Smoking Some Strong Shit

Continuing with Commonwealth Games ranting, for all the noise the Delhi Government is making about how it will be a massive tourist event and how there will be a hotel shortage, I’m yet to actually see any news story with evidence for this. In the past six months, Google News has shown me lots of stories about the Delhi Government encouraging people to turn their houses into homestays, but none about hotel room rates actually rising. No stories about special charter flights to Delhi either. The ticket sales have been okay, but hardly runaway hits; and a lot of the tickets being sold are being bought locally. The ticket sales aren’t a runaway sellout success either.

This week there was finally an indication that one particular industry seems to think that there will be a tourist influx with the Commonwealth Games. Mid-Day Delhi reports:

The growers of Malana cream, arguably the best hash in the world, are working overnight to ensure that they are ready to harvest their crop this year in time for the Commonwealth Games, which is being touted by the drug mafia in the hill state as the big ticket event for selling the hash.

A hash grower in Manali told MiD DAY over phone that there have been frequent visits from agents of the local drug mafia, enquiring about the growth of the crop and telling him that he should be ready for an early harvest this year.

“Usually last weeks of September or first week of October is our harvesting season. But they have been asking us to get ready to harvest early this year, as Commonwealth Games are scheduled for the first week of October,” he said, requesting anonymity.

(Mid-Day)

This is the first story of anybody who is not part of the Delhi government actually ramping up production or capacity or whatever for the Games. It’s also so far the only story, which makes me wonder if the growers have been smoking their own fine produce. Or possibly the Mid-Day reporter has. Which, given what we know of the Mid-Day’s choice of stories, is quite possible.

Commonwealth Games Wankery

On the NDTV website, a report about a rape in Delhi contains this line:

However, with the commonwealth games in a few months, this incident again raises the question of safety of women in the Capital.

(NDTV)

It is bad enough when the Delhi government makes statements about getting infrastructure ready and giving police soft skills training in time for the Commonwealth Games, as if decent airports, public transport, clean sidewalks and polite policemen are something that comes with an international sports event and that Delhiites don’t have a right to in the normal course of things.

It is even worse when the news media suggests that basic personal security is something which assumes importance in the context of said sports event, and that it doesn’t matter at any other time.

The long and short of ‘hair’

I realize that being hung over makes writing even more interesting, though I am not sure if I can say it’s interesting for the readers!

As I sit in the salon while my hair stylist works his magic on my hair, I think about the time  I spent shampooing, conditioning, getting my hair styled, ironed, colored, etc, etc. Do I think it’s a waste of time? – nah, not at all, as I love long hair. This leads me to thinking that though I hate generalizations, most successful women in the corporate world have short hair!

Let’s take Fortune’s list of most powerful women in the world and you will see what I mean:

1. Indra Nooyi – Chairman and CEO, Pepsico
2. Irene Rosenfeld – Chairman and CEO, Kraft foods
3. Pat Woertz – Chairman, CEO and President, Archer Daniels Midland
4. Angela Braly – President and CEO, Wellpoint
5. Ellen Kullman – CEO, DuPont
6. Carol Bartz – CEO, Yahoo
7. Ursula Burns – CEO, Xerox
8. Brenda Barnes – Chairman and CEO, Sara Lee
9. Safra Catz – Co-President, Oracle
10. Ann Livermore – EVP, Technology Solutions, Hewlett-Packard
11. Sheri McCoy – Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson
12. Melanie Healey – Group president, Global feminine and health care, P & G
13. Anne Sweeney – Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, Walt Disney
14. Heidi Miller – CEO, Treasury & Securities Services, JPMorgan Chase
15. Colleen Goggins – Worldwide chairman, Consumer Group, Johnson & Johnson

Each of the above listed powerful women has short hair. Even Hillary Clinton and Australia’s first woman Prime Minister Julia Gillard have short hair. Now let’s take a look closer home: Vinita Bali, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Naina Lal Kidwai, Anu Aga, Shikha Sharma, Kalpana Morparia, Lalita Gupte are the ones that come to mind immediately and each one of them again has short hair.

Notable exceptions are Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO, Avon (being a cosmetics company) Chanda Kocchhar and Renuka Ramnath. Even the ones I see climbing up the corporate ladder have short hair – I mentioned this to one of the senior managers I work with (she has very short hair) and she said my observation was not completely off the mark.

Let us understand how hair can play truant when one is trying to create a serious impression – if in a meeting, while thinking about something, you absent mindedly play with your hair, chances are you wont be taken very seriously, specially by your male colleagues – not to forget getting disapproving glances from female colleagues who may think you are using your “looks”. Playing with hair is the one of the signs of flirting and sometimes women touch their hair subconsciously without even realizing it. Besides the risk of appearing overtly feminine, one also has to maintain hair – the time and effort spent is worth the final result – but successful and busy high flying women may not have the time, patience and inclination to style long hair when they could be making millions for the company. It is estimated that women spend 2.5 years and USD 50,000 caring for hair during their lifetime. Hair is something that ranks right up their with waist-to-hip ratio when it comes to men getting attracted to women. Hair is something that makes women feel feminine and can even help change personalities, depending on hair cut and hair color (as banked on by Loreal).

