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October 17, 2017

To go or Not to Go - That is the question - Ethiopian Journey - Post no - VIII

Then it happened! I received a call from Global placements in the month of September 2002.They informed me that I was selected and that I should send the passports of my family so that the Visa process can start.

As long as an important event is not forthcoming we are all relaxed. It is something that we anticipate but the event has not yet started. Once the event is eminent and close, there are butterflies in the stomach. There are worrying questions “what about my steady and regular job at CBIT. I am getting regular pay scales. I am well liked and adjusted to CBIT and its rules and regulations. Should I go to a place that gives a contract that too only for two years? What will happen if either the university or I don’t like each other? What will I do when I come back? Can I get a suitable job immediately? What about my children’s education”. My head was in a spin and my emotions and thoughts were wrung, knotted and tossed around just like clothes in a high speed washing machine.

My son Pranav Pratheek was seven years old and he was studying in Geetanjali Public school, a famous school located at Begumpet, Hyderabad. My daughter, Sai Sahithi was only two years old and she had not even gone to a preschool till that point of time.

My first port of call was Dr.Surendranath, my Brother-in-law and Pediatrician in our family. He laughed at our predicament and waved a green flag. He told us that all necessary vaccinations are done for Pranav and Sahithi. He said “why are you so worried? Haven’t I and Uma (Dr. M. Uma his wife and my elder sister) went to Yemen and spent four nice years. You should travel and learn”.

My father Sri M.C. Anjaneyulu and my mother Smt M. Hemalatha were pillars of strength. They encouraged and advised that we should go as a family. My Dad told me “Go and experience Ethiopia. You would get benefited immensely. There is so much to gain and you might not get another opportunity”.

My eldest sister Dr.M.Ramani and Eldest brother-in-law Dr.G.Venkatramana too were very supportive. They suggested that we carry a medical kit that will contain medicine for all common ailments. I remember my Sister Dr.M.Ramani telling me “you might not use many of the medicines that you carry and they are like insurance policies. It will give you peace of mind and you and Padma (my wife) will be relaxed mentally and will sleep well”.

My sister Dr.M.Ramani a well-known pathologist by profession, cautioned me and said that our entire family needs to take yellow fever vaccination. As yellow fever is prevalent in African countries, it is imperative that all visitors to African countries get themselves vaccinated for yellow fever.

My rock of Gibraltar was my wife M. Padmavathi, never complaining and always a cheerful lady. I tried telling her all the negative factors. Ethiopia is very far away, no telugu movies, no entertainment, primitive facilities, no friends, no Indian festivals, no Television, new place, we need to adjust, might not get good food, children education might suffer. But she was steadfast. All or nothing. All of us go or no one goes. I added dramatically “It is like taking a time machine and going back to the 50s. Like Hanumakonda or Ananthapur during the time of our parents”. But the rock would not Budge!

My final port of calling was Dr.P.Narayana Reddy, HOD of SMS, CBIT and my research guide. He laughed and said “why worry?  Go ahead. As far as your PhD is concerned I will help you in any way that you need. Just see to it that your quarterly progress reports of research being conducted are sent to Osmania University in time”.

I was more or less convinced but there were some lingering doubts. My father sensing my confusion asked me to meet his friend Mr.S.N.Kanchhal. Mr.Kanchhal was the Director, Indo African Industrial Consultants based at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He stayed in road no 10, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad and I visited him. He had come down to India from Ethiopia on his annual vacation. He told me that he and his wife have stayed in Ethiopia for years. They have a business that was doing extremely well.

He and his wife received me and were astonished to know that I was in quandary. He told me “What young man, why are you so worried?  Ethiopia is safe. Infact safer than India. Ethiopians love Indians. Addis Ababa where I stay has many Indians. Addis Ababa has an Indian school at Piazza. They follow the Indian CBSE school syllabus. Most Indian teachers register their children in the Indian school”.

