Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Leaving Home--Coming Home

Which person in this picture does not belong?

Wrong question!

Although the pale man second from the right was born on a different continent, in a different generation, the other men made him one of their own. I write this sitting in our home in Bangalore as our belongings are being packed in boxes to be shipped to our home in Vermont.

So it is time to say thank you to the men (and the few women--Ramya, sisters are part of the band of brothers) of the IBM Bangalore SRDC (Semiconductor Research and Development Center) for the way they have made our time here truly wonderful. We arrived at 1:00 am on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, but Shyam and Prabhu were there to meet us. Muthu, Srinivas, Debprasad, Ananth and Sourabh included us in their weddings. (Not to mention Madan, who is part of Burlington SRDC but came to India to get married.) Many, many other IBMers took care of us in many ways. I will only mention "mother" Govind who advised us not to eat anything in the cafeteria except cheese sandwiches and chips, and repeatedly warned me about the dangers of riding my bicycle on the streets of Bangalore. Both these pieces of advice I decided to ignore, but much of his advice on how to manage in India was very helpful. For example, he taught how to write a check in India. (It's different here, where "only the paranoid survive".)

One of my early struggles in India was getting my travel expense accounts approved. I complained loudly enough that a second line manager from "inbound assignments" came to visit me. I asked why this was so much harder here than in the US and he replied "We start with the assumption that every Indian is a crook." The good thing he did for me was assign me to an administrative assistant. After a couple of "admins" who didn't last long, I ended up with Leena. Leena is the admin for the VP in charge of India software labs and she sits on the other side of Bangalore, so I rarely see her. But whatever I need, whether arranging travel or getting reimbursed, she just makes it happen. If I need special approval from business finance to take a more expensive flight, she gets it; if I lose my boarding passes (required for reimbursement) she takes care of it.

Bangalore SRDC is part of ISL-TES (India Software Labs - Technology Engineering Something-re-rather). There are way too many acronyms in India for me to keep them all in my head. But I did want to mention that Pamela, our director made an effort to connect me to people across her organization all of whom all immediately accepted me as part of the team.

We got that same kind of warm welcome from virtually everyone we met in India. A few of these people were hoping to separate a couple of "rich Americans" from a little of their money, but most are simply very warm friendly people from a culture which highly values hospitality. If I stop my bicycle on the street and look at the map, someone will invariable come to see if I need help. Very few people in India can actually read a map, but generally they know where they are which is more than I do. There is a man who has a small news-stand on my way to work. He calls out "Hello, Sir" and waves to me every morning. Our connection: one Saturday I stopped at the tap across the street to take pictures of people getting water. He came over to say Hi and ask me to take his picture in his stand. I know I have that picture on my home computer and on a CD backup but the computer is packed the the CDs were organized to maximize packing density, not ease of access.
We quickly found a church home at Richmond Town Methodist Church based on the recommendation of a friend in Vermont and the fact that they invited Donna to sing with the choir the first day we were there.
The community at Maangalya Residences (our apartment complex) also made us feel at home. Dhana and Nilesh got up in the middle of the night to take Luna (our dog) to the vet when she went into seizures after eating rat poison. (Luna survived, although it was a pretty scary). And Simran who lived in the apartment across the hall helped Donna write out instructions for putting on a sari before we went off to our first Indian wedding. Simran also has the only pair of female legs (except Donna's) I ever saw in India. In Bangalore you do see women in western clothes, usually jeans, but Simran is the only woman I have seen in shorts. Simran went to college in the U.S., and is the most westernized of Donna's friends.

And of course the two Indians who did the most to help us during our stay are Joseph, our driver and Jaya, our housekeeper. Joseph and I had a discussion early in our time here that went something like this:

Me: Joseph, I'll need you to take me to the airport on Sunday evening, will that be alright? (Sunday is Joseph's day off)

Joseph: Yes sir. I am your driver only. No other work for Joseph.

Me: Yes, I know driving for us is your only job, but you are also a father and a husband and you have your own life.

Joseph: Oh no, sir. I am your driver only. If you need me, I am coming. 2 O clock in the morning, I am coming.

Me: But you're entitled to a day off that you can plan on.

Joseph: Oh no, sir. If you call me late, one bus is not there. Then I can take one auto and I am coming.

Me: Thank you Joseph.

Joseph: Welcome sir. I am your driver only. If you need me, I am coming.

Because Jaya mostly worked when I was at the office I mainly knew her via the food she cooked, which was always good, if sometimes a little spicy. She never got familar enough with me to stop calling me "master". But Donna calls her "my housefriend" and says Jaya is the wife she always needed. Jaya was always loyal, hard working, and so determined to do a good job that if Donna gave her extra work to do or they talked extra long one day, Jaya would still refuse to leave until she was done with all the work she usually does, or thinks we need done. She is a trusted adviser, translator, "mother", and friend.
Family connections are very strong in India and Jaya & Joseph's families also became a part of our lives. On Donna's birthday one year, Joseph arrived in the morning with two daughters, a daughter-in-law, four grandchildren, flowers, 2 cards, and a birthday cake. A birthday party delivered to our door. Notice Luna sandwiched in between David and Sharon...all of Joseph's & Jaya's grandchildren loved Luna...and vice-a-versa.

This picture shows Donna with Jaya and her husband Ram, listening to a guide when we toured a Hoysala temple near Hassan in southern Karnataka.

We will miss warm January nights, flowers blooming everywhere, all the time, women who dress like flowers and India's rich landscape of historic and cultural sights. But mostly we will miss the people of India. We will miss them but we will hold them always in our hearts.

God bless India!


Karen said...

And we will miss your beautiful pictures and wonderful descriptions of your life in India! I sure have enjoyed "getting to know" your other home far away and seeing the bright and happy colors and peoples of India. So long India, we will miss the stories of your lives. K

Anonymous said...

Hey neighbors, we're looking forward to your return to Vermont, although this blog and these wonderful stories are making me miss India by proxy, through your evocative writing. Thank you for this blog, for the picture of the holi'ed goat, and for all of it. See you soon!

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