Of course, nowadays men too spend more time in grooming and getting dressed. So sometimes, for the women, more than saving time, it’s all about exuding power or trying to appear more masculine – to be more accepted in a largely male dominated corporate world – which may explain how pant suits may also find more favor with such women than dresses.

Also if your male colleague goes bald, you may hardly give it a thought but just imagine if your female colleague went bald – you would find that shocking, wouldn’t you? Women are sometimes under tremendous pressure to look a certain way; men can get away with a lot – though times are changing.

The age of the Asian woman

The UK census for the first time in 2001 included a “mixed” category to account for people with mixed parentage (1.4% of total population and expected to be UK’s largest ethnic minority group by 2020). Anyone in China today, more so in the big cities would be familiar with white babies with Chinese eyes – in most cases children of an Asian mother and Caucasian/ White father. If the China census included a “mixed” category, I am certain it would be a sizable number, though it may be negligible when compared to overall population. While “Mulatto” is a term used for person with one black and one white parent, we may very soon see a similar term for children of Asian-Caucasian/ Asian-White parents.

It is said that one of the ways to ensure that your partner is not cheating on you is to look out for someone with say, similar color of eyes – for example, blue eyed people will subconsciously go in for partners with blue eyes. This is also a way to ensure that your child gets certain genetic characteristics, like blue eyes in above example. Now while it may be easy to understand blondes getting attracted to blondes or those with light eyes getting attracted to someone with light eyes as well; lets explore what attracts the white man to the Chinese woman or vice versa.

As more and more foreigners (men), come to China for work, get married to a Chinese woman and settle down here, we see more and more babies of Asian-Caucasian mixed parentage. The examples of Chinese men and foreign women are very few and far between. This is partly due to the fact that Chinese men are very shy and would not be able to approach a foreign woman as easily as a Caucasian guy would approach an Asian woman. And if they did, they still lack the charm required to engage the foreign women. Most Chinese/ Asian women are smitten with the idea of being with/ marrying a “white” guy. For them it’s a passport to a “supposedly” better life and change of nationality. In fact a lot of Chinese women look down upon other Chinese after marrying a foreigner. An article that stirred up quite a controversy here recently  talks about this craze Chinese women have for foreigners that makes them marry white men double or sometimes triple their age! White men think Asian women make fantastic homemakers – also the effort they need to put in to charm/ seduce an Asian woman is zilch when compared to trying to charm a white woman! Because while the white woman may need wining, dining, the works; the Chinese woman here is just happy to be with someone who has white skin, behaves like a gentleman and is probably better on hygiene than some local Chinese men, even if he is her father’s age. Also they are not so hung up on making nice conversation – they prefer action to words! In fact in most cases, there is no communication between them or communication where the white guy is trying to explain some basic things while the Chinese girl looks at him in awe. Chinese women also make it much more convenient for men to approach them or sometimes may even make the first move. I am not saying all Chinese/ Asian women are like this, but most are really fascinated by the idea of being on the arm of a white guy! Of course there are strong exceptions and I have some white friends who say that don’t find Asian women particularly attractive. One of my friends pointed out that while he feels happy to see white men marrying Asian woman and starting a family, what is truly detestable is when a white guy leaves his wife and kids to be with an Asian woman his daughter’s age. Also there is a trend of having a Chinese “girlfriend” even if one is married. Also not all Asian/ Chinese women want to be with a foreigner. I have some very good Chinese friends and these girls say they are very happy with their Chinese boyfriends/ husbands.

Now interesting to note here is that somehow Indian women just don’t feel the same about white men – in spite of the fact that most white men consider Indian women to be extremely attractive. Guess Indian women are very happy with Indian men or simply look for stability and think that the white men are not marriage material given the high divorce rates in the west (Indians marrying foreigners can be a separate post altogether). While there are quite a lot of Indian men who have married Asian women but I don’t know any Indian woman married to an Asian guy. Again it’s much easier for Caucasian men to marry Asian women who may be looking at domestic roles compared to their ambitious Caucasian counterparts. It’s a similar case in Singapore and most of South East Asia and this article is actually about white women complaining about how all the white men are going after Asian women. Even Japanese women are quite in demand as they are known to be “submissive” – the popular saying is ‘Heaven is an American salary, a Chinese cook, an English (country) house, and a Japanese wife. Hell is defined as having a Chinese salary, an English cook, a Japanese house, and an American wife.’ (To digress a bit; in the current context with the RMB appreciation, a Chinese salary may not be all that bad and an American salary is no longer as glamorous as it used to be).

Now where does all this leave the Chinese/Asian guy – he is in quite an unenviable position really. In fact, as one my friends rightly pointed out, some Shanghainese men do the dishes, cleaning, cooking, all housework, carry their wife/ girlfriend’s handbag just to compete with the white men vying for the Shanghainese women. A TV advert here for “Nivea for men – oil control” shows a Chinese guy with a very oily face giving a presentation in the boardroom and a white woman (portrayed as his boss) giving him disapproving looks – then it shows a Chinese guy with very good skin and the same white woman smiling and nodding in appreciation. Loreal and Nivea say that China is the biggest market for male grooming products – the Chinese man is trying his best!

