Business as (not-so) usual in India

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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Trip End Nov 16, 2004


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Friday, October 22, 2004

:: Hyderabad ::

I flew into Hyderabad (pronounced Hy-dra-bad) late Sunday night, Oct 17, and was instantly aware of its immediate contrast to New Delhi. A melting pot of Muslim and Hindu cultures, Hyderabad is the capital of its state, Andhra Pradesh, located on the mid-to-eastern side of the country. Its population is close to 6 million (I think I saw all of them at the airport) and includes those in its sister city, Secunderabad. Hyderabad is southern India's hi-tech city and is affectionately called, "Cybercity". The city is greatly divided by its panache to serve the business class and the realities of being a third-world country. This dichotomy pervades your every move.

I've come here to work for a month to enhance US-to-India creative innovation, processes, and communication. My company arranged for a hotel driver to pick me up and take me to the airport. When he appeared and asked me if I was Miss Turner but I didn't reply at first because I was distracted by the dozen or so smiling faces behind him that shouted, "Welcome Andrea!" What a nice surprise to see my co-workers coming out in full force to greet me. Not having met any of my colleagues before I thought it was funny how they instantly knew who I was; it's pretty hard to be incognito around here with blonde hair and pale skin. They came to ensure that I had proper transportation but it is also an Indian custom to send off and receive travelers in good numbers. I've witnessed that a lot at the San Francisco airport and always thought that arriving person must have felt so good being welcomed by so many happy faces and outstretched arms. Now I knew that feeling first hand and was touched by their gesture.

I was excited to start work and begin to collaborate with my teammates and learn about their lives. I was instructed that a driver would pick me up at my hotel (a very nice five-star abode) at 9.30am every morning and take me to work. My driver's name is something I cannot even begin to understand as it is close to 12 letters long! My goal is to greet him by name, along with my big toothy smile, before I leave India. Currently, all I do is smile and nod incessantly when he recalls my name correctly each and every time. I am almost always the first to arrive at the office. A typical workday is somewhere from 11am-8pm complete with catered lunches and dinners. The food here is tasty albeit incredibly spicy (even mild nearly blows my head off) and quite heavy. If I smother my food with a heap of neutralizing plain yoghurt, I can complete a meal. Without it, I'm left for dead. The second resort is chasing down my fiery sustenance with some trusty PepcidAC. I'm convinced that Indian spices are slowly wearing a hole in my stomach. I crave healthy salads from Whole Foods Market.

I arrive at my company's office, which is situated in front of a pretty river that flows peacefully behind the chaos of the city streets. I had visions of taking afternoon respites along its banks and enjoying some calm in what I expected to be a rather frenetic office environment. As we maneuvered through the rush hour complete with bicycles, three-wheeled taxis, SUVs, and oxen pulling carts of fruits and vegetables my building complex appeared. I was surprised by its modern fašade juxtaposed by a pit of debris. Modernism fades fast as you enter the building, which is comprised of 8 floors two of which remain occupied. I enter my office on the 4th floor and am struck by its professional appearance right down to its coordinating corporate paint colors. However, if you veer just slightly down the atrium to the 3rd floor, you'll see bamboo poles holding up walls in rooms whose only occupant is the random varmint scurrying by to take cover under the rubble.

Moments after staring down the atrium an olfactory overload--the force of a mac truck-- hits me dead on. Apparently, my pristine little stream out back is nothing more than a vessel for human waste; its contents permeates the air at different intensities depending on which way the wind blows. I've progressed from diesel fume headaches of New Delhi to septic stream sinus attacks in Hyderabad. It's funny what one can get use to after time and a willingness to accept one's circumstances. I can't believe I'm even going to write this but I don't even mind the smell anymore! My only hope is that this foul odor isn't wearing on me like a nasty smoke that clings to your clothes. Above all, I am thankful the weather is a pleasant 72 degrees. I can't imagine what this stench would be like in the heat.

Week one produces great progress in working together and I'm making new friends. I sense a real genuine hospitality and interest in what I have to offer, which is refreshing and inspiring. I've always been a supporter of my Indian workers and am convinced if every one of my complaining colleagues were able to work in India for a few weeks their stereotypes and grievances would meld into understanding.

Part of understanding is getting the gist of what is meant by "Indian time". It basically means your running approximately 45-minutes behind schedule. I see that in the finest eating establishments that cater to your every whim to deliverables that are sometimes overdue. The challenge in an Indian distributed workforce is transitioning their way of life into an American corporate paradigm that operates at lightening speed. In my opinion, it's unrealistic to expect Indians to alter their existence and adhere to an American method of organization, timeliness, and process-driven mandates when most of their lives are surrounded by slower paced conveniences and chaos. To eliminate this reality from a work environment is unrealistic. As US counterparts, we need to understand the Indian way of life and support a corporate structure for them that doesn't mirror the US but rather allows for success on their own terms. Therein lies the cultural challenge.

I shared in my Agra journal entry just how many employees it took to complete a purchase transaction-from selecting to delivering goods-seven employees all told. Labor, in a country whose population is over 1 billion (second only to China), is not in short supply. In India, hiring multiple people to do a simple task is a concept that definitely works here in the service industry, or within a manual labor field. Yesterday, I saw a man shoveling dirt into a blanket that four men held and carried over to the bank to dump. This labor concept fails when advanced skills are needed. Even though my Indian peers are paid significantly less ($5k/year) than Americans doing the same function, quality skilled laborers are in short supply at least in my eLearning profession. We seek quality versus quantity. With a little mental gymnastics one can see how it's cheaper to employ several people to do a single job rather than invest in a tool that could advance a society. It would wreck havoc on an economic structure that somehow manages to meet the needs of its people.

Today all of eastern India celebrates their second largest festival, Durga Puja, a Bengali religious holiday born from its epicenter of Calcutta but has migrated to other parts of India. Translated....I have an extra vacation day while already on a working "vacation" of sorts. At least that's how I see my job here. My new friends are making plans for lunches, dinners and festivities all weekend long. I will not be at a loss for things to do, which is why my jet lag has persisted and my yawns are the brunt of many jokes. Most of my co-workers don't go to bed until 3am. I'm nearly comatose by then but I'd rather be tired than pass on what this city and country offers.

Andrea
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