Tuesday, September 25, 2007

S2 and India Trip: Part 1

The trip to Chennai started with me making some assumptions about my flight time from DC. Not to anybody’s surprise, I assumed my flight was scheduled at 5:50 pm EST when in fact was 4:45 pm EST. What followed was the typical S2 2 hours mayhem.. dumpster style packing, race to the airport and plead the way through security etc. As someone said your past experience not only makes you war-ready (clock ready in this case) but creates that semblance of confidence which is actually false since it rests on a very fine line. Anyway, I reached ahead of time with plenty to spare. In fact my travel partner was surprised. Hmm.. let me introduce him here, referred to as SP going forward. He was going to experience his ex motherland (I did not know motherland could change, he is now a proud US citizen) after 35 years. I wonder how old is he??

Anyway the flight experience was marked by this clumsy user interface tool for the seats and the audio/video equipment. In fact it clearly demonstrates what is lacking with today system designers of user interface. They make it so unwieldy and complicated and think they have worked out a cool device. I wish they dispel the assumption that people know computers and browsing for them is like a child’s play. Maybe 25 years from now but the money people (remember the baby boomers) like it simple and easy. For it was not easy, it gave you the opportunity to strike a conversation with the air hostess. Well she may think you are a looser but it is entirely on the individual creativity to use this opportunity and make the best of the situation J

The stay at the Frankfurt was not that much fun even though we used our United Card to be in a Lufthansa lounge. I sucked up good when I choose to spend euros on t-mobile hotspot. Yet another bad decision. The flight to India become interesting since all I could see was Chennai Software engineers in different shapes and forms (mind you I am one of the ugly specimens though not from South India) and the scene at the Frankfurt gate was pretty much reminiscent of a typical India international airport. So SP was anticipating his time in India and was getting mentally prepared for some cultural shock. Wonder why he chose the land of Rajnikanth (people who don’t know him its Ok, he is the Tom cruise of the South Indian cinema though some proclaim him to be more popular than Princess Diana), idlis and dosas ( fanatic Tamilians may claim dosas are legacy from adjacent rival state Karnataka). All I could say to SP was…What a choice!!!.

The immigration line at Chennai airport was long and stay there was protracted as I say my US citizen partner breeze past me (when would India respect their own citizens more…Hold on don’t do it now for I hope to become US citizen in the near future.

SP experienced his first rude awakening of the Indianism (new term coined by me) when no one stopped for him as he crossed a road to the parking lot. He was treated with couple of horns and Tamil stares. SP, the brave soul chose to sit up front and experience the chaotic driving in India on our rental chauffeur driven car ( Mind you ‘In chaos lies Creativity’). His first reaction was ‘ Looks like Egypt’. Poor guy had only experienced Egypt as a non developed country in his lifetime. Think about it, we as Indians project such an image of disorder that we are compared to Egypt even though we are miles ahead in all economic progress metrics. I wonder why J

The Hotel reception was interesting least to say. We were staying at ‘The Park’. The hotel was a decent attempt to copy Modern architecture based hotels. We as Indians do a decent job on copying. So the room had the right modern architectural elements in term of the bed, the study, the plasma but at the same time had pillows that were stained. We had modern bathroom elements but an interesting implementation of multi-headed shower (see the picture). Actually the hotel used to be an ex movie studio (Gemini). Wow a theme hotel in India. But all in all a decent hotel.

We experienced the Chennai traffic next morning when we headed to our office. We observed the creativity of Indians in action in how they leverage the width of a road. On a given three lane road, there were 6-7 vehicles. We support a heterogeneous mode of travel( cars, trucks, buses, motor bikes, rickshaw, scooter) apart from occasional animal rides (bullock cart). It appeared as a gridlock to any layman but everything was moving with unspoken rules and processes. Do we have a solution for the US gridlocks? I did forget to mention that horns (an unused tool in US automobile circle) were effectively deployed with great success. The Indian roads reflect one of the nature’s basic principles of food chain hierarchy. The bigger vehicle gets it right to way and the more agile (bikes, scooters) maneuvers their way. Law of Natural Survival in practice on Indian roads. The margin of error is very low and occasionally when a bike scratches the car on the side, the stares and occasional bad mouthing is met with a plastic ‘Sorry’.

Our CNSI office was nice and looked all crowded. In fact there was a specialist for every job. You had a specialist for ‘making and serving tea’, a specialist for ‘photo copying’, a specialist for closing and opening doors. Interesting when we tried to photo copy ourselves it was met with astonishment, concern and fear of job. No matter which way you look, the ancillary support organization was impressive. I think it leaves the engineers to just focus on the work in hand. I hope all this ancillary man force means better productivity and higher throughput from the India office. If it was not enough, we experienced a special check processing service where we did not leave our seat and our antiquated check (check with no MICR code and double the size of our current day check) was deposited and processed within 1 hour. Talk about customer experience. Well customer delight in this case.

As days progressed we chose to come to the office all by ourselves. We tried to reach the office at 9:00 AM in the morning. Well no jokes on IST time Ok but the fun was that we were dropped by our car in front of the elevator called lift in India (this is called chauffeur service). Well to our surprise, the lift did not operate before 9:30 AM. The reason was that the lift operator (specialist job) did not show up before 9:30 AM. (Remember JS experience in SD where going up and down the lift was no rocket science, Well in India it is some science for it needed a specialist whose job was to take the lift up and down almost 1000 times in a day). Well yet another curious observation that SP made was the tendency of Indians to form groups of people (2-5) and stand and observe. He was intrigued by it. It is definitely not a gay thing but Indians are very social and this chit chat keeps us sane in the midst of all the chaos and humdrum. One last incident was the little shopping experience. Yes we haggled for prices and even though we felt good about reducing the price by 20% it left us with a hollow feeling of how much more we have been cheated. And of course our beloved head of India operations picked up something for the most important person on the US office. Guess who!!

Anyway enough said about our interesting encounters there but on a final note before I close the blog entry, the Indian team in Chennai was very hospitable, pleasant, courteous and hungry for work. I wish them success!!!

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