Sunday, November 6, 2011

A mass culture

It was the dinner-table discussion time. The group of young women that we were, many topics of versatile genres would usually do the rounds. However for the past few weeks, one predominantly over-shadowed the others - the topic about life in a leading multi-national software corporation, which according to them, was recruiting "45,000" graduates in this season alone. Since, all except  the one who wrote this article, were recruited in this "dream company", it was inevitable that talks be inclined towards this topic for a while. 

A brief content analysis of their exchange of stories would yield many little snippets of information - the strict culture there, the hectic schedule, the incessant battery of tests, the amazing star-hotel ambiance and infrastructure, multi-cuisine food and even about one ghost that was supposedly haunting the place. Well, must be a very software-dedicated ghost, I presume.

However, deeper observation would clearly reveal that underlying all the variate ideas, there was one emotion spread strongly across the participants that just cannot escape notice - a feeling of being the "special" ones. It can be interpreted as a mixed repertoire of relief, pride, joy and excitement. Then, one turns to me and remarks, "But well, I got to admit, I admire this girl. I could have never refused an offer from CTS and joined a J school instead!"

The writer, at this point, wishes to clarify that the above statement was not one inserted into the passage as a means of vanity or 'ego-boost'. Hell, who was I kidding? I would have been glad to have taken that offer. I remember the evening when the company came to college and recruited 256 of us in a day. There was celebration all around and I felt the same - relief, pride, joy and excitement. Indeed, huge amounts of them all. For weeks before that, I was googling on how to write the 'perfect' resume, give the 'perfect' interview and tell the 'perfect' answer. I should have known then, that  it was my moment of induction into the 'mass society'.

I can never blame these girls. I am just a thread apart from them. I could never even blame the many suicides that happen across these intensive 'training camps' in the companies every year. If there is one thing that the software boom has primarily done to our psyche, it is that it has told us - A quick easy way to happiness is now possible! They have transferred a translated version of the 'American dream' to all of us.

Perhaps, a couple of decades back, it would have been unthinkable that we could get a five figure salary right after we stepped out of the gates of the institution. Hence, one never created the desire. He went for what he wanted - he knew that it was the only way that he would see through it till the end and get a job. Today, the industry dictates what we study. Engineering is not a stream of study but merely a route to the IT industry. 

And on the placement day, we come forward carrying not just the burden of the dreams sown by us for the past four or five years but under the weight of the dreams sown by ourentire family. To know that it is possible to get 30k after education and know that many others are commanding that salary and then not do so, is the surest route to worthlessness, guilt and shame and hence, we want to keep up. 

And the process doesn't stop with getting into the company - in fact, it is just the beginning. After that is the pressure to stay conformed, obey, sustain the dream. Fashion, film and cricket help to distract us from the painful reality of belonging to the herd.

This post is not a take on those working in the sector ; to label or criticize them.  Many of you might love what you are doing. That is great! A few of you might loathe what you are doing. That is okay too. Every industry has its share of boredom. Yet, a handful of you (or perhaps more) might have a nagging thought that there is something else you believe in and are capable of but remain prisoners of the trap of 'stability' as defined by the society. Perhaps this one is for you all. I am not asking you to quit, for I have no alternative to suggest to you. Surely, I can't give you a job. I am simply asking you to be more and more aware of this nagging thought - accept it instead of pushing it away and one fine morning, you will just know what to do. The answer will come to you.

P.S Had I been a guy, no doubt, I would have been writing this post as a software firm employee. My gender gives me the liberty of choice. I am also perhaps confident of my abilities - abilities such as fluency of language, that again was a gift of being from an upper middle class family.


karthick r said...

The nagging feeling is always there. But do we heed to it is the question?
To put it simply - I work there because I have to and I write/click/sing/dance/act because I LOVE TO.
IMO, its always Better be safe than sorry na?

~ cheers..!

Sindu said...

"I can never work just because I have to"

"I wanted to do what I loved for a living"

These are what entrepreneurs say in interviews. I don't know if that was the truth. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. It is not to be an impulsive decision.One got to be ready; prepared. Well, be open. That is all. You never know when some chance might come your way and when the right thing does, you might just feel, "It am ready to face 'sorry'. I have had enough of safe". I am not just speaking about career. It could be anything in life you wanted to but didn't.

