Serial Bus

One post per week

Dignity of Labor?

with 5 comments

Today, Nidhi & I cleaned the house. It wasn’t fun in any way. Scrubbing the bathtub and the toilet commode is not uplifting for the soul, nor is vacuuming the carpet any more enlightening than doing the dishes. Yet, we had to spend the better part of the day doing this. We did not have a choice. This is what I most detest about living in the US. You live in the wealthiest country in the world yet majority of its middle/working class can not afford to outsource its run-of-the-mill chores. The cost of domestic help is so high that you can afford to buy a new hybrid car on a good day but can not hire a maid for an year.

On the other hand, when I was in India an year back, I lived like a prince. With a much lesser nominal salary, I was able to indulge myself more often in similar ways. To top it all, I nearly never saw a kitchen sink, did not buy detergent ever or never have to iron a shirt. We had Krishna, our Man Friday, a full-time butler who took care of each and every errand, at the appointed times during the day. I paid him less than 4% of my salary each month (though I shared him with 2 other friends) and yet for him, it was a handsome amount. Life was good – I was content while Krishna would have been much worse off without his informal employment through me. Economists dryly call this Pareto equilibrium.

On the other hand, since I moved to the US, running life has been an ordeal. I have to worry about that important client presentation and dry cleaning at the same time. So many books have been sitting on my shelf since the day they were bought. Between a novel I have been dying to read and a dinner that I will surely die without, I am forced to choose the latter. This country deals with the ignominy of spending hours in labor-intensive activities in a couple of ways.

Firstly, they have evolved a work ethic which does not demean self-help; in fact, it is glorified. People do not bat an eyelid when describing how they spent better part of their weekend cleaning the yard. Since the settlement of the New World, toiling has been the fabric of their lives. When you have no choice in a certain matter, it is better to accept and promote it, rather than spend your life detesting what you must do.

Secondly, the entrepreneurs here saw a market in the misery of millions of well-meaning citizens. That led to invention and marketing of an array of tools and machinery that try to take away the bite from the effort. But for the amazing American toolboxes and Home Depots that make them easy to get, Americans would have been forced to imitate the Early Man, whenever away from the office cubicle.

US presents lots of conveniences and luxuries with a dash of individual freedom. India (at least the cities, where millions live) is beginning to resemble powerhouse economies of the Far East. The only remaining stings are in an ill-developed infrastructure and a government that pretends to work. In any case, these are not insurmountable for the well-heeled of the society. These are also improving however the cost of labor will lag behind for some decades. Until then, countries like India could be magnets for families. 

I appreciate the American way. It teaches you to respect people (regardless of whether you are a janitor or a CEO) and a good dose of DIY holds you in good stead in times of crises. An Indian will be at a complete loss if a can has to be opened or a flat tire changed, when you least expect it.

However, my problem is in the slavery to the mundane chores of life. It is evil but it is necessary. There is no dignity in labor, when you do not have the choice to spend that time doing more meaningful work. When in India, you can wash your own car if you really want to but some day, if you wish to spend a full day writing a blog that nobody reads, you can. Your dinner will still be ready, when you want it and piping hot.


Written by serialbus

September 1, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Living, Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

5 Responses

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  1. Hey Mohit!

    Read your blog. Didn’t know that you had been writing for this long. Nice!!! There is so much to say, perhaps in a few days. But I couldn’t resist commenting on this one 🙂

    “As the great philosopher Jagger once said, ‘you can’t always get what you want.'”

    As spoken by Shri. Gregory House 🙂


    September 22, 2008 at 8:57 pm

  2. Why not a little one on Jagriti yatra?


    September 24, 2008 at 8:25 am

  3. Dignity of labour is what Mahatma Gandhi asked for and nobody cared,its nice to know that you are down to earth also you have the capacity to analyse.This sharing of idea is the best thing that has happened to you recently,ofcourse it comes only after your better-half !


    September 24, 2008 at 11:09 am

  4. dear mohit,

    i see sense in what you said. think there is an amazing business oportunity lurking in america for the million sof indians who could run all their errands at 1/5th the cost of hiring a help at local prices and be only too happy to do it.why doesnt someone exploit the situation?


    September 29, 2008 at 12:09 am

  5. Hi serialbus
    yesterday only i came to know u have become a blogger.
    hey all ur postings r very interesting n mindblowing.
    keep it up.
    shall i send my maid for both of u or any other as lot of people r laid off in india due to ongoing crunch.


    October 18, 2008 at 2:58 am

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