It’s a cultural cauldron of sorts, the India Immersion Centre at R A Puram. Swathed in a remarkably splendid Indian outfit, every little element here has a story to tell. Together, these fragments combine to portray the multi-faceted cultures of our country. To give you a picture, there are walls that are draped with fabric from Kashmir, a large Tanjore painting on the Navagrahas (the nine gods) by a Kerala artiste is as captivating as a sculpture of Lord Nataraja; an inlaid marble table that contains 20 different colours of marbles houses coasters that have inspiring words by Rabindranath Tagore; an array of interesting windows, many from Nepal, add a dash of exotic while a typical Indian kitchen with an opento-the-sky courtyard and a Tulsi plant in the middle, is a simple reminder of classic Indian tradition.
Like its name, this two-month-old centre, is an immersion of a kind. Its curator is Ranjini Manian, founder of Global Adjustments, who is in many ways her own brand ambassador. Global in her outlook – she speaks Japanese, French, Spanish and a smattering of Finnish, travels voraciously and has an innate understanding of world cultures – Ranjini is refreshingly Indian. For more than ten years now, she has grown her relocation services company into an India Destination company and a cross-cultural training company and allowed expatriates to soak in and savour the many flavours of India.
The India Immersion Centre, housed in a spacious independent bungalow, flows seamlessly from that same concept but has a touch of the personal. “I brought the expatriates to India, helped them find a home, settled them into the Indian way of life, and then somehow I felt that I lost them,” says Ranjini, “As time went by, I felt that I needed to have a continuity, a platform through which I could touch their lives on a sustained basis.”
The India Immersion Centre was designed and developed for over a year with this intent. “It’s a space that allows us to network and interact with the expatriate community,” explains Ranjini, “I also hope for it to become a centre for information and a hub for cultural experiences like dance, music, art, craft, etc.” Thanks to Ranjini’s dynamic team, a group of expatriates has already sampled potions of Indian culture. The day we meet Ranjini, a mixed group of women from across countries are trying to get their hand-eye-feet coordination right at a Garba session; a few others have picked up basics of the Tamil language, courtesy a Tamil for survival syllabus that has been formulated by Ranjini herself, while some clients have gone on a saree shopping spree and been initiated into the art of draping a saree.
As a resource centre for information, culture and experiences, Ranjini is also inviting participation from resource professionals in the city who are keen to sell a product or a service and simultaneously have an opportunity to connect with expatriates. That apart, the in-house team with Ranjini at the helm, has also created a Taste of India programme that allows delegates from countries get a sneak peek into Indian culture and “how to get on with it”. Recently, a delegation from the UK, savoured the Taste of India programme, and went home, satiated.
Although the parent brand, Global Adjustments, has a huge clientele – nearly 500 – IIC’s membership figures are relatively small. But as an innovative concept – an expat hub of a kind – that is only a matter of time.
Of images from the ‘Beautiful India’ Expatriate Photo Competition
Indian momentsThe expatriates with the judges
For some years now, Chennai’s expatriates have been paying photographic tribute to the city they call home, through the Beautiful India Expatriate Photo Competition of Global Adjustments.
This year was the 11th edition of the contest, and it was held in association with the Taj Coromandel. The competition, which received over 500 entries from dozens of people from over 15 countries, was judged by a panel of expatriate and Indian judges — Timonori Minowa, Consul, Cultural and Information Department, Japan Consulate; Bryan Dalton, Chief Consul, U.S. Consulate and eminent photographer G. Venket Ram.
The winners were classified under various categories such as ‘Into India’, ‘Culture and Festival’, ‘Faces of India’, ‘Places of India’, ‘Humour’, ‘Best Caption’ and ‘GA Favourite’. The winners were Darren Burnham (U.K.) from Wiliiam Hare, Franz Hartinger (Germany) from BMW and Philip James Clegg (U.K) from British Council.