Let’s also look at the state of black women in the US. 70% of working African American women are single and 45% of African American never marry. Here is an interesting blog from Economist on the black woman’s quandary. It says black women are in an awful spot when it comes to dating. But clearly white, brown, black women prefer to be single than to be with Chinese men for example (yours truly included) – no offence to the Chinese guys, they are nice and sweet but most foreign women would not view them as husband material.

15-20 years from now, when all these Asian-White children grow up, they may just have it easier to find mates among themselves as there will be loads and loads of them….

*Caucasian stands for populations of Europe, North Africa, West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia – when I use Caucasian above it means Europeans and (few) South Asians. Hence I use Caucasian/ White to indicate I mean all “White” largely in the context of the above post. Asian above refers to people from Asia except South Asia.

p.s. I have not written this for a long time as I am worried that by mentioning this, this site will get blocked in China (much to Aadisht’s delight) just like blogger, blogspot, wordpress are all blocked here and it will be even more difficult to post views for people like me.

Also – I have very good Chinese women friends and I mean no offence to any Chinese women.

India and China: A comparison

This is first in series of comparisons that could be done between the two countries. For all the non-inspiring traits I mentioned about us Indians, there is one that surely is commendable; as Swami tried to point out – and that is freedom of speech; which is how I am able to write this so freely and you are able to comment so freely (Thanks for your comments). It’s true that I always took this freedom of speech for granted and never realized its value till I got to China – which is at the other extreme.

When we are outside our country we become even more strongly aware of our nationality as we are representatives of our country outside. Let me further explain what it means to me today in an international setting, with people from different nationalities. When a westerner asks about some problems in India, we normally tell them it’s because of the population and they wouldn’t understand as they don’t come from a populated country. But this answer cannot be given to a Chinese person, as after all this is the only country with a population that matches ours (although the population density is lower). Of late, on my trips to India, I have ended up accompanying Chinese on their first trip to India (including a senior Chinese delegation once) and I can tell you they are appalled; mostly by the infrastructure, rather the lack of it. This is compounded by the fact that Chinese government’s answer to all woes is the infrastructure stimulus package. The rate at which the infrastructure is being developed here needs to be seen to be believed. So when the Chinese person comes to India and sees lack of good wide roads, highways, metro system and so on, they can’t believe that this country (which lacks basic infrastructure) will compete with China. Of course, Prof Gupta and his Chinese wife put it very aptly when they say though China is clearly ahead of India, the former looks stronger than it is while the latter is stronger than it looks.

An incident that comes to mind is when I accompanied the delegation to the Taj Mahal from Delhi and the highway was blocked by the villagers who were protesting against a murder – so we ended up taking a kuccha road which increased travel time substantially. The woes didn’t end there. In spite of being put up at the best luxury hotel within 500 metres of the Taj, the golf cart ride to the Taj proved to be a pain for them with urchins trying to climb onto the cart and ask for money – a scene straight out of slumdog millionaire! And then we have the likes of Amitabh Bachchan saying Slumdog is ruining the image of India – but that is the real India! If we/ the Indian government are so concerned about the “image” of India, then the road leading to the Taj Mahal should be cleared of illegal hawkers, urchins, and the likes. In fact given that the Taj Mahal is among the wonders of the world and one of top tourist destinations in India this is the least we can do.

Last night while posting the comments in response to Swami I talked about how we in India have the freedom to move to any city and if I don’t have  place to live there, I can live on the road creating a slum. While slums are clearly not an Indian phenomenon alone, mention must be made here of China’s ‘hukou’ system (system of residence permits, which makes it difficult to move across cities, thereby limiting mass movement of people from rural areas to cities). India, being a democracy doesn’t impose any restrictions on movement of people within the country and as an Indian I am free to go to any part of India. But they think it’s better to restrict movement than to have slums. Now, China’s hukou system has been criticized a lot as explained in this article which is blocked here (an example of the internet restrictions here). But to the Chinese, India’s problem are the slums and also the fact that our government does nothing to control the population growth – again an issue of democratic right of deciding how many children one wants to have. Now an important point as far as beautification of cities is concerned is that in China; the face is Shanghai and it’s very well decorated/ prepped up…but West China (which is the rural China) is the ugly underbelly that China doesn’t want to show. Whereas in India, it is what it is – all out in the open (we really don’t try to showcase only some places which make us feel good about our country). Which I would think is truly commendable and something to feel proud of as an Indian.

