Monday, November 17, 2008

Tale of two cities - Delhi and Mumbai


On returning to India we decided to settle in Delhi rather than Bombay. It made sense for to settle there because, in my new career as a writer, I needed to be near libraries, editors and think tanks. Delhi has plenty of these, unlike Bombay, which is primarily a commercial city. If one is not making business deals, I felt, there is no fun in living in Bombay. However, my wife hated Delhi. She said it had no soul, and that its street life was aggressive.

They say that the measure of a civilization is how it treats its women. Since coming to Delhi I have met many women who long for Bombay. My wife explains that Bombay gives women dignity. If Bombay respects women, Delhi looks on them as sex objects. In Bombay, she can take a taxi at midnight; in Delhi, a girl cannot walk freely on street in the evening. It seems that it takes more than education to bring civilization.

Bombay has this civilization quality, I think, because of it origin as a city of commerce. Mentesquieu wrote in his Spirit of the Laws that “it is almost a general rule that wherever manners are gentle, there is commerce; and wherever there is a commerce, manners are gentle” He felt that commerce diverted people away from brutal wars and bloodshed. A few years later, Samuel Richard added that “commerce makes him who was so proud and haughty, suddenly turn supple, bending and serviceable. Through commerce, man learns to deliberate, to be honest, to acquire manners, to be prudent and reserved in talk and action.” Commerce, they say, encourages bourgeois virtues of thrift, hard-work, self-reliance and self-discipline. My experience with businessmen – Marwaris, Jains, and Gujrati Banias – is that they posses these qualities in abundance, particularly virtue of restraint.

The first rule of business is that unless both the buyer and seller are happy, the business transaction is not stable. If the buyer drives too hard a bargain, or is the seller’s goods are less than promised, the transaction fails. Thus, businesspeople learn interdependence. Both the buyer and the seller have to be satisfied, an this promotes a positive-sum game. People in the business also understand the importance of “growth.” They learn to believe that there is enough to go around and thus creates an “abundance mentality.”

The origins of Delhi are feudal and monarchical. Because of hierarchical manner of bureaucratic society, Delhi regards life as a zero-sum-game. The pyramid gets smaller as you move u. There can only one Prime Minister. Not everyone can be secretary. If you have to win, someone has to lose. Instead of becoming interdependent as a buyer and seller, you learn to put people down (in Delhi). Transactions in Delhi – as in Washington D.C. – depends on influence and patronage, and it matters less what you know than whom you know. Person from Person, Delhi people are better fed, better clothed, and better off. It is a middle-class city with higher per-capita income. However, it is not a very pleasant city. The Delhi resident wears his bad manners on his shirtsleeves…..

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