Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The "kanja pisnari" attitude

The sincerity, unobtrusiveness and general hard-working mentality of British Indians (or those from the Indian sub-continent, not necessarily only India) has been well-documented - and indeed their reputation is well-deserved. There are no harder working people, I'm sure. Where most British shops only open around 9am and down shutters exactly at 5.30pm, Indian-owned shops seem to go on and on and on (rather like the Duracell rabbit).

There's a little corner shop near where I live, owned by Punjabis. They open at 6am and close at 8pm - every single day of the year, including Christmas and New Year's! It would appear that they never take a holiday, something that puzzles the British very much. (I must admit it puzzles me too.) The Brits might make fun of this tendency to overwork, but they have to admit that it's an extremely convenient service for everyday emergencies!

That said, though, there is another tendency among "Indian" shop-owners which is not quite so well documented - that of penny-pinching wherever possible! The "kanja pisnari" trait is one that REALLY irritates me, especially when it's not required or justified.

For instance, when I was in Hyderabad the year before, I had to get a few documents photocopied, for which I went to a local Xerox shop. The full-page documents were fine. But when it came to making individual copies of certain pages in my passport, the woman at the machine actually tore up an A4 sheet of paper into four, making it just about the size of the passport pages.

It was extremely annoying for more than one reason - the first being her ridiculous, over-the-top miserly attitude. The second was that those bits of paper obviously didnt fit in with the size of the other documents that I had, making it difficult to collate. (For all I knew, the nit-picking UK embassy low-lifes might have rejected my application purely on that point alone, and I didnt want to prolong the process if I could help it.)

Now I'm not a wasteful person (not to hear my mom on that topic... heheh) but I felt that she was taking frugality too far, even assuming she was a follower of Gandhi (which I dont believe she was). To top it off, as I stood there simmering with annoyance, she gave me the bill - and each bit of paper was counted as a full A4 sheet.

I dont usually check bills anywhere, but that time I sure did. And boy - I went from a gentle simmer to a rolling boil in less than a second... suffice it to say that we soon reached an agreement - I would pay for the A4 sheet that was torn up (even though it was useless to me), as long as she made me proper full-size copies of the pages I needed, thereby justifying her bill. It wasnt that *I* was penny-pinching - it was just the principle of the thing. I dont think she liked me very much, but she ended up doing what I asked. Anyway, I didnt like her either.

Irritating though that episode was, I could sort of understand the attitude. The ordinary person in India needs to cut corners where possible - it's not only required, it's an ingrained instinct. I just expected that the instinct would have become watered down after a generation or two in the UK. But no... the local Indian shopkeepers might have British passports and local accents, but their penny-pinching, surly attitude is as freshly Indian as it could ever be!

It isnt just the little shops which are like that. The Indian supermarkets in Birmingham (where I go once every 3 months for Indian groceries) are just the same. They dole out their plastic bags as if they're made of gold. In fact, the bags are handed out one by one by the person at the till - you cant just grab a few and start packing your groceries like in any normal "western" supermarket.

And that local Punjabi corner-shop I was talking about... they get on my nerves every time I go there. Basically, the problem is shopping bags. They have two kinds of plastic bags for customers - one is thin and white and would hold about two puffs of air before splitting under the strain; the other is blue and comparatively sturdier. The thing is, no matter how much I buy, I ALWAYS have to ASK for a bag for my purchases. It has never been offered. They seem to think that I can carry two 2-litre bottles of cold milk, a dozen eggs, and a couple of cans or two just in my hands.

Thus far I have held on to my temper (well, the shop IS convenient for emergency provisions, and I wouldnt like to have to walk 20 minutes instead of just 5!)... but I make sure to ask them for a bag even if all I've bought is a toothbrush.

It might be petty, but I certainly feel the better for it! :)


Harish said...

Neat Blog.
Been reading ur blogs for sometime now. And, hehe, as u'd said earlier, I liked the content more than the colour. The shocking pink is a bit too, err.. well, shocking to my liking. But hey, it's YOUR blog. As long as u keep writing the way u are now, no complaints here! :)

Keep blogging,


Anonymous said...

Don't you think it's sensible to carry a bag while shopping? I can see that you plan to carry one, but more out of annoyance than out of choice! I always refuse to take that plastic cover, be it measly looking or posh looking. I think that Kanja pisnari attitude in this particular case isn't all that bad :-))

Shyam said...

Hi Curses,

It's not that shocking a pink! It's just pretty. It's DIFFERENT (like Maggi ketchup). :) Thanks for the other nice things you said, though!

Shyam said...

Hi Anonymous (wish I knew who you are)!

I guess I could carry a shopping bag :) That said, though, I dont go to that shop as a planned excursion - it's usually because I've left out something from the shopping list in my mind, the world's most efficient sieve. Things fall out and sometimes are not picked up until a lot later! ;)

Oh all right... I suppose I could write down my shopping list on a piece of paper! :)

Note: But if I was that efficient, I wouldnt have been able to write about kanja pisnariness, would I? :)

Shridhar said...

Irritating was a mild word you used,I can bet you were positively exasperated the day the photocopier incident happened, which in turn has biased much of your views here.
She tore the paper for whatever her needs or compulsions. (Surely, we are not going to discuss her the pverty in India, and its repercussions,) Once your specifications were clearly stated, I am sure she obliged you willingly.
A point about the shopkeepers' attitude. Pray tell me, would it be easier for their whole lot to change their thriftiness, or for you to carry a shopping bag, as someone suggested, or find some other way out?
Of course, there is no denying the gratification you get out of hard-bargaining for a flimsy plastic bag, or from grumbling about the incident to an international audience later.
I admired the very same 'Kanja Pisnari' attitude you talk about in an old gentleman who visited my house one day. He actually poured the excess water that was offered to him back into the bottle. I went with his policy, 'waste not, want not'. You probably might have been offended and objected to his lack of civility.

To each his own, what?