Posts Tagged ‘India


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



Ten Signs that Showed Columbus He Wasn’t in India

Over 500 years ago, if Christopher Columbus had observed these signs, he would have known he wasn’t in India.

1. There was no sign of the British Raj. There were no pink men going around in tin hats speaking bad Hindi.

2. He saw women. The women of India would have been in purdah. The women he saw were wearing something like today’s  beach wear at Club Med. The women in India were/are wrapped in saris.

3. There was not the smell of curry. But to be honest, chilies hadn’t reached India either.

4. There was no Bollywood music blaring from a loudspeaker. But then in the West Indies, they would have had reggae music, no?

5. The beach wasn’t littered with trash from last night’s snack and drink like at Marina Beach.

6. When he got off the boat, there weren’t cab drivers offering him the scenic route and places to buy carpets.

7. No one tried to get him married to their brother’s sister cousin.

8. No one insisted that he and his crew come to their house for a masala dosa on a palm leaf (although they had the palm leaves).

9. There was no Keralite selling tea at a tea stall.

10. There were no off-shore IT businesses trying to recruit his crew.


Ten Things Female Indians Should Know About American Bosses

p1010039Sometimes, American bosses are almost totally different than Indian bosses. The American business game is a level playing field. It is important for you to play your part with confidence and accuracy.  During your next meeting or interview with your overseas boss, consider these points:

1. Lack of hierarchy: He sees you as an equal and expects you to participate in discussions. If he has said something in error, he may expect you to correct him in a polite manner. He is not into status; he is into getting the job done, the project finished successfully.

2. Be aggressive: He knows that there are aspects of the project that he will not understand, so he expects YOU to explain them to him. Be concise and accurate when presenting your information.

3. The truth: Do not tell him what you think he wants to hear. He wants the truth; the more accurate you are with your answer, the more you will please him.  Do not tell him what he doe not need to know with unnecessary background information to show off all you know.  Stick to the point.

4. Don’t be afraid to admit that you are wrong: apologize. If you have been the one to make the error, don’t hide it. Own up to it. He will have more respect for you. But it would be good to have a solution or work-around to fix what you did.  You will build a relationship of trust which is worth more to him than the mistake that you made.

5. Learn how to say no. If the answer warrants a no, say it. He may be jet-lagged and not fully comprehend your indirect, round-about answer.  If it can’t be done, tell him and explain why.  Try to offer other solutions.

6. Don’t take the casual banter too far. Once you see that the American boss is easy-going and genuinely wants to hear what you have to say, don’t make the mistake over going past your limits as a subordinate. He still expects a certain amount of respect.  American banter is deceiving to the foreigner–it will seem casual but it is business-casual.

7. Knowledge give and take: Because he may not know all that you thought he would know, do not dismiss him as being weak. Remember that American bosses do not think it is a sign of weakness to display their ignorance. If they don’t understand something, they may admit it in order for you to bring them up to speed.

8. I don’t know. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. Your instinct will be to cover up your ignorance with false innuendos. Don’t do this. Ask questions. It shows that you are more interested in learning and doing a good job than losing face.

9. Don’t lie. Don’t make promises that you know you can’t keep simply to be nice. Your word is your bond. He will judge your character on how well he can trust you. If you lose your credibility, then you will lose.

10. He will see you as an equal to men. He won’t understand if you are quiet around other men. Speak clearly and slowly and probably more loudly. You may feel frightened and intimidated but do not speak softly with your eyes averted. You may speak English fluently, but he may not understand your accent. To him, you may be speaking too fast.  On the other hand, if you don’t understand what he said, ask him to repeat it. He may do the same with you.  Do not feel bad, but concentrate on getting your point across, your information communicated accurately, and your ideas elucidated.


Ten Things American Bosses Should Know About Indian Women

When an American executive comes to visit the on-site off-shore body shop in India on a fleeing visit, he comes across women that might leave him puzzled and confused.  Now of course all women have this affect on most men, but we will consider the South Indian Women in the work place in accordance to her culture.

1.  When you see a female employee dressed in the traditional sari or sawar kameeze (tunic and trousers), do not assume that she is straight from the villages or extremely orthodox.  Outside of work, she may wear jeans and a tee shirt just like your daughter in Kansas, but perhaps she is obliged to dress the way she does due to her parents or husband.  She may feel that she would lose respect from her on-site boss and male colleagues if she would wear western clothes.

2.  Simply because she has a shy and quiet demeanor,  don’t assume she cannot be assertive.  If her on-site boss or more senior colleages are present in the room, she may not want to express herself freely in his presence.  She may not excell at small talk, but watch her at work with her team when she doesn’t think you are looking.  She may know the project better than her more aggressive male colleagues.

3.  If she does not have eye contact with you the way you would like, it is not because she is being dismissive of you.  She is being polite and respectful.  If other colleagues would judge her too forward with you, she could lose her reputation.  If she is single, this could limit her marriage proposals.

4.  When she was born, the first thought her family probably had was that they needed to save for a dowry.  She is used to being in the background, ignored, or worse.  At home, the best food is served to the male members of the family first.  She may not even eat with them and will have her meal with her mother afterwards.  So the male colleagues at work may mimic this behavior.

5.  If all of the team members are women, they will have a different persona.  They will be extremely direct with one another–to the point of what you would consider rudeness.  But they will probably be close and stick together if gossip does not poison them.

6. Jealousy is particularly dangerous among Indian women and can jeopardize the success of a project.  Competition is fierce.  Young brides are forced to leave their homes and live with their in-laws.  The mother-in-law did not choose her husband and may actually feel closer to her son.  When he is married, this can be problematic.  In a country where survival has never been easy and there are too many over-qualified professionals, team work is not a concept that is part of the culture.  The female boss can sometime take the place of the mother-in-law for the hapless young professional woman.  It can be a Cinderella situation at the workplace.

7.  As little girls, many of these women were not taught to say no.  They have been expected to be obedient.  They suffer greatly from sexual harassment at the workplace.  Most of the time, they are ashamed to speak of it.

8.  It has only been a few years since it has been common in India for women to work full-time in the office.  Many are still expected to prepare complicated Indians meals for their extended families when they get home.  They may have to tutor their children due to the highly competitive educational infrastructure.  Indian education is based on memorization, so if parents want to see their children succeed at an early age, they help them memorize a great amount of information.

9. Your female Indian employees will probably know more than you think.  It will be up to you to creatively elicit the data from her.  The best way to do this is to create an atmosphere of trust and acceptance.  Don’t use yes and no questions.  Facilitate the conversation so that you are sure she is not telling you what she thinks you want to hear.

10. Some Indian women can endure more than you can imagine without complaints.  They will be your hardest workers and you may never know unless you look beyond the glossy words of their male counterparts. Others are spoiled and come from elite households where servants do everything.  They are not working for money but as a timepass until they get married.  They may be unqualified for the job but got it because their father knows someone who knows someone in the company.  Her team will consider this normal and cover for her.

Bonus: Indian women can be more trainable than their male counterparts.  They are taught to adapt.  They don’t think they know it all.  They will respond when treated with respect and go the extra mile when you are ten thousand away.