Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Nation of Mazdoors (Yet another random rant)

I recently saw a show on Discovery Channel which showed how Jakarta plans to build a massive tunnel under the city to counter floods. Yes, it was an amazing project; well worth a look for our good ol' Mumbai as well the moment we're done feeding the sarkari babus. But another thing crossed my attention. A major number of labourers in the project were Indians.

One would imagine that burly Australians/Americans/Africans would form the majority of the strength-intensive workforce. But that was not the case. It was the thin but firmly built Indians that did the "donkey work", quite literally. And I wondered to myself; we are excellent servants to everyone.

But then one instance does not prove such a general statement. So off we go, trying to fit this view of India into the people of India, the workers of India. And was it a dificult journey? No, not quite.

From the day we got independence to this day today, Indians all over the country have always wanted one thing; to go abroad. It does not matter where, they just want to go to "vilaayat" to earn money. What do we want to do to earn money? Doesn't matter. We'll be servants the in the West but whenever we come back to India we will be respected as "vilaayati babus".

The Patels and Singhs ran off to England and have little shops there. Their most notable acheivements there? Infiltrating friends and relatives in the country so that they too can start their little grocery store there. Similarly we dominate in the cabbie jobs in the US, we have colonized New Zealand and are doing the same now to Australia, not as anyone's masters but as workers.

But that is not what prompted me to write this. None of these people claim to be gifted in anything else other than what they have achieved. What prompted me is the Indian view of itself as an "IT Superpower".

We Indians have a thriving IT services business. Based on this business we claim to be the (emerging) IT Superpower of the world. But do we really master IT? Or are we simply slaves of the West?

The major projects handled by even the topmost Indian IT service companies are of maintenance/support nature. This means that the innovation is already done, now we have to troubleshoot and maintain systems. We have to handle angry calls from our Western (Eastern in case of the Japanese) masters and sometimes, bear racial slur as well. We do not answer back because we're decent Gandhians who will offer our other cheek when slapped. And yeah, we need the money to feed ourselves.

The rest of the projects are majorly standard systems on an enterprise scale, e.g. a Payroll system for a company. Wait lets call it an Employee Remuneration Resolution System. Wait, no, lets shorten it to ERRS. Now THAT sounds innovative doesn't it? It doesn't? Then how about Resource Approval and Payroll Enabler? Sounds heavy right? How about we shorten it to... oh wait...

Indian IT firms do not want to innovate in technology. Long story short, if they decide to innovate they would have to be a little bit more expensive to their Western masters and those masters will simply go to their competitors.

So the IT firms are to blame for not utilizing the "Brilliant IT Brains of India". Are they?

An average student passing out of BE/BTech/MSc/MCA does not know the basics of computer science. He/She has cleared his/her exams by cramming the words their teacher had dictated in class. They don't care if a Unix console looked black or a program is compiled or interpreted. They just want a high paying job; they'll do whatever it takes, even learn belly dancing while balancing a laptop on their chest.

We never think twice before we claim to be one of the most intelligent races on the face of this earth. What do we have to prove that? We have writings of sages, our culture, our arts and our vedic mathematics, science, astronomy, yoga, etc. In other words, everything that we are proud is more than a few thousand years old. So where are the current achievements that make us so invincibly intelligent?

Our IITs, RECs, Medical Schools, etc. are said to be overflowing with brilliant talent. But most of our IIT/REC brainiacs invariably decide to do a Management course and take up a white collar job. All engineers who can afford it will go abroad for higher studies and stay there. What's left for "innovation" are the "rest" while the "best" head westwards for the dollars/euros/pounds. So we serve; that's what the people left behind are good for in the end.

A post on Slashdot described India as a potential "worker pool". so thats what we are, a big pool of servants for the West. Are we?

Then again, I'll be joining this worker pool soon.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Freedom of Speech Prevails, it's freedom of using our intelligence we lack

Blogger, TypePad and Geocities have been blocked across my country. An Indian is not allowed to read views put forward by various people across the globe, views put forward by their own countrymen, information that could change lives, the only media that stood tall when phone lines went down across my city, Mumbai.

Many have cried out that our freedom of speech and expression have been violated. I did too initially. But look closer at a very minor technicality, especially in case of A blogger can post articles on to his blog. So he is being allowed to speak up, express himself. The only catch is that nobody is allowed to hear them.

When our constitution was designed, every citizen was given a few fundamental rights; Freedom of Speech, Expression and Movement. The basic tenet of democracy is that while one may disagree with a view, he/she has no right whatsoever to silence the opposition and refuse his/her right to speech and expression. This is an aspect of our democracy that has always been disturbing. If someone talks against a popular opinion, he/she is crucified, stones thrown at their homes, effigies burnt, bandhs called. Such blatant violation of one's rights, one's integrity goes unnoticed time and again.

Finally, there is one basic freedom and right that we, who call ourselves one of the most intelligent nations in the world, still haven't been given. The freedom of using our own intelligence. India, the State has time and again taken the onus on itself to "protect" its people from the evils of information in all forms. They want to have control over what we view, read or listen to as they do not trust our maturity and choice.

