Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Everest Calling - Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai
When we were children, we were taught that when someone asks for water, you always give it to them. You never refuse. If you refuse water to a thirsty, you will be born a lizard in your next life.
We believed it.
As we grew up, we understood that the truth of the belief about ‘turning into a lizard’ did not matter in itself, but the habit it had established in our way of living was a noble one.
No matter who it was, a visitor, a family member, a stranger, a beggar, even a salesman who was otherwise unwelcome, if he asked for water, it would be given.
Even the meanest of people would not refuse water.
If you did, people thought you wretched.
We have come a long way from those days of innocence. Indeed, we have.
I told you about this restaurant called “The Food Street” in Delhi Airport that I walked into, to get some South Indian food.
Plain Dosa cost 110 rupees. The white chutney which first tasted of ginger and resulted in a first impression being good, turned out to be stale the next second. The Sambhar was kind of bitter sour but I was not sure it was stale.
Sometime after eating, I asked for a glass of water - regular, not mineral.
You have to pay for it, she said, the waitress.
That’s ridiculous, said I. Any restaurant that supplies food also provides water.
I understand you have to pay for mineral water, but for regular water, you should not expect a customer to pay.
The waiter girl sent another girl from the counter. The same exchange was repeated. I asked for the manager. He arrived. The exchange was repeated again.
We have forwarded the complaint to our senior management, said he.
I would not relent. I said, give me water that your staff drinks.
He deferred at last. And brought me cold water in a long white paper cup.
This is why they want capitalism, I thought, as I drank the water, wanting some more but too exasperated to ask!
That too Laissez Faire – complete freedom to do business as they like.
Ease of doing business, no interference by government. No regulations.
So you can grudge a customer a cup of water he needs in between morsels to wash down your stale chutney and pungent sambhar.
Why wouldn’t a restaurant give water?
Tap water is available for free.
But oh no. it’s not really free. You still have to pay the corporation water bill bi-monthly.
It’s a bare minimum, just a few rupees for a 100 liters, but why spend even that much?
Ok. You can add that to the cost of food and charge the customer.
But then what if someone drinks 4 glasses instead of the 2 glasses that you assumed while apportioning cost?
And then there is the task of collecting tap water in a container every day.
A staff member will have to spend 30 minutes of his time.
And time is money.
Moreover there is the cost of the container and the cost of tumblers.
So you have decided to give only mineral water.
Ok, so do you charge the customer only the cost of it?
No, you might as well make some profit out of it.
Why not? So you add a 20% margin.
Where will the calculation stop?
Squeeze until you get the last drop and then squeeze some more.
Do these fellows have conscience?
Take 100 rupees from a customer and refuse to give even a glass of water! This, in a country that has taught the world what giving is.
Time and again, it is these businessmen that verify my preconception that freedom, for most part, is freedom without responsibility; that State regulations and interference are indispensable in trade and commerce, because calculative minds, if left to themselves will compete with each other for higher profits and the highest levels degeneration.
Wish the State would make it a mandate for restaurants to provide regular drinking water for free.
And all the business schools in the country, please do include, in your curriculum, among ‘strategy’, ‘finance’ and ‘marketing’, a subject called ‘Humanity in Business’.
Those discussing the oxymoron have used this phrase as an example for long, evoking much laughter. Let us ‘get it’ that this wretchedness is not a laughing matter but a crying shame.
Nobility will have to be enforced if it does not come voluntarily, hence the need for regulations; but let there also be continuous effort to ensconce nobility in the nature of men and women; education, textbooks, curriculum, anecdotes, example, precept, whatever it takes to turn business men into human beings.
And if a superstition about ‘rebirth as a lizard’ can achieve the purpose, it is welcome too.