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April 24th, 2005

24 th April 2005


It was a bank holiday. We are to go to our insurance agent’s office to sign some legal papers. We (mom, dad and me) spent the next two hours in his office. I am intrigued by his personality and by his business practices. The objects in his office are interesting as are his thoughts which he articulates from time to time. In this little piece, I present his character and his office space and explore changing business practices in the city.


The Speculator and His World

(Watching the changing practices of dhanda in the city)


He is our insurance agent and we shall call him IA from henceforth. He is not only an insurance agent. He is also a stockbroker and indulges in speculation. He has recently got a new office. It is plush. There are four rooms and each one is equipped with classy furniture, television sets and the latest gadgets. “I got it designed by an architect. I told him I wanted something simple, yet classy,” he tells me as I reflect on the importance of ‘interior decoration and design’ in today’s business practices in the face of global corporatism.


We entered his office. He shakes hands with all of us. He is dressed in smart western apparels. Denim shirt, white denim trousers, whiter sports shoes (perhaps of an expensive brand) and funky silver accessories on his person – he looks like a rockstar rather an insurance agent. As he speaks with my parents, I start to look around his room. He has recently been awarded by a Californian Insurance Group which has partners in India, for being a credible insurance agent. The award is a kitschy little object. It is a map of India and on the western side of the map is the Statue of Liberty – a kind of surreal image. The Statue of Liberty appears like a version of Bharat Mata imposed on the map of India. I immediately take a photograph of the award memorabilia.


“Oh, you also have this dictionary in your office,” my mother exclaims amidst the conversation. She is referring to the Oxford English Dictionary. “Yes,” he responds, bringing it from the side desk to the main desk, “I use it whenever I cannot understand a word or two. Otherwise it stays on the side desk.” He is not highly educated, but is clearly an instance of the man in this city who has made it big with intelligence, the right contacts/connections and hard work. The dictionary, I believe, refers to his regular dhanda practice which now, in the age of globalism and movement of MNCs, requires him to speak the global language of business i.e. English. I wonder what kind of newspapers he reads – New York Times? The International Herald Tribune? I did not ask him.


The conversations continue and my eyes move to the painting which is put up on the wall behind him. It is definitely a Hussain painting. I ask him and he responds, “Yes, it is a Hussain painting. I cannot afford to buy the original. So I bought this duplicate which he makes. It is worth nine thousand rupees.” Global business practices these days appear to use art as a symbol of higher understanding and a sense of refined-ness. Just a few days ago, Bombay Times carried an article about banks purchasing paintings to put up in their offices. “This creates an atmosphere of understanding between our customers and us. The painting helps us connect with them. It creates an atmosphere of warmth,” an executive from a bank had said explaining why his bank had bought so many paintings recently. Sure enough, as I look into our insurance agent’s office and in his mind, it appears to me that “image” is important these days – what image do you as a businessman present to your customer?


Mom goes off to do some legal work. Dad inquires about the two thefts which have taken place in his residential colony. “Oh yeah! This is the case of penny wise pound foolish. Our colony refuses to improve the lighting system and hire security guards. What to do?” Somehow, the discussion steers towards the topic of real estate which is a favourite for dad. They talk of the developments in Bangalore city. “Oh yeah,” IA exclaims, “check out the apartments and the residential colonies there. It feels like you are living in America. Truly! It’s amazing. They have up-to-date security and all facilities within the colony itself.” IA then speaks of how he is planning to shift apartments. “Yeah, I want to move, but not in that locality. It is dominated by one caste of people and despite the fact that we are all the same religious affiliation, I cannot get along with people of that caste. Not my type,” he adds. He speaks of religious service which is strongly involved with. And I start to wonder that despite global corporatism, the underlying identities of religion and caste are still there, deep within and perhaps stronger now than before. The boundaries are established and clear!


The conversation moves towards understanding his business practices. “Centralized control,” he states as summary. He works with small offices in different cities and exerts control from Bombay. “If anyone acts smart in any office, you press the remote control from here.”


Thinking dhanda practices in the city – I walk out of IA’s office and am mulling over business practices in this city. The hawker on the roadside has his connections with the street dada , the local cops and perhaps even the local corporator. A real estate agent I once met on the railway station spoke to me of his political connections and how, despite fears, he handles the bhailog viz., the underworld. A local businessman talks to me of his apnawala corporator connections and if I have any problems, he could simply introduce me to the corporator and my problems will be solved.


Mumbai City – In the midst of all of this messiness, small fries and big sharks, the city has survived. Dhanda practices are messy with intricate and complex connections. And at various levels, people have “influence” which is what works at the end of the day. As I think about IA and his business practices, I wonder how global corporatism is defining a new culture of dhanda , of business. The messiness needs to be eradicated and centralization brought in. Loose spaces cannot exist. Then, is this new business culture re-defining the city anew? Is it reducing spaces of freedom, of the capacity to dream?





  1. April 27th, 2005 at 05:26 | #1

    about the comments of IA for the bangalore …. here its nothing like that you live in America…that could be a tactic of this IA to impress the client…

    The traffic conditions in bangalore are worse than any other city of india…. earlier same was said about the delhi but delhi has improved a lot…

  2. April 30th, 2005 at 02:26 | #2

    Hi get2v,

    IA’s comments on ‘America’ were not really about Bangalore City as such, but more about the enclaves/societies. Living in the building societies with all the facilities is like the US. That’s is how popular imagination seems to be working – people like to think in terms of enclaves than in terms of the city as a whole!