Glimpses into Indian Efficiency

In addition to the beautiful culture and work ethic of India, one thing I have come to appreciate greatly is Indian efficiency. I’ve noticed that efficiency in India comes in many forms: whether that be sustainability to protect the environment, efficiency in the workplace, or efficiency in communication. Throughout my trip abroad, it’s been incredibly interesting to venture out within India and explore the innerworkings of how people and institutions operate in their routine. Below are the appreciable observations of efficiency I’ve made so far:

Electrical efficiency:

  • Motion Detected escalators: On my second day in Gurgaon, I was already struck by the innovations of efficiency. My co-intern and I visited the Ardee mall where we noticed motion detected escalators. These escalators only begin moving when they detect a person in close proximity. Though a small effort, it seems to be a very easy way to limit daily energy expenditure in public spaces. Thankfully, I saw these to be very widespread in public areas in Gurgaon.
Ardee Mall
  • Power outlet switches: In every single home I’ve visited, along with the power outlet, there has always been a switch. The first time I went to charge my phone in India, I made the mistake of not clicking the power outlet switch which left me with a dead phone the next morning! This is such an efficient alternative to power outlets whose circuits are always drawing electricity. If you see these, make sure you check your devices are charging before leaving!

Water Efficiency:

  • Water Tanks: In my last blog posted in June (so long ago, I know!), I was in Gurgaon. Due to some circumstances, my co-intern and I ended up in Chandigarh, the city where the entirety of my extended family lives. The weeklong visit in Chandigarh was refreshing from the bustling nature of Gurgaon as I found it to have both better weather (much cooler!) and to be more peaceful. During this trip, I stayed at my grandparents’ house where I became familiar with the fascinating water tanks, endearingly called “tankies”! This is a North Indian slang term for water tank!
  • 10,000 L Tank
  • Chandigarh visit

When I was visiting, their house was filled with conversations about how much water to store in buckets so that it could be used further on in the day. This was because the tankie was in need of its routine cleaning, and to do so, it had to be emptied of all the water it currently contained.

Tankies can be found on top of almost every house in India. They store a good deal of the water consumed in the household. In some houses, there’s only a few taps that draw water from the government water storage facility. This running tap water is not always dependable because the government given water has scheduled water outages during the day (for example, water may go out from 9 AM to 6 PM during the day)! This is done in an effort to conserve water and with the expectation that all other water will come from the tankie. So, people use the store of water in the tankie for their daily usage. In large apartment complexes, one can find an underground tankie that stores as much as 50,000 liters for residential use! A motor draws up water from the large tank downstairs that refills the upper tank as and when water is being used up. The individual household tanks are typically located at the top of the house because this elevation allows for gravity to generate water pressure. As a result of this pressure, the water flows down the pipes into our faucets as demand is initiated.   

For hot water, people have geysers installed that must be switched on to begin heating tankie water for use. If you want hot water, you must turn on the geyser in advance! As they are storage tanks, tankies must be cleaned by professionals at scheduled times to avoid water contamination.

Efficiency in Local Markets

Though a bit of a stretch from what people typically attribute to the word “efficiency”, I found some degree of efficiency while shopping in local markets.

Staying in Delhi throughout the month of July gave my co-intern and I the ability to easily explore the many flea markets scattered throughout Delhi. Here, I found efficiency in the way that shopkeepers sold their goods. And that was, bargaining! I found that their method of bargaining to sell their items was incredibly effective, because they were usually willing to compromise on prices in order to sell the maximum amount of goods during the day. The same was true when my co-intern and I took a visit to the local market on our quick trip to Gujarat!

While we’re speaking about my favorite local markets, here’s a quick guide on what they contain and how to navigate them because they can definitely be a bit overwhelming:

