Sat Nam. The following is one of the many stories that are to be found in
Khushwant Singh's new book, Sikhs Unlimited, which was recently
released in India. Chandigarh-based young Khushwant is a regular
sikhchic.com columnist and also writes for "The Times of India."
As well, he frequently contributes to "India Today."
I could outsource it, I would."
waking at 2.30 a.m., to catch a flight at 5.30 a.m. from Chicago
with change-overs at Atlanta and New Jersey, to reach Washington,
DC's Dulles airport at 3.30 p.m. And, of course, the airline had
left my luggage behind. Continuous travel, hopping in and out from
hotels, houses and airports for almost two months had starting fatiguing
me, and the luggage episode was the last thing I needed.
"Sat Sri Akal," I said as I immediately recognized the
white American Sikh, though he looked more like our Bhais in the
gurdwaras. A paunch and a white kurta-pyjama, a similar coloured
turban and a flowing beard.
"Khushwant Singh?" he asked.
I heaved a sigh of relief at the baggage claim area as I had been
running from pillar to post trying to trace my luggage.
"I'm Sri Daya Singh, brother of Gurujot Singh," he quickly
added, "and he is waiting for us outside in the car, probably
doing laps, as you cannot park here."
"'Ah, OK," I replied, and hurriedly scribbled my contact
details for the United Airlines Lost Baggage Claim agent.
Gurujot Singh was not to be part of the book, until I reached America
and was told that I would be naive not to include one of the pioneers
of off-shoring and outsourcing to developing countries, especially
Driven by the late Harbhajan Singh
Yogi's desire in 1989 to create employment opportunities in
India, Gurujot Singh had humbly obeyed his master's orders. Harbhajan
Singh (aka Siri Singh Sahib)
had instructed his students to transfer American technology into
India, but Gurujot Singh went a step further.
Gurujot Singh, right, Harbhajan Singh
Based on the philosophy that there is $200 billion being spent on
jobs performed in the U.S. that could be off-shored to less developed
countries at one-half of the current cost, he set about creating
call centres, technical help-desks, telesales, customer service
and other services that could be provided over the telephone, internet,
mail or facsimile for American corporations in less privileged countries.
Gurujot's HealthScribe Inc., a medical transcription firm set up
in Bangalore in 1993 and now valued at over $1 billion, had set
off a chain reaction that was to have a far-reaching impact on Indian
The back office business processing project, that was meant to be
based on a model to boost social engineering to create wealth and
employment in developing countries, rather than to only make money,
kicked off a new lease of economic freedom amongst youth, especially
young women who, because of their economic dependence on a male-dominated
society, were at times subjected to physical and mental abuse.
And what Punjab missed, but Bangalore gained and Pakistan's Punjab
and South Africa are also getting, is a story that would be unravelled
after I reached Gurujot Singh's office at Sterling, Virginia.
"Welcome," said Gurujot Singh as I got into his car, unhappy
with the events of the day. Gurujot Singh, an army man, wore an
aqua shirt and white trousers, had a paunch - though not to compare
with his brother's - and very bright eyes, probably hawkish enough
that made him see the opportunity that lay in India.
"We are putting you up in the Marriot Suites," said Gurujot
Interestingly, by now the trend of interviews had changed, as I
moved from one entrepreneur to the other. Unlike before, where I
was staying with families, starting from Cleveland onwards, I was
being checked into luxury hotels by my hosts and the interaction
was more over meals or in offices, rather than the usual at-home
chit-chat that I had become used to.
"Worldbridge International," read the signboard on the
door that Gurujot Singh opened with a click of a key, guiding me
to his office. As it was a weekend, the office had zero attendance,
except the three of us.
"So what are you looking for?" he asked.
