Friday, May 4, 2007

Across the black waters

Last month a cousin of mine asked me to advise his daughter about international travel. She was proceeding to the United States for the first time on a study cum training assignment.

I told the girl three things. One: never panic under any circumstance; keep cool and situations can be managed. Two: there might be jetlag after a long haul. Three: initially there could be problem with the American accent and difficulty in understanding what they say.

My first trip to US was in 1970. That was one week after a visit to Russia to assess that country’s tire industry. At that time I was the General Manager of the automobile tire project of Ruby Rubber Works Ltd and was shopping around for technical collaboration. Mr. KPU Menon, the then Production Manager of Premier Tyres accompanied me.

The Moscow tire factory was impressive. It had two parts. One was an old Ford tire facility that was dismantled and shipped out to Russia in 1942 to augment the war effort. The other was a modern automated plant with one million tires a year capacity, which was operated by about 350 workers. Most of them were women.

We were looked after well by the Russian government departments concerned. But all along there was a sense of insecurity. On landing at Moscow, our passports and the money we carried were taken away. In lieu of US dollars we were issued Intourist Coupons! Imagine being in a foreign country sans proof of identity and money, and without knowing the language.

A week after returning from Russia was the trip to Akron, Ohio, to the HQ of General Tires, which at that time was one of the tire majors in America. Our delegation was led by Mr. Mathew Marattukalam, MD of Ruby Rubber.

At the first meeting a General Tire executive made a presentation about his company. We didn’t understand much of what was said. After some hesitation I asked, “Can you have what you said translated into English?” There was brief silence and then the host’s Sr. Vice President laughed out. From that point on it was smooth sailing and later on we signed the technical collaboration agreement for Apollo Tyres, the company, which Mr. Mathew Marattukalam had promoted to implement the automobile tire project.

George Patton, the swashbuckling American general of WW II had a point when he once said that United States and Great Brittan were two great nations separated by a common language! Of course, ours was Indian English.

For me personally there was another happy outcome from the tie-up with General Tires – a great friendship with John Porosky, their VP for Indian operations.


Note: ‘Across the Black Waters’ by Mulk Raj Anand is an outstanding novel about World War I in which over 65,000 Indian soldiers died. This work was translated into eleven European languages and is still in demand.

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