What Makes USA Great

Here I was going to my parent’s place at Rochester, NY and stranded for the whole night at the Detroit Greyhound station (How that came to pass is another story I prefer to forget and hence I am not repeating). The bus terminal was mostly empty with the honorable exception of a stoned Hippie playing a bamboo pipe and an African American pimp-wannabe teenager “doing his thang”.

No there was someone else there. The janitor. Having nothing better to do I watched him as he performed his duties. It was 4 at night…as I mentioned before there was nobody around. Nobody to check what he is doing, how good he is cleaning, whether he is cleaning or whether he is there at all. And yet this man, once with a wet broom on the floor and then with a vacuum cleaner on the carpet went about his work with such patient determination and enthusiasm that you would think this was his own bedroom he was cleaning. There would be people pouring in at 6 when the buses came again dirtying the place up again…..if a supervisor came then he could just blame the dirt on the crowd. But no. No corner was missed, the broom and vacuum went under every chair, every bit of paper was put in the bins.

I could not imagine such a thing happening in India. There even with supervision people do not work…left to themselves they would not even show up. Both the Indian and the American janitor represent the lower rungs of financial strength in society—that American janitors have a better standard of living is just because of US’s greater prosperity. The thing to note is that their relative positions in society are the same—yet their work ethics are so vastly different. Indian janitors in India’s bus terminals would typically clean at much lesser frequencies (if at all) and do a perfunctory job while they were at it. If you, as a passenger, desired a clean toilet and managed to catch hold of the janitor ( a miracle in itself ) you would have to pay baksheesh (payment/tip) to get it cleaned. After all you need it — you pay for it. The fact that it was the janitor’s responsibility to clean the toilet in the first place is moot.

In all my years in US, this is the biggest difference I have seen with India. Common people, working class people have amazing work ethics—to them proper performance of their duties is sarcosant. Corruption exists in US too but at the highest levels–Washington DC, industry top bosses, upper echelons of law enforcement—but at the lower levels it is virtually non-existent. (exceptions of course are there) . Cops do not take bribes, driving tests do not require you to “financially gratify” the tester, files are not “lost” unless you grease the right palms. In India corruption and dereliction of duty is systemic–from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high everyone does it and is brazen about it too. We have a lot of holy cows in India—work is just not one of them.

Looking at the man working away on a cold winter night, I realized that I was looking at USA’s real asset—the honesty and commitment of its blue collar work force. We can copy a whole lot of Americanisms in India thanks to MTV but this is one thing we just cannot. Cause firstly MTV does not show janitors vacuuming. And secondly its too damn tough an act to follow. Much easier to dress up like Britney Spears.

11 thoughts on “What Makes USA Great

  1. But GB think about it this way….would an INDIAN janitor in US work as hard as the one you mentioned? The answer most probably is yes…..it has more to do with the circumstances than the country to which one belongs to….

  2. freewheelingvagabond March 28, 2009 — 6:34 pm

    This post stands out because it’s so direct. A very good analysis of why things don’t work out in a country like India. But a relevant point made by Gourav too. You don’t work hard simply because no one else is working hard. You give what you should be giving but don’t get your due receipts in return. Maybe it’s a nationwide coordination problem, but no one is ready to sacrifice and be the first to do things differently.

  3. I’m glad I read this post. I have refused to believe that historically our country was home to great people. Lord Ram and so many virtuous men (or Gods if you may) are quoted as ideal people who lived here during the ages. But my feeling is that these became legends because they were exceptions in their time full of lazy people without sincerity towards their ethic.

    No wonder every patent is in the white man’s name.

    “Much easier to dress up like Britney Spears.”. Couldn’t have said it better

  4. Strange! I had somehow missed this piece. Its like excavating a new civilization. Early GB. Heh. Fresh and naive. Not bothered with the subconscious thought of comments and scrutiny. And young too. But having the same keenness and earnest. What a superb piece of writing.

