets of Calcutta, you would see people using porters to carry shopping bags. They do that, not do to charity for sure.

I guess this has something to do our attitude of searching for a false sense of ‘authority’ over people who provide service to us in return of money. Further, the money that we spend does not look a lot to us (since in India there are so many poor people, who would do work for really small amount of money).

On contrary, here it is not uncommon for both working males and females to cook at home (it is not that females are only expected cook and males cook just because they are fond of cooking occasionally), Also, everyone in the house knows to solve basic plumbing and electrical problems. I have not met anyone who has a maid for daily cleaning activities. Nobody gives their clothes to laundry (for ironing) unless it is an expensive piece of clothing. Every kid in the house also participates in household work and in return they get what is known as ‘pocket money’. I know of a single mother whose very young son is physically not so fit. She ensures that he only helps her in maintaining her garden (because that is what he has chosen to do) and in return she pays her weekly. I think this is part of their development which makes them look at every work equally and not categorise them as ‘someone else’s job’. These are just a few examples.

Since, everyone is so open to working from younger days; it makes them very open to many kind of work without worrying about the risk involved in them.

I have met a widowed lady in her early sixties. After having worked as a design engineer for most of her life, she got bored with the profession. Thus, she took up a course in the university to study human psychology. Upon passing she became a professional counsellor. Last year onwards her work suffered due to recession. Therefore, now she is trying to read up about how to design clothes, furniture etc, and hopes to make some money through that. She feels once a designer, always a designer and she seeks advice of others too. She is upbeat and all charged up even though she is looking ahead at a completely new venture. And yes, she is not super rich and she is relatively lonely as her young daughter studies in Australia.

Like I said before, I am sure there are concrete reasons why this intent of utilising time productively can’t be replicated in its totality in India, but I am sure some of it can be.

Lastly, would you believe New Zealand is considered one of the least productive countries in the developed world? It is believed that Kiwis love to spend time in playing outdoor sports, fishing, sailing, eating and making merry. However, I have always seen the intent to do productive work (and not just for money only!)

I would like to hear stories from people living in other countries too. Also, it would be pleasure hearing how many of us (your students) actually help in household work (other than going to the shop occasionally to buy groceries). I am ashamed to say, I was a disaster when I was in India but now I am learning new things, but I have a long way to go.



Sumitha Kurien said...

This post struck at something in me... I think it's that corner of my heart that thinks and dreams about seeing distant lands hitherto visited only by my mind's eye.

As a child I was fascinated by Australia, and I remember how I paid special and unusual attention in all geography classes while in the 6th standard in school (that was the year we were taught about Australia and New Zealand). So I still remember some stuff like the fact that the population of sheep outnumber that of human beings, that Adelaide has a mediterranean type of climate, and that there are many hot springs in NZ.
The practice of taking a "plate" or a "dish" to any social gathering that one is invited to, in NZ was something else that intrigued me about that land. I remember having read of one family's sheepishness at having turned up with an empty plate for a dinner hosted by their friends, in the Reader's Digest :)

Unfortunately, like Sir I haven't been able to travel far and wide either; and with the passage of time, my hopes of things being different have kind of started dwindling.
I am thankful for the rather fertile imagination I have... it keeps me in good stead when I am overwhelmed by the desire to fly off to an unseen shore!


Shilpi said...

Suvro da, I don't think I made myself clear in my previous comment: you transformed your post into something unusually cheerful and cheerfully unusual when it needn't have been thus. It might have been a despondent post rather....I forgot to mention that in my hurry to send off what I didn't forget.

The other thing: I will always be amazed that you managed to travel as extensively as you did around the United States during your visit. I had been utterly sure that you'd been here for at least three years until you told me otherwise. In my head I still see it as being "3 years" for some reason. And you have traveled a fair bit around India too, I think...

Tanmoy, one of the things your post reminded me of (and it's something I am reminded of every day) is dignity of labour, and there was a good bit about it in our moral science textbook from class IV. As for the rest of the things you mentioned - maybe Suvro da can write another post soon.

That's all I can remember for now. No stories though. Rather sad that.
Take care.

Anonymous said...

Hi - Here's a bit from Down Under. I've lived in Melbourne since 1991. And while the geographical wonders and sporting prowess of Australia are well known, I thought I'd pen a few lines about, for the sake of brevity, just ONE aspect of society here that still has me in awe of what a wonderful country it is.

And that is VOLUNTEERING! Yes, the simple sharing of ones skills and time to make our world a better place. And its not confined to the retired with time and money on their hands but ordinary folk who commit to society in the midst of everything else they may be preoccupied with.

For example, the armed forces are small but can call upon the voluntarily trained civilian reserves, the firefighting and emergency services are staffed by many volunteers, international events like the Grand Prix, Australian Open Tennis, Olympics and Commonwealth Games were possible thanks to an army of volunteers, many migrant and refugee services (eg English language and social integration classes) are run by volunteers, thousands of parents keep the various sporting clubs going for children of all ages on weekends when almost the entire country is out playing sport - driving kids to and fro, setting up facilities, umpiring etc; the visiting services to hospitals to cheer up patients - when my daughter was in class 2 they had to do environmental and community projects - some of the kids went and sang at an Aged Care facility down the road, even my two dogs (Pugs) were roped in to a visiting service called Pet Therapy !!

