Douwe Osinga's Blog: May 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nice work if you can get it

India has a billion people and it shows. They are everywhere. The masses of people you find in the street here, one would only find in Zurich if there was a festival of sorts. Many people think that having that many people is a problem, since you have to create jobs for all of them. This is of course not true in a well functioning economy; people create demand and create jobs and all is well. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite true in India.

India might be on their way to become a new IT superpower, but there are still large masses of people with little education who all need (low paid) jobs. Employing these people seems to be a responsibility that falls to all businesses and that goes beyond the normally very active Indian desire to make a profit. So if you order food, don’t be surprised that there will be two guys doing the delivery. One carrying the food and handling the transaction, the other being the ‘come along guy’.

Automation of course poses new challenges to this system. India is modernizing and Indians want to see all the new cool stuff. But it tends to cut jobs and that is something that India cannot afford at this point, which leads to an interesting phenomenon: manned automation.

So today we went to a crafts village around here. They charge a small entrance fee, presumably to keep the masses out – any park like area that can be entered for free will soon be taken over by crowds of picnicking Indian families. They have a little gate where you could swipe the ticket to get in. But it doesn’t work like that. There’s a guy who takes your ticket, looks at it, then swipes it, you walk through the gate that now opens and the guy tears your ticket.

And this is what you see all over. They have the same machine at home in the supermarket to weigh fruit, but there is a lady who does it for you. In the office there is a guy who makes sure that the lights over desks that aren’t used are off – you go to the toilet, you come back and it is dark. You move your hands and he turns them on again. I suppose on some level even the fact that almost any car you rent here comes with a driver is an example of the same principle.

Apparently there when they introduced the first automatic drinks dispenser in India, it was announced with great fanfare. The actual implementation was also very Indian. Not one or two guys were manning the machine, but three. One would take your money and exchange it for a token, which you would then give to the second guy, who would insert it into the machine. The machine would then cough up the drink, which would then be handed to you by the third guy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Truth in advertising

Advertising tells you a lot about a country. Not maybe so much about what is the case, but about what people dream about. Or at least what the advertisers want people to dream about.

Going on that, Hyderabad is dreaming about real estate. I can’t remember ever have seen ads for concrete in Switzerland or the Netherlands, but here they are all over town. ‘European Style Living’ bill boards are popular too. Nice house, nice family in the picture and this big highway right in front of the house. You’d want a freeway to if you’ve experienced Hyderabad traffic.

There are ads for lower cost housing too. Working Women Hotels have a lot of mural painted ads – though they don’t house working girls of the type na├»ve Europeans might expect.

The most mysterious ads are huge signs only filled with phone numbers. For the longest time I was wondering what the point was? Indians are enthusiastic and easily excited, but calling a phone number because it is on an ad with no other context, seems even here a tat optimistic. But I think I figured it out. The billboards can be booked if you call the number.

You don’t see that much advertising for travel other than the ubiquous low cost airlines. Jet Airlines now direct to Jaipur. In news papers however you see the odd trip to Europe offered. Obviously the United Kingdom gets a lot of attention; you want to know all about your former colonizers. But for somebody who moved here from Switzerland it is interesting to see that that Alpine country is right there with the Brits.

I’ve been told this is because of Bollywood – originally Hindi movies any good would contain a scene in Kashmir. But shooting there became rather impossible because of the, well, shooting there (sorry, couldn’t resist). So the Indian movie moguls (again) looked for a different mountain scene and hit on good old Switzerland. So now Indian tourists want to go where there movies came from.

Still, see Europe in 10 days, spend 4 in Switzerland, not really the balance I would strike.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Laundry Service

Some people don’t like the fact that you can have almost anything done by somebody in India because of the low cost of labor; they feel it is just not right to employ somebody to stock your fridge with beer – pointing out that the alternative, firing the house boy, isn’t going to make things better for anybody strangely enough not always convinces. Me, I like it a lot. The thing I like most is laundry service. We should have that in every country and where labor is too expensive, technology should make up for the gap.

Laundry service in India changed my life. In a small way, maybe, but it lead to the reengineering of my wash-cycle. I have a stack of t-shirts and am just used to taking the top one until the stack has disappeared, which is a sign that a new wash-cycle should start. Too be honest, in Switzerland most of the wash related activities were done by my wife, but the principle remained the same – reaching the end of the stack means a new cycle is needed.

The problem with the laundry service is that they come by almost everyday. So I wear a t-shirt, put it in the laundry, wear another t-shirt and then the first one comes back all washed and ironed (with coal powered iron irons and therefore smelling slightly like coal smoke), essentially reducing my wash cycle to two or three shirts. The Indian way of washing seems to create more wear to begin with, so a simple fix, taking the shirts from the bottom from the pile was introduced.

Strangely enough this hardly helped. I found myself still wearing the same three, maybe four t-shirts. A little research taught me that my wife was doing some wash-cycle engineering of her own and had been reordering my pile in such a way that the shirts that she deemed ugly would be near the bottom of the pile.