Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Migrants and the Migrations

In the last couple of weeks, the news of local backlash in a state, against the migrant workers from another state, made to the major headlines. The misery of such migrant workers attracted good media attention – some socially empathetic and a few politically motivated.  This is not the first occasion when the rootless migrant workers have been singled out in a state. We have had different editions of this anti-migrant movements in different states – be it against south Indians or Bihari’s or the people from UP.

Meanwhile, a prominent lawmaker of ours from Punjab has made a statement that culturally he felt much closer to the Pakistanis than the people in Southern India. Amidst all the convergent voices towards inclusive diversity, such a statement coming from a lawmaker describes the mindset. I only hope that it is only his mindset – that is more attuned to a ‘laughter challenge’ than some serious business. I am sure he will soon learn that a ‘tongue in cheek’ dialogue of a comedy show could well turn out to be a ‘foot in mouth’ in serious polity.

On a professional front, I head the Migration Center of Excellence in my organization that takes care of software version migrations. Therefore, of late, whenever I hear the word migration, my ears turn towards the conversation (pun intended).

The earliest of such anti-migrant protests that I have heard of took place in the 60’s.  Though these happened before my birth but I have read about these from the reminiscences of RK Laxman, while he had described his close relationship with Bal Thakre. That perhaps was the defining moment for regional politics in India which evoked local passions against the migrant workers from other states. As was evident from RK Laxman’s memoirs, it was more of politics than any person-to-person hatred.

The local politicians have used this formula of invoking sons-of-the-soil doctrine to flare up passions against migrants from other states, from time to time, be it the recent case of Gujarat or the numerous incidents in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu or the North Eastern states.

I am a Tamilian, born and brought up in Kanpur, UP. I love my birthplace as much as anybody else would. Whenever I had a low point in my life, I always pepped myself up with the thought that it was not for nothing that I was destined to have born in Kanpur, at the banks of the holy river Ganga – while my parents hailed from a distant Tepperumanallur in Tamil Nadu – some 2000 kilometers away. It required to change 3 trains to reach Kanpur from my native in those days.

However, in 1991, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, there was a sudden anti-Tamil sentiment in the northern India.  My brother was traveling from Delhi to Chennai. And of all the trains, he chose the Tamilnadu Express. We had some anxious moments those 2 days of journey and the train was indeed stopped by protestors at some station in Madhya Pradesh but with some swift action from the authorities, the journey could be resumed after a short hold up.  That was the first time the very thought of being an ‘outsider’, in my own birthplace, hit upon me.

Over the years, I have moved from Kanpur to Delhi to Bangalore.  During my growing up years, Hindi was my first language of choice and I could never attain any fluency in Tamil.  Nevertheless, there have also been many occasions during my stay in Bangalore, when my Tamil origin gave me a few anxious moments. Further, my wife being a Delhi-bred Punjabi – that again is a fallacy as they are originally Bahawalpuri, with a distinct language and culture, but have lost their identity to the larger Punjabi bracket – my daughters have had little chance not to develop affinity to Hindi. And it bemused their teachers no end when they wrote their mother tongue as Hindi with a surname as Iyer.  Thus, with a dubious attributional evidence to prove my nativity, I sometimes feel lost in this seemingly parochial world.

On one hand I reassure myself that such regional extremities are far and few between and that the metropolitan society in India is largely pluralistic, on the other hand I am never confident about not having some political vested interests drawing boundaries to suit their convenience and short term interests. Just that one should not have the misfortune of ending up at a wrong place at the wrong time. And for that matter, is it not correct that most of us city dwellers are migrants. It is just a question of what reference point you are considering to prove one’s nativity and hence drawing the lines.

We perhaps can take a few lessons from the great migration of Maasai Mara that extends across regions and countries, along a contiguous forest land. The natural migration of the animals aligned with the change of seasons and availability of fodder, does not require a force of law to coordinate the annual phenomenon. Albeit, there are no vested interests there and the animal world has developed a natural instinct that guides them amicably through this migration. Even the international boundaries respect this movement and make way for this mass migration.

