Friday, October 26, 2007

Lesson 29: Charansparsh... We can stoop reallly low!

This post has been written by Citizen Kavitta

The reason for us to be there: To get an interview of the CM. We were doing this story on the Commonwealth Games Village. A story about how the banks of the poor Yamuna are falling prey to the greed of some influential well-connected people. A story about how the fragile, ecologically sensitive river bed is getting consumed, first in the name of God with the Akshardham and now in the name of development with the Commonwealth Games Village.

Anybody who is a Somebody was there. That was the day when the palatial lawns of the CM's house were open to the Khaas Admi. The vote bank or the people who could generate the vote bank. Some 500-odd people; young and old, politicians and political aspirants, men and women, industrialists and beauticians. Hindu fanatics and Musalman Fundamentalists. We were the only two people there who were the actual aam admi.

But wasn't this the same CM that we had elected five years back? Why was she available to only a selected people and that too only on a special day? Why did it take us a week to get an interview that we wanted to air for the public? Why meeting the same CM – who we, the aam admi elected – an almost impossible task? We were not there out of choice. There was no commonality – except perhaps one – in all those were present. They all had the same desire: Madam ke pair choone hain. Madam ke saath photo khinchwana hai. Sole motive: Madam ko khush karna hai. (Have to touch madam’s feet. Have to get clicked with madam. Have to make madam happy.)

The party went on. Silver-haired men and women, children in all sizes, their mothers, everyone had this sudden pang, to touch the CM’s feet every time she came out of her Special Enclosure (The enclosure: A brilliantly white shamiana, with twinkling fairy lights meant for the special invitees, the 'more' influential and the 'more' powerful). The aroma of good biryani and tender kebabs filled the air. It took special security services to protect this space from the visiting throngs and visiting bats.

I was in awe. Wondering what was everybody up to. And why? I always knew that ‘this’ happened. I always knew that the pair choona policy was the only way the politics of this country functioned. To see any, especially this performance LIVE was a warped celestial experience. Big stars and small, the politicians, were performing: Continuous, uninterrupted performances with utmost brilliance. One star falling down to another's feet and rising; shining brighter with the I-am-suddenly-more-powerful look. This repeated, bending-double action lasted for over four hours.

Caught between the shooting stars and falling ones were us.

I tried to justify: We are a country with temples for film stars and the Chief Minister should them belong to more hallowed circles. She was our leader, our big GOD. She had the power to turn, immortalise other non-Gods into smaller gods when they touched her feet. I wondered: Could I be the next youth leader if I touched her feet enough enough number of times at such iftars? The concept of Parmeshwar suddenly became clearer.

Maybe this is a country progressing. From the days of black and white movies with their pallu-covered, milk-glass bearing woman, a sati-savitri, now we have a woman as our CM, our God. She is neither sati nor savitri. She is a woman in power and the men touch her feet instead. My head was in a mess: Wanting to accept, to ignore or just wanting to forget about the interview and run. But we couldn’t: This was the Chief Minister of Delhi. We had pitched really hard for this interview. We stay.

We stand in a corner quietly while the others are busy putting up this act. She notices, walks up to us almost five in the middle of the chaos and insists we eat. There are biryani and kebabs goddammit. She invites us inside the Special Enclosure. We insist each time we need the interview first.

After her second invitation to join in the enclosure, even the others started approaching us. Primarily to find out who we were and WHY their God was so interested in us. Others came, some just to drop in their visiting cards others with their visiting stories. One needed to talk about other politicians, another one wanted to show off his community initiative and the third wanted to report a scam being perpetrated by a man in a green kurta. Apparently, someone really big’s son.

People now start to bend double for us, this time with their hands folded in a namaste. Probably I was mistaken about being the Aam Admi. Probably after the politicians the media is God. Probably they could not tolerate my harem pants anymore.(hahahaha) Probably they are showing us the way out. No. They were inviting us to eat! I did understand it was another trick to please the CM. Impress people she talks to.

