Power - Reality and Illusion: Aug. 28th
It’s been a tough day. First I had to chew out two employees for performing their work carelessly, and then an excellent employee told he that he wanted to know why I though his work was so substandard. I was shocked. Hadn’t I just a week ago told him that he was doing an excellent job, and that I was glad he was here? "Yes", he replied, "But your actions don’t agree with your word - you no longer ask me to see you and you ignore me". A tear dripped from his eye.
Clearly there was a cultural gap that I had not anticipated. My style of management is to closely monitor an employee until they show they are capable of working with less supervision. Gradually I withdraw, and leave them the freedom to work as they wish, taking on more and more responsibility. This chap had viewed it as precisely the opposite - he was no longer important in my eyes, he claimed, since I chose to ignore him. "What had he done so poorly in his work that he deserved this kind of cold shoulder"? I had sent him home for the weekend for a break, since he had worked every day for four weeks in a row. "What had he done that I no longer wished him to work so hard"? We had to have a long discussion about values across cultures.
I was really surprised! Sanjay told me that this happened in certain Indian cultures, such as the previous company that the employee worked for (a government institution). In such a culture, the peon who carries the files is considered to have more status and power than the head’s assistant. Why? Because the peon can read the files and knowledge is power. Similarly, by leaving this employee free to conduct his work, he felt out of the mainstream of the company's important issues. Simply touching base with me on a daily basis made him feel important and empowered.
B.S.’ing With the Boys: Aug. 29th
Yesterday was Rakasha Bandan day. On this day, sisters give their brothers a ceremonial thread, known as a rakhi that is worn on the brother’s wrist. In return for his sister’s lifelong fealty, a brother promises to always take care of the sister. By tradition, once you tie a rakhi on someone, you are honor bound to do it every year. The tradition has expanded, and now girls will give rakhis to boys they care for in a brotherly way. The key word is brotherly. If a chap gets a rakhi from a girl he has more than sisterly affection for, it means that she no longer regards him as a potential mate.
A bunch of "us guys" got together this evening and for the first time since I’ve come to India we had a genuine all-male bull session. We joked around about rakhis, women, temples, and anything male.


Anant has been wearing a beautiful gold and cotton rakhi. It turns out that Anant and Kumar have been P.G.s (paying guests) at a family where there are two unmarried daughters. Anant was quick to ask the younger daughter to give him a rakhi. The older daughter won’t give Anant even a second glance (although Anant is quite handsome, and quite a catch financially). So the rakhi freed him from any more intention on the part of the younger daughter. I asked if it was cool to show up to school or work with a bunch of rakhis on your arm. No was the answer — you then became a sister’s boy (aka mama’s boy). In fact, on Rakasha Bandan day, many boys and men stay away from school and work because they don’t want to be seen with rakhis on.
Rakhis function like anti-mistletoe. Bhaskar told me a story about one of his classmates who had been given a rakhi by a girl he had fallen in love with. The poor chap had already build an elaborate fantasy world about marrying the beautiful and stylish lady, having two kids, etc. His hopes now dashed, he cried inconsolably in the back of the class all day. Meanwhile the rest of the boys were gleeful. The competition had been reduced.
So how does one go about courting a girl, I asked? One has to do it indirectly, and with utmost discretion. When you visit a girl you visit the family. To talk directly to her would be considered impolite and rude by the parents. To be with her alone would be to invite scandal and humiliation. Bhaskar told a story about coming home from Singapore and greeting some new engineers at IBM. He extended his hand out to a young girl, and she sniffed at him, and held her hand tight. How dare he be so forward as to want to touch her. I told him that I shook hands with everyone at interviews. He laughed and said that I was making sexual advances. I laughed and told him I was just getting the culture set up. General laughter on both sides!
My remark that avoiding humiliation seemed to be a big thing in India got everyone’s agreement. I said that pride was a stronger value in America; people won’t do things not because of fear of humiliation, but because it is beneath their pride. The response was that Hinduism teaches you that pride is a sin.
Bhaskar is a 29 year old Brahmin and single. Shailesh commented that he was most fortunate that his mother had not forced him into marriage yet. Bhaskar replied that he was used to the rituals of being a M.E.B. (Most Eligible Bachelor) and knew to hang his head down in the proper humble way. Apparently in Brahmin families second cousins are the preferred materials for wives. A general discussion ensued about the correct genetics but I lost track when they started to talk about only on the second sister’s cousin’s side, etc. Indians have very specific names for all relations in the family tree, and I get lost when they easily translate a given name to things like "father’s sister’s son’s third cousin on the aunt’s side". A more general discussion then ensued about Brahminism and the various types of Brahmins. This inevitably led to my favorite subject - temples of Kerala.


I told Shailesh about my wanting to visit the temple where people talk filth. He has wisely pointed out that I don’t speak the language, so how am I going to know what’s going on. Instead he suggested I visit the all-powerful, trance temple, ruled by a goddess who is most powerful during her menstrual cycle. Alternatively he suggests I go to the naga temple.
The trance temple has a ceremony once a month during the menstrual period of the goddess. Huge pots of water mixed with kum-kum, the red vermilion powder used for decoration, are offered to the goddess. Shailesh had an aunt who had substantial difficulties, having lost a husband and a son. She was now considered to be slightly unstable mentally, and the priests all agreed that the best thing for her was to pay a visit to the "trance" temple. Shailesh had known and lived with his aunt for 15 years, and remarked that she was not given to trancelike behavior. He said the minute she entered the temple walls she fell into a trance and started hopping about. She did this for about three hours straight and then fainted. He was astonished to see a 200-pound woman jumping three feet into the air, repeatedly, for four hours until she too fainted. In the courtyard there was a banyan tree which had old rusty nails driven into it. Spaced out women were using their foreheads as hammers to drive the nails into the tree as an act of obescience to the goddess. Blood streaming from their foreheads, they went to the priests to be smeared with holy ash, so they could commence more hammering. Shailesh assured me that no foreign substances were taken, and that the trance was purely spontaneous; it occurred only for the women, and only for some women, not all. I told him I had seen things like this at a Grateful Dead show, but they were not naturally induced. Shailesh assures me that this is the genuine thing.
The other temple Shailesh recommended was the naga temple. Naga means snake, and naga worship is considered one of the oldest forms of Hindu worship, preceding Indira and Krishna worship. A village of snakes is considered a holy place, and is given the name nagar; hence nagar has come to mean village in Southern India (our town is called Indiranagar). This particular temple is where snakes gather to commune. How the snakes come, Shailesh didn’t know, but come they do. Cobras, pythons, kraits, snakes of all kinds and types come to commune with the gods, and to be worshipped by the people who seek their blessings. "Has anyone ever been bitten?" No, was the answer. "So what happens?" It turns out thousands of snakes gather at the site, and caress the feet off the worshipers outside. Inside the temple, you are allowed into the sanctum sanctorium, the holiest place, where the lights are intentionally dim and few. Gradually your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, and you realize that every surface of the temple, floors, ceilings, and walls, is crawling, and writhing with snakes. "Holy Indiana Jones" I remarked, to which Bhaskar laughed and replied, "Now that's an American comment".
I absolutely have to go with Steve Garrison and Satish Kumar.