Indian Entrepreneurs. The Tyre Specialist.

For some time now, I have been considering writing about some little recognized groups of highly individualistic entrepreneurs of India. They are as ubiquitous as our mosquitoes but, perform vital functions.

I have been pushed into doing so about one such group now by Conrad’s post America The Free which made me think of the service that our wayside puncture specialists provide us and many others who do so too. I shall be posting about some others in the days to come.

I shall start with these specialists without who our traffic will get more chaotic than it already is. To start with here are three pictures of the different types of them.

The top most and the bottom most have been inserted to give my readers a bit of amusement at our English sign boards. The puncher specialist is not a pugilist.  He will fix punctures for motorcycles. I am sure that Magpie will be delighted with them!

The others in the order they appear are, a city wayside repairer who some years ago had a tricycle van which was mobile to provide the service.  He found that it was more paying to stay put in one place and the tricycle has become his workshop.  Don’t be deceived by the looks.  It has got an official electricity connection and a compressor inside it.  He will fix a puncture for any vehicle, including huge lorries, in a trice.

The next one is a specialist for bicycle tyres only. He will shift from location to location as the day progresses to exploit opportunities where there will be more bicycle traffic, and better chances of punctures.

The next one will be for any vehicle, but mostly for long haul trucks.  These places are located on highways adjacent to places where truckers halt of rest and refreshments called dhabas, like this one.

A fuel pump is also likely to be in the vicinity.

These punture repair places are run by specialist owners usually helped by a couple of young lads, likely relatives from the owners’ villages.  They will also sell used tyres, and buy used ones for resale. That is the stock of old tyres stacked in the compound in the picture above.

Modern Communications.

I had posted my blog yesterday on the Indian Postal system and this post will give a completely different perceptive to communications and how things have changed over the years.

Last Sunday, my father suddenly decided to try and establish contact with someone from his ancestral village. My grandfather and his siblings had left that village and my father and his siblings were all born elsewhere. There was however some tenuous connections with cousins etc which also had got broken over the many decades that the family spread out all over India.

First, I sent an email to our family members through a yahoo-group mail system asking for any information that any of the older members of the family may have and am still waiting for some response.

Next, I went to the internet and found that google has already got a map for the village and from there I navigated my way to various options and located one website that gave me a contact name and email address. The website belongs to a very enterprising young man who has opened a cottage industry at the village to provide some employment to local people as part of his commitment to rural development. He himself stays in a town and only visits the unit periodically. The unit manufactures hand made incense sticks.

I sent an email to the address given in the website and within an hour got a phone call from the young gentleman, with who I had a long conversation. I have decided that I shall keep in regular touch with him, as I found him to be the kind of young man that will bring about change in our rural parts.

This young man, while could not give me much information, as he was not from the village, was able to get another contact very active in the local affairs of the village and passed on the telephone number to me by an sms message. I was able to speak to that contact who turned out to be closer to my father’s age and the two of them had a long conversation giving complete satisfaction to my father. The two of them have decided to be in touch with each other too.

Phew!

The Post.

My earliest recollection of anything to do with post is the longing for letters from my mother when I was eight years old. My parents and my siblings were then in Bombay and I had been left with my paternal uncle at Madras as an experiment to see if I would be compatible with my childless uncle and aunt for them to consider adopting me. This was quite a normal practice in India those days, and in some places, still prevails. That experiment failed but this post is not about that.

I went to school in the same school where my aunt was a teacher and generally had a very pleasant time during that one academic year that I was with them. My mother would religiously write post cards addressed to me and I was the only one in my class receiving mail from anywhere and was quite a hero for that.

By the end of that period, my family moved to Madras and my parents took me into their home, and the letters stopped.

Subsequently, whenever we went to our village for holidays, we would see postmen delivering mail to our relatives in the village. They were called runners and would cover many villages in a day by running between them with a cloth bag slung over their shoulders and a spear in their hand. For those interested, some details of these runners can be had from this fascinating site.

