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INDIA | Wednesday, 20 July 2011 | Views [865]

Pavement barber

Pavement barber

One of first things I was told about in Delhi was the abundance of people. 80% of them are skinny young men in shorts who for a few rupees will undertake any task that might otherwise require you to leave the house. There is one who collects rubbish from outside my door each day, another who delivers 20 litres of drinking water (up two flights of stairs), another who passes the house selling fruit and vegetables every morning and a not so skinny man on a nearby street corner who if you ask nicely, will deliver plants to your gate (he doesn’t carry them up the stairs, shockingly I had to do that myself. He is not so skinny).

When I moved in, I couldn’t understand why I attracted so many looks carrying bags of groceries down the road with my own arms. Likewise I was thoroughly perplexed when I went to a grocery store and they didn’t give me a bag to put my shopping in (but how am I supposed to carry this all home?). They must have been equally surprised I didn’t have some skinny minion to carry them for me. Everywhere, human effort is lavished for the smallest task and for the smallest price. In the cinema, food is served to your seat, in shops there are people to whisk your chosen items away out of your hands as soon as you have picked them from the shelves (they take them to the counter to relieve you of the inconvenience of having to use your hands to carry things).  Truly one is spoilt. The flip side of the royal treatment of course is how the other half live… some boys who pick up the rubbish go through it to check for any leftover food.

Still, people are enterprising, business happens everywhere and alfresco living is the norm. Laundry services, tailoring and catering are carried out under snatches of outdoor shade. Down the road, a few ladies operate a laundry business using house railings and parked cars as props. One washes, another irons and at the end of the production line, carefully laundered linens pile up, neatly folded on bonnets of cars.

There are barber shops run from railings and street pavements, my favourite operates out of a ledge on the corner of a building set back 3-4 feet from the road. The ledge is at chest height, which is just right for the barber to place his shaving brush and accoutrements. I passed a well-heeled and noble faced customer sitting still and carefully attended to. Customer and patron were both taking the business very seriously.

My neighbours with knowing smiles (they have lived here for six years) tell me ‘everything is possible in India’ and in the service industry it’s true: there is nothing you can’t get, there is nothing you can’t someone else to get for you and nowhere that service isn’t available. Getting what you need here is like the opposite of a treasure hunt: whatever it is you need, the challenge is not to go find it, the challenge is to find the person who will bring it to your door (and usually you don’t have to look very far).

In fact I’m tempted as an experiment to pick a spot, locate some eager young thing, and hand over a list of treasure hunt items and see how many he can bring back within the hour:

‘I’d like a haircut, my shoes cleaned, a shirt ironed, half a kilo of potatoes, a pair of red trousers, a chocolate ice cream, the autograph of a Bollywood celebrity, oh and  a stool to sit on, a newspaper and a cappuccino while I wait’.

I reckon the average skinny young man picked at random could do a damn fine job within the hour. And for those of us who have money, that’s how life is:  round the clock home delivery and personal shopping services wherever you are…

They may have knowing smiles and war stories a-plenty but 6 years later I can see why my neighbours are in no rush to leave… 

Tags: customer service, delhi, india, personal shopping and generally being spoilt, shopping

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