Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Whites only please, we are Indian

Recently we held a short meeting in one of the numerous beach resorts that dot the East Coast Road between Chennai and Mamallapuram. The resort is very green and aesthetically laid out and landscaped, the rooms are well furnished, the staff polite and attentive without being obtrusive and the beach is 'just in front'. Over all a nice place to relax or hold a meeting (if you have the moolah!)

However I was very amused by the staff starting with the manager. We were told that they were very 'exclusive' and any arbitrary person asking for a room would probably not get it. In particular, IT 'types' and some corporate people were also discouraged because they were rich but not too cultured, and after a few drinks, tended to get rowdy. It was not quite clear to us who exactly they 'accepted' into their exclusive fold. At some point I asked the manager about the large number of (white) foreigners on the premises, and the almost total absence of Indian guests and whether it was just some local fluctuation since it was already getting hot and few Indians would want to spend their holidays in a hot humid place. He looked at me conspiratorially, shook his head and again stressed that they were very exclusive, and that their guest list was 99% 'foreign'.

And so the penny dropped. In other words, this was a resort almost exclusively meant for foreign (and, let me stress again, white) tourists. Surprisingly, and probably because we 'looked' respectable I suppose and belonged to a unit of the Atomic Energy Establishment, (and that this was anyway off-season with low occupancy) he immediately agreed to host our meeting.

Our interaction with the staff, as I already said, was uniformly positive. A couple of interactions though, showed how the ethos of the place was indeed what I have described above. We asked that our dining tables be moved closer to the fans. This was attended to promptly and the catering manager added in passing that our 'foreign guests' anyway don't usually like to sit close to a fan which is why the tables were placed the way they were. We asked them to reduce the spice level, which they did indeed try to do, with the comment that their 'usual guests' really don't mind the spice level.

In all the time we were there, we saw no Indians except those in our meeting and the staff. The 99% boast was indeed no idle one! An interesting commentary on post independence India, more than 60 years after independence. Some of us still feel foreigners (from anywhere, as long as they are white) are more 'respectable' than the local 'darkies' !

7 comments:

jatkesha said...

This might be due to a combination of reasons. Foreigners generally tend to tip a lot. Besides that, they pay in dollars which are generally sold in black markets by most of the big establishments. Not that foreigners don't get drunk and behave rudely, but it is just that fascination for the white skin and whatever they do even after 60 years of becoming independent.

Anant said...

Maybe they should have a reflectometer at the entrance, and define a quantitative criterion for who is acceptable and who is not. Also, if one uses `Fair and Lovely' for a considerable period of time, can one hope to gain admission?

Rahul Basu said...

I don't think the reason was tipping (since that doesn't affect the manager and I got the feeling the attitude comes somewhere from the top) or dollars since most foreigners nowadays pay by credit card. It's just a feeling of 'exclusivity' one gets mixing with 'white folks' and a somewhat dubious belief that they are more disciplined.

I might have some sympathy with the latter view having seen some of my fellow countrymen making an absurd exhibition of themselves after a couple of drinks. Of course that's not a patch on drunk British football fans but presumably they behave better when they visit another country.

Ironically, it's clear that the foreign tourists who come to such small resorts near Mahabs really belong to what in England would be called the 'working class' (am I giving away my class consciousness here?) who have managed to save some money to go on a not-too-expensive foreign tour. These are not exactly Conde Nast travellers. Whereas Indian tourists at these resorts (which are fairly expensive by Indian standards) would definitely belong to a higher economic class in India. However this subtlety is lost, I believe, on these resort managers.

AmOK said...

OLO: This is called the Type II "Stockholm Syndrome". Loyalty experienced by ex-Colonies controlled by Colonial powers and held hostage over extended periods.

longnose said...

India have great manners compared to the rich, especially the neo 30something hotshots are possibly the most boorish.We need to tone down, empathise with fellow citizens,wait for our turn and treat all and sundry with respect.This is something we all can learn,, a little interaction with our village dwellers will improve our manners.

longnose said...

whoops..some sort of a mutant ninja above...What I wanted to say is

There is a cultural dissimilarity between us and the westerners.We may come off as noisy,uncouth,abusive,,in short lack of manners.Poor in India have great manners compared to the rich, especially the neo 30something hotshots are possibly the most boorish.We need to tone down, empathise with fellow citizens,wait for our turn and treat all and sundry with respect.This is something we all can learn,, a little interaction with our villagers will improve the manners of city dwellers.

Shuba said...

Hi Rahul, I liked your comment on Contemporary Grammar in "nanopolitan." About this one I have a comment. After all the "white foreigners" are far from home and may feel the need to mix with their own community. We do have bengali, malayalee, Telugu, Gujrati, etc haunts in Chennai which are pretty much exclusive. If a hotel should cater to a white group exclusively, so what?
Shubashree Desikan