To quote that famous Andy Williams’ song: ‘Where do I begin…?’ Well I came back last Thursday from an Enterprise Ireland/Education Ireland recruitment mission to India; Delhi and Hyderabad to be precise. Of course I was sick on the way back. It got progressively worse over the weekend and indeed I am just at the tail-end of it now if you pardon my use of that expression! I reckon Friday was the worst day of all. My stomach was swollen (honestly I am not overweight) and that was accompanied with an all round sense of urgency! Too much information I know… but it’s good to share and all…

So I had never been to India before. It was an early start on Wednesday April 15th. I left home at 2.30am to get an early morning CityJet flight to Paris and an Air France flight to Delhi. Read-no sleep! I was travelling in the congenial and convivial company of Nicola Carroll, Head of our International Office, something of a seasoned campaigner in foreign climes, so as the Gaelic saying goes ‘Giorraíonn béirt an bóthar!’- two shortens the road! The plane to Delhi was (unlike me) about half-full so plenty of room to stretch for a snooze. It was late when we arrived in Delhi but our hotel had generously laid on a car to pick us up.

The hotel itself was an experience-The Taj Mahal. We had to go through security screening, a bit like the bad old days up North; a sad reflection of the tensions of a modern India. The elections of course are going on in India and that heightens the security risk. Factor in the relatively recent hotel attacks and there is a great degree of comfort to be drawn from a vigilant security presence.

Having cleared security we were greeted by the hotel management. It was all so welcoming and formal. We didn’t even have to check in. We were garlanded and had our foreheads blessed in several colours for good luck. It was a nice touch. Baggage was brought straight to our rooms, no need to present a credit card, with just our passports being registered and brought to our rooms within five minutes. India is 4 and a half hours ahead of GMT so I arrived in my room just in perfect time for the Manchester United versus Porto game-no food, no exploring, just a bottle or two of water and there I was glued to the screen. The result was good!

The next morning was gentle enough to begin with-Nicola was considerate in terms of easing me into the schedule-and on our way to a meeting with the Visa Officer at the Irish Embassy we had a short stop at the famous, but overly priced Khan Market. Yep, Delhi can be expensive! Oh and Nicola bought a ring. I won’t go into the details of the purchase but let’s say that in the time that she took to make a selection I wrote three books and almost died of sunstroke in the street outside! If you see Nicola around you’ll notice this purchase. Believe me you will! Have you ever watched the movie 300? Think of all of those Spartans gathered together shields aloft crying “Sparta!” Well her ring would not look amiss in amongst that fearless lot. And after all that I still think she should have gone for the blue stone.

The Auto-Rickshaw

So feeling suitably fired up with shopping-induced adrenalin we decided to take an auto-rickshaw to the Embassy. Now this is an experience to literally almost die for! How can I describe this?  I guess it’s the nearest human experience to being inside of a computer game. The laws of the highway are suspended in Delhi. It’s crazy: roundabouts wrong way, nobody gives way, the roads are jammed, nobody stops…it’s all swerve and avoid. It’s all dodge the bullet-where the bullet is a bus, a lorry, another 27 auto-rickshaws, any number of bicycles, pedestrians, the occasional cow-and I mean you dodge these objects, weave in and out of these missing by a hair’s breadth most of the time. It was scary but I kept repeating the experience-Death Wish 2009 starring one crazy rickshaw driver and famous Irish actor Jimmy Hill and his leading lady Nicola Carroll! Indeed so much did I enjoy the rush that a couple of days later I befriended the driver of one of these fine pieces of green and yellow metal and asked him could I have a go driving and guess what? He obliges. He pulls up outside the heavily guarded and policed Parliament Building at India Gate and lets me drive. I have photographic evidence to prove this-and not police files I hasten to add! Mind you, my first piece of derring-do was to pass an actual police car! We Tyrone men are consistent in some things! I did wave at them though! The good news is that auto-rickshaws are cheap to hire- about 5-6 euro would see you get a full day’s transport. That would include a generous tip as well. The really good news is that whilst Peter Canavan will go down in history as the first Tyrone man to lift Sam, yours truly here will be accorded that coveted place in the history of the universe-the first Tyrone man to drive a rickshaw (albeit liveried in the Kerry colours) in New Delhi! Well that’s my pitch for a role in the next Matrix movie over.

