The Great Indian Software Engineer!

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. Yeah, you – you are included in the half – because the other half IS the software engineers.

Yes, that’s the fact – more than half of the current youth does something which suits the title of software engineer (no official figures to support that, just what I see around me everyday). There is a pretty good chance that you the reader are a software engineer; if not, your brother or sister is one; your spouse or your best friend or your neighbor or …you get it, right?

Now, I visualized this post initially as a depiction of how the software engineer is bullied by everyone around him to squeeze that extra rupee out of him but it eventually dawned upon me that all professionals of today, be it a stock broker, a management professional, a news journalist, a doctor, all of them must be facing those problems; some of which could be attributed to the rise of the software industry and the general increase in the quality of life of a section of society. So, some of the problems that you see here would be faced by every young professional; a lot of them because the youth often have to leave their home towns for big cities and depend on the maids etc.

But what, in my view, has put the software engineer in a unique position is the fact that all his hard work, all 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 through their sting operations; 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. That’s why no points scored with the local uncle ji.

Uncle ji? Who’s that, you ask. Read on…

[Location: outside the home of a friend of our friendly neighborhood software engineer]

Plush in the success of his newly got job and the charms of his mast multinational office where he talks to people in America on a daily basis, he goes to his friend’s house where Uncle ji (his friend’s father) ask him about his new job.

Uncle ji: Aur bete, kaise ho?[Son, how are you doing?]

Software Engineer (SE): (Smiling, taking his Rayban off) Bas uncle, chal raha hai [Just hanging in there, Uncle]

Uncle ji: Kya ho gaya bete, kuchh aankh mein problem ho gayee kya? Kaala chashma laga rakha hai? [What’s with the dark glasses? Is something wrong with your eyes?]

Software Engineer (SE): Nahin uncle, yeh to woh …hehe …sunglasses hain …woh kal khareedey they …actually wo bike chalaate hue thoda problem hotee hai bina chashme ke (smiles sheepishly) [Er, no, hee hee,these are ‘sun’glasses; just got them yesterday; aid me while riding the bike]

 Uncle ji: Aur aaj to bete bahut din baad dikhe? [Anyway, long time …] 

Software Engineer (SE): Haan uncle, array woh office mein thoda busy ho jaata hun aaj kal to late ho jaata hai ghar aate aate…[Yes Uncle, I get real busy at office, so get back home real late] 

Uncle ji: Oh, achcha, kaafi kaam karwaate hain kya? [Oh, they make you work a lot?] 

Software Engineer (SE): Haan uncle, mehnat karnee padtee hai … actually US bhi baat karni padtee hai na roj, to thoda …[Yes Uncle, have to work hard; have to talk to US also daily] 

Uncle ji: Oh, to wo log batate hain aapko kya kaam karna hai … [Oh, so US folks tell you what to do] 

Software Engineer (SE): Haan uncle, nahin, matlab, woh log thoda paas hain client ke, to unko thoda jaada knowledge, matlab client unko batata hai aur woh humko batate hain [Er, yes, no, umm, they’re just closer to the client, so client tells them and they tell us] 

Uncle ji: Haan, wahee to …To aap kaam kya karte ho beta? [Exactly, so what do you do?] 

Software Engineer (SE): Uncle coding, matlab programming (quickly realizing that coding did not quite strike a bell with uncle ji) karte hain … program banate hain [Coding, er, programming] 

Uncle ji: To woh kahan use hota hai? [Where is it used?] 

Software Engineer (SE): Uncle who ek credit card ke dispute transactions ko handle karte hain hum log …[We handle dispute transactions of credit card customers] 

Uncle looks perplexed!

 Matlab jaise credit card ka koi bill aapka galat aa gaya to aap company ko call karogey ki ye to humne kharcha nahin kiya tha …to wo ek dispute raise hoga …to usko track karte hain hum …[e.g if you get an incorrect credit card bill, then you will call them up and there starts a dispute transaction, which we handle] 

Uncle ji: Achcha, array wo kal Sharma ji ke bete ka kuchh credit card ka lafda hua hai beta …to main tere paas bhej deta hun Sharma ji ko …[Oh, good, Mr. Sharma’s son had some credit card dispute; will send him to you] 

Software Engineer (SE): Nahin uncle, (defending himself) wo actually, hum log US ke  hi customers waala data handle karte hain na …aur waise bhi wo hum log sirf dekh sakte hain, kuchh help to nahin kar sakte na uncle .. [No, no Uncle, actually we only handle US customers] 

Uncle staring at you, with his mouth open, thinking what to do with a useless fellow like you

 Software Engineer (SE): Par uncle main unko help kar sakta hun ki kaise approach karein is mein … matlab …[But I can tell you how to approach it] 

Uncle ji: Arrey koi baat nahin beta, wo to unke bete ne kar hi liya tha, wahee wo jo aap keh rahe the, dispute ki jaane kya, raise ho gaya hai, khair chhodo … achcha wo Bansal saab ka ladka, wo jo ICICI bank mein mutual fund bechta tha na, usko yaar apni company mein lagwaa do [That’s ok son, his son had called them up. Hey, by the way, you know Mr. Bansal’s son who used to sell mutual funds? Can you get him a job in your company?] 

