Sunday, February 22, 2009


Many of us educated Indians keep wondering as at why we as a nation cannot provide basic human care to all our countrymen, despite having an abundance of resources, intelligence and creativity. We wonder how the U.S. can do it, and we can’t. I believe three important values that the Americans have are lacking in us Indians – sense of patriotism, ‘will do’ kind of positive attitude of a majority of its people, and finally, a systems approach. The day we can inculcate these three into the daily lives of a majority of us Indians, we would certainly reach our destiny of being a developed country, like the U.S. These beliefs are based on my experiences in the U.S during my stay at Alabama during 1989-90.

I was lucky to have been chosen to represent the Indian Air Force (IAF) at the Air Command and Staff College at Montgomery, Alabama in the year 1989 – 90, and that was my first visit to the U.S. The first few months in the US were quite a challenge as I was exposed to stuff that I never would have experienced in India, at that point of time in our country’s evolution. I started writing my experiences in a one liner format to keep a record of everything that I found they did differently from us. I am going to list some of those things and what they meant to me in a macro sense, by the time I completed the course and came back to India after nearly 10 months. I consider the U.S.A as the country of my second birth primarily because this is where I was exposed to experiences that, I believe, would not have been possible had I never been there.

The first thing that struck me about the ordinary Americans was their intense pride in being American citizens, which manifested itself in the respect that they displayed towards their national flag, fellow citizens, and their Constitution. Every other house always had a clean flag displayed on the doorstep, as per the format laid down by law. The car dealerships had the largest flags flapping in the car parking lots. In short, you could see the flag all over the city, whether in homes, offices, dealerships or commercial establishments and each time the flag was fluttering in accordance with the laid down law – never dirty or torn. In contrast, I visited the Indian embassy in Washington D.C. and saw a flag displayed behind the receptionist. The flag was made of Khadi, but was dirty. I asked the receptionist as to why could we not have a clean flag in our embassy in the cleanest nation on earth and she gave me those incredulous looks of ‘what are you talking about’……. what national flag are you talking of; I don’t know anything, ‘I just work here’. The second thing was their approach to creating and maintaining systems.

Every place that I went to whether in Government or in private establishments, I saw systems at work. My first visit to a McDonalds at Montgomery was an eye opener. I saw a black woman behind the counter who took my order. All the keys on her machine had the figures of the items on the menu. When I asked her for a large coke and chips, she just punched the figures and the machine told her how much it would cost me, which she announced to me with a smile. I handed her a $10.00 bill, she punched that in, and she got the balance due to me on the LCD strip. Many such incidents helped me understand how the under-qualified people of society were made productive members of society through better systems. Systems were designed by intelligent, qualified people in such a manner that thereafter even the complex systems could be operated by lesser qualified, lesser educated and lesser intelligent people. The whole of society could be made productive through the one-time application of an intelligent professional. The third thing was the attitude of the common people.

The attitude of the people was very positive and always aimed at providing their customers with the best experience possible. I discovered that in every situation the organizations had defined who the customers were and who was providing the service. It was seen everywhere from Government offices to private malls to small establishments. Even within an organization, each sub-section asking for information from another sub-section was considered, and treated, like a customer. This again helped put things in perspective for the employees and there was never any problem. Managers devised systems and the subordinates implemented them in a customer oriented ‘positive’ manner. Shoddy service was never tolerated. I never heard anyone trying to palm off a sub standard product or service with the ‘chalta hai’ attitude, which we seem to have. I found everyone from employees to managers helping with the ‘solution to problems’ rather than pretending that the problem was a figment of the customer’s imagination or non existent.

Considering all of the above, I believe that the Americans are where they are today primarily because of their great sense of patriotism, systems approach and a positive ‘will do’ kind of attitude. We need to inculcate these three values into our lives and I am sure we would then be able to reach our goal of being a developed country, wherein each citizen would be cared for as a human being.


Kislay said...

You said it Sir . I think the citizens of this nation need a strong dose of Nationalism . The number of fronts on which we are divided in simply mind boggling . Religion,language,caste,Aryan-Dravidian bull shit,and political ideology as well . The way the BJP and the Congress treat each other, it is as if they are not about serving the nation , but their own agendas . Do the Republicans and the Democrats act like that ?

Piper .. said...

I partly agree with you Sir. Yes, the infrastructure is very sound and systematic in the US. Things are far easily workable here than back home,because most of it is computerized. But in India, its almost a herculean task to get to this state. The main reason is population. Its impossible to get a sound system in place,given the burgeoning population menace. Education, poverty and corruption are the offshoots,so to say, of such a population problem. I guess that`s the biggest hurdle we face. Although even as I`m writing this, I`m having doubts. Because imagine this Sir. In the Army, we still dont make use of the internet. All ACRs are still in the paper format. Any correspondence is through regular mail. It took a year for my resignation to get through. So I just dont know if population is the only reason why we as a nation are where we are. Maybe I`ll give this some thought and get back to you.

Ajit said...

great article JPJ,
a very telling one....
Thanks for educating me....

Smita said...

Your observations are so bang on!!!

I believe our main problems are

- We take our freedom for granted
- We aren't proud of our country
- We don't owe up for our faults

Each country has it's bad sides but with us we want to pass on the blame to others and for us being offensive is the best defense. We are ready to pin point faults but not ready to go and change things. We are ready to say why others are doing better than us but we aren;t ready to follow the same things here...

