Archive for June, 2012


The Tin Rule: Barclays Bank and Louie need a Course on Ethics

Ironically, it was in India where I got the assignment to write a set of courses on Business Ethics for a company in the USA.  For many in India, lying is not a sin.  You say what the person wants to hear.  In the Hindu religious literature, it says that a man can cheat his customers if it puts food on the table for his hungry family.  You can’t eat Ethics.  When a government fails to feed its people, the moral fabric frays quickly.

Many people told me to watch the new program called Louie. So yesterday I downloaded the pilot episode, he makes jokes about how if he sold his car, he could feed many starving people.  People laughed.  People who have never starved laughed.  Fat people laughed.  Starvation is a joke to middle America?  There is a worse sin here. Come, Louie, to India, and let me introduce you to some children who will have a low IQ because their mothers never got enough to eat. Try not to eat just one meal, Louie, now try two meals Louie.  How are you doing?  Any jokes?  Did you feed your kids? Not half-eaten rotten fruit from the garbage can like this little girl?

This morning, I listened to BBC4 news and learned that Barclays Bank and the NHS don’t know what the word “ethics” means either.  Are they starving?  Yes, they are starving from morals.  Great Britain used to be the moral compass for the rest of the world.  A man was as good as his word.  This was the most civilized country.  What has made the moral fabric fray here?  Selfishness?  Lack of accountability?  Ethics can be defined in the Golden Rule:  do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.  Instead, they have the Tin Rule:  Do it to them before they do it to you.  And you all wonder why the economy is bad?  It’s not the economy, stupid, as Bill Clinton thought, it’s the integrity of the people.  Barclays, you don’t have to be a tin bank.

So, if you work in the HR Department of Barclays Bank, I can offer you a management course on Business Ethics.  Oh, and Louie, I can do personal coaching. You don’t have to be the tin man.


Who do you think you are?

Who do you think you are?

How did  Som Sabadell Flashmob find you?  It found me this morning on my Facebook page.  If you haven’t seen and heard and felt it, click on and listen, and I’ll wait for you to come back.  If you happen to be in a rather sensitive mood, you might want to have some tissues handy.

Yes, we all know.  We live in a time of “austerity.”  Politicians who want to make our lives miserable, who want to squash our hope, kill our creativity, and make sure we are making bricks without straw invariably use the stark, cold word.  The result?  Not only can’t people pay their bills, have the little extra that the middle class has just been able to enjoy in the last 50 years, but now they don’t stand as straight; they walk looking at the ground, no longer wearing such bright colours.  Smiles are a rare accessory that even the Maire Claire magazine can’t tell you how to obtain.  Don’t expect a good job.  Don’t you know?  These are hard times; and thus our society aborts its own dreams.  Who do you think you are to have such desires?  Those days  are over.  Neighbours and friends aren’t so availed to talk and listen as everyone has their own stories of financial woe.

Yes, they are over.  But it has put a new hunger in people.  They need to be comforted.   It comes where they least expect it–while doing their daily mundane errands that we all do.  In Spain, where the economy has leveled everyone’ s job a mother pushes a stroller to the ATM machine to get money to buy food for dinner tonight.  A young man in a suit rushes by so as not to be late for a sales appointment.  A grandmother and her grandson walk toward the candy shop.  And then.  And then they hear a wonderful thing: melodic music.  First it is soft, and then it gains momentum as Beethoven ministers to the crowd. One little girl boldly goes close to the musicians and joins them, totally captivated as children are.  It takes a long time before others join her, but they do.  One child climbs the lamp pole to get a better view.

It’s not a sunny day in more ways than one.  But the music is intoxicating.  People slow down.  They stop.  They gather together.  Cameramen are able to capture these moments.  The people know they are being filmed, but then, iphones and smartphones pop up and anyone is a cameramen.  It’s a reality show.  How much was staged?  Oh, who cares.  It captured me and took me to a place where it was real.  It comforted me.  Burdens went off my shoulders and I  could stand tall.


Was I Really in India?

Was I really in India?

It won’t be long; in fact, it’s starting already and it hasn’t been a month yet.  India is starting to fade like the ending of a very long movie.  You know how a long movie ends—the camera pans and then stops on a landscape scene.  You don’t realize it at first, but then you are only looking at a still photograph of the same landscape scene.  No one is moving—not even the leaves on the tree are blowing in the breeze.  It’s over now.  The credits start to roll.  Now you are told who did what in the movie, down to the accountants.  And now, my credits need to roll.

Coming to the UK every year means that the little kid in me doesn’t realize that this time in the UK isn’t a month’s trip.  This is now home.  The little kid may never figure out that the UK is home because we’ve moved around too much; we are nomadic.  How do you know you are nomadic?  You recoil from large, bulky, heavy, expensive purchases.  Your only home is your computer where you can keep a roomful of books, countless albums of photos, and precious documents inside a little box that fits in your knapsack.  You don’t have farewell parties or dinners.  You avoid saying goodbye and pretend you will see your friends “one more time”  before you leave.

