Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wish I were an alumnus of La Martiniere School, Kolkata

Last week, I happened to read the article (refer full text and link below) in a column by Mr. Jug Suraiya in Times of India newspaper. I could not help laughing at the shade of satire in it. Very good read and here I add it to my blog for all future references :)
Link -
Title of the article, details of publishing - Take a tip by Jug Suraiya, 12 August 2010, Times of India, Bangalore
Full text - (refer below)

Take a tip

Without referring the matter to me, the porter in the New York City hotel picked up my bag six inches and put it on a trolley. He wheeled the trolley five feet to the elevator, and pressed the button for the 5th floor. He wheeled the trolley 10 feet to my room, opened the door and pushed the trolley in. He held out his hand. Bowing to the inevitable, I put $5 — which i could ill afford — into it. My bag had travelled 10,000 miles with me free of cost, its conveyance covered by the price of my air ticket. However, its journey of less than 100 feet in a NYC hotel was not covered by the price of the hotel room and cost me an extra five bucks by way of a characteristically American institution known as the tip.

Though not unique to US culture, giving a tip for services rendered is the bedrock on which American capitalism is based. According to folklore, the word tip, as in gratuity or baksheesh, is said to be derived from the initial letters of the phrase 'to insure privilege'. To insure privilege, or good service, from a waiter in a restaurant, say, you gave the chap a tip over and above the price of the meal consumed. This custom was soon extended to other areas of daily commerce so that everyone, from taxi drivers to tour guides, hotel porters to Wall Street multinational bankers, expects a tip for services rendered — though in the case of the Wall Street bankers it's not called a tip but an incentive bonus, which is often in excess of a million dollars a year and which might well have helped to nudge the world into the global economic crisis.

Crisis or no crisis, almost everyone I encountered on a professional basis in America — cabbies, bartenders, the folks who served you fast food and the people who pointed out to you the local sights of interest on a hop-on, hop-off tourist bus — not just expected, but often demanded, a tip for doing whatever it was that they were supposed to be doing anyway, and for which presumably they were already being paid. And just in case you missed the point, sometimes they'd even do the arithmetic for you and tell you on a restaurant bill, for instance, exactly how much the tip worked out to if you left a 15 per cent tip, a 20 per cent tip or a 25 per cent tip. But 15 per cent was the absolute bottom line. If you tried to get away with anything less than that it was likely to be interpreted as an overt act of hostility liable to provoke an appropriately warlike response.
It got so much that whenever I found that once again I had lost my way — which I have a great knack of doing, in America or anywhere else; why is it that the place I'm looking for is never in the place that I'm looking for it but in a totally different place altogether? — I wouldn't ask passers-by for directions. What if the person I stopped turned out to be a professional, unionised directions-giver and demanded a tip for the benefit of telling me that where I wanted to be wasn't where I was, and where I was wasn't was where I wanted to be? Fifteen per cent, minimum, just to hear that? Get lost. Which is exactly what I did.

Going around in circles in America, I realised that we in India also have a long tradition of giving tips. Except we don't call them tips. We call them guru dakshina, or tatkal, or speed money, or ghoos. Or just plain bribes. Which we perforce pay to service providers like cops, and babus, and politicians, and the guy who replaces our empty LPG cylinders, to make sure that they do indeed provide the service that they are meant to provide to begin with. And because we think of these things as bribes, we beat up on ourselves, and the world beats up on us, for being corrupt. No one beats up on Americans for being corrupt, not even those Americans who happen to be Wall Street bankers. It's a question of vocabulary. Change the word 'bribe' into 'tip' and 'corruption' becomes 'capitalism'.

So next time you have to make a hand-out to the LPG delivery man, or to your friendly, neighbourhood CWG contractor, don't think of it as a bribe. Think of it as a tip. As in a 'totally innocent practice'.
Jug Suraiya is an eminent journalist, a great satirist who features in the opinion editorial in Times of India newspaper. His column carries creative names like - jugular vein and juggle bandhi.
In the habit of reading Times of India for over 4 years now, watching Times now channel news debates; I have grown fond of Jug Suraiya and Swapan Dasgupta. While the former uses very simple, funny thought with many a pun at places, the latter is spotless clean on facts, facts on history and politics, highly verbose in nailing down the point. The fondness for both seems to only increase with time. They both are very noted journalists and are alumni of La Martiniere, Kolkata. Wish I were an alumnus of the same school, guess it is never late ... can learn so much from their blogs/posts/columns, would love to write like them someday.

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