Posts tagged “india”

Hindu! There are 700 million of us! (That’s super)

Sure, I’ve been getting spam for/from other continents for a long, long, long time, but still I was amused by spam I got today:

Subject: Wish You Very Happy Diwali

Dear Sir/ Madam,

Best wishes to you and your family for a Very Happy Diwali and a Pleasant,
Healthy and Prosperous New Year. May the festival of lights brighten up
your life in every possible way !!

We sincerely wish to extend our support for any of your corporate needs in
following areas. (products/services).

[snip]

Hitler’s Final Days

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Hitler Cafe
Originally uploaded by Poagao.

This MetaFilter thread has lots of the needed jokes but also many other examples in the US and elsewhere of dictator kitsch, or at least questionable political (in)sensitivity in the naming of restaurants.

And today we learn they are going to change the name of the restaurant.

I’m still facinated by the different cultural norms this exposed. In the West we’ve been laughing in confused outrage over how some cartoons could upset Muslins. But the paper yesterday had a quote from a student who said basically “Hitler was a bad man, but that doesn’t mean I can’t eat the food here.” It’s ludicrous until you stop for a minute – the connection we draw between eating at a place named after Hitler and belief or support for his actions is not necessarily a universal one. Any more than cartoon images in a Danish newspaper are understandably offensive to us.

With a name like “Death Camp” it’s got to be good

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A new restaurant in Mumbai is called “Hitler’s Cross.”

A huge portrait of a stern-looking Fuhrer greets visitors at the door. The cross in the restaurant’s name refers to the swastika [originally a Hindu icon – SP] that symbolized the Nazi regime.

“This place is not about wars or crimes, but where people come to relax and enjoy a meal,” said restaurant manager Fatima Kabani.

Now that is some serious PR spin! All you need is “our consumers tell us that…” and it’d be in the top 10 of all time.

It reads like a marketing class exercise (or dare), doesn’t it? Find some way to take the most negative thing imaginable and productize it or present it as a benefit or a brand.

30 Days in Bangalore

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Truck o’ bikes

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Browsing Cow

Yesterday’s episode of 30 days was pretty interesting. The show is hosted (and presumably created) by Morgan Spurlock and is inspired by his Super Size Me (where he ate only McDonald’s for 30 days). In each episode, someone tries something different for 30 days, with some Reality TV flavoring (i.e., next week, an athiest lives with a family of fundamentalists). The better episodes are more documentary in nature and less sensastionalist. Last season, Morgan and his girlfriend moved from NYC to another town for 30 days and tried to live on minimum wage. It was one of the most moving and disturbing things I’d seen on TV (it’s a failure, and we learn pretty directly about enormous problems faced by our society; especially the poor).

Last night’s episode featured a recently laid off software engineer from New York State moving to Bangalore for 30 days, living with a family and working in a call center. The previews were funny and wacky, a big doughy white guy sitting in a room full of brown people taking lessons in pronunciation – but the episode itself was very emotional on many levels.

My chest tightened as I watched our guy, Chris, struggle with the basic Maslow stuff that India makes challenging – his middle-class family hosts had a hornet’s nest in the bathroom. How could Chris get a job and adapt to this new culture if he couldn’t even clean himself safely? We see broken sidewalks and dirty signs and crowds and crazy traffic.

But Chris goes deeper and develops (what we are told are) deep relationships with his host family, with some touching departure stuff by the end of the episode. He’s an interesting guy, and I was reminded at times of the Michael Moore from TV Nation (or maybe a bit of Louis Theroux [deep aside: I see that Theroux had an early gig on TV Nation – small world]), where Chris was participating in the experience (say, going shopping in a fancy Bangalore mall, or attending a festival, or taking a test to qualify for a call center job, or visiting a placement agency), but also observing the experience (some tightly written and insightful voice-overs suggested that Chris was spontaneously uttering brilliant insights but I imagine it was written by others and added much later) and also provoking the experience by asking questions, persistently. When the city is exploding in riots over the death of a legendary actor and the call center is being evacuated, Chris stops to ask questions about what is happening, and why. I imagined myself taking immediate action but not spending a single second to inquire if it would delay my passage to safety (in an environment where feeling safe is obviously rare).