The list is many pages long...but, no I won't go on about it ! The point is, if something needs doing, something is done about it without it being left up to someone else or waiting for the government to initiate a program for it. If there were no or fewer volunteers much of this would not get done and we'd be the poorer for it.

But, God, I miss India!....Bev.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

This post made a very good read. Even I love to travel and though I haven't travelled much I hope to do so in the future. You right about one thing Sir, there is something to be said for vicarious traveling. The one thing I indulge myself in every month is the Outlook Traveller. It is very good, their articles are of standard information and the places and things they choose to write about are very rich and varied. The presentation is also good. I have a lot fun reading the issues each month and speculating what the next issue will be about. Discovery's travel and living is another huge favourite :-) I have heard a lot about New Zealand sir, in travelogues, from people, from Ulysses in Utopia etc. and seems to be a fascinating place. I totally agree with you when you say that it's ideal, nature has given much to NZ it seems. Whenever I see a documentary on NZ on the television sir, I feel like jumping into the screen, if only to gulp in all that fresh air! Please give us more posts such as this, to read sir. They are a pleasure :-)


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for all the appreciation, folks, but I was actually looking forward to more stories in the same vein! Have most of my readers no tales to tell, or are they too lazy to write?

Shilpi said...

The only tale that I can remember is Gerry's tale, so I may as well go ahead with what I know and remember.

Gerry worked as a top-level executive for a decade and more in Chicago "always dressed to kill" (as he himself jokes, and there's more to that joke), and he was doing some coffee selling on the net as well (he was buying directly from the growers, and giving them a greater margin of the profits while keeping some for himself).

One fine windy day he and his wife decided to go into the coffee-business for good. Gerry quit his high-power job in Chicago, came over to sleepy Lafayette (after doing a whole-lot of research) and set up a coffee-shop in downtown Lafayette, where there were four coffee-shops already, four blocks apart.

Guha and I shook our heads when we saw the sign saying “…Coffee-shop – to open soon”. "There's no way this coffee shop is going to make it. Why is this person setting up a coffee-shop here? Too far from campus. Too many coffee-shops already. It’s not even in central downtown. It's almost in the middle-of-nowhere...It's going to close down..." We said. But that was before we met and got to know Gerry.

I still remember the first day and the second that we got coffee from Gerry’s shop. His was the only shop that was open - so I leapt out of the car, a little after 7 in the morning (that was when we were taking care of two wonderful dogs), ran in, liked Gerry the instant I saw him, shared a couple of liners, asked for a regular cup of coffee, and ran out. Guha and I had the coffee and were surprised at how excellent it tasted. We were hooked. So the next morning we went over looking forward to the coffee, but Gerry hadn't opened. So I came back from the front door, sadly shaking my head. Not two seconds later, Gerry rushes out of his shop, saying "You can’t run away without your morning cup of coffee. Come on in. I've brewed some for myself. Take a helping." He wouldn't even let me pay, claiming that he hadn't officially opened his shop, so he could not accept payment. He absolutely refused the money and when I insisted, he glared at me and said, “Take it as a gift.” And that was that.

It's soon going to be two years since Gerry set up his coffee shop, and both Guha and I are delighted to see that Gerry is doing very well and that his customers absolutely adore him. He sells wonderful coffee - that is without doubt but he makes his customers feel very special too - and they keep returning to his shop. He "sells" more than just coffee. There he was - some executive somewhere in Chicago, and here he is now - Gerry, who's the best coffee-shop owner that I have ever come across, and much much more. I know too that he served in the military for some years (but come to think of it I don't remember whether he was a marine or whether he was hired in a private capacity - maybe both at different points in time). And he trained as an artist too and paints on the side - and can he paint!

This is the only story that I can remember and one which is in a somewhat similar vein....

Shilpi said...

A chap I'd met in the first year, who was a PhD student in Political Science, told me of the different part-time jobs he'd had before coming to Graduate School. He'd worked as a part-time mechanic, as a plumber, as a waiter - but the job he'd liked best was as a construction worker. It was hard physical work (and he was of medium height and of medium build) but he loved it. Apparently the part he liked best was demolishing old, falling-apart buildings. He said it was absolutely thrilling to watch the half-broken down buildings just crumple up and he missed being a construction worker after coming to Graduate School. I wondered about his mental health of course (that he seemed to enjoy taking down buildings rather than building them) but he was a very interesting person - read a lot on the side, was an engaging story-teller, was a very enjoyable smoking companion, was quite balanced about all discussions and debates (apart from the Israel-Palestine issue), and was an absolutely phenomenal salsa dancer - and he claimed that he liked his job as a construction worker the best....he got to meet different kinds of people and liked to see a broken down building being swept clean.....

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I really must say that my readers are weird. So many of them live abroad, or keep travelling abroad, and have no interesting stories to tell? What a world we are living in...

Neel said...

I was a GSE (Group Study Exchange) member of Rotary International and was in LA, Las Vegas and Nevada staying with different Amercian families (some were Indian,Mexican,Pakistani,German Venezuelan). The only thing I found common was the sense of family. The family feeling that somehow has been made proprietorial only in Indian context, was universal. A grandfather waiting for his grandson to take his Corvette to impress his grilfirend (whom they wished would marry), the daughter who used to visit her mother in the old age home to read stories .... we somehow expect that people should be different, but scratch a little - the same blood flows. Remembered "Merchant of Venice", then.