P.S The guy whose play you have last reviewed on your blog, Mathivanan Rajendran, was a design engineer, if I am not wrong. Worked for a while and then decided this was his calling.

harishsram said...

as i interact with a lot of cllg students & passed outs for recruiting in my company i realised ppl now are better aware of the world than i was then. they know their dreams. i have great faith that India is evolving :)

CHIBI said...

hmm.. It's unbelievable, but yes, america has outsourced even it's dreams.. the true american dream is lived in India now.. :P

of course, colleges facilitate it by having "campus Interviews" only with IT companies.. a student is not often exposed to something outside a college job offer unless they pursue a higher education. so it's probably the educational institutions that's pushing the students into a one way pipeline. students esp. guys.. jump on the first sight of money.. maybe in a time of "quarter life crisis" (=25 yrs) decide to take up something they are passionate about.. IT provides the money to do it.I suppose there's nothing's wrong with it.

Anonymous said...

Wish I was a part of this dinner table conversation. I love dinner (As long as someone pays for it ;) ) and I have sooooo many points to contribute regarding this discussion.

"I remember the evening when the company came to college and recruited 256 of us in a day. There was celebration all around and I felt the same - relief, pride, joy and excitement. Indeed, huge amounts of them all."

The same evening ,around 9 amidst huge crowd of ppl ,I was standing wondering "Why am I here ? I didnt attend any interview that day (I was denied permission to) and I dont have any lab exercise to complete (Yeah right! Like I stay back for that) ..... However, when the results were out, I could see a huge blend of emotions and cries of both happiness and disappointment. Something I will never forget in life. I never regret for staying back and helping my friends with prep. *Nostalgic*

P.S someone also promised me Casa Piccola …..The writer, at this point, wishes to clarify that the above statement was not one inserted into the comment to prove a point to the author. Hell, who was I kidding ? :P

Arumugam said...

I too am tired of the follow your bliss,money will follow ideology of entrepreneurs .Following one's bliss is a great idea for personal health but rarely for financial health,unless your idea of bliss is selling a thousand soaps."Starving artist" is a cliche for a reason.

As an IT insider,some observations ...Most give no real thought to why they do what they do.But sometimes you think,and then it hits.I don't loathe my job,but I could be better elsewhere.I have seen it in myself whenever I have felt the vital hours of my life being turned to dust by work that did not use the best of what I had to offer.

But they are so many others I meet that miraculously manage to stay human on the job.They invent little strategies of self encouragement and compensation to get them through the day.They decorate their workplace with trinkets and placards,they play 'their' kind of music.They divide the days work into so many little contests and competitions.They organize games with workmates,they gossip,they flirt,they kid around,they kibitz with customers,and they gripe.Mutual griping always helps:D

I imagine strategies like these have sustained people through all kinds of toil since the factory bells pealed in the first dawn of industrialization:D

If one person is following the bliss,the partner has to follow the money.The partner of the blissful is generally stressful:D I am glad of your perceptiveness in recognizing the burden of manhood in this culture...

I did consciously try to delay my preordained "next step",EMI for the next 30 years... as a writer puts it"I can imagine the paralytic terror that must seize my friends with families as they lie awake calculating mortgage payments and college funds and realize that they are locked into their present lives for farther into the future than the mind’s eye can see"

Yet somehow we carry on...

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@Harish: Yes, a lot of people are now more focused on doing/creating something tailor-made for their interests. Yet, who are these folks? More often than not, the upper class rich. The urban rich. Someone from the other end of the spectrum would never dare to take a risk... he has been brought up fed with the fire to succeed and better his life through a stable well-paying job.

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@Chibi: I agree - educational institutions encourage these myopic tendencies. However, today that they have become business agglomerates in their own right and students choose an institution only based on its success at the campus placements, we cannot blame them.

As for saving money with IT and then, branching out, well, yeah, nothing wrong with that. I agree. They must be having tremendous capacity to delay gratification. I felt I didn't have time though. I wanted to do stuff, young and most importantly 'single'. Yeah, one heck of a stereotypical mentality.

