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Thomas J. Payne Market Development

The art of Indian Business -- stay out of the sewer and avoid off wild monkey attacks in Delhi.

Don’t you just hate it when the only person you know for 6000 miles has just fallen into an open sewer!   Welcome to India!

I visited India twice in one month – by accident.

We received a request from the Indian government to investigate the market for Indian snack foods in the USA Canada and Eastern Europe.  Sounds like a long shot!  I returned from a business trip to Japan on a Wednesday morning and was off to India the same afternoon!

My first rule of the road: never stand in any line with a man in a turban!  Well this is quite difficult in a country with about a billion people in turbans.

In advance I received an e-mail from a young chap named Priyank in New Delhi.  He is typical of the Indian techno entrepreneur of today.  Skinny, wire rim glasses, a high IQ and absolutely no common sense.  He sent me a detailed map of the Delhi airport, with arrows and diagrams on where to meet.  The scribbled note on the map: look for a man with a Michigan State University shirt.

Upon arriving in Delhi, I noted at least 15 Michigan State University T shirts before customs, so I knew I was in trouble.  It takes hours to get through customs—again refer to my rule for a turbaned visitor also applies to those returning to India.

The first thing you notice in India is the pure mass of humanity.  I am very fortunate to have experience in intercollegiate football in college, as I needed the shoulder action and stiff arms to get through the crowd.  After talking with at least ten other "MSU Spartans".. I chanced upon young Priyank.  This was the only person in this nation of one billion who knew who I was, where I was going and why I was there!

We hopped in a company car, equipped with an elephant shine on the dashboard with flashing lights and a sign on the back: “honk please.”  I wondered about such a slogan but later I would understand the logic.

The international flights into Delhi are timed so the arrive after midnight.  This coincides with the city’s laws, which forbid trucks in the city until after midnight.  Although it is only ten or so miles to the Hotel Habitat Center in the middle of New Delhi, it takes more than two hours to navigate the flood of heavy trucks with the “honk please” signs on the back and the Hindu elephant god temples on the dash!

Priyank explained that everything in India was tied to religion, even the “honk please” signs!  He was a nice chap, a little too smart for himself, but again he was the only one in 6000 miles who even knew I was there!

It was wintertime in Delhi, and I marveled at the cold of the night.  Actually Priyank reported that this was the coldest spell in over a century in Delhi.  Several thousand people had already died in the streets from the cold.  I asked him how many actually dies in the streets anyway from the heat, or starvation?   He thought to himself in his Indo- Canadian mind and reckoned that indeed the cold had actually resulted in at least ten to 15 % less deaths in the streets due to the cold than the regular deaths caused by pollution or  heat!

Arriving at the Hotel Habitat World.  Of course I had no idea where I was or where I was going.  The car drove up to the Center, I think.   We stopped, and the Priyank immediately stepped out of the car and into an open manhole cover.  They make these iron manhole covers in India.  Just look at the one in your local town—they all come from India.  They steal manhole covers and melt them down and make new ones.  When they do not get covers from foreign countries, they steal their own.  At one moment, I saw poor Priyank, and then next I heard a gruesome series of pops, groans and eventually a terrible splash!  He dropped about 15 feet into the sewer.  Imagine all of the stories of India you have ever heard of the filth of India, and magnify this by ten and you are describing an Indian sewer.

I spent the first hour of the early morning in India working with a bunch of strangers to hoist poor Priyank out of the waist deep sewer filth, to the surface of a place I was not even sure of where I was.  We laid him on the hood of the car, as the driver would not allow the poor Priyank in vehicle.  Once the shock wore off, we waited at the Indian hospital waiting room, which by the way was not all that clean in itself.  After a few hours, Priyank miraculously appeared from the office, bandaged in the head, elbow, leg –but walking and talking.  Priyank was at work the next day!

Out of the sewer and into the big meeting. 

We traveled to the government ministry:  Interesting place.  In the front was a water buffalo; the floor was covered with the red of beetle nut juice.  The entire side of the building was exposed with a large gash in thin the bricks from what I later learned was a terrorist rocket attack!  There was an elevator, but next to my "turban in line rule," the "take the stairs rule" is sacred!  We went to the waiting room of the Ministry of Agriculture and waited and waited and waited.  Interesting, the Indians are used to this.   A skinny young man, they called a "peon," came out and positioned an electric fan inches from my face to ease the stuffy air in the building.  Remember this was also the coldest day of the century!  It was obvious that absolutely nothing was going on in thus government office.  There was a front office with peons running around, fetching tea from the stands several floors below.  They would not take the elevator either!  In another chamber was a friendly chap who evidently was a classmate of Priyank.  Every now and then he would scamper out of the office and whisper something to Priyank.  I could sense that Mr. Big was in another chamber several doors beyond.  This is the lair of the chief of the bureau, who everyone called the Wing Commander!