Chris (and we, the audience) leave Bangalore with some powerful perspective shifts. He’s seen how hard the Indians are trying to succeed, how little so many of them have, the challenges and changes between traditional and modern (“American” and “Indian”), and between men and women. And then casting all that back into the frame of his own situation – a newborn baby and being out of work.

The show runs Wednesday at 10 and again at 11, on FX. It looks like this episode (“Outsourcing”) will be rerun on Morning morning just after midnight and at 11:30 PM. Check it out!

With every trend, comes a counter-trend, and a counter-trend?

With every trend, comes a counter-trend, and a counter-trend? We’ve seen Indians come to Silicon Valley to be successful, and then last year we heard about successful Silicon Valley immigrants from India returning home to be more successful, and now we’ve got Silicon Valley folks (Americans from Indian and non-Indian backgrounds) who are moving to India (not just for jobs, but for life lessons)

Dharma Sears, 27, who also grew up in Oakland, said he was seeking a different kind of employment when he landed his first job at a private Indian school. He now teaches at the American Embassy School in New Delhi.

India made a lot of sense,” he said. “It’s an English-speaking country. I could find a job in a school easily enough.”

Living in Europe didn’t appeal to Sears. “I wanted to be in a country starkly different. India is a changing and dynamic country.”

Ashok Bardhan, senior economist at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, said that India is facing a shortage of skilled workers and while the large majority of employees inside any one company is still Indian, there is a concerted effort to recruit from abroad.

Indian Americans are especially attractive because they can easily adapt, Bardhan said. “They’re a bridge between a different business culture practices in the U.S. and India. This is the key competitive advantage.”

He added: “There’s quite a significant number of people working at software companies. And at relatively higher positions are folks from the Bay Area.”

Statistics are hard to come regarding the number of young Americans landing jobs in India. Seasoned observers have noted a small but growing number over the past five years.

Robert Hetzel, director of the American Embassy School, said working in India has become a resume builder for many young Americans.

“You can’t pick up a news magazine without (reading) an article about the growth of the economy and the opportunities that are here,” he said. Young Americans “see it as a stepping-stone to a global economy. It says you’ve been in one of the drivers of that economy, India.”

India’s fast growing high-tech and banking companies need skilled employees. Infosys Chief Financial Officer Mohandas Pai said his company has grown from 500 to 50,000 workers in 12 years and has hired many young Americans.

Americans used to say “Go west, young man,” said Pai. “Now it’s go east. With the rise of India and China as economic powers, we are seeing life-changing opportunities here.”

Cultural adjustments come along with working in India for young, single Americans. Erik Simonsen, a 26-year-old native of Riverside, earns a low-six-figure salary working with the investment banking research firm Copal Partners in New Delhi. He rents a nice three-bedroom apartment with cable TV and paid utilities for $400 a month. But he can’t get a date.

“It’s not a place where you just approach somebody and introduce yourself,” he said. “There are expectations from the family. They usually date people from their own communities.”

With a smile, he admitted, “I’ve spent a lot of nights on the couch by myself.”

Hetzel said social life constitutes the biggest worry for his teaching staff. If American staff decide to leave India, he said, “that’s probably the No. 1 reason. They have not been able to create a social life for themselves. Culturally, that’s challenging here.” Single women face the same problem. Couples tend to marry much younger in India than in the United States. By the time a woman hits her late 20s, Indians “think something’s wrong if you’re not married,” said Hetzel. Nightclubs rarely attract single people in their late 20s or 30s.

“All the eligible men are married,” he said.

India has other downsides. Young American transplants immediately notice the poverty and crowded conditions. Simonsen said the first time he emerged from the New Delhi airport, it seemed as if people were “stacked on top of each other.”

“Then you snake into the parking lot and then into a rickety cab,” he said. “At 1 a.m., the highway is packed with trucks, honking, and you’re weaving in and out of them. It’s a pretty crazy first couple of hours when you get here.”

All the Americans interviewed for this story said, despite the difficulties, they wouldn’t give up the experience of living in India. They praised the opportunity to work at interesting jobs and immerse themselves in another culture.

