Currently, just down the street from my father’s old Aligarh residence lives our good family friend, Shri B.D. Gupta, or Bhikari Das Gupta. He began his career in lock making years ago as a simple laborer, forging and delivering locks to my father in exchange for a meagre profit per lock sold. Bhikari dealt honestly with his buyers, and his energy and wisdom over time enabled him to hire one, two, then three workers for himself until he had a thriving factory occupying a few blocks of prime Aligarh property with a work force of over 400 laborers, design engineers, and production managers. Today Bhikari holds the title as one of Aligarh’s most prominent padlock manufacturers, boasting the popular Konark brand.

Bhikari Das and I became like father and son back when my father managed his Aligarh business. When I visit him now, he welcomes me as if I were family. Out of respect for one’s elders in India, the younger adds the word ‘Ji” following the elder’s name, its meaning likened to “sir” or “ma’am.” To show further respect, Shri or Shrimati, the equivalent of “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” is also placed before the name. One younger than myself may therefore address me as Shri Amitabh Singh Ji.

In the case of closer friendships, the younger may not voice the elder’s first name but substitute “Uncle” or “Aunty” in its place, thereby establishing a close familial bond, even when no real bloodline exists. Bhikari Das therefore became my “Uncle Ji,” and when I entered his home, I touched the top of his feet with the palms of my hands as a cultural sign of respect for his years and wisdom beyond my own. He in turn touched my head with his palms thereby imparting a blessing upon my life. In India, outward affection beyond these traditional signs of respect, like hugging and kissing, is generally not accepted, especially in smaller towns where residents are unaccustomed to Western influence.

As the economy changes around the world, new competition necessitates new strategy and technology in order to meet changes in demand. Over the years, China rose as a prominent lock manufacturer, for a moment threatening India’s market by providing locks at a cheaper price. The threat eventually proved minimal as India’s residents trusted the strength and reliability of Aligarh locks over outside competitors.

Uncle Ji, however, was unwilling to close his mind to advances outside India, believing it worthwhile to dig deeper into China’s lock industry in the hope of adopting any workable strategies. He flew to China and left a few weeks later impressed by the freedom given to Chinese managers to grow their businesses and meet outside demand. Their positive attitude tended to inspire their laborers to practice efficient work habits and share a sense of ownership in the company.

Furthermore, Uncle Ji found that the Chinese government facilitated growth by providing a business owner with monetary incentive to set up bigger infrastructures. In India, conditions have not been so favorable since its independence from Britain in 1947. Rather than founding the new India on policies that facilitate the production and growth of private business, privileges were confined to government-run industries. Consequently, if a private business wants to expand, it has to borrow money from government-owned agencies at an eighteen percent interest rate.

While the Chinese government views the hiring of more people as an improvement to their country, a manager in India can hire as many people as he or she wants and the government simply does not seem to care, or worse, makes it difficult to do so. For example, the government and political party affiliated unions make it nearly impossible for a business to fire employees, no matter a manager’s reason. Companies are therefore afraid to hire too many people in case demand slows, necessitating layoffs.

Uncle Ji explained to the Chinese that when Indians deal with people in business, they tend to treat everyone as thieves until they prove that they are honest. What amazed Uncle Ji is that the Chinese business owners treat everyone as trustworthy until someone does something to show that he or she is a thief.

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