July 19, 1961 – observations on work culture at NIAVE (Gene)

Wednesday, July 19, 1961

Dear Irv and Ed,

I promised to write more, in the hasty letter I sent the other day. I’m taking some office time this morning to write it.

I don’t think I’ve given you any idea of the schedule I follow or the way the job is shaping up, so here’s the word.

TCM is the Technical Cooperation of the U.S. Government. In all other countries it is called USOM, for U.S. Operations Mission. For some reason the designation of TCM remained for India only when USOM was adopted for the same agencies in all other countries.

TCM has a variety of departments, including advisory capacities in finance, agriculture, education, dairy, etc. There is an administrative group that runs the whole operation and it is to this group that all the departments are ultimately responsible. The administration group is composed of people who are on what is called direct hire. They are U.S. Government employees. Each department is headed by, and staffed in part by other direct hire people. In addition to this setup, working in each department, are contract groups. These are Universities from the U.S. who have undertaken contract work and each of these is headed by a Chief of Party and staffed by the particular University.

So, I’m in TCM, Education Division, Teachers College, Columbia University Contract group with the designation, Audio-Visual Specialist.

I’m attached to the National Institute of Audio-Visual Education of the Government of India as an advisor. In this capacity I’m supposed to work with the Director of the NIAVE as an advisor and consultant.

TCM headquarters is on Lytton Road and was the former palace of a Maharaja. This sounds posh, but the building is not so hotsy-totsy and has been divided and sub-divided into scores of small offices. Instead of a palace, it is a two-story, bulky-looking square with a small court in the center.

The NIAVE is one of a group of five Institutes that comprise the Ministry of Education. These are scattered all over Delhi, none of them being as much as ten miles apart. TCM has a transportation pool of Willys carryalls and Chevy and other sedans, forty in all, I think. These are manned by Indian drivers and the operation works out of a cubby hold in the TCM building. A call to the Transportation people will bring a car to pick you up from where you live in the morning and take you around on business. For example, a car picks me up at about 8:15 am and takes me to the TCM building. I go up to the Education Division on the second floor and check my mail pigeon hole and talk with my colleagues about any relevant material dealing with the day’s work. Then I go downstairs, mail any letters and go to the transportation office to arrange the day’s transport.

(missing paragraph or page)

… personnel, the equipment and supply situation, the past and present plans and programs these people have been working on….general education for myself. Then, I hope to get them to take a look at what they are doing so that they can see whether they’re doing a significant job and what they out to be thinking about improving.

From the point-of-view of what we think of as efficiency of operation, leaving aside the purposes of what we’re doing, an American view of this situation in Delhi makes it look terribly slovenly. Disorganization, sloppiness and dirt and confusion seem to be the order of the day. I have to be careful not to assume that these early impressions are accurate impressions … a lot more study is needed before this is confirmed, if it is confirmed.

It’s not easy to get information. The fact that we both speak English doesn’t mean that I and the person I speak with are really talking about the same thing. Very often when I ask a question I get in answer a defense of why things are not as they should be. The fact that things have been left undone for more than two years may be answered by the fact that they are still awaiting an answer to a letter.

Indian office hours begin at 10:00 am and end at 5:30. People wander in up to 10:30 or 10:45, explain happily that they had to post a letter. At 11:00 am they have coffee and at 11:30 they start on lunch. By 2:00 pm most of them are back at work. I’m told that this is not a wholly typical pattern and it may not be so even within NIAVE. But the thing to note here is that while in the U.S. we are concerned with the problem of getting as much out of the employee as it is a right to expect, here there is a concern with getting us as many people occupied as possible. The other day 22 men or more were pulling a cable drum through the streets, loaded with heavy cable. Two bullocks could have done the job but then all but one or two of these men would not have been working.

Thus the NIAVE has a table of organization which shows employment of 67 people. ne keeps track of whose desk a file has been delivered. One is listed as a film joiner (film splicer). If he makes ten splices a week, I venture that’s a lot. There are research assistants, but no research, as such. And so on. This doesn’t mean that work is not going on, but there is just a different cultural pattern in the approach to work. Without giving in or giving up, you just have to outwardly stifled impatience and make yourself proceed so slowly it hurts. Of course in many things one can step in and do the job, which will get done this time because of it, but no change in patterns will result. When you leave, things will be as before. Somehow, you’ve got to get them to want to do some (not all) things differently and then do them differently, themselves. It’s an interesting balance to try to strike.

I’ve kind of rambled around on all of this, but maybe you get some kind of a picture of my routing.

By the way, I’m having a desk name plate of brass made for you, with your name in English and Hindi … quite decorative, and I hope you like it when it comes, which will be in a couple of months, by sea freight. I’m having one made for Val for his Temple office and one for Albert Steinberg just so’s he can say that somebody remembered him after he’d done a favor. We haven’t really had much time to contemplate things for others. These signs are in very common use here and a fellow stopped by the other day at our “home,” which made this extremely convenient.

I hope Joan and Joe are getting settled in their new home and that all is well with all the family. We’re all fine here. Regards to Dad, Mrs. Rose, Val, all the Burrs and everybody.


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