Postcard from…New Delhi
23 October 2009
It was an opportunity I couldn’t miss when I discovered Eversheds was looking for legal advisors to second to Indian firm Khaitan & Co in New Delhi and Mumbai. Having visited India on a number of occasions on holiday I was unsure of what to expect on the business side.
The first time I visited India was when I was four years old and since then India has undergone a dramatic transformation.
Delhi is undergoing a mammoth facelift, largely down to the city hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Connaught Place (recently renamed as Rajiv Chowk) is being completely renovated for the upcoming games and around this tourist attraction builders work day night to ensure that the project is completed on time. Delhi’s roads are now slightly less congested with the first stations of Delhi’s new underground Metro linking East and West Delhi having been completed with the remainder due to be completed in time for the games next year.
The food in India, as one can expect, is very cheap. All varieties of Indian food are served on every street corner, mainly catering for vegetarians and for a ‘non-veg’ like me. The UK style Indian chicken madras is harder to find. All of the regular American fast food franchises have set up shop in India and they will deliver the smallest order to almost anywhere, including your desk at work!
Walking around New Delhi you get continually pestered by street vendors trying to sell everything from head massagers to toy three-wheelers. Last week a seller was chasing me around the market with cotton buds offering to clean my ears. He showed me a book of testimonials from satisfied customers; he had some rave reviews.
English is the business language of India and is most people’s second language. Punjabi and Hindi (India’s national language) are quite similar so my Yorkshire Punjabi is understood and this makes life a bit easier for me.
In India it is important to quickly grasp the denominations that are used when talking about financials. A lakh is 100,000 rupees and a crore is 10,000,000 rupees. All deals are quoted in crores so I usually find myself pulling out my calculator and typing a lot of zeros to work out the deal value in pounds.
Foreign law firms are restricted from entering the Indian legal market and there is much debate of this changing in the next few years. Most younger lawyers I have spoken to see the opening up of the Indian legal market as a great opportunity for them and the legal market in general.
Labour is cheap in India so most offices have tea boys, people to buy your lunch for you and bring it to your desk and even top up your Indian mobile phone. I find myself doing most of my own typing as secretaries are mainly used to typing letters that are dictated in person by shorthand.
The atmosphere at work is very friendly. I have been made to feel very welcome and people have gone out of their way to take me out for a meal and drinks at every opportunity. The teams here are all very close and most of the lawyers will get together for lunch every day in one of their offices. Most people bring in their own tiffin boxes with food that has been prepared at home. These are laid out on the desk for all to enjoy, rather like a mini banquet.
Indians are passionate about cricket so I was delighted when I was asked to play for the firm’s cricket team in a 20/20 match against one of the other national law firms. The ground that we played on was of a very high standard and was flood lit and even came with a local audience that I suspect would come to watch any live match that was on, regardless of the level of skill on show.
Delhi’s bars and clubs are dotted in various random parts of the city and the better ones are located in the numerous five star hotels in the city. The most expensive places are usually the most congested as the local Delhiites do to not bat an eyelid at paying London prices for drinks although will haggle the taxi driver that got them there down from 50p to 25p.
I have been fortunate enough to experience Diwaliin India which is one of the main religious festival’s that takes place in the Hindu calendar marking the beginning of the Hindu New Year. All offices, workplaces and educational institutions usually remain closed for one or two days, or at least on the third day of Diwali (it being a public holiday). Diwali is celebrated with activities and traditions such as setting off fireworks, gambling on card games (the amount you win or lose is seen as an indication of your financial prosperity for the year ahead), spring-cleaning and decorating homes, exchanging gifts and sweets and spending money on yourself.
Around Delhi leading up to Diwali you hear fireworks going off throughout the day, you see homes, offices, cars and shops decorated with garlands and lights, stages are being erected in all large public areas with re-enactments of the story of Diwali. Most shops and businesses have sales on to encourage people to spend more in the run up to Diwali so retailers both on a local and national level can expect to receive a boost in revenue at this time of year.
Eversheds associate Sandip Khroud is currently on secondment to Indian firm Khaitan & Co