That spear totting postman was replaced by this man who was captured carrying mail from the railway station to the local post office some years ago.

Nowadays, that postman has been replaced by vans like this:

Now, city dwellers hardly use the Postal services, as Courier organizations have captured the imagination of the urban public. It is however a vital service for the majority of Indians who live in small towns and villages and depend on the post for their communications and more importantly for those all important money orders that are sent by members of the family working in far away cities or even overseas like the Middle East.

After the first introduction to the post via post cards from my mother, I got hooked to the post again, but more glamourously this time. My elder cousin was a librarian at the United States Information Service library in Madras, and got me involved in a Pen Pal programme. I exchanged many letters with three boys of my age from the USA, and over the years, as all of us grew up and found more interesting things to do, we stopped corresponding. A few years ago, with exposure to Google and Face Book, I tried to find them with no success.

That interlude also exposed me to the unique specimen, the stamp collector. Some of my friends were stamp collectors, and I was quite popular as I could give them American stamps! The only things that I collected were, punishments and injuries and scars from sports and games.

The next stage in my exposure to the post was growing up further and exchanging mushy love letters, about which I do not wish to elaborate here.

Then came my working life when the Indian Post took a very important role in my activities. As a traveling salesman, and living away from my family, I had to depend on letters and money orders and had an Identity Card issued by the Postal Department to enable me to collect letters and money orders addressed to me Care Of Post Master in many towns. I also had to write daily reports and mail them and had to use a combination of the Indian Postal Service and the Railway Mail Service. Writing and receiving love letters continued during this period as well and for some time into my married life when, immediately after marriage, I was sent on an all India traveling assignment by my then employers and I had to leave my new bride at her maternal home for the duration.

At the end of that assignment, I got promoted into the management side and was at the receiving end of daily reports and orders from customers as well as writing a large number of letters and reports to customers and the head office. All these were through the Indian Posts and that practice continued well into my working life till faxes and telexes took over and eventually the mobile telephones and computers with emails.

For the past twenty years, I have stayed put in one place and have established a good rapport with the post office that is responsible for our area and its employees, particularly the two postmen who deliver mail to us. Their service is excellent and I have had occasions to take up their cause with truant despatch departments of magazines who tend to blame them for internal dislocations, resulting in my not receiving subscribed for magazines.

It is however sad that such a vital service oriented department, by and large very humane and efficient, finds its importance gradually eroding due to other faster means of communications. Courier companies have taken away a large chunk of their business and despite coming out with innovative new products, the department is unable to compete with the more efficient couriers who offer both collection and delivery services.

Sadly, I have met young people who have no idea of what role the Indian Post has played in the history of their country and find it quaint that we depended so much on snail mail and money orders. This is an attempt at informing them what an important part of life was the Indian Postal system for people of my and older generations.

Shopping.

This is a true story and I vouch for its authenticity.

The background – I was shopping for dry fruits in the nearby supermarket, our version of say the Walmart. The aisle where I was unfortunately was a cul de sac and I was forced to witness this exchange. The young couple concerned are not known to me and I hope that they never have to be embarrassed by meeting me somewhere under different circumstances.

Husband (H): Why are you so unreasonable?
Wife (W): I am not. I have just changed my mind.
H: No need to change your mind. If you like it, you buy it. Here, I have brought it. (Throws a box of something into the shopping cart) I won’ have it that’s all.
W:Fine! If you won’t have it, I too will not. Here take it back and put it on the shelf. (Takes out the box and gives it to the man.)
H: See, this is what I mean when I said you are unreasonable. I don’t like it, you like it, and I have no objection to your having it. So, what is the problem?
Go ahead and buy it. (Chucks the box back into the cart.)
W: No, I don’t want it. Just keep it back. (She gives the box back to him.)
H: Look, all I said was that I didn’t like it. I didn’t say you should not buy it.
W: It is not what you said. It is how you said it.
H: What do you mean how I said it?
W: You made that funny face when you said it.
H: What do you mean, funny face?
W: You know, just like the face that your mother makes when she doesn’t like something that I have cooked.
H: What has my mother got to do with it?
W: Nothing, all I am saying is that you made a face like she does.
H:I don’t know what face she makes and in any case it is irrelevant to this matter.
W: No, it is relevant.
H: Just leave my mother out of it.
W: I never included her in it any way.
H: But you said she makes funny faces.
W: Look, I just said that you made ……..