"I am at the door of a man who I believe triggered what the
world calls BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) activity. I have
simply come to have a peep into your life and your work," I
replied, and like any other corporate meeting, we got right down
The digital recorder was switched on, and Gurujot Singh began: "It
was Yogiji who set the idea rolling, when he said that he had got
the Indian technology of yoga to
America and it was time to transfer American technology to India
and asked us to go to India."
"You mean it's so simple - off-shoring in exchange for yoga?
This aspect has not been revealed to the public, surprisingly,"
"Yes it is, technology for technology," he replied emphatically.
"Yoga is nothing but a technology, a science of living that
was introduced in the U.S.A. by various yogis in the early twentieth
A veteran traveller to India to spread Harbhajan Singh Yogi's yoga,
Gurujot Singh showed up in India for the first time, for the purpose
of technology transfer only, in 1990.
"Thinking about it, the first seeds of offshoring were sown
when we started to digitalize manuscripts under back office processing
in New Delhi and Chandigarh for an American publishing company,
Simon and Schuster," he explained.
Sikh Dharma (affiliated with 3HO,
the organization founded by Harbhajan
Singh Yogi) -- under its company, Kriya Systems -- in 1980 had
launched an educational software called Typing Tutor, which went
on to become one of the highest-selling software in the world (1983-1991),
with over twenty million users. In 1990, Kriya Systems, using the
Typing Tutor, trained young English-speaking, semi-literate Indians
in typing and then shipped off-shored data entry work to them from
(Webmaster's correction: Sikh Dharma is NOT an offshoot of 3HO. Sikh Dharma is a 500 year old spiritual path, fifth largest religion in the world. 3HO is a service organization, which teaches Kundalini Yoga and meditation. Many students of 3HO are Sikhs, but many more 3HO students are unaffiliated with Sikh Dharma. 3HO is open to anyone regardless of religious affiliation. See Sat Kartar.)
In publishing, three persons would work on one book and separate
software would detect an error if one of the typists keyed in a
different spelling for the same word. Before this, the entire "legacy
inventory" was converted into digital files with the help of
a character recognition process called Optical Character Recognition
(OCR), which was only eighty percent accurate.
OCR included feeding paper to the scanner that, in turn, tried to
read the character. The proof-reader had to still go through it
and correct it by reading each and every word.
With the new method, the software would indicate any mistake, and
highlight it, thus making it simpler for the proof-reader to correct
it. Through this technique, 99.9 percent accuracy was achieved and
all at a cost of $100 per person per month - a good wage for a simple
graduate in 1990 India!
"Off-shoring was the cheapest way to digitalize books,"
said Gurujot, laughingly.
"You see, software development was already taking place in
India in the late eighties, whereas we were only looking at doing
But then, it did not come without its glitches. India did not have
an earth station at that time, so no real-time data transfer could
happen. First, the books were shipped to India; data was transferred
and then shipped back.
Gurujot, in the meantime, also began a dialogue with the Indian
government, highlighting that there were a couple of hundred thousand
jobs in the offing if the government brought in new laws and created
infrastructure to enable real-time transfer.
Now there are two million jobs, Gurujot said.
And the man who saw the opportunity in the then Indian cabinet was
none other than the present Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh
(then, the country's Finance Minister), whose policies gave a new
lease on life to a beleaguered Indian economy (1991-1996).
Manmohan Singh immediately saw the potential and got infrastructure
moving. "It is largely due to his efforts that India is where
it is," commented Gurujot Singh.
"We were almost at the same level socially as the top political
leaders, including the former President of India Giani Zail Singh
and former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Yogiji
used to regularly dine with them, so having access to the top leaders
was not a problem," informed Gurujot.
"If Harbhajan Singh ji had
such proximity to senior politicians, then why didn't Chandigarh
and Punjab become the hub of BPO activity?" I asked, interrupting
A shocking revelation followed. "We did start our first activity
in North India, but the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao from Hyderabad
was keen that all new development should take place in southern
India. His logic was that Punjab and other north Indian states had
already ushered in the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s,
whereas South India had been deprived of any such revolution.
