Sleeping security guard
The design byte - 001 // SAT. 20 JUNE. 2020

The sleeping duty!

Listen to audio version
Observation made in late of 2018 

Welcome to the design bytes, the one image podcast. I am Mandar Rane, faculty of communication design, at IDC school of design IIT Bombay. Through the podcast, we share one of our selected observations drawn from our surroundings for analysis and discussion. I hope you will enjoy them.

The image I am going to showcase today, falls under the category, “Chalta hai”. If I translate this Hindi phrase in English, it would mean, it’s ok. But this ‘OK’ is a way of ignoring things. To understand the phrase and its relationship with the image, be with me till the end of the podcast.

Today’s image is special and I have titled it as ‘Sleeping Duty’. Yes, you heard me right, I said, ‘Sleeping Duty’, because someone is on duty and he is sleeping. Question is, who is he and why should we bother? Don’t get me wrong on this, it’s an observation, and I am not complaining. Let me explain the context.

This is the security desk, of my department and he is the guard on duty. Its 4.30 am and he is sleeping. What is his job? He is the person who will issue the key to open an office or a lab. Before handing over the key he will verify the identity of the person. That morning, when I arrived, a question arose.

Is it ok, for the security guard to sleep on duty?
Just for the sake of argument, let’s ask a counter-question. What was I doing there at 4.30 in the morning? Sometimes, I wake up early and go to the department to work. To open my office, I have to issue the key. Now, the problem was how do I wake him up? Should I touch him or shout-out loud? I was confused.

Actually, I was in two minds, the angry me and the empathetic me.
The angry me said, 
How can he sleep on duty? Shouldn’t he be awake for his shift?
Imagine, if it is your office and the guard is sleeping. How would you react?

However, the empathetic me said, calm down.
Of course, he shouldn’t sleep on duty, but in the night when the chances of faculty and students coming to the department are low, why can't we allow him a small nap? Can we be more human?

So what’s the point of all this, why are we discussing this?
As we grow up in a city, we get into the habit of ignoring things. Open man-holes, undulating footpaths, jumping the signals and begging children; we see a lot around us and pass by. We ignore things that we cannot change or are difficult to change. Though, sometimes, we stand up for a cause or fight against a system. But, it is tiring to keep on correcting everything, to the extent that one day someone tells you to stop being a complaint box. Slowly, the ignorant behaviour embeds into us and we say, ‘Chalta hai’. We learn to ignore and isolate ourselves. We find our own escapes.

Had I argued with the security guard that why he is sleeping on duty, he would say, “everyone sleeps, why are you picking on me?” Guards at the housing complex or ATMs also sleep. And, in some way, he is right. Unfortunately, that is true in India. 

So finally, what did I do?
Now, I have a number lock put to my office door.
I am no longer required to issue the key. Maybe, that’s my escape.

We look for overrides and workarounds. Who wants the friction of a confrontation? And this is how we get institutionalised, and the ‘Chalta hai’ tribe grows.

I am like you, and you are like me.
We all are the same.

It would be interesting for us to learn about tight and loose cultures as defined by the psychologist Michele Gelfand from the University of Maryland and the author of the book ‘Rule Makers, Rule Breakers’. And if, as per her definition our cultural attitudes in terms of following and breaking rules in certain domains are loose, then will it be essential for us to understand how we will perform amidst the continuing crisis of the coronavirus. Will the ‘Chalta hai’ attitude be a boon or a curse to us in India.
Meaning of the phrase ‘Chalta hai’:
How to explain chalta hai... Literally translated, it means ‘it walks’, but the real meaning is ‘It’s ok’. basically this means “brushing off things like rules because people think they don't matter”.

In short, a habit that we adjust to. It is similar to the line from the song 
Blowin’ In The Wind -Bob Dylan - How many times can a man turn his head pretending that he just doesn’t see. In short, we learn to ignore.

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