Archive for June, 2020

Image and Imagery

An alley of rows of young men and women, clad in cool attires and sitting in ergonomic chairs, are glued to their laptops.  Their trendy glassed office overlook a vast expanse of swanky business towers that dot the skyline. Sipping endless cups of coffee and working extended hours, they always are in a hurry to beat the excruciating client deadlines to complete the project in hand and move over to the next. These smart, tech savvy and highly paid bunch of youngsters are the Indian IT professionals tasked to develop top notch software products for companies worldwide..and millions of such techies work in cities across the country fulfilling an ever increasing global demand for IT services.  They were the poster boys and ambassadors of the new nation,  a confident and aspirant India taking rapid strides in frontier technologies … and the world lapped up this image, until the events that followed the lockdown altered it completely. 

The nation came to a screeching halt when the lockdown was announced on the night of March 24 to contain the Covid spread with factories shut, offices closed and all construction activities suspended immediately.  And with that, the millions who manned the factories, guarded the offices and the workers who laid the roads and erected the homes lost their jobs and the livelihoods.  Unable to pay the paltry rent, they were evicted out of their shanty dwellings and soon, in every mega city of the country, millions spilled over to the streets, hungry, helpless and turned destitute, all in a matter of just few days. With trains out of the tracks and other conceivable mode of transport in the docks, they despaired to be in the comforts of their dear ones in distant villages and soon braced themselves to a ridiculously torturous journey back home, by foot! As the pictures of millions, trudging along for thousands of kilometres in scorching heat with luggages on their heads and babies on their arms flashed across the international media, the image of a nation, as confident and resilient, turned to its head to become a grim visual of a sea of desperate and uncared humanity on the move, overnight!

The migrant workers are the ones who move the wheels of the Indian economy silently, without being noticed, much less acknowledged in every formal and informal sectors. While they built malls and housing complexes, ran every small and medium industries in hazardous settings, did the cleaning and washing chores in almost all middle class households and kept the cities liveable and functioning, the denizens comprehensively failed to integrate them into the city they choose to serve and in the process left them vulnerable to abject poverty. They lived in sub-human conditions, ducked in the underbelly of every metropolis with no social security to rely on or fall back to, in times of distress. It is this callousness on the part of the ruled and the better-off of the society that led to the very tragic exodus of millions and seriously dented the image of a nation, known for its democratic and equitable principles. 

The advent of information and other allied technologies indeed have provided the educated youths with opportunities for lucrative employment which, in turn, has led to the creation of a gentry of neo-rich people. But while creating such a privileged class, it has also widened the gulf of inequality in the society to unacceptable levels. Though Capitalism, by its very nature, breeds inequality, it is the binding duty of a welfare state to mitigate its malignant affects through affirmative actions. Failure to adopt such an interventionist approach would, as history has repeatedly shown us, make societies extremely unstable, as events subsequent to the lockdown has shown.

As much in politics, it is the perception that carries weight and swings opinion in international arena.  And perhaps this sordid imagery of hapless immigrants under lockdown could have been avoided if only we had taken care of our less fortunate brethren a little better. 

Yours

Narayanan

June 28, 2020 at 5:29 pm 6 comments

Guest post by my daughter

I think Appa started Chapter18 in 2010 or 2011. I was all of ten years old and frankly, too worried about my middle-school friendships to care or even attempt to understand what he wrote. The most distinct memory I have which reminded me of the existence of this blog on a daily was the sound of Appa switching off the lights in the living room at 2 am or 3 am and coming to bed happy and content with what he wrote. How I know he was content? He wouldn’t sleep if he was not.

I have been taught by both my parents to put 100% effort into whatever I do. I have never quite seen Appa put that into practice until this blog came along (sorry, dad :P). He would read books, articles and have conversations with people only so that his writing is rooted in reality and resonates with the people reading. However, like all good things come to an end, this did too. In 2012 when our family hit absolute rock-bottom so did Appa’s will to write. He no longer had the insatiable desire to tell stories to the world and no one in his corner would push him or motivate him to. In retrospect, I wish someone did.

