Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Return by Andrei Zvyagintsev

The Return, the debut movie by Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, is a haunting parable of manhood, parental authority, innocence and rebellion and the nostalgia of Eden.

This is a movie of archetypes, where a sudden disruption of a community by a force which demands respect but is violently insensitive to the inner dynamics of that community is met with hate, longing and suspicion.

Suffused with the bleak imagery of the fatherland, the harsh and brutal love of a father for his sons is brought into sharp contrast with the sons' doubt, their bond with their mother, and the revolt of a childhood neglected.

The landscape is barren, forlorn and inhuman, and that is the inner landscape of the father's heart.

What a brilliant debut!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Democracy as an end

So has democracy become an end in itself?

Is it to be celebrated that a government is voted out and the opposition is to voted in because it shows that democracy is alive?

Democracy is a means to an end, the end being good governance and representation of the people.

In India, democracy does NOT achieve this end; and has not, ever since 1947.

Democracy has become a mafia. "You have no choice but to choose one of the two thugs as your masters." So, we choose one who is not in power, to voice our disapproval.

Is that a victory for democracy? Or is casting your vote also a kind of castration?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Notice Period to God

Why is there such a high incidence of attrition and burn-out in the Indian IT industry?

There are superficial reasons and there are deep reasons.

Most Indian programmers are generalists, knowing the basics of a programming language but without much domain or business expertise or research orientation. Hence, it is easy for them to hop a job without any major change or disruption in their work.

Hopping a job always gives a better raise in salary than if you stay on and wait for the annual 15% increment

Most Indian cities are devoid of any avenues of creative expenditure of one's energies. Most entertainments available in big Indian cities are consumptive in nature. Hence, people invariably get bored quickly.

Most Indian IT companies are serving offshore businesses. There is little emotional engagement with the business of the organization due to this geographical and cultural distance.

Almost all large IT companies in India have such a high and desperate demand for new workers that they will significantly overlook short tenures in a candidate's resume and will be willing to offer them a significant raise from their previous job. Good engineers are hard to find.

In the frenzy of hiring, background checks and elaboration of one's experience are perfunctory, at best. Hence, lying on the resumes is rampant and it is easy to tailor one's resume to a job opening. Employment "consultants" are almost predatory in their hounding of the candidates and in assisting them to get through an interview process.

IT salaries in India are disproportionately higher than in any other business in India (except Finance and advertising, which take special skills, post graduate degrees and training). Therefore, any person who has studied mathematics at the senior secondary level sees IT as the predominant career choice, and aptitude for analysis, optimization, process-orientation and understanding of formal specifications are of usually little import.

As almost all engineers and technically oriented people are going in for IT jobs, the general environment is that of mediocrity and generalism. The generalism extends to corporations as well; most IT organizations in India proclaim themselves to be (euphemistically) "end to end solution providers", which translates into: "You tell us what to do, we will try to do it as best as we can, irregardless of whether or not we have any prior expertise or experience in it."

As IT organizations bend over backwards to grow their business, the casualty is the generalist work-force which has to deliver on impossible deadlines based on specifications from equally clueless customers.

The corporate culture of cubicles, meetings, 1-on-1's, objectives, appraisals, follow-ups, dotted-line reports, etc. is still relatively new in India and while initially people enjoy the novelty of it, soon they see that in India, we have merely introduced processes based on a western work-ethic over a primarily unaccountable and slavish (by temperament as well as by the nature of the work) workforce.

Of course, the fact that most of the customers are at least 5-6 timezones away means frequent early morning and late night meetings and calls. And since the relationship is that of service provider rather than a partner, the communications are fraught with undertones of authority, subservience and "keeping one's mouth shut if one disagrees."

In a programming project, unless there is a huge amount of process and documentation involved, usually only one or two people knows about a particular piece of code. And since it is notoriously hard to pin-point problems in a large software program (especially with the newer, distributed, enterprise application stacks such as J2EE and .NET), all the people involved in the project are constantly on their toes trying to defend their code, to ward-off code-red calls in the middle of the weekend, to avoid taking responsibility for the whole project (which is but natural).

Needless to say, in a call center setup, where most people work in shifts throughout the day, there is no personal space, there is constant mind-numbing work without any creativity, most people work at night, most people pretend to be westerners and take all kinds of abuse and complaints (as customer service representatives).

