The Indian mantra of mediocrity: Chalta hai, bhai, chalta hai

Who cares if that door won't close, the kurta runs colour, plugs don't work, and the traffic light turns turquoise — instead of green. We all have our shortcut to nirvana that will let us off the hook for our myriad sins.

Sathya Saran January 07, 2012 12:47:40 IST
The Indian mantra of mediocrity: Chalta hai, bhai, chalta hai

Why this chalta hai attitude? Then again, why not? It's what makes us unique; it's a sign of our evolved mindset. Our entire nation thrives on it, gets by wonderfully, in fact.

We Indians developed our shortcut to nirvana long before Alfred E Newman of Mad Comics fame first smiled his toothy smile and said, 'What me worry?' Maybe the French come close to it with the all-encompassing 'C’est la vie' (That's life), which is usually accompanied by a deprecating shrug. But nothing comes close to the happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care nonchalance of chalta hai.

Chalta hai! It keeps us from Sweating the details, and let's us — well, some of us — get on with life.

The Indian mantra of mediocrity Chalta hai bhai chalta hai

Just imagine if we did not have "chalta hai' to let us off the hook? Imagine the stress incurred by each person who has to do the job exactly as it was meant to be done. Reuters

Who cares if the door won't close properly because the door frame is just a bit askew because the mason forgot his plumb line at home. He just went on with his work murmuring chalta hai. A sentiment echoed by the architect, and in the end by you who have long learned to live with windows, doors, cupboards and drawers that are either jammed shut or impossible to close.

The kurta that runs colour, the electrical plugs that never work, the button that comes undone, the batteries that die prematurely: come on, don’t stress over it,  just say chalta hai! The student who does not spell check, the cut-and-paste artist who lifts stuff from the net and passes it off as her own... Who has time to take pride in your work, to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's, or even just spell words right. Just take it easy, bhaiyya, in every possible way.

Chalta hai is insidious. The man on the streets mumbles it as he sidesteps an open manhole, the cook in the kitchen thinks it as she pulls out an errant hair from the dal, the TV presenter thinks it as she daily flubs her lines.

Besides, who pays attention to these minor boo-boos when giant errors go unpunished – in fact, unnoticed. Traffic lights in parts of the city of Mumbai are red, amber and turquoise – not green. But everyone is too busy to care. At the swank T3 terminal in Delhi, every asana is depicted incorrectly in the gigantic life sculpture of the Surya Namaskar. Really? Well foreigners won't know, and Indians don't care... sab chalta hai. At least it was sanctioned, executed and installed, na? This Indian life is all about small mercies.

Just imagine if we did not have "chalta hai' to let us off the hook? Imagine the stress incurred by each person who has to do the job exactly as it was meant to be done. Imagine if everyone had to cross at the zebra crossing. They would stand 50 metres wide. That mason would have to go back home for the plumb line, the cook would have to make a fresh batch of dal...

Oh, the inconvenience of following the rules, of strict standards and quality control. Better to let others bear the burden of our imperfections. That way it gets divided and diluted. Besides, chances are, for every person affected, there will be twenty who don't care.

PS: This story was supposed to have a few quotes from experts and the like. On second thoughts... chalta hai!

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