Thursday, January 03, 2008
The Tea Man
I had a cup of tea from this tea man who has stationed himself outside the FICCI Auditorium on Tansen Marg. In keeping with the effect I have on establishments, a crowd starting gathering there to have a spot of tea after I became a patron of the establishment. There were at least 5 different orders for cups of tea in the few minutes I stood there drinking my cup of tea.
I admire these people the most. Be it the tea man, the push-carters selling anything between various forms of nuts and chaat, or the shoe polishers, I respect these people simply because they spend their entire day working hard to make just that extra buck that will enable them to make that last leap to a stomach full with a nice hot meal at the end of the day. When you find it difficult to even spend an hour outside in the cold Delhi winter or the hot Delhi summer, then you will know what a task this is. The concept of 9 to 5 does not exist for them. They don't earn a fixed salary. What they sow, so they reap. The sweat on their brow determines their earnings for the day. And it is this attitude that enables them to deliver the highest service levels, time and again.
This tea man offered a woman a choice between disposable plastic and reusable glass for her tea, keeping in mind that she may not like to drink from reusable glass. I was just stunned that he had the ability and the presence of mind to keep and offer a choice. And the tea, which cost me only a fiver, was brilliant.
A shoe polisher really wanted to polish my shoes a couple of days ago. Since I don't like somebody else polishing my shoes (when I, as a perfectly able youngster, ought to be able to do it myself), I gave him some money. But once he received my money, he was all the more adamant that he would polish my shoes. Finally, I gave in and removed my shoes and gave them to him, even though he insisted that I could keep my feet in my shoes as he polished (I don't like people touching my feet - I ain't God). In two minutes, he had returned my scruffy shoes with such a shine on them that an Army man would be proud of them. They're still gleaming even today. I don't know how they do it, but I do know that I can never replicate it.
And yet, we often treat these worker ants of the Indian economy with the scantest respect. We believe that they are way below us. But they are people too, they have dreams and aspirations too and they work to achieve them, instead of resorting to begging or stealing. Instead, cops steal from them, the public discards them and they are often clubbed with beggars in our heads. We are willing to pay the marked price on a branded item in a fancy store, even though it is expensive and we are just paying for the brand name, but we will haggle and fight with these worker ants to squeeze out the last rupee of saving that we can, and deprive them of a bit of that hot meal at the end of the day.
So the next time, pause for a second and think. Nike and Levi's do not need your money. That's right. They're getting along just fine without your money, and although they behave like you're their greatest customer in the history of greatest customers and they will do anything and everything for you just so that you will spend a little money on them, they really don't care. But wait a minute, maybe that person outside the shop on the pavement carrying his trade with him on his back does need your money, and he's willing to work for it too, instead of begging like a parasite or stealing like scum. Choose!