He continued “You can coach your children at home and come to Addis Ababa and let them write their final examinations. Bahirdar is considered to be a very nice and lucky place. It is a dream destination for many Ethiopians themselves. The temperature is moderate; the university gives you all facilities. So I think that you should definitely go”. He thumped me on my shoulder and added jovially “Your Dad and me, we went to school barefoot. Your generation must have gone to school in a city bus. Later generations have gone to school in school buses, autos and cars. Voila, your two year old daughter will fly in an Aeroplane to write her kindergarten examinations”. I was awe struck at his wit and humour.

He cautioned me that Malaria is prevalent in Ethiopia and that I should take anti-malarial tablets. He also told me that the rice available in Ethiopia is of a varying quality and that it is not as fine as Indian rice. He asked me to take small quantities of Red Gram (Kandi Pappu), Tamarind and other Indian spices as they are not available in Ethiopia. He also advised me also to take a small pressure cooker. Jokingly he added “Better take some good Telugu and Hindi movie CDs. There is a paucity of Indian entertainment in Ethiopia”.

The die was cast. I have decided to travel to Ethiopia. There is no going back now.

October 16, 2017

Ethiopia - 13 months of sunshine - where yesterday, today and tomorrow merge seamlessly - Ethiopian Journey - Part VII

Ethiopian Highlands 
The next day morning, the Vice President’s words “the entire country is air conditioned” was ringing in my mind. “What did he mean?” I wondered.  I went to the easiest and most convenient person to ask questions – Google Matha (Mother). Google embraced me warmly and I deep dived. I was astonished at what Google was throwing at me.
I was interviewed for Bahirdar University and Bahirdar is a part of the Ethiopian highlands. They are a rugged mass of mountains , situated in the Horn region of Northeast Africa. They form the largest continuous area of its altitude in the continent, with little of its surface falling below 1500 metres (4,921 feet), while the highest mountain peak, Ras Dashen reaches a height of up to 4550 metres (14,928 feet).
The Ethiopian High lands are often called the Roof of Africa due to their height and large area.  Most of the Ethiopian Highlands are part of central and northern Ethiopia, and its northernmost portion reaches into Eritrea, a neighboring country.
Smiling Ethiopian holding Coffee beans 
In the southern parts of the Ethiopian Highlands once was located the Kingdom of Kaffa, a medieval early modern state, where from  the first coffee plant was exported to the Arabian peninsula . The land of the former kingdom is mountainous with stretches of forest. The land is very fertile, capable of three harvests a year. The term "coffee" is derived from the Arabic qahwah’ and is traceable to Kaffa. The Latin name of coffee is Coffee Arabica as coffee was made popular by the Arabian merchants.

In the highlands, the air is cool and bracing in summer, and winters are very bleak. The mean range of temperature is between 15 to 25 °C (59 to 77 °F). The year may be divided into three seasons. Winter, or the cold season lasts from October to February. It is followed by a dry hot summer, which in the middle of June gives place to the rainy season. 
Bahirdar city promenade lined with palm trees and autos which are called Bajajs
Bahirdar University, Bahirdar is considered one of the holiest places in Ethiopia. Bahirdar or Bahardar is home to the starting point of the Nile River. And Nile as we all know is the longest river in the world. The Nile River starts in Lake Tana the largest lake in Ethiopia. The lake is so big that the town adjoining came to be called Bahardar (by the side of the sea). Lake Tana is so big that the Ethiopians thought it was a sea! Lake Tana has many small islands which have very old and holy monasteries. These are popularly called Lake Tana island monasteries.