We got the interview. The CM nearly convinces us that Delhi, now a developed city is the best place in the world to say. Water problems were a thing of the past. The year 2010 will see a new face of Delhi, courtesy the Commonwealth Games. We eat in the white enclosure, food perhaps bought with the taxpayer’s money. My money. I enjoy and appreciate the biryani and her charm and hospitality work on me. The charisma of the woman who had for years been a mother, a home-maker and a true politician hits me in the face. I feel a sense of her power too.

I don’t want to think of the Yamuna, it’s still flowing, can’t we eat first? The aroma of power and food was intoxicating me. I felt part of some episode of Star Wars. Colleagues from rival channels were curious to know our special status to be sitting inside the special enclosure. Overfriendly people, sweet people, nice people, they were going out of their way to socialise with us. As we leave, the CM gives us a little bow and thanks us for coming. And oh my god, I am not the part of the crowd... I am the new God. I too was bitten by the power bug. Thank you madam ji aap ki kripa hai; ab hum bhi bhagwan hain. Charansparsh.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Liar, liar, pants on fire OR…

The river bleeds black

Circa September 2007: River bank, semi-naked men, soaking gods

It’s noon when we reach the banks of the river. And yet the harsh sun cannot pierce its black waters. It’s disgusting to think I wash my face with this water every morning. The government says it ‘treats’ this water. The government says many things.

There is a flash of blue in the water. It’s a polythene bag from the fancy store, Westside. A flash of gold. A recently immersed idol of Ganesha; next to a lump of…. One had recently eaten and did not want to verify that lump. Splash! A boy dives in… right amidst the plastic, Ganesha and lump. Only the top of his head and eyes can be seen. Then he goes under the surface of the water. Under the lump.

He comes out two minutes later and spits out something. What? He swims back and holds out his hand. A cube of some sort of metal rests on his palm. Apparently, devotees throw these cubes into the river and the boy (and more such boys) dives in to pull these out. The cubes sell at Rs 70 a kilogram and are inscribed with words, alphabets and symbols. One of the inscribed words is Ram. But the government says there is no Ram. The government says many things.

“Eww,” she says, holding her packet to throw in the river. “I didn’t know the river was this dirty,” she says to friend, as she pays another boy to immerse her Ganesha amid the floating lumps. “So don’t add to it then,” one had opened one’s big mouth again and instantly felt like a lump. “I know,” she said, with a weird look on her face, clutching her polythene packet tighter, “… I work for an NGO; but, years of habit, religion… Where else do we immerse our gods then?” Where indeed: The Arabian Sea, Hoogli, Ganga, are all taken. Teesta perhaps? We have many rivers, much water, says the government. The government says many things.

Flashback April 2007: Home, toilet flush, boiling babies

The nameplate reads, “So-and-so, DRYCLEANER.” This person’s neighbours are a butcher, three auto-drivers, Mishraji and yours truly, having recently moved to the colony. Most others have lived together for the last two decades or more. They ‘share’ everything: Parking space, water and cable connections and even helpfully borrow from each other’s electricity supply. But things changed.

Mishraji – in one of his let’s-read-the-paper-loudly-for-no-one moods – announced that our locality was one amongst many more to have ‘some’ water trouble. This was before Mishraji still read newspapers and had not declared violently that they were only good for thwacking people. So we had water trouble. Mishraji broke his back lugging water buckets. Mrs Mishraji cracked her voice rationing the water. Mishraji got into a fight with Colonol Sahab – lives on the floor above the Mishras – because the Colonel’s pots were overflowing while Mishraji’s Sintex-tank was dry. The drycleaner’s year-old baby erupted in ugly, pink boils because there was not much water to wash the baby properly. All private water tankers refused to enter the colony because they were beaten at the gates and the water was stolen.