In India and most of the world, the power of the country lies in the military.  They pay the military officers next to nothing, with the implied promise that after they put in their time, they will get a choice assignment like at the Ministry of Agriculture.  Wing Commander transferred his power from the Air Force, continued to order others around.  Best of all, from time to time, Wing Commander gets to terrorize poor smart fellows like Priyank.

Hours after the appointed time, we were called to the lair of the Wing Commander!  The commander was extremely cordial to me, as I was a foreigner.   And, I would later learn  he needed some favors.   He focused on Priyank!  “I have great concerns,” he commented.  "First of all, lets discuss your case studies listed in your credentials:  Number one-- a feasibility study for frozen chickens."    In practiced speech he switched to part two of his concerns:  "the second an assignment to market a concoction called Pan Massala in India!"  Yes, these are the exact romanticized words he used.  Sometimes in the USA we get a feeling that nobody ever reads proposals or resumes or questions any past experience  Not so, in India.  The Wing Commander had a staff of tens dissecting the proposal, with the intent of humiliating and one-upping Priyank and his colleagues.

The wing commander read from his script:  “First of all nobody in India would ever eat a frozen chicken, is that right,” he said.  Priyank nodded.  “Then why did you perform feasibility studies on a frozen chicken when you knew that absolutely nobody except the starving would touch such a revolting product!” the Wing Commander countered.    Pan Massala--this is the beetle nut narcotic concoction that causes all of the red spit throughout India.  Typically they take the fresh beetle nut, wrap it in a leaf, and dab on several different herbs and pastes.  The concoction is sold throughout India especially outside of restaurants as an after dinner treat!

Evidently, Priyank performed a feasibility study for a company to make instant pan massala.  Just open the pack and you were ready to drool the red beetle nut juice.  A great concept except that it was immediately suspected of causing cancer of the lip.  So, Priyank was thrown strike two.  To his credit, Priyank was one of the best BS artists in the business.  He quoted US management consultants, and different models and theories from his days as a Business School teacher in Vancouver, Canada.  The Wing Commander nodded in approval and suspicion at the same time and let him know that he needed to study the issue further and that we should come back on Saturday morning (two days later) This was the  day I was to return to the USA.  But,  flights do not leave until 2:00 am so this was convenient and gave me a chance to see something other than the sewer, emergency room or government office.

Priyank Tripathy’s Day Off!

Off to Agra and the Taj we went the next day.  This was my payoff.

Although Agra is just 90 mils to the south of Delhi, this is not the same as 90 miles in North America.  You see, the Indians do not see the logic in connecting the capital city with the number one tourist attraction in their country.  In fact, you just navigate a series of back roads, dirt roads and even streams to get our of the City.  One visitor told me it is easier to take a train, but that takes eight hours.  The roads of India are under construction, but by hand, and in quarter mile increments.  You fly along at 80 miles per hour and then the next minute you re skidding to a stop to ford a stream or to avoid hitting a cow.  I saw accidents on the way down and still being cleaned up on the way back hours later.

This was Priyank’s day off, yet he showed up in his formal suit and tie and spectacles.

Half way we stopped at a roadside stand for Chipatis--an Indian flat bread.  The place must be good as there were Indian motorcycle gangs, and truck drivers.  I learned that this small village was comprised by dispossessed Afghanis from revolutions long ago who ran a traveling zoo including wild animals and a dancing bear.  After ordering the meal, poor Priyank became an easy target for the Afghani version of "carnies ."  No, they did not bit the heads off live chickens like carnies  in the states, but they had a good scam going!   A huge mangy black bear was kept on a chain.  It smelled worse then the Delhi sewer and was foaming at the mouth and covered with flies.  The Afghanis trained the bear to approach the visitors, and in this case Priyank.  Tactic: the bear would mount one unsuspected visitor and make a spectacle.  Incredible to see a 6-foot tall bear humping a 5 foot tall businessman.  Fellow diners gladly forked out wads of rupees to avoid the same fate!  Priyank was an easy target and immediately lost his chipati.  H reared up and received a full doe of bear slobber, which ended the meal.  Evidently this bear slobber must contain some sort of pheromone which attracts monkeys as we would learn from the next stop!   Unfortunately the Bear attack was a highlight of Priyank’s day!