But I must remember India and what I did there because I have to write a very important document that my computer kept for me.  Remember I said that my credits need to roll?  Yes, my CV.  I need to document what I have been doing for the last ten years.  I need to reduce myself down to one document.  I hear the prison door clang as it swings shut. I hear the key turn. I’m caged.  The words on the CV need to be key words that will initiate a recruiter software program.  The CV is a human robot.

How do I explain ten years in India in a CV for the UK?  How could anyone from the UK understand the insanity of living in India?  If they happen to be Indian origin, they still won’t understand what it was like being a foreigner, always ready for white-face mime in a sea of people of bronze, caramel, chocolate, and ebony.  But I need to make the readers of my CV understand just that if I am to get the job that will suit me best.  But first, I need to understand it myself.

If you are a nomad, you are also a chameleon, a changling.  Subconsciously, you adapt and change to the environment as you would change your clothes for a summer holiday in Spain (which is a good place to have a holiday since the country is bankrupt).  So I’m already shedding the scales of India and transmutating into the British housewife who goes to Tesco’s, no, make that Sainsbury’s.  I don’t care if it is more expensive; it is better quality. Yes, I am a snob and have delusions of being middle class  I found my woolly jumper, house slippers, and brolly.  My sandals, beach bum clothes, and idli maker didn’t make the cut for shipping from the Chennai docks to Felixstow. By the way, we haven’t heard from the shipper.  Are there Somali pirates wearing my scarves pretending to be Johnny Depp?

I’ll warn you now; I didn’t do as much as you are thinking in India.  I wasn’t this amazing aid worker who worked until exhausted helping the hungry, caring for the sick, or teaching the orphans, although I did work with young children.  I wasn’t the bombastic Ex-pat (although I wanted to be) who worked for a multi-national corporation with a high salary that provided for a driver, car, trips home every three months, etc.  Even though my husband is a chartered accountant, I wasn’t even the ex—pat’s wife, going to constant lunches at five star hotels with other ex-pat wives, all talking on cell phones instead of each other.  I did some of that but found it extremely boring and expensive.  More regrettably, I didn’t write a best-selling “How to do business with Indians” because I never figured it out.  I did write a few articles here and there, but a book was never born.

Was I one of those grizzly ex-pats who have spent way too much time in a third-world country, lost contact with friends and family back home, and became an alcoholic?  Did I become one of those Eat, Pray, and Love middle aged women who never see the exotic country where she is living past her own imagination?  Was I the missionary trying not to convert but to spread the gospel in a contextual manner?  Did I simply want to explore the Indian culture and language because I was only a finalist in the Fulbright Scholarship?  Or was it because India was just cheap enough and bearable enough to be able to afford an ocean view, a cook and a maid?

By the way, India is not a country.  It’s no more real as the EU.  Most Indians consider themselves Tamil, Brahmin, Sihk, or a Dalit. They are not Indians until they come and take your job in the USA or UK.  India is a state of mind, no, it is a confusion of many states of many minds.  I lived in state of Tamil Land.  I tried to learn Tamil for a long time.  It is known as one of the hardest languages to learn.  Hindi is much easier. Later, I realized it was better if I didn’t speak Tamil with people past getting around Chennai.   It was better to keep to English to keep some control.

I came into India with a business visa as a trainer.  I designed a course on technical writing for software engineers for Motorola.  I ended up teaching it in Bangalore and in Hyderabad the night before President Clinton was to arrive.  I was met at the airport by a driver, as we were driving to the Taj Hotel, I didn’t feel like I was in India anymore.  The street was clean.  There were no beggars anywhere, no vendors.  As I got out of the taxi, my shoe stuck to the yellow line on the road that had just been painted.

Although most of my friends in India were Indian, I had a hard time understanding the software engineers and they had a hard time understanding me.  And it wasn’t just the accent.  As I went to shake hands with the participants, some almost recoiled.  An Indian man doesn’t touch a woman—not even to shake hands.  That is one reason why they fold their hands and do the “Namaste”.  Well, the participants were going to get a free cross-cultural lesson.  They were going to learn to shake hands with not only me but with the few female participants in the class.  We were going to bond.

Teaching technical writing can be a bit tedious, especially for software engineers who think it is a waste of time to write anything but code.  Their communication skills were almost non-existent.  To top it off, they needed to report to their American counterparts about the progress of the project by email.  They were intimidated about writing emails to Americans, so they did the most natural Indian thing—they avoided writing them.  Thus the Americans had little idea about the progress of the project.  I needed to address this.  But I needed to do something that would keep their attention during a hot afternoon that came after a biriani meal at the Taj topped off with jalabis and ice cream.  Even Tamil filter coffee wasn’t keeping them awake.  I watched some fall asleep staring straight at me with their eyes wide open.

