Once upon a time, a Mysorean in Tanzania

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: I went to Tanzania on foreign assignment in 1975. When I reported for duty at Dar-es-Salaam, I asked for a while sheet so that I could give my joining report. The man in front of me looked quizzically at me and said there was no need and that he had recorded it in his register. That was my first surprise.

I was given a hotel accommodation and I shifted to it. I was one of the hundreds of expatriate Indians literally swarming the place. We would gather at the clean beach nearby and sit in the evenings to gaze across the eastern horizon to the noise and buzzle of Indian voices and chatting away merrily.

In this scenerio there was no question of homesickness. In fact Gujaratis, who numbered 80,000, formed a sizeable population of the city and held a stranglehold of the commerce and trade sporting all manner of imported cars.

In contrast the local people were very poor though in the offices it was headed by young well educated Tanzanians most of them graduates of well known Makarere University in Uganda.

Food was no problem because the Gujarati families would supply vegetarian food at reasonable prices. I gradually fell into the pattern of living which was unhurried and far removed from the tensions and travails of working in India with an eye on Confidential Reports.

In the office I was to report to an American on lent services from the World Bank. I met him and he was happy I came and was waiting to hand over the charge of a WB aided project. While he was talking to me he received a telephone call and he answered saying that he was in a conference. That was my second surprise for I never thought that two people could make up a conference.

Indian expatriates would put in their bill to claim money for travel from the prepaid port of emplanement of Bombay to a remote place claiming it as their native place since the road travel rate was generous on the plea that it was not connected by rail. The unsuspecting Tanzanians would pay.

It is only later when south Indian auditors pointed out that the place is connected with rail the local people got hold of the railway time-table to check the fraud. That is how they came to know the character of Indians. They would appreciate south Indians and call them ‘those clever black people’ That experience was the other surprise.

In the office there were several expatriates from many countries, so called experts. I was a little diffident, something to do with their colour, a hangover from our colonial experience. Gradually I realized I knew much more and I would wax eloquent about many technical issues of their special expertise and earned their appreciation.

It was then I really had admiration about how good our technical education back home was since the education in India equipped me to speak on any related technical subject with fair amount of command.

My office was in fourth floor and there was a lift. I had a woman Minister heading the Ministry. Sometimes when I entered the lift there would be the Minister inside who would enquire which floor and would press the button. That was my third surprise. Contrast this to what happens in India.

In the ministry where I was working, when I would enter the lift, if the lift attendant perchance sighted the car ferrying the Secretary, he would say ‘secretary sab is coming’ with all solemnity as though to signify that I should leave or wait for another adjacent lift to come down!

That’s how servile we have become. Even now when I go to Delhi to the National Highway Austhority office as a presiding arbitrator the same syndrome persists.

In Tanzania when traveling in a taxi, one sits besides the driver a tribute to spirit of socialism practiced in true sense. When I went to Nairobi, Kenya I realized the contrast when I took a taxi and sat besides the driver. He smiled at me and said ‘Oh you must be from Tanzania’. Our Gujarati brothers staying there follow the local custom of only sitting in the back of the taxi, a purely capitalistic tendency.

I remember another incident which throws light on the Indian character. Once a Minister was traveling with a few Indian expatriates. The car met with an accident. The Minister was interested to wait for the police to come to record the manner of accident. Our Indian friends advised the Minister not to wait at the accident site and they would sort out the issue with the police that he should leave in another car. But the Minister would have none of it and said he would wait for the police and only left after completing the formalities.

In the office I was in charge of allotting building sites and there were quite a number of people waiting patiently for their turn. Some time later another Tazanian who was the secretary in another ministry whom I knew well came for the purpose and stood in the line. I made a sign asking him to come forward (old Indian habits die hard) He came and said he would wait his turn in the line. Naturally it was a chastening experience and I felt contrite.

In Tanzania when a person suffers a term of imprisonment for an offence he would be free to resume duty at his old job after expiry of the term. There was no stigma attached.

On the other hand there is another character that amazed me. They subscribe to the concept of extended family. Whenever a Tanzanian gets or call his relatives from their native place, they meet their expenses of travel and looking after them in their home.

I once asked a Tazanian friend when he came on a visit to his relative’s place how he was enjoying. He said he was well fed and naturally I said that he must be grateful for his relative. He said ‘The food I eat goes away as excreta and why should I be grateful’? It stumped me.

I had a lady stenographer and after I dictated she would bring back the material which I would go through once again and correct minor mistakes in pen and sign and ask her to issue. Instead she would retype the whole thing however big it may be and bring it for signature. Her reasoning was that this would be a black mark in her report! To my Indian mind it was economy of effort and money but she would not hear of such argument.

I learnt to my cost that the concept of urgent, immediate, out today did not impress them. I got out of that habit for I realized they did their work without any pressure better.

Another cardinal principle that every expatriate learns. Whatever be the pressure or urgency one should not forget to greet every one in the office as you enter or elsewhere you meet with to enquire in their language:’ How are you?’ ‘ How is your home’? ‘How are your children?’ etc.

The office business only starts afterwards. It used to happen sometimes whenever I had to immediately dispose of a case I would call my steno and start dictating. She would be resentful and show in her attitude and when I asked her why, she would say, “Bapu you did not greet me.” By the way this use of Sir is confined to India.