We have been criss-crossing the country for a publishing project; from Chennai and Puducherry to Ahmedabad with quick dashes to Goa and Mumbai. With more visits on the anvil, we keep our bags ready to go at short notice.
After a day of meetings, I like to walk around whichever city we are in, taking in the pulse of the place. People-watching is fascinating, not so much at airports or coffee shops – such places have a tendency to impose a homogeneity on their users. Observing a variety of people as they bustle about their business can tell us much about the nature of a city.
So it is that Chennai immediately gives a visitor the impression that it means business. Never mind the merciless glare of the sun, Chennaites are up and about, clear and confident about their work. In Ahmedabad, my colleague who hails from Sikkim, made a telling observation: she turned the tap on in the bathroom and the rush of water gave her the feeling that we were in a prosperous place.
We are a hospitable country but degrees of hospitality vary; in restaurants in Gujarat, the waiters exude friendly service without servility; in the southern states, there’s a take-it-or-leave -it attitude, in Delhi it verges from unctuousness to hauteur.
The experience of setting-up meetings reveals a lot about a business and its culture. It’s not as much the size of the company but the attitude of the people that makes a difference. If people respect their own work and time, they respect that of others. We sometimes find executives of big companies in cities like Mumbai displaying arrogance and aggression. Perhaps these are valuable traits and precisely what their bosses want from them to build their business. But when it is completely at variance with the carefully cultivated brand image of the company, it is a rude jolt. Fortunately such experiences are few and we have mostly good experiences with businesses run by people who are as interesting as the businesses they own or manage.
The attitude of the governments in various states comes across not just in the grand and expensive projects but also in small measures. Simply by banning movement of traffic in the evenings along the beachfront boulevard of the Beach Road, the government of Puducherry has won the hearts of locals and tourists. Now if only the tourists can keep their voices down, it would be a wonderful gesture of respect to the locals and to the magnificent Bay of Bengal.
I am writing this column from the patio of the wonderful Windflower resort in Puducherry; the beach is about a kilometre away but I can see it from where I am. There’s a stretch of backwater and the resort plans to take visitors across to the beach in modern catamarans but for now I trek alongside a fishing village to the sea and a stretch of clean, soft sand.
This is a rarity in itself as most beaches in Pondicherry are hard and rocky. There are a few fishermen, waiting patiently to cast their nets at the outcrop where the waves break. Tirelessly, they repeat their actions and I am caught up in the unhurried pace and absolute peace of the moment.
What impresses me most is the cleanliness of the place. There are no leftovers from picnics, no residue of fuel washing up to the shore from water scooters or ATVs. I say a fervent prayer for this place to stay as it is.