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.