Lake Tana the biggest lake in Ethiopia
Bahirdar is located approximately 578 km north-northwest of Addis Ababa, at an elevation of about 1,800 metres (5,906 feet) above sea level.  Bahirdar has a borderline tropical climate.  Afternoon temperatures are warm year round, and morning temperatures cool.  Temperatures vary a lot during the day and in the night. The highest average temperature is 28.8 Degrees centigrade and the lowest average temperature is 5 degrees centigrade. So that is what the Vice President meant when he said that the entire country is air conditioned!
Bahirdar is the third largest city in Ethiopia, after Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. It is the capital of the Amhara region, inhabited by the Amhara people. Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia.
That was more than enough for me to get excited. Many get opportunity to go to USA but how many have the chance to visit one of the oldest countries in the world?  The oldest surviving skeleton of human man mankind, ‘The Lucy’ was found in Ethiopia.  Ethiopia has a long history and is fiercely independent. It was only colonized for a very short time by the Italians but the proud Ethiopians threw them out in a jiffy.

Addis Ababa,the new flower, capital of Ethiopia and the 3rd highest capital in the world
Ethiopia is considered as one of the most influential country in the Entire African continent and the Capital, Addis Ababa (meaning New Flower, I should say very romantically named!) is often called the capital of Africa and is the headquarters of the African Union. It is said that all the African countries have atleast one of three colours of the Ethiopian Flag, green, yellow and red.  This is to show respect and acknowledge the contributions made by Ethiopia to the African cause and development.

October 15, 2017

INTERVIEW – Talent will get you in the door but it is Character that will keep you in the room – Ethiopian Journey – Part VI


Two months passed and nothing happened. And then there was communication from Global Placements, I was called for the Interview. Unfortunately Dr.Vidyanath was not called. But being a good sport that he was, he wished me good luck.

I went to the hotel where the interviews were being conducted. I was called into the interview room. I was being interviewed for a University called Bahirdar University. Inside the room there were two Ethiopians and one Indian Professor (later I came to know that the Indian Professor was from OU College of Commerce and Business Management, Osmania university).

One of the Ethiopians welcomed me with a huge smile “Hello Dr. Aneel Ramis” he intoned. I recoiled “Sir, there is a mistake, I am not a PhD. I am still doing my research and have not even submitted my thesis”. The Vice President’s (equivalent to our Vice Chancellor) Eye brows shot up and knotted. He was worried. He took an application and showed it to me. “It says PhD here”. I took my own application and then I realized what had happened.

I had mentioned in my resume as “Pre PhD qualified”. Pre PhD is an exam which is like a qualifying examination that is important for the researcher to move forward to advanced research and for thesis submission. Pre PhD has two papers, research methodology and broad scope (the area of research). One needs to clear both the papers of the Pre PhD examination to progress into the next level of research. Apparently an employee of the ministry of Education, The federal government of Ethiopia thought I was a Doctorate and kept my application in the file that has only PhD candidates.

I explained the entire issue to the VP, Bahirdar University (BDU) and said “sorry for the mistake sir, and very glad to meet you. I will take leave now”. The VP of BDU was struggling with his emotions “Oh yes, oh Yes, we are supposed to only interview candidates with PhD qualification. But you are here and it was our mistake not to notice that you are not a PhD”. He added “anyhow, as you have come, we will do the interview”.

The interview went off in a breeze. The interview was conducted in a very friendly fashion. They seem to be impressed. They told me what the University would pay. The pay sounded adequate if not lavish. I nodded my head. The VP was telling me about the facilities provided in the contract “Your contract would be for two years. You would get free air tickets from Mumbai for you, your spouse and two of your children till they attain the age of eighteen. You would be given free accommodation”.

He added “So you just have to pay for your living expenses like food, groceries and electricity. You would be given all amenities like refrigerator, electric oven, beds, sofa sets and you simply have to come to Ethiopia with your clothes. Everything else is provided. Most items are very cheap in Ethiopia and your salary is totally repatriable (one can send back as much money back to India as they wish). Ethiopia is a very safe country. Indians are loved as most of them come to Ethiopia as teachers. I for example had a mathematics teacher and he was a great ”.

His eyes turned nostalgic, he was returning to his school days. He came back to the present with a shrug of his shoulders “There are possibilities of doing research, consultancy  and there could be chances of getting paid extra for taking extension classes” He explained to me that extension classes are classes  that are held in the evening and on Saturday and Sunday for working people. There are like our distance or part time courses.