The day we owe up to our faults and start working on them we have a better future...

Wonderful post :)

Nagesh said...

Dear Sir,

I agree with all your points,specially I emphasis your "system's Approach".

If every Indian perform their Duties honestly, I'm sure we will become the Greatest Nation on earth.

Renu said...

Systems were designed by intelligent, qualified people in such a manner that thereafter even the complex systems could be operated by lesser qualified, lesser educated and lesser intelligent people. The whole of society could be made productive through the one-time application of an intelligent professional.

I just loved those are so right here, but as Piper said many of our efforts are diluted because of this population explosion.
My son was in NJ and he used to say that even in US norms are followed only where people are less,in crowded areas, there also people loose patience and goof up..i am talking about traffic discipline, and I feel it is the same for everything, otherwise i saw there that billing people used to take so much of time for each and every query or some problem, while in Indian stores girls were super fast and we always used to fel so happy...see we can always do eveything better and faster:).

Balvinder Singh said...

JP agree with you 100%. We just accept the sub standard and then get used to it. No one questions that. Our tech development will be worth its salt if we develop the systems for the common man. The revolution in that area has to take place on the lines of communication and entertainment. Thanks for informative post.

J P Joshi said...

Kislay: No body can give any one a dose of nationalism. Every one has to feel for the nation on his own. This will happen... one day, I am confident of that. Nationalism cannot be forced. Yes, we are a very diverse nation, in every which way and our politicians exploit that.... and we let them. We educated Indians have to take the lead in which ever way it is possible to educate people who can be bought off by a promise of just one meal for a few days. BJP and Congress want to split the vote banks to help themselves... and we the people let them, for whatever reason. How can we stop them??

J P Joshi said...

Piper: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree population is a problem today, because of illiteracy. How can we improve the literacy rate of our population?? Once literacy improves, like in Kerala (90% + literacy), population will no longer be an issue.

The other part about systems. Let me give you a real life conversation.

Me: There are so many problems in this system. You have 30 years experience in this and I am sure you know the solution to these problems.Why don't you do something about it?

B: Nobody has asked me.

Me: But, as a manager can't you just do something OR send out an email to your boss apprising him about the problems, and the solutions?

B: But he hasn't asked me, so why should I tell him.

Me: I am sure you can help improve this system.

B: Yes, I can, but nobody consults me and I am not going to suggest anything unless I am asked.

Me: Don't you get your salary every month on the 31st, without asking. How would you feel if the salary is not credited into your account on 31st, if you did not ask?

My question is, "Who is to create the systems"...nobody from outside, I am sure. We the people working in every field of work have to create the systems...specially us people in managerial jobs, at every level. It is the same in the defence services too. Initially, I had a tough time convincing my squadron officers that it is WE who have to create/ help create, and improve systems because nobody knows a system better than the person who operates it. We Indians have this happy knack of switching to THEY, when things are not right.

J P Joshi said...

Ajit: You are sitting in the country of my second birth. There is a lot to be learned out there, and I am sure you will come back enriched and would be able to give us some new insights about work and work culture of the Americans, and how they are where they are today - I am not talking about the present financial mess.

Smita: Thank you. I believe we are patriotic but we haven't had a good leader, like Gandhiji, who could channelise our energy along the right directions. We want to see our nation do well.. look at cricket, the lone Olympic individual gold medal, A R Rehman's oscar win, etc. We need some one who can lead us and also have the courage to say what Kennedy said to the Americans in the 60s, "Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for the country". Only a selfless leader, like the leaders of our freedom struggle, can use such words and still be followed. Nobody would follow our present generation of politicians because they have no credibility with the people.

Yes, and we do have a lot to introspect about, as you say.

J P Joshi said...

Nagesh: Agree with you. The day each one of us decides to work honestly to the requirements of his/ her job, without any ulterior considerations, nobody would be able to stop this relatively young nation (with a relatively young population) of 1.1 billion people.

The nation's hopes are pinned on the younger generation because the present generation of the country's leaders have lived their course.

Renu: Yes, I remember. I had not heard a horn for about 9 months in Montgomery, Alabama and then I went to Washington DC and heard enough horns is relative though. Even 5 - 10 felt like too much after nine months of silence. Yes, we Indians are very intelligent individually.I do believe that the average American is not as intelligent as the average Indian but he is definitely more informed and practical about the application of his intelligence.

J P Joshi said...

Balvinder: Agree with you. We need a Sam Pitroda kind of revolution, which just kept getting better after the initial push by him in the telecommunications sector. I still remember the India today photo of a villager in a bullock cart talking on the cell phone. Yes, we need that kind of a breakthrough.

Indyeah said...

Agree 100% sir.

'' sense of patriotism, ‘will do’ kind of positive attitude of a majority of its people, and finally, a systems approach. ''you have put it in a nutshell.

India has a long way to go yet.
I really hope we will get there someday.

J P Joshi said...

Indyeah: Thank you for your comment. Agree with you that we have a long way to go but am also confident that we will get there sooner than later, given one good leader. Our collective hopes are on the younger generation - your generation. No body will be able to stop us once we all start working for a common cause which is larger than oneself and one's community. We have done that once.