  • Sarojini Nagar: This market is well known for its daily wear western clothing. You can also find beautiful jhumkas (earings) here for just 50 rupees and shoes for 100 rupees!
  • Lajpat Nagar: This market literally has everything! From bedsheets and comforters to ethnic clothing, I was overwhelmed with the insane amount of variety in Lajpat.
  • Janpath Nagar: This market is known for its abundance of handicrafts. We saw a lot of traditional jewelry and Indian souvenirs here. Ethnic clothing and beautiful traditional bags were here too!
  • Dilli haat: This is not a traditional flea market as it is government owned and run. The attraction of Dilli haat is that it contains handcrafted items, clothes, and food from multiple states of India. So, for those that aren’t able to travel throughout India, take a trip to Dilli haat to see a glimpse of the rich yet diverse Indian culture. On my trip to Dilli haat, apart from all the unique jewelry and clothing I saw, I also got to taste Dabeli (traditional Gujarati & Maharashtrian dish) and Dosas (from a shop representing Tamil Nadu).
  • Gujarati market– This was one of the most beautiful markets I visited! The sheer variety of fabrics and patterns was astounding in the street market we visited in Ahmedabad. The colors and patterns were so alluring that I bought a Gujarati “chaniya choli” dress for myself! I can’t give many tips for bargaining in this street market since I don’t know the Gujarati language, but my suggestion here would be to find someone local to help you out for the best prices!
  • Chandni Chowk– While on our Old Delhi Street Food Tour, we passed through Chandni Chowk while sitting in an e-rickshaw. No shopping was formally done, but I can honestly say I have never seen that level of variety in beautiful dresses anywhere else. Each lane had something new to offer: one was dedicated to bridal lehengas, another to sari borders, and another to jewelry. But of course, remember that the food is also a commodity that cannot be missed! Just make sure the street food is safe which a local/guide can confirm.
  • Sabzi Mandi: While in Chandigarh, I took a quick visit to the “Sabzi mandi” with my aunt. This translates to vegetable market. It was located right down the street from her house and its vendors make a scheduled appearance every Monday. The market was truthfully something amazing! There were so many vegetable vendors everywhere that it made it impossible to see where the mandi began and ended. To add to the fun, cows were strolling through the market along with us, illuminated by the bright lights of each stall. And of course, bargaining was in full swing here too!

*Bargaining tip: What I’ve learnt is that bargaining is a must in these markets. This is because shopkeepers have usually already significantly marked up prices on their items with a hefty margin for bargaining. Though, definitely don’t try bargaining in shops that clearly say “fixed price” as these are present within the local markets as well. I’ve heard and observed that consumers quote a price 50% less than the price given by the shopkeeper and continue to comprise on it, making sure to pay no more than 70% of the initially quoted price. I would recommend however, not trying to excessively bargain because everyone is still trying to make their end’s meet. A decent bargain makes both parties happy. A trip to the local market will surely help you hone in on your negotiation skills! Because of this, shopping became such a fun activity (despite the intense heat) because I got to practice my Hindi with shopkeepers as well as buy gifts and traditional items for good prices.

  • Chaniya Choli
  • Sabzi Mandi

Efficiency in the workplace

Besides efficiency found throughout the routines of daily life, I’ve also found pockets of it while working at PHFI. After the pandemic ran its course, PHFI shifted to a predominantly hybrid model such that there are two in person workdays during the week while the rest of the week is virtual. This left my co-intern and I with a lot of time to balance our days between working and exploring India. At this time, I found that PHFI’s decision to shift to a hybrid model was an effective one because it serves their work culture well. Moreover, hybrid models have been found to improve mental health due to increased proximity with family as well as improved productivity due to the necessity to plan out in-person and virtual workdays.

At work, my co-intern and I have been conducting literature reviews on tobacco use among adolescents as well as the efficacy of peer education on various adolescent health themes. We have also been working on policy briefs relating to overweight/obesity issues in India and government regulations to mitigate its prevalence as well as the use of front of package labelling. In between, we’ve been working on devising a protocol for the scale up workshops for the RKSK program I described in my last blog. Essentially, the RKSK program is currently in its pilot phase and our field visit was a qualitative data collection visit to the pilot districts within Madhya Pradesh. Now, after the success of the pilot projects, the program has the ability to be scaled up nationally. One step for this scale up to occur is to have workshops where all stakeholders in the program are in attendance to get an understanding of how the program can be effectively scaled up as well as have all their concerns and issues addressed. My co-intern and I have been in the process of writing up a protocol for the workshops.

It’s interesting how many unique learnings can be made just by carefully observing daily life in India. My visit so far has offered me so much more than just learning from my internship as I have gained knowledge through explorations of local markets, glimpses into incredibly efficient daily routines, and environmental sustainability! Stay tuned in my next blog to learn about my trips across India and the beautiful festivities I’ve had the privilege of taking part in!

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About Himanshi Verma

Hi, I'm Himanshi! I'm a part of the class of 2024 and am majoring in Neuroscience. This summer, I will be interning at the Public Health Foundation of India in Gurgaon, Haryana. Outside of the classroom, I enjoy dancing, reading, and trying various desserts!