Coming back to my profession, the migration of applications across versions has been an equally challenging task for the software industry.  Migrations across software versions, across applications, across platforms is an industry on its own. A certain illustrious senior of the Industry has indeed propagated the concept of ‘Timeless Software’, which talks about the seamless movement of data and application across versions flawlessly.  But that would not run the kitchens. So, we continue not to create timeless software and we continue to struggle through agonizingly painful migrations.

While the polity needs a whole bunch of statesmen who would perhaps erase these physical barriers, the software industry, probably, is waiting for another JC Bose. As he proved that plants too have life and emotions, some such scientist will postulate a theory that the migrant data and the data structures too have life and emotions. And therefore, to uproot them and migrate them is fraught with all the pain.  The migration process therefore, will not just be a soulless lift and shift game, it will involve creating ‘harmony’ across the data structures. The plurality of software versions and their coexistence will be a norm. And the resultant amicability will be a ‘timeless’ tribute to that concept.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Problem of the middle ones

Problem of the middle ones

Early in the morning, a friend of mine threw up a contentious point of debate in our whatsapp group – discussing about the injustice done to our particular batch of officers in a public sector bank. As per his research, the couple of batches senior to us and a few junior to our batch, were much better placed in the overall hierarchy.  Is it true that we were the only ones who were wronged – questioned my friend.

We – the middle ones -  seemed to have been sandwiched between the two pillars of success.  And that brought back my childhood memories. We were three brothers – and no prizes for guessing, I was the middle one.  And in all those Chandamama stories that I read in my childhood, I always observed that the King would have three sons.  In order to pick the smartest of those princes, he would put them to a test. And invariably, it was the youngest one who would win the contest.
And then there were those old style bollywood family movies, where the elder brother would make all the sacrifices and the younger ones would go astray. In the end, in a melodramatic way, the younger ones would realize their follies, repent and then would fall in line. The elder one will heroically smile through the last frame of the movie.

So, there was goodness around the elder ones and there was smartness around the younger ones.  And we, the poor middle ones, were nowhere in the count of those writers.  And as I grew up, I even observed that at the airline check-in counters, people pleaded for the window or the aisle seats, no one cared for the middle ones.

The trauma of the middle ones doesn’t end here. You speak to a fast bowler in cricket, the sparkling stars in his eyes while talking about ‘hitting’ the middle stump is something special that you don’t see if it were to be a leg or an off stump. I don’t know why bashing the middle ones gave them so much joy. In football, the mid-fielders are made to do all the hard work but they rarely get a chance to shoot a goal and do not enjoy the prominence of a goalkeeper either.

In the corporate world, the juniors play innocent and novice, the senior management does half its work on the golf course and it is only the ‘middle’ management that ends up toiling to earn bread for both these layers. No respite for the middle ones here too.

But there is a silver lining.  We have a very talkative friend and we once jocularly made a suggestion to him to always block the middle seat in the aircraft. In case the person sitting to his left got bored of his talking, he could always turn towards the right. He acceded to our advice with gratitude and lived happily thereafter. So, perhaps, someday the writers will write stories on the middle brothers; the middle management will have the highest paid roles in an organization; the mid-fielders only will get to score goals; and the ICC will mandate the middle stumps to be made of concrete – that can never be shattered. Amen.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

My detective Mother would have put Sherlock Holmes to shame.

Last fortnight, I had the misfortune of realizing that I had lost my scooter that was parked in the basement of my apartment complex. The scooter was unused for the last 15 years and I was not sure as to when I had seen it last – after the last Aayudh Pooja. The fact that carrying a UP registered movable asset in Karnataka is more of a liability, is another story for another day. For now, let me just tackle and overcome this weird feeling of losing a personal asset.

