Sunday, July 26, 2009

Get off your high horses

This appeared in Sunday Times..... Very Important or Very Irritating People…???

Every second person you meet in India thinks he\she is a VIP. If not a VVIP. Expect for the one man who really is that – a triple VVVIP – our beloved former President, Dr. Abdul Kalam. The recent uproar over an ancient incident ( come on, it took place in April, not last week) makes one believe all the political huffing and puffing surrounding the ‘unpardonable’ act is nothing but opportunism parading as patriotism. And to think the elderly guy ( the ex-Prezzie) who was subjected to the ‘demeaning’ frisk, went along minus any protest or fuss! That is called true class, and real VVIP conduct. Every two bit Joe in our country expects, rather , demands special treatment. Why?? Simply! Haven’t we all cringed a thousand times hearing that awful sentence, “ Don’t you know who I am?” The obvious response to that is, “No. But so long as you know who you are, that’s fine.” Instead, the louder the person bellows, the lower some minion bows. It has to do with our feudalistic mindset and outdated class consciousness. This sickening attitude is so ingrained in our collective psyche, that it isn’t uncommon to observe a ten-year-old brat strutting around an airport with pappaji’s peons dancing around the kid. It is the old ‘Badey Baap ka Beta’ syndrome… and it is alive and thriving in the 21st century.
Hillarytai’s visit to India is again a nauseating reminder of how we crawl in the presence of ‘imported’ dignitaries. No doubt Mrs. Clinton is a world figure. But hey – she is a political appointee doing her job. Nothing more, nothing less. Why must we genuflect at her feet and treat her like a demi-Goddess who has deigned to bless the natives with her luminous presence?All that gush, the embarrassing, cloying coverage? Compare our breathless fawning over the American Secretary of State to North Korea’s terse dismissal of Hillary as a “primary schoolgirl.” Our over the top response to the former first lady is in keeping with the chamcha attitude we demonstrate whenever there is a celebrity around. But I am equally certain had Hillary been subjected to the same procedures as A.P.J. Kalam , had she been boarding an Air India flight, she would have gone along without a murmur, accepting that each country has the right to enforce its own security measures in today’s critical times. It is our own people who would have instantly exempted her , as they frequently do other famous faces. We need to understand why the bowing and scraping goes on in the first place. It is time we scrapped these arbitrary exemptions and made it one rule for all, regardless of status or position. This may lead to several ruffled egoes to begin with, but soon everybody will fall in line seeing zero options.
While this drama was being enacted back home, I was on an Air India flight from Frankfurt. Friends call me crazy for sticking with the beleaguered national carrier. Given the choice, I’d still opt for it, not because I am a masochist but because I believe that despite all its many shortcomings, it continues to represent a comfort zone and the service on board is far superior and more human as compared to the rude and robotic conduct displayed by foreign cabin crew. There are several frequent fliers who remain loyal to Air India with good reason. It is distressing to note how the airline is being systematically stripped and ruined over the years. Successive governments have taken advantage of technical loopholes to assert themselves, loot money, favour rivals, neglect genuine concerns and do so brazenly, safe in the knowledge that no action will be taken against anyone. Corruption rules. And the people at the receiving end of all the new fangled cost cutting measures are mostly hapless, loyal employees who have served the airline for thirty years or more. The VIP syndrome strikes again, when one gets to the bottom of the mess. Assorted netas ( India’s real royalty) have wreaked havoc on an airline that was once rated amongst the world’s top five carriers. Nobody is answerable anymore.Some of the most profitable routes have been bartered off, some great international properties sold, even the prestigious hanger at Heathrow was flogged .The days of legends like J.R.D. running the show are long over. The last hope to rescue the airline remains another Tata – aapro Ratan himself. Granted, he is capable. But what is needed is a miracle to keep Air India aloft.Perhaps Ratan’s the man – another true blue VVIP like Dr. Kalam, who would never object to being frisked – even while boarding an Air India flight!


Anonymous said...

What will happen when Nano will be the part of Mumbai's overcrowded roads.
Where is the vision ???

narendra shenoy said...

Agree very very strongly with every word.

I agree with you about Air India. The staff is generally very sweet.

And this VIP culture really needs to be put to an end. WIsh we knew how.But then, there is too much servility in our system.Hate the way the watchman in our building stands up and salutes everytime i walk in.

Zoy said...

The "Chalta Hai" attitude and "Pata hai main Kaun Hun" are sort of identification of Indians. At some point or later it comes out unbarred.
I do agree to the outburst of emotions of Indians at certain point, which sometimes is irritating, but at the same time is a hereditary trait of us Indian. We can't help doing extra (for instance we can't help taking extra luggage while traveling, Moms can't help putting extra on plate while serving their children). But as truly said every where this does not apply and can be annoying.
But personally I enjoy this touch of extra most of the makes me feel at home.
(Sorry for the extra long comment)

introspection said...

I wrote a very strong comment on this one (this morning) but in the previous post "Quickie". Pls read it here or would you I copy paste it here as well? may be I should. ! sec:

comment on : "DON'T DARE TOUCH ME. I AM A VIP" which I just read in TOI.

