In the late 90s Channel [V] a music channel coined the phrase 'We are like that only'. And it became a catchphrase for not just the channel, or the young people watching it but India itself.
The interesting thing was the end-piece. "Mind it!" That was the statement. Unapologetic, in your face. We know we're different and we're proud of it.
Ten years on, we have moved to the next level where we look at the foreign junta arriving to work and do business on our shores and shake our heads:"They are like that only." At the recent Cerebrate 'unconference' in Goa, this was certainly a recurring theme.
On day 1 over dinner there was an animated discussion on how Indian hotels have the best service in the world. "Europe is abysmal," was the general consensus. Besides, if you actually need 'help' don't count on it.
Kiruba's laptop was once stolen in Amsterdam and forget about doing anything. What rankled was they did not care. They played back the security camera video - which was duty, really - and that was that.
The second night over dinner there was an animated coversation about how politically correct Westerners are. Shriram Adukoorie, who runs Asklaila.com but spent many years at Microsoft shared how it is illegal to ask a job applicant any personal questions in the interview. ie Where do you live. How many kids do you have. How long does it take for you to commute.
Yada yada yada. Because you could be sued for discriminating against that person. If he lives far, how he will get to your office is his problem.
Hmmm. Sorry, we Indians don't buy that! A person is the sum of all his parts. In India, we would not consider some of these 'personal' Qs to be personal in the first place!
Sudhir went on to relate how a foreign client got 'lost' in the 5 minute walk from his hotel to their office. He was found trying to figure out how to cross the road (He was waiting for the traffic to stop! You know... politely and all that).
Looks like we in India are having the last laugh. After decades of facing questions like 'why do you have that red dot on your forehead' in their countries, we can now look at them struggling to eat a chapati with their hands and smile benignly,"Yeah, it will take you some time to learn that!"
And thus are born a new set of urban legends. Like this story I heard about a gora who went to a restaurant and after the meal was over, a bowl of warm water and lemon slice was placed before him. The chap had no clue he was supposed to use it to wash his oily-with-Indian-food hands. So he squeezed the lemon into the water, added some sugar and gulped it all down.
Now I am sure this story is probably untrue. I mean some helpful soul at the next table or the waiter would have alerted him but you know what - it does not matter. My daughter simply loves this story and tells it like a 'joke'.
Remember the old jokes where there was one American, one Russian and one Indian (mostly Sardarji) and you know who was the 'dumb' one. This kind of turns that joke on its head.
Of course I think in our heart of hearts we do envy the efficiency and 'ability to get things done' in Western and even south East Asian cultures. But we are seeing beauty in the chaos we live in.
The last day as we travelled back towards the airport in a bus there was a general consensus that a place like Singapore was too perfect, too neat and too convenient. No challenge, no excitement, no stimulation.
In Hindi we have a term for it called 'paasa palat gaya' or the tables have turned. Could you imagine ten years ago that we would see the problems and peculiarities of India as opportunities, instead of something to wail about?
And looking at some of the recent developments like the new airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad, or the spectacular Delhi metro, it looks like we willalso get things done.
In the longer run, how to retain our 'Indianness' minus the chaos is a question we should all be thinking about.