The fact that I stay in a well secured complex where I pay a monthly maintenance that may be higher than the rental of a decent apartment, is not amusing at all.  But the fact that there was complete apathy from the office bearers of my association, in terms of helping me to trace the sequence of events and possible lapse in the security, is something that was disappointing and frustrating.  Again, that is not the story I want to cover today. But my attempt to uncover this mystery brought back my childhood memories of a theft that took place in my house at Kanpur and the after events.

I was too young at that time – may be studying in 3rd or 4th standard I suppose. So, it is some 40 or 45-year-old memory but somehow it is very vivid in my mind even today.  We had a regular maid for the household chores by name Rampyari. Quite trustworthy – as it used to be in those days. To the extent that one night she was thrown out by her husband and she had taken shelter in our terrace for the night before the issue got settled between them.

One fine day, my mother realized that Rampyari had suddenly disappeared from the house, while still on to some regular chores. Much later, my mother found that her Godrej almirah and the locker inside were unlocked. And on further inspection, she found that her most valuable and precious necklace – both in terms of monetary and emotional value – was missing.  Only after joining together the sequence of events that she realized that she was robbed of the necklace by her ‘trusted’ maid servant.

The police investigation followed and, without any surprise, nothing could come out of that. Call it the impact of a heavy financial value attached to the necklace or the immense sense of personal loss through a breach of trust – the same that I feel today – my mother became restless and started to probe further on her own. Today, I can imagine how difficult it would have been for a typical orthodox Chennai bred Tamilian lady to traverse through all the maze of this entire trail of her investigation in a primarily Hindi speaking city of Kanpur.

She started her probe by visiting the house of Rampyari at a chawl like building – at Idgah colony, if my memory serves me right. She found out that Rampyari had actually eloped with a neighbour named Rajkishore, who was a police constable.  Rampyari’s husband Mahavir had no clue about her whereabouts. So, then my mother started tracking Rajkishore. She found out, from some other neighbours, that Rajkishore had a relative, who used to pull cycle-rickshaw and was attached with a rickshaw-stand at a distant locality called ‘Naugharha’.  Next she went on to trace this rickshaw-puller named ‘Baggad’ but without the luxury of current day communication channels, it was very difficult those days to contact a person without a home-address. I assume she left her address with the rickshaw-stand and one fine morning this person – Baggad – knocked at our doors.

As Baggad sat outside our door, my mother served him tea and snacks and had a long conversation with him. The person indeed had good amount of information and told her that Rajkishore had taken Rampyari to his native town of Farrukhabad and perhaps had sold the necklace there to a jeweller to get some cash.

My mother broke the news to my father that evening, with complete details of her probe. My father was perhaps not aware of all this investigation being carried out by mother – everyday, after he left for office. Now, Farrukhabad was a completely new place for my parents and finding out a stolen piece of jewellery, with just a photograph of the jewellery (I think it was my elder brothers first birthday photo) to identify the same and no other information, was something impossible to achieve.

My apartment complex in Kanpur had a few single rooms at the 4th floor terrace and a lot of students from nearby towns used to stay there during their college studies. One such gentleman by name Dixit, used to stay there and study and as my mother was very social by nature, she would have hosted these boys for a tea and snacks on some festivals. The only other information she had was that Dixit’s family had a famous music shop by name Dixit Radios in Farrukhabad.

One early morning, with that little piece of information, my parents traveled to Farrukhabad. They found that music shop easily and could meet Dixit within no time. They narrated the entire story to him. From there, Dixit used his network with some local official – who perhaps was responsible for the quality control on gold shops. He was well aware of the shops where such stolen ornaments were sold and took my parents to one such shop.

May be our good luck or the influence of that Government official, the shopkeeper heard the complete story from my mother. He also looked at the picture of the necklace that my mother was carrying. My parents further apprised him of the sentimental value of the necklace and that they would not mind paying up for the same.