Too much corruption in our society, too many lords violating the innocent under the pretext of tradition and social justice, too many eggheads ruling and quarelling over the State. It's time for someone to stand up and be counted. Will you, the common but intelligent citizen of India, stand up?

Will I, another common citizen of India, stand up and be counted?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Land of dreams or Land of Despair....

Floods, serial blasts...the daily turmoil of a Mumbaikar is not enough that such dastardly acts keep occurring at regular intervals.

Close to 500 crores for flood relief and amendments simply buoy up the politicians' bank balances. Need anything be said more about the dreadful state of the financial capital of the country.
Well a lot has been said about the 'courage' of the Mumbaikars but please will someone take note of what is happening around and do something about it and stop patting our backs...what we are doing is simply our means of survival. Our only accomplishment is the tremendous kinship - the feeling that we ought to be of some help to our fellow citizens in a crisis like this (or should I make it plural)
News is out that the police were suspecting incidents like these to questions asked why no one bothered before. It would be stupid to ask, wouldn’t it?

The Task Force is today busy concentrating on the protection for the leaders of the political parties..well they r having a free campaign of sorts for their respective parties as well....everyone has something to gain here isn’t it? Only if they could resolve differences and come together to do something worthwhile…
Almost every alternate year mumbai has seen a minimum of 1 blast since the communal riots in the 90s, is the report.
This time 7 blasts, in a matter of 11 minutes across major stations on the western line killing many, injuring many more. 189 (the known stats) lives lost and many manyyyyyy injured for life not to mention the psychological damages to people and of course the financial damages to the economy as the price we have to pay for I don’t know what.

Mumbai , once not long ago touted as the place where dreams take the face of reality today has no buyers. People are looking to move out. Very soon,this place will be bereft of the "brave" crowd. The educated youth are flying abroad or are left at the peril of the power games going on in every arena in India. Politics and politicians are set out to ruin.

For the immense love of this city that I was brought up in I stand here with no clue as to what to do ........
And before I end this emotional outburst it would help if people could think "human" first and then "religion".

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Story of Floods and 12 Feet Tall Men

Mumbai has been lashed by heavy rains - yet again. The story is the same as it was ever since I took interest in this world 20 years ago. We've had knee deep/waist deep water in some areas, trains have halted, air traffic disturbed and some homes flooded.

For those who have been in Mumbai for a very short time, this happens atleast once every year in Mumbai. And yet, this year was different compared to all those years.

What was different you ask? It was the Mumbaikar for one. Another very different thing has been the overzealous press, which has inspired the title of this post.

26th July 2005 changed the way many Mumbaikars looked at rains. I was one of the luckier ones who had the comfort of my company bus and managed to reach home by 2 AM in the night. The rest did not reach home from work till the next day. They battled for their very lives, fighting the angry waters in the most unimaginable places; highways, railway stations, roads they travelled everyday. Many lost the weary battle. Others live through it, shuddering at the sight of a bucket of water for days after.

Such was the damage that one day caused this brave and sometimes cruel city. The Mumbaikars who once readily waded through knee deep water to meet their deadlines now sit at home at the very sight of heavy rains. The first day of rains were welcome by all, as they brought relief from the sveltering heat. The rains continued to the next day and the cool comforting winds and showers took the face of fear in the minds of these people.

There was another reaction to the July floods last year. The rest of the country woke up to the fact that people live here in Mumbai. The long standing image of Mumbaikars being insensitive and invincible suddenly received a major setback as the country saw live images in the news of Mumbaikars struggling through the waters trying to save their own and their fellow citizens' lives. The Mumbai rains which regularly stop the city a couple of days every year suddenly came into the faces of the Indian news fraternity and the country.

But it seems that this visibility has done more harm than good today. The rains in the past few days (going on as I write) have brought out a very desperate side of the news channels, each one trying to top the other trying to paint a grimmer and grimmer picture of the situation, all to get viewership. Yesterday a leading news channel showed waterlogged areas in Andheri, Mumbai claiming that there was no way traffic could continue in that area. The water was barely ankle deep. Agreed that it is still a worry, but there is no way that ankle deep water could cause any harm to cars and buses.

The best news cut, which led me to write this happened a little over half hour ago today. A News reporter described (and showed ofcourse, for the added effect) a grim situation in Goregaon where the water was "6 to 7 feet high" and was about "waist deep".

OMGWTF!!! We actually have 12 feet tall men in India!

This kind of news coverage induces two things in two different kinds of people. One section of the population goes into absolute hysteria, scared of the wrath the rain gods are incurring upon us Mumbaikars. There's the other who assumes that the press reports simply cry wolf all the time to get viewership and go headlong into some very dangerous situations.

And finally, if the sensationalist reporters were not enough, major news channels have come up with the concept of a citizen journalist. This is a good initiative on the face of it, an attempt to make the citizen more aware and involved. I saw an amazing shot of the Mumbai floods as sent by one such "citizen journalist". It was a 8-10 second long clip of which 1-2 seconds showed cars and buses struggling through knee deep waters. The rest of the clip focussed on the posterior of a young woman wading through thse waters. Great journalism; lets have more of those ;-)

So in the end we have a corrupt government, an otherwise insensitive populace and a sensationalist press. And we want to be called one of the greatest democracies in the world.