My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

My ebook
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
this link

Friday, November 02, 2007

How are we doing with globalization?

Before 1990s, our exposure to foreign cultures was limited to what we saw for it on Hindi movies through Tom Alter and Bob Christo. And during our childhood days, many of us thought that the foreign lands were filled with characters like Shakaal (Bob Christo’s usual name as a villain in stereotypical Indian movies). But then suddenly with the IT boom, desis were going outside and foreigners were coming in on business travel. So how have we adjusted to this sudden exposure to unknown cultures? Let’s look at the corporate world that has the most exposure to foreigners.

A foreigner coming to India on a business trip is typically either a big shot of the company or a client, so the immediate task is to send a freshly recruited MBA to receive him at the hotel he went to after his flight landed at midnight. On the way to the office, the fresh MBA, to appear globalized, asks the foreigner questions like, “How is Winston Churchill and Ronald Regan doing?”. The MBA also mentions that Godfather and Rambo are her favorite movies and gives the mandatory spiel on Dharavi slums and Dabbawalas in Mumbai. Stage 1 beautifully executed.

When the duo reaches office, the foreigner is given an emphatic welcome at the reception (sometimes with garlands). By this time, the fresh MBA has been absorbed into the cubicles by tectonic forces. The local big bosses form a soccer free-kick wall around the guest, each boss vying for his attention with smart quips. The foreigner plays his part by complaining about the immigration process which the local bosses support with more examples. After a tour of the swanky office, the guest, if American, is explained by a local boss the rules of cricket with the boss often alluding to baseball about which they know little.

At lunch time, they all take him to a posh restaurant who typically forces their waiters to memorize lines like “In India, it is a tradition to use hands for eating”. Of course, their toilets are yet to put up notices saying, “In India, it is a tradition to not use toilet paper”. The big bosses give loads of Vedic knowledge to the foreigner to help him select the food with remarks like “this is too spicy”. While eating, one can hear sound bites like, “Paneer is cottage cheese”, Ghee is clarified butter”. The restaurant people are overtly servile since they know tab will be large as it will be claimable, so they join in saying “Indians are like Athiti-Devo bhavo, i.e. guests are like gods”. What is never told is that 23% of Indians, the low caste or outcaste Dalits are barred from entering temples or drinking water from upper caste wells. Stage 2, well done.

Once they return to office, it’s already 3. After a few hours, the big bosses head out for dinner which follows the pattern of lunch. By this time, the guest has become a zombie out of jet-lag and is barely listening to anything being said from all directions. Next day, he is taken around the city by another fresh MBA when he buys a carton of Alfonso mangoes before departing back to his country. Next day, the local bosses boast before the fresh MBAs that from next trip onwards, this foreigner guest will no longer be given any special treatment. Of course, things go the same way in the next trip.

This has been largely the way most Indians have adjusted to globalization by keeping their minds into a one way street. The guest is barely allowed to talk and is instead given an overload of local clichés, and when we travel abroad, we start off by first looking for an Indian restaurant (after all, our guts are the most vehement opponents of globalization), then heading to a temple or supermarket to make a few Indian acquaintances, and eventually organizing Antakshari contests when we get more settled. Globalization completed, only if Shakaal was still around.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is all greek to me :)