When Fortune Smiles: May 7th
Letters from home today include a note from a young Indian engineer studying at the University of Michigan. This student has become an "old friend" in the last six months. He is working on getting his masters in the field of signal processing and communications. Needless to say his studies are intimidating and difficult, but he is enjoying the experience of being a foreigner in America.
I met the student through his father, while applying for a visa to work in India. This is a suitable warm-up experience for dealing with India. You get a feel for Indian procedures while still being in America.
For my first visit to India, Steve Garrison and I went to the Indian consulate in San Francisco. The consulate is an Indian shell placed in an old Victorian house. When you enter, you become part of a queue inside an L-shaped corridor. The "inside" of the consulate is protected by wired glass, and two service windows made of bulletproof glass, with the usual metal grilles. It’s not unlike a gas station counter, except here the clerk will not smile for the customer.
I was surprised at first at how many items were required for a simple tourist visa. I had brought birth certificate, passport, etc., but surprise, surprise, they wanted my green card. It was back home and another day’s visit. This time I was told that it was a photocopy of my green card that was desired, not the card itself. A few hours went by, while I found a shop with a Xerox machine, got the photocopy, and got back in queue. Two or three hours later one of the two counters opened and a clerk started to return our passports with the visas stamped inside. Unfortunately, after fifteen minutes the clerk decided to take a tea break. A Sikh chap in the queue lost his cool and started yelling at the top of his lungs about how he had stood there all day, and how they were wasting his time, etc., etc.. The result was clear and expected; the clerk came back and shut the window for good. The queue now started to focus its attention on the Sikh. Feeling sympathy for the Sikh, and amused by the strangeness of it all, I looked at the folks in the corridor, and remarked "When I first came here, I didn’t understand why all the windows had wire and security protection features; now I’m beginning to understand". Lots of laughter and stories came flowing forthwith about the Indian civil service being transmigrated to America.
The next time I had to apply for a visa, it was the more prestigious business visa, and I was now the Managing Director (aka bigshot) of Apple Computers in India. I communicated to the clerk that I wanted a business visa, and he tried the usual delaying tactics of asking for more side documentation (blood certificate, medical records, employment letter, three copies of your kindergarten grades, etc.) This time I was prepared, and every request was satisfied. So the clerk did what he could, and said "Please wait, sir". Now where had I heard that before?
So I wait. Minutes later, the clerk calls my name and a back door opens up. I think "oh-oh"; I must be an unwitting fugitive from Indian justice. The clerk takes me into a little 8-foot square room. The walls are covered with post-it notes, there are 3 to 4 foot paper piles all over the place, and in the middle of the room is an older gentlemen at a desk speaking on the phone, "No madam, I cannot tell you the status of your visa.... No madam, I cannot look it up in the computer, we don’t have any computers here madam.... No madam, you will have to wait madam...." After he is done, he smiles and asks me about Apple, and its plans. I am polite and open. He then introduces himself, and gives his title as the consulate general (the big guy himself!). I reply that my mother’s maiden name is the same as his surname, and suddenly the sea parts, clouds dissolve, rainbows appear, and hossanas are heard from up on high.
Discussions about his two engineer sons ensue, as do discussions about my family, what it is like to be a computer scientist, etc. The final request clinches our friendship for life - he needs help in locating brides for his two sons, and can my mother help - hey, does a leopard have spots?
During the last six months, the consulate general and his family, his wife, two sons, and new daughter-in-law, have become close family friends with my parents and myself. A byproduct of the leisurely approach to business in India is that friendships get made unexpectedly often. I have come to value this slower, chatty, style of work, and the personal relationships that form as a result.