The Auto Drivers of Chennai

by Krishna on January 2, 2011

A few months ago, I had a great time on my flight back from India reading the hilarious “2 States” novel by Chetan Bhagat*. I laughed loudly a few times, making some of fellow passengers look strangely at me. The book is about how a boy (from North India) and a girl (from South India) want to get married and try to convince their parents to agree to their wedding. The ensuing culture clash is funny, but also realistic, portraying some unsavory aspects of Indian society with sarcasm and wit.

One small passage in the book that ran very close to my experience was the tendency of Chennai auto drivers to gouge unsuspecting newcomers to the city (fare meters are not switched on). This is not unique to Chennai, of course. I had the interesting experience of paying 3 different fares (70, 80 and 100 rupees) on 3 different days from Spot A to Spot B in my hometown. One can understand why the under-paid drivers do this, but not condone, because the people who actually get hurt with these practices are ordinary people, not the rich who can afford a few rupees extra.

Anyway, despite heavy progress, India is riddled with incidents of petty corruption. Almost everyone, despite their protestations of virtue, is caught in these acts as perpetrators or enablers. Which makes them all somewhat (or very) corrupt and somewhat (or very) untrustworthy. Again, nothing unique about India. There are many other developing countries as bad as or worse than India.

Any firm (such as software companies) handling knowledge workers relies on trust more heavily than organizational rules (which used to be okay for blue-collar style jobs). But it is a challenge getting the trust thing to work in a country like India. Managers do not trust employees well and vice versa. This makes managing harder as managers have to overcome their misgivings, get the employees to overcome theirs and then do the regular managing stuff. The bar is higher than it should be.

I am sure that this is a temporary phase in the long-term future of India. As the middle class grows, low-level corruption will get tolerated less and there will be greater trust and co-operation between Indians.

* P.S. Just to be clear, Chetan Bhagat epitomizes the sad state of Indian thinking. His “Five Point Someone” condoned cheating for college tests. His “One Night @ the Call Center” was noteworthy for its racism and its incredible deus ex machina. “2 States”, as I mentioned, was funny and rather harmless, but ultimately had a very predictable plot.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: