Protocol Issues

by Sahadev Komaragiri

No matter how much you learn about the protocol to be followed, you will always go amiss at some point or the other. Depending on your age, status, context and more importantly who is judging, the protocol you followed is either 100% right or you are 100% screwed. Those who gossip around you stay somewhere in between. I am not really used to being a great follower of protocol when I was in the U.S. or Singapore. I did not encounter any protocol issues when I was there. In India it is a mind boggling experience.

This is the second article in my series of articles on Living in India.

Protocol, in simple terms, in India, is all about giving adequate respect to several combinations of a person’s social status, age, position and the power bestowed upon him by the higher ups.  A breach of protocol in a family will result in a huge turmoil that breaks many relationships in just a matter of minutes. A breach of protocol in an office will make you hear an earful from your higher ups. In either of the cases people from all nooks and corners will start teaching you about being tactful, respecting someone’s age, status, position and what not! The fact that you stayed away from India for so long does not help whether the breach is at home or at work – you will be told that you have forgotten your culture and your ethics and to be able to live in India you will need a big reintegration plan. Add a little bit of emotion or sentiment to the equation, the breach of protocol gets more interesting. Often times I was tempted to respond in some weird unbelievable ways – but obviously that would not be too tactful. I am just being hopeful that eventually I will learn something about the matters concerning protocol.

This entire article would be a dull theoretical exercise if I did not provide some examples. I was personally moved when a person who invited us for a lunch later tearfully withdrew the invitation as it amounted to a breach of some protocol as judged by the higher ups. But if I provide any additional examples of my own then you will start taking sides. To be safe and not play with pent up sentiments, I will just provide some hypothetical scenarios to highlight how important it is to be fully aware of protocol issues.

A new employee with an interesting background joined an organization. The organization was generally happy with the new addition and was excited about the future. So was the new employee. Out of curiosity higher ups from the headquarters were interested in knowing a little bit more about this new guy. So, one of the prominent persons just picked up the phone and called this new guy. They had a long get-to-know each other call. Both of them were happy. This new channel of communication remained open and they talked to each other a few times. The story should have ended there. But some smart person raked up the protocol issue and said that it was not right for the new employee to talk to a prominent higher official without the notice of the local organizational satraps. Neither the new employee nor the prominent higher up had anything to lose. But the whole discussion surrounding the protocol issue left a bitter taste on both of them. This is a purely hypothetical scenario but I am sure this is as real as flesh to at least one person reading this article.

Now think of a routine mundane task like going to a movie. You and your wife are free to go to a movie as long as no one notices. But once you are on your way out and you decide to call one or two people to join you, it gets incredibly complicated and messy. How about that friend who called us when they were going out, how about that sister, that brother, that brother-in-law, that sister-in-law… these are the questions that continue to haunt you all the way. You are in the middle of the movie and suddenly you are thinking about that person you did not invite. This is especially true in large joint families. Now think of another routine task of inviting someone home for a dinner or lunch. You sure are going to be in trouble if you forget to follow some of the rigid protocols. The larger the event the larger is the list of the protocol issues. Performing a marriage in a family is perhaps the most complicated thing ever to do. At least a dozen people leave the marriage hall in a sulking mood. It is not just about the breach of protocols, it is about damaged sentiments and emotions. The entire family honour and tradition is at stake.

These are all very touchy and sensitive topics that almost every Indian deals with on a daily basis. Is jealousy the root of all the problems arising out of the protocol issues? Or is it the fragile security surrounding one’s own personality? I am not sure what it stems from, but we just have to live with it. If only you know how to deftly handle all the protocol matters you are perhaps the most blessed person ever.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: