My Working World: I is for…
It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these alphabetical pieces, due to a whole raft of busy Mondays. But now the series is back and we’ve reached the letter I. If you want to read any of the earlier ones just click on the appropriate letter below. But in the meantime, let’s move on.
The pharmaceutical industry in India is a huge one; and hence the scope for consultancy and other projects is massive. So it’s maybe a little surprising that I’ve only visited India twice and both times, I only went to Mumbai. I think the main reason was I was deeply involved in many different projects in Russia and the Former Soviet Union at the time, and was finding quite enough to keep me occupied and understanding the way of life there. The idea of having to start again with a whole new culture, tradition and way of doing business was just too overwhelming. It’s the same reason why I never applied for any of the project in China.
My two short visits to Mumbai were memorable for a number of reasons. For a start, the traffic was horrendous. In fact, at one point, my taxi was involved in a collision with a tuk tuk, one of the little three wheelers that were everywhere. There didn’t appear to be any injuries, but our car was immediately surrounded by a crowd of angry bystanders who confiscated my driver’s keys so he couldn’t drive off. I’m not sure how things would have been resolved if the car had been empty or if the passenger had been a local, but someone suddenly noticed me sitting in the back, trying not to panic, and quickly returned the car keys so we could continue our journey.
During my first visit, my host, a senior manager at the company, took me with him and his wife to a family wedding, where we were treated as honoured guests. I was initially concerned about arriving unannounced. Surely it would throw out the numbers? Would the caterers be upset? Would there be anywhere for me to sit? But when I saw the hundreds of people milling around in the hall waiting the start of the ceremony, I quickly realised that one more wasn’t going to make an ounce of difference.
I was taken aback by the wide extremes of wealth and poverty apparent around me, and despite being used to beggars in many parts of the world, I found it particularly difficult to follow my host’s advice to ‘ignore them; if you give to one, they will all expect something.’ In particular, it was impossible to ignore the young child who kept stroking my foot and miming his hunger. I gave in, handed over some coins, and immediately proved my host right. But I still felt I’d done the right thing.
I was delivering a training course on the top floor of a hotel on the last day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival when the statues are taken down to the river or the sea to dissolve. The beach was at the other end of the bay from the hotel, a mile or more away, and gazing across the distance, I was amazed to see a dark shadow gradually creep across the sand. It was only when we went for a walk after class I realised what I’d watched was thousands of people converging on the small piece of ground to participate in the ceremony.
India: a fascinating country, of which I realise I have only received a taster – thus far.