Wednesday, October 1, 2008

This rule is enforced

Last night I hopped on a flight to Newark (variously pronounced by the staff in Mumbai as "Nay-vark" and even "Nee-vark"). I have to say that a 15-hour nonstop flight is a remarkably good way to get here, even if the airline is Continental and the food ghastly (those who are curious to know how an omelette tastes after it has been cooked for 12 hours will find an opportunity here).

What struck me on arriving in the US, was the fact that this is a country where the law reigns supreme. The post-landing announcement stated "you may use your mobile phones at this time. However once you exit the plane, the use of mobiles is forbidden in the immigration and baggage areas." And then came a chilling coda: "This rule is enforced".

So here's a quiz question: how does a bunch of Indians who have just come over from India and moreover have been denied mobile usage for 16 long hours, react when told not to use their mobile phones AND ALSO told that the rule is enforced? Well, like perfectly rational people. Not a single person was seen using their mobile after exiting the plane.

Now a flash back, if you permit, to the day before yesterday. I'm at my gym in Bombay. As I start my workout, a young woman (possessing a nose like a medieval dagger, but that's not essential to the story) gets on to a treadmill and proceeds to talk. She talks on her mobile phone (it's a rule of the gym that clients must not use their mobile phones or disturb others). Then she talks to her trainer. Then she talks to the person on the next treadmill. Then she wanders around the gym looking for people to talk to. Her voice is piercing and she talks nonstop. She has seen me glaring at her, but she doesn't give a flying f**k.

But were Ms Dagger-nose placed in the baggage area of Newark Liberty airport, she would miraculously shed her inconsideration and button her lip. It's so simple! When rules are enforced, people don't break them. In fact people start to respect them.

Another flashback, to the streets of now-faraway Bombay. The city has rules about how one is (and is not) supposed to drive one's car, how pedestrians may (and may not) cross the street, where one can (and cannot) park one's car, where one should (and should not) spit. But alas, there's a huge metaphorical banner hanging over the city saying "This rule is not enforced". And that's that.

None of these rules needs to be enforced in a draconian way, but enforcing them firmly yet mildly would make life in the city better for everyone. It might become possible to stroll around without being honked at and spat upon. It might become possible to drive and not have to dodge a pedestrian running straight into your path. The imagination boggles.

It's commonly asserted that it is simply not in the character of Indians to be disciplined, but it's clear now that this isn't where the the fault lies. The authorities simply need to demonstrate (without any show of aggression) that they mean business. Just say in a convincing manner "this rule is enforced", and people will fall into line.

It's true that drunk drivers in Bombay are being regularly put away in jail, a good - though rare - example of a rule that's being enforced. But the campaign against drunk driving started only after the situation turned critical - drunk drivers had started to kill people by the dozen. For the rest, the Bombay police periodically start campaigns that are either short-lived - like "no-honking day" which was a great success but was promptly forgotten from the next day onwards - or plain stupid like the threat to stop people listening to their car radio, which was, fortunately, withdrawn before it could be implemented!

I bring all this up in order to suggest that enforcement in a mild but consistent way, of mild but consistent laws, would be a great leap forward for our country. I realise that corruption of our police force is a major obstacle, but at least I'm sure now that the indiscipline allegedly built in to our culture is not the problem.

4 comments:

Meta Dynamic Systems said...

Random walks – rule enforcement:

Statutory Warning: Probably unconnectible for the most and personal references.

Though personally, I am apprehensive of the cascading implications of the firmild rule enforcement....

I wonder and am-almost-inquisition-oriented to my life-partner's perspective of firmild or otherwise law enforcements!

Today is Gandhi Jayanti. It is an endearing metaphor to many aspects. I am sure many of my acquaintances will take a dig on it. Here in India, nationwide ban on smoking in public areas takes effect. Being a smoker of the not-more-than-average-one-cigarette-a-day-kind, who is sneered at by both smokers and non-smokers(!), I am curious how this enforcement in reality takes effect. Following incidents mention is asking for trouble!

