India confuses on every dimension

India confuses on every dimension

It’s been said that for every true statement about India, you can also make the opposite statement and it can also be true.  For example, India is a poor country with 700 million citizens making less than $2 a day. But India is home to four of ten richest people in the world, per the Forbes billionaires list.  Western media often describes India as a “Hindu” country (80% of the population is Hindu); but in fact India has more Muslims than most of the Middle East put together (only Indonesia and Bangla Desh have more Muslims).  As the “The India Expert” my job and my company’s job is often how to explain and resolve these apparent conflicts. I advise Western executives on how to behave and what to expect from their Indian counterparts.

Commercial vehicles tailgate "Horn Please"
Tailgate: "Horn Please"

To put it in pictures (and sounds), most visitors in India are overwhelmed by the cacophonous traffic everywhere in India. Observant ones notice and chuckle about the painted directive on the back of most six-wheeled trucks in India, the invocation “Horn Please.”.  This is to encourage a driver who wants to pass a truck to honk (loudly, repeatedly and randomly). See photo above.

But as I said, the opposite is also true.  Last month in Delhi, I noticed the visible signs of a campaign to discourage tooting the horn. Rather than use the older Indian-English word “horn”, this campaign uses the newer American-English word “honk”.  I saw “Do Not Honk” signs on bumper stickers.  I saw similar sign on electric utility poles.  So what’s an Indian to do? (No foreign visitor who is sane attempts to drive on their own in India!).  In this case, I am rooting for the “do not honk” 21st Century crowd.

Do Not Honk Sticker, Delhi December 2009
Do Not Honk Sticker, Delhi December 2009

Look at the sticker on the pole in the background!
Look at the sticker on the pole in the background!

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