V Pattabhi Ram
Wafers was short-listed by her office for her first overseas trip. It was part of a reward package for stellar performance during the last one year and would include a week long paid holiday to Dubai and Singapore. A year ago when she had joined the KPO fresh out of ICAI, Wafers hadn’t thought that life would be so great for her. Even the encyclopedic China had grudgingly admitted that the pony tailed lass had come a long way during the last 12 months.
As she stepped out of the aircraft at the Dubai International Airport she was completely taken in by what she saw. Nothing, yes nothing, had really prepared her for the sight. Wow. It was a huge, massive airport; spic and span. Cozy air-conditioners, walkathons for the lazy, golf cart for those who couldn’t walk the distance, huge duty free shops where you could gaze and gaze with little thought, and a sea of humanity; Wafers never knew that she could get so excited. But what took her breath away was the fact that by the time she reached the baggage zone, her baggage had already arrived, immigration was completed in a jiffy what with hundreds of counters manned by men who understood order and method. She knew that she was clearly in a very different world.
It looked all odd. The driver sat on the left hand side of the car; he drove on the right side of the road. So unlike India where you sat on the right side of the car and drove on the left side of the road. The cars moved in an orderly manner in what must have been at 130 km per hour. At least that’s what the speedometer showed and she had no reason for suspecting it. Looking outside from the comfort of her air-conditioned limousine she felt like she was watching an assembly line; full of precision, speed and efficiency. At the traffic signal the car stopped. She made friendly banter with the elderly driver. The traffic lights turned from red to amber to green. And she was surprised to notice that no one honked. Wow! How so very different from her India.
As she reached the Hotel Apartment where she would stay the next three days or so she settled the cabbie not with Indian currency but of-course with dirham. It gave her a feeling of excitement; after all she was handling foreign currency for the first time. As she made ready to pick her luggage and get into the Hotel, she was pleasantly surprised when the cabbie returned 1 dirham. In India that was unthinkable. The auto-driver always pocketed the extra money. She walked into the hotel, took the elevator to the sixth floor where she would live with a colleague.
The sight seeing was exciting. She never knew that she would enjoy things so much. The huge malls where people shopped well into the wee hours of the morning buying huge quantity of food and vegetables as though there was going to be no tomorrow. The sexy multiplexes, the assembly line of high rise buildings, a star hotel right in the middle of the sea, the well lighted roads, traffic jams in the night, safe walks even very late into the night – all this was exciting stuff. When she had to leave Dubai she felt a tinge of sadness, for sure; and told herself that one day India would be like Dubai.
Her next hop was Singapore. Oh gosh what a contrast it was. After the Dubai airport experience, this initially appeared as a let down of sorts. The airport was plush for sure, but it lacked Dubai’s grandeur. Long serpentine queue stood at the two counters for immigration, very unlike Dubai where there was counters by the dozen. There was no one here to ensure that the line moved smoothly. In a sense it reminded her of India. And then it took her some time to spot her baggage.
The moment she caught a cab, there was a sea change in her perception of Singapore. If Dubai as a place resembled the new rich, Singapore had the staid, traditional, aristocratic British look. She like that, born and bred in a family which married modernity with conservatism. If the cabbie at Dubai wore a moron look the one who picked her up at the Singapore airport was all-talk. For a moment she didn’t recognize him as a taxi driver. He was dressed the way a corporate executive would be. He spoke flawless, accent free English. He wore formal dress, with tie on. He talked to her about the history of Singapore, about how the king had transformed a moribund country into a choice destination. He gave her the kind of low down that a tourist guide would.
Traffic wasn’t heavy. That was a big relief. She asked him why. The cabbie supplied her with the necessary gyan. In Singapore if you wanted to buy a car you needed to pay the government a deposit of 50,000 Sing dollars. That was big money. The result: even the well heeled thought twice before buying a car. A second car was a strict no-no. The cabbie hastened to add that this was possible because the alternative modes of transport namely the well connected metro and the public transport system, the bus were efficient and comfortable.
The following day she tried them and was impressed. Both the metro and the bus were state of the art, posh looking, air-conditioned, technology driven and helped you commute from place to place without a hitch. The roads were flat, smooth and flawless; very unlike the roads in India. There were clear lessons here for India, she told no one in particular.
That day she went sight seeing. It was simply outstanding. The night safari, the bird park, the zoo, the dance on the beach…. Wow. It took the young lady’s breath away. The country was clearly being marketed to the outside world in a spectacular manner. She wondered, “How could a country with no industry, no oil and no water become so rich thriving principally on the tourist population”? It threw up the second India specific lesson. “Why could India, with its rich heritage of art, infrastructure and schooling, not do a Singapore”? She remembered what China had once said. “If you are endowed with cartloads of talent you tend to under-perform. If you have very few blessings, you hold them on to dear life as a life line and work around it”. Truly said, indeed
When the time cam to leave Singapore she told herself that one day she would work in Singapore; one day India would be like Singapore. Fully modern, completely technology driven, corruption free, free and fresh air minus snarling traffic, state of the art transport etc.