The Visa Conundrum

So after dusting off we had a meeting in the Irish Embassy. That was interesting because one of the challenges that we face in recruitment in India is a new set of rules which make it well nigh impossible to attract students to these shores. We, Ireland Inc, have the product. We have the interest from the market. We also have a set of rules pertaining to Visas that would make the Bizarro Files look believeable. I will be writing a lot more about the problems with Visa regulations on this blog and in the national press in the coming weeks. It’s an appalling situation and suggests that there is no real understanding or connectivity between the Departments of Justice, Education and Foreign Affairs on the importance of education, an important sector in terms of what we have to sell abroad. One need only compare with our nearest neighbours in the UK who make it relatively easy for international students to come and study. If a more distant example is required then we just need to look at New Zealand. It’s embarrassing frankly. As I said, there will be a lot more to follow on this vitally important subject.

Agents and Collaborations

From the Embassy we rickshawed off to a meeting with one of our main student recruitment agents in Delhi. We discussed plans for the fair next day in Delhi and considered some of the other recruitment challenges. The meeting ran through to dinner with the same agent that evening. On the upside it turned into an amazing culinary odyssey: to quote Stewie from Family Guy “There was a veritable orgy of tastes going on in my mouth!”

The next morning Nicola and I set off for the Netaji Subhash Institute of Management Sciences (NIMS) to formally sign an agreement which will see students from NIMS complete the final year of their business degrees at NCI. This was an amazing ceremony. Nicola, the other distinguished guests and my good self garlanded a statue of Netaji Subhash, a famed Indian freedom fighter, after whom NIMS is named. This was followed by the lighting of candles, formal speeches and a celebratory lunch. This promises to be a collaboration that will enhance the learning experience of our students and which will allow for faculty exchange as well.  It is also envisaged that postgraduate students from NIMS will also attend NCI in the future.

The next day was taken up with more meetings with agents, an Enterprise Ireland briefing and preparing for the Recruitment Fair on the Sunday. The fair itself was hectic. It was an exceptionally busy and productive day. Not only were we indundated with queries and visits from prospective agents but we also organised and ran a free English language test for applicants to courses in Ireland.

On the Sunday night Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Embassy hosted a dinner for the delegation. I lucked out when the head waiter in the restaurant managed to find the soccer on the box.  Our kids were up against the blue (better) half of Merseyside and were really impressive but my luck, as if  suddenly struck with the dreaded  Delhi Belly, ran out when two £30m footballers missed penalty kicks that as my old football coach would have said “wouldn’t take the top off an egg!” Better I had stuck with the Delhi Daredevils and the Indian Premier League!

Next morning it was straight back to business and a working breakfast with the President of NIMS College. From there it was off to the airport to catch our flight south to Hyderabad. It was late when we arrived there so we decided to eat in the hotel, the ITC, not quite the Taj Mahal, but with much higher security levels.  Next day it was another Recruitment Fair. This was not quite as hectic as New Delhi but was heaviliy attended by recruitment agents, some of which with we arranged separate meetings. Again it is not surprising that much of the conversation related to the situation with Visas.

 The Kingfisher Experience

 So on the Wednesday I had to fly back to Delhi to catch the Air France flight back to Paris. I flew Kingfisher-now that is an experience to die for. I will never fly any other airline again. When I win the lotto I will use all my winnings to fly back and forth around India. How shall I put this? Imagine the ten most beautiful woman on the planet…now imagine those same ten women making you feel like you were the only other person on the planet from the minute you arrive at check-in up until you collect your baggage at the other end. That’s service. And here was me thinking Kingfisher was just nice weak beer! The in-flight food,  all round service level and entertainment was second to none. I can’t even begin to imagine what the service level might be like in business class.