Hence the first earth station was installed at Bangalore in December
1993, which led to Bangalore becoming the "Silicon Valley"
"We went to Bangalore because we had no option, and HealthScribe
became the first commercial subscriber of the earth station which
used the satellite for data transfer."
The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee ("SGPC" -
a Sikh body that manages gurdwaras) also failed to rise to the occasion
after Sikh Dharma approached them as
far back as 1991 to set up an earth station in Mohali, Punjab (a
satellite city near Chandigarh) at a shared cost of two million
"The SGPC probably thought its own importance might decrease
if people became financially more independent," said a fuming
Gurujot Singh. "You set up an earth centre when you want to
enable your people and maybe you set up gurdwaras because you want
people to come to there and pay obeisance. In my parlance, gurdwara
management is a controlling technology.
"The late Gurcharan Singh Tohra seemed to have little vision
for Punjab, except religious politics," continued Gurujot,
who couldn't have cared less how his candour could raise a storm.
"Clubbed with the agriculture revolution, if anybody had the
brains, Punjab would have been the IT capital of India. But then,
in Punjab, the politicians don't even seem to know how to use a
telephone - they ask their P.A. (personal assistant) to make a phone
call for them.
"So, such an attitude was expected," said Gurujot, revealing
the inside story of Punjab's missed opportunity and how Punjab's
bureaucracy and political leaders proved to be as technology savvy
I listened to the entire saga dumbfounded, till I remembered the
joke I had once heard in the corridors of the Indian agriculture
ministry. The only time a Punjab politician or bureaucrat opens
his mouth is when he yawns.
And, as if just to rub salt in the wounds, Gurujot told me about
the whole new BPO activity, including voice and data transfer, that
is mushrooming across the Wagah border, a mere twenty miles inside
Pakistan in West Punjab's capital city, Lahore. And how General
Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan, was personally taking a
keen interest in the project.
"Anyway," said Gurujot, continuing with his story, "HealthScribe
Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of HealthScribe Inc. in the U.S., was the first
BPO company in India, connected to the earth station, from where
we could do direct medical transcription that meant digitizing reports
for forty of the biggest hospitals in the U.S., their billing and
coding for insurance purposes."
Gurujot Singh became its first CEO and, later, its Chairman.
"One of the unique things about HealthScribe Inc. was that the
company was initially funded by Indians. We approached very successful
Indian doctors in the U.S. who wanted to help India."
Even though this was a difficult concept to explain one and a half
decades earlier (1993), the doctors still contributed $2.5 million,
the first outside investment in the company after it was set up
with an initial investment of $200,000.
Twelve people from Sikh Dharma, including
Gurujot's brother, Sri Daya, his daughter - who now owns a new age
music production and distribution company - and son-in-law, were
involved in setting up the business.
"We approached the Indian doctors for four reasons: a) they
had money, that's obvious; b) they understood India because they
were Indians; c) they understood the business, but most importantly;
d) they held high-ranking positions in the hospital managements.
They knew exactly where the medical transcription, billing and coding
was done for their hospitals. They ultimately became customers and
a web was cast that made us successful."
But, in the entire scheme of things that became an all-Indian affair,
Gurujot was simply fulfilling a self-inflicted mandate - to be a
catalyst to empower youth. It was Harbhajan
Singh Yogi, an Indian by birth, who had initiated the idea.
The Indian diaspora was financing the project and it was ultimately
the Indian youth and Indian economy that was benefitting from the
Perfect. That first outsourcing venture became typical of how Gurujot
Singh set up businesses, made them successful and moved out of business
by selling his majority shares, to a start a new venture.
HealthScribe soon became a successful medical transcription business
model and there was a huge inflow of corporate visitors to see the
Sitting quietly until now, Sri Daya Singh suddenly shot out his
comment: "At one point, I thought we were running a tour company
for the executives," at which we all laughed heartily and broke
for a round of coffee.
