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.

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