Moving - A Menial Experience: Aug. 12th
Well, we survived the move. The biggest challenge of the day, was the customs inspector. Forbidden from the American Foreign Practices Act of doing anything remotely illegal, I have to use ingratiating charm, and consultants with connections, to get the customs official from putting up arbitrary roadblocks.
To move from InfoSys to the Capitol Hotel requires that a customs official inspect all the goods prior to the move, and then inspect all the goods after the move. Sure enough, prior to the move the inspector found something wrong with the paperwork, and proceeded to chew out Adhi. Harini stepped into the fray with a tray of tea, nerves were soothed and the move commenced.
I had to handle the customs official at the other end - at the Capitol. Now just how do you appease an angry customs official that waits in your office for four hours? I "kindly did the needful", making him comfortable, and ordering snacks to help make small talk for the first hour. The moving agency peon, who ate with us, carefully kept his chair a respectful 6 feet away from the inspector and myself. Eventually we ran out of small talk, and since the network to VSNL was running I showed the inspector how to surf the web. It was the usual story. "So what?"... "So what are you interested in?" It turned out the magic words were ayurvedhic and diabetes. AltaVista promptly found hundreds of references to natural herbs and seeds that helped diabetes. I showed the inspector my diabetes spots, we swapped notes about family health problems, and bonding commenced.
Having a common reference, we now talked more openly about India and doing business in India. The chap held the usual misimpression about multi-national corporations doing work in India (cheap labor, low costs, etc.). I informed him that the web connection that he was enjoying so much cost us $100,000 a year and took 3 months and four people to get established, and that in the U.S. it only took 1 week, 1 person, and $240 a year. Hopefully, he will be a stronger advocate of telecomm privatization(*) when he next is asked. When he left, I thanked him profusely for being a part of our journey. We held hands, and smiled caringly at each other. It was an all-time suck-up moment. I had done well.
The rest of the evening was uneventful. We simply had to move 200 heavy boxes out of the lorry, through a long hallway, up a staircase, into an elevator, up four floors, out of the elevator, into a lobby, down a hallway, and into an office. When labor is cheap, and the owner is a lala, efficiency is the last concern of the architect.
I should add that lifting and moving things is considered incredibly menial in India. You do not move your luggage at the airport - you get a peon to do that for you. You do not move your desk in your office, you get the "office boy" to do that. Consequently, whenever I get a chance, I love to upset the hierarchy and lift some heavy thing and move it with one of my crew. This usually awakens some sleeping peon who comes running to help. Mightily embarrassed that the president is moving a big heavy thing, the peon will quickly take charge and "do the dutiful".
However I was not able to embarrass ChandraSekhar, the hotel doorman, into helping us out. Out of uniform, with his shift over, he saw Srinivas and I lifting 100-pound monitor boxes. "Don’t you have boys to do that sir?" "Yes", I said, "But we could use more help". Chandra was not going to be that menial. He had his standards, after all(**). The lorry driver also did not want to help "I’m the driver, not a mover", but some kind words from Srinivas in his native Telegu, got things started. I tipped the driver an astonishing 200 rupees for his efforts.
* A week later, the Central Bureau of Investigation (India's FBI) raided the homes and offices of Sukh Ram, the former head of the Department of Telecomm. Approximately one million US$ in cash rupee notes was found in his house, stuffed in suitcases, cupboards, drawers, pots, etc. It is estimated that the corruption scandal (Dial M for Money) will delay privatization at least one or two more years.
** Last October, ChandraSekhar asked me for an Apple T-shirt (the height of fashion in Bangalore) which I gladly provided. When the front guard found this out, he reported it to the hotel's general manager, who fired ChandraSekhar for soliciting a guest. I found out through the grapevine, and gently urged the general manager to hire him back. I didn't want ChandraSekhar's dismissal to be on my conscience. So now, ChandraSekhar is very nice; he literally owes me his job. Still, that doesn't mean he will perform menial labor.