The Indian Professional

The Indian Professional ( Cord-Cutting- II)

In this world where cord-cutting is in vogue, I finally embraced it to cut the cord which had tied me to India despite emigrating almost a decade back. For real.

As an Indian-born who had spent a major part of his life in India my story may reflect images of many other immigrants who after arriving in distant lands find a more intense connect there and decide to cut their ties with India. Some slowly while others rapidly. It is a known fact that amongst the ‘Person of Indian origin’ who become citizen of their new abode (referred as POI) or Non Resident Indians (NRI) who still continue with their Indian citizenship, only a few return back. Except off course the ones who have no other option but to return either due to their visas or work permits.

A few like me make a conscious attempt to return, come back and after spending some more time in India realize that they can never fit into the Indian maze again. Then they flap their wings again and fly back to distant lands!

Reflecting on my story than reacting and labelling me or people like me as anti-Indian or anti-national may enable the reader, especially the one residing in India, understand better as to what makes us prefer another land over India despite facing various hardships there. The path is brutal in our new pastures too as we have to face loneliness, racism, language and food issues, isolation, no recognition of Indian education or experience especially in countries like Canada and many other roadblocks in our journey. Yet we decide to face these obstacles rather than returning back to India. Why? I’ll start with my story.

There were many reasons why a dream of returning back to India faded from my eyes. The same could be broadly classified into three major segments-

* Personal- Which could also be described as arising on the emotional front. While those vary       depending on individual journeys, yet some insights are common.

* Professional- On the work and professional front coming into question when comparisons arise with what we see in the outer world verses our experiences of India.

* Environmental- Which include not just the ambience or the infrastructure but the state of India including the aggravating socio-Political disturbances of the land.

I had discussed the Personal reasons in depth in my previous article ‘Cord Cutting- I’. I will discuss the Environmental issues in the next and hence we ponder over the professional reasons in this article as to why India loses its sheen for a returnee.

Let me give a little bit of my own background to enable you to understand that this is a real and not an imaginary scenario. An engineer by education, I had worked in executive positions, even headed companies before emigrating from India at the age of forty. I have lived and worked in various other countries including Indonesia, China, USA and Canada besides visiting and closely  observing many more. Since the urge to return to India remained strong, I had returned back to India mid last year and had spent more than a year working there before deciding to leave again. This time for good, hopefully. Why? Let me explain on the professional front.

First Indians are not organized and would never want to be. Period! They may talk about systems and building companies based on them and yet are ever ready to break the systems at the first instance. They would prefer last minute decisions or even decisions based on individual judgements over systemic evaluation of a problem. And when crisis strikes, a short term option, a ‘Juggad’ or patch work is applied to enable temporary closure of concern before moving on to the next crisis.

Result- From the best of corporate companies to small businesses, Indians are the worst in the upkeep of their assets and infrastructure. Factories old and new, are full of machines in various stages of breakdowns, leaking pipes and mazes of duct-taped electric wires, dirty and stinking toilets especially that of workers, unnecessary inventory build ups including that of rejected goods which are just forgotten in some blind alley, …… I could go on and on.

When I compare that to many other countries not just in the Western world but even the ones in Asia which were as poor and as under developed as India in the previous century, the difference is stark. Not because they have more resources but in how they utilize and maintain their limited resources. Systems are religiously followed there in letter and spirit  and not just to get an ISO certification. No one, big or small, breaks the systems. Absolutely no short cuts are encouraged and more time is spent on planning and evaluating to enable proper implementation.

It is not a miracle that trains run on time, roads are cleaned and last longer, worker productivities are far higher, quality of produce is better, adherence to delivery schedules are higher, systemic failures are far lower,…… in most other countries than India. Yet India never learns.

No wonder when you return to India after spending a few years outside, you are so used to following a systemic work approach that such fallacies look criminal to you. On the contrary the Indian would never like to change his antics and in fact would make fun of you for becoming a stickler to them.

Every Indian worth his salt considers himself to be smarter than the other and would spend his time trying to make a fool of others. Alas he forgets that the one whom he is trying to fool is countering with the same approach. Result- Team work, discipline, cohesion- these are words left only to be uttered in some ‘kaizen’ session. Forget looking into the corporate world, Indian roads and the battles that are fought there every minute for every inch of space resulting in unnecessary traffic blockage are a stark proof of the ‘Chatur’ Indian’s approach to life and work.

Indians love their politics, sycophancy, gossiping, idol worship and accept the words of their masters as the gospel truth. An Indian would rather prefer an Autocrat, a Dictator over a leader. Indian corporate and most other organizations are a reflection of the same. You can do well in Indian companies even if your knowledge base is limited so long as you are a master of the above mentioned tricks of the trade. You just need to know who to bend to and whose ears to fill. Issue based discussions called meetings in India are not limited to a few minutes but could go on for hours at stretch where people would argue and display their inflated egos and yet at the end, no decisions would emerge. Imagine my surprise when I, who was used to standing-only daily meetings in many countries like China or Canada, where decisions were taken in minutes and people were back to work; was sitting for hours in long meetings which resulted in nothing but a lot of headache, numbness and anger.

Oh yes even corporate heads, owners, CEOs are no less a party to this mess. Total worship of their Lordship is admired and desired by them in their empire. Every Head worth his weight would prefer his yes men and silent loyalists over professionals with any differing opinion. Independent Directors are more of a joke as most companies would prefer to have rubber stamps who provide their mark of acceptance to what the management desires. Professional competence can be sidelined at the cost of adherence to company line. If anyone speaks out then he needs to be prepared to face the wrath of the management.  And when that ‘one’ comes from an environment outside India where questioning the leader’s view or marking your No is not considered an offence but is welcomed and considered important in organizational growth, then one can easily feel claustrophobic in such a cocoon.

