India Debunked #9: A Personal Favour

Connections matter in India. Connections can make a difference on whether you get a nice table in a restaurant, a special deal or if you get pushed to the front of the queue when you’re trying to deal with one of the many bureaucratic processes.

To have connections you need to build relationships. In the workplace, the line between professional and personal relationships is sometimes blurred. Your relationships may be called upon to create a connection for someone else. What you know is important but who you know is equally, if not more important.

I took a year off work when we arrived in India. I was in discussion for a role at the same company as Graeme which fell through so I turned my attention to pursuing my Masters in Development Management. After the first year, they wanted to extend Graeme’s contract so I resumed talks with the same company to go back to work. I didn’t want to be out of work for much longer. To my relief and delight, I managed to secure a role after a few months of negotiations.

To some, it may have looked like I got the job because of my husband, however I had actually started working at that company several months before he had and proven myself time and time again during the few years I worked there. I was highly sensitive of this and when I first started working, I took great pains not to let anyone know that my husband worked there. It shouldn’t have mattered anyway that he did. I was capable of doing the job and had the experience and achievements to prove it. But it did matter.

Most of my colleagues respected my wish to keep my personal relationship separate from my work and to not discuss it in the workplace. Those who eventually became my closest and most trusted confidants admitted that they did judge me before meeting me. I felt slightly affronted, naturally, but I was grateful that I had built such great relationships with these people that they felt comfortable being open and honest about it to me. What I didn’t expect was to receive a request from someone outside my close circle to recommend them to my husband for a job.

Which got me thinking.

How many people at work were being nice to me or doing their job when I asked because they knew I was married to Graeme? And how many were doing it because, well, it was their job or because it was the right thing to do?

It’s true. Without Graeme, I probably would have got the job but perhaps not as easily. But without Graeme being sent to work in India, I wouldn’t have needed to look for a job here. I had a rewarding career back in London. I could have agonised over this. Perhaps it is a little testament to how well I have adapted to India that I was able to ignore it and truly (or ignorantly?) believe that I was liked and respected at work because of my capability and commitment.

I declined to recommend my colleague but I have since been asked for other workplace favours. On the odd occasion, I acquiesced as those favours straddled the professional boundaries, so were really ‘professional-personal’ favours. I am still navigating these boundaries.

Connections are the reason why I have my doctor’s personal mobile number and can Whatsapp her whenever I need to. It’s why we were able to get tickets to see the Dalai Lama when he came to Delhi. It’s why I get a discount on tours that I organise for our visitors. It’s why some things get done quicker.

All of these connections have come about because of shared interests or experiences between us and the person bestowing the favour. We have not asked for any of these favours. I am yet to work out where boundaries lie and as such, I don’t ask for many favours.

And maybe I need someone to do me a favour and teach me how.


I started this series as a daily weekday blog to get me to write regularly. I don’t think I have managed to do all 5 days yet over these last 3 weeks. This week, I was on holiday outside of India and I found it really difficult to write about India when I wasn’t here. We have about 3 months left of our time here and this really brings home the need to keep writing so I can commit all that’s in my head to this blog.