One needed water as well and lugged two buckets of water every morning and evening. Water conservation is an art. One would stand inside one bucket and bathe, to reuse that water to flush the toilet. One considered using the open fields for further water conservation but was daunted by the sheer numbers already heading towards the fields. A good idea always has many takers. And the government says Delhi has no water shortage. The government says many things.

Circa October 2007: Sheila Dikshit’s iftar party

We stood there patiently, in dirty jeans and harem pants while the other media and bedecked politicians clamoured for Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s attention and her feet. The media bent high and low for the right angle, the visitors bent low for her benedictions. Everybody smiled, everybody ate and the Chief Minister posed with everyone, for everyone. With you, for you, always.

All people fit on her lawn and there was room for more. It was a huge lawn. It was moist. One saw sprinklers. They could perhaps fill 18 buckets of water. “Not now,” the Chief Minister told my colleague as our paths happened to cross. Happened to, because while we had not changed our standing-spot since entering her manicured lawns, the Chief Minister’s frequency of appearing exactly where we stood and generally looking in our direction had increased. Perhaps it was because we were the most inappropriately dressed for a party at the Chief Minister’s house. We didn’t know the Chief Minister would invite us for a party; she had so far refused any interview. We wanted a byte, she offered bites instead.

Five hours later, she spoke to us. She said development was needed for Delhi. Development for her means the Commonwealth Games village. It’s on the riverbed of a dead, black river. But the Chief Minister and her government say the river will be cleaned. The government says many things. The games village is also being built on a fault-line that will lead to earthquakes. But the Chief Minister says, “development has to take place.” The Chief Minister says a lot of things.

The Commonwealth Games village will also concretize the last ground-water recharge zone in the capital, the floodplains of the black river. But the Chief Minister says Delhi has no water trouble. Of course there are none in her house. The Chief Minister says adequate trees will be planted, so far no plans have been heard. We have proof the government doesn’t have the approvals. The Chief Minister says she has all. The Chief Minister says a lot of things.

PS1: And we believe her. Why?
PS2: READ the official stories -- we did two parts -- Delhi's death trap and Games village, sitting duck,
see the VIDEO 1 & VIDEO 2 and
the PROOF that we got for YOU (please go to end of story to read the documents). Decide for yourself.
Does the Chief Minister say the right things?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Lesson 28: And Dijkstra says...

"The average customer of the computing industry has been served so poorly that he expects his system to crash all the time, and we witness a massive worldwide distribution of bug-ridden software for which we should be deeply ashamed." -- Prof. E.W. Dijkstra, from The End of Computing Science

Hello Readers,
Again, profusely apologise for irregular (read non-daily) updates, as stuff at work demands more attention and of course, laptops being laptops, mine has decided to behave more like a temperamental boyfriend (who needs to be dumped). And yes, talking laptops… this post is contributed by our new contributor Useless Banter. She, in her own words, is a computer scientist and NOT a software engineer. (Smiles)
So here we go, something different, something technical and something that she reworked twice. The mention of algorithms gives me heebeegeebees. Also, thanks to Useless Banter for shifting the links-to-follow at the end of the article instead of punctuating the text with links. Do read those, quite interesting… even to someone who has been way scared of vectors and algorithms since class 11! Happy reading. Also, for those contributing articles, please remember: Short sentences make for far better and easier reading than rambling sentences that run into four lines. Also, Useless Banter’s copy was the most spelling-error free. Do run a spell-check on your files before sending me; I will still check for spelling errors, but a little help from you greatly reduces boring editing. I do it for a living, you know, so would LOVE to not do it here.
Here is what Useless Banter has to say:

A recent article on The Indian Shitizen about the Great Indian Software Engineer who is really the "Bechara Software Engineer" got me into some serious soul searching. That, combined with influences of some of the recent lectures of the professor teaching my Advanced Distributed Computing class, made me think: Why not put my "higher" MS degree-education to some use, and look at this problem – like a good scientist would – from a research perspective.

