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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Life in Chennai #3: The Office

Sorry for all the posts crammed in today. I've been writing them all week, but haven't had the chance to post them until today...

Being a little cooler means we can leave the air conditioner off longer each day. Mornings we usually have the doors & window wide to catch the breeze. I like that. Our office is small, one main room, an adjoining office, a bathroom and a lunch room/balcony. Quite simple. There are 5 of us in the main office, my boss and his secretary in the adjoining one. We have tea (done Indian style, made with milk and lots of sugar) in the morning and again in the afternoon, delivered in a thermos from a tea stand just down the street. Being a small, focused office, there is a strong communal spirit and my other colleagues often want to know the details of this meeting or that on our project. There is a strong sense that we’re all working together, which of course is great. Problems and issues, personal or professional are dealt with as a group and successes and occasions get wide discussion. I’m only partly integrated into this all of course, still being an outsider and have cultural differences. But I’m gaining ground.

The main language in the office is English, which of course makes it easy on me. Actually, it makes it easy on everyone because English is the only shared language between them as well as with me. Of the 4 others in my part of the office, two pairs cannot speak each other’s languages. Two speak Tamil, the local tongue, but not Hindi and the other two are from the NE, speaking Bengalese and Hindi, but not Tamil. It is quite interesting to see this dynamic as others beyond me request a pair to switch back to English so we can get in on the conversation. So meetings are always in English, ourselves or with clients and partners, writing is always in English (although India has its own particular way and style of business writing) and phone calls seem to be entirely in English. So it helps to be useful for work, but alternatively, it is harder for me to pick up any Tamil as many of the people I interact with and hear regularly (including my housemates) don’t speak it regularly or at all. So having my Indian colleague explain his similar trouble with auto-rickshaws, restaurants and local service because he too doesn’t speak the language is one of those “obvious once you know it” understandings of the diversity of India.

And that is where I work.

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