India Files : ‘Chalta Hai’ Explained

Living as I have in India for the past 3 decades, I’ve noticed what a stigma failure is in an Asian culture.

I suspect one of the reasons America so comprehensively dominates the cultural, economic and military space (piddly recession be damned) is it’s healthy relationship with failure.

When a person or a corporation there declares bankruptcy, the social stigma associated with the events is far less severe or long lasting. Unlike here, where the sting and stigma hangs over the person for years, much like the permanent smog over Delhi.

Now I am not going to waste this post and your precious time, dear reader, lecturing against our failed attitude to failure.

I am here to warn you on a far more insidious enemy, who unlike failure, blends and lives among us undermining everything we do less perceptibly but far more viciously.

We all know this invisible foe as ‘Mediocrity‘ but Indians have a better term for it: the Chalta Hai attitude.

What is it ?….It’s the opposite of the Teutonic eye for perfection, the enemy of a Job Well Done, the sperm that births the Kalmadis and the urban civic nightmares that is our mega-cities. To notice it just lift your head and look at the nearest electrical pole or look down to the roads you are trundling on. Chalta Hai is the blasé shrug of indifference towards the half done and not-fully-done jobs. Painfully visible in poorly drafted emails, presentations, book reports, road construction, wiring or design.

The opposite of Perfection and Success is not failure. It’s Chalta Hai (or ‘Solpa adjust maadi’ for the pedantic southies).

From the Indian Express : “Some years ago, when the Duke of Edinburgh encountered a loose wire hanging off one of the walls of Buckingham Palace, he inquired if an Indian had done the electrical job. His innocent enquiry caused a stir among Indians in Britain, many of whom were not even electricians. The Duke’s words had hurt. Not because they were slanderous, but because they succinctly summed up the truth about a cultural trait. Half-baked, Incomplete, Inconvenience Regretted — are phrases that have sunk into Indian consciousness.”

Both on the Operational floor and in the classrooms we need to start a strong healthy disdain for mediocre solutions, designs, services and products. The ITES space revels in its prolonged love affair with Deming, Six Sigma and LEAN but I suspect the peddlers of these magical potions think it has no business outside of the operational floor.

India is now the world’s richest poor country (or poorest rich country) and if we aspire to jump into the ACTUAL big leagues, as we should, Chalta Hai has to go. The market doesn’t reward intent, it rewards outcomes.

Say NO to the incomplete, inelegant, shoddy solution both as a peddler of it and as a buyer of it. The former is tougher.

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