I remember an incident, about 20 years back, when I was traveling to Manali from Chandigarh by bus in December and my request to a fellow smoking traveler in an all windows shut bus almost got me expelled out of the bus! I tried my brave to open the windows a bit to escape passive smoking (I am sure I can be accused of being righteous) which set the mood of despise with my trip-companion.

Last time I was in Mumbai, I was in an ex-smoking friend's house. I had a nice afternoon meal. I was also offered wine. It was super and perfect. Bingo. I felt like a having a nice smoke. I knew smoking was not allowed in the house. I stepped out. Got down the stairs. My host accompanied me. No. He does not smoke anymore. I guess. I started enjoying my cigarette. Half way through our chatting and my smoke, I realised that I have a problem. How to put off the cigarette and more still where to throw the butt? My signals of discomfort and looking here and there went unnoticed. Looking down from the 7.5th floor I decided to take a chance and through it down, observing the 'safety' of that operation. The butt landed on the roof of the car-park next to the building making me let a sigh of relief, completing my enjoyment. Not for long. When my eyes turned I noticed the other pair of eyes watching the exact co-ordinates of the position of the butt on that roof and a look at me that told me that I should not rule out a probability of a mention of the specific co-ordinates, should I be not careful in future!! Now I am not sure whether I will smoke in front of this gentleman in future, unless I am bang next to an ash tray/bin.

These two episodes are not isolated; I seem to have a tower-of-babel-sack of similar episodes.

I have more to write: Singapore – often ridiculed, nevertheless a fantabulous example of a 'fine' city; Going on the wrong side of the road on a 23 hrs 59 minutes 55 seconds free road; an episode with one Shankar Chabiwala in Mulund, Mumbai; My own interest in Ralph Waldo Emerson's self-reliance; My own interpretation of freedom and limited understanding of Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom; A Bangalore friend's repetitive comment that going by respect for everybody results in better achievements than discipline definition; My own few successes and more failures in self-empowerment. It is late here now and almost running out of the Gandhi Jayanti IST. Hopefully I will return to these topics later.

Most of these, according to me, only means that moi and of the similar ilk (feel free to address us as meek if you insist, which I personally think is majority of the rest of the world - I am, personally, yet to meet who isn't) with relatively harmlessly mild and slightly clandestine border-line rule trotting attitude are the most likely to be subjected/submitted to the rules enforcement!

Sunil Mukhi said...

Dear M.D. Systems,

Yes I see your point, and have often made the same point myself.
But I think it's taken into account by my concept of firm yet mild enforcement.

I find that France (my favourite country of late, as readers of this blog are aware) has a good attitude wherein basic laws are respected but a fair amount of deviation, as well as deviance, is tolerated and even accepted.

A famous example: singing on the Paris subway for money is forbidden by law. On the other hand, this is one of the very things people go to Paris to see (because the standards of these musicians are high). So in law, it's forbidden, but in practice, it's allowed. The point is that a conscious decision (by the authorities) is involved here.

Where India fails totally is in preserving an overall level of order and consideration. On the street pedestrians and motorists each think the other is the problem, and both are right, as well as wrong - the authorities are the problem, since they let these two groups fight it out instead of making clear the norms of civilised use of public space.

And Mr Systems, you must visit my gym some time - I'm sure you will agree some people there deserve capital punishment!!

Sukratu said...

Being a person who lives in India (Poona and its traffic culture) and also a person who has lived in Germany for a while, I have been badly unsettled on more than one occasion when 'rules' had to be considered by me in India.
The culprit (I have thought over it for long) is my own conscience. When I know that a rule in India is to be largely accurately interpreted by sharply observing what others in the observer's position are doing, and a rule is Germany is interpreted largely (some may say completely) by the book,
is it not pretense to insist upon the rule knowing fully well that
culture A is not suited for it while culture B is?
For all you know the persons who 'break' rules (like perhaps the talkative lady on the treadmill or the several examples I meet everyday on Poona roads) are also
fully aware of this mindset of Indians and THEY ASSUME other Indians (like us) to be aware of it as well. It is for this last assumption that any attempt to convey inappropriateness of breaking rules is taken in a very very different spirit causing trouble.