Software Engineer (SE): Uncle, aap usko boliye apne resume mujhe forward kar de … matlab wo email mein bhej dein … main apne HR waalon ko bhej doongaa… (finally smiling, content that he could be of at least some use to Uncle ji) [Sure, you can ask him to forward his resume to me, as in, send it in an email to me]

 Uncle ji: Haan, achcha, array aao, andar to aa jaao. Arrey Buntyyyyyyyyyyyy (shouting for his son)…bhai tumhara dost aya hai! [Good, good! Hey Come in son! Bunty! Your friend’s here!]   

[Welcome back]

It started as an esteemed profession (not that it is not anymore; only a little 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.

In these far off big cities, he 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-somthings with loads of cash, they often hear stuff like “you have taken away our jobs coming from other states”.

When a software guy goes out looking for a rented apartment, apart from the bachelor problem that I guess is not specific to being a software engineer, he faces weird looks from the potential land lord. Are you really in software or a call centre? Call center folks are the only ones with an identity crisis worse than the software guys; because call centers are not considered offices; they are understood to be just “call” centers. I don’t know the reality so I will not take this further; maybe we should have another post called “The (not so) Great Indian Call Center Professional”.


I, for one, have had to prove to one of my potential land lords that I was not a call centre guy; he literally showed up at my office in the afternoon to confirm that I work in the day! Verifications apart, the rents are so high; people say the software guys are themselves to blame for this. When the rent for an apartment is quoted as 15,000 bucks, they figure out it would come to something like 3-4K per month since they would have at least 4 or 5 of them living in the same apartment; so 15K per month, no issues; until they marry and the entire 15K has to be borne by one person (or two at max, if he/she is smart enough to marry another software engineer).

When they go to real estate agents, they are asked if they are from the software field or not. No one else at that age can afford to buy a home.

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 Café Coffee Day some-difficult-to-pronounce-ccino; others waiting in the multiplex line ready to dish out close to a thousand bucks for a movie for two along with the popcorn and the nachos and the Pepsi – all in sizes that the average Indian cannot eat but has to pay for.

One thing that is a serious point of envy for most other professionals is the easy access to abrawd where he can earn dollars and pounds and come back to buy bungalows. But his life abroad is more confusing than that of an ABCD. He sees 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 protestors 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. But even IT stalwarts like Narayana Murthy get brickbats from politicians when they talk about improving the infrastructure of Bangalore. A good reason for that could be that these demands are looked at by the govt as efforts to please their American clients even when it has to look after the teeming millions that don’t really care for state of the art facilities at the international airport because they have to worry about earning their dinner.

Both are realities of today’s India. I know that the software engineers definitely want to see their country progress and become at par with the developed countries. There are small ways in which the software engineers can help the country. One big goal should be to get all govt offices and services tech savvy; this would of course have to happen with the involvement of a big software company whose CEO is in the good books of the ministers. But there are small steps that an individual can take at his own level; e.g. get involved with local NGOs to teach children or poor families or if you are artistically inclined, take part in street plays to educate the general public about sensitive issues (if streets put you off, we need some of these plays in malls too, to shake our friends (who think India is more or less a developed country but for the infrastructure of Bangalore) out of their slumber). And you don’t have to spare a lot of time for this; even if all of us can spare just one weekend per month, we should be able to do a lot. We need to do more than just attend rock shows where part of the money goes to charity (and of course a tax benefit for the rockers).

What do you say guys & gals? Can we do it or do we want this generation to be remembered as The (not so) Great Indian Software Engineer?

We have our rights; also, our duties. Then there are choices. Let’s make choices that can change the world for our fellow citizens.



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Who is the Indian Shitizen?

Cross posted from and – contributed by yours truly of course but all comments here on are J Bo’s. Over to J Bo! 

I will be polite to the housekeeping boys and security guards, or will at least keep my mouth shut each time I want to be rude. That would be my contribution today. Yours?

Contributed by Citizen Mohit (on the Rocks)

Who is this Indian Shitizen?

That’s the question I asked myself the first time I came across this term and that exactly was the question I could see in my friends’ tones. I guess everyone who has been on our sites has their own interpretation of this term. Here’s mine! Please Note: Using ‘he’ comes more natural to me but this generally applies to the ‘she’ too – unless noted otherwise.

The Shitizen’s Past
He was brought up in a middle class house with middle class dreams. He is mostly the child of a government servant or a small business owner (the parchun ki dukaan types a.k.a the Mom ‘n’ Pop stores in the West). Not very long ago, he used to study in a school and dream of becoming an engineer or doctor and work hard to buy his own new motorcycle, not a Harley Davidson but a more down to earth Hero Honda Splendor or a Kawasaki Bajaj RTZ. It was supposed to be an upgrade from his father’s Bajaj Super/Chetak (or, as in my case, a Vijay Super!).

