Gandhi’s famously exhorts his followers to “be the change you want to see.” I see these words in action every day as vegetable sellers and pharmacy employees dig into their wallets to find the 30 rupees change their company owes me.
It happens everywhere—in the café where I buy my morning coffee, in the “Australian cookies” store in the mall, at the housewares store where I get my forks. The employee will search the till for change and then, not finding any, pull it out of his own pocket.
They don’t write it down. They don’t make it official. My money goes in the till, theirs goes into my wallet, and everyone is happy—except for the change giver, who is now 30 rupees short.
I don’t doubt that the employee gets his money back. What shocks me is the tremendous level of trust that must exist between employee and employer for the employee to take this action. Either the boss doesn’t blink when the employee pockets the next 30 rupees to cross the counter, or the employee knows that he can go up to his boss at the end of the day and, without proof, ask for his 30 rupees back.
I don’t think Indians are unusually trusting in any other regard. My neighbor locks his maid on the balcony when he leaves the house; my company’s old accountant once implemented a policy to search every employee as he left for the evening after some paper towels were allegedly taken from the men’s room for personal use at home. I can’t understand why things are so different when it comes to making change… unless Gandhi’s words have been universally accepted and slightly misunderstood.