Date archives "June 2008"

How To Turn A Kitten Into A Lion

The thing that strikes you about everyone in Chennai (and one would assume hopefully the rest of India) is how nice, welcoming and generous everyone is (with the obvious exception of the scheming thieving tuk-tuk drivers!). People often say that Americans are full of hospitality, but compared to Tamil Nadu, they are not even close.

People are excruciatingly polite, very friendly, laid back and have the patience of a rock. Whether in the office, at home or out and about, you couldn’t ask to meet nicer people.

They are kittens.


I’m about to reveal how to turn kittens in to savage, uncompromising lions.

Some kind of superhero metamorphis takes over them the moment they sit behind the wheel of a car or the handlebars of a motorbike.

The red mist descends over them and suddenly the opposite of how I’ve described them above is true. The fires of hell are lit behind their eyes, venom drips from their teeth and they become more highly strung than a violin string [yeah, I nicked that one from a Discworld novel!].

The thing about Indian drivers is that they simply do not want to stop, ever. Until they get to where they want to go. Come hell or high water, nothing in this world can stop them as they drive from A to B.

There is often talk of the New York minute where it’s the amount of time before the guy behind you beeps his horn after the traffic light turns green. In India they are beeping while the light is still red. As I have previously discussed, traffic lights are considered suggestions, and if there is any chance of making it across without stopping, then it will be done.

I have even had detours through petrol forecourts as tuk-tuk drivers attempt to evade the traffic lights.

As I said, absolutely nothing will stop Indian drivers as they attempt to get to their destination. The motorbike drivers will pile themselves through the tiniest of gaps at 60 mph just to keep going. They will weave in and out of cars, lorries and buses to get the front of a junction and continuously edge forward.

There is no mercy on the roads. The poor guy that runs out of petrol in the middle of the road, no one will stop to let him pull over. Want to turn right at the junction? Don’t wait for the traffic to ease, one because it never will, and two because no one will stop to allow you out – and certainly don’t think that because the light is green it’s safe to go. The guy that stalls his car will not get the benefit of the doubt as a bus driver attempts to become well acquainted with his boot whilst leaning on the horn with his elbow.

Pedestrians are simply other moving targets – which makes walking down the road a challenge as there are no pavements. OK, there are, but they usually double as someone’s house.

All the politeness, easy going laid back nature is forgotten. The car becomes a weapon. Get out of my way! ROAR!

An Indian Love Affair

Before you think I’m going to head off on some Mills & Boon romance thing, don’t worry, I’m not. This love affair is not of the romance kind but with a little gadget that no Indian can resist the charms of.

It is the mobile phone.

All around you see people clutching their mobile as if their life depends on it. I ask a member of staff to come in to my office, they will bring their mobile phone. We go in to the meeting room, they bring their mobile phone

What’s even more amazing is the inability to let a phone simply ring or turn it on silent. If a phone rings, an Indian has some built in desire to answer it, regardless of where they are or what they are doing.

For example, a couple of weeks ago we were interviewing someone for the position of Office Manager. Now common sense dictates it would be natural to turn our phone off or put it on silent during an interview, infact, one could say it would be foolish to go with your mobile switched on. But that’s not what I’ve experienced in India. In the middle of the interview, this guy’s phone goes off. Far from being mortified, he casually took the phone out of his pocket, and with barely an “excuse me” glance went on to answer it and have a conversation.

It doesn’t matter what the situation, they have an overwhelming desire to answer the phone. Here’s another example. The other day I went to a proper Muslim wedding. During the actual ceremony, loads of people were just chatting away on their mobiles, phones were ringing (and being answered!).

How about in a cinema, the ultimate faux pas would be to have your mobile phone go off in the middle of the film. Here, the majority of people are chatting away on their phones! The film soundtrack is accompanied by a cacophony of ringing cellphones.

Particularly annoying is the use of the mobile phone in the work place. Where one might think twice about taking a personal phone call while we are working, with alarming regularity you see guys and girls (mostly girls, from my unscientific observations) scurrying out of the office with their phone attached to their ear.

One of the contributing factors is that talk is so cheap. We’re talking less than a penny for a minute of talk time. Very rarely do they text one another, which is the preferred method of communication in the UK.

So there you go, another cultural learning experience for you ūüôā

The Most Surreal Marriage Ceremony…Ever!

I’ve just come back from can only be described as the single most surreal event in my entire life. I’m still trying to mentally process what happened, because I’m not altogether too sure what has happened. If that makes sense.

Allow me to place the scene…

One of my work mates, Farooq, had his marriage  arranged. Farooq is 28, which is about the age the guys get married here in South India.

Anyway, this was a traditional Muslim wedding…and from an outsiders perspective, particularly a Westerner who’s only concept of a wedding is a bride walking down the aisle in a white dress, it was completely and utterly, well, surreal, as in, “is this actually happening?”.

The¬†ceremony started at 11am, but that is to say,¬†around 200 people¬†were sitting¬†in¬†a big hall¬†chatting¬†to¬†one another. This is the first thing that¬†strikes you¬†as odd¬†as¬†there¬†are 2 ‘stages’ on opposite ends¬†of the room. The men¬†are all facing¬†one stage¬†and the women¬†are¬†all facing the¬†other stage.

After¬†about 3/4 hour in to the ‘ceremony’,¬†the Groom comes¬†in completely covered from¬†head to toe¬†in Jasmine flowers. He can’t see anything so he’s guided up the stairs and on to the stage facing all the men by a couple of guys. While this is happening, there’s no lull in noise from the guests, they are all sat in groups chatting away to each other or on the phone (a subject I feel should be looked at later).

When the groom is settled down, the bride enters, again, completely covered in Jasmine flowers and unable to see. She is guided to the stage on the opposite side of the room and sits down.

The Iman (Muslim Priest) then recites a few verses (no one is paying a blind bit of notice to all this) from the Koran and the Groom signs the bond papers. The marriage is now official and over Рin less than 5 minutes.

The Groom is then taken over to meet his new in-laws, but not, it should be stressed, his new wife.

The Groom then¬†returns to¬†his stage and is blessed and¬†greeted¬†by¬†all¬†his¬†friends and family. The bride¬†is completely ignored¬†–¬†and still¬†unable to¬†see anything.

Eventually the¬†bride is¬†led¬†out of¬†the room¬†and the guests go¬†and have a¬†meal which¬†is¬†semi-orchestrated¬†by the Groom – who still¬†hasn’t spoken to – or seen – his new wife.

After the meal, there is more meeting and greeting by the Groom, the bride has gone without even seeing her new husband!

Does that sound bizarre and surreal to you?

Obviously¬†in Europe and America the Bride is the¬†number¬†one¬†attraction and all eyes¬†are¬†on¬†her. In a Muslim marriage¬†in South India the bride is completely ignored¬†– she doesn’t even get to sign the¬†marriage¬†papers!

Still, quite¬†an experience, I’ll¬†have to save the story¬†of to¬†and¬†from the wedding for another¬†day.