Golkonda Fort and Hyderabad City.
With a healthy gusto of f' this company, you went to India for the yearly designer training. It was a demotivating plan because you were effectively there to train Winterthur's replacements. Many had suggested you boycott the training, while others even proposed teaching the wrong stuff intentionally; that seemed unethical but tempting. Your doctor had been kind enough to declare you ‘0% unfit for work’ (a.k.a. fit for work) providing you didn't use your hands. One thing was clear: you were going to India for the fancy hotel, the spicy food and the frequent flier miles — any work which may occur in Hyderabad would be coincidental.
Flying via Dubai with an eight hour stopover was relaxing. The business lounge had been renovated to include a new ‘health bar’ (basically just wraps and fruit) and more reclined seats. Naps were had and overtime hours earnt. Off to a good start, zzz... Hello Hyderabad!
Sunday you went into Hyderabad city to explore. As luck would have it, a Hindu festival was taking place at the Golkonda Fort and entry was free. The roads leading up to it were almost impassable by car, so you blended into the ingress of Indians on foot and filed inside the fort.
Golkonda Fort as it stood today was a mixture of ruin, temple and public park. The relatively large grounds were surrounded by stone walls in various states of restoration and dilapidation, while the inner defensive structures had been abated by weather and wanderers. What was left of the sharp military architecture had its corners rounded down. Many stone steps were bowed, worn selectively down by billions of footsteps. Metal bars had rusted away. Also, it wasn't necessarily a good idea to walk under any archways: they were sketchy as f'. The fort's open courtyards were covered with beautifully maintained lawns, where hundreds of Indian families were setting up pickniks. Live chickens and goats were being brought inside and people looked hungry. There would be blood.
You cantered about the lower areas of the fort, trotting carefully aside unbarricaded holes which fell-off into its basement levels. Since it was a big ruin only parts of its structures had been sanitised. In the open spaces people were just doing their own thing — mostly setting up cooking areas and preparing food on tree stumps (makeshift cutting boards). You climbed towards the top for a view but gave up at the sight of a long and sweaty line leading in to the temple. Most hindu pilgrims came barefoot, slowly ascending the windy path while finger-painting the steps with red and yellow dots. The paths leading down were steep, and there were some kids surfing down the slippery tiles on flattened plastic bottles. You made your way out past the procession of ladies with fiery hats, past the blood pit, where a twelve year old boy had just snapped the neck of a chicken while a goat stood ready, and down the lane of smokey mess where the run-off water flowed red. You were glad to have proper shoes.
Pedestrian travel in India is something considered a hassle by the population at large. If one has the means, one chooses to jump on a bike or catch a tuk-tuk rather than walk. Understandable, considering the weather. You sauntered through the city streets towards the next landmark: a big Baobab tree, which was proving difficult to find. After an hour of walking — during which time about twenty random dudes on motorbikes offered you a lift, none of which knew where it was — you asked a policeman standing at a corner for directions. He didn't know either, but asked some nearby locals who pointed you in the right direction. It was nice to interact with locals. Hidden inside a walled-off area of the golf course, a friendly security let you inside telling you not to take photos of the greens. It was drastically tidier than outside, almost unnaturally so. The white businessman and rich locals were out putting about the greens, blissfully unaware how horrible it all looked from your standpoint on the service road. Put simply, some strategically placed trees hid a lot of shit (sometimes literally). The baobab tree was 25 meters in diameter and gashed with inscriptions. A travelling pilgrim brought the seed a few hundred years ago... maybe. They weren't quite sure on that.
Next you hit up the Qutb Shahi Tombs. Waste of time really. Some rich bloke wanted a big cemetery. Big deal, mate. Some Indians there were playing cricket on the lawn. It was essentially a pay-to-enter park for the middle class. You quickly left.
It was a bit of a hike back to the hotel. Your path trundled through the outer edge of the low-rise Hyderabad city sprawl, giving you time to see how people lived. There were residential parts interspersed with commercial districts with plenty of rubbish and foul odours to ensure a full sensory experience. You felt a little bad at one point when photographing cows eating from a garbage dump, where a girl asked what you were doing. Your fascination with the spectacle of their shitty environment, upon consideration, didn't need to be made so obvious. ‘Oh, I just like city cows’, you replied. Moving right along... Passing Lanco Hills (bouldering area) you saw big excavation work underway; it was sad to see almost no one cared to preserve the beautiful rock formations. Progress rolls on.
2D Training Week
With each visit to India new cultural quirks bubble to the surface, presenting themselves for amusing anecdotal account. This time around, the hotel's wait staff had the funny tendency to ask only one person per table for their order. You would sit there patiently and politely while your colleague's order was taken, then the waiter would bugger off leaving you feeling ignored. Did you not look hungry enough?