After some discussions, the gentleman shopkeeper opened up. He told my mother that such stolen jewellery is generally melted immediately but he liked the typical south Indian design of the necklace very much and hence decided to retain that. The shopkeeper further told my parents the amount that he had paid to Rajkishore.  He also told them that had they come down to the shop with the police, he would have just passed on some message to his team to immediately melt the necklace and they would have never found out.

Late evening, my parents returned to Kanpur.  My mother was beaming with pride and satisfaction. She had singlehandedly managed to recover her favourite necklace. It would have taken a couple of months for this whole exercise but her sheer tenacity and unstinted faith on a positive outcome kept her going on from one clue to another. And therefore I say, given the situation, given her constraints and given the lack of support from the system, this whole trail would put Sherlock Holmes to shame.
And today, I feel helpless – with eight cameras in my apartment complex and some 8 security guards deployed 24x7 to protect my property – someone flicks away my asset. An asset that was my very first purchase after I started working and hence had a sentimental value. With a non-cooperative environment, I have just given up on that. But I am sure, if my mother was alive, she would have persuaded me to trace out my scooter from wherever it was. For, the Sherlock Holmes in her would have never given up.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Life Full of Near-Lynching

Lynching is a dirty word. But it has been doing rounds in our midst for the past few months. We have heard enough of this in different contexts – be it a religious belief, issue related to social diversity or a societal threat.  The mob mentality has ruled the roost.  Be it the birth of a new social class and hence the vote bank or the death of a political leader, a set of people can get together and flow their emotions into some gratuitous lynching.

I was keen to know if it was specific to our country but realized that even the US had its own share of this disgrace. As a matter of fact, the word originated in the US, derived from the Lynch Law introduced by William Lynch, as far back as in the 18th century.

Some of us perhaps have a propensity to impose our ideas and beliefs on others. And when a group of people converge on a common belief, the intensity of the focal point breeds irrational behavior.  As I traverse through my life experiences, I realize that some of the situations carried similar thrust and were just short of lynching.

During my childhood, we used to play cricket at a big iconic ground called Motijheel. On other side of the ground, there was a locality largely inhabited by people of a particular faith. Whenever we had an outcome contrary to the predilection of those boys, we got into trouble. A complete lot from the other side of Motijheel will gang up together to have it their way. The commotion that followed was just short of lynching. We just managed to escape every time, albeit losing a few of our cricketing gear in the process.

I studied in a Government school. Corporal punishment was not much of a taboo amongst the teachers those days. Two of my classmates used to get bashed by every other teacher on every other day. The boys had their own limitations that fell well short of the teachers’ expectations. Sometimes, it appeared quite vindictive and merciless. I wonder if all the eight teachers had gotten together on a given day and time, the result would have been nothing short of ruthless lynching.

Driving on the chaotic roads of Delhi and Bangalore had never been easy.  There have been occasions when I have witnessed an otherwise sane car driver inadvertently brushing through an auto-rickshaw. The ensuing fracas, with a dozen auto-rickshaw drivers surrounding the hapless car driver, had always been just short of lynching. I am sure, the experiences at Chennai and Kolkata would be no different.

And why leave behind Mumbai.  My Mumbaikar friends tell me - If you ever attempt to get into the Virar local while it stops at Andheri station, the result would surely be a case of near-lynching.  I have deliberately used the term ‘attempt’ as I am told, no newbie could ever succeed on that.

As I write this blog on a Sunday, my wife has been reminding me repeatedly of the chores lined up for me. The weekly visits to the grocery shop, the vegetable market and to get the leaking tap fixed. Her tone has been changing with every reminder, I could notice. I am only happy that the God gave me only one wife. Had it been more, the rising tempers could collectively have resulted in another near-lynching.