Maruti 800 would be the next step towards a successful life. While he was opening up with cable television in his home bringing an end to the monopoly of the monotonous Doordarshan with the advent of Zee TV and MTV, there was still no competition to the 20 minute news capsule (back to back at 09:20 PM in Hindi and at 09:40 PM in English) that would update him on all that was to know in the world of politics, states, sports and the weather. Entertainment folks never made it to the news unless they died.

He would dream of getting into an IIT and make it to the big companies which at that time meant Samtel (makers of picture tubes for almost all brand TVs in India, at least at that time) or one of the TV makers themselves (Onida, Videocon) or of course the core manufacturing giants like BHEL, SAIL (remember the “There’s a little bit of SAIL in everyone’s lives” ad before the news?), Tata Steel and the like. His career choice was made (or doomed) at the age of 16 when he was asked to choose Science or Commerce. Did I say choice? Ha … a big HAH! It was mostly on the basis of marks in the Class X Board exams (remember your parents and teachers telling you, “These are the exams that will define your life beta“?). Commerce was not an option; it was a majboori. People taking commerce were looked down upon. They were not seen as people who genuinely wanted to study Commerce; they obviously didn’t get science.

USA was not a friend; we were not aligned with any of the super powers. So what if we just had a fascination for all things Russian when it came to strategic defense infrastructure and know-how? To appear fair to the world, we did let US planes refuel their tanks in Indian airbases during the Gulf War. USA was supposed to be for Punjabi and Gujarati families who would sell off their assets in India to fly to Amreeka [America] to work in gas stations and motels. People looked at the angry-young-man of Bollywood and public leaders for inspiration.

Marriage between a Punjabi and a Madrasi was only possible in Ek Duje Ke Liye. Fair skin was the number one criterion for considering a girl beautiful. Amitabh Bachchan would be seen with Rajiv Gandhi. Anu Malik was the favorite whipping boy for his “inspired” music and outspokenness. Prannoy Roy with his Friday night program, The World This Week, was the favorite newsman while Vinod Dua had a similar status in Hindi journalism. Sardar+ music meant bhangra and Daler Mehndi, of course, TV serials meant a span of 13 episodes (for whatever reason).

Rules Back Then
There were some basic rules of the game in those days.
1. You never get into a fight with a government servant; he could be a line man, postman or a chapraasi but if he works for the government, it meant that he had control over a lot of luxuries in your life. You could say goodbye to your letters or telephone service if you so much as hinted of an altercation with the Sarkari Karamchari unless, of course, you were the offspring of either his boss or a policewallah.
2. A girl and a boy could never be friends. They were either brother-sister or husband-wife. Apart from that, a boy had to be a friend of the girl’s younger brother to be able to talk to her and that too only to ask her to call her brother. He would have to imagine the rest of the conversation later at night, in his dreams.
3. Sikhs were supposed to be Khalistan; Christians were peaceful and loving people as long as they stuck to teaching in English-medium convent schools. Muslims were supposed to be Muslims first and Indians later. Hindus were obviously the righteous ones because their political leaders were the ones setting the perspectives about all others.
4. Politicians cared and worked for their vote bank only: So what if a certain Rajiv Goswami burns himself alive to protest against their policies?

His Present
The Indian Shitizen of today is young and works out of plush offices not the sarkari daftars .
He suddenly found himself in this new world where Kawasaki Bajaj RTZ went out of production and Hero Honda Splendor became just another entry level bike. The Indian Shitizen can realistically buy an expensive Harley Davidson clone now, if he wants.

He can afford to buy a Ford Ikon as soon as he gets his first job (and a lot of them do buy one). Yes, loans are no more a social taboo they once were. Cable television is the only television for him now. News is now broadcast 24 hours a day for him on exclusive news channels. 20 minutes news? Are you kidding? That would be the time that is spent on just “our top story tonight” with everybody and their mommy chipping in with their analysis. Yes, news items became “stories”.

IIT is still a dream today but you can get into any of the big multinational software companies with a degree from your friendly neighborhood engineering college, which is only a little unfriendly to the pocket. Shimla and Ooty have given way to Phuket Island and Mauritius as top honeymoon spots… and New Year parties. You don’t have to pack your assets in India to go to US now – software engineers go for a few years and come back (or not); some even go just for vacations. The US consulate in Mumbai now has a dedicated separate counter for “Shahs and Patels”; the Delhi counterpart has one for those speaking only Punjabi or Hindi.

Angry young man is out; today’s Shitizen looks at reality show stars for inspiration. The Aneek Dhars (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa 2007) and the Amit Sanas (first Indian Idol ), coming from small towns to make it big on or behind the silver screen have made it to our drawing rooms (which are now known as living rooms, by the way). Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the most favorite politician of the youth of today; (With all due respect to Vajpayee ji) I will not be completely wrong if I say that it was because the youth did not know of any other leaders.