In the morning, several expats took part in a cultural event, dancing to dandiya and bhangra beats. An exhibition of the photographs can be seen at the India Immersion Centre (IIC), Global Adjustments, today and on November 29. Entry is free and it is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For details, call 24617902 or e-mail email@example.com.
The photo competition on Sunday at the Taj Coromandel gave us a glimpse of our country, culture and heritage through the lens of an outsider These kinds of events help expats like us get to know other foreigners in the city
C EXPATS from all corners of the city gathered on a rainy Sunday morning at the Taj Coromandel to celebrate and be a part of Global Adjustments’ 11th Annual Expatriate Photo Competition. More than three hundred expats participated in the photo competition that had various categories like places, culture and festivals, humour, faces, Into India and many more. Participants were also chosen for various other categories that included best caption, Taj’s favourite as they are the co-host and Global Adjustments’ favourite.
The colourful photographs not just showed the liveliness and vibrancy of India, but also exhibited a different India through the eyes of an outsider. G Venket Ram, eminent photographer, who was one of the judges, also seemed to have found the photographs carrying a different perspective of what the locals see everyday “We . are used to certain t h i n g s.
What makes this photo competition unique is an outsider’s perspective of these things,” said the photographer adding that the photographs were equal to those by a professional photographer. Timonori Minowa, Consul, Cultural and Information department, Japan Consulate, Bryan W Dalton, Chief Consul, US Consulate were the other judges.
Besides distributing prizes to the winners, the expats witnessed a colourful Indian dance performance from none other than their fellow expats. Women from India, and countries like Japan, Sweden, Germany and Iran danced to Bhangra, lively folk dance of north India. Kolattam, a colourful dance from South India was also performed by them. The expat audiences were awestruck when a dance group Anusham, performed Pon Chow, a traditional drum beat dance from Manipur.
The morning remained a memorable one for many, not just because of winning prizes, but getting to know fellow foreigners who have had similar experiences in the city . “I came to Chennai two years back. The culture shock I went through was only mild as I came with an open mind. I am sure many other expats here would have come to the city expecting a lot of things and with basic information. So, I don’t think many would have faced a big culture shock,” said Franz from Austria. “These kinds of events help expats like us get to know other foreigners who are in the city and help develop contacts that will help us in the long term,” he added.
—U Tejonmayam firstname.lastname@example.org
At the Indian Immersion Centre, 200-year-old Chettinadu tiles and Kancheevaram saris are used to maximum effect
THANKS to Ranjini Manian’s Global Adjustments, expatriates in the city know where to turn if they need help with accommodation, staffing, events and cultural explorations. Keeping this in mind,the newly launched Indian Immersion Centre at the GA office in R A Puram, has been designed specifically for these families and is a lovely introduction to India.
The centre includes a cultural museum, a typical Indian courtyard, a terrace, a conference room and an auditorium. Statues of Nataraj and Ganesha hold court at the entrance, while little notes on the wall explain the significance of each of them. Colours like orange and green are dominant as one climbs the steps leading to the office and terrace. ‘‘The colours of corporate India are changing, we wanted the colour scheme to have the colours of the Indian flag,’’ explains Ranjini, founder and CEO of Global Adjustments.
The floors are wooden, and the upholstery is a rich orange throughout the building. The walls have little artefacts and paintings, all a part of Indian culture and explained through plaques. This forms the cultural museum. There are some beautiful Tanjore and Rajasthani paintings. A wooden Ganesha totem pole is flanked by wooden shelves, covered with little brass artefacts (items that are used on a daily basis in Indian homes). Some of the doors have brass peacock and parrot designs.
The courtyard is designed as the entrance to an Indian home — with a traditional tulsi plant at the centre. Wooden pillars hold up a tiled roof, and Indo-French benches have been placed for guests. There is a small kitchen, where expats can be introduced to the different spices of India and can, perhaps, learn to make their own idli and filter coffee.