Now contrast Kingfisher with Air France-the flight back was packed, cramped and that was reflected in the service. The food was awful and to add to my misery I started to feel decidedly unwell. To make matters worse the flight arrived late in Paris, leaving two colleagues and myself with five hours to spend in Charles de Gaulle-all good stuff. What took me to the fair was that when we arrived in Paris we were directed to the Air France Transfer Desk. The blade that dealt with me had a face that would sour ‘sour milk’. Did you ever see that Little Britain or is it Catherine Tate sketch maybe ‘The computer says no!’? Well that’s the kind of service I had to endure. Long live the revolution!

Of course when I eventually arrived back in Dublin to the afternoon rain aka quaint Irish weather, my bag was missing, not to be returned to its rightful owner until the next morning. Ah well things could always be worse I suppose.    

The Service

Well I have to tell you this however: India equals quality service. Period. I have been privileged to have been  subjected to quality service levels in my day but the Indian experience takes service to an entirely new level. Spoilt I was. Like been at home with me mammy!

I am going to tell you something and I know well that in doing so I risk the wrath and opprobium of many. So in my hurry to pack for the trip I dig into the summer clothes storage section of the wardrobe (slang for plastic bag) -I know-we don’t really have much use for such attire here. So I throw my linen trousers into the case along with an old RL shirt. They are unironed and I say to myself sure I’ll iron these when I get there. But wait…to my pleasant surprise my hotel irons for free. Well you know what I mean! So I leave out my wrinkled trousers and shirt for ironing. That evening I get back to my room and there is a knock at the door. After much peeping through  the little security glass in the door (I grew up in West Tyrone-it’s called survival instinct) I decide that the guy on the other side is harmless and I oscail an doras.  It’s the hotel’s laundry valet in a ‘state o’ chasis’.  Says he to me: “Dr Hill (his words not mine) can I talk to you about your laundry?” “of course”, says I. He goes on: “Your trousers were a little dirty at the bottom (not that one!) so I laundered them. No extra charge. The hems were a little loose so I rehemmed them. No extra charge. And about your shirt…the collar was a little bit frayed so I hope you don’t mind but I made a new one.” he then produces from my hotel wardrobe what honestly looks like a new shirt and trousers. Absolutely incredible! So here’s my point. Do you know those Irish premarital courses? Well, I was thinking…compulsory month in India and all of that…

And now for the bad bit…

The poverty of course…I don’t want to stand on a podium and lecture but you cannot go to India and ignore the poverty on the streets, turn a blind eye to the slums, ignore people sleeping on the streets, and not be shocked at the scale of the  hunger and destitution. This unfortunately sits side by side with immense wealth of staggering proportions. It is truly heartbreaking. It’s frightening that people become immune to this. I just kept thanking God for my good seat. However bad the recession gets, however much taxation we pay, we are a long way from real abject poverty on such an enormous scale. Yes we have problems but the sheer scale and transparency of it all rocked me to my very core. It literally would make you cry to see it.

I got to thinking about this and the very random nature of life. Life is a lottery. That much is true.  Those unfortunate people could be you or me. We were born at a good time in our country’s development. We really are lucky. We have won the jackpot in the lottery of life.

Other Observations…

So I am browsing through the Hindustan Times and I hit on HTMatrimonials.  Now I know the true value of the MBA qualification. There is a full section in both the Grooms and Brides Wanted for professionals with an MBA. For example:

 NM prof. non smoker mat in USA 4 Pb. MBA. 31 5′ 4″. B.Comm. Dip in Comp. Working in MNC. Caste no bar. Box 2366774

or

REQD. Fair MBA girl for h’some 28/ 6ft only son B.E. MBA working MNC 12 lpa Delhi settled Box 153332 Hindustan Times

…so it’s MBA for me…though not much I can do about the 6 ft!

I also observed an interesting use of the English language. I remember reading Melvyn Bragg’s ‘Adventure of English’. He talks about the post colonnial development of spoken and written English in India. It’s quaint and refreshing to see a detective referred to as a sleuth or the naming of things referred to as nomenclature. It’s old -fashioned and formal; how we could do with a dollop of that!

The papers were, let’s say interesting generally and I’ll give you some more insight into the contents of these anon.

In the mean time have a great Bank Holiday Weekend!  Enjoy, kick back, and watch the Mighty Reds roll on to their third Premiership title on the trot! Did I just say trot? Looks like I am back to Delhi Belly once again!

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