Marriages between a Punjabi and a Madrasi have come out from Bollywood movies to real life even as Bollywood itself gets more real than ever in movies like Satya. Girls are no more judged beautiful based on their fair skin. Amitabh Bachchan is now seen with Amar Singh. Baaju hat (move aside) Anu Malik; Himesh Reshammiya has taken over as the favorite whipping boy as he becomes bigger than Anu Malik ever was (and, as he claims, even RD Burman)! He espouses the Indian Shitizen like few other – does what he wants and likes to do and does not give a damn about what his detractors think of it, as long as he enjoys his work and knows that. Prannoy Roy is still respected but Rajdeep Sardesai (whom my father describes as “ek puraane first class cricketer ka ladka hai, achcha bolta hai, kaafi achche achche points uthata hai” [he is the son of an old first class cricketer, speaks well, brings out very good points]) has captured the imagination of the current youth. Sardar + music now also means guitar based Sufi-Rock! TV serials now go for so long that characters have to die because an actor leaves midway for another serial (also starting with K, of course).

The current Indian Shitizen has seen a world of change in his lifetime. Looking back now, it seems that till one fine day, it was the past and suddenly he came into the present with all its changes, for good or bad.

But some things didn’t change
So a lot of things changed for the Indian youth from his adolescence years to adulthood. But there has been little change in his attitude towards the government and vice versa. Public corporations, for the most part, have become synonymous with losses and red-tapism and corruption. A girl and a boy can be friends today (not all agree to this even today) but they run the risk of being pulled up and beaten by Shiv Sainiks or RSS workers, especially close to Valentine’s Day. Parents don’t mind if their daughter comes back from the college with her guy friend but the self-appointed custodians of Indian culture don’t care for what you and I think.
Religion is still a controversial subject. Sikhs have been absolved of the terrorism ‘charge’ but the Muslims have been put in that mold now. A normal Hindu and Muslim still don’t have any problem with each other but “Hindu-Muslim relations” as portrayed by the politicians are at an all time low with riots and bomb blasts occurring recursively. Politicians still make policies to please the vote bank –Rajiv Goswami is dead now and the striking doctors protesting against the govt are shown as heartless people not tending to their patients. Arjun Singh scares the hell out of the Indian Shitizen by recommending reservation in the private sector too.

Problems facing the country are frustrating but the common man has found alternate ways. For example – No electricity? No problem – get an apartment in one of the buildings selling two bedroom flats for 40 lacs with a clubhouse and 24 hour electricity and water supply. For every thing public, there is a private (and more often better, even if more expensive) counterpart. Schools, Hospitals, even roads (e.g. toll roads like the Noida toll road); the list goes on.

Since the common man found ways to circumvent the things that didn’t change, he lost interest in the nation. Talking about politics became passé. It was a surprise if someone knew the names of the chief ministers of more than 2 or three states. People today don’t know the number of states we have in the country. They know about the Osama and Clinton campaign more than the fact that we could be facing mid-term elections in this country.

But some of them have had enough shit from the politicians and people who have their own personal agenda in keeping the country backwards or in inciting revengeful religious sentiments. They are the people who want to bring India back into our mental frame; to at least increase the awareness of issues facing us and, where possible, take steps to help. Those people, I believe, are the INDIAN SHITIZENS!

(Very) Late Thought (22-Jul-2008): OK, I admit, I had got this Shitizen terminology a little wrong. For the correct definition, refer to the Disclaimer on (right at the bottom). But this does tell the story of you and me who are normally citizens, but can be Shitizen sometimes.

Please visit for more details.

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Sab Chalta Hai

(This is my first post for the Indian Shitizen – a welcome-for-all blog that discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly side of all of India shared on this common blog to understand our strengths and weaknesses and work on them. The idea originated with Jhoomur Bose who is the moderator of the Blogspot site (I am the moderator for the WordPress site) and we are trying to spread it. Please mail in your posts at For more details, click here)

A few years ago, when the prime minister of Singapore, having heard of India’s supremacy in the Information Technology sector, came to India, he had this to say (roughly): “Nowhere in the world have I ever seen such a striking disparity in the potential of the people and the infrastructure of the country”. A friend of mine narrated that story years ago; and of late – when I generally can’t even remember the name of the last movie I’ve seen, and there have been a few hundred Bolly and Hollywood movies – I have not forgotten that statement. Now you don’t have to go through a whole lot of studies to prove that.

Just look around you: Your daily life starts with no electricity at home. You either have a smoke-coughing generator or an inverter or an illegal line drawing power from somewhere you are not supposed to. On the road, you see auto-wallahs driving with no regard for anyone else. You too resort to driving zigzag just to keep up with the anarchy. You wonder how the guy before you managed a license to drive. You then smile at your naivet; of course he got it the way you got yours. A few green bills and you didn’t even have to go to the RTO.