Boons and Banes of an Innings Defeat

The Indian cricket fans’ reactions have always been mercurial. One day they raise their heroes to heavenly heights and the very next day they throw stones at their houses. The recent innings defeat of the Indian team in England also flared fiery emotions across all modes and breadth of the news media. This innings loss also brought back my childhood memories of similar defeats.

In those days, we used to have only one bat and the owner of that bat had to be kept in good spirits. He was a privileged player and used to get at least two chances to get out – the umpire had little choice but had to pretend - lest he would run away with the bat. Most of us had a penchant for batting and therefore, bowling or fielding were just the necessary evils that we had to carry out. 

Unlike the international cricket, in the ‘gully’ cricket, the teams losing by innings went back home happy as they got the opportunity to bat twice as against the opposition who got to bat only once. The joy of batting twice while making the opposition sweat and toil all over the field was far over-weighing the little pinch of losing the game. On the other side, a few players would be elated to the levels of winning a world cup while there were others who would lament the missed opportunity of a second knock.

In the corporate world, particularly in the IT industry, the term ‘second innings’ has a specific connotation.  There are many employees who, after working in a corporation for a few years, leave the organization for greener pastures. And quite a few of them come back to their earlier organization after a few years, albeit at a higher position and with a fatter pay-pack.  This is colloquially called a ‘second innings’ by the employees. And here again, the loyal employee playing a long steady innings with the organization feels defeated while the one playing two innings laughs all the way to the bank. The innings defeat turns around into a boon for the second inning players.

Coming back to the national cricket team’s ignominious defeat at the Lords recently, I only wonder if these were a bunch of my childhood playmates who thought it was fun to field once and bat twice and let the opposition sweat out on the field with two outings.  Thankfully, these blokes don’t look as cheerful as my childhood friends used to be. They have much more to lose than just sacrificing the Sunday morning for a losing cause.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Whatsapp Group Rule That Threatened My Domestic Peace

As we sipped our tea on a quiet morning, glued to our own copy of the newspaper – we, my wife and I, subscribe to two newspapers to avoid any conflict early in the morning – the trending topic of controls on Whatsapp came up for a discussion. She wanted to know, if ever we were to be restricted to 5 whatsapp groups, what would be my order of preference.

As I was about to respond, I had no idea that I was walking straight into a well-laid trap. I quickly jumped into evaluating the various groups that I was a member of.  One group that generated maximum clinks on my phone was that of a large family group on my maternal side – a typical Tambram group spread across the globe – sharing a few good or bad family news, some jokes some riddles a lot many divine pictures, shlokas and reminders or alerts to the upcoming festivals and rituals.  This group kept me connected with my roots and therefore I declared my large extended family group as my first choice. Her face appeared to be quite blank and expressionless.

For the second choice, I picked up my colleagues’ group – the group helped me to stay updated while I was traveling.  And by far, this was the group wherein I was most active, amongst all my groups.  Besides, the group was always very generous in its appreciation for my blogs and hence I did have a vested interest in that.  Then came my apartment friends’ group. It was equally important as it carried a lot of gossip, some internal politics and all the important announcements on the basic amenities. I was quite active in this group as well. And I could notice a slight change in the expression on my wife’s face now.

The fourth group was a no brainer for me. It was a group of my ex-colleagues from my previous organization. We were a bunch of youngsters who had joined a large public sector together. A few of them left the organization mid-way but many continued. This whatsapp group kept us connected and brought a bagful of happy memories of the past. The good old days, as they say. I wouldn’t want to stay away from this group either – I declared.

Now, picking the fifth and the last group was a big challenge. My wife was running through the pages of her newspaper but had all ears on my last choice. I realized that I had not yet named her large extended Punjabi family group and it would be akin to scoring a huge self-goal if I did not include that in my final list of five. On the other hand, I had this strong tilt towards another group of my school /college friends who kept alive those spirits of my adolescence. The memories of that gay abandon. The remembrances of those childhood crushes.

