‘Stay indoors: It’s hot as hell,’ shouts the Times of India, ‘Met Office Forecast Grim; Hyderabad Sizzles At 44° C.’
India is currently experiencing all-time record-breaking summer temperatures. In Delhi, where I was until Wednesday, it hit 48°. That’s 118° for you Fahrenheiters. Now I’m in Hyderabad and I can say with certainty that at these extremes, four degrees make no difference at all. The moment you step out of whatever air-conditioned sanctuary you’ve been hiding in, it hits you like an all-enveloping blast from a gigantic hair dryer.
I’m here running communications training for a large Indian company and this is business travel of the most disconnecting kind – airport to hotel to training centre to hotel and so on, all in chauffeur-driven cars with the mean inside temperature of Scotland in March. Beyond the windows the heat pounds down on cows, road-workers, beggars, motorcyclists, rickshaw drivers and pedestrians. We slide past them with a sense of suspended reality, aware that an essential part of India’s soul is missing from our experience.
There’s something essential missing from the way my client organisation speaks, too. Theirs is not the natural language of human exchange. Process, analysis, statistics and data are their currency; and the lack of human content is exacerbated by the excessive use of Powerpoint, which has become so ubiquitous in the organisation that it has almost replaced conversation. The usual request is not so much ‘come and talk to me’ as ‘send me some slides’.
In the training I take people through a series of exercises designed to show them that anything, however small, that lights a spark in their audience’s imagination will increase tenfold the human contact they make. There’s a point at which understanding dawns, almost invariably followed by a smile and a look of longing in the eyes, then a worried frown and a flood of questions as their reality impinges once more and they retreat to their position inside the air-conditioned car, looking out at the hot, crowded, pulsating human world beyond, and wondering if they dare open the windows.
It takes courage to do it the first time, there’s no doubt, but once they have, once they’ve felt what happens when they let the heat and smell and sounds rush in and wrap around them, there’s no going back.