There is no concept of time in India. Period. Indians take pride in talking about ‘Indian standard time’ which could be thirty minutes to hours late depending on one’s position. The higher the person, the more privilege he has to be late or to make people waiting. I have seen people waiting for the entire day to meet their senior managers and yet being sent empty handed and being asked to come the next day. And there was no guilt in doing the same by the superior nor any empathy for people who waited. As for ‘meetings’, your arriving late signifies that you were busy and working and never ever shows your lack of respect towards co-workers. This is not just limited to work place but is a way of life for Indian. For a person coming from outside India who is used to seeing doors close at the appointed hour, who has adjusted to the fact that adherence to time is the key to team work, who is accustomed to a fact that tardiness could lead to major life failures, Indian experience is frustrating to say the least.

Indians are too many and love their feudal ways. The ‘British Raj’ has gone and even the British and the world has changed over. Yet the Indians love being the new ‘Brown Sahibs’. There are managers and then they have their army of secretaries, clerks for handling paperwork, servants to offer tea and snacks, drivers to drive them around, orderlies, security guards, ….. There is a total empire built around a position. Even loss making companies, government organizations and the likes are full of managers who would rather the stake holders lose their last penny than they lose any of their ‘Raj’ privileges.  To my shock and pain even in today’s world, actually this year, I saw at lunch time a lady worker who was supposed to be working at the shop floor, waiting outside the room while the factory manager leisurely enjoyed his lunch. As soon as His Highness finished the lunch, the lady who was peeking regularly, rushed inside with an empty bucket and a jar of water and the Lordship cleaned his hands, mouth even throat and spit the remains in the bucket for her to carry away. This when he could have walked just a few steps to the nearest washroom. This is true and real. I could go on and on with the Indian way of life but do not need to as the reader knows it fully well, experiences it and in some cases desires it. Compare that to a land where you are used to doing everything on your own either at work place or at home and you accept that as the given thing. India then looks shockingly regressive.

Corruption is a way of life in India and this will not change. I would rather not discuss on this issue as this is immediately transformed into a political than social evil. Alas it is a way of life for an average Indian.

Guarantees, Assurances, contracts, Intellectual rights, In India all these are words to be manipulated if not a joke themselves! India’s justice system exists only on paper. A paper that no one cares about. Builders run away with money of ordinary people who put their life’s savings in booking apartments, provide occupants with sub-standard quality of construction or regularly fleece people with arbitrary fees. Small time actors and background performers work in Indian cinema many a times with hope of only getting a small portion of their work being paid without hustling from Production assistants and agents. But these are standard accepted practices in India. Imagine my surprise when I see in Canada that people actually abide by the law and the law ensures time-bound justice, that intellectual property rights and signed contracts carry value or that performers can work without worrying about their dues and would get paid on time. Or that the Tarion warranties ensure that the common man who invests his life’s savings in even pre-construction condominium building would rarely lose a dime!

Indian industries lack design ability. They basically copy and produce what they are instructed to manufacture. This is not just restricted to one industry but is universal. Even in machine manufacturing, Indian machines are sub-standard and unreliable. Across the board from auto-components, air conditioning, computers, textile, apparels, most of the technologies used are designed, even produced outside India. Rarely would the benchmark be an Indian company. India can talk about progress but alas that is only second-rate progress as the key to that lies somewhere else and as and when it becomes costlier to produce in India, the sourcing can easily be moved to some other country.

Last but not the least what came as the final nail in the coffin for me- truth, innovation and integrity- virtues recognized worldwide as paramount for growth of the company are considered second rated in India. In the name of adherence to the ordinary and mediocrity, India kills its path-breakers and innovators. Or shuns them away. Intellectual and artistic freedom is rarely welcome and mostly denounced.

And that is how a returning Indian is treated. An aberration, an alien who is now poisoned with the thoughts of seeking purity of action and thought. Who does not understand the Indian ways no more, nor can adjust to them. A pariah who needs to be shunned. Slowly one finds oneself as an impediment in the company’ way and walks away.

Of course as a first generation immigrant, one still tries to adjust and come back. After all there  are bonds that tie us down and we make a conscious attempt to adjust. Sometimes also because we feel that we would be more accepted in India because of our skill sets than in the lands that we live.

But ask yourself with open minds, our children who now belong to a land which accepts them wholeheartedly, which provides timely justice, which respects innovation and knowledge and rewards it too, where simple values like adherence to time, truth, integrity, discipline, honesty are considered as the starting block to your growth, where corruption is unheard of; would they ever go back to India? Or can we even for a second imagine asking them to do it? Or desire that they do it?

Unfortunately the answer is a clear and stark no. At least for me! While I may still think about returning temporarily because I love India from the bottom of my heart and may like to continue doing my little bit in its progress, I love my children more and would only desire the best for them and not make them undertake any journey that leads to an Indian work place.

Therein lies the fallacy of Indian dream. Therein lies the story of a lot of Indians who are leaders in various companies world over and yet can never return and work in their land of birth. Or of their ancestors.

I honestly wish that I could provide a happy ending to this long article. A tirade that comes from the bottom of the heart, is as real as it could get and has been heart breaking for me indeed.

If only I would have not stepped outside India and seen the world decades back. If only India could have felt my love when I had returned to serve her again than shun my new learnt ways. If only I could still accept that the Indian way was right when I have seen the light!

Posted in Times of India on 20th November 2017. Link below-


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