Tuesday, May 5, 2009

No Appointments Needed

Every time I call the Govt. offices here in Chennai, the conversation goes something like this with the receptionist: "May I have an appointment to see Mr...... " she replies, " Madam, sir is not here today, but he will be here tomorrow, and you can come tomorrow" I say with a gush of gratitude, "Thank you, what time is convenient for him?" She replies, "Well, he will be here the whole day, and so you just come in, and if he is free, he will see you...." I press on "So, would morning be okay?" She replies impatiently, "Madam, you just come...... and we will see if he is free". This conversation has occurred several times the last month, and one of my acquaintances who has a nonprofit here advised me to "just go camp there, and if he sees you two or three times, then they he will know that you are serious and then he will see you..... You have to be very patient Nalla....." What no one seems to care about is that perhaps you have other things to do in the day other than "camping" in front of strange offices in over a 100 degree temperature with just fans blowing hot air on you .....

Remember, everything in the Indian culture functions through relationships (I have none to write home about of course) .... and somewhat haphazardly too..... I mean, what if you land there and the guy's office is packed with people? Well, that does not seems to matter much as I recently found out ...... A couple of days ago, when I was briefly visiting my mother, her housekeeper introduced her cousin, a 26-year old young man who had been unemployed the last three years.... he has a BA in Engineering (intrumentation to be specific). Since he is fatherless and the only son, he has a huge responsibility to support his widowed mother and two high 20-something sisters (ready to be married, but can't afford to). After listening to his heartbreaking story, my Mother spurred into action..... she dragged him and me to a very influential man in town who owns several businesses and wealthy enough to own several homes worldwide.... (by the way, most of the job placements among the poor and "uninfluential" also happens because you are related to the cousin of your neighbor's mother-in-law). I hesitantly asked if she had called him for an appointment or at least asked him if it was okay for us to drop by (fully realizing that she hadn't and hoping to remind her of that) to which she said that it was not needed..... yes, she had seen him a couple of times before to do some money exchanges, and yes, he will of course see her ......... She picked up the phone, called for a taxi to pick us up right away and off we went.....

When we got off the elevator and stepped out, we were ushered in by a couple of security guards, secretaries, and a few others just hanging around outside the big boss's air-conditioned office enjoying some relief from the sweltering heat .... A few more steps , and we were inside the office .... grateful recipients of the cold draft blowing from several units.

Even as I enjoyed the blast of cold air, I wondered why nobody had bothered to ask us any questions like "Who are you?" or "Do you have an appointment?" Hmmmm...... and as I pondered this, the big boss nodded at us from behind his impressively large table and gestured graciously for us to join him ...... well, there was a slight problem.... there were already four other men sitting across from him at the desk with a large open map that had blotches of different colors, and from the loud discussions and note-taking, I brilliantly speculated that they were in a pretty serious meeting! I stood awkwardly hesitating not sure what to do..... Mother pushed me from the back into an empty seat at the desk and I was too shocked with the scenario before me to say even a "Good morning". Mother kindly pointed that out to me..... but it was too late..... by now the gentlemen had resumed their discussion again ..... and we were now the reluctant audience seated with them at the desk!

I tried to ignore the contents of their discussion and almost felt guilty for eavesdropping.... but had no option other than to stare at the map and the big boss alternately.... so I don't look like I am ignoring his presence (which is a huge offense here). In a few minutes tea was served for all and again I wondered if this was just awkward for me.... and then suddenly one of the eight phones facing Mother rang, and the Boss twirled in his chair and effortlessly had a brief conversation over the phone, and since he was facing Mother, he began to make small talk to her..... she introduced me, and for a moment I had his full attention..... he politely enquired about me and my family, and then just as suddenly pointed something on the map and seamlessly continued the discussion with them! After this happened about three times - switching between the map discussion, and friendly conversation with us, the men at the table became a bit restless and one began to press the big boss for some cash.... Awkward! Isn't this supposed to be a private conversation??? Well, they had no choice of course, and a full ten-minute of persuasions later the big boss got up and the man got up to follow him, convinced that either his sob story or his other truly compelling reasons had worked..... but the big boss gestured for Mother and me to follow him ..... again I was slow, mesmerized by the "happenings" and Mother had to nudge me out of the chair that I had been praying to disappear into.... and whispered rather loudly "He's calling for us....GO" and she invited the young man who had come with us and who had been virtually invisible so far to follow us.

Big boss unlocked an adjoining small door, turned on the lights, the air-conditioner and bid us to come in and tell him why we were there very quickly .... Mother introduced the young man, and explained that he needs a job, and described his sad state succinctly. Now he turned his attention to the young man and asked him for his resume..... flipped through the couple of pages impatiently and advised him sternly, "You need to have your father's details here..... you know, you need to honor your parents.... yes, I know that he is no more, but you need to have his name, and a few details about him....." and the young man nodded vehemently agreeing with him of course.... "You also need to enclose here all the copies of your degrees, diplomas, and passport with your photo....... and, tell me specifically the companies and the positions that you are interested in..... I can't be finding out these things for you...... but if you let me know, I can call them up and tell them to give you something....." His phone rang, and he said something about going out to dinner..... got off the phone, and pleasantly explained to us that his friend had just opened up a restaurant facing the ocean, and he was obliged to pay him a visit ..... and stood up politely gesturing us to a nearby door that put us right in front of the elevators..... Mother said that it was a very successful meeting and was sure that the young man will be helped soon..... I pray that she is right!