1843 – a magazine of ideas, lifestyle and culture by The Economist recently published Adrian Wooldridge’s article about his experiences in India. I believe that Mr. Wooldridge tried to be humorous but ended up insulting the “service economy”.
The article begins by trying to explain what the “service economy” in the “emerging world” looks like. It talks about how “waiters compete to pour your tea and masseurs vie to pummel your body” and how in Delhi someone approached Mr. Wooldridge with a Q-tip in hand and offered to wax his ears for him!
The article proceeds to describe a series of really bad choices that Mr. Wooldridge makes in the “emerging world” and he concludes that “.. the service economy contains bear-traps for naive foreigners.”
Reading the article gives rise to two sets of emotions – first I feel sorry for the rough time he had in India and then I feel insulted because the only incidents that he narrates, describes the “service economy” in the “emerging world” as one filled with deception.
Mr. Wooldridge describes Jamshedpur to be “in the depths of the Bengali jungle. Getting there condemns you to passing through Kolkata airport, which is run by the communist-dominated local government for the express purpose of humiliating itinerant capitalists.”
I believe that the unrefined description of Bengal stems from his experience at the hotel:
“A charming man knocked on my door, introduced himself as my personal valet, and promised to get my suit dry-cleaned, my clothes washed and my shoes polished so that I could see my face in them, and deliver my belongings to my room by sunrise. Exuberant at the thought of being treated like a maharajah, I handed him everything I wasn’t wearing.”
While it is unfortunate that he was robbed of his belongings in a foreign city, it makes me wonder if someone as naive as Mr. Wooldridge should be recommended to travel anywhere by himself. I know from experience that we accept the weirdest of incidents as being typical to an unknown place. A new place has the power of making us either terribly skeptical about everything or embarrassingly vulnerable to everything.
Of course the next day, he realizes his mistake. “It turned out that their hotel did not provide overnight cleaning let alone personal valets. My charming visitor of the previous night was, it emerged, a scam artist. With several days of meetings ahead of me, I was left with the clothes I was standing in: well-worn chinos, a heavily creased shirt and brightly coloured sneakers.”
Mr. Wooldridge ends up spending the day visiting Tata Steel and villages that he describes as follows, “I spent the first part of the day visiting the steelworks – the hottest and sweatiest place I have ever been – and the second half visiting model villages in the jungle, which were dirty as well as sweaty. “
He then flies to Mumbai, where he stays at the Taj and doesn’t find time to buy clean clothes. Instead he tries to buy deodorant to help his smelly clothes. It makes me wonder why he wouldn’t make time to buy a shirt. He does mention that he arrives late and has to rush to meetings but it almost seems silly that he makes time to wander around looking for deodorant instead of clean clothes.
His description of street hawkers is quite accurate. They are a persistent bunch and the only way to get rid of them is to ignore them and keep moving. But most tourists feel compelled to respond to their never-ending rhetoric.
Mr. Wooldridge finally ends up buying what he believes at first to be deodorant from “a hole in the wall that seemed to sell everything.”
During his meeting, his skin begins to burn and he is convinced that it’s caused by whatever was in the deodorant can. The article ends with Mr. Wooldridge ending his interview abruptly and rushing to take a freezing shower.
The heading and content of the article have the power to mislead people into believing that the “service economy in the emerging world” is simply waiting to pounce on and rob naive tourists. I certainly hope that that’s not the image readers begin to believe in.