So although I agree to most of the things said about the people encompassed under the umbrella of "software engineers" in the article, myself included, I would like to conduct myself in the spirit of a true Computer Scientist. Basically, it means I would like to tie this discussion to a more interesting and perhaps more productive analysis by turning attention to the question of: "What real value can software engineers bring towards ensuring mature thought processes in problem solving?" (Think "algorithms"!!!....)

Basically, what role can Software Engineers (ugh!! I hate that term, so shall stick to the personally-preferred ‘Computer Scientist’) play, in inventing novel approaches that can solve fundamental problems in any scenario? Say, even one such as making an underdeveloped nation wrought with problems, become an efficient developed nation?

As its most preliminary steps this process actually involves a lot of reading between the lines, quality research and a special genre of laziness. Yes, a laziness that can effectively cause sharp research minds to come up with elegant solutions and novel ideas such as the shortest path algorithm [2][3]. For this, even if we have to change our education system, which is currently engaged in the task of producing ‘clones’, then so be it. We shall have to be lazy enough to reject the ‘standard’ paradigms given to us, and create an education system that teaches people to be truly lazy, i.e. by "inventing".

Will sign off with this quote, as food for thought, from a paper by Dijkstra [4] (in which he presents his views on the flaws in Computer Science education. Nevertheless, it has a lesson about education in general, so it is a must-read):

"The usual way in which we plan today, for tomorrow, is in yesterday's vocabulary". -- Prof. E.W. Dijkstra

We need just a few hundred people in the nation from our vast pool of software engineers that think like Dijkstra[1]. Are the computer scientists listening?
Useless Banter

PS1: My contribution as a bechara software engineer towards this end: Pledging that I will not be bechara any more. I will (at least try to) get a PhD degree that advances a computing concept, and start a personal venture that provides a tangible solution while providing employment to others, or even a revolution if you will, and not just be happy to take up an offshoring job with a multinational. What's yours?
PS2: Next lesson - Distributed Computing (read "Effective Management of Distributed Resources")

1. Edsger W. Dijkstra
2. Shortest path problem
3. Dijkstra's algorithm
4. Dijkstra's views on Computer Science education and his rant on the irony presented by "radical novelty" (hand-written) / (transcribed)
Appendix 1 - What computing science is about
Appendix 2 - Dijkstra's "EWD" series

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lesson 27: Did my father murder Rizwanur Rehman?

Dear Papa, hope you don't misunderstand this, if and when you do read this.

I had always thought it was Papa's 'over-protectiveness' that made him dislike the idea of me talking or befriending any boy. I say 'boy' because the first memories of Papa reacting adversely to any male company around me goes back 20 years...

I was 9-years-old and the said boy was 12. We were stationed at Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), one of the cities where any Ordinance officer will spend a considerable part of his tenure. This boy was a visiting relative of one of our neighbours. He was about two inches taller than me, had nearly blonde hair (called it 'English' hair back then) and very, very red lips. So he would play with us and we became playground friends. Till the day he pecked me on the cheek for some reason and there was "scandal" amongst the kids. I promptly reported the transgression to the Aunty whose house he was staying in; who in turn 'apologised' to my mother. That should have been that, only that Papa decided to have a mini-talk with me (over the years the length of those chats grew, much to my alarm).

The only thing Papa said was, "You stay away from that boy, he is not a good boy. All these Punjabi boys." After that I stayed away from 'Punjabi' boys for a long time. Till Papa found that one of my closest friends was a Tamil boy. Then he said, "All these Tamil boys..." and then it was "All these Jat boys..." and 'Nepalis', 'Sardars' and 'Christians' and so on and so forth. Towards the fag end of adolescence I realised that Papa perhaps just did not like boys. Or boys who were my friends.