We visited the nearby Mughal temple.  Was told that this was second only to the Taj in grandeur.   While thousands of roving families made the pilgrimage,  Poor Priyank was attacked by a pack excited brown monkeys.    These were not cute gibbon monkeys or chimps.  But, evil baboon-like creatures with glaring green eyes, wide tooth-full mouths and agile hands which they used to snatch food, purses or whatever they could from the tourists.  Again, Priyank was easy prey.  He was well aware of the monkey threat and even warned us about the peril in advance.  It seemed his caution and the Bear slobber made him the prime target for one, then two and then six screaming monkeys.  Even the Indian tourists filmed the spectacle of the monkey attack on their video cameras.  First one monkey would hop on Priyank’s back, another would go for his feet.  Within minutes, he had six or seven rude monkeys attempting to mate with him.

Eventually, a group of Taiwanese tourists arrived carrying bags of fruit, and the monkeys lost interest in Priyank!

Down the road, Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal.  It is a dirty factory town, and most of the roads are dirt.  Interesting thing about Agra, is the fact that the only thing going for it is the Taj.  While driving into the town, our driver needed to ask several people for directions, there were no signs.  Some of the locals could not point us in the right direction.  I learned later that they may have spoken another of the 100 plus Indian dialects.  Also, there is no easy way to get to the Taj.  You must wind around back streets, traverse streams and temporary roads, and gues at the proper direction.  Eventually, it is not difficult to see the majestic structure and freelance the final miles to the Taj!

We visited the Taj Mahal and the beauty was overwhelming.  We were told that this was recently utilized by the Jazz musician Yannis for a concert.    Everyone seemed quite proud that the century old temple was used as a backdrop for a music video. 

While walking the perimeter, Some of the same tourists from the Mughal temple recognized Priyank and consoled him.  One Japanese tourist insisted that he pose in front of the shrine with another Japanese tourist on his back imitating a monkey!    The tourists filmed while the group made monkey mating  poses to add further indignity the situation.  The later arriving Taiwanese delegation joined the act thinking this was some typical Indian ritual that all visitors to the Taj should participate in.!

The nice thing about Priyank and Indians in general is that they are good sports and have almost unsinkable characters.  Priyank at first was pissed, and then enjoyed his newfound fame! 

We visited the main hotel in Agra and with a few bottle of local Gin and tonics, washed away the scent of the day!

The return to Delhi seemed twice as distant.  The same accidents were being cleared. The Afghan Circus was still in full swing except we did not stop this time.  We experienced at least several near misses on the highway, and returned just in time in the early Saturday morning to head for our important meeting with the Wing Commander.

A "kinder and gentler" Wing Commander.  Although it was obvious that the mission of the Wing Commander was to terrorize Priyank and the locals, we met a smiling face at the government office on Saturday.  Tea was nicely prepared on a table.  Six huge boxes stood on the office floor addressed to a relative in Munster,  Indiana.  The airlines are quite strict about baggage, as anyone who has traveled overseas will know:  Two pieces and 40 kilos!  Or else you pay. Without my bags, I now had six pieces of around 500 kilos.

On the desk, the contract was all typed out on onion skin paper by a manual typewriter, in triplicate with carbon paper.  The official stamps were applied. The peons hauled the boxes downstairs.  Priyank slipped in a puddle of beetle nut juice.  We were in business!

Part II. 

I am sure Priyank was happy to deposit me at the airport at midnight for the long flight back to Hong Kong and San Francisco.  His suit was stained red from the beetle nut saliva, he smelled like a wild monkey and walked with a limp from his fall into the sewer.  He had a contract in hand and that was what mattered.

Two days later – I was back in Delhi for a new project –this one concerning bees -- my passion.  Priyank dawned a Colorado Buffalo T Shirt, the sewer hole was camouflaged with a thin sheet of plywood and a potted plant. 

The big meeting was set for noon the next day, the peons tidied the elephant shrine in the conference room. 

The Wing Commander stacked another six boxes in his office!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Copyright 1998 Thomas J. Payne Market Development 
Last modified: May 03, 2003