While you criss-cross through the daily traffic maze, a cop pulls you over. You have been riding your motorcycle on the footpath… And your amazement knows no bounds. You feel like Sanjay Dutt: Trying to tell the cop, “I was just doing what everyone else does. How come I am the only one who gets caught?” The cop is impervious to your logic till you remind him of Mahatma Gandhi: On the face of a Rs 500 bill. Long Live India; he will also oblige you with a few tips on any other “checkposts” so that you can keep some of your Gandhigiri in your pocket.
At the next traffic signal, you come across a billboard showing the Prime Minister urging the youth of the country to come forward and do your nation proud. Do the nation proud? I would feel proud enough if I can make it to office on time today without another thulla stopping me.

The point being: You and I were optimistic about our country once but somewhere down the line the fight for Our Daily Life became so monstrous that fighting for our nation started to be more of a fantasy.

I want to talk about a fascinating concept I read in the book Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell: the Theory of Broken Windows. In the words of the author, “If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes (or the ubiquitous Chalta Hai, in local parlance). In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling are all invitations to more serious crimes.” While the author talks about this in the context of New York City crime in the 1990s, I can see it perfectly applicable in our case.
This “no one cares attitude” is our broken window. Like ANY Government Office, since that is where most of the frustration is directed.

How to spot a Government Office
The first thing you notice are the dirty stairwells stinking with ammonia levels approximately that of public urinals, if not higher. Paan spit uniformly paints the wall in what looks like a deliberate attempt at decorating with a weird kind of modern art. Broken furniture greets you; unkempt walls stare at you with graffiti asking you to “Chalo Ayodhya” or get a cure for your “Gupt Rog”. Pamphlets of coaching classes would have clearly hidden any board with printed directions for the common man on How To Proceed. Babus sitting behind piles of files sipping away at their tea, chatting with other babus or agents who are the only people authorized by the Babus to get your work done, for a commission, of course. Even with an agent, when you finally get across to one babu, he would ultimately decide that you need the signature of Pandey ji across the hall before he can work on it – just a euphemistic way of saying that Pandey ji also has to buy sweets for his kids. The common man, having made no sense of the affairs of that office, ultimately gives in to the agents-babu nexus to get the work done as also to get the hell-out-of-that government office.

Now, you could threaten the babu with legal action against bribery or even launch a stealth camera thing but chances are he won’t even as-much-as-flinch. His rationale: When the government cannot even keep the street dogs from shitting anywhere in the office, when they can’t keep anyone from spitting on any wall, when they can’t display proper directions for a common man about the pyramid structure of the office describing who can be approached in case of any dissatisfaction with a lower level babu, how in the world are they going to take action against him?

It dawns upon you that the dirty office is probably meant to drive home the point that over here, sab chalta hai (anything goes) aur kisi ko farak nahin padta (and no one gives a damn).

PS: The original post by me had more on the lines of “let’s do something”. That has been deliberately held back by J Bo our Blogspot moderator and the person who started this idea, so I have cut that portion out of wordpress as well. She has requested me to have patience, have trust. We should know her intentions. Pretty soon.

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Happy 15th of August!

I mentioned recently about the hypocrisy evident in the celebrations of the independence of India when our celebrities who cannot even talk properly in Hindi resort to their accented English to convey their love for the country. But I believe a lot more people are guilty of that charge of hypocrisy in one way or another than would like to admit.

I fear I could be one of those.

Because even as I work for a Bermuda based company with majority of its operations in the US and day in and out work hard in the service of American insurance companies here in the insurance capital of the world so that the American corporates can make more and more money and the average American can get cheaper insurance premiums; I have my patriotic moments too. Away from the homeland for some time definitely makes those run-of-the-mill independence-day gimmicks/events special. So, I quenched my patriotic urges and lead my country to pride and joy vicariously by watching Chak de India, released in the marketing world’s auspicious week of the 60th anniversary of the independence of India from British rule. I also wished Happy Independence Day (or Happy 15th of August, as they would say in US) to some other desis and watched some patriotic clips on CNN-IBN.

But the toast of the week was the celebrations organized by the India Association of Greater Hartford in Hartford, CT. They organized a function where the Indian Tricolour was hoisted on the State Capitol building in presence of the Mayor of Hartford city. I thought the Indian flag would be on the side somwhere but I was truly surprised to see the flag on the main post. I have no idea how the association managed to convince the Connecticut government people, but apparently, they have been doing this for the last 5 years; so they know their stuff. Well, I am definitely not complaining! There were some patriotic songs and dance performed by children culminating in the hoisting of the Indian Flag and immediate recital of the National Anthem of India followed by a group of kids reciting the American National Anthem.

Many a young men lost their lives trying to hoist the Tricolour in their own motherland in the pre-1947 era and here I was, saluting the Indian Tricolour hoisted on a State Legislature building in US and singing the National Anthem.  As long as I can remember the sacrifice of those men and women so that future generations could take India to greater heights; and as long as I get goose bumps when singing the National Anthem, I guess I can absolve myself of the hypocrisy charge.