This year's training included Indians from other divisions, but was given without actually any prior consensus from said other divisions. One of your managers had blindly barked the orders ‘work together now!’, which was in a way admirable, if not a little hasty. Come Monday, you met a half-filled room of glassy-eyed participants. Perhaps the other half hadn't received the memo that training was mandatory.
You turned to your chaperone — a short Indian sub-manager of no charisma, who's cultural understanding extended to white people can't eat spicy food — and asked where everyone was. He sheepishly mumbled excuses, so you initiated some of Ghandi's passive resistance: sit and wait until everyone had arrived. He became very nervous and begged you to start. In India culture an open show of dissatisfaction, defiance or discontent is a big no-no. You enjoyed the extremely awkward silence. It lasted fifteen minutes.
The attendance on day two was significantly better, but few had understood the concept of participation and, in one case, staying awake. No matter how much you danced about the stage and engaged your diaphragm to project your voice, the only result was a sore throat and minimal garnering of additional attention. You decided to merge the remaining sessions, effectively halving the remaining training time, and use the afternoons for more relevant activities. The hotel had a nice pool after all...
The best part of the training week were the lunches. They were made at a restaurant just up the road in the city, and were a tasty mix of miscellaneous curries with thin stretchy bread. Chaperone #2 was a much nicer bloke and he usually joined for lunch. Your only gripe with him was that he chewed with his mouth wide open making schmacky chewing noises. Amusing. Chaperone #1 never failed to demonstrate his closed-mindedness to everything non-Indian. When you mentioned that your daughter would soon be born, he looked at you incredulously. ‘But how do you know it is a girl?’ he asked. FYI: knowing a foetus' sex before birth is illegal in India due to prenatal killings. Not all cultures are as sexist as yours, you wanted to answer. Frank smiled.
Wednesday night was the mandatory management dinner. You packed into a car at the hight of peak-hour traffic and sat in the middle of a traffic light-less intersection for longer than necessary. The restaurant was called Absolute BBQs, whose advertising campaign centered around misquoting famous people. Albert Einstein probably never said anything profound about grilling meat with BBQ sause. It was stiff and awkward: a necessary evil of business trips. You had taken to calling chaperone #1 Rash, since you couldn't be bothered remembering if he was a Rajesh, Rahesh or a Rahmadesh. You left the restaurant, intending to walk back to the hotel, while Rash protested sheepishly in the background. Nice walk.
During the training week sessions there were some really intelligent questions coming from individuals. For example: ‘how do you influence quality as an Engineer?’ and ‘how do you make a design robust?’. Small questions beget large answers, and so the discussions spilled over into the breaks. It was genuinely interesting to chat with some of them, and it also helped you understand Indian politics. Apparently, large rail contracts are intentionally vaguely-worded to allow politicians leeway to moan and delay, while pushing for betting conditions. No wonder your company pulled out of that last big loco deal.
Come Saturday, a team event was [mis]organised (should have been Friday) at a nearby amusement park. Indian amusement parks are a shifty business in terms of OH&S regulations; they aren't the safest of places. In a way, you were thankful to have just incurred a mild bout of food poisoning. By early afternoon you had crawled your way there (by taxi with no GPS and a lost driver) where you lay in the shade while everyone else played cricket. It was a waterpark, fun park, cricket park, mix-of-everything park for kids (adults) of all ages. Mister Rash managed to annoy you once again, condescendingly insisting that you see a doctor. On the one hand it was kind for his to ask once, but after the tenth time telling you it was time to get in the car and visit the doctor, it really began to grate. Even Frank got annoyed and told him, in no uncertain terms, to pull his head in because ‘he is a fully grown man able to make his own decisions’ :-)
Sunday was spent at the pool. Drank coke to recover. Read newspapers. Good day.
Hilarious, Horrifying Headlines
Each morning for the past week you had casually scanned the local Indian newspapers for amusing content. Inglish (Indian English) gramma and wording combined with wacky, highly chauvinistic content of makes for good reading:
"Hiring Set to Go Firing on All Cylinders"
So are they hiring or firing now?
It's about to take off!
"ISRO's Mangalyaan 5 mission finds intelligent life in the United States after return to Earth"
Indians do have a sense oh humour after all ;-)
"Oil ‘Astrologer’ Predicts Bears till Aug 18"
Oil astrologer. Bears. What?
"Lovely Professional University"
"This hospital in Gujarat won't charge any fee if a girl is born"
We're sorry for your misfortune. Have a discount. Fucking unbelievable.
"Gained weight, earned pride"
"WARNING: ELECTRIC SHOCK. Don't feed anything including water if the person is unconscious"
But they look so thirsty...
"Sleep next to a chicken, avoid malaria"
Even mosquitoes can't stand the smell.
"Remember the time when you finally yielded to your parent's wishes to tie the knot?"
Keyword: yielded. Romance is alive and well.
"ELITE Punjabi fmly seeks for their fait, charming, slim, jovial, very attractive daughter 30/5' 5" (looks younger)..."
Well, if she looks younger then perhaps I've found my soulmate.