The terrace, with Chettinadu tiles on the walls, is where children can play Indian games. ‘‘The tiles are 200 years old,’’ beams Ranjini. ‘‘The theme of the IIC is that it is a doorway or a window to India,’’ she adds In the auditorium, you’ll find beautifully carved jharokhas (windows) from around India and from Nepal. Some of them are set against a sari, like a tanchoi.The door, of Rajasthani camel bone, has an elaborate floral design and a big ‘Saraswati’ lock on it.
‘‘Akhila Ravikumar is the architect and interior designer of this building,’’ reveals Ranjini, when I exclaim over the place. ‘‘I had a lot of ideas and she put it all in place. Some of the artefacts are from my house and the rest has been collected, keeping the theme in mind. It took two years to build and design this place,’’ she adds.
— Ipshita Chaudhuri
Global Adjustments’ ‘Taste of India’ provides expats a glimpse into the varied facets of the country
Know india betterRanjini Manian with the participants at a ‘Taste of India’ session
Imagine you were visiting India for the first time and had just a few days to spare in Chennai. Now imagine there was someplace you could spend an entire evening being introduced to the dance, music, food and clothing of the region by people who have spent their lives immersed in that culture.
That’s precisely the idea behind “Taste of India”, the programme introduced by Global Adjustments at their new India Immersion Centre (IIC) in R. A. Puram.
“Taste of India has been constructed specially for those who’re just passing through, providing an authentic experience of everything Indian in three hours time,” says Ranjini Manian, founder-CEO of Global Adjustments.
Even the setting is authentic – for instance, the new IIC building has a model of a traditional Indian courtyard complete with a tulsi plant in the middle. In that courtyard, the expatriates do a little ‘sniff and tell’ session with common Indian greens such as tulsi, curry leaves, beetal leaves and more, and exotic fruits such as the custard apple, chickoo, etc. It’s all hands on, including a cooking session where they look in on a typical Indian kitchen and get acquainted with the spices needed for everyday South Indian cooking. And of course, the dinner, when the expats – visitors from all over the world, including Sweden, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Italy, the U.K., and the U.S. – try their hand (literally) at eating traditional elai sappadu with 14 dishes.
“You’re going to do everything your mother told you not to when growing up,” Ranjini tells the group as she introduces them to dining etiquette, Chennai-style. “You have to mix the rice and gravy with your fingers – I know it’s hard, but just get in there.”
Learning to appreciate classical Indian arts is another big part of the programme, with Carnatic music or Bharathanatyam being broken down to their component parts and explained as simply as possible, aided by advisors such as Aruna Sairam, Gopika Varma and Malavika Sarukkai.
“Each of them helps us make this programme a success by promoting the best of India,” says Ranjini.
For the inaugural edition of “Taste of India”, Lakshmi Ravichander and Saraswathi K. Kumar of Event Art introduce Bharathanatyam to a roomful of enthralled expatriates, explaining the different mudras, and even getting them all to give the aramandi position a try. And at the end of the session, before a final cup of kapi, all the participants have their picture taken wearing saris and veshtis.
But above all else, “Taste of India” is about helping visitors from abroad understand India in all its cultural complexity, and helping them relate to Indians better. Ranjini’s talk, for instance, opens with an explanation of the phrase ‘athithi devo bhava’, discussing how guests are treated in India, before providing insights on cultural variations within the country and relationship building in India.
“I’ve travelled to over 25 countries and lived in four, and India is by far the most fascinating, diverse and confusing place I’ve ever been in,” says Stetson Sanders, the American Vice-Consul, who was one of the participants in the programme. “You really do need a formal cultural presentation of this sort by people who understand the expat experience.”
By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi
Hundreds of Western business executives arriving to work in an economically resurgent India are undergoing tuition to help them adapt to their new cultural milieu at specialist courses across the country.
They are being instructed how not to offend Indians with their directness, manage domestic help and made aware of the contrasts between extreme wealth and abject poverty which many find difficult, if not impossible, to handle.
It is paradoxical for newcomers that India is the world’s second fastest producer of millionaires, lagging marginally behind Singapore, due primarily to its high economic growth, a robust stock market and rising real estate prices.