The company was sold after five years - from a mere four hundred
employees, it had grown to having a staff of twenty thousand, with
a $200 million dollar revenue. HealthScribe, now Spheris - after
it was bought by the same company in 2003 - is presently the second
largest medical transcription company in the world.
1998. Fibre Optic cables had been laid in Bangalore. It was time
for a second revolution.
First Ring Inc. was set up in the U.S. and its own subsidiary, under
First Ring Pvt. Limited, showed up at Bangalore. Its focus: to generate
wealth and employment in India. If HealthScribe was the first back
office business company doing data transfer, then First Ring became
the first company to do voice transfer.
"We were doing call centre work for financial service companies
in America that included Fortune 500 companies like Providian Financial
Services, American Express, MCI, and Morgan Stanley."
For example, if you have an American Express card and you called
a toll-free number for assistance, all calls would be diverted to
India. The call would be taken by an executive who would assist
you with your bank balance queries or guide you to pay your bills
through the phone or any other question you might have.
The profile also included making calls for the purpose of marketing
various products to Americans, like insurance policies, new credit
cards, and so on and so forth.
First Ring soon moved to the International Technology Park, Bangalore.
By now, GE had also initiated to offshore its back office processing
on its own. "Hang on," I said. "Can you clear the
off-shoring and outsourcing ka fund to me?"
He looked at me, probably thinking - "sari Ramayana padh ke,
ab poochte ho Sita kaun thi" ("after reading the whole
Ramayana epic, you now ask me who Sita is!").
"Let me explain the whole concept, though these are terms that
came in much later. We were just interested in creating jobs,"
said Gurujot, clearing his throat. "What we were initially
selling was outsourcing and off-shoring, and India as a destination
came later, after Harbhajan Singh Yogi asked us to go. Originally, we had planned to outsource work to
Native Indian American reservations and since we had the model ready,
we implemented it in India."
"Outsourcing means giving work to a vendor and that could be
within the country. For example, American Express could have outsourced
work in the state of Iowa at a much lower cost than New York City.
So companies could save up to ten percent within America due to
a different taxation plan. For example, if the total cost is $100,000,
the company, by outsourcing within America, would only pay $90,000.
But if they off-shored it, they could save $35,000.
"There are three kinds of off-shoring: a) companies set up
their own off-shoring like GE Capital did in 1998 in India; or b)
'Outsourcing-Off-shoring', i.e., vendors offshore their work; or
c) simply both, which is a very strategic process.
"For example, what companies do presently is: set up a primary
outsourced-off-shored vendor; have two other vendors besides having
their own off-shore operation which they treat as parallel with
the other off-shoring operations. Every week, the companies then
take out a progress report listing cost and quality, comparing all
the four separate operations.
"At the end of each quarter, for example, American Express
would say that we have five hundred people more we want to offshore
and whoever has scored the best gets fifty percent of the chunk,
the second, thirty percent and the third, twenty percent. The fourth
guy gets nothing. This, from the company's point of view, is the
best way to ensure low prices and best quality.
"First Ring was later sold and is now First Source with $200
million in revenues."
ICICI group has a holding of a little less than fifty percent in
It must have been seven o'clock in the evening when we broke for
another cup of coffee. "Can we call it a day and start afresh
in the morning?" I asked, exhausted by the hectic travelling.
The concern of whether my luggage had reached the hotel was also
bothering me as it carried my cameras, and other electrical equipment,
important to proceed further with my work.
But there was no luggage waiting for me at the reception of Marriot
Suites. A hot water bath was on top of my priority list, after which
I had planned to venture out to the adjoining mall for dinner.
TGIF attracted my attention, though I still don't know why, as the
mall was lined with other authentic cuisines. Nevertheless, I soon
found myself in TGIF and lost in thinking about the evening's conversation.