Also, lest I be accused of only drawing attention to annoying habits of Indians, I must say the Chinese have their own idiosyncrasies, what with the government in Shanghai trying its best to convince people not to spit, not to wear pyjamas during the expo. And for Deepesh’s comments, would say that the mainland Chinese will surely not read this due to their aversion towards reading English (manifested by the education system). Also, important to note here is that when we Indians feel superior because we know English, we tend to forget that it’s in a way thanks to the British colonization legacy! As for Arvind’s comments; most Indians would become more concerned about country’s image when outside as that’s when you are truly a representative/ ambassador of your country! So if and when I don’t conform to the stereotype image foreigners have of India (after seeing movies like slumdog millionaire); I do tell the story of the elephant and seven blind men and try to explain what being Indian means (which is how the previos post came about). I try to explain how our country is a melting pot of so many different cultures, languages, religions, customs, rituals, and so on.

In the coming weeks, I shall attempt to compare the two countries on food, language, outlook towards progress, outlook towards the west, internet freedom, and so on.

Software Development Models and Weddings

In comments, BJ says that he has a fair idea of why I think TamBrahm weddings are like ERP implementations, and asks me to confirm his suspicions with a post on this. I don’t know if he is zinking what I am zinking, but here goes.

As someone who had only seen Arya Samaji weddings (and also one sardar wedding) up until the age of 21, I was utterly flabbergasted the first time I saw a TamBrahm wedding. The whole point of Arya Samaj was that if you were going to involve yourself with religion, you should bloody well understand what you’re getting into. So if you don’t speak Sanskrit, the priest must translate everything, and give a proper explanation while he’s doing so.

In contrast, at TamBrahm weddings (and any religious ceremony for that matter – we did a bhoomi poojan at the Kanchipuram factory with local priests), the involvement of the concerned parties is minimal. They just sit around while the priests chant stuff they don’t understand.

This makes TamBrahm weddings very much like the common, or garden-variety ERP implementation. The ERP consultants are parallel to the priests. Because nobody can understand them, you have to take their word for it that they’re experts and know what’s going on. Then, there is a long and painful period in which the priests/ ERP consultants do lots of stuff that looks impressive, but nobody actually knows if it’s accomplishing anything. Finally, they collect their fees, and leave the company/ happy couple to sort things out on their own.

Extending the analogy, Punjabi Arya Samaji weddings are like installing Windows. You’re given the opportunity to read the whole end-user license agreement and cancel if you’re not happy with it. But everyone is so excited about the bling and cool new features that they skip reading it, or just nod along to whatever the shastri says and install it. After the honeymoon period, you suddenly realise that this thing is taking up far more resources than you’d anticipated.

North Indian Sanatan Dharmi weddings are like the Apple App Store. Everything looks incredibly cool and blingy, but the license agreement is completely opaque and nobody has any clue what they’re getting into.

Living in is like installing and running Linux without a GUI and only with a console. And that too by compiling the source with gcc and not from some cool Ubuntu disc or Red Hat Package manager. It seems hardcore and revolutionary, but when you get down to the specifics, is really just a lot of housework without any bling.

The analogy has now gone far enough. That’s it for the post.

Quarter life crisis?

When I was a student, carefree and cheerful, I wanted nothing more than to grow up quickly to earn money and do things that adults could do… Now that I am an adult, I realize how naive I was to think so – as those were the best years of my life.

As I talk to my friends, colleagues, batch mates, acquaintances, most of whom are a products of India’s finest educational institutions, including the top business schools; I realize that no matter how well they are all doing – almost everyone seems to confess not feeling “content”. One would think that a degree from India’s top management institute, a job with a fortune 500 company, marriage to your college sweetheart and plans to start a family would lead to happiness or contentment – but it doesn’t seem so, unfortunately! On 2 different chat windows, I have one friend who seems to have a great job and all of the above but is complaining as his job profile doesn’t have any travel while on the other window my other friend who heads the international business division of his company is complaining how he hates waking up in a new hotel room every second day, being away from home 20 days a month and not to mention the toll time zone differences take on health! So, you see one has what the other wants but there is no guarantee that the first guy will be very happy if he gets the second guy’s job and vice versa. So it is with being single and being married – my married friends think I am very lucky to be single and my single friends (very few left anyway) and I feel that suddenly our friends are disappearing as they are getting married and starting families!

So what is it that we need to do to feel happy, content, satisfied? First we need to start with getting our priorities right. Unfortunately nowadays, people don’t spend time introspecting and thinking what they want and let peer pressure decide what will their priorities be. So if everyone in my group/ network/ circle has a big car, suddenly my much loved small car may seem to make me feel out of place. Or if everyone is talking about their holiday abroad, I may feel compelled to do the same, even if it puts a strain on my finances. The pressure to be accepted seems to be really getting to us – everything we do, it’s to get a nod of approval from our so-called “friends”. In the process, we change as people – becoming materialistic and forgetting to enjoy the “simple” things in life. To give you an example, if your office is at Nariman Point, when was the last time you enjoyed the sunset at Marine Drive – chances are quite high you may remember your nights getting drunk or eating food at the most expensive restaurants with peers in the same area but don’t remember when you did something simple as viewing the sunset. The pressure to be seen as a high performer in companies is tremendous – as managers we are only concerned about the numbers – revenue, target, budget; so much so that we have forgotten something basic which is to be “nice”; we have started measuring people in terms of the money he/ she makes – nothing could be more shallow than this. This is also taking a toll on our lifestyles – we are increasingly becoming home to highest number of heart patients and obesity is becoming a national problem. I met a few of my friends recently and could barely recognize them – the kilos they have piled on due to working late hours, no exercise, junk food is not funny. So while I may get that coveted promotion which helps me buy the big car and even that dream house; it’s actually coming at the cost of extra flab on my waistline, no time to enjoy the simple things in life and no time to be nice or even smile at people. And then one day, one would look at oneself in the mirror and think – what the hell am I doing with my life; I have the salary, nice house, chauffeur driven car, holidays abroad – but is that what I wanted out of life – is this the purpose of life and that’s when the crisis hits you.