It was confirmed when I heard him telling Ma, "Ei je mein, ekta jhola-pora Marxist dhore aan be... nahole tattoo-kora Panjabi ke" (This girl will either get us a jhola-clad Marxist or a tattooed Punjabi boy) When I was getting close-to-marriageable, Ma said, very concerned, "Whatever you do, don't bring us a Christian, Muslim or Sikh." I pointed out that given Papa's restrictions and now hers added to it, there wouldn't be any/ many men left to marry. I had suggested a Nigerian and a horrified mother had said, "Bachcha gulo koto kaalo hobe". (The kids will be so dark). Funny because I am bloody dark-skinned too. Back then, it was a joke.

My father also had a gun (two actually, licensed) and would often say that if I got him a "bugger" he didn't like, he would use it freely. Papa never used that gun (or perhaps I was smarter). But many fathers do use their guns. Or hire thugs and policemen to yield their guns. They kill Jat-sikh boys for marrying a 'Pappa-Sikh' girl -- I still don't know the difference but three years in Amritsar taught me there was 'some' difference. Or a newly-wed couple because one of them is a 'Dalit'. Or a Muslim, Calcutta-based graphic designer called Rizwanur because he married a girl called Priyanka, Hindu.

Sometimes these MURDERS are called mob violence. Sometimes Panchayat justice. Sometimes they are labelled honour killings. It is supposedly honourable to slaughter your child. Wah. Sometimes -- like in the case of Rizwanur Rehman -- the Police Commissioner (Calcutta) calls it a suicide. It is not about the poor. The more money you have, the more you seem concerned about HOW you appear to society. The more you have to protect your 'honour'.

It is not even about people falling in love. It is about Hate. You just hate if someone wears a patka, or a skull-cap or a janeyu. We hate the "spineless and loud" Bengalis. We hate the "crude" Jats. We hate the "dosa-loving Mallus". We hate the "converting" Christians. We hate the "bloody uncouth" Biharis. We hate the "stingy-stinky" Maharashtrians. Wherever we can find ANY reason, we hate. And we murder.

And the lawmen of this country, the protectors', they commit these murders. Sometimes the police reach the site late. Sometimes they don't find witnesses. Sometimes they drag people behind their motorcycles. Sometimes they watch many being massacred. And in Rizwanur's case, it seems the policemen, the bloody protectors, are the murderers. WHY? Because a poor boy loved a rich girl... or a Muslim boy loved a Hindu girl?

Our attitudes are so clear. Team India whopped Team Pakistan in the T20 series. I got two messages on my cellphone. One read, "Chak de India, **** de Pakistan" and the other... The other commented on certain anatomically missing parts and how "we" took care of the rest. Wonder what Zahir Khan and the Pathan brothers have to say about it or if they are lesser players for missing anatomy.

And yet, no posts will bring Rizwanur back.

Praanadhika from Elaan sent me this --- ALL those in Calcutta or those who know people in Calcutta, please inform, PLEASE join. It's not about religion. It's about MURDERING someone who had as much right to life as you and me. Whether Hindu or Muslim.

We believe that Justice is a Constitutional right for every living being, regardless of nationality, caste, religion etc. What happened with Rizwanur Rehman and the circumstances that surrounded his untimely death have raised both hackles and questions. We want answers, fair and just ones. We don't care about the politics behind it, we don't care about the big guns with their (bigger) mouths.. we care about what matters at the end
of the day - Human Dignity. However, since violence and war only lead to more of the same, we have chosen to join hands with some fellow crusaders outside St. Xaviers College, Park Street as part of a silent and peaceful candlelight vigil in Rizwanur's memory. The Elaan supported vigil will be held from 6AM to Midnight on Wednesday October 10th outside St.Xavier's College. Many of you might have read about the candlelight vigil in the papers or seen photographs of it in the papers. It is part of a 100 day protest for justice and it would mean a lot to the people of this city if you could devote just 2 hours of your time to it. If you are interested in being a part of the Justice for Rizwanur Campaign, please email - /

PS: My househelp and companion is a Muslim. The other day, while oiling my hair, she said, "Didi, some Hindus in our colony had a fight with some Muslim boys. The Hindu boys threw bottles in my house. I am scared." She works very hard, pays a huge rent because she does not want to stay in a jhuggi (slum/ghetto) and wants to send her 6-year-old son to college someday. The 'fight' took place somewhere near Connaught Place. We live near Vasant Kunj. So WHY her house? I am scared too. ---- J Bo

Lesson 26: It is always YOUR fault.