I remembered how Gurujot had explained the whole social change Bangalore
had undergone after they had started the off-shoring activity, also
referred to as the Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES)
How labour laws in the state of Karnataka, of which Banglore is
the capital city, forbade women from working after six in the evening
and how, due to the time difference between India and the US, medical
transcription or call centre work would only start by 9.30 in the
Of how tough it was to fire inefficient people, due to the stringent
"Businesses don't work with such laws," he had remarked.
"When you hire somebody, you don't know whether he or she is
going to be good. After two months of training, if the guy ain't
good, you have to be able to let them go."
Of how difficult it was for women to open bank accounts, as public
sector banks would insist on an account in the father's name or
ask the girl to be accompanied by a male family member. In other
words, despite earning independently, because of banking regulations,
the women remained financially shackled to the men in the house.
That's not what Gurujot had come to India for.
Gurujot and his team worked towards getting these laws and regulations
changed and HealthScribe, which started with a five percent female
workforce, was ultimately working with sixty-five percent women
employees when it was sold.
I was reminded of how Gurujot felt that his goal had been achieved
and his presence in India was not required anymore and there were
other underdeveloped countries of the world that needed him to repeat
the same phenomenon.
Moreover, there were plenty of Indians doing similar work and all
companies by now knew how to reach India.
According to him, there are three parameters that are important
for off-shoring to take place: a) two-way optic fibre technology,
b) ten million strong, low-cost English speaking human resources,
and c) political stability. Only three countries meet this criterion
in the world besides India: the Philippines, South Africa and Pakistan.
"How do you justify Pakistan as a politically stable country?"
I had countered Gurujot.
"There are issues everywhere," he had replied. 'When we
started in India, people in America didn't have the slightest idea
of what India was like. For them, India was a crazy country where
rioting, train crashes and floods were the order of the day. Don't
these things happen in the U.S.?
The L.A. riots, or for that matter, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans
and its aftermath, are only two examples.
"Lahore in Pakistan is a great destination for off-shoring.
If you were to blindfold me in Delhi and remove it in Lahore, I
wouldn't be able to make out the difference, except that traffic
is more orderly in Lahore and there are no cows on the roads. Musharraf
is great. I simply love Manmohan and Pervez, for they are interested
in empowering their youth, though the latter has supposedly changed
his rhetoric post 9/11."
By now, I had started feeling drowsy and wanted to head back to
the suite. Taking out my notebook at the restaurant, I hurriedly
made notes of the questions I proposed to ask Gurujot the next day.
What kind of work was he doing in Pakistan's Punjab that the Indian
Punjab had missed? Almost regretting the missed opportunity, even
though Punjab today is wooing IT investments, I soon lost my thoughts
to deep sleep.
I woke up fresh and checked with the reception for my luggage. "No,
sir," said a man's voice on the telephone. My enthusiasm was
immediately reduced to half as I cursed the airline, yet again.
Dressed in the same clothes - not that the Americans minded it,
for they love the scruffy look - I ordered breakfast and waited
for Gurujot to pick me up. He was supposed to go to the gurdwara
in the morning for a congregation and sadhna before coming to the
"Before you ask me more questions and since you are writing
on my life, I must apprise you of an incident," said Gurujot
as we pulled out chairs on reaching his office. I could not guess
what to expect, but I think it takes great courage to be frank and
share the horrific moments in one's life, especially when it pertains
"Shoot," I replied. Infuriated with Gurujot Singh for
having transferred white jobs to brown people in India, the white
supremacists uploaded an incident of 1987 on the web where Gurujot
was falsely implicated in a case for conspiring to peddle drugs.
"You see, many people from different spheres visit our ashram.
A man had moved into our ashram and raised his family as Sikhs,
but five years before, he had been involved in marijuana peddling,
whereby he used to import the drug into the U.S., though he did
not do it after moving into the ashram. The police had nabbed some
of his past associates, who had turned into informers, as that drastically
reduced the jail term - drug peddling being one of the most heinous
crimes to commit in America.