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@Anonymous: I am going to ban anonymity in this blog, I say! :D Sure, you were a first-hand witness to the emotions involved. There are always a lot of emotions involved in these stuff.

And hullo! I swear... I am absolutely not feeling 'superior'. I wouldn't have qualms about accepting it.

Casa Picola? :) *Vague memories coming back*

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

"locked into their present lives for farther into the future than the mind’s eye can see"


Perhaps, we need a new theory on how best to sustain interests while being on a 'stressful' job - a method that would actually vent out latent inhibited talents, instead of mere distractions. Or perhaps we just need a theory on how to change the brain's neural networks to acclimatize natural tendencies with job requirements.

Thanks for the comment, Arumugam. It gave a good insider's perspective and sound reasons as well.

harishsram said...

i beg to deffer.
these people i had spoken to are from varied class & topography.
In a generalized view they may not have that dream which is out of the box. But to come off age in realizing money is just a tool & there is more to life than earning money is in itself is a big leap.

karthick r said...

Yup! I have heard about Mathi previously. That's one of the reasons why I battled the bad weather/roads and went to watch their play. Its always good to see/meet people who pursue their dreams. Its Inspiring in a way. At least, I feel it that way :)
and 'Worked for a WHILE' - The while is really subjective and for now I'm in that 'WHILE' period. :)
And to quote Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Cliche eh? See, I can uttufy PETER at times ;-)

~ cheers..!

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@Harish: Of course it is! A new line of thought, Harish. Didn't realize that. Thank you! :)

@Karthick: Ah, you know what? After typing that first comment of mine, I was like "what the heck was I doing? I shouldn't have written that!" I mean, referring to someone else and saying "Hah, look at him. What he has done, achieved. And look at us!"

Sorry about that. We are all doing great in our own ways, Karthick. You are the most frequent to post on your blog. You come up with spoofs, parodies, reviews - I think that is just great and soon, you are going to take it the next level! All the best! and yes, enjoy your 'while' period. :)

karthick r said...

@Sindu: Easy there. No offence taken.
At times, all we need one tight slap to get us moving out of our comfort zone. :)
In that way, info like these - about people who have chosen to take the path less traveled and succeeded will give us the much needed momentum.

keep writing. :)
~ cheers.!

Natarajan Sundaram said...

I absolutely agree with you on this. In India, being a male child sometime makes you take decisions more responsibly.
The placement at our college and the duration before joining the company, was the toughest period of my life.
I didnt get placed in first 2 companies and almost 350 students got placed. Half of my class already in joy. I was disappointed and scared, coz i thought as one of the topper of the dept, will help me get a job easily. Then I got placed in the 3rd company. By this time, I was quite strong to fight for my place. Then the second major hit. All the other companies started calling people and the recession hit us very hard. The company in which I got placed was hit the most. They delayed my joining upto 15 months. Even some of my juniors joined CTS, infy, before me! All the other attempts i made in this duration failed. I learnt who are the friends and family are there to help, support and encourage me. That was more painful to know real colors of many.
And after joining the company, I made a promise to myself. I cannot deny my responsibility. I will full fill it first. Then I will do what I want to do in life. I agree software companies also makes us happy. I too like my job. But its not stable. Its a myth that all s/w employee is happy and rich. So, when I am 10 years old in this field, I will make sure I have enough financial back up and start my own business and achieve my dream. There is no stopping that!

Srinidhi said...

It is strange no?
For me that career changing thought actually never came. I was always sure I wanted to write. But where is still to be judged.
As I have said before, I always wait for the moment when clarity dawns and I know exactly what I want to do. BUT I question if that moment were to never materialise will I continue doing something I genuinely feel is below my abilities?
If knowing is not enough, I wonder what is.

Probably I digress. But to say that knowing what you want your life to be is important. Cause there is no other way to live this life.
Whatever it is that you seem to want, you need to go out and get. :)
Got me thinking. and I am glad it did.

Anonymous said...

just vague memories ???? huh ?

Banning anonymity is like supressing the voice of democracy ... motta kadidhasi has been the plot moving equipment in most of our tamil movies and it also represents our culture .. anonymous ppl talk only the truth and reveal them directly without any deception.

