This is NOT a story of simple Indian “jugaad”. This is a true case of genuine, well-planned, farsighted Indian business sense. It’s narrated by an Air India pilot in the late 1980s.
Read on…!The world started taking notice of the ‘Indian Ingenuity’ about the time when software professionals were needed to help businesses with the Y2K issue. After that, our IT engineers started spreading their wings all over. Everyone has now accepted that India had arrived on the brain map of the world. But we know that this was not the real beginning – our ingenuity has a long history.
I would like to share one incident with you, which took place on one of my flights to prove my point. It could become a case study for any good business management school/ college. You can decide about that after you read the story.
This happened on one of my flights when I was flying the Airbus-310 in Air India to the Gulf. It was on Jeddah – Mumbai sector some time in 1987/88. This was way before 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. Terrorism had not shown its ugly face on the flights yet. The atmosphere on the flights used to be very cordial and friendly. I used to follow a routine on all my flights which I continued with till my retirement in 1998 . After reaching the designated altitude and settling down for some time, I would hand over the controls to my co-pilot and take a walk around in the aircraft. I would go right up to the tail section of the aeroplane to meet the passengers on board and the crew as well. This habit of mine kept the cabin crew on their toes and the passengers were happy to see their pilot mixing around with them. The fear of terrorists, terrorism was unheard of. Those were the wonderful and blissful days of freedom on board the aircraft.
On this particular flight, when I reached the tail section I found a very strange group of people. They were really odd looking passengers. Some of them were maimed, some looked polio affected or with some deformity. They all were dressed very poorly. They did not look like Gulf returnees. After flying in the Gulf for a long time, we could make out a Gulf returnee at first glance. On seeing such a crowd I asked our In-flight Supervisor if these people had asked for some sort of help on landing .The answer was ’No’. A normal passenger in such a condition would certainly ask for a wheelchair. All that looked very odd to me. So after my round when I got back to the cockpit it kept bugging me about that odd group. I thought that I must investigate more about them.
So after some time I went back again to the tail section of the aircraft and asked the purser who was working in that section about the group .He told me that the group had two persons looking after all of them. I met those guys and started talking to them. I asked them where are they from. On seeing me in uniform they were very reluctant to talk to me. On persisting one of them said that they were from Eastern UP. I told them that I had also stayed in that part of our country for some time when I was posted to Air force Station at Gorakhpur .They could not believe me as one of them was from Gorakhpur. After exchanging few notes they were convinced that I was telling the truth. Then the next thing I asked them was if they wanted to see the ‘Hawai Jahaj’, the airplane. Of course, they were keen. So I took both of them to the front and showed the cockpit from the door. On seeing all that they were just speechless. By now they were very much at home with me. Now when I asked them a few more questions, the whole story came tumbling out – and what a story that was! What I heard was just mind boggling.
The group was of about 25/30 people. They were all Muslim beggars from Eastern UP. They were brought to Jeddah for ‘UMRAH’ pilgrimage before the start of the month of ‘Ramadan’ by their ‘Bade Chacha’ who was sitting up front somewhere. Now they all were going back after ‘Ramadan’ and after the Id celebrations, There is NO problem about getting their passports and other permissions as there is no quota for ‘Umrah’ pilgrimage. They all stayed in a cheap ‘Musafirkhana’ in Jeddah. Their ONLY job during their stay at Jeddah was that during ‘Ramadan’ every evening they had to go and BEG in front different mosques in the city. At the end of the day all the money that was collected by them would be handed over to the ‘Bade Chacha’. Nothing more was required from them. After they reached their homes in India, they all would be given Rs. 10,000 / (Ten thousand) cash. That sort of money they would never see again in their life. When they told me how all that was done, I had to salute the INGENUITY of their ‘Bade Chacha’.
This is how the things worked. The BOSS (Bade Chacha) used to collect 25 to 30 Muslim beggars in UP well before the beginning of ‘Ramadan’- month of fasting. He would have no difficulty in getting passports/Visa for them from the Lucknow Passport Office. Any Muslim could apply for ‘Umrah’ pilgrimage at any time as there are no restrictions on their travel. He would then approach Air India through his travel agent for a group booking asking for the cheapest rates which he could get. After reaching Jeddah he would accommodate them in the cheapest ‘Musafirkhana’. As there is no big rush like the HAJ time, he would have no problem on that. He would spend very little on that account. Food for all these people would come from different mosques, where food is distributed to any one before the sunrise and after the sunset. Expenses on food during the day are nil as all of them are supposed to be fasting. So for the whole month of Ramadan feeding this big group was NO big problem.
Now during Ramadan, before breaking their daily fast the local Arabs would like to dole out alms (big amounts) to the needy and poor. So all these people would BEG in front different mosques and the money collected would be given to the Boss. After Ramadan there would be Id celebrations where these people would earn even more. So after a nice stay of more than a month in Jeddah they would head back home. A very smart operation performed by any standard.
After a long chat I told them to get back to their seats with a promise that they will introduce me to their ‘Bade Chacha’ after landing.
After reaching Mumbai when we, the cockpit crew, reached the customs hall, I found my friends with their Bade Chacha waiting for their checked in baggage. So I went and met the boss. He looked like a very nice and docile man. When I asked him about his activities, he told me that he was doing all this for these poor people. They would never get a chance to do the HAJ pilgrimage so as good hearted man he was doing all this. I told him that I very much appreciated his good deed and we parted.
While going back home I started thinking about the whole flight and my encounter with this group of people. I found that this to be a fantastic case of WIN – WIN – WIN situation. Going over in my mind I realised that every single person is happy in this story.
- The Arab who doled out alms to the needy before breaking his fast during Ramadan was very happy for doing some good deed for that day.
- The Muslim Beggar, who could never have imagined a plane ride and the religious pilgrimage, was able to do so. Then for more than a month he had a food feast! Free of charge. On finishing the whole trip he would be given ten thousand rupees cash in hand. He would be the happiest man on the earth.
- And the ‘Bade Chacha’… When we all thought and calculated about the whole operation we realised that this man even after taking care of all the expenses for the group must have earned a cool amount of ten to twelve lakh of rupees per trip. One can imagine the value of that in 1987. So he too would a very happy man.
The events on this whole flight got me thinking .Every single person involved in this story was happy and satisfied. But there was a tinge of exploitation somewhere at some stage. I could not pin point it where! So I wrote an article on the episode which published in one of the Marathi newspapers. I thought I had covered all the angles of the story. BUT that was not the case – there was more!
After about a month when I was going on a flight, one of the Immigration officers came to me and asked me my name and then introduced himself. He had read my article in the newspaper and he wanted to talk about that. The information he came out with was even more baffling and much more interesting. Since he was working at the airport, his info was very authentic.
This was the time when Indian economy had not opened up to the world markets as yet. Gadgets like Washing machines, VCR’s, TV’s were very much in demand. So the travel agent who had booked this group would import such gadgets on their names as ‘UNACCOMPANIED’ baggage later on. Those poor people would not know anything about this at all. The custom rule was that passengers can get such stuff into the country within three months of their arrival date. So very thing was proper and legal. There was a ready market available for such items which would be sold with very big premiums. So now the travel agent and few officers shared the loot. This was the fourth or fifth angle to my story. MIND BOGGLING.
I hope now you will agree with me that this is qualifies as a case study for any Business Management school/college. This was a Win-Win-Win-Win situation, everyone is happy in the end. One thing is for sure, you can’t beat the INDIAN INGENUITY at making the best use of the system.