So I did what any girl from Baltimore did—I brought out the brownie recipe.  At that time in India, brownies were rare.  Chocolate was rare because it would melt in the heat.  But I had come prepared a la Martha Stewart with cocoa power, eggs, flour, vanilla, and butter.  Isn’t this what every IT trainer brings in their briefcase?  The class made themselves into groups.  Each group became a company with a president and a communications director.  Like an Easter egg hunt on the South Lawn, I hid all the ingredients around the room.  Each group had directions where one ingredient was.  There was to be no talking: they would have to communicate with each other by email.  With the help of other groups, they had to locate the ingredients, follow the recipe, and cook the brownies at the hotel kitchen.  By the end of the day, we had a contest on who made the best brownies.  I’ve never seen such excitement by men who didn’t even know where the kitchen was at their homes.  I wonder how many men went home and gave the priceless recipe to their wives and are still eating my brownies now.  Now how do you put that on a CV?

Inspired by Derrick Trimble



Broken Leg Log: Don’t ask

I had been in India for a half of a quarter of a century–about 12.5 years to be exact.  I had one more week left.  It is at this time that my leg chose to break.  How did I do it?  If you are asking that question, you have probably never broke anything.  Let me give you some advice; if someone has broken their leg, they don’t want to answer this question.  Why?  First of all, too many people have asked them instead of making them a cup of tea.  Secondly, the chances are they did something what they would call “stupid” that could have so easily been avoided.  Something that they do every day without thinking, but this day, they tripped and fell, and fell wrongly.  Somehow, their angels in Psalm 91 were off duty and not being vigilant.

That’s what happened to me.  We had to move out of the flat where we had been living.  We found a place to live that would take a dog.  A very nice lady, Avril, probably a saint, let us live with her.  She had a dog, and our dog didn’t like her dog.  Which meant that our dog was imprisoned in our bedroom for two weeks.  But the dogs did not lead to my accident.  I managed that all by myself.

I got up at 5:30 am to see the sunrise.  The flat overlooked the Bay of Bengal.   I did not trip over the pipes that were all along the terrace.  I did not fall over the big step covering some of the pipes.  No, I tripped over the last of the three marble steps leading to the living room.  I didn’t trip as much as I missed it.  I was going to get some coffee.  There is no logical explanation on why I missed that last step and landed on the marble floor with my foot flexed like a ballerina but no where to go. 

I thought I only sprained an ankle.  I could move everything.  I fell in the midst of some bean bags.  Avril got me some ice and I spend the next 36 hours there, downing homeopathic remedies. Finally my husband got me some crutches and I spent the last week in India in bed, watching my husband pack our life away.

At this point, you thinking that I am being stupid by not going to the doctor’s.  First of all, I thought it was a sprained ankle, and that does not necessarily mean a doctor’s visit.  They just tell you to elevate the foot, keep ice on it, wrap it, and move your toes.  If you knew Indian hospitals, you would know why I didn’t want to go.

Avril’s flat was on the fourth floor.  But the lift only went to the third floor.  With the help of crutches, a towel wrapped tightly around my ankle, I was able to get to the lift with no pain and no problem.  At the airport, my husband got me a wheelchair.  My feet never touched India again.  Somehow I crutched my way to my seat on the plane.  The flight attendant put my crutches against my seat where I was sure that another passenger would trip over them and break a leg.

Most of the time, my foot was on my husband’s lap.  It is good that I did yoga and that I am a bit flexible.  In the UK, there was no wheelchair  waiting for me.  No matter, I crutched it to where they had one.  I also crutched my way from the car to the Animal Reception Centre where we picked up our Indian dog, Shep. 

From the car, I crutched my way to my mother-in-law’s home.  The next day, I thought I should take it easy.  I crutched upstairs and stayed there.  The next day, I decided that I could walk on my knees.  The whole house was carpeted.  I did that easily for four days.  Feeling like I was getting better, I thought I should see a doctor to see how I should do rehab.  The neighbourhood doctor thought to play it safe and asked for an ex-ray.  So we had a trip to the local A&E.  I could stand without a problem.  When we saw the doctor, he pressed on the base of my leg where it meets the foot.  Wait a minute, that hurt.  The ex-ray showed not only did I break my fibula, but an ankle too.  Not only that, the fibula was already healing. 

The word surgery was spoken.  I was fitted with a temporary cast.  I could not crawl up and down the stairs as I had done like a monkey with this cast.  It had my foot sticking straight out.  I needed to go to the Fracture Clinic where they would decide if I needed surgery.  Two days later, they decided it was too late for surgery and by the grace of God, the bone was setting in the right place.  I got a permanent cast up to my knee.  My life was over as I knew it.  What a way to start my new life in the UK. Did I really live in India?