“She won’t like it here,” the good professor wrote. “Westerners never do. There’s no room service, and the food in the cafeteria is all South Indian style.”
“She’s spiritually attached to India. She speaks fluent Hindi. This isn’t her first trip. She’ll be fine.”
My soon to be friend Shankar nailed it. I had never thought about it in exactly those words though. I’m spiritually attached to India. It would be my third trip to the subcontinent. The fluent Hindi was a bit of an exaggeration. I had pretty darn good tourist Hindi, maybe a thousand words. Grammatical mistakes in most of my sentences, but I was usually understood, then corrected, proving that they understood what I was trying to say. (My most used sentence on the hair-raising ride on the 1.5 lane wide roads on the sides of the “foothills” of the Himalayas, was -after correction- Nicche na dekko!!- “Don’t look down!”
sometimes followed by “But Look Down- it’s beautiful!”)
Shankar was correct, but he humored the professor, and asked me if I agreed that the accommodation planned, without room service, would be ok. I assured him that it would, and was very happy to have this new idea of spiritual attachment, and to have had someone who never met me in person realize it was true. I can’t really explain it; maybe I had a past life or three in India.
Really, my main concern about hotels in Asia is that the mattresses are so hard. Difficult on my arthritic joints. But I had resolved to just take extra pain killer, when I needed it. This was my bucket trip. I was acting on my desire to teach a failure analysis class in India, before the onset of my ultimate, inevitable deterioration. The mattress at the University guesthouse was unlikely to be harder, I reasoned, than the one at the rural Christian monastery where I was going to be spending the first week and a half in India on the upcoming trip. And the food was unlikely to be more difficult to enjoy than what the monks and nuns ate. And anyway, I had just returned from Japan, where I became convinced that the more expensive the hotel, the harder the mattress.
If I really hated sambar, rasaam, and idly, I probably wouldn’t go to south India. But I had learned to eat, if not love, the first two items, spicy soups, back in the mid 1970’s, when my South Indian ex-boyfriend moved to a town near my parents, who really liked him more than any other boyfriend I had before or after, and proceeded to teach my mother how to do South Indian cooking. I learned to more or less enjoy idly, a somewhat bland lentil flour based sponge, used to sop up the sambar, on my first trip to India, where they served it at the Hindu monastery (ashram) that hosted the meditation retreat that I was attending in 2001.
So I just had to deal with the reality of the hospitality that my hosts, for what was becoming a four day speaking tour in Chennai, were able to provide. I had offered to teach a two day seminar, give a dinner talk to my fellow members of our international engineering society, and a lecture to the engineering students at the local university. I ended up also giving a longer version of the dinner talk at two private companies, and another presentation to some eleventh graders, entitled “Is a Career in Materials Engineering Right for Me?” I wasn’t charging a speaking or teaching fee, but I thought it was reasonable to ask them to cover my expenses for the four days that I’d be visiting them. They agreed, but were concerned about the budget. It all worked out. I was back to normal food after buying myself four days of temptations at the Radisson Blu buffets.
Back home after a month in India, I feel more spiritually attached to the people and place than ever. After twenty years of trying to get traction exploring new ideas of how engineers can embrace critical and creative thinking, or what I’ve started to call “cultivating clarity,” I am lucky to have developed a small group of local, American people, who appreciate my creative approach to critical thinking. But each of the two Indian companies that invited me to the give the “Thinking Skill Optimization” talk had 85+ people attend. And they participated. And their managers thanked me in unique ways that allowed me to see that they were also paying attention. My new friend Prasad told me “You have gotten pretty close to giving a method for developing intuition.”
Yes, that’s right. And it was very interesting to me that someone who lives in the land of the longest lasting collective consciousness, the very source of intuition, understood that to be a major part of my approach. Of course many engineers would not be attracted to a class on developing their intuition, and even if they were, I imagine they’d have a hard time convincing their bosses to cover the costs to attend. It sure is useful to have a way to calibrate intuition though. When effective, it’s a lot faster and easier than calculations and analysis.
Thinking about it further, I am just realizing how unusual it was that both managers attended the training with their employees. How often does that happen in the USA? Most American managers think that the only thing they need to know how to do is balance a budget.
I think there is more to the success of the contribution of Indian industry to the global economy than low wages.