I could'nt wait till this appeared on your personal blog, which is probably read far more often. You could'nt be more right about VIP syndrome by which every second person one meets is infected except probably the real VIPs like APJ. If frisking EVERY ONE is the law of US, I guess we cannot object; but it's not so much about feeling belittled about our VIPs, as much as us it's about our psyche which is suffering from this age old vip syndrome. I would agree that a law should be passed that no staff in beaurocracy should salute/bow/lend to any government offical. There will be resistance from the very VIPs we are talking about; but eventually the dust will settle down. Remember the princely privy purse matters?
Hillary tai's popularity was a classic case of our Psyche. At the risk of openly offending you and your peers, I think it has more to do with media idiocyncracy and their cheap gimmicks than public psyche. though public psyche is equally nuts, I agree. I am tempted to mention here a real life incident that happened to me. We had some close American friends (whites) visiting us in Pune. We took them out sight seeing; as they did to us in the US. As we reached Ajanta caves and they were busy shooting pictures with all of us, a group of fellow Indians requested to be photographed with us. As we smilingly got ready to pose they asked us (Indians) to remain out of their frame. That's what I call inbred racism.

Air India and it's staff are classic 'works in progress' as far as racism is concerned. I gave up showing my flying patriotism after I was subjected to 3/4 instances of racism and open fraud. On one accasion they made my 2 minor and unaccompanied children sit in the last economy row of a packed aircraft and failed to serve them even economy meals on board, inspite of my kids holding First Class boarding passes (not just tickets). Apparently, some VIPs/PNIs (People of NO Importance) were to be upgraded (free) on this journey. You my dear, either travel First Class, AND being a CELEBRITY - a journo at that; have no clue how your fellow passengers get treated. you just experienced classism/racism at its worst! Coz you got treated like a VIP.

Your article is great on all other counts as usual.

there it is. And I totally disagree about Air India. Phew...!!!

The Geekie said...

yeahhh i read this column in TOI 2day morning

essbee said...

"Hillarytai’s visit to India is again a nauseating reminder of how we crawl in the presence of ‘imported’ dignitaries. No doubt Mrs. Clinton is a world figure. But hey – she is a political appointee doing her job. Nothing more, nothing less. Why must we genuflect at her feet and treat her like a demi-Goddess who has deigned to bless the natives with her luminous presence?All that gush, the embarrassing, cloying coverage? Compare our breathless fawning over the American Secretary of State to North Korea’s terse dismissal of Hillary as a “primary schoolgirl."

Look who's talking!!

Nobody except for TOI and its hired celebrity cared or crawled in her presence. We did't genuflect at her feet or treated her as a demi-goddess. Its your ilk who were doing all the gushing and genuflecting, not we, the people. So please spare us your sanctimonious homilies..

Sun said...

Air India service is good????


Ratan tata is capable? - I would have been willing to believe that, but his 'vision' in bringing out the Nano has made me lose all respect for him.

Sun said...

Oh, and on the topic of Ratan Tata, I've wondered about this one - the 5 star hotels had been warned of potential attacks months before 26/11...what caused these hotel big bosses to disregard that information???

Nandini said...

@ Shobhaa De..

I will have to agree with every single point you've just mentioned.
Without doubt, Air India is the most customer friendly airline that I have experienced abroad. Talk of British Airways, Emirates( a little better), American Airlines(the worst ever), & the domestic flights in USA( horrible!), Lufthansa(boring!), none can match up to the service & food( mind you, is the best of the lot, atleast you won't go hungry) provided by AI.

The behavior of the concerned air hostesses on other flights is so pathetic, it's as though they have been burdened with a task they absolutely wouldn't want to perform. And if they do not understand the accent, they will just brush your order aside.

We have this habit of labeling our country's service sector as mediocre management. If we get to know how things work in other parts of the world, it will put a stop to this mindless degradation that we resort to. We are better at many things,if not the best.
The only problem is that we take everything for granted.

ms said...

Dear Mz De
at last, some one who has put this "kalamgate" in the correct perspective. as far as treating celebrities with criminal leniency is concerned, i bet our politicians also bypass security at domestic and international airports. one reason why i choose NOT to fly air india. i have seen people get on board with half consumed liqour bottles, bags without the security tags and simply even without the guy frisking them electronically - all air india passengers! then i read that a guy travelled extensively with a weapon on board, i am not surprised. so i am happy for you if you are happy with preferential treatment on board our local airline. and the crew on board international airlines is never rude, just a little overworked because indian passengers treat them like their domestic help. even on SIA and Qantas, all indian males start hollering for drinks before we even take off, then also keep leaning on the buzzer throughout the night for more drinks. seeing them urinate in public i assumed they were never toilet-trained as infants, but seeing this need to have their mouths full tells me that they were also never weaned!

Karan Bhardwaj said...

I don't agree with you! President of any country is the first person! Ryt? Suspecting APJ Abdul Kalam means whole country is under suspicion!
Yes, VIP culture is not good but this matter should not be framed like this! How many times we will be insulted by foreign players?

If we respect them, then we deserve it back as well!

I guess Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam must be thinking of Mahatma Gandhi when he was asked to remove his shoes by foreigner airlines! Years ago, Gandhi was insulted by Britishers in Train and years after, Kalam experiences same at airport!

Richard said...

Subrahmanya Bharati once wrote that all Indians were of equal value and importance. I guess some should be treated more equally than others.

krish said...


A good read......modesty is now ays the virtue of say lesser mortals likes brash one can be is wht gets you the max eyeballs......and in this time and age anyone can claim to b an a local worker of anyparty wud demad to b treated like a vvip in his domain of existance.....and as you said no one is truely answerable ...(price of democracy.....india style)

Luv Kris

Eidothia said...

Puhleeez notice how the flight attendants conduct themselves to others around you - esp old men and women. I always have a sad experience with this airlines and have almost always given my two pence of thots on how to be polite on the least of least to them!

Sidhusaaheb said...

Going down the 'budget airline' route might save Air India yet...

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