I took the above photo of the Capitol building with the Tricolour. If you are interested in photography, you can check out my other photographs at Flickr.


Filed under Independence Day, India

Chak de India!

A lot of political jingoism and patriotism marked this 15th August week, more so because it was our 60th anniversary of independence. Everyone and their daddy came out with some stuff which could be used to loosen the common man’s pockets by pulling on his patriotic strings. I, for one, don’t mind parting with a few green bills but at least give me some bang for my buck. My search for the bang took me to Chak De India last Friday which released in that happening week.

Now what can one expect from a movie which stars Shah Rukh Khan as the coach of the Indian Hockey team full of never-seen-before girls, and even has him rapping away in one of the songs. SRK being the coach, would call the shots obviously and lead the team single-handedly to victory because of his hard-hitting mmeh mmmeh dialogues of course. The girls would just happen to be there under the shadow of the mighty SRK. It would be SRK all the way leading the country of a billion people to their 60th year of mindless celebrations over an extremely important event in the history of India which is probably more fondly remembered by the common man as the day we got the freedom to urinate on the walls of any government building without being reprimanded by the British.

But boy, was I glad that I was wrong (about the movie, that is!)! This movie was not anything I mentioned above and turned out to be pretty much the bang I was looking for!

For starters, it’s probably the first sports movie about India that takes up real issues and attempts to capture the struggle of sportsmen (actually sports-women) in a team sport. Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander was another exciting movie of this genre that I can recall but even that was about cycling, an individual sport, and individual excellence is not really something to write about in this country with probably the largest number of individual superstars.

Chak de India strives to showcase the struggle of a man from the point he was disgraced by the people of his country to his well deserved moment of joy and pride when he helps bring the Women’s World Cup home. And it’s the journey between these two points in his life that is more exciting than the final result that makes the movie such a treat to watch. While the fact that a movie from the Yash Chopra bandwagon looked at real problems in hockey hit me as a pleasant surprise, what made the deal a whole lot sweeter was the little nuances that the film brings out about the typical Indian mindset not just towards the game but also towards each other and ofcourse towards public figures who are made demi-gods in moments, crushed to the ground equally sooner and then returned back to their seats among the stars of the celebrity sky with as much as just one flash of brilliance. 

The plot is loosely based on the life of Mir Ranjan Negi, the Indian goalkeeper in the 1982 Asiad Games Final where India lost to arch rival Pakistan by a whopping 7-1. Negi was made the scapegoat for that defeat and the humiliation made him vanish from the hockey scene for years only to return as the coach of the Indian Women’s Hockey team and lead them to victory in the Commonwealth games in 2002.

The movie does add some twists of its own for adding drama. Negi becomes Kabir Khan so that there can be that extra sting in the humiliation. 20 years is reduced to 7 so that Shah Rukh does not have to get the “Anupam Kher hair style” to match the real coach! But it is the girls that represent the teething issues facing Indian Hockey today and in doing that, carry the movie not only on their athletic shoulders but their hockey sticks, whims and fancies, bitching and most of all their enthsiasm for the sport. Representing different states and teams, the girls intuitively refuse to break away from their regional identities, causing rival groups to be formed – an issue that has always haunted the Indian teams. They have always been accused of not playing as a team. The film portrays the differences with a generous sprinkle of humour. The coach is aware of all that and works on the team building aspect. The girls learn the importance of team work painfully. But as they learn the all important art of team building, they also learn about their own  weaknesses and strengths. It is the beauty of the girls’ journey from them being the best player in their states to them being the best players for the Indian team. The other ills plaguing all sports in this country viz. politics in associations, sports bodies being lead by people with no interest in the betterment of facilities and the charm of the foreign trip is also subtly shown.

While sports movies are the best teachers for lessons in life, they don’t help much if the sports is not good enough. Chak de India has elegantly and realistically portrayed hockey matches and players. 

But the most surprising part of the movie was that SRK serves as the lowest common denominator and, for a change, doesn’t mind lying low when the scene demands so. His greatest contribution to the movie has been his restraint in his acting which makes him affable yet again to a fan-following he lost somewhere in his quest to become bigger than Big B. Also, to be fair to Shah Rukh and his dream of doing something for the sport he wanted to play at the highest level, his presence itself means a lot in terms of the widespread media attention that the movie is getting. It would be difficult to get the audience to the theatres without the attraction of SRK!  

If I see something missing from this movie, it would surely be the fact that it misses out on a major reason for the poor showing of the Indian Hockey team in tournaments around the globe – the Astro Turf. Players in India have always played on grass and most do so till they reach the national level. It is only beyond this phase that the players get to play on the surface which players around the world take all their life to get used to but the Indian players probably get only a fraction of that time to get their act together. Indian hockey was world champion in the days of yore because they played on the same surface all through but Astro Turf takes the game to a totally different level in terms of the stamina of players and the pace of the game.