The road to start writing again took a very long 5 years. It took perseverance and determination. By me. To convince him. He would usually retort with “What should I write about? Onnume illai (there’s nothing)”. I thought that was a bit rich coming from someone who dedicated an entire blogpost to the saree (you can read that: https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/the-great-indian-stitch-less-garment/). After months of bickering he finally started writing consistently in January of 2019. And thanks to the God he keeps asking me to pray to, there hasn’t been a dry spell since.

The Narayanan of 2020 is a much more relaxed man than the Narayanan of 2010. He no longer has a teenage daughter to worry about, no dog to take to the vet (you can read about Viju: https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2019/08/11/an-eulogy-for-viju-our-pet/) and he has always had an independent and self-sufficient wife. He spends more time learning, reading and cooking than ever before. And he does it so that he can write about it. So that he can share stories from his childhood and his household with everyone.

Chapter18 hit 100 subscriptions on 26 June 2020. Appa very proudly shows his statistics to Amma and I. “I have people reading my blog from Italy, Pragya!!!!” This blog has been a constant source of inspiration and joy for me. I often read out my Appa’s blogposts to my friends and feel an irreplaceable sense of pride. So, thank you to all of you. For reading and learning with Appa. We now know that if 2012 were to have a re-run we will have 100 others in Appa’s corner motivating him to write.

Yours,

Pragya

June 26, 2020 at 6:22 pm 10 comments

Taming the Dragon

The gruesome killing of twenty of our soldiers by a bunch of Chinese army men, nay butchers, in a pre-planned, diabolical attack has rightly caused immense outrage, not just within the country but among all right thinking citizens of the world. What is so sinister about this onslaught is that, it was carried out just as the negotiated de-escalating process was in progress! And, as if to make a mockery of all established conventions, the bodies of the martyred soldiers were mutilated and flung into the raging Galwan river causing revulsion at the audacity of the act. While the nation mourns at the loss of its valiant sons along with the bereaved families, it also steels the resolve of a race, long acclaimed for its forbearance, to avenge the inflicted wrong and decisively tame and rein-in the dragon that, of late, has gone amok.

When the entire humanity is fighting the corona pandemic that originated from the Chinese soil and struggling to come to terms with the incalculable misery it has unleashed, the Red Army, as a diversionary tactic, is in an expansionist mood. When serious doubts are raised world-wide on the theory that the virus originated naturally and as evidence mount on the possibility of it being artificially manufactured, a rattled establishment is on an all out spree to change the narrative through a maze of geopolitical misadventures.  And to aid it in this agenda is a well crafted web of media blitzkrieg aimed to misguide, misinform and misdirect the public opinion and thus push the subcontinent towards a dangerous confrontation. The game becomes all the more cataclysmic when friendly neighbours are wooed to turn hostile and are induced to act against India. And the nation is well within its rights to bring in an immediate correction and secure its borders.

To neutralise the Chinese forces and push them back from the LAC is of immediate import but a long term strategy to counter the Chinese aggression, both military and economic, calls for a deeper and unbiased understanding of the enemy’s strength. When the stated policy is to “hide the strength and bid for the right time” it becomes all the more imperative to unravel those strengths and how they were acquired in a short span of two to three decades.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. recently made a telling commentary as to why they manufacture their iPhones in China and it is not the cost factor. “ The number one reason why we like to be in China is the people. China has extraordinary skills. And the part that’s the most unknown is there’s almost two million application developers in China that write apps for the iOS App Store. These are some of the most innovative mobile apps in the world…” says Tim. And this extraordinarily high level of technical skills spans across all the manufacturing sectors making it not just the preferred location, but almost an inevitable one. And that is not all… what the Chinese have achieved is that they have seamlessly integrated high level of craftsmanship with the latest robotics technology that makes the products rolled out of their factories technically world class and aesthetically superior, a lethal combine for any nation to beat. This level of competency among its working class is built by assiduously strengthening their school and technical education systems that has one-point focus on quality. It is no surprise that many of the top class universities in the world today are in China!

And the only hope for India to catch up with the Chinese and acquire a matching technical expertise across sectors is to totally revamp our school education system which today, is largely in shambles. There has to be a re-focus towards skills development right from the middle school as against the present day rote learning and there is an urgent need to jettison the outdated syllabus and align the technical education to the demands of the modern industry. Our engineers passing out of colleges should not be doing coding jobs in IT companies or attending calls at BPO centres but rather be designing a variety of innovative products at innumerable R&D centres. Only with such a shift in priorities would we ever be able to make India a manufacturing hub of comparable quality and effectively neutralise the challenges thrown to us as a nation. 

