Indian-America: Business the Desi Way
Desis are a dynamic, evolving breed who are constantly surprising themselves and others with their creativity, success, and growing place in the world. And yet, despite all this, there are some things about desi culture that never seem to change, such as our craving for spicy food, our inherently musical nature, our extremely dry sense of humor…and our work ethic.
No matter how much we evolve, desis just cannot seem to give up the laissez faire style of working that we have long practiced in our motherland and which we import with amazing tenacity to the new world. So mind-boggling is this phenomenon, in fact, that it is difficult to express its essence in plain prose and requires an imaginary conversation between two desis to be communicated effectively.
Gopalan is the owner of a successful IT business that has just opened its first office in New Jersey, Sharma is a graduate of HBS who has worked for many years in the US and now works as an independent consultant for all manner of businesses, and given their mutual desi propensities, this is how a business conversation between these two men might go:
Business Bhais on the Telephone…
Gopalan (picking up the phone): Gopalan here. Go.
Sharma: Go where?
Gopalan: Arre, don’t you watch TV? That’s what all busy people say – Go. Anyway, who the hell are you?
Sharma: This is Sharma. I was referred to you by Mr. Iyengar. He said you need a consultant.
Gopalan: Oh yes, yes, yes. Now I remember. What type of consulting do you do?
Sharma: Everything, sir. Financial, strategic, management, across border.
Gopalan: What is across border?
Sharma: You know, across border between India and US.
Gopalan: Oh, you mean cross border… Okay, so you can help me?
Sharma: Of course, but what do you need help with?
Gopalan: I need someone to build a financial model.
Sharma: And how much money does your company make?
Gopalan (suspicious): Why you want to know how much money I make?
Sharma: Because I can’t prepare a financial model without that information.
Gopalan: No, no. My wife’s cousin’s friend who is an accountant told me that I should never tell anyone how much money I make or I will have to pay taxes.
Sharma: Mr. Gopalan, if you are making money in the US, you will have to pay taxes anyway…
Gopalan: Arre, you don’t understand. My clients pay me in cash. No receipts. So nobody knows about my money, including the IRS.
Sharma: So what do you need a financial model for then?
Gopalan: To get other people to give me money to grow my company, why else?
Sharma: But if you don’t declare any income, then technically your business doesn’t really exist.
Gopalan: What nonsense! Let me ask you something. If someone gave you $2 to put in your pocket and you took it and put it in your pocket, does your pocket not exist?
Sharma: I…uh…I’m not sure I understand what that means.
The Desi Way of Doing Business
Gopalan: Never mind. So anyway, I will hire you as a consultant if you can build my financial model and get me investors.
Sharma: I’m sorry, Mr. Gopalan, but I am not a fund-raiser. I don’t have a broker dealer license. I can’t find you investors.
Gopalan: Broker dealer what? Who cares about all that? You get me investors and I will pay you. Simple.
Sharma: Not it’s not simple. If I do fund-raising for you, I would be violating securities laws and will get into big trouble.
Gopalan (angry): Then why are you wasting my time? If you don’t have money for me, why should I hire you?
Sharma: You still need a financial model to raise funds. I can build that for you.
Gopalan: Do I sound like a fool to you? I know this scam. I don’t hire anyone who doesn’t bring me money, understand? Goodbye.
Sharma (panicking): No, no, please wait! Okay, I will get you investors. How much will you pay me?
Gopalan: Don’t be stupid. First you get me investors, then we talk about your payment.
Sharma: Sir, I can’t work like that. What if I get you money and you don’t pay me?
I am Three Times IIT Graduate!
Gopalan: Are you saying I am a thief? I am three times IIT graduate.
Sharma: How could you have graduated from IIT three times?
Gopalan: Arre, idiot. First two times I didn’t pass.
Sharma: I see. Fine, but if you want me to raise money for you, we need to agree on the fees up front.
Gopalan (sighing): How about 0.0001%?