Iqbaal and Lagaan were outstanding movies about sports too but this one is in a different league. This is a coming-of-age Bollywood movie which showcases recent history that most of us were not even aware of; and it does so in a pleasant yet realistic way coming as a breath of fresh air. The movie sure revived my interest in hockey. I am sure it would have done this for a lot of others as well.

Indian Hockey players of the past were so good that there is actually a skill named after them – the Indian Dribble. Let’s hope this movie can inspire some young blood to bring some of that glory back to India.

Chak de India!
Here is the news item related to the actual Commonwealth Games that the Indian Hockey Women’s team won under Mir Ranjan Negi. The actual win was a bit controversial. Read on!
India Deny England Gold

A few news articles highlighting the problems in the Indian Hockey camp:
1) Egos drag hockey team into sticky mess
2) Killer Instinct: Do we really lack it?
3) Dhanraj has attitude problem, says coach

Last, but not the least, the man himself, Mir Ranjan Negi


Filed under Bollywood, Hockey, India, Movies, Shah Rukh Khan, Sports, Yash Chopra

State(s) of the Nation!

How many states are there in India?

// (C)

This was a very standard question in the General Knowledge examinations at my school till the fifth class. And no matter which class it was asked in, the answer remained the same – 25. That is, until recently. I kinda lost track of the number of states after that. Not just me, if you ask the number of state question to anyone today, the answer is never a certainty. It starts with 25 and then one state is added at a time, after a considerable itching in the grey cells. The moment a guy says 26, another guy, like an eBay auction, immediately adds one more to make it 27. This carries on till about 30, at which point we either develop a consensus on the most favorite number or dump the question with a “Who cares anyway”.

But then you suddenly see the oh-so-patriotic ads on television about the 60 years of independence where celebrity after celebrity declare in their American accents their love and pride for their country. Some say they love the country, they are proud to be a part of its great culture and heritage. They are proud to represent the country on the world platform.

If I were asked about what the 60 years of independence meant to me, I am sure I can match the hyperboles of any of these celebrities but I would rather ask the citizens if they can at least name all the states of their country with their capitals. So if, like me, you have also been engrossed in your daily life so much that “the states” reminds  you more of the U.S. of A., please go ahead and read the list of states, capitals and their chief ministers below. Can you do that rather than faking your love for the country by saying you would give your life for it when you know dialogues of the fanaticism genre only suit Sunny Deol and even he is not so convincing these days.

So, let’s get back to school! And by the way, there are 28 states in India and 7 Union Territories, two of which also have partial statehood powers (Delhi and Pondicherry). Pity on me that I had to go to to find that out – so I’m no saint either but hey, I’m trying! Will you?

Andhra Pradesh Hyderabad Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy
Arunachal Pradesh Itanagar Dorjee Khandu
Assam Dispur Tarun Kumar Gogoi
Bihar Patna Nitish Kumar
Chhattisgarh Raipur Raman Singh
Delhi† Delhi Sheila Dikshit
Goa Panaji Digambar Kamat
Gujarat Gandhinagar Narendra Modi
Haryana Chandigarh Bhupinder Singh Hooda
Himachal Pradesh Simla Virbhadra Singh
Jammu and Kashmir Jammu/Srinagar Ghulam Nabi Azad
Jharkhand Ranchi Madhu Koda
Karnataka Bangalore H. D. Kumaraswamy
Kerala Thiruvananthapuram V.S. Achuthanandan
Madhya Pradesh Bhopal Shivraj Singh Chauhan
Maharashtra Mumbai Vilasrao Deshmukh
Manipur Imphal Okram Ibobi Singh
Meghalaya Shillong D.D. Lapang
Mizoram Aizawl Pu Zoramthanga
Nagaland Kohima Neiphiu Rio
Orissa Bhubaneshwar Naveen Patnaik
Pondicherry† Puducherry N. Rangaswamy
Punjab Chandigarh Parkash Singh Badal
Rajasthan Jaipur Vasundhara Raje Scindia
Sikkim Gangtok Pawan Kumar Chamling
Tamil Nadu Chennai M. Karunanidhi
Tripura Agartala Manik Sarkar
Uttarakhand Dehradun B. C. Khanduri
Uttar Pradesh Lucknow Mayawati
West Bengal Kolkata Buddhadeb Bhattacharya

†Delhi and Pondicherry have been included here since they do have partial state powers and have chief ministers of their own.


Filed under India, Politics

The Cult of the “T”

Ek Garam Chai ki Pyaali Ho
Koi Usko Pilaane Waali Ho
Chaahe Gori Ho Ya Kaali Ho
Seene Se Lagaane Waali Ho

And so went the song that did not just torture your eardrums with the ever-so-melodious voice of Anu Malik but also featured Salman Khan in his oh-so-short, well, shorts! And yet this song is special for it espouses, for me, and for millions of desi tea lovers all over the world, the perfect “Indian Dream”. Yes, if we can have an Indian Idol after American Idol, why can’t we have a desi counterpart of the “American Dream”? Of course, a High Definition LCD TV, an iPod, an iPhone, a Suzuki Swift, a 2 Bedroom flat in close proximity to the upcoming International Airport in Bangalore and a Honeymoon trip to Phuket Island have also made it to the latest Indian Dream checklist. But let’s just stick to the basics for now – the idea of hot tea served at the pleasure of your highness!