Some of my Shanghainese friends who were visiting India recently asked me for help and I thought they would be interested in exploring all the history, culture of Delhi/ Agra and planned for them to visit all places of historic importance – turns out they cancelled this plan and instead all they wanted is to shop till they drop dead as they wanted to come back and flaunt what they bought! We are becoming so materialistic that we no longer want to spend money on experiences, but only on things we can wear/ decorate our homes with/ show off to others. In China, its very easy to tell a Shanghainese woman from those from others parts of the country – the Shanghainese woman is very hung up on appearances; to her the most important thing in life seems to have a Louis Vuitton handbag in one hand and a starbucks coffee in the other – even if its means not having money for other basic or more important things in life like higher education, saving for retirement, etc. In fact there is even a term for these women who spend their money on all these things important for their social status and then run out of money last few days of the month – Yue guang zu (月光族) – meaning “spend all your salary” – these women play a big hand in China’s domestic consumption. Madonna’s song “And I am a material girl and you know we are living in a material world” truly sums up their life! Apparently these women think that they will get noticed with the right stuff and right image by a foreigner (no matter how much older he may be to her) and then they wont have to work for rest of their lives (wishful thinking in some cases!). (My next post is on the Chinese women’s craze for white skin). Even in India, for people in their 20s, idea of a well spent weekend is to visit shopping malls, and get drunk.

Both in India and China, the biggest craze seems to be around owning a house – at least that’s an investment unlike a LV bag – but the length to which it drives people crazy is not funny. I know a guy who when sent abroad on assignment skipped dinner every day to save money to go back and make the downpayment for a house. In our parent’s generation, a house was something one bought close to retirement. Today if you are twenty-something and don’t own a house or are not planning to buy one immediately, you are almost a social pariah. I was having lunch with my Chinese friend the other day, who mentioned he is very ambitious and would like to reach senior management level – I suggested that he should look at an MBA from an Ivy League b-school – to which he said that he can’t do so as all almost all his salary goes into EMI for his house. In China and probably more so in cities in India, women refuse to marry a guy who doesn’t own a house!

Given all this its not surprising that people feel lack of contentment – working at jobs trying to outshine the others; a long stressful commute to work; paying home loans, car loans, personal loans, education loans – you name it, they have it; not getting time for themselves or with family; holidays becoming more of a ticking-number-of-places-visited event rather than unwinding. So when the next time you find yourself fuming over that non-deserving-colleague who got promoted instead of you – take a deep breath, relax; go for a jog/ swim; spend time with your loved ones, specially with very young or very old people; learn a new language; read that book you always wanted to; learn how to cook some new dishes; go on a backpacking tour and when you come back you will actually pity the colleague who probably doesn’t even get to see sunshine for most of his/ her day!

And not to forget; even if you win the rat race, you still remain a rat!