Sharma: Are you kidding me? I will not do it for less than 4%. Plus I need a retainer for building the financial model of $10,000.
Gopalan (shouting): So you are the thief! Who charges such high prices? I will give you 0.0002% and $500 for financial model. Final offer.
Sharma (grudgingly): Okay, I accept. I will send you a contract.
Gopalan: Arre bhai, Americans have contracts because they don’t trust each other, but we desis take care of each other, right? Just trust me, everything will be fine. I would never cheat a fellow countryman. Also, no retainer. I pay you in the end.
Sharma: Can you at least pay me $200 upfront so I can feed my children Rona and Dhona?
Gopalan: Don’t worry. Children are very resilient. They can go for many days without food. My wife and I have done that many times and they always survive. As a matter of principle, I never pay anyone upfront or you will be tempted to run away with the money. Trust me, I am doing you a favor by keeping you honest.
Sharma (weary): Fine. When would you like me to start?
Gopalan: Not so fast, buddy. Before I hire you, tell me how you are going to raise the money.
Sharma: Oh, no problem, sir. My chacha and mama are both rich and my neighbor’s hairdresser’s husband’s third cousin’s wife’s tennis instructor back in Bombay is best friends with Amitabh Ji.
And there’s always Amitabh Bachchanji!
Gopalan (impressed): You can reach Bachchan Ji?
Sharma: Yes, yes. You don’t need to worry about anything. I will get money from Amitabh Ji for your company. 137% guaranteed!
Gopalan: And if for some reason Bachchan Ji doesn’t invest?
Sharma: No problem at all, sir. I will go to Narendra Modi. Modi sahib and I are like two peas in a podcast. Very tight, you know?
Gopalan (now getting a little suspicious): You know, Sharma, you sound a lot like the guys I know in India and not at all like an American Desi. Are you sure you are a professional?
Sharma: Of course I am! I am very hurt by your accusation, Mr. Gopalan. I am a professional professional. I will give you top quality service.
Gopalan: You know I just realized that you never actually sent me your resume.
Sharma (nervous): Why do you need that? I am telling you I am a consultant and I went to HBS. What good will a resume do?
Gopalan (after a very long pause): Look, Sharma. I may not be sophisticated but I am very smart. I have met many Harvard Business School graduates and you…you are not like them.
Complete silence from Sharma’s end.
Gopalan: Hello? Hello, you still there?
Gopalan: As I was saying, are you sure you went to Harvard?
Sharma: I went to HBS, sir.
Gopalan (thinking): That is HARVARD Business School, right?
The Desi HBS Graduate
Gopalan (sternly): Answer the question, Sharma, or I will hang the phone.
Sharma (sighing): No, sir. Haryana Business School. But it’s a good school. Every bit as good as Harvard. In fact, if Haryana was in Boston, it would have been called Harvard too!
Gopalan thinks long and hard about this, saying nothing. But then finally he makes a decision.
Gopalan: Okay, okay. Who am I to judge? Haryana or Harvard is all the same nonsense. They don’t teach you anything at business school anyway. You’re hired, Sharma, but on one condition.
Sharma (relieved): What’s that, Mr. Gopalan?
Gopalan: Since you lied to me, you will have to work for free. I will not pay you anything, you understand?
Sharma: But –
Gopalan: No butts!!! You tried to cheat me so now you must pay the price. If you don’t do it, I will ruin you. You hear me?
Sharma: Yes, sir, I hear you. How long do I need to work for you?
Gopalan: As long as I want. But don’t worry. If you get me a million dollars from Bachchan Ji, I will pay you $50. That is worth it for me.
Sharma: Thank you, sir. That is very kind of you.
Gopalan: Mention not. Us desis need to stick together, you know? Bloody Americans don’t want to work with us. Stupid people!
Sharma: Absolutely, sir. They don’t know what they are missing.
SERIOUSLY SKEWED is brought to you by Sanjay Sanghoee, a political and business commentator. For more satire, please visit www.seriouslyskewed.com