Are we really digital "coolies"? Doing just the back breaking lifting whereas the destination and the journey and sometimes even the mode of transport is charted out for us by others?


Friendships at work suffer a dose of reality when one of the friends leaves. It becomes clear that this is not home, that this is not the neighbourhood, that this is but a stop on the way. One progresses in the modern world into ever shortening cycles of familiarity. The permanency of home and one's parents, the changes in teachers at school, the changes of educational institutions, the changes of jobs, of cities and houses and apartments. If the world around is in flux, I become almost frenetic in my search for a place where I will finally feel at peace.

It is a strange phenomenon. On one hand, the Indian middle class is seeing a prosperity it has never had. On the other hand, there is a greater malaise, depression, restlessness, self-centredness and apathy than ever before.

The prosperity has come to many in India unexpectedly. And the strange feeling of having arrived without really undergoing a journey of self-discovery leads to a shallowness which is easy to observe in the technocrats around us. Emotional and intellectual infants are suddenly the privileged. And such privilege breeds a self-centredness and arrogance which makes us not only unwilling to evolve, to learn, and to look beyond ourselves but also which makes us value only our ambition and the hedonistic and no-holds-barred journey towards more privilege.

Many people secretly or openly loath their managers in Indian IT organizations. Because of the wide-spread arrogance and general attitude of generalism, there is little respect for skill ("oh i can also do that, he just has had more experience"), for maturity ("what maturity, the bugger got lucky"), and there is a disdain towards the manager's subservience to the customer. The manager tries hard to diplomatically balance between the customer's pressure and the employee's well-being, but as most managers have little confidence in either their work-force or in themselves, and most have little understanding of the fundamentals of the technology, they end up displeasing both, earning the wrath of the customer and the ridicule and hate of the work-force and therefore increasing the pressure both on themselves and on the people they manage.

People, in their twenties, are being asked (by the economic forces and peer-pressure) to market themselves. The kind of spiritual bankruptcy that this is leading to is all around us. They are being exposed to the stark chasm between what they actually do, are capable of doing, and what they claim they can do, and what others expect them to do, and what their organization tells others they do or are capable of doing.


Humankind is passing through a momentous transition at the workplace. The level of efficiency and "six-sigma" or "CMM Level 5" metrics of error-free operation are being demanded of humans who are inherently organic, not totally rational and failure-prone biological organisms. Our work is being reflected in the discrete and unforgiving logic of the digital computer. All software engineering is aimed at making humans tackle this divide better. Humans are developing products, which no single human understands, which have to adhere to an inhuman SLA of no-fault operation and performance.

Yes, humans are performing, we are building such products everyday, but, ..., we are also burning out in the heat and stress of all this.

It is a natural human trait to believe in the unknown. We believe that by going to another country, by falling in love with another person, by reading a new book, by seeing a new movie, by changing our job, we will get a temporary or lasting happiness. That our suffering is the result of our environment, that by changing the environment, by getting a higher pay, getting a better manager, more "challenging" work, we will defeat our depression, boredom and sorrow.

There is a certain artificiality to everything in a corporate workplace which doesn't escape the soul of man. People know the truth behind company events, corporate values, behind team-building exercises, behind the slogans, behind what is said and what is not said, ...

It is almost tragic to see people having fun in a company outing. The natural, spontaneous joy and the childlike curiosity of a human being is being channeled into becoming a better worker, who is happy with his work.


One must ponder, not at the symptom that is attrition, but at the fate of humanity.

Management, I have always maintained, is the art of subverting the nausea and hopelessness of Sisyphus.

"an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone
cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio"
(Howl, by Allen Ginsberg)

(Eli Eli Lamma Lamma Sabacthani: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me") (the cry of Jesus on the cross)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hidden by Michael Haneke

Cache' by Michael Haneke

Easily one of the greatest films about gaze, guilt and awareness ever made.

What we see, how we see it, from where we see it, whether we are a watcher or a doer, how come a vision comes to us, through which agency, do we do our own censorship of our visions, what is the feeling content of our visions...

And of course, what we want to keep hidden from all and why?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Making out in public in India

This is an analysis of the display of sex/affection in public places (esp municipal parks) in various big metro cities in India and the reactions to that by various parts of the society.

This essay will be written in aphorisms or small paragraphs without much elucidation.