  5. Isn’t it wonderful, yourfan2, to discover a missing vintage piece from Arnab? As compared to the quality of his pieces today, his earlier writings do come across as comparatively naive, but equally honest. I find his earlier pieces so refreshing! I always go back and try to look for some older writings that I might have missed but, alas, now I think I have read everything that he has ever written in this blog. I hope this darn fella tells us, on time, when his book is going to be published. I am more than willing to bring him some meagre revenue! Heh!
    I still go back and read one of his real master pieces quite often – ‘Letter from the Andamans’. In my opinion, it is his best all time post (though, at the heat of the moment, I might have called a number of his other pieces ‘the best piece’ šŸ™‚ ). I do not like to project myself as some kind of a pansy but that piece of him really brings the emotional side of me.
    Besides that, I used to really like the early Arnab’s penchant for replying to every single response he received. It gave me a very ‘close circuit’ feeling. It is very nostalgic. I do understand (and, would actually totally encourage him… not that he gives a rat’s ass about what I have to say) that now, with his number of followings and higher frequency of his posts, it is just fruitless to respond to every comment, but it is still very nostalgic! I also miss more frequent responses from you, Yourfan2! You always had something worthwhile to add to Arnab’s posts. And, lastly, I do wonder, with no intention of sounding too probing, whatever happenned to ‘yourfan’ (without the ‘2’). She used to be a frequent commenter. I guess those were the old days, not destined to re-occur! But hey, times change and it is not for us to lament but to savor what is delivered to us, today. No?
    I am not sure Arnab has the time to appreciate that.

  6. Debasish: The time reason is the primary one that I do not reply to comments. It’s not just the increase in comments and frequency of posting but also an increase in job responsibilities and corresponding decrease in free-time. And there is one more thing. In the earlier days, I would “engage” dissenting voices and feel it necessary to defend my views. Sometimes this “engaging” used to become flame-wars especially one with one old-time visitor whom Yourfan2 would remember who would accuse me, among other things, of a Right wing fundamentalist. Now-a-days I try to avoid, most of the time, similar “engagements” just because once you get into the mudpit, you cannot leave midway. And it is these mud-wrestles that would consume the most time.

    Regarding the quality of old posts, yes I sometimes do look back and cringe but then again they had their own charm too. I also wonder what happened to the old RTDM regulars –many of them have since stopped commenting and presumably of reading while others like Yourfan2 still keep at it.

    However I would still like to maintain “a close circuit” feeling with everyone who is a regular here. I would recommend if you do not have a Facebook account to sign up for one and then become my friend there if that removes some of the impersonality.

    Now the book is hopefully going to come out late this year or early next year. My first draft is nearly complete. Now I await for what I have done to others (scathing reviews) be done unto me.

  7. Arnab, I completely understand your reasons for limiting your comments. Also, it is wise of you to avoid those flame wars (some of those were funny though). I do remember the one who called you a right wing fundamentalist. I also remember I, myself, once engaged in some stupid verbal war with ‘yourfan’ here in your comment space. It was a complete moronic thing for me to do which cracks me up everytime I remember.
    Thanks for the update on the book front. I hope there will be an “It’s Out!” kind of a post from you when it hits the stores. I have been thinking about signing up for a Facebook account for some time. I just might do that now. I am just such a procrastinator!

  8. @debasish’s first comment: agree with every word you wrote almost 100%!
    the only reason it’s almost is because i discovered GB a year and a half ago, and not since the 3-4 years that others (like you and yourfan2) have been here.

  9. @ Arnab

    Nice to hear you address some concerns of old timers..As you put it correctly, time is indeed the main culprit. Whew, it’s been almost 3 years since I have been following your blog and your posts and the comments have influenced me in more ways than I can name. The impact has been nothing short of profound.. thank you for that!

    What’s the ‘book’ about? or would there be a post on it? Good luck.

  10. This is true even today……..more than 6 years later…..

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