Simonsen said he expects more Americans to head east. “A lot of Indians now in Silicon Valley are coming home, and they’re taking some of their western co-workers back with them,” he said.

“There’s an excitement here that we haven’t seen since the dot-com boom.”

The Ethnography of Marketing (or, rather, the marketing of Ethnography!)

The Ethnography of Marketing is another BusinessWeek piece about, well, ethnography. (It should be entitled The Marketing of Ethnography, perhaps).

The Institute of Design…[has] developed the User Insight Tool, an ethnographic methodology designed specifically for business. It relies on disposable cameras, field notebooks, and special software that teases out new understandings from consumer observations.

How does the User Insight Tool work? Researchers decide what human behaviors they want to observe. They give observers disposable cameras to take photos of those activities. With pictures in hand, researchers talk to the people using a standard framework outlined in their field notebooks. The goal is to understand each person’s activities over a number of dimensions such as comfort level and product use. The notes are analyzed and entered into the software along with general insights and the original field notes.

The software lets the researchers look for similarities among all the insights gleaned from the different subjects. It organizes them graphically on the computer screen so large patterns of similarities appear as dense patches or clusters. The value of clustering is that it can reveal hidden patterns of behavior.

Interesting. The Institute of Design has been talking about this tool for a while now, and this is as close to an actual description as we’re probably going to ever get. It’s still remarkably opaque. Is this some advanced Artificial Intelligence system that does Natural Language Processing? That would be surprising to see emerge from the ID, wouldn’t it? If not, then perhaps the article is suggesting that the “observations” that are entered into the system must be put into a set of categories (pre-defined?) and then it does some rudimentary sorting on them? For it’s the creation of that categories that seems enormously challenging.

In science, you can determine your parameters ahead of time; you can even set up all your stats before you do your data collection. But in fieldwork, you don’t really know what the categories are, you can hypothesize, but the pattern recognition has to let you go broader than you imagined (that’s why you are doing this in the first place!).

I’m always a little nervous when I see a piece of technology emerge as the panacea to complex human problem (and we see this all the time, either it’s software, or hypnotism, or MRIs or something else presumably objective). In this case, we’ve got messy people (those who we study) and a slippery skill set (doing ethnography). And it seems that the story here is throwing some gizmo at the problem to eliminate that. Are the people doing the “observations” considered ethnographers or are they simply data collectors working to a script?

There’s always a market for short-cuts, easy answers, quick-and-dirty solutions. Although their case studies sound intriguing from the little bit of detail we’ve been given, I would want to know much much more about what they’re actually doing to get to these results.

When the Institute of Design compared the ethnographic data of both the P&G and Lenovo studies, it found that while the kitchen is the center of family activity in the U.S., the parents’ bed is the family social center in India. This is vital information for any company making global consumer entertainment products.

Is “the parents’ bed is the family social center in India” an ethnographic insight or something that any Indian would be able to tell you? On that note, Dina Mehta has documented a whole series of Indian cultural norms around business, consumption and beyond. It’s a brilliant reference piece. Check ’em out: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Water, Water, Everywhere

A few weeks ago we went to see Water at the SF International Asian American Film Festival. Truly an amazing film and absolutely to be seen in the theater, not on your little TV. I hadn’t seen any of the other films in the Elemental Trilogy (Fire, Earth), but had heard great things about this film from my family.

It tells tells the story of a community of widows in India, forced, by religion/economics to live our the rest of their lives in an unfulfilled state – in poverty, no pleasure (i.e., fried foods or sweets) permitted, no remarriage, nothing by prayer and begging. When a woman is valueless, there is no choice, and when a girl is married off at 8 for her dowry, and the much older man dies, she is basically an abandoned person for the rest of her natural life. Horrifying premise, that was and is true.