Cup of Tea

Let’s go back in time, about three quarters of a century, when Mr. Grandfather Sharma used to have one cup of tea with breakfast and another cup of mildly warm tea to rinse his mouth. And then came the final cup of tea; with nothing but the sheer delight of 100% fat milk, tea leaves from Darjeeling, a couple of cardamom pieces (elaichi) and a generous helping of ginger through the miniature grinder.

So as you can imagine, I had a pretty high standard to follow when it came to the most popular drink of the country. Not one to be bogged down by expectations, I have fared pretty nicely on that scale. And while I was not born into luxurious times as my grandfather, I did manage to get a bed-tea, one cup of tea with breakfast and another after the “eating” part was done. The idea of rinsing my mouth with tea did not really click with me. One reason was that glycerin does not do all that good for the taste in your mouth after tea 🙂 (for those uninitiated into the whole home-remedy funda, glycerin can be used to cure blisters in the mouth (possibly) caused by hot tea).

I didn’t just stop there – I managed to have bed-tea, a thermos full at that, in the early hours of the morning of exams. My mother would sit next to me through the first cup to make sure I was wide awake to study and revise the course. Wow, those were the days! I really missed all this in college hostel when I used to get up early to revise. Did I say revise? Hell, no – where was the time to revise anything in college? You revise when you complete the course once. IT-BHU Metallurgical Engineering is not what I would call a revision-friendly course.

But one thing college had, was the mess and the maharaj ji with his pot belly and angocha over his shoulders and his last tea at 11:00 PM. I could not read one extra word after 10:45 because my ears yearned for that distant cling of the tea glasses, mostly against each other, but sometimes also against the plastic bucket. Steaming hot kettle in one hand and the bucket full of glasses in the other, the little boy would shout “Chai …Chai iii” and we would rush into the lobby with our hands outstretched begging for the holy kawa. If it were not an exam night, one would simply get out of the hostel on a bike, or search for a rickshaw in the middle of the night for half an hour and finally take that rickshaw for double rate to “Lanka” (a.k.a. the ultimate networking hotspot with more cult value than Starbucks). Here one could meet innumerous old friends and make some new ones – all over a cup of tea. Tea was all that could revive our sleeping spirits in that 15 minute break after 2 hours of lectures.

Lectures were one excuse for tea but I, for one, don’t really need one. I can drink a cup of tea late in the night; I can drink one early in the morning, afternoon, evening; practically any time of the day. I drink it when I have to stay awake; I also drink it when I want to sleep. I remember the times when tea was the default choice of drink for all our guests (choice, as in, our choice for them :); even in those hot summer days.

But the best tea is definitely the tea from the tea stalls by the roadside. I know they are not the most hygienic but if you get that roadside tea in a disposable earthen cup (kulhar, made internationally famous by good ol’ Lalu), the hygiene issue is resolved as well! I just cannot imagine a train station/platform without the kulhar tea.

At home, along with the right quantities of sugar and tea leaves, you need a perfect amount of ginger and maybe some cardamom too. I remember a friend of mine added the cardamom to the tea leaves as a one time effort thereby bringing efficiencies to the everyday process of getting your nicotine. Some people use the tea masala which already has all these ingredients and more, but I prefer adding them separately – gives tea a more authentic feel.

I met a few old classmates of mine from college after more than 4 years. And all that talk about old college days didn’t light up their faces as much as the mention of some desi tea. That is the effect of chai. I guess we see that everywehere. I’ve had bad days where nothing seems to be working for me till I go for the tea break, have a sip of the hot Brooke Bond (or Tata Tea), chat a little and get back into the groove.

So, what is it about tea that binds me to it? I guess the answer lies in the fact that I can associate so many of my memories with it. Be it the early morning tea in bed on those cold mornings in Ghaziabad or the tea at a Lanka tea stall at a time which could be called both pretty late night as well as pretty early morning with buddies half as crazy as myself, or the masti of getting off the Kashi Vishwanath Express train in the middle of the night at some obscure station in eastern Uttar Pradesh to get some desi bubbly in my system or the absolute delight in getting the same taste on Oak Tree Rd in New Jersey, or the instant connection you develop with little known people the moment tea is mentioned, or a nice compliment of my own preparation of tea- which has been misused by some people to coax me into making tea on more than one occasion! So, I guess tea not just wakes me up, it injects a dash of energy and fun in my life!

I once got the following as my testimonial on my orkut profile
“I thought I was the world’s greatest tea-addict until Sharmajee came along”. I couldn’t explain it better 🙂

If you can identify yourself with this statement, do share your point of view in the comments section.


Filed under Bollywood, IT-BHU, Tea