As a diplomat posted in West Europe, I befriended a peer from South-east Asia, whose perceptions of events and people were uncommonly acute. One evening when we were to dine together, he phoned me with his excuse for a short delay. He surprised me by using a Bengalurean idiom, "Swalpa adjust madi". This friend, (I call him 'Nanbar' to respect his condition of strict pseudonymity), had a long-lost Keralite ancestry which gave him the advantage of the NRI without attendant demerits. He could deal with our civic problems like engaging taxis, autos and workmen with enviable ease. So I accepted his call for a modicum of adjustment, except that he intended it as a satirical comment on the pervasive selfishness of urban Indians.
"These people who flock your buses, trains, airports, cafes, cinemas and shops", he said, "do not seem to understand the basics of city life". "They believe they are VIP citizens who must be given higher priority than the rest, when travelling or buying veggies and fruits from a vendor. 'Me first' is their two-word constitution of Ego India: others must accommodate themselves accordingly. In polite terms, 'Swalpa adjust madi' is the best policy if you want to avoid trouble. I love your self-exalted 'garden city'. Last month we were there, but we couldn't see the flower show; our car couldn't take a turn to the right without hazarding a circular turn from the left, across oncoming traffic." Later at dinner, Nanban and I exchanged various socio-psychological explanations. I hated his critique of Indians, but secretly seconded it.
We all experience these calls for 'swalpa adjustment'. Yielding the comfort of an ample seat to an intruder in a narrow train compartment is preferable to a contentious clash of rights. A lady we know protests on principle, if a sales-person suddenly switches attention to satisfy a newcomer who barges in and conducts a long parley with the cashier totting up your bill. The manager's defensive plea for patience makes things worse. We confirm the description by Nobelist A.K. Sen that we are 'Argumentative Indians'.
Nanban agreed with me that when things are going wrong, the age-old Indian habit of tolerance is indispensable for the nation to follow, except for one thing: that we tend to tolerate what should never be tolerated, like dowry deaths, killing baby girls, pushing out young women from a moving train, snatching chains from the necks of ladies, thrashing suspect thieves, burning buses, stopping traffic, etc. We need the counter-motto of 'swalpa svantha karthavyavannu madi'. Maybe we should collectively resolve to amend the prevailing two-word constitution of "Me first" to "Our common good, first and last". But we need a consensus to follow our own rules to ensure common welfare and stop 'adjusting' to evil and mischief. Can this be taught in schools and offices? Let yogis, god-men, swamis, gurus and their neophytes preach dedication to this yoga of Loka-hita to all comers.
Nanban and I parted in our own orbits, but when I ran into him in retirement, we discussed India's advance and regress. This time, he really angered me when he quipped, "Speaking frankly, I think the only game in which you people can win hands down is the Blame Game. You should lobby to get it included in the Olympics." He added with a sneer: "It is like dropping a plate at a formal dinner and blaming it on the Law of Gravity".