"Man ‘kills’ wife for losing mobile phone"
Bitch probably had it coming.
Kabaddi and KPI's
Kabaddi is a game originating in ancient India which is mixture of tips, red rover and rugby. Two teams face each other on an area about the size of a tennis court. A raider takes one breath, crosses the halfway line and, while continuously chanting ‘kabaddi kabaddi kabaddi’, must touch one of the opposition and race back before being tackled. The game play looked as silly as described.
During your stay the Kabaddi League was playing on TV every day, and locals were glued to the broadcast. Back at the hotel one evening you found a big pile of pink baggage — the ‘Pink Panthers’ Kabaddi team was staying. Seeing the players up close confirmed that Kabaddi does not require much sporting prowess. Several players had overhanging tummies.
Near the end of your stay, you did some training with the new BT employees. They occupied the very office for which you were offered the role of Site Chief (that you declined). It was a funny feeling talking to the guys who were effectively replacing Winterthur, and their boss, a French bloke who is actually a nice guy. Since his arrival, the French bloke had suffered both bureaucratic and physical headaches, as well as various other tropical ailments (denge fever or malaria, it wasn't clear). Not sorry to have missed any of that.
The French bloke told you a disturbing story about the new top-top manager in charge of your company, who was kicking up some dust. The top-top manager had the reputation for being a bad guy after getting promoted out of his office, then immediately shutting it down, firing several hundred people. He had the nickname Darth Vader: not a person you can say ‘no’ to and keep your head. One particular story about him made you especially concerned: the KPI story.
Shortly after the new Hyderabad office had opened its doors, just days after the tables and chairs had been set up, Darth Vader came to visit. He walked in, sat down and demanded to see all the KPI's (Key Performance Indicators). The French bloke calmly explained that he had none, having only just arrived — he didn't have a bank account or even a phone at this stage, let alone any measurable work outputs. Darth Vader slammed his fist on the table and loudly demanded ‘I want your KPI's now! They'd better be good!’ He gave until Friday.
The French bloke called his n+1 (his boss) and asked what to do. The n+1 gave a vague, non-comital answer and wished him luck. The French bloke called his n+2 (his boss's boss) and asked what to do. The n+2 suggested he ‘Google something’, without going into the details. The French bloke called his n+3 (his boss's boss's boss), the boss directly below Darth Vader, and asked what he should do. His answer: ‘fake something’. With permission to fake his business results, you wondered if he measured the seat occupancy ratio and reported ‘reliable outputs’; if he watered the plants and measured their growth rate and reported ‘steady progress’; or if he released five hundred blank drawings and reported ‘on-time delivery’. That last one actually happened.
The only rational explanation for such behaviour is a short-term share price hike coinciding with the sale of the company to the Chinese. They had already offered eight billion, and you think management is pokering for more, splashing on a quick coat of paint (good KPI's) to look good prior to sale. It would effectively become a shell company with a foothold in the European market, used to sell subsidiary companies' cheap parts. On the other hand, maybe Darth Vader is only playing the bad guy, pruning off old branches from an overgrown tree to allow new growth. Unlikely, but possible. This company shall burn to the ground. Time to leave.
Innovation, Cheap at 7× the Price
During times between classes, Frank and yourself inspected the ongoing innovative activities happening in Hyderabad. One project was the evaluation of emerging manufacturing technologies for rail application. You went upstairs to the ‘Incubator’ innovation office and listened to fresh uni grads explain that 3D printing was like, totes' amazing. When asked if metal-sinter laser 3D printing worked and how much it cost, they proudly replied ‘yes!’ (avoiding the second question). Upon further probing they reported the costs were ‘only fourteen times higher, but we could eventually halve that!’. Their projections didn't stand up well as a business case.
Down in the lab more innovation was underway. You visited the electronics toyshop, where employees could solder resistors and diodes to their hearts' content. Their last project was a wifi enabled jam jar that lit up when you should take your medication. No so silly, but it exists already.
Then came the Lego Lab: a room with several full-time employees tasked with playing with Lego and being innovative. Their tireless efforts had produced a masterpiece, at last in terms of aesthetic value: a train that drove along tracks and opened a window to vent smoke should a fire occur. The problem being that the window was on the roof, and none of them knew that's where the high voltage electrical equipment and air conditioners are mounted. They didn't need Lego to innovate that.
The final door led into the Siemens signalling lab — a place, you assumed, was off-limits. Apparently not with Indians in charge! They proudly showed you their work and even let you take photos (you asked as a test). Intellectual property ownership has always been a slippery slope in India...
As a final hurrah, everyone went to dinner at the same place that served your lunches all week. The food was good and the people were funny to chat to, and everything went smoothly up until desert: brownies served on a hot Mexican sizzling plate. The waiter carried them out looking visibly afraid of the burning hot cast iron, while smoke bellowed forth. Frank: ‘I'm trying to give up smoking!’