Tuesday, July 10, 2007

India, Week 2: Corporate Culture Shock

The corporate culture in Hyderabad seems much more to-the-point than its New York counterpart. The New York office provides motivation by convincing us that we care and that, by performing our hedgefundly duties (in my case, telling people to reboot), we make the company, nay world, a better place. The Hyderabad office doesn't bother with such subtlety. Management has postered the walls with blatant aphorisms like "Are you a good match?" (with a picture of a lit match) and "Knock the T out of CAN'T!," whose advice once followed still leaves a trailing apostrophe.

This mode of inspiration extends to the bathrooms (which boast air freshener in both "jasmine" and "sandal" flavors) and even the cafeteria, which doubles as the venue for staff meetings/dance contests. (Yes, that's a slash.) Figuring that employees might overlook inspirational posters while eating (or meeting/dancing), the decorators opted for inspirational murals instead. Across the walls, windows, and awnings, billboard-size prints of sporting events proclaim "Be a sport!" and "Go team!" However, the events which the murals depict are jai-alai (a Basque sport where you hurl a ball at your opponent's head) and bull fighting (the same principle with the ball replaced by a charging bull), both of which seem less about building teams than whittling them down most bloodily.

My Hyderabadi coworkers are similarly to-the-point in any expressions of corporate disgruntlement. They circulate messages across the departmental mailing lists with subjects like "Why u should work at google," "Funnies!" (comics where every punch line is a variation of "I became a manager so I wouldn't have to work"), and "How a woman can loose 20 pounds!" (Answer: "Wash off her makeup." Well, yes, if jai-alai doesn't do the trick.)

Neither the managers nor the managed take any great strides to conceal their tactics, which makes my job (training the helpdesk) all the more interesting. At the initial meeting, when introducing the new Helpdesk policies, it fell to me to answer the question "why." Namely, why do we need to adopt the new policies? The short answer (which is probably already on a poster) is, "Do it, or you're fired." The answer which I gave: "As a global support mechanism, Helpdesk needs to provide a consistent support experience to all users regardless of locale." To my credit, I kept a straight face. And, if you saw me in The Crucible (or "excruciable" as some called it), you know acting is beyond the scope of my abilities.

Given the mores of cultural sensitivity, it might seem difficult to enact new policies in a foreign office. Luckily, I'm ignorant enough of Indian culture that sensitivity isn't even on my radar. I like to think I'm following in the footsteps of my roommate Mike who slept through Teach for America's sensitivity training and later wondered why parents complained when he threatened to deport their children.

But Hyderabad extends well beyond the office, and I've used my weekends to explore. This past Sunday, for instance, I visited Ramoji Film City on my driver's recommendation ("moviecitymoviecity!"). Lonely Planet calls it "the Universal Studios of Bollywood," which I think is a fair assessment. Imagine Universal Studios, however, if you'd never seen Jaws, Psycho, Back to the Future, or any American film. I, alas, have no knowledge of Indian cinema, aside from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (moral: Indians enjoy open-heart surgery) and Bombay Dreams, a musical about Bollywood which I saw during its infinitesimal Broadway run. (When ticket sales started to flounder, members of the all-Indian cast were replaced with black American Idol finalists. The producers figured "close enough.")

Ramoji Film City is a theme park based on equal parts Bollywood and plagiarizing Disneyland: its multiple regions include "Adventure Land," "Fantasy Land," and "Frontier Land"; the walls are painted with characters bearing a suspicious resemblance to Baloo and Mowgli; and, wherever you go, there are costumed characters and dancers in garish attire performing the hits of the nineties. (The Macarena didn't die. It migrated to Ramoji Film City.) However, Mr. Ramoji also plagiarizes that most dubious of Disney attractions, the Small World ride.

I boarded this "attraction" through no fault of my own. Nothing is labeled in the park, so I followed a group of people into a line and, before I knew it, was strapped into a vehicle on a forced voyage through room after room of animatronic children extolling the glories of their indigenous nations through song. Dozens of locales were included—India, Kansas, the Alps—even fictional locations, like the land of Oz and the country of Palestine. I particularly enjoyed their depiction of Times Square, which consisted of children in gold lamé coats huddling around the Statue of Liberty and punching each other. (Really.) Fistfights aside, the animatronics were limited to oscillating heads (the head wobble's everywhere), but the species of those oscillating differed between locales. In the India room, children bobbed in time to the music; in Kansas, it was sunflowers; in the Alps, yeti. Plagiarizing its Small World source a bit further, the ride broke down while I was in the middle of the Istanbul room, leaving me to watch animatronic children smoke a hookah for the better part of an hour.

Once free from that monstrosity, I was reluctant to try any other rides, so I decided to watch a show instead. (Actually, that's not quite true. I couldn't find any rides that were open during the shows since the operators double as the performers.)

First up was the Wild West Stunt Spectacular! The performance was enacted with a combination of pantomime and explosion, but, having a degree in Theatre Studies, I think I got the gist of it. A group of Western thugs—played by Hyderabadi in jeans and tasseled vests—walk into a saloon with a disco ball. After milking a fiberglass cow, two women also enter the disco saloon. The thugs start harassing them, as denoted by some ominous gong music. Fortunately, the women are Asian, so they know karate. Unfortunately, they're women and, as such, unable to cause physical harm to men. Things are looking grim. In the nick of time, our hero enters (*trumpet*) and is attacked by the thugs (GONG!). Fortunately, he's also Asian, so he does some karate, and all looks well. Unfortunately, the thugs have grenades (GONGGONGGONG)! But, that's okay, the hero has grenades, too. (Technically, the women had the grenades, but they did their part by giving the grenades to the man so that he could throw them.) There are a couple explosions, one of which takes out the fiberglass cow, and the good guys emerge victorious. You may scoff, but this was way deeper than Coram Boy.

Next was the Hilarious Comedy Show. (That's its official title which, I suppose, should have been my first warning.) Unlike the Wild West Stunt Spectacular!, which had its own theatre, the Hilarious Comedy Show was performed in an open courtyard. Due to the lack of acoustics, amplification, or a national language, the writers decided to forgo dependence on the spoken word and instead settle on that most reliable of comic devices: a midget in a yellow jumpsuit. Here's the plot: a midget in a yellow jumpsuit is a Bollywood star. However, the camera's too tall, so it can't film the midget. They take the legs off the camera and put it on the ground. They are now able to film the midget. They accidentally film the midget's butt. The end.

At this point, I conceded defeat and headed home for dinner.

Continued >>

 Ramoji Film City, Bollywood's take on Universal Studios with some dancing midgets thrown in.

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