As I was about to commit a cardinal mistake, the Manager in me woke up just in time. I cleared my throat and told her that the last group was very critical. And I explained - Your family group is most important for me. I love those Punjabi-Multani jokes doing rounds there. I admire some of the intellectual posts shared by your brother. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to inadvertently share any of that crude stuff that sometimes slips in from my college group. You know what I mean.  I would, therefore, not like to freeze it on some particular group for the fifth slot. Let me keep it flexible and I will take it based on the context and significance of the topic.

I was not sure if I had completely doused the fire, but from the reaction of my wife I could make out that a major damage was avoided. At least, the tea session ended peacefully.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Fading Ethical Divide

Two major events that kept the social media engaged in India, over the last two weeks, were from completely different domains but had a common streak somewhere deep down their behavioural origins. For the cricket lovers, it was the rude shock of a team’s collective involvement in deliberately altering the condition of the ball and thereby unethically reverse the swing. For others, it was the alleged complicity of a well-known and well-respected top-notch banker in some business transactions involving her husband’s company and that of a large client of her own bank, that could well have crossed the proverbial ‘Lakshman Rekha’ between business ethics and improbity.
In the corporate world, we are much familiar with the pressures of performance. With large scale commercialization of sports, the same pressure is felt amongst the sportsmen as well – be it an individual game or a team sport. With multi-million-dollar advertising and media industry lapping up sporting heroes at mind boggling remuneration, the motivation and urge to stay on top surges manifold. Winning becomes more important than playing the game.
With big money involved, the sporting world has also been corporatized to a large extent. There are equal number of managers, coaches, motivators and other support personnel as the number of players in a team. A lot many professionals are involved in sports management and that has emerged as a serious, lucrative career option. The high stakes bring in cut-throat competition and razor-sharp performance measures. The game hasn’t remained a game anymore. It is a business venture and hence it unconsciously propagates the philosophy of winning by all means – fair or unfair, right or wrong, by hook or crook, by shining the ball or by roughening its surface.
Like in sports, the leaders in corporate world too want to emerge as winners all the time. They typically have a more formal education in the management of winning. The purpose of their engagement at a corporate is solely for winning. Winning for the organization and thereby winning for themselves. With the ‘winner takes all’ policies of HR /Compensation managers, the young minds get attuned to focus only on winning. The process takes a back-seat.
All the leadership programs that the young managers attend during the course of their early career are all focussed on ‘winning’. And most of them also bring out ‘networking skills’ as one of the key skill to ‘winning’. All through my professional career, I have had an overdose of such tutelage on ‘networking skills’ in all forms of pedagogy. Nothing wrong with that – just that they fail to alert the young minds on the risks and the perils of crossing the ethical line. Using reference of the personal connects of one’s spouse to expand one’s own business line is one aspect. It may indeed be considered as a good, neat, harmless ethical networking. But when it involves one’s business connects – and particularly in an enterprise where public money is involved – it surely is not the best example of professional ethics.
In the corporate world, motivating, enticing and threatening individuals to stretch their goals to elasticity-defying levels is not a very uncommon scenario. And the high stakes attached with these goals – be it a business target or a sporting milestone – infuses the individuals with such an intoxicating urge to succeed that they tend to believe that achieving such a result is the only raison d’etre of their existence on this earth. The results become most important and any questions on the probity of its means become meaningless.
Somewhere along my mid-career crisis, I once had an outburst with my Manager on various seemingly ‘unethical’ practices. My otherwise upright Manager, in a resigned tone, just said – ‘they are smart people’. So, the smart corporate leader has learnt to keep the ethical line hazy. He has learnt to be ‘legally right’ and be ‘politically correct’, while staying on top of that hazy line so he can reach on both sides of the ethical divide, without seemingly crossing the line. Just that, sometimes, the sun shines brighter and people catch him on the wrong foot. And that is the only solace the upright, conscientious few can get – that some sunny morning, the rough side will get exposed on its own to check the illegitimate reverse swing.