"The informants moved into the ashram, pretending that they
wanted to be weaned away from drugs and soon became friends with
this guy. After becoming friendly, they suggested that he do one
last marijuana operation, make a lot of money and then lead a pious
life in the ashram. The guy refused and said that he was "out
of it." But just because they were talking about it, what they
were trying to do was show him as part of a conspiracy to import
"And since he was talking about it, they were recording the
conversation. The informers shared the same thought with me, and
I snubbed them and told them not to even mention it. "Talk
about drugs, we are even against use of caffeine," I had replied
"Soon, the guys became yoga students and handed a letter to me to give to this guy." And
when the police arrested the 'guy', Gurujot was also arrested. Luckily
for Gurujot, the judge saw the ridiculousness of the charges and
Gurujot was let off with a fifty-dollar fine.
"So, when the white supremacists and anti-cult people (twenty-five
million Sikhs is a cult?) wanted to
get back at me for the whole off-shoring phenomenon, they got hold
of this case. For a long time, whenever we approached big corporations,
they would e-mail or post this history of mine. Imagine something
like this landing on the table of American Express's CEO or the
head of Goldman Sachs, whom you are trying to woo as an investor.
"As it is, for many investors, I was a peculiar man, who stayed
in an ashram, dressed differently and was talking about a new concept
in a faraway country. I had to do a lot of convincing, carrying
court orders, taking my lawyers to tell people - look, I'm not guilty.
Somehow, everybody understood. But imagine the due diligence one
is put through. And now, since I'm working in South Africa, which
virtually means that first I transferred white jobs to brown India
and now it's to the blacks, the season is on me."
We laughed heartily, diffusing the serious atmosphere that had suddenly
engulfed the empty office space of Worldbridge.
However, Gurujot was not finished yet. The informants had also got
the alleged marijuana dealer talking of dealing in arms, which meant
larger accusations. Since Gurujot was part of Akal
Security, a Sikh Dharma-owned company, the anti-cult people
tried to insinuate that Sikh Dharma Sikhs
were trying to smuggle in weapons through airports, as Akal provided
security to major airports.
"I mean, it's crazy," he said. "In this day and age,
airport security is one of the most critical issues of the world.
Only fools can think of doing such a thing and making such statements.
I don't know how much you know about U.S. security."
"I respect it, as I'm a peace-loving citizen of the world,"
"These miniscule anti-cult/white supremacists that form just
a fraction of the population, fail to understand the benefits off-shoring
has for the American economy. When that graduate sitting in India
earns, the first thing he wants to do is imitate a Yankee. Levis
jeans and Nike shoes."
Sure, check out my Levis tag. Which reminded me to call the airline
about my luggage again. "Yes, Mr. Singh, your bag has arrived."
What a relief it was to get back into fresh clothes, after Gurujot
drove me to the airport to collect the luggage.
Going back a few more years, Gurujot claimed to have been to jail
over forty times in earlier days, due to his involvement with the
Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam War protests in America.
When South Africans learn that he had been to jail for the Civil
Rights movement, they actually applaud and welcome him.
Another round of laughter, that allowed us to switch gears and presented
me with the opportunity to ask the questions that I had scribbled
the previous night.
"So how did you reach South Africa?" I asked.
"We are simply driven by the formula that private enterprise
plays a pivotal role in eradicating poverty and unemployment. It
also saves exploitation of the environment, as people get empowered."
Highly impressed with Nelson Mandela, Gurujot wanted to help him
by contributing his bit.
Soon, the World Bank, after conducting a feasibility report, approached
Gurujot for South Africa.
"Though we went there, work in South Africa is slow, because
of the transformation that is taking place in that country. The
power has already been transferred to the blacks, but ninety-five
percent of the money is still with the whites; slowly but surely,
there is a transfer of wealth taking place, where we fitted in perfectly.