Notes From My Bombay Trip

  • My Jet Airways Citbank Card finally came of some use and I used miles accumulated since 2007 to get myself a return ticket to Bombay where I attended the NiTyaGu wedding. Regrettably, Airport Development Fees and Congestion Charges cannot be paid for by miles.
  • When introducting Konnect, Jet Airways seems to have forgotten to make provision for it in the frequent flier program. It takes as many miles to redeem a full-service ticket as a Konnect ticket. Naturally I booked full-service tickets.
  • Having a full fare ticket allowed me to finally enter the Jet Airways lounge at Chennai. Alas, the lounge has no wifi, is slightly dirty, and while I was there had not only hyperactive kids but a Malaysian couple who fought over the guy tying his shoe instead of listening to the girl. The guy then made the girl cry. Am I the only person who notices these bizarre domestic disputes?
  • Having a full-fare ticket also meant I got to watch 30 Rock on the inflight entertainment system (Nishit D and PGK, please note). Also, two episodes of Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai.
  • Apropos of inflight entertainment systems, now that K Maran has taken over Spice Jet and is going to rename it Sun Airways, will it start offering Sun TV as inflight entertainment? If this is too expensive for a low cost carrier, will it just play Kalaignar’s poetry on the PA system? Will Azhagiri now buy Go Air in retaliation? These are burning questions.
  • Bloomberg UTV has hoardings up all over Mumbai claiming to be blunt, and sharp. It is clearly the Schroedinger’s cat of Indian broadcasting. That means that if anybody actually watches it, it will collapse.
  • Speaking of hoardings, I did not see a single hoarding or OOH banner that referred to the football world cup while in Bombay. I fear its obsession with Indian celebrities is now crowding out everything else.
  • The banana lassi at Theobroma is awesome.
  • Theobroma is now offering to courier its brownies anywhere in India. Unfortunately payment can be made only at Mumbai. This makes it useful as a gifting option where the gifter is in Mumbai, but is pretty useless if you’re in Kanchipuram and want to order. This week I shall call the Colaba outlet and ask if they’ll take payment by EFT.
  • Kodhi made me (and others) watch the 90210 season two finale. This led to consequences that are too scandalous to discuss outside a W-File. Unfortunately, I am not going to start writing the next W-File until at least July.
  • The grub at the Rajdhani in Oberoi Mall was seriously good. In fact, the khichdi, kadi, and jalebis were themselves worth the price of the whole thali.
  • I met PGK at the reception. Like Sreesanth, he is a personable young man. Unlike Sreesanth, he is not Mallu.
  • TamBrahm weddings are like ERP implementations.
  • Sambhar in Chembur continues to rock.
  • My Jet Airways Citibank Card also came in useful at Mumbai airport, where I got complimentary access to the lounge, which didn’t even care what my ticket was. Unfortunately, the lounge is only marginally less noisy than the public seating area, so I shifted there. Oh sigh.
  • A lounge that banned children would be quite excellent. To fend of accusations of elitism and child-hatred from mommybloggers, it could accomplish this by serving alcohol and barring entry to anybody less than 18 years old. I am still not sure how it could get rid of other annoying guests, like the ones who loudlly discuss compensation schemes on their blackberries. Tchah.
  • The wifi in Mumbai airport was down and didn’t start working until it was almost boarding time. I will have to add the appropriate tags to this post later, when I get home. Also, the wifi is only free for ten minutes. Oh sigh.

Babulog

Recently in Shanghai, I had the (mis)fortune of attending a lecture addressed to MDP batch of senior executives from India’s public sector companies who were here to “understand” China; a study trip arranged by a leading management association in India. My incentive to attend this was that the speaker was an Indian origin strategy professor from one of the best global business schools. However, I was completely unprepared for the kind of audience I ended up being seated with.

For starters, I was the only woman in the entire room and got some stares that made me hope the ground would just split open right there and I be swallowed in (a-la Sita in Ramayana). The purpose of their trip and of this session was to “understand” China – but seems none of these leaders of our PSUs had an open mind and attitude to do so. It ended up being a case of them laughing over any positive thing pointed out about China. And they thought the few other Indians and I who work in China are mad and we have become Chinese and lost our sense of Indianness (WTF). They just kept saying that this entire amazing infrastructure is just a façade; there is nothing good about China or nothing that they can learn from here. I am quite certain, that these guys were upset that they were sent to China in the name of “Videsh”; as for these guys, Videsh still largely means the UK and US.

Now contrast this with a conference I attended organized by a Chinese trade council and one of the provincial governments in South China – this conference aimed at the Chinese “learning” from one of India’s best IT companies about how to develop China’s IT sector! The attitude of the Chinese when it comes to learning/ emulating/ copying is brilliant – if they think you have something to offer, something they can learn; they will want to learn that and implement it in their own country! Everyone says China is known for its “fakes”; in other words for “copying” – but even that requires its own skills. While in India, copying is largely restricted to bollywood lifting stories/ getting inspired from Hollywood/ other world cinema or music; in China, they copy everything from the concept & design of magnetic levitation train to airport terminal designs to designer bags/ shoes – and they are damn good at it. At the end; it all leads to taking the best from everywhere and replicating it here – it’s a system which works, and works brilliantly at that. For all the painful history between Japan and China, today the fact is that the tallest building in China – Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC – 101 floors), located in the heart of Shanghai’s financial district is made by the Japanese group Mori. The Chinese have an open attitude about learning, from absolutely anyone.

Our home grown PSUs, on the other hand, are still living in their own “well” – like the frogs who live in a well oblivious to world outside! They still want to function in their age old bureaucratic ways, leading to nothing short of a disaster at times. A classic example is our national carrier. Hope the leading global consulting firm they are working with is able to save them. The general manager of one of the best private airlines in India once told me how he is feeling bad about the state of the national carrier – I asked him shouldn’t he be happy that they are less of a competition for his company – to which he made a very valid point saying he feels let down as an Indian as at the end of day, it’s the national carrier and it doesn’t understand the responsibility of being one!

I am not saying that the Chinese SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) are shining examples of successful corporations; however their management approach is becoming increasingly like that of an MNC! Of course, there are strong links to the government in case of Chinese SOEs and the ambition level (which often gets stimulus from the fact that the government always tries to go out of the way to protect the local companies and discourage outside competition) is not be missed. While I will write a separate post on ambitions of Chinese companies and how China is in a race to own the world’s natural resources today; point to be noted is that the attitude here is much more open than that of our babus back home!

What does it mean to be Indian?

