Monday, July 20, 2009

The Blank Receipt

This incident took place around 2 years back – on my first trip abroad. I was going to San Jose, California and was obviously very excited. Even though the itinerary was very hectic – I had to change 4 flights in 30 hours – I enjoyed every bit of it, as it was my first trip ever by air! I landed in San Jose around 6’oclock in the evening. I got out of the airport and took a cab to my apartment. The driver was a friendly fellow; he volunteered to put my luggage in the cab rooftop and smilingly asked, “Hey, how are you”? I was taken aback. It’s definitely my first trip to America and it looked highly unlikely that this guy had traveled to India. Then where did we meet before? Anyway I managed a confused smile. Handing the apartment address to him, I asked, “How much time will it take”?
“Half an hour”, he replied casually.

As the driver told, we reached the apartment in another half an hour. I took out my luggage and asked the driver for the cash receipt so that I can reimburse it back in India.
“Oh, Just a sec”.
He handed over two blank receipts to me and again smiled. This time though, the smile was a bit different. I did not understand why he gave me two receipts and that too blank ones. I returned them and asked him to give me only one, with the exact fare and his signature. He did as I told. I assumed that he had given two receipts by mistake, but I still couldn’t decode his smile.

A couple of days later, I told my fellow roommate about the cab driver’s incident. He laughed and replied, “Oh… he might have realized that you are an Indian. Many Indians ask the cab drivers 2-3 blank receipts to submit fake reimbursements”. For a moment I went blank, I couldn’t decide whether I was sad, angry or humiliated or a mixture of these. And yes, that explained his mocking smile and a There-You-Go-Again look in his eyes.

Breaching integrity is never a good idea, especially in a foreign country. Every Indian in a foreign land is a cultural ambassador of India and he/she should behave like one. Having started my career in Mindtree which lays much emphasis on integrity, it was particularly painful to know how foreigners perceive Indians. Though at one end of the spectrum Indians are considered smart and hardworking, at the other end they are looked at as a bunch of people with loose integrity. I sincerely hope the latter is proved wrong in course of time. For this every Indian abroad has to realize that they are not only representing themselves, but the whole country. Their every action will be generalized to 1.1 billion people of India.

I hope next time when I travel abroad , instead of giving blank receipts, the cab driver asks, “Hey, How are you? Are you an Indian? Tell me something about India. I have heard great things about that country.”