P.S this comment author slept off when he read his comment after writing ZZZzzzzzz

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

@Natarajan : I know what you went through, Nataraj. At least a part of it. It was a bad period for both of us. I am glad things are way better for you now. I am happier that you have a plan of action for your life. All the best with that and I think you have acted sensibly.

@Srinidhi: I think it is just a matter of time. The moment will surely come when you will know all you have to know...especially because you seem to realize the importance of that!:)

@Anonymous: :)

Anonymous said...

I accidentally chanced upon this post after reading your post.

Note: Likely to make your head swim - if you patiently wade through the post you might make sense out of it.

I'll post my own comment a little later.

-Uncle OT

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

Howdy Uncle OT, busy man huh? :D

Well, about the link, the language made it quite difficult to follow in the beginning but well, thought it had to be worth it since so many had rated it high. And wow, you seem to be a celebrity there too? I am soon going to do a psychological case-study on you, you know.

Mr.Nagaraj has had good stuff to say. It seemed more motivational than direct.

And guess what, I got this huge kick-ass theory coming up on careers that you got to check out! Lol. For that, keep 'visiting'. :)

Gopinath said...

we humans are engineered to follow mass culture. Even in free societies like America there was only one Steve Jobs who did what he loved most all his life and also phenomenally successful. If everyone of us start doing what we like/love to do, that's a mass culture too.

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

"If everyone of us start doing what we like/love to do, that's a mass culture too."

Wow, that is such a brilliant thought! But perhaps having a mass culture in itself is not so bad as long as it promotes the healthy evolution of an overall sense of well being?

Arumugam said...

@Gopinath-That is an interesting thought.We humans may have a psychological tendency to stick to the familiar,and group together into fractious tribes from an evolutionary context,but the question to be asked is it serving us in an ideal way?

I think the authors intention was to rightly bring to our notice,how we are fast turning into " a nation of aspiring programmers and salespeople" .Jerry Rao has made some interesting observations,he says, more people will get Phd's in sanskrit in America this year than in India ,(and sanskrit is the root of our culture!) and the extraordinary funnelling of students into engineering and mba,and hardly any into humanities will make us lose out on the next generation of Amartys sen's and Naipauls.So very true!

Anonymous said...

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

-Robert Frost

A man who took the road less traveled by talks on TED.


Sethu said...

I see a variation in opinion after coming to US .... ppl in US want to be like us and we want to be like americans.

Here in US, they say "people here always take subjects that they like and what they want to do but it doesnt give them or the country any money. Ppl with PHDs work in MCDonalds for a minimum hourly wage of 8$ and ppl from other countried come here and do the high paying jobs"

In India we blame ourselves saying " Everyone wants to study computer science or electronics or MBBS to get to a professional job following the general footsteps. No one is interested in becoming some physics or math major. "

It is purely social pressure. Even if you are put up well, you dont have oora suthi kadan and have loads of appa, thatha n paatan thatha sothu, we are required to take this particular stream to earn some respect in the society. You may think photography is your passion, i can live with the amount I get from it and what else is important than enjoying my work. However, the society doesnt think so, it terms you as useless and unsuccessful. Which inturn affects you. I seriously believe India will walk out of this stupid situation soon.

Sethu said...

Moreover, I really pity ppl taking courses like history, literature n stuff. First, ppl who fail to get into professional courses enter these fields just to earn a degree. Other than that, atleast US has MCDonalds and other chain fast food restaurants that hires graduates, What do we have? Even if MCD in chennai is ready to give a job, wil a graduate accept it ?

Sinduja Ragunathan said...

Interesting point Sethu! And oh yes!, welcome here! :D

The question I get is why do the few Ph.Ds there work on the tables while our Ph.Ds do the high paying jobs?
Secondly, in our country, will a Math or Physics major never be able to do financially well?

I know of photographers and film directors who earn lakhs in a few months. The point is, in those professions, the entry barrier is high. If a 1000 get in, only 5 earn this top slot. Software is an easier route. If a 1000 get in, they are all immediately well off. So maybe we are not confident or daring enough to take risks. But yes, I wouldn't blame them.

I doubt if India will walk out of it any sooner. We are too security seeking to ever not play by the rules. This is one mentality that pervades cutting through all classes or strata. Our professions will continue to be dictated by the market forces of supply and demand.