The redoubtable Mark Twain once said, ” [India is] the One land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” However one should also be careful if not wary of the glimpses offered by one of the world’s most ancient civilizations. India is a throbbing, pulsating macrocosm nurturing a myriad mysteries and plethora of paradoxes. The world’s second fastest growing economy can be a bewildering study in contrasts. As a result of its unique and teeming diversity, while India’s own citizens have problems grasping each other’s nuances, this conundrum increases manifold when a foreigner tries to unravel its innate intricacies. Nowhere is this enigma more apparent than in the professional sector. The working professional in India brings to the fore an inimitable set of attributes that has surprising manifestations in so far as aspects such as man and time management (or mismanagement as may be appropriate), bureaucracy and hierarchy, language etc. are concerned. We Indians like to “prepone” meetings while at the same time failing to show up for one; always address our superiors as ‘Sir’, which has nothing to do even remotely with a past or potential knighthood and have an incredibly elastic notion of time. When an Indian says he will be at a meeting by “9 ish” it is just the preliminary approach for negotiation and not a commitment of any sort.
It is exactly these kind of complexities and much more that Aarti Kelshikar attempts to unravel in her engaging and compelling book, “How India Works, Making Sense of a Complex Corporate Culture.” (“the book”). While not an authoritative manual that dissects and expounds on the cultural anthropology that is unique to India, the book is a very honest examination of some of the common dilemmas faced by both expatriates as well as repatriates (a repatriate is an Indian who after prolonged stints working overseas, returns to his country of origin) in acclimatizing with the work culture in India. As admitted by Ms. Kelshikar herself, the book neither offers ‘quick fix’ solutions nor silver bullets but merely acts as a reliable guide post in informing and educating the unaware about certain common distinctions that are unique to the Indian environment and ethos.
In going about her work, Ms. Kelshikar has interviewed a multitude of people having variegated experience working in Multinationals based both within India and overseas. The fact that Ms. Kelshikar herself is a certified facilitator of Cultural Intelligence from the Cultural Intelligence Centre in the US in addition to being a certified executive coach from the International Neuro Leadership Group invests a great degree of credibility and authenticity to her words. The key findings are corroborated with recourse to published research outcomes. For example, in expounding upon the ‘hierarchy-ridden mindset’ that is prevalent in India, Ms. Kelshikar draws our attention to the work of Geert Hofstede, a Dutch psychologist, responsible for developing a six-dimensional model explaining differences between national cultures. In one of the dimensions called the Power Distance Index (“PDI”), India scores highly with a tally of 77. PDI is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. Similarly, while attempting to educate the unsuspecting reader into the workings of ‘Jugaad’ (loosely translated as a “hack”, it could also refer to an innovative fix or a simple work-around, a solution that bends the rules, or a resource that can be used in such a way. It is also often used to signify creativity: to make existing things work, or to create new things with meager resources.), a concept inevitable and invariable to the Indian way of going about things, Ms. Kelshikar draws the readers’ attention to the indispensable book, “Jugaad Innovation: A Frugal and Flexible Approach to Innovation for the 21st Century by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja.
From talking about the heartening notions of Indian Hospitality to the frustrating management of the Indian Stretchable Time, Ms. Kelshikar’s book makes for some absorbing reading. Of special mention is her final chapter titled, “Sugar Spice and Some Advice”, which sheds light on some quintessential dos and don’ts. A professional making his way to India would be none the less wise if she was to pick a copy of Ms. Kelshikar’s book before she boards the flight to India for she might not find a copy of this book at the airport and moreover the Indian airport would be infinitely noisier than the one from which she boarded her flight!