Saturday, 23 July 2016

My Experiments with the Indian Workplace

For a long time now, I’ve wondered if ALL companies in India that work on language-related projects act in a certain manner? When I first relocated in 2011, I tried working in-house.

At the very first company, I was taken in for Quality Control of created content, but was soon made to “create content” – the same job that recent graduates were doing. To add insult to injury, a sleazy manager insinuated I was “eating too much at lunchtime” (company provided food to make up for low salaries). I QUIT in 5 weeks. Heard the news a couple of years down the line that the sleazy element had been sacked. Good for the women in the company!

The second company where I accepted a job claimed to be a publishing services firm. The set-up was so fraudulent, the CEO one day proudly told me he hadn’t even paid the Export License Fee that year. I was horrified. Capacities were vastly exaggerated when sending proposals to prospective clients. It had just a handful of employees at that time and even fewer freelancers. I QUIT in the fourth month.

The third one, where I was taken in as a French Language Expert (and this firm was later taken over by Big Name Group!) wanted me to “Just use Google Translate, Copy and Paste the results on a Word document, Edit here and there, Create a summary and Submit.” I had to show up for work at 8am even on Diwali day, had work between 8am and 10:30am, then again between 3pm and 5pm. What did I do in the meantime? I ate THREE plain cheese grilled sandwiches every single day at the cafeteria upstairs – for a mid-morning snack, lunch and evening snack! To make things worse, an incompetent little pest who claimed to be fluent in BOTH Spanish and German was paid much more than I was, sitting right next to me and asking ME to help him translate – when I proved he didn’t know jack shit about the Spanish language and/or culture, and my sample summary of Spanish>English translation was better, the HR Manager defended the pest. I only have an Ab Initio certification in Spanish, but have an MA in Translating and a PhD in Translation Studies from a British university. I also completed 2 levels of Japanese and 1 level of Arabic. I QUIT in my second month at this particular company. And I had the last laugh when I found out through LinkedIn that the pest had also QUIT the firm 2 months after I did…So much for HR policies! My immediate manager at that firm told me to be patient as I’d “easily reach managerial level within 6 months, given (my) capabilities”…I told him I wasn’t interested as using Google Translate for work goes against ALL my ethics.

Then, I started freelancing.

The very first firm paid me peanuts – EIGHTEEN INR per page of font size 10, with up to 200 footnotes in even smaller print for legal journal articles! I QUIT as soon as I bagged a good firm that was looking for freelancers. To get a rough idea of rates in India, 67 Indian Rupees = 1 US Dollar as of today. 

Then, I started with a company that was reasonably good – at least initially. I took offense to my works being handled later by a certain Project Manager who could not even speak grammatically correct English. When we finally met at the office, he said something something along the lines of “Sorry, we could not be able to meet earlier”…Now, CAN = TO BE ABLE TO. You CANNOT use the two together. And he should’ve known this as a PM in a publishing services company! I refused to work with him, and stand by my decision till date.

I freelanced for them till a couple of months ago. What made me see red was being sent negative feedback on my last assignment for them, when clearly they had not put it through a QC stage at their end. Now, this is very common in Indian workplaces – several of them CLAIM to put all processes and checks in place, including through “a stringent QC/QA process”, but alas, that is seldom the reality! If anything goes wrong, they find a scapegoat – in this case, it was to be ME. The manuscript in question was by an Indian author who clearly didn’t know how to write! As someone paid only slightly more than half a US$ per page, I cleaned it up as much as I could. Why did I accept such a low pay? Because I DO believe in some kind of loyalty to clients for as long as the work is reasonably interesting and I am paid promptly…Clearly, in this case, time to let go. I QUIT!

Another firm also sent me interesting titles to work on during 2012–2013. What started off well soon went downhill. At one point, instead of the 250–275 words per page that is the industry norm taken as forming ONE page, these people were cramming up to 425 words into each page. I QUIT!

A couple of other companies also sent me freelance work between 2012 and 2013. One sent me fiction which was so bad, the uninterested author herself forgot the name of one of her main characters! This firm mainly dealt with self-publishing authors – and no thanks to Chetan Bhagat, we have HUNDREDS of wannabe writers in India now. Most of them send their work to this particular firm…I gave up after having almost REWRITTEN every single line in the first eight pages of an awful manuscript that should’ve never seen the light of day! When I sent it back to the publishing services firm, saying “Author needs to look at changes suggested in the first eight pages and revert with a cleaner version”, I never heard from them again! Do I regret it? Absolutely NOT! I QUIT!

Now that we’ve seen the Bad and the Ugly, let me come to the Good ones…In Nov. 2013, I was contacted by a wonderful Bangalore-based company…and I still work for them. Touch Wood. The ONLY problem I had with them was when a new PM came on board a few weeks ago. That minor hiccup has since been dealt with successfully. Or so, I’d like to think.

A Mumbai company has been sending me reasonably well-paid work, but the assignments are few and far between. At this point in time, it does not serve my purposes, though I am still on their list of freelancers. Another firm dealing with similar jobs got a taste of my temper when they messed up the online time scheduling system. The notification to me clearly mentioned 12:30 the next day, not 00:30. Obviously, I had intended to work on the small piece after 11am that next morning and send it before the 12:30 deadline. Got a nasty shock when I received an email, saying I had breached the deadline. So, I kindly pointed out that 12:30 generally means thirty minutes after 12 noon, not thirty minutes after 12 midnight. There was no AM/PM to distinguish the scheduled deadline either. To that, the Editorial Manager sent me an email response, pointing out my email to the team was rude in tone…Really? I can sound WORSE than that…This one didn’t even see me taking on the first assignment. I QUIT!

I’ve been trying out something new lately – Quality Control again! I was told I’m being extremely thorough in my work and I was an asset. Yet, not being paid 25 days since my invoice was raised (when the contract said payment would be within SEVEN days) means I do NOT take on QC work for them again. This is because their vendors carry out such poor-quality editing that almost EVERY manuscript that comes to the QC stage needs to be looked into thoroughly, a Line Edit – making it almost a Re-Edit stage in the workflow process. FOUR pages during the QC process are treated as ONE page of edits and rates offered accordingly in INR. I QUIT! They want me on a freelance basis with a higher rate. I am giving them some time to redeem themselves. THEY are on trial; not ME!

So, the above have been My Experiments with the Indian Workplace. All the above in the last 5 years. Please pour in with your comments! I’d enjoy reading every single one of them, for sure…Have I given up? Not yet...Always an optimist. I am a dreamer and would still like to believe in silver linings, and lights at the end of every tunnel and a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow!
PS: I've not mentioned the company name in even a single instance. Kindly do not contact me asking for further details.