A cockroach scampers up the backrest of the seat of the car as I open the door to put my briefcase and backpack away at the end of the day. Thwack! and it falls to the seat, antenna twitching but on its way to being dead, although you never know with cockroaches.
I drive out of the office compound following the latest exit route of our under-construction Urmi Estate. I reach the gate for the entry onto the main road, the day's biggest traffic challenge. The crowds aren't maddening yet, I'm leaving early, at 6:15 pm. Mothers pulling along children in school uniforms go from left to right, elderly people shopping for the evening's dinner, office workers heading in both directions, the men in simple shirts and trousers, the women in dresses or Maharashtrian saris, everyone wearing rubber shoes and slippers to brave the Mumbai monsoon.
The rows crossing the nose of my car are only two to three people thick, not the four to five thick mass that will be passing here between 7 and 8 pm. As I inch forward bit by bit by bit, trying not to hit a mother pulling along a child in a school uniform or an elderly person shuffling forward to buy vegetables, the crowd keeps moving around the front of my car, swaying out into the street until suddenly, like a school of fish, they start moving across the back of my car as the distance has become shorter.
I've made it, and I didn't even have to yell or slam my steering wheel and shout 'GVD!' in Dutch.
I turn left onto the street, just behind a group of men carrying a body on a stretcher towards a cremation. The body is adult sized, covered in a cloth and flowers and tinsel streamers. The men are young, in their twenties and thirties, and walk ahead and behind the pall bearers. In the middle of the group of twenty or so men there's a lone immediate family member – a tall lanky boy, covered from head to toe in a white sheet with a bit of sheet wrapped round his head so as to cover his face entirely, himself a walking body. One of the other mourners, a youngish boy, has his hand around his shoulder, comforting him.
The traffic policemen in their whites and khakhis let the procession cross under the flyover and continue walking towards Peninsula Business Park and Worli. For a brief moment even Mumbai's traffic slows down and obeys a higher law, letting the men pass.
A second later and all of us – cars, motorcycles, buses and construction trucks – pass them, briefly glancing sideways and then on to where we need to be. Onwards over the monsoon's gift of potholes, left on Annie Besant Road, past Atria Mall, across Worli Sea Face. A white Audi Q7 that moments ago cut me off slows down for the driver to fling 100 rupees at a young man selling pink roses. The seller puts away the money with one hand and takes the next bunch from his helper with the other.
Onwards past Haji Ali, past Mahalaxmi Temple and the Cadbury Corner, onto Peddar Road, look up Mukesh Ambani's house, all lit up in the dark, sharp right onto Babulnath, sharp left onto Marine Drive, past Chowpatty and then onto the home stretch, on to Nariman Point.
I have been to Japan several times before, the first time was in 1991. I was a young manager in the steel industry meeting the likes of Sumitomo and Nippon Steel, buying steel for our South East Asian operations. Subsequent visits for KLM Cargo in the early 2000s drove home the fact that Japan was slowing down rapidly, no longer as surefooted as it had seemed in the '90s, when all of South East Asia orbited around it.
This trip with family is different though. A Japanese colleague from KLM urged us to try and 'feel' Japan, and that's what we have been trying to do, steering away from the bling bling of the large cities as much as possible. Our older eyes take in all the little small town politenesses, the punctuality of every single bus, the focus on personal safety, with guards blocking the exits of parking bays so that pedestrians can cross safely and the obsessive focus on the cleanliness of the individual, the streets, the cars, the edges of the elevators, well, of everything.
Kumud is reading Pico Iyer's The Lady and the Monk. At some point he tries to explain to his lady that in the US buses are sometimes late, and she stares at him in bewilderment, and asks "but why"? How could you not be on time?
Of course I have thought of the differences between India and Japan before, and many hilarious comparisons come to mind. The contained, dry, crumb-less meals served on Japanese trains (if they serve a meal) juxtaposed against the non stop barrage of food and drink being sold on Indian trains, from buckets, thalis and boxes. Daal sloshing over the edges of a thali and Chaai brimming over the rims of the tea glasses.
A little of the Japanese way could have a huge effect on a country such as India, imagine what a lot of Japan infused in our DNA could do. Imagine more punctuality, systems and processes that connect, thought that is given to roads and intersections before they are built, the effect on time tables. Imagine the effect on healthcare if we too went around wearing face masks on days that we were ill, rather than coughing and spitting with abandon. Imagine the impact on personal safety and the reduction in accidents if safety was built into our way of working, and not imposed from above. We would 'rock'.
Japan as an economy has been running on empty for some years now. The same system that could do so much for us and the rest of the world has also stifled growth in its own country, perfected it out of the system. Too much certainty, too much planning, too much insistence on predicting the future leads to a system that is in the words of Nicholas Taleb fragile.
Japan could do with an infusion of Indian entrepreneurship, of not knowing what tomorrow will bring but of being confident that you will be able to handle it. Indian auto manufacturers are today beating their Japanese counterparts in the African market by providing motorcycles that are high quality and very low cost.
India's Prime Minister and his counterpart Mr. Abe are due to meet in Japan in the next several months. We need many parts of them, but I think they could do with a slosh of us in the bargain. That would make for a very interesting cocktail, few parts Japan, one part India, sloshed, not stirred. Chai anyone?
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.