Chaos in India is legendary and calmly accepted. Lines don’t exist (or if they do, they are meant for someone else). Traffic snarls can take hours to untangle and are almost always caused by each driver navigating by his own personal compass, with no regard for order or common sense. Systems so simple a child could devise them are followed everywhere but here.

Crazy snarl of traffic in India

I’ve always believed this. But now I have proof that the root of the problem is genetic. Indians are simply different. And it starts in childhood.

When I was a kid, I loved to play the Memory Game. We called it Concentration and it involved taking an entire deck of cards, laying them out face down on the table and then trying to find pairs. An absolute fundamental of the game was that the rows of cards had to remain in their precise original positions, else how could you ever remember where they were?

Cards face down, two apple cards face up

This photo is someone else’s. The lines are not straight enough to satisfy me, nor would they have satisfied my children, who also loved the game and who also played it with savage attention to perfect alignment.

But these lines would seem rigid and offensive to Lakshi and Vijay, who are addicted to the Memory Game I recently got them and who resist all my efforts to get them to play it properly.


Two Indian children playing Memory Game, all the cards scattered helter-skelter on the rug

This is how they play!

All the cards helter-skelter, higgledy-piggledy, no order, no lines: how do they ever remember anything?

(Somehow they do, and I don’t even want to think about how or why because it bugs me.)

But it reminded me of something.

I worked as a waitress and I know what a cash drawer should look like. It should look like this:

Cash drawer, all bills in separate slots, neat and tidy

Everything is neat and tidy. All the bills are where they should be. Like with like. Ascending order. Perfect.

A cash drawer should not look like this:

Drawer full of Indian currency, all helter skelter, no slots, jumbled all together

Yet every Indian shopkeeper’s cash drawer does. Give the guy a 500 rupee note for a 457 rupee bill and the first thing he will ask you for is exact change. I used to think it was because small notes are scarce. Now I realize he’s trying to avoid pawing through his messy little collection to come up with the change.

It would be easy to end this post with a cheerful, breezy statement like: “Yet somehow, it all works out!”

But actually, guys? No, it doesn’t. It’s a whole lot of wasted effort. It’s the laziness of not bothering to fit that drawer with slots, of not caring enough to paint lines on the highway and then to insist that people respect them.

I am teaching Vijay and Lakshi to place their Memory Game cards in neat straight lines because I think it will bring order to their sweet smart brains.

And once they’ve discovered the joy of order and the freedom of discipline? Traffic jams, currency shortages, a failed economy, corruption, violence against women, food scarcity – you name it.

They will be ready to solve whatever problems arise.

Showing 5 comments
  • Madhvi Mittal

    Amazing!! You said such a big thing in such a simple way…

    • Jo Chopra McGowan

      Haha, thanks, Madhvi. It only took me thirty years of thinking about it!

  • Ariel Zucker


  • Irving (Magic) Johnson

    Do Indians really PREFER chaos? There are about 1 billion people squeezed into a country that’s – what? – About half the size of the United States? A third? I mean, it could be explained by the fact that they have 3 times as many people, and half the space….perhaps they would PREFER organization.

    • Jo

      Irving, over-crowding may explain the traffic, but what about the money drawers and the Memory game? And there are dozens of other examples.

      But also, I was joking!

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