Everything sounded nice. I piped in “sir, what about air conditioning, would the University provide air conditioners too”. The VP guffawed “Don’t worry sir, the entire country is air conditioned. Trust me, you will never use air-conditioners. Not even ceiling fans are needed. You will wish some times that you are back in Hyderabad, which is so warm and sunny”. I didn’t get what he meant, but let it go. Dilli bahut door hai – meaning that nothing is final – as yet. The interview got over. I thanked the panel for their valuable time and left.  

October 14, 2017

Foerign Teaching Assignment - To go or Not to go - Ethiopian Journey - Part - V


Two years slipped off and before we knew, 2002 set in. Promotions in CBIT were a long drawn process as it had huge faculty strength and out of turn promotions were unheard of. One needs to be patient and if all the stars in the celestial world line up in our favour, one might get a promotion! There are cases of faculty who joined as Assistant Professors and have retired as Senior Grade Associate Professors! That is one promotion in over 30 years of service!

We at School of Management Studies (SMS) were facing the same dilemma. SMS had many young Assistant Professors and I was the 3rd senior most among them. At the head of the pile was Dr. M. Kasi Reddy a CBIT veteran, who joined in the year 1984 and was the senior most among us. Next in line was Dr.Vidyanath and he too was a worthy candidate for an Associate Professor promotion.

There was excitement in the air. The Press notification for promotions was out. Dr.M.Kasi Reddy and Dr.Vidyanath applied. Dr.P.Narayana Reddy asked me to apply. I was reluctant as I did not have a PhD degree at that time. He advised me to apply as I had ten years industrial experience and told me that it might be considered.

So I took a Rs 100/- Demand Draft and applied. I was not even called for the interview. Dr.Vidyanath was called for the Interview but was not offered an Associate Professorship and Dr.M.Kasi Reddy was called, interviewed and given a post of Associate Professor.

As I was not expecting anything I took the issue on its own merit. It was water off a duck’s back. It did not matter. But somehow Dr.Vidyanath was deeply hurt. He felt that at least he merited counseling by the management as to why his candidature was rejected. But alas, it was not forth coming.

Dr.Vidyanath started applying to reputed institutes, universities and for foreign assignments. I was not very interested but as our rooms were adjacent to each other, Dr.Vidyanath told me where he was applying and I always gave him a patient hearing.

CBIT was very far away from the city and our life line was the CBIT staff bus. The staff bus left the campus at 1610 and would drop me at Banjara Hills by around 1700 hours. Sometimes I used to thumb a ride with Dr.Vidyanath who had a LML Vespa scooter. It was great fun riding pillion with Dr.Vidyanath.

PEDA campus, Bahirdar University, Bahirdar.
On that fateful day which was incidentally my birthday (23rd April) I tagged along with Dr.Vidyanath.  Dr.Vidyanath drove down to a placement agency, Global Placements at Somajiguda, Raj Bhavan Road. The place was buzzing with activity. Many aspirants were queuing up. I was told that it was the last day to apply for faculty positions at government universities in Ethiopia.

I sat in a sofa and waited for Dr.Vidyanath to finish his process of applying.  I grabbed the attention of the CEO of Global Placements who was watching me from his glass paned office. May be I was the only guy looked bored and not very interested!  He called me in “young man, what are you doing?” “Nothing, I was waiting for my friend to finish off the application process”.

I think the confidence in my voice shook him. He shot back “are you not interested in a foreign assignment?” “why not, but I have no idea about Ethiopia’ was the casual answer. The owner was at his wits end, he was exasperated “Young man, Ethiopia is a great place to go and work. The applications are being sought for faculty positions in Government Universities. These are new universities and they want the best faculty available. These positions are sponsored by a fund created by UN Development Project specially created to uplift educational standards in the horn of Africa. Foreign teaching experience is highly coveted and adds lot of weight to the resume. Why don’t you apply?” “I don’t have a bio-data ready” “I suppose you can go and get it by 1700 hours, if it is not a big bother” He was getting tired of me and getting sarcastic too.

