Friday, February 18, 2011

Indians in Business Novels

That Indian characters are increasingly finding a central place in Business Novels is a sure sign of Indians having arrived. At least in Harvard Business Review Press books. However, if the author is not very conversant with the culture, it could lead to some awkward situation. Especially, when the culture in India is as varied as it is.

In the otherwise delightful and very knowledge-imparting business novel,What I Didn't Learn in Business School by Jay B. Barney and Trish Gorman Clifford, Vivek Chatterjee (the almost central character) is "a native of India with a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkley."

Stereotyping is to be, of course, expected. "Turns out that Vivek and I [Justin Campbell - the central character] had something in common. He was once a good cricket player, and I once saw a cricket bat."

But what I found very amusiing is the following extract:

Bill entered the room with his hand extended and a smile on his face. Vivek was closest and introduced himself.
"Hello, I am Vivek Chatterjee And these are my colleagues Justin Campbell and Gordon Lee." Bill turned to Vivek, quickly withdrew his hand from the handshake, brought the palms of his hands together, and bowed slightly.
Vivek did the same and responded, "Namaskar."

Hmmmm... I think the authors have heard that Indians greet each other with a Namaskar or Namaste and they wished to show how culturally senstive they are. I have never seen Indians in formal business meetings greeting each other in this manner, and I have lived here all my life! The real life Vivek Chatterjee would have been equally amused.

Please don't get me wrong. I immensely enjoyed the novel. I would rate it as high as The Goal. It has the same quality as the Goal that makes you want to read it again and again. The theme is gradually elaborated and you feel as if you are part of the whole experience. Also, at the end of each chapter there what are called the Reflection Questions. Meditating a while on these questions could be a learning experience. I was very impressed with was the Reading List that is the end of the novel. Very neat list.

I really wish the authors come up with a series of Justin Campbell novels so that, along with Justin, we too discover "How Strategy Works in the Real World."

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1 comment:

Anjana said...

I feel that sometimes stereotyping is because of lack of imagination. But very often, stereotyping is deliberate. It is one way in which the more advanced nations cope with our growth and success. It is their way of showing us where we come from. Stereotyping apart, what i find really annoying is when people write books on India without getting some of the facts right. William Dalrymple's book 'Nine Lives' refers to a Malayalee as a 'Keralan'. Although I loved the book, that chapter left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I should blame the editor in this case...

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