Chaos, traffic jams, and success in high heels
“If the press conference starts at 2 p.m., we should be at the venues by noon to check the details with the agency, so we should leave by 10 at the latest”. This was said by Andrea Schenk, senior PR of NNG at the evening orientation about the press conference in Delhi the next day. Andrea joined us in India with another Bridge Budapest fellow journalist, Gyuri.
At 10 in the morning our little group is already dressed up neatly in Gurgaon, a suburban town of Delhi, which is like Reading to London. We start from our hotel, which is located in this small town of only about a million inhabitants, to jump into the Indian traffic. Most of the cars do not have rear-view mirrors, because, as Péter adds, they do not use them at all. As the country is growing, the topic of transport safety is becoming more and more relevant, but the learning curve still has a long way to go as the example shows, so the topic of our press conference is, accordingly, the role of navigation in safe transport.
The intensive shock caused by order established from chaos and aggression explains it fast why we had to embark on a maximum 20 km long journey hours before the event. Most of the cars do not have rear-view mirrors, because, as Péter adds, they do not use them at all. As the country is growing, the topic of transport safety is becoming more and more relevant, but the learning curve still has a long way to go as the example shows.
The hotel, in one of the separate rooms of which caterers, technicians and other hotel employees whose function is hard to define are already busy running up and down, is quite astonishing. For the European eye overemployment is sometimes really embarrassing, for instance there is a lady in the ladies’ room who opens the door, gives you paper towels and in case you stare at the tap for you have no idea how it works, she even opens it for you.
Due to the unbearable traffic, punctuality is considered a luxury, and nobody expects that the local agency organising the press conference will wait at the venues exactly at noon. While sipping our coffee, suddenly Akshaara Lalwani, 28-year-old President and Director General of Communicate India walks in on at least 20 cm high stiletto heels. She is an amazing phenomenon, who radiates energy and professionalism; from what I see I would not dare to contradict her. She greets Andi and Péter with a big smile and two kisses on the cheek, while she is constantly on her phone. She is calling the journalists not to miss the press conference for any reason, although – as it is common and expected in the Indian media industry – they already visited all invitees in person yesterday.
The journalists slowly start to arrive from different automotive and technology blogs and newspapers, but I cannot see more than 8 to 10 persons present. We are still waiting and fighting heavily with the excessive hospitality of the waiters, I really do not need that fourth coffee, thank you. Suddenly, Akshaara returns from her phone and tells us that we may start the first round. I am perplexed to hear this first round thing, but then they explain. Due to the horrible traffic it often happens that several press conferences are held one after the other on the same topic, because it cannot be predicted who arrives when and where, so if there is a considerable number of journalists present, they start the event.
Akshaara introduces the topic, then Péter starts his presentation; the built-in mobile cameras are constantly flashing; the journalists are taking notes and shaking their heads to the sides: everyone is obviously paying attention. At the end of the conference some questions are raised, although they are very difficult to understand for I am used to Western English. Then, as it can be expected from ordinary journalists, they attack the catering.
It is past four in the afternoon, and we may start waiting for the second round, perhaps we van start at around five or six, says the more experienced. This short interregnum finally gives me the opportunity to talk to Akshaara. She reveals the success story of Communicate India, her own motivations and vision with immense passion.
She founded her agency five years ago at the age of 23 with the centre in Mumbai, and today they have more than 40 employees and a wide range of international clients. She went to university in Mumbai, and apart from a 6-month exchange programme in London, she never lived abroad for a longer period, but she travelled extensively. When I ask her about success, she highlights several times that her family and her husband’s family is far more liberal than the average. Her naivety as a young adult gave her the courage to found a company, “because as a fresh graduate you have nothing to lose, and I didn’t even think of the possibility to fail”. It is an obvious follow-up question that as a woman is it harder to lead a company in India, and how typical is this in general, if at all. She does not beat around the bush, but says bluntly that it is harder, you have to be tough, apart from performing the maximum and a little more.
It happens that she is not treated as equal, but this is more about the age and values of the partners: it should not let women be stopped from entering the labour market. She also tells great examples that the top 5 bankers of India are women, and more and more women work in higher positions while having a family; mentality and attitudes are changing. I see her fiddling around and more journalists gathering; at the end of our chat she declares with honest faith that there will be huge changes within ten years, and this will mean a safer life for women. Then she stands up swiftly and greets the newcomers one-by-one.