This post was written by our new contributor Citizen Kavitta. When she’s not writing for us – hoping she will write a lot – she masquerades as a rule-abiding, blame-shifting producer on various cracking TV shows. In her spare time, she wonders about the blame. I like her style of writing. Do read on… Welcome, Citizen Kavitta.

The favourite pass time of us Indians is to shift the blame. We blame the Rams and the Rahims. The divisions, the states, the politics, the castes. We blame because it is always someone else’s fault. My neighbour is responsible for the dirty street outside my house. Well, it doesn't matter if some kachra is mine too but my neighbour's kachra is definitely more. It has to be, because I am blaming him.

I blame LK Advani for raising the Ram-issue and further dividing this country on religious grounds. My best friend is a Muslim. See I have done my bit, I am a secular citizen. The Advanis and the Modis are to be blamed because they are ones who started it. It doesn’t matter if my voice could be the one of the many smaller voices that might just end it. But of course I keep quiet. It doesn't matter that my blood boils if Karunanidhi challenges my faith... Why should I? I am not to be blamed.

And it’s not just religion or garbage where the shift-the-blame attitude comes through. It is also leading us to the end of the ‘relationship age’.

Today, we decide to end the relationship that might mean the world to us… Again, we blame the other. Some of the smallest and the strangest things turn around and stand in our faces after we have already finished playing the blame game. I will not blame it all on my ex- boyfriend because he never understood nor did he have the brains (or balls) to do so; even the fact that he was two-timing me. His ex-girlfriend decided to linger on. Did the woman never get the message? Uff, what a spineless woman! Of course it is not my fault, I was always there you see. So what if I refuse to stoop down to the levels the other woman did to win him back? I am not the type of woman to play games. I am a simple woman. So simply, I blame her.

I come out happy after watching Chak De. Bingo! Here we are back to feeling true Indians months after the Rang De Basanti euphoria. After RDB, we raved about the potential of the youth, the power Generation X (or Y, Z, theta). Back then our blood had boiled (for a bit) and we were euphoric (for a bit). Then the 'Indian Youth' was out on the streets to get justice for Jessica Lall. All through the protest marches, we blamed the inefficient judiciary, the politicians and blamed the 70 mm for shaking us out of our slumber.

Today, yet another 70 mm bonanza gives me the same orgasm. Again I come out of the theater: A proud Indian wanting to change the face of the country. Again I blame the game of cricket for hogging the limelight. And the cricketers for not playing hard enough despite the big bucks they earn. Again I blame the babus sitting on the top. I blame the systems, not just for the bad state of the hockey team but also because the public transport is so bad that I can not find an auto to take me back home and I don't want to get into a bus.

The problem is not even me. It’s genetic you see. I was three years old when the '84 riots happened. Delhi shook. My parents blamed Indira Gandhi. Circa 2007. My parents blame Indira Gandhi yet again. Each time their normal, 9-5 lives are thrown off the track. That is when the seedling of the 'I Blame You' emotion germinated and infected the 'youth'.

Over the years I learnt to blame the municipality for no water, the traffic police for jam-packed roads. No electricity? Why couldn't the government do something about it? My maid was illiterate and still is. I don't have time to teach her – and neither do you – why can't we have a system in place to educate the poor? Oh, did I say poor? Well, it is her fault that she is poor. I continue to go to the best school; it’s not my fault! Basically, I learnt to blame. If I did not do my homework I simply said there was no electricity. “Sorry ma'am, not my fault.” Surprisingly, my teacher understood and she too blamed the government.