The process is happening in a regulated manner, unlike in Zimbabwe.
"However, with this process going on, it became difficult for
us to find funding, as everything and anything requires funding
in South Africa. As a result of which, the capital that we were
looking for was not available. All the capital is being used for
real asset wealth, whereas we were talking about venture funds.
For example, the capital is being spent in transferring diamond
mines from white ownership to black.
"We told the World Bank that things were not working in South
Africa, at least for the time being, after which the World Bank
Gurujot and Co. were introduced to one Adeel Shah in Washington
D.C., who was head of the Pakistan-U.S. business council, who took
them to Pakistan, where they held a meeting with UBL Bank, the leading
"Between UBL ($2 million), Rupali Group ($2 million), and two
smaller banks ($500,000), World Bridge Connect raised investments
worth five million US dollars. A facility with a four hundred seating
capacity was set up in Lahore and Fortune 500 Company Dish Network
became the first company to off-shore forty revenue seats in Lahore.
"Women form a big part of our workforce, even though Pakistan
is more conservative than India. Similar to Bangalore, we started
plying company buses to pick and drop our employees. The buses have
the company name in bold fonts so that people know where the women
are going. Pakistan is what India was ten years ago.
"But let me tell you," Gurujot warns, "if India does
not take stock of the situation - serious issues like handling its
attrition rate and quality - there could be tough times ahead. See,
the perception about India ten years ago is what it is in Pakistan.
But today, nobody thinks about perceptions, the concern is of quality,
as you can hardly get good work in India.
"And companies today want to diversify their location risk.
Today, companies are sending seventy percent of their work to India,
but they do not want to put too much risk in a single location.
They might as well have multiple countries. And, mind you, experimenting
in another country is no big deal. Just give twenty seats for starters.
"For example, the companies have hundreds of millions of dollars
in India and if something were to go wrong, where can they take
it? Only to America - and that would cost them twice as much. So
to mitigate the location risk, they have to spread themselves across
China is out, for they don't speak English and, according to Gurujot,
it will take the Chinese at least twenty-five years to become accent-neutral.
"The best accent-free English in India is spoken in north India,
though we faced huge challenges and made enormous investments in
training accents. We hired speech pathologists specializing in this
area, which is a science. There are eight diphthongs or sounds made
by your articulators: the tongue, lips, teeth and the palate. These
four interact in a particular way, to form your or my accent.
"Indians made certain diphthongs which Americans never made.
When we trained people in western accents, the idea was not to hide
the fact that they were from another country, but to train them
to diphthongs that the Americans could understand. We were looking
for more global accents, not American, or anything that would make
the dialogue comfortable.
"It's a very simple process and takes about forty hours to
train someone. But, one of the other problems was that Indians speak
very fast, whereas Americans speak slowly in syllables."
Time was running out, for I had an evening flight to catch to New
York. "India has to be very careful because it's getting trapped
in a vicious cycle. Companies are not training executives because
attrition rate is high and global companies are not giving work
because quality is sub-standard," Gurujot continued, after
a business call interrupted our conversation.
"By the way, what time is your flight?" asked Gurujot.
"In three hours time," I said.
"Let's hurry then. We'll have dinner and I'll drop you."
"The next big focus is on stem cell research. And India seems
to be the right destination to off-shore research. America is just
caught up in an unnecessary debate of morality," he added as
we chatted over dinner at an Italian restaurant.
"People only think that you are a genius when they look back
at your work, but what you are actually doing at that point of time
is simply using common sense," he said.
Postscript: In a significant development, World Bridge has shut
its Lahore operations since May 2006. U.S. clients shied away from
Pakistan, after a U.S. consular officer was killed in Karachi on
1 March 2006, in a suicide bomb attack. Moreover, owing to the growing
political uncertainty, there are few takers for Pakistan.
World Bridge is looking to start afresh in Cape Town, South Africa,
in 2007. --