The taming of the dragon is now no more a choice but a compelling need. 

Yours

Narayanan

June 19, 2020 at 6:30 pm 12 comments

Gandhi’s Talisman

The grandfather clock in our house was an ancestral property and my father’s was the third generation to inherit it. It was a mammoth time machine with many a needles, dials, wheels and a huge pendulum, all encased in an exquisitely crafted wooden box. The pendulum was kept in perfect oscillation by a network of wheels rotating at varying speeds, the cogs of the bigger ones pushing that of the smaller wheels. The margin of error of the time it displayed was 1/100th of a second, a precision standard that could be the envy of the most modern atomic clock. While it struck a single bell for half-an-hour, the number of the bells it let out every hour matched the hour count it displayed, the peaks being the noons and the midnights. The machine needed regular oiling and servicing and once in a week winding of the keys, an exercise that my father undertook with clockwork precision. It also served as cocoon to sparrows that seamlessly flew into the drawing room from the courtyard and built their nest on the broad upper curvature of the clock to lay the seasonal eggs. The machine served well for generations and kept a close watch and a benevolent glance on all of us siblings during our growing up years. 

But one noon there was no more ticking of the seconds hand nor was there the tolling of the bells at the appointed hour. The grandfather clock had ceased to work completely with all the needles looking upwards as if to convey that the life of it has moved to the heavenly direction. No amount of cajoling the pendulum and winding of the keys could bring it back to life as it stood motionless, up on the walls. Slowly we stopped expecting the hourly strokes and the habit of looking up to check the time also soon left us. But the clock remained on the wall for many more years because it continued to be the home for the tiny birds to nestle its babies as my mother resisted all attempts to disturb their habitat with the zeal of an activist. The sparrows flew in and out of the drawing room umpteen times everyday, dirtying the floors with every flight with its droppings and mother would endlessly clean them without a murmur, only to ensure that the birds happily raised their families in our house. This went on for years until the sparrows themselves became a rare species owing to the unending constructions all over, leaving them with little space to whiz around and thrive. But the grandfather clock continued to hang on the wall, waiting for the sparrows to come and build their nest on it. The clock episode taught us all the cardinal lesson of putting the interests of the less privileged above our little inconveniences and that it is the binding duty of the fortunate ones to take care of those who are dependent on us, even if that means taking upon ourselves the extra burden. 

This sensitisation to put the interests of others above that of oneself stood me in good stead when faced with many a moral dilemmas later in life.  Be it the question of cutting down staff to increase profitability, or finding newer ways and methods to spruce up sales, the interest of the less vocal and more disadvantaged were always protected, even when it meant slower growth, increased expenses or compromised efficiency. The hand woven cloth was preferred to machine made synthetic fibre, purchase from the local stores superseded the temptation to relieve the hi-tech shopping experience of the malls while the services of maids, washermen and the like were continued to be availed even when surrounded with modern gadgets meant to replace these manual work.  

As  advances in web technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and the like are making forays into our everyday life  and adversely impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions, the need for a human compass based on compassion is most acutely felt now than ever before. And it is here the talisman given by Gandhi, would serve as guiding post to resolve the moral dilemmas of the present age and help us arrive at the right choices, be it the individual decisions or the policies at the government level. Gandhi exhorts us to recall the face of the poorest man and benchmark whether the decisions we contemplate to take be of any help to him and if the inner voice is in the affirmative, then we should follow that course of action with abandon. This way, a simplest and the most effective tool is granted to us by one of the greatest human beings ever to walk on the face of this earth, that could make the most complex decisions easy and morally upright.

Yet, sadly, it is this very fundamental yardstick that we fail to gauge our decisions with that result in colossal damage to society and the nation at large. If only we remind ourselves of the poorest man and place his welfare as the centre of our actions, we would invariably arrive at the right choices always and would be spared the agony of causing distress to the ones whom we are meant to serve.

Yours 

Narayanan

Also read https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2021/08/01/a-pillion-ride-with-the-pizza-delivery-boy/

Also read https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2021/06/27/the-other-woman-in-my-life/

June 10, 2020 at 12:05 am 15 comments


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