At this point of time I let it go, he was getting touchy. I went back to my residence in  Banjara hills rustled up my resume and got out one of my photographs, dusted it, pasted it on the resume attached the requisite certificates,  went back to Global Placements and submitted my application. I had fresh memory of applying and not getting called for an interview (what happened at CBIT!).  No Big deal. 

October 13, 2017

CBIT, Gandipet, Jo Piya Gandipet Ka Paani, woh Hogaya Hyderabadi!


CBIT in the late nineties was a beautiful place. The Minute we left Lunger House, there was lush green fields everywhere. Artillery centre maintained the locality after Lunger House in a pristine condition and after the military area there was a small village like Narsinghi and after Narsinghi were lush fields again till CBIT campus.

Adjoining CBIT, Gandipet  is a small village Kokapet. It had many small land holdings. Even till the 2001-2002 one could drive off the road and enter into agricultural fields full of crops about to be harvested. There were water ponds and birds chirping everywhere and lots of hay stacks to lie and relax. It was a place that me and Y. Srinivasa Rao used to frequent. But it was a paradise that was being threatened.  

Our attender at SMS was from Kokapet. From a small sleepy town Kokapet it suddenly was in lime light first due to the emergence of CBIT and later due to the steep rise in real-estate prices in and around Hyderabad. The real estate sharks smelt an opportunity. They zeroed in on Kokapet and suddenly the marginal farmers started getting unbelievable offers for their meager land holding of 1 and two acres of land. The prices went through the roof.

Many enterprising owners sold their land at astronomical prices and that is where the troubles started. Most of them used to subsistence farming techniques and did not know any other trade. Some of them worked in CBIT as attenders in offices and in the various laboratories. The sudden riches hit them hard.

Our attender was morosely staring at the ground. I asked him “Hey, what happened?”. “Sir” he replied “the real estate boom is a curse. Earlier we were happily growing palakura (spinach) and we were happy and contented. Now my dad has become a drunkard, my brother picked up a mistress and that is not the end sir. I recently bought a red Maruti 800 and parked it in front of my house. My buffalo not liking the car kicked it so hard that it had to be towed away for repairs”.

I was thunder struck, how grippingly had this attender explained the sudden rush of riches! His small universe has crashed. He and his community have been corrupted and his innocence has been lost forever. He is plagued with new problems whose depth he can’t even fathom!

Once at CBIT I was conducting some mock interviews. One of my pet questions is “if you are offered a job in Timbuktu, would you accept the offer?” Most students would get stumped by the question. First of all they do not know what or where is Timbuktu. They struggle to answer.  Timbuktu is a popular slang word used very often in the corporate world. “Oh any place including Timbuktu, transfer me to Timbuktu etc".  It is any location inconveniently far away, the middle of nowhere.

Surprise of surprises there is actually a place called Timbuktu. It is Timbuktu also spelt as Tinbuktu, Timbuctoo and Timbuktoo and it is an ancient city in Mali, situated 20 km (12 mi) north of the Niger river.  It is a place that is very hot and to be very frank not a place where many desire to work.

When thrown this question, many students appear stunned, they give vague answers, many refuse to answer, some refuse to go to Timbuktu and some even say that they would ask their parents before they give an answer. All the above answers are wrong.

I expect post graduate students to take decisions on their own and instantaneously. There is no time to lose. There is another guy waiting to snap at the offer. The ideal answers are “Yes I would like to consider the offer, I would be glad to work anywhere in the world, I am mobile and willing to go”. 

The answer that all interviewers love is “I am ready. Here is my passport. It you give me a ticket I am willing to fly tomorrow”. Bang on, you bagged yourself a nice juicy Job!