Today, I am a grown-up earning a good salary. However, my classmate from school in the same company earns a couple of thousands more... Goddammit, F*&^ the HR! All my colleagues agree too, we all blame the HR. I shall be honest now and blame Facebook for getting me hooked. Oops! Writing this post, I lost track of time and am now late for my shoot. The politicians waiting are going to throw a fit. I will take the familiar route. “Sir kya karein? Traffic hi itna tha. Sir, aap log kuch karte kyun nahi?”
(What can I do sir, there was much traffic. Why don’t you do something about it sir?)

It’s an instinct honed over the years, almost as if the mind has been left on auto-pilot and does not know another way to navigate. See it is not my fault...

PS: And yet, do we ever realize – or will we – that we are as much part of the same blame game?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Lesson 25: Bechara Software Engineer?

Contributed by Citizen Mohit (do read his blog for the complete, unedited text)

There is a very old joke about Bangalore that a friend of mine told me the day I reached Bangalore for the first time after its new found status of India’s IT Capital. It goes like this (told in Hindi first for maximum impact):

Bangalore mein kuchh Chaalees Hazaar (40,000) kutte hain; Itne hi kareeb software engineer hain. Sadak par ek patthar utha kar maarogey to ya to kutte ko lagega ya software engineer ko. Aur Kutte ke galey mein patta ho ya nahin, software engineer ke galey mein jaroor hoga!

(Bangalore has about 40,000 dogs; about the same number of software engineers. If you throw a stone randomly, chances are, it will hit the dog or the software engineer. While the dog may or may not have a strap (a.k.a. leash) around his neck, the software engineer will definitely have one.)

Alright, the half of you can stop laughing now. The other half are of course, the software engineers.

While there are no official figures to support this (meaning I have not researched), I can safely say that more than half of the current youth does something that can be slotted under the title of ‘software engineer’. If you are not a software engineer, there are all chances that either your brother or sister, or your spouse or your best friend or your neighbor or someone else you know closely is on.

It’s funny. What started out as a profession that needed a whole lot of technical expertise, was supposedly ‘niche’ and somewhat glorified, has now become as mundane as any other profession, or most other once-upon-a-time-talked about professions. And not just mundane, it’s become one of the most accursed jobs to have as well. In a way, the software engineer of today is what the babu of the English government was, back in the pre-independence era.

For one, most of a software engineer’s hard work, his day’s energy and all his knowledge goes into productive work (mostly) for the United States (or some other country). His only contribution to the country is the tax that he pays (which is a significant amount) but no one cares for something that you do once a year and that too just a day before the extended deadline. But there is no satisfaction value to his hard work; he is not like his Airtel or Reliance engineer friend who can boast of working to increase the country’s communication bandwidth.

Not like his stock broker friend who invests in the local stock markets (even though he might be working for a Franklin Templeton); doctors, of course, have that halo value; journalists can boast of reporting corruption; even a management professional working for the countless multinationals that have made their way into the country learns stuff about the local market because local is how he deals. But the software engineer learns everything about the US industry but ZILCH about the corresponding Indian industry. He may know loads about the US insurance industry but how things work in the Indian market are quite different.

It started as an esteemed profession (it still is, but a tad too common). Everybody and their bagal waali aunty ka ladka (neighbor’s kid) worth their “Hello World” program wanted to be a software engineer. The charm of sitting on a cushioned chair, complete with the ergonomic works, in an air-conditioned office, the potential of getting the Gurgaon flat (or the Bangalore, Hyderabad or Chennai flat, consistent with your geography) along with the Tata Safari as ransom, oops, dowry, an overall enhancement in the family status, the not-so-proverbial but very filmy samaaj mein gardan oonchi (high status in society) and the ultimate dream of flying “abraawd” (which, for a desi, means any country apart from Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma and Sri Lanka) was just too much of an opportunity to overlook.

