NAAMASTHEY INDEEYYAAAH!!

It is indeed an amusing sight to watch an “I-am-an-all-American-American” greet a fellow passenger who happens to be, well, Indian! Unless the American got confused between an Indian, a Pakistani or even a Bangladeshi, considering we all (almost) look the same. Now, we wouldn’t want that confusion, would we? 😉

So this Indian, politely (as dictated by his culture) returns the greeting by a simple –Heyllo Mr. John from Ameyrika! It is indeed very nice to meet you too!! (are you getting the Indian accent here? I hope you are!) From generations, Indians always find it honorable for a white man to greet them and so they must return the greeting (Ok, I may be taking it over the edge here, it’s probably no real big deal to be greeted by a stranger in a flight sitting right next to you).

So, here we go. What possibly could an American and an Indian talk about? Obviously, our CULTURES (Or whatever there is left of it thanks to Justin Beiber). But not this American, & DEFINITELY not this Indian. These two both have travelled extensively, difference being, they both have travelled the other’s country! The American has been to almost every state in Southern and Western India (even the country-side) while the Indian boasts about his knowledge of the “United States of America” 🙂

But this post is not about the Indian incursion of the American society (there are countless other cross-over blogs & write-ups for that). Instead, this post is an account of a 9-hour flight sitting next to an American who has come close, very close, to understand India (& Indians), maybe more than what we Indians understand ourselves.

His journey to India began 10 years back when he entered the world of I.T. India being the “Mecca” of I.T no one worth his salt in the I.T world can avoid at least 1 pilgrimage to India. But his work has taken him far beyond the chaos of the Indian I.T cities into the heart of the country – the villages! His experiences with people from every walk of (Indian) life have taught him a great deal (We could probably confer the title of “Indian Connoisseur” on him). Much beyond the now popular Indian head wobble (shaking the head sideways to express acknowledgement is one of the most popular traits of Indians), this American has come to realize why doing business in India is more insurmountable a challenge than sending man on moon (or did we? Well, that’s a different controversy altogether!).

On one of his trips to the villages of Kerala, where he was working with the local healthcare department of the health ministry to promote awareness of hygiene, he planned to conduct a series of seminars (the classic American style baby!!!) Only to realize post a few months, that none of the suggestions were getting implemented! Flummoxed, he tried very hard to understand his failure. Not one to give up, he summoned his Indian counterpart for a meeting. During a lunch break, his Indian colleague gets a phone call from his wife. She is complaining to him about their kid fidgeting with the brand new rice cooker delivered a few days back. The husband asks the wife to keep the kid away and immediately summon the local technician to “install” and “demo” the cooker. Hearing this conversation, the American can’t help but realize why his strategy didn’t work earlier. He asked the Indian on why he insisted on getting a technician for a demo for something as simple as a rice-cooker! Being engineers, shouldn’t he be doing it himself reading the manuals?

The response he got was his “Eureka” moment. He stumbled upon one of the most fundamental of Indian consumer traits. “Why do it yourself when you can get someone else to do it for you real cheap?“ He then set out to hold small “demos” in all local clinics. While this took considerable time, the results he achieved were beyond his own imagination!

On yet another such trip in the hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh, he closely observed the difference in the way organizations are structured in India as compared to the West. While in the west, a junior executive can directly voice his/her opinion to the senior management w/o any fear, in India, the juniors wouldn’t even as much as sit on the same table as their seniors! The American was increasingly bemused by this behavior and had to struggle to break these “hierarchical barriers”. Being “white” helped as all Indians, regardless of their position on the corporate food chain, respect a white man’s words like a gospel truth! But it wasn’t without a lot of (oh and it was a lot!) effort to get the “Seniors” share the same table as their “Juniors”.

With each such experience (there are many more) the American got more “Indian-ized”. He also crossed one of the most treacherous paths in India; that of regional divide – where North Indians prefer to keep a distance from their traditional counterparts in South India. He now boasts of knowing how to describe India to his friends back home. A country where pre-disposed dogmas & superstitions can literally stall a business deal, where “do-it-yourself” is un-heard of, but where people can be very welcoming to a foreigner, deftly camouflaging their strong under-currents of regional disagreements.

In the midst of the discussion, both the Indian & the American are rudely interrupted by a voice – an announcement on the arrival at the destination. But the word “destination” is such an oxymoron for these two. For their journeys in to the other’s world are far from over. Maybe the Indian has similar stories to share of his experiences with the American society…

As of now, they both fasten their seatbelts as the flight approaches final landing. The temperature outside is 55 deg F with a clear blue sky. Hope they had a good time flying with the airline & here’s wishing them a pleasant stay…

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