India is severely over-populated. Hundreds of millions of unmarried people are roaming around with no space for them.

The explosion of media has given them an unbridled hunger for pleasure, no matter how "immoral" it might be.

We are living in the age where the liberal culture of the west is wide open to India through the media, with the liberal quickly devolving into the permissive and the heedless.

So we think that since the images of sex are all around us, it is fine to indulge in it to our heart's content. But we disregard the traditions and culture of the native land.

The screen has become the hyper-real. Reality has taken a backseat.

Sex in a religious society is a guilty pleasure.

Voyeurism is considered a perversion, why? Isn't it because we ourselves desire privacy for our sexual acts. And why is privacy desired for sex? We desire privacy so that we feel "free" to indulge. But what kind of freedom is it exactly?

It is to be free from anxiety of evaluation and judgement.

In essence, it is an anxiety born of the desire to impress an honourable image of ourselves upon others.

But we desire privacy in sex also for one other reason: To not provoke and arouse the instinctive male by the visual input and thus to fear attack or disruption.

And of course, the fear of disturbance or distraction, which might severely decrease the pleasure. The pleasure of sex is based in no small part on immersion. And immersion requires an insulation from the environment.

Since we ourselves desire privacy, we identify with others and want them also to have privacy for this. And that is why we feel uncomfortable coming near them. The region around a couple making out is off-limits in our mind because we would want it to be off-limits for others when we do it.

India has a corrupt police force which routinely harasses common citizens to get a bribe. Which means: if a couple goes to a cheap hotel, they risk harassment by the police. Instead of there rendezvous being a pleasurable experience, it might turn into a nightmare where the girl is labelled a whore and the boy labelled a customer/pimp/kidnapper.

India has a social structure in which the reputation of girls is important for their marital prospects. Checking into a hotel exposes them to the risk of their parents coming to know of it if they get caught by police.

The per-capita income in India is amongst the lowest in the world. Checking into a hotel is a luxury which many cannot simply afford. And usually, cheap hotels are dirty and grimy.

In India, the offspring live with their parents usually till marriage, and frequently even after. So, they have no private abode of their own.

Pre-marital sex is a hypocritical taboo for a vast majority of Indians.

It is an open affront to our hypocritical morals if pre-marital sex is made a public spectacle.

So, children, above all (it is said) should be protected from the sight of such evil acts. Why?

So that, in their ignorance of such acts, they will regard us as morally higher beings when we are not. That we can teach them about the sins of lust and greed without any inkling to them that we are afflicted with the same.

Because we hope that, by protecting them from exposure, they will not be afflicted by this disease. What futile hopes!

Because even as their bodies are not ready for this act, their minds have an inkling of this. But the hypocritical morality takes root in their minds and they regard nakedness and lovemaking with shame and embarrassment, and with a lascivious imagination.

The "facts of life", how can one keep them hidden?

Most men in India are sexually repressed. Reasons are varied and deep.

Single women rarely go to these parks.

So a bachelor sees a couple making out, and he is aroused and is jealous. He may keep on looking (as a perversion) or he want to fantasize about the image later. He might want to disturb the couple by his very gaze.

A group of bachelors frequently harass such couples because the couple cannot defend themselves. They have been "obviously" doing something wrong and nobody, not their friends, nor their parents, nor the police will come to their help.

So a married man sees a couple making out, and he is embarrassed not only because of the moral reasons, but also because he wants to hide his arousal from his wife.

So an elderly man sees a couple making out, and he is angry. Because his time is past and he is full of hatred towards the permissive younger generation who doesn't respect him or his morals.

Intolerance of someone's pleasure, a pleasure which in its specific instance (that particular woman) is unavailable to us, is a basic part of human nature. "Why should he have it? Why can't I have that woman? Bastard."

Unhappy and frustrated people cannot tolerate seeing others as happy. They are happy only in seeing others' misery. People gather in no time to witness the fight over an accident on road, or of a shouting shopkeeper and his customer, or of some neighbours.

More so in the metros than in other places, comparison and ambition and frustrations are rampant. And our frustrations make us condemn and intolerant of the pleasure in others.


We sing songs about love conquering all, of passion sacrificing itself at the altar of society. But when we actually encounter love and passion in our midst, we are quick to condemn it as animal-like, shameful, blind, and deserving of the severest reprimand.