And thus started the revolution that would take India from the spiritual tourism pages of the Time magazines to the business section and even the cover story. Young college pass outs left their hometowns for their dream jobs in often far away cities. But is it a Dream Job?

In these far off big cities, the software engineer is no longer looked at as the nice kid who made it from a humble background; he becomes just another bachelor who only rents apartments to cast an evil eye on the landlord’s daughter, or the neighbor’s young wife or to cook non-vegetarian food in the vegetarian landlord’s “pure” house. He also has a tough time with auto drivers; now auto drivers can anyway be a pain; but when they see these 20-somethings with loads of cash, they often hear stuff like “you have taken away our jobs coming from other states”.

Sky-high rents are another reality that becomes a reality only when he gets married.

And if you want to see the software engineer, where do you go? His office is a good answer but you won’t be allowed to enter his actual office area these days with the security arrangements such that I cannot go to my friend’s seat who works for a different client because my tuin-tuin card does not have the access for that bay. Well, so you go to the malls. Those people that you see all over the mall; some sipping their CafĂ© Coffee Day some-difficult-to-pronounce-ccino; others waiting in the multiplex line ready to dish out close to a grand for a movie for two (with popcorn and Pepsi, large please).

And is that enviable chance at a life abrawd really that enviable? The Software Engineer neat stuff all around him but does not buy it because he is there only for a year or two; to save for a lavish lifestyle that everyone expects him to have back home. So, he settles for a lifestyle quite opposite to what he had back home. While he shops only branded stuff from the best shops in India, he is always on the lookout for ‘deals’ and sales announcements and buys the cheapest stuff without caring for a brand name in the US! Not to mention the weird looks he gets from all the natives for taking their jobs away. A few “lucky” ones have seen protesters at bus stops with signs saying “I was Bangalored” and “Say No to Offshoring”.

In a way, it seems that the software engineer of today is what the babu of the English government was back in the pre-independence era. The babus joined the British government in a hope for a good job and a prosperous life for their family. They did their work and even though a large section of the population would have lived off servicing that class, they were often considered as people who just wanted to make money by turning towards the tide. A large section of the youth turns towards software jobs today because that is the area where the largest number of jobs is.

Does that make The Software Engineer a selfish lot? The kind that works for itself and does nothing? (And which is the Other kind of people anyway?) So the abroad-going-software-engineer population is rising (and perhaps not with much returns for India) and so are the numbers who don’t get a basic meal a day. Both are realities of today’s India. I know that the software engineers definitely want to see their country progress. There are small ways in which the software engineers can help the country – even while you spend most evening tracking your Twitter account.

Like making government offices and services tech savvy. Or even teaching your mom the basics of the internet to make banking easier.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Apologies and encouragement

Apologies for not being regular with the updates, my back has been acting up AND my laptop has been crashing. Have been scared to operate the machine for fear of losing all material. (scowl) There are three contributions sitting in my inbox -- excellent ones -- and unfortunately, have not been able to go through them. However, do wait up for a very nicely written piece on the Indian Software Engineer by Citizen Mohit.

Meanwhile, here's what Prasanna ( wrote on his blog, while he will still perhaps write a post for Shitizens' someday, we sincerely thank him for his encouraging words. Am pasting a bit of what he has to say, for the whole thing, do click on his blog link.
Love, peace and faith -- J Bo

Prasanna writes:

This is dedicated to two different sets of folks. For even if what they do, what they dream, what they see that the rest of us don't, are entirely orthogonal and unrelated, they are not so fundamentally different from each other in spirit.

Here's a toast to the folks behind and!

Here’s to the crazy ones...

PS: More to come Readers and soon... Don't lose the faith...or the patience!!