It is simpler to live by rules in Germany (unless we miss checking our Indian habits by oversight!). It is not as simple in India unless we start giving our 7000 or more years of 'glorious' cultural evolution a little more serious consideration when pitted against our conscience.

Meta Dynamic Systems said...

It is a thin line between insensitive and hyper-sensitive, between convenient shedding or offering of considerations and inconsiderations, between convenient adaptations and scientific criticisms. One of the points of shame for me and a strong self-criticism is that, during my, dozen years' of Mumbai stay (my fondest still), I cultivated a taste for a version of Marathi Natya Sangeet, had great Marathi speaking friends and still did not learn the basics of Marathi, even such as, to engage in basic and requisite conversation with Ganga (the word that my eldest daughter learnt first! – name of our then domestic help). A north-Indian friend of mine displayed an orientation to learn Spanish in a matter of hours after he landed in Dallas, Texas with irreconcilable insistence on pronunciation and has honourable intention to learn Kannada for last decade of struggle-for-survival in Bangalore. Aren't Conscious and/or Conscientious, ultimately, merely, 'human' context-sensitive choices?


My response was 'Random walks'. Statutory Warning seems to have had more impact. I am yet to interpret my feelings - surprised, alarmed, happy,...?

I reread the blog, my comment and your comment – searched whether I/we agree or disagree or agreeingly disagree or disagreeingly agree or agree to disagree or some combination or none; whether there are innuendos. Phew!

Thanks for seeing my point. I, perhaps, intentionally or otherwise failed to observe your having taken into account my point in your concept.


I was perhaps over-enthused about my first ever entry to blog(can I real say web) -o-sphere. Was I? Phewer!!


In Paris, It would be interesting to clarify whether singing on the subway is forbidden or for money is forbidden or the exact combination. Thanks for the clarification: I am sure the standard of music is high and corresponding tourist attraction is certainly not a contention. I am sorry: I cannot boast of high taste in and understanding of music but still have a, call it quirky if you must, soft corner for fairly large part of Mumbai-local(/desi) 'musician' beggars. I most certainly will not be able to, and wont attempt, even if I can, clarify whether the bias is for the music part and/or something else. Quite often, I remember attempting to bring to notice and even offer details of my explanation to the nuances of this type of music while guide-role-playing to my visitors. I remember being enamored by the city Brugge(Bruges) at large and a musician there for money that they almost auto-got into my handycam. Orthogonally speaking, I saw the film "In Bruges" during my flight from Bengaluru to London Terminal 5 {Would love to mention about it some time} on my way to Aberdeen recently, remembered you in gratitude for referring me to visit Brugge, and even thought of you during various parts of the movie and thought you might like quite a few parts of this, what I would refer to as a, creative black comedy. I have not visited Paris for a long time and even my solitary visit perhaps cannot qualify for a bias-less (both-ways) visit. I would love to visit Paris once again, hopefully in near future, preferably with an appropriate, and hopefully resilient scientific thinking guide. I am looking forward to a day when I can visit the Americas...

Thanks for the invite. Gym is perhaps not in the top of my list of places I would like to visit, certainly not in Mumbai (Excellensea, as of now, perhaps is, where during my last visit to that super restaurant, I did last dine with a nice friend great gym product{Who was about to leave India in a few days} before moving on to an unforgettable and largely impressive disco-evening!), even for sure-fire samples to satiate my appetite for capital-punishment deserving candidates – I have a long list with multiple orders of appearance, greatest upper bound(gub) of which is yours truly and quite-often these candidates shorter-than-plank-time-swiftly-dynamically shift to being in the fond list of my circle of influence! Being a gub in my-own list of capital-punishment deserving candidates, I wonder whether Mumbai itself, let alone the gym in question, is a place for me to visit in the near future.


Phewest!!!

Note - It was in a hurry that I posted the comment from M. D. Systems... now thinking of it... I quite enjoy that