Saturday, January 13, 2007

India: never knowingly understaffed

I am a tiny bit ashamed to admit this, but we just hired a car and a driver for three days. He drove us from Madurai to Thanjavur on the first day (about six hours driving), on a couple of desultory trips round Thanjavur on the second, and to Mamallapuram on the third (about eight hours driving). Nights, I think he slept in the car. That's what drivers do here. That was one of the reasons I chose a big Ambassador rather than a little Maruti.

This entire exercise cost about the same as one standard class open return from Oxford to Preston. We did it a) because there were no direct trains between point A and point B, and no trains at all between point B and point C, so we'd have been on long distance buses with (ever increasing) luggage, which is an utterly miserable way to travel, and b) because we both had stomach upsets which made any form of transport over which we had no control a bit of a scary prospect. And we felt pretty knackered out generally. But mainly because it was so damn cheap.

It's so damn cheap because there are so many people here. In every hotel there is a staff of hundreds - the person who takes the laundry is not the person who cleans the room (or indeed the person who *does* the laundry), the room service boy will call someone else to call the lift for you, while a third boy will carry the bag you have given up any attempt to carry yourself. You pay the man on reception, and he hands your receipt to someone else to put into an envelope and hand to you. Restaurant service is similarly finely gradated. The lowliest person you see is the one who clears the crumbs off the table after the plates have been removed by someone else, but there are many more levels after hours, I'm sure.

And most of these people rely on tips to supplement a tiny wage, so driving is a relatively good job, I suspect, especially if everyone feels as guilty as we did and tips so well.

I wish his English had been better though. His manners were impeccable and his driving excellent, but he was otherwise totally inscrutable. We wanted to explain. He may of course not have given a toss. Oh, it's a complicated business.

Anyway, home soon. One thing I won't miss is the Indian media. Today's Deccan Times headline was better constructed than most, but utterly depressing: TSUNAMI-HIT SELL KIDNEYS. Ack. Sleeping in the car has to be a better way to earn a living than that.



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