Services in India: a very clear role description, and there is always somebody ‘watching’

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One of the most fascinating blogs on the internet is a photo blog that has been intriguing me for some time now and has a new version. The blog of ‘Kim Jung Il Looking at Things’ and the newer version, the profound ‘Kim Jung Un Looking at Things’. These two are fascinating and interesting for anyone who wants to learn more about one of the closest countries in the world. The photos are obliviously manipulated and in some cases, unlucky North-Korean officers are photo shopped out of the picture. However, the photos actually discloses much more than the PR-department of the regime realizes. If the weird regime distributes a photo of happy people around a field of healthy and ready-to-harvest corn, what do you think they are trying to tell us? One could assume that the message behind such a photo is clear and simple: ‘However, you are all wrong. We have enough food and our people are not suffering from starvation’ is the message they are trying to portrait. The blog crossed my mind again as I continue to witness familiar scenes in India.

I have recently started doing fitness again after a long absence. For the last 14 years, running has been a very frequent stress-buster which keeps me fit and in shape. However, I had pushed my body too much, with a foot-injury as a result. To give my left foot some rest after it was injured, I temporarily stopped my running exercises to go back to the gym. Funny enough it felt very normal again to wander around in the gym, so I might continue to sponsor the gym business until my left foot recovers.

During one of my gym-visits last week I observed something weird but strangely-familiar which you will notice if you live in the country long enough. The local gym in Aundh which is now my place for a good work-out decided to upgrade the place and contracted painters to create a more balanced and colorful environment. A painter was very busy working on the ceiling in the area where I regularly do my ab crunches. However, he was not alone in the room. He was accompanied by another other guy. This guy’s task was not to paint. No, he was there to look at things. His task is to oversee the other folks doing the actual work. In some rare cases he (or she, but in most cases it’s a ‘he’) would have a brief talk with the actual contractor and/or he will direct the workers.

In India, someone’s designation is mostly very clear and it’s not very common to work in a multi-skilled environment. The people who collect the garbage in the morning are divided into two groups: the driver of the garbage-collecting-vehicle and the others, the collectors will put the dirt into the vehicle. And here’s the thing: they never-ever mix-up their specific tasks. I assume that the drivers would get paid a bit more, which gives them more status and the clear perspective about a working days task: do nothing but driving, leave all the other stuff for the other folks.

Another example from the past which I would like to share about other folks who also had a very clear role- description. We had bought a lot of plants in the first week of last year’s monsoon. The plants were delivered to us in a large truck with five strong and enthusiastic Indian men. There was some misunderstanding about the delivery address and the truck reached my driver’s house instead. My driver, whose role I often describe as the ‘Director of Logistics’, had called the nursery prior to the delivery to confirm the address but something went wrong. Luckily, the driver lives close by so it did not take too much time for the nursery to finally reach our home. The five men jumped out of the truck to inspect the situation. They all went upstairs, to see the upper-terrace and came up with some kind of an approach to complete this task. They ended up with no strategy at all and started to carry the plants to the first floor. It was painful to see them struggling, as things would have been much easier had they had strategized the situation before actually starting the work. The driver and one other fellow took their positions at the upper-terrace and started…….’looking at things’. Three men were doing all the actual work, while the two other folks were doing nothing but watching.

Someone who watches someone else is a common thing in India. I already wrote a blog about the many ‘useless’ jobs in India. I you follow my posts you would remember this. I want to be straightforward in my observations, without any judgement. So, I have done some thinking about this phenomenon. What’s behind it? I haven’t gone online for this, as I don’t think that there is a special website for these kind of questions. So, the following texts are purely based upon personal knowledge and some of the previous insights & learnings within India.

As I had written in the blog about the ‘useless’ jobs in India, I’m also very optimistic about this phenomenon. It seems a bit odd, but there has to be a clear explanation. My assumption is the clear definition of a lot of jobs (mostly blue collar) and the requirements to hire good staff for these roles. Having a driver’s license is necessary in some cases, which will limit the number of potential candidates. Having ‘better qualifications’ probably means that you will get paid better. Keeping in mind the strong desire for hierarchy in India (officially banned but still existing within the caste-system), any specific individual who wants to do everything within his/her power to climb up the career ladder. Climbing up this ladder in India means: don’t associate with work that is assigned to other people. You may continue ‘looking at things’.

Photo disclaimer: this is not the photo of the Fitness club, but a scene I noticed in Aundh (without other looking people)

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