The Trust Factor

Guest post by Sikandar Sardesai, an experienced editor and teacher, currently engaged in spiritual care of the elderly.

Twentyfive years ago, I travelled abroad from India for the first time. After a chance meeting with the Executive Director of a news agency in Hongkong, I’d been invited there to work as an Editor. The offer was verbal. I had no written contract. Also, I’d been told I didn’t need a visa for Hongkong; that I would get it on arrival at the airport. Hongkong then was still a British territory.

I approached the immigration official at the Hongkong airport with quite a bit of trepidation. Would I be allowed to enter Hongkong? Would I be allowed to work in Hongkong? I soon discovered that my fears were unfounded. The British immigration official listened to my reasons for visiting Hongkong (employment at a news agency) and stamped my passport with an entry visa.

In the weeks that followed, I filled in the requisite forms, had them countersigned by my employer, and without further ado I was able to get a Hongkong identity card that allowed me to reside and work in the territory. How often did I have to go to Immigration Department? Just once.

I marvelled at the trust I was accorded. I felt good about myself and my new temporary home. I was happy to live and work in Hongkong.

Fast forward a few years and I was back in India. While in Hongkong, I had used some of my earnings to buy India Development Bonds — India was entering a new phase of growth with Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister. I saw it as the patriotic thing to do. However, back in India, when the time came to redeem the bonds, I was in for a rude shock.

It was my money after all, I thought. There shouldn’t be any problem cashing the bonds. I had forgotten that I was not in Hongkong any more. Bank officials and others I approached to redeem the bonds treated me with suspicion and indifference. They expected me to “pay” them first. I had to jump through any number of hoops before I got my money back. It was an experience of what Prime Minister Modi today calls “Scam India”.

On reflection, what distinguished the two experiences was the “trust” factor. In one instance, I was trusted. I was accepted for who I said I was. It reinforced my sense of integrity. In the other, the basic assumption seemed to be that I was “untrustworthy” and needed to be treated accordingly.

Do we, Indians, I ask myself, assume that we are not trustworthy? Is that the basis of our dealings with each other — at least, our financial and business dealings? Do we assume that we lack personal integrity?

My experience has been that trust begets trust. It’s noblesse oblige.

If we are to get rid of the “Scam India” image, that’s where we need to start – with personal integrity and trust.