“Most expatriates come armed with misconceptions about India which have to be righted if they want to lead a contented and embarrassment-free existence here” said Rajini Manian, who founded Global Passage in southern Chennai to help foreign executives adjust to the intrusive and disconcerting chaos that assails most expatriates.
They need to be instructed that Indians are simply culturally different, not inferior, she added.
The author of “Doing business in India for dummies” Miss Manian said neither books, journals, films or cultural discourses equipped incoming Western executives to deal with India’s 1.2 billion people who effortlessly overpower their genteel notions of smell, space and privacy.
According to official statistics, there are over 50,000 expatriates, mostly Westerners, presently working in India, and more are arriving each year as India’s economy booms and employment opportunities, paying competitive salaries, proliferate.
In the ‘sensitising’ lessons that vary from a few days to a week, Global Passage and scores of similar organisations instruct clients from leading multinationals like Nokia, Ford and Hyundai to make sense of the bewildering body language of most Indians in the boardroom, the market place and at social gatherings.
The courses, costing between £625 and £1,875, advise patience, reiterating that expecting instant solutions to even minor household and work-related problems is being unreasonable, imperious and over demanding.
“We also teach our clients to manage boardroom etiquette with cultural traditions as the old equations where Westerners instructed and we listened were now over,” Miss Manian said.
The days of brusqueness or “White mans” pique were over, but there was still much which needed explaining, she added.
Many expats, for instance, consider the limp handshake by Indians to indicate a lack of character and manliness.
In reality, it is merely a mark of respect, as Indians are culturally not used to shaking hands but folding them in greeting.
Foreigners are also taught the importance of ‘face’ or ‘moustache’ to all Indians.
In many regions across India, upturned moustaches represent a man’s standing in society.
In the northern Punjab state, home to whiskered Sikhs, and nearby Rajasthan, there is a popular saying: “Not having a moustache is akin to having nothing.”
Hence, slighting somebody’s facial hair, however inadvertently, is the equivalent of “lowering their whiskers” or insulting their manhood.
Newly arrived executives are told not to take a bottle of wine to an Indian’s house when invited for a meal as it is considered a slight to his hospitality. Flowers are preferred.
Outsiders are also flummoxed when locals nod their heads, unclear whether it is a yes or no, depending on whether you are in northern or southern India.
Expats are also told that they do not have to visit the zoo to see animals like bears, camels and elephants; they are all freely visible on roads, even in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.
Wives of executive are also instructed in ways to deal with household staff. They are advised to deal with them firmly and fairly and not to over-compensate them.
Conversely, hundreds of Indian information technology professionals travelling to work in Western countries are coached in ways to cope with their new environments.
“Indian professionals have the skill and talent, but the finishing touches are missing,” said Udayakanth, who ‘grooms and polishes’ IT professionals in the southern city of Bangalore, India’s equivalent to Silicon Valley.
Bangalore ranks among the world’s five top IT centres and of around 4,600 enterprises in the city, more than a third have some foreign alliance.
“Most of the time when I am with a foreign client I am on the edge of my seat as I fear my colleagues will commit a social blunder. He may bum a cigarette or pick his tooth and burp aloud. I have lost quite a few clients because of this,” Udaykanth said.
At these ‘manner schools’, Indian IT executives are taught how to dress, hold their drinks, communicate and mingle in professional and social settings and at times even instructed in toilet manners.
By Lora Shinn
In India, children are taught to defer to their elders. When a grandparent or other elder visits, an Indian child bows in a namaskaram, prostrating at the adult’s feet. In turn, the elder blesses the child, wishing her all the very best.
According to India-based Ranjini Manian, Chief Executive Officer of Global Adjustments Services and author of Doing Business in India for Dummies, mothers worry about how much their child eats, and “pampering with food is part of the Indian culture.” An Indian mother feeds her children off of a steel plate with her hands until they’re old enough to eat on their own. “Slurping is a sign they are enjoying the meal,” Manian says.