Sunday, October 07, 2012

Head and Heart ....

When I went to school, we never did a separate course on "communications".  We just learnt the language and its nuances, and picked up the niceties of communication by observation, mostly at home, school and in public spaces.

Very often communication has to do with local culture, and you observe, sift and pickup things that fit in with the ethos of your surroundings and your bringing up.

Then you have folks doing courses in what is  called Corporate Communications (hitherto referred to as CC).

When this is done to get something in return , it is called PR.  

When this is done otherwise, it could be for throwing the company's weight around, being intimidating, or even being euphemistic about some impending unhappy event like layoffs and so on.   Many times these folks in CC, get so carried away, they lose track with ground realities .

An afternoon in the living room. The land line rings. A very posh and cultured voice . 
"I am calling from the LIC Zonal office " ..the-voice 
"Yes ?" Me. Wondering. 
"We need to talk to Mr Darshan Patel" ...the-voice 
"I am sorry. You have the wrong number, no one by that name lives here." Me 
" How can that be ? I have called this number several times" ...the-voice 
" Are you trying to call Jalgaon, because the STD code is sometimes dialled in error with a digit missing and we get the call in Mumbai . Sometimes dialling from a mobile and land line is different." Me trying to help. 
" How can it be Mumbai ? I must have made more than a lakh calls to this number ! This must be Jalgaon. Call your manager. I insist " the-voice 
" Hello. This is a Mumbai Powai number. I am here sitting in Mumbai and cannot say that this is Jalgaon, much as you might like me to. Me . 
"How can u be in Mumbai ? You are lying. Call Mr Darshan Patell. Better , Call the Manager !. the-voice 
" Ma'am, this is a residence, and I am the Manager . Ab bolo. " 

Just wondering why she made one lakh (100,000) calls to the number ?

This conversation happened yesterday afternoon. And found its way to FB  to the immense amusement of various folks.

I keep getting several calls for Jalgaon. Many times it is someone trying to call a family member , and they are disappointed to get me. Then I explain the STD code to them, and some of them , who have clearly not had the benefit of CC , confide and say how so and so gave them the number, it worked when someone else dialled etc etc, but they are grateful that one is not shouted at.  They even apologize when they manage to reach me again.

Then I get these "plywood" calls. Some guys wish to know when their order is being delivered. I tried telling that I  "don't do plywood or any wood", but they then throw dates and numbers at me. Some hear when I say its me , and bashfully apologize, while others  then ask me for the correct plywood person's number!   By and large, no one abuses you. They are just confused or flummoxed .

Which takes me back to another time , in the pre cell phone days.  Somewhere in 1990.  MTNL reigned supreme, being a telephone linesman was a lucrative profession, you waited years for a  telephone , and at that time, ours was the only telephone in a building of 4 flats,  thanks to my folks transferring their phone to me on retirement .

One of my neighbors was scheduled for surgery,  there was some confusion/problem  and they came down to call the doctor. First the lady dialled. Wrong number. Then I dialled.  (I was supposed to have magic fingers; in reality it was this ability to tirelessly keep dialing till someone answered).  Again wrong number.  This went on for several minutes, till the lady at the other end asked what the problem was.  We told her the problem, the doctors name, his clinic etc,  and that we needed to explain and hear from him before the elderly patient could be moved .

Turns out, that she did know of his clinic, some numbers had changed. But she didn't know his changed number. She asked us to hold on, and sent her son to a neighbor who had the doc's card. It looked like he would take a while, so she asked us for our number!  We offered to call her again. Ten minutes later, we get a call back,not from her, but from the doc !   The patient's folks were relieved, the doc gave the instructions and everything went off fine in the subsequent days.

I don't think the lady was trained in any CC.  She probably realised we were not trained in any CC either.  She just hugely empathized with some worried folks who had an incorrect number given to them.  But she "thought out of the box" as they say,  and got in touch with the doc himself .

Such things may not happen today.  For one thing, doctors have cell phones, and they hand out the contact details to whoever they feel necessary.  Elsewhere, these are the days of trained communicators marinated in jargon. And people with fancy accents telling you to press different numbers for different services. 

These are days, where there are set ways of greeting each other in a corporate ambiance. I've often greeted folks with a namastey, the same instant that they have held their palm out to shake hands. It is fun. :-)

There are even set ways of dressing, as was brought home to me (after a lifetime of working/retiring and dressing in the Indian National Dress ) when folks went shopping for "western formals"  on acquiring their first job.

What is true of verbal communications is also true of non-verbal .  I am aware that corporate types having to work with, say Japan/Taiwan/Korea, or even Middle East folks, get special training in local communication culture. 

This form of communication is often culture centric.   And very often , those who do not have the benefit of special professional training, communicate the best.

Young children  in the house know, that when they take leave of elderly grandfolks , whether actually related or no,  they are expected to touch their feet doing namaskar. This is mostly taught  to them by example , as it was , to me , personally, by my mother.

A couple of years ago we were visiting   a family friend  , an American lady,  aged 92(or is it 94) , while on  trip to the US. This lady's son lived in India for several years, and is conversant with the cultural ethos, and we  had accompanied him to his mother's house. When it was time to leave after a very nice lunch visit, my daughter quickly bent to do namaskar to her.  The lady was literally taken aback  (she actually moved half a step back, wondering if something had fallen down).  In a reflex action of sorts, she placed her hand on the daughter's shoulder and patted her.  The message had probably gone through .  (Her son must have later explained to her the namaskar gesture by the younger to the older folks) .

I guess communication, per se,  whether verbal or nonverbal, originates in the head, but is more enjoyable, with a dollop of heart thrown in.....



  1. Hilarious conversation. :D I agree. Heart is what makes it more enjoyable.

  2. The telecons reminded me of Paresh Rawal's dialogue in Hera Pheri :) Back when telephones were got after a wait of a decade, we shifted houses and got a new number from MTNL. This was the OLD number of one Dr.Dang. And that was about the time the movie Karma was released with a villain by that name :) We got no less than 20 wrong numbers and one day I discovered that it belonged to a pathologist who had his lab in that area! We suffered for at least six months till all his old patients must have finally got his new number.

    CC or not, we are indeed more intent in communicating with the head than with our heart, as you have so rightly pointed out. The telephone episode is so typical of those 'heartfelt' days. Folks never thought twice about allowing their neighbours to receive calls from out of town, or even from abroad, book their trunk calls in emergencies and the like. We are progressing -- in which direction, I sometimes wonder.

  3. The dollop of heart is what is largely missing in the world these days, don't you think?

    I am still grinning over the phone conversation you had though! Total entertainment material! :D :D

  4. I hope some CC types are reading this too and seeing how and why children are able to communicate in an instant ! Without the glitz and glamour of a training program in a star hotel !

    I didnt know Jalgaon was across the lake. Will bear that in mind ! :)

  5. And I thought receiving orders on behalf of the local Kirana store was bad! ;)