Thursday, November 09, 2017

IndiGo staffers were wrong to attack, but so was the passenger

I have been part of the hospitality industry for almost two decades now and have seen a zillion patterns of behaviour emerge out of a large smorgasbord of people on both sides of the fence - service providers and service seekers.

The set of service providers - chauffeurs, valets, housekeeping attendants, waiters, bell hops, baggage attendants and so on - have always been in a ready-to-serve stance with a smile plastered on their faces.

While in the west or even far east and far south-east down to Australia and New Zealand, the service providers can afford to be chummy, joke back and forth with us, be somewhat casual, address us as "love" or "darling" and feel not too less of an equal than us; in India we are still stuck with the Raj mentality.
The goras were ousted about 70 years back but they left behind brown sahibs and their nakhra-rich memsahibs. The caste and class consciousness is such an ingrained trait in our collective DNA that guides our behaviour when we come in contact with those we think our above or below us. We seem to, still, abide by the corporate unspoken/unwritten rule of "kissing the person above us on the corporate ladder and kick the one below".

When we Indians demand service, we are just not content with the excellence in the product we are about to enjoy. We also expect the service provider to kowtow, bend over some more and do that little "Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full" dance around us.

This is what generally happens in restaurants. We will get our frame upright, cock up and slant our face a bit in order to get that condescending pose we have perfected, reach deep down to bring out our most effective baritone, click two fingers and boom in a loud voice, "Hey you, waiter" .

At which point the liveried man in white will give a double bow, bob his head a bit, smile a forced smile and rush to our table to offer us his services. We will let him stand for as much long as we take to mull over the menu or discuss silly choices with our friends at the table. All along, the waiter, with one hand behind him and the other raised half way horizontally for the napkin to hang from, will wait patiently and as subserviently as he can. Each time this ludicrous scene takes me back to Downton Abbey.
We in India (particularly in the north though people in other regions can be accused of this grossness too) do not think of service providers as people with dignity engaged in various professions. To us, all service providers - from guards to delivery chaps, from housekeepers to gardeners, from restaurant stewards to those in airlines, from telemarketers to drivers - are our personal servants. And they ought to be treated with disdain and superciliousness. We opine that they should be kept in their place which is far, far beneath us.

In the recent IndiGo staff and passenger scuffle case, the airline staff had erred big time. In fact it is scary and disturbing to see that employees of a known brand would stoop to such levels. Good that the severely errant staffers are being strongly warned and kicked out of their jobs and now will find it difficult to find a new job with their faces so recognisable. A big lesson presents itself for a whole lot of people out there. Customer is king or queen and it is hugely wrong, unprofessional and unethical to behave in such a manner with a customer.

But what about the other side? Yes, the one from where the customer dishes out unpalatable, many a time difficult-to-bear and smile-back-at, abominable behaviour. As customers we cannot go about abusing people and throw our obnoxious attitude around. Apparently, the IndiGo flyer had abused the staff to begin with.

While we cannot condone how the Airline staffers have misbehaved in the worst imaginable way possible, we need to look within ourselves too. As white-collared, educated, affluent people of privilege, we cannot walk around assuming that we are above others and rule those who serve us.

Rajiv Katyal, the customer, as most news reports are telling us, was uppity and abusive. Even in the viral video, he is seen saying "Tu apna kaam kar" when being asked to move. It seems he took affront at being told to move by the staff and even during the struggle, he punches and uses colourful language to get the misbehaving, boorish men off him.
As for the staff members, yes they were clearly in the wrong. It was not their home ground, they were in uniform, on duty and representing a brand and themselves as brand ambassadors. When you are in the service industry you do not get down to fisticuffs even when abused. But these were young, hot-blooded, men with criminal intent, who should not have been hired in the first place.

Still, as people more privileged and educated, we must know how to behave with others, especially those much beneath on the societal ladder to us.

Himmat Anand, the founder of Tree of Life chain of hotels, conveyed a strong point in his half-jestful post where he says, "While finally boarding my flight just now, after a delay of 2 hours, I thought I'll also say "Fuck Off" and see what happens. I decided against it, because Apnee izaat apnea haath mein hoti hai." (It is in our own hands how we command respect from others).
09/11/17 L Aruna Dhir/Daily O