(This is a controversial post)

It happens almost every day. I get into a taxi to get to work or return from work and once I have explained my destination in Chinese; the taxi driver will ask “ni shenme guo jia de ren?” (Where are you from/ which is your home country?) And nowadays I have started asking the drivers to guess (“ni cai”) and in most cases the drivers never guess I am Indian and on knowing I am Indian, they want to know why I don’t wear a bindi, or how come I work (yes, people here have a strange notion about Indian women). Now this takes me back to a conversation I once had with an American who asked me if I go to office on an elephant! And an African who once told me I must feel so “free” to wear shorts (this conversation was taking place in Kuala Lumpur) as I might be wearing saris all the time back home! And a Korean who thinks that western outfits are not sold in India at all.

Now most of the above reflects lack of knowledge about India/ Indians. But what strikes me most if that they all have a certain stereotypical image of India. The number of people who have mentioned slumdog millionaire to me within 3 minutes of a first encounter on knowing that I am from India is not funny! To my mind, the challenge is that there is actually no definition/ stereotype of an average Indian – except probably that most Indians like cricket (no wonder it’s called the common religion of India). While the average Joe (American) is described age 25 or older, made roughly $32,000 per year, does not have a college degree, has been, is, or will be married as well as divorced at least once during his or her lifetime, lives in his or her own home in a suburban setting, and holds a white-collar office job (according to Wikipedia); there is no definition of an average Indian – even if we try to attempt one, it would be difficult to come up with an accurate one! Most of my conversations with friends/ acquaintances from across different countries/ cultures take place in this way:
Are most Indian vegetarians? – well, largely yes
Is it because of religion? – largely yes, but depends as many are vegetarian out of choice and many are religious but eat meat or don’t eat meat but drink alcohol (difficult to explain, right!)
Do most Indians live with their parents? – yes, but it depends – people do move out to different cities to work/ study
Are all marriages in India arranged? – largely yes, but depends really on the individual/ family.
Are there any good looking men in India? (question most often asked by Asian women who think the typical Indian man is short, fat, balding and one who doesn’t care about personal grooming!) – Well, yes, I can show you some of my friends who are good looking!
Do women in India work? – if they want to, like anywhere else (but yes, not like China where almost all women work!)
Is the bindi a sign of marriage? – largely yes among Hindus, but even single women wear it and many married women don’t – so it depends! (Also interesting to note here that unlike other countries, a lot of married Indian men do not wear a ring, actually giving out signals that they are single and available :P)
What is staple diet in India? – depends on which region you are talking about
What is the common language in India? – hmmmm, English!

Well, you get the drift… So I always tell the story of the seven blind men and the elephant to my firang friends – Each one touches a different part and comes up with his own description of the elephant. Similarly depending on which part of India one visits or meets an Indian from which part of India, one is bound to come up with one’s own stereotype images of typical Indian! And the fact is that these images will vary greatly from one another.

Of course a lot of these differences (including the differences in physical characteristics) can be attributed to the Aryan-Dravidian divide, the different religions, customs, languages and the caste system. So while there cannot be a common physical characteristic (except that most Indians are increasingly leading unhealthy lifestyles leading to obesity and heart diseases); based on observations of Indians back home and in a global/ international scenario I thought of similarities in behavioral characteristics and came up with the below:

  • Indian Stretchable Time (IST) – An utter disregard for time, one’s time as well as other’s time. Turning up late for meeting/ appointments, dialing in late for conference calls, turning up to meet people without appointments, making people wait – we just don’t respect time! In most countries, for a 9 am appointment people would reach by 8.50 whereas Indians most likely will make it by 9.15/ 9.30 and walk in without bothering to apologize for being late! (probably the only notable exception here is people in Bombay whose lives depend on that Virar fast/ Churchgate fast – but then they too may not respect time in other aspects of life)
  • Sense of superiority – its very interesting to note that how we as a race have a certain false sense of being superior. We just assume we are smarter than the rest. While it’s good to have confidence, a know-it-all attitude just spells doom and makes us come across as arrogant. Just saying that you don’t know something opens up a world of learning/ opportunity. The Indian way may not be the best way for everything and there is a lot we can learn from others by keeping an open mind.
  • Aggression/ Competitiveness – While some may argue that aggression is more in northern parts of India than Southern, overall as Individuals, we are very aggressive. Sometimes in cultures where direct confrontation in front of others is considered rude, an Indian manager often ends up offending his/ her subordinate. The difference to be noted here is that this aggression in sadly missing at a country level. So while China is aggressive as a country today we are aggressive/ ambitious as individuals resulting in Indians as individuals outshining at global levels but the country failing to do so, as compared to China
  • Self over team – Continuing from point above, we are excellent when it comes to working individually; but find it difficult to work as part of a team. And everyone wants to be the manager, not the worker. A story that comes to mind here about rowing competition between India and Japan. How Japan team won easily as they had 7 rowers and 1 captain but the Indian team had 7 captains but 1 rower. And they attributed the loss to the rower not doing his work properly! We generally find it difficult to be open to “listening” to others point of view and working together with them. It’s generally my way or the highway.
  • General disregard for other cultures – As part of my job, I am always on conference calls involving India, China and most times these calls have Indians, Chinese, and people belonging to other nationalities. Most times, Indians due to “sense of superiority” and “aggression” mentioned above will completely disregard other cultures, not taking efforts to slow down while talking to make it easier for other person to understand, talking without listening, shouting, etc. Again a point to be noted here is that the same Indian will go out of his/ her way to speak in a British/ American accent if required but won’t slow down when talking to people from non-English speaking countries. This is because the superiority complex we have as compared to many other nationalities also leads to an inferiority complex when it comes to some countries, largely UK, US. Also, the disregard for time zones and calling people on their hand phone after work hours, marking every mail important/ urgent even if it’s not all leads to irritation/ confusion in a global scenario. I am not saying all other cultures understand India, but to exemplify, it’s a fact that an average Indian in China (as compared to say a Westerner here) would not be comfortable eating with chopsticks or even try to understand cultural things like clocks and mirrors are not appropriate gifts for Chinese.
  • Equating job/ work with oneself – An equation that most Indians don’t understand is that life > work. I would be very scared if someone would not be able to think of me beyond the work I do. But the fact remains that power, position, status, job are so important to the average Indian that some even print their designation and company name on their wedding cards! Marriage is for lifetime (ideally) and I can’t understand for the life of me why anyone would want to have their wedding invitation look like a CV!
  • Moral policing/ crab mentality – We want to always have a say on what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s acceptable and what’s not. The moment someone tries to do something different, like a bucket of crabs we start pulling that person down/ back in. The numbers of examples that come to mind warrant a post in itself!
  • Attitude towards children – A friend of mine put it very nicely recently when he said that for most Indians, their dreams/ aspirations end the day their children are born and they start inflicting their unfulfilled dreams/ aspirations on their children. Compared with many other countries and cultures, there is a higher sense of protectionism around children and higher expectation levels as well. Go to a school open house and you will see parents busy comparing why their child lost that 1 mark in the history paper! The focus is not so much on overall development but on academics, though that is changing as parents realize alternative careers thanks to the likes of Dhoni being successful. Also, unlike western mothers, Indian mothers are just not comfortable letting their children be while they get some “me-time”. This is more so the case with infants – while it’s a common sight to see western mothers with infants/ toddlers traveling, meeting up for lunch, going shopping or treating themselves to a spa; for Indian mothers, having a baby in many ways makes them confined to their houses – they are just not comfortable taking their babies out! Even when it comes to traveling in cars, most Indians refuse to have a child car seat and will make their baby sit on the laps in the front seat which is actually more dangerous! I will elaborate on this more in travel point next.
  • Attitude towards travel – This is one of my favorite ones. Go to any airport in the world and it will be easy to spot an Indian family – most likely a family of 4-6, all on the healthy/ overweight side with lots and lots of luggage (we never learnt how to travel light!) and bringing out one packet after another of snacks. If there is an infant with the family, it will be crying loudly and the parents just look helpless. On the other hand, westerners travel a lot (even on leisure) and with infants – it is a common sight to see them traveling to tourist spots (including beaches) with infants/ kids – and a point to be noted here is that their babies in most cases are not crying out aloud thanks to the pacifier. Maybe Indian mothers have some kind of an aversion to pacifiers, but just think about it – most Indians who start a family just stop taking holidays until the kid grows to a certain age! Now this is quite a common Indian phenomenon which in inexplicable to me! Another thing about travel is that while the average western couple in their retirement may want to go on a world tour, the Indian has just started getting there.
  • “Chalta hai” attitude – No social welfare, a painstakingly slow judiciary (leading to murderers freely roaming about and partying), political leaders who cant run to save their lives (literally), lack of basic civil infrastructure, lack of safety for women (sometimes even inside their own houses), the Bombay drainage system not prepared for the monsoon and the same story being repeated year after year – and what do we do – shrug it off, say “chalta hai” and do not bother to know where our hard-earned money paid as taxes is going. In fact, in most cases our attitude towards it is one of apathy at best – we have become experts at turning a blind eye to all the crap going on around us. And a few years ago, we were also fooled into believing that “India is shining”. While the best people in China join the biggest political party in the world, the best people in India are working on Wall Street, Silicon Valley, teaching in universities abroad, making money in the stock markets while politics remains a “family business”. We need to be in the system to change the system – but we just don’t want to be. In most cases, an IIT/ IIM degree is the passport to “better life” outside the country. And even if it’s within the country that we choose to work, do we really care about the above mentioned points – nah, we are more interested in FIFA world cup (where we are not even represented as a country) or in the latest I phone. After studying “business leadership and strategy” one of the most coveted jobs is that of a trader in a bank – I still don’t understand what “leadership skills” are required there! There is a saying the Chinese believe in – “community over self and country over community”; in India it’s often the reverse, community over country and self over community!

I know its sounds pessimistic but I could not think of a single very inspiring/ positive common trait across whole of contemporary India – something that the world can learn from/ hope to emulate. Would love to hear about your definitions of a typical Indian!