The story of the making of the film is as amazing as the film itself. Director Deepa Mehta told the story afterwards of the original production, shut down by fundamentalists in India, leaving her to fume for 4 years before shooting again in Sri Lanka. That story seems to be getting a lot of ink, appearing in the New York Times (and a several similar pieces in the SF Chron over the past few days), and documented in the story of a camera assistant as well in the just published Shooting Water, by the director’s daughter. I started the book on the trip to Toronto and it’s interesting, if a bit youthful in tone. I’ve only just started and thankful for the detail and so much explanation as to the aspects of Indian culture and environments that help my understanding of the film; mind you, I wish someone had proofread the book enough to correct her reference to the Bradbury Building as the Ray Bradbury Building.

The Overlap Blog launches

The Overlap Blog has launched, hoping to start a bit of dialog in advance of the event.

I found inspiration in this quote from the introduction to Story-Wallah: Short Fiction from South Asian Writers by Shyam Selvadurai

“What kind of writer do you consider yourself to be? Are you a Canadian writer or a Sri Lankan writer?”

It is perplexing, this matter of cultural identity, and I am tempted, like some other writers of multiple identities, to reply grumpily, “I’m just a bloody writer. Period.”

Yet this response would be disingenuous. I suppose I could answer, “Sri Lankan-Canadian writer,” or “Canadian-Sri-Lankan writer.” But this also does not get to the heart of what i consider my identity to be as a writer (and we are talking of my writing identity here). For in terms of being a writer, my creativity comes not from “Sri Lankan” or “Canadian” but precisely from the space between, that marvelous open space represented by the hyphen, in which the two parts of my identity jostle and rub up against each other like tectonic plates, pushing upwards the eruption that is my work. It is from this space between that the novels come.

India pics posted to flickr

I have completed the mammoth task of editing and posting all my Asia pictures to flickr, with the completion today of the set from India (Mumbai and Bangalore). Previously: Bangkok and Hong Kong. All told, about 650 pictures.

Whew.

I’ve written two long pieces (and many smaller pieces on this blog) about our trip. An article for Core77 here and a more personal assessment here.

The process of taking time and reviewing the pictures with increasing distance from the event is pretty interesting, giving me a chance to reflect and revisit, to see things that I certainly didn’t see at the time I opened the shutter, and through the interactions on flickr, to gain insight and clarifications about things I observed but did not understand, especially with the pictures from India, where a pretty good dialogue has emerged (seen in the comments posted on the various pictures in that set Oops, not any more). The document of the experience is scattered, the interactions are scattered, but as the publisher of this content, I’m personally at the hub of all of it, so I’m taking full advantage. But clearly technology (even the ability to take several hundred pictures on a two week trip) is enabling some powerful behaviors; we know this, of course, but stepping back and noticing it is always pretty cool.

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Bombay Sapphire, anyone?


Low-cost airline pilot ‘tried to fly drunk’

An Indian low-cost airline suspended a pilot after he was found drunk shortly before he was due to fly an aircraft with about 100 passengers on board, officials said on Wednesday.

The surprise Tuesday check at Mumbai airport — India’s busiest — threw up several minor violations of safety norms by airlines, including an instance of a pilot in another low-cost carrier trying to fly in a T-shirt because his only uniform had gone to the laundry.

“threw up several minor violations” is an interesting choice of words.

Bombay Sapphire, anyone?

Is the Next Silicon Valley Taking Root in Bangalore?

When I spoke at Easy6 earlier this year, some of the speakers reminded their audience that companies were doing business in India becaus of the innovation spirit, not because it was cheaper. There is some evidence that it’s actually cheaper elsewhere, even. I wondered at the time how much of that was just blowing smoke; a big lie that people have bought into so they can have pride and work hard and not be seen as America’s Call Center, etc. So it was cool to see an American perspective supporting that supposition in the New York Times.

Read-Ink, one of the self-financed operations, is developing an advanced handwriting recognition software that can read scanned forms, claim forms, medical records and even digital tablets.

Its founders, Thomas O. Binford, a retired computer science professor from Stanford University, and his wife, Ione, a former manager at Hewlett-Packard, arrived here four years ago with five suitcases. They say they are now close to signing up their first business customer.

The signs of this shift toward high-value work are becoming more visible. Executives at Silicon Valley Bank, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif., and provides consulting services to technology and venture capital firms, said they were seeing twice as many Indian start-ups looking for capital investment than even a few months ago.

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