Having formally experienced and become part of the transfer of aspects of Xerox’s product development to HCL Technologies of India, I was approached by my manager with a view to travelling to Chennai to continue with the current ongoing program of transferring and sharing software knowledge with the offshore team, allowing me to play a small part. I flew out on a lunchtime British Airways flight from Heathrow and after a 10-hour (thankfully) direct flight, I find myself in an air-conditioned hotel on my first visit to this sub-continent, somewhat protected from the humid conditions outside. Diwali had just been celebrated though I’ve been told it’s more of a north-Indian tradition. Chennai lies in the state of Tamil Nadu, with Tamil rather than Hindi being the main language.
Occupying a middle seat near the front of the aircraft, I soon began chatting to a rather pleasant fellow passenger travelling all the way from Dallas, Texas, where she works in………….you’ve guessed it, IT recruitment. On a month’s holiday, she was due to meet up with her parents and fly together to their home state of Kerala. NyaRhagu was intrigued with the music of John McLaughlin’s Shakti on my iPod, which, although of Indian origin, she had never heard of, save a few bars of a track apparently having been used for some commercial. After touchdown around 03h30 local time, the baggage appeared to take forever to find its way onto the carousel. As I made my way through the arrival hall’s exit towards the pick-up zone, I found myself in the emidst of a deluge the region is renowned for in the monsoon season. The competition between taxi operators trying to collar your business is stiff and I found myself being followed relentlessly by this guy who just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. No matter which way I turned, he trailed me like some eternal cling-on, with one hand firmly on my trolley. Even my open display of annoyance didn’t seem to deter him.
My rescuer came in the nick of time, as I spotted my name on a plaque within a sea of plaques being held up, vying for attention. My HCL-hired courier greeted me with a broad smile, then suddenly produced an umbrella which he handed to me before retrieving a scarf from his pocket to cover his head, a sacrifice somewhat reminiscent of movies depicting colonial times. Taking charge of my trolley, he strode forth ahead of me into the midst of the downpour, as I belatedly trailed after him, splashing my way through the river of water streaming across the tarmac.
I wondered why HCL colleagues who had come across to join us in the UK for a spell produced a wry smile and the characteristic lateral shake of the head at the mere mention of my even considering the possibility of hiring a car whilst in Chennai. The advice was “you don’t want to be doing that”. I was soon to find out why. The 20 km journey from Chennai Airport to the Gem Inn Resort along the IT Highway in Navalur, my accommodation for the next 5 weeks, illustrated why it was necessary to heed such sound advice. In time I’ll get to experience peak-hour traffic. Despite this being the early hours of the morning, it was an eye-opener nonetheless. You approach another car travelling in the same direction with some caution. In one instance, the driver veered across the road into our lane as we were overtaking. The counter-measure is the hooter. Hooters are used in conjunction with “brights”, in preference to indicators, to single an intention to overtake, usually on the left side of the slower vehicle. Both are equally useful when encountering stop signs en route, whilst charging through. Dogs meandered across the road in the dead of night. The uneven, somewhat pot-holed road, which I had mistaken for a main road at best, was magically elevated to the status of a highway, when we suddenly reached a toll-station! Many of the buildings that flashed by resembled a building site.
After swerving to avoid a road barrier guarded by a lone policeman, the driver made his way past a herd of cows that had made themselves at home in the middle of the road, effectively claiming it as their domain, some nonchantly lying down on the tarmac. An endearing image of India, if ever there was one. Sometime after five, we reached our destination. It took a while for someone to be summoned to reception. The entire complex, neatly adorned with trees, resembles some form of picture postcard exotic resort. The room proved a welcome surprise too. It is comfortable and spacious, complete with wi-fi and satellite tv. Not having slept at all on the flight, I hit the sack and was awoken by a call from room-service around 09h30 checking whether I still planned to show for breakfast. Breakfast was a strange affair. Whether it was down to the company I was representing or just business as usual from their perspective, being the single solitary person in the dining room, I felt self-conscious and under the spotlight, as if my every move was being observed. My breakfast order was passed down a chain of command, a bit like the “get the comfy chair” sketch in Monty Python. I must have been asked on at least three occasions whether my toast was ok. I got the feeling that in a naive yet charming sort of way, they were trying too hard to please. Nonetheless I was aware of a genuine, honest desire to engage in conversation, in contrast to the soulless, over-used, customary “you’re welcome” you are likely to encounter in the West.
Desperate to establish comms with the outside world, I checked my mobile, which had picked up a network supplier and a message from my brother in Cape Town came through. A young member of staff tried his socks off to get hold of a UK – India power adaptor, presenting it to me with a great measure of pride (one was being arranged by someone from HCL but I would only be getting it on Monday). Next was the no small matter of connecting the laptop to the hotel’s wi-fi network. If there is one area where India is not short of technical expertise, that has to be in IT. The resort’s resident IT expert came around to sort out the novice client and configure the laptop. I had to move rooms though due to a failure of my electronic door card. I decided to stay put in my new room to avoid the humidity and recover from jet lag.
Beggars can’t be choosers and so the TV sport on offer amounted to watching a bit of the qualifying stage of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, Premier League football and the India-England one-day series cricket match. In the midst of the transmission, the signal died a sudden death due to the inclement weather conditions (including lightning), so I resorted to an erratic feed via an online streaming website. I got to thinking why India would choose to spend US$309 million on the new Budhh Grand Prix circuit, when the money could equally have been put to better use elsewhere. There is the obvious desire of India to join the world stage, just as China did for the Olympics, along with the generated revenue but is it sustainable? To suggest that it would have any remote chance of challenging cricket as India’s no 1 sport is downright ludicrous!
It felt strange being in a foreign country in a hotel room on my birthday, the flow of good wishes on Facebook providing some measure of comfort. The day was rounded off by ordering a Briyani for dinner, washed down by a Kingfisher lager. The resort’s preferred mode of ordering is by merely placing an order with room service. Adjustments in getting used to the culture notwithstanding, I am looking forward to the weeks ahead and the opportunities that it offers, not least when I begin to get into the swing of things with my colleagues at HCL.
Promotional Gem Inn Resort video on YouTube. I recognise the chef in the clip – he makes a mean pasta.