Before she could complete that sentence, the husband, threw the box and a bunch of keys into the cart, and said
“I am going off. You do what you want. I don’t know when I will come home.”
He left the wife alone and stormed off.

The wife stood there staring after him and started cring. I came near her and said “Excuse me, I would like to go to the other side.” She moved the cart to one side to let me pass and started bawling.

What could I do? I scooted too.

India, My India.

This article in the Guardian, is a balanced as well as nuanced one, and for me the key paragraphs in it are these two, almost at the bottom.

“However, beyond the Bangalore IT hubs, the manicured lawns of the ministerial bungalows in South Delhi and the Mumbai stock exchange is another India, featuring neither in the ministers’ breathless itinerary nor in their equally breathless praise for India’s accomplishments. A new UN poverty index shows there are more poor people in eight states of India than in the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Child mortality rates remain among the highest in the world and two-thirds of the country do not have access to a toilet. In many places, there is simply no rule of law.

“There is a lot to counter the gung-ho optimism,” said Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, senior deputy editor of the Hindu newspaper. “The institutions of the state increasingly serve the very powerful and wealthy. In many states it is getting worse and that is frightening.”

Strangely enough, last week, I have been having an email debate on what needs to be done, arising out of a book that I had just finished reading, a review of which can be had here.

The key paragraph in that review which is the core around which our debate was built is this one:

“Easterly, therefore, argues that good institutions are the basis for economic growth by creating the right market-based and market-guided incentives. And these institutions are: rule of law, competitive markets, low taxation, noninflationary monetary policies, and free trade. These institutions then foster other cultural patterns of conduct, hard work, savings and industriousness, honesty and trustworthiness, creativity, and self-responsibility. These are the bases of the wealth of nations.”

My friend (MF) asked this pertinent question – “Could you clarify what’s referred to by the term ‘wealth’ used below? If it means material affluence, then I have considerable reservations. I’ll need time to articulate these.”

My response was – “I would include ‘human’ to ‘material’ in the term wealth.”

MF responded with – ” Human material wealth meaning HR resources for corporate consumption? Or character, wit, and stuff like that which thrives best outside organisations?”

My reply which will continue to generate more thoughts is as follows:

“Expand the horizon. Go macro and with Indian Human Resources treated as such, rather than as liabilities, healthy and wealthy, can take on the world Karl. To do that, we need to enable them. The brief paragraph gives a route map to achieve that.

Just use your imagination. Supposing all Indian farmers, irrespective of how big their land owning is, are allowed proper records of their titles, are free to use that assets as they see fit, including easy access to mortgage for working capital, or to expand, within an environment that offers them legal protection, the might of the law, with easy access to markets to source their inputs and to market their output, with labour available in plenty to hire and fire, what Indian agriculture/rural sector can achieve.

Similarly, the millions of Indian small businessmen, the road side vendors, the small tea shops, bicycle/motorcycle/other automobile repair shops, the retailers, the push cart vendors and so on, can achieve if they are provided with the same.

I can go on and on.

Indian entrepreneurship is what has been keeping us afloat. Not some great governmental interventions. The last has happened only in the last twenty years, prior to that the ordinary Indian is the guy kept us from becoming another Mayanmar. If that Indian can be given the benefit of all that the paragraph suggests, we can be world beaters. We have done that despite the claustrophobic atmosphere of the politico/bureaucratic set up.

All that is lacking is political will, added to the apathy of the Indian middle class which is busy feathering its own nest. If this class decides en bloc to bring about change in the body politic and the bureaucratic environment, it can. I wonder if it will.