Sunday, December 18, 2005

Alternate Angle in Adeagate

Bharathiraja Ramachandrabose - Process Consultant, Adea International’s Bangalore Office

I am a process consultant with Adea International, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you my views on cultural differences, life in India, and the technology revolution. The cultural difference between people across borders, states, towns and even two neighbors is something that has always excited me. Study of different cultures has been one of my favorite subjects at all times. There were times when I used to spend hours together thinking about the cultural difference I saw at my neighbor’s house itself.

Today, being part of a global organization and the industry that made the whole world a small village, it seems very important to know about various cultures as we all need to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. What I am trying to discuss with you here is the influence that our cultural background has on our careers and lifestyles from an individual’s point of you. I would say this is just an extension to the article in ‘Abid’s Angle’ on bridging the cultural gap in his personal journey. I am aware of the fact that this article is going to be read by people from different backgrounds.

I would culturally classify the readers of this article into three groups - my western colleagues who would certainly be surprised by reading this, my Indian colleagues (from urban background) who would be surprised at the cultural diversity within their own country, and the smallest group of folks who would be surprised to see another fellow who has walked the same path.

My Perspective - From Nomads to the Technology Revolution
From the beginning of humankind’s existence, whenever there was a crisis for survival, someone has come from nowhere inventing something new that would change the destiny of their fellow creatures, or Mother Nature herself has shown a new course to her children. Necessity has been the mother of all inventions. Nomadic Stone Age man ate any vegetable he could find initially. When he invented fire, he could have tastier foods. Then he invented systematic cultivation, which stopped him from roaming and gave him work to do. Then it was the industrial revolution, which yielded much better results and made him think beyond food and shelter. This was in our grandfather’s days.

That is when the balancing act between haves and have-nots started taking place. People who owned all the lands and wealth wanted much more than food and shelter. Those who produced the luxuries that were required by the rich also started becoming rich by taking back money in turn. Now it’s the ‘technology revolution’, which is nothing but an extension to the industrial revolution. But this is going to have much bigger impact than the hitherto industrial revolution. For the citizens of developed countries, computers and software might be just a ‘yet another invention’ that would simplify their lives. But for Indians, they have shown a whole new path for life and started playing the role of an economic balancer between countries. When unemployment was becoming the most important problem to be addressed and talented youngsters all around the country were losing hope in life, they came as a blessing.

My Heritage
I come from a remote village, which is connected to the outside world through the stopping of just three buses a day, and during the rainy season, they do not come at all. Everybody is dependent solely on agriculture and agriculture-dependent-businesses there. My fore fathers did agriculture only. They never came out of the village to see what the outside world looked like. What I understand now is that that’s how most of the villagers’ lived two/ three generations back. There was no necessity to think beyond their villages at that time because they got whatever they wanted in their villages themselves. All they wanted was good food thrice a day, some clothes to wear, a shelter to sleep in at night and some entertainment when they didn’t have to work. They didn’t want anything more than this because they have not seen anything beyond their villages. Ignorance was bliss. This is like the ‘egg or hen’ question. There were no desires because there was no exposure, and there was no exposure because there was no desire for anything more.

My Grandfather Becomes Educated
Then my grandfather came out of the village and went to a nearby town for his studies. That is when, I think, our family gradually started thinking beyond agriculture and the foundation was laid for our growth. I have even heard people say it’s because of my grandfather our village is better off today. Then my father came out of the village to do some business and went back to our native place for various reasons. That brought us back to square one. However, my uncle (father’s brother), who got a good education went all around the country and got a lot of exposure, not just to money, but to experiences. I am sure if my grandfather had not gone out of his village for studies, his children would not have dreamt about reaching such bigger heights.

Even today, there are villages that don’t have even a single bus, tar road or any connectivity whatsoever with the outside world. They have to walk for kilometers to see a bus. Because my grandfather left to become educated, I feel that our village advanced. I believe when one gets educated it is not only his/ her lifestyle that is going to change, but it’s the whole family, his/ her community and all his/ her descendants, who are taken at least a century ahead in terms of socio-economic status. Unlike the western countries, rate of education is too low in India. People in rural India don’t even complete their elementary education.

My idea here is not to tell you that agriculture is a bad choice or rural life is inferior. Agriculture is my most respected business ever. Even now, I would not say that this modern life is better than the village life. The kind of security, unity among people, the humanitarian values that I see in villages, I don’t see here. But it’s a bitter truth that the lifestyle of people who have chosen to stay in their villages and do agriculture in that part of the country has not improved much.

My Story
When I could not have thought about anything more than elementary education (as there is only one elementary school in my village), the most fortunate thing in my life happened. My maternal grandfather and uncles (who were in a bigger village) thought about my future and decided to adopt me. That made all the difference. Unlike most of you who were brought up in an urban culture, people coming from countryside have very limited amount of inspirations, motivations or role models. We did not have English-medium schools. We don’t know our own heights, and we never used to think about where we would want to be. There is no project planning or milestones set in our lives (J). No exaggeration ‘ when I was in my native place, the most educated people there were my elementary school teachers only. Anybody who continues his studies after 10 years is called ‘educated’! Even today anybody who earns more than Rs. 2000 a month is called ‘rich’! (For non-Indian folks: In Bangalore, our weekend dinner bill will be Rs. 2000 for 5 people) People who have come from villages would be able to relate to whatever I am talking about. My city friends don’t even believe all of this.

Then when a cousin of mine who was brought up in the city got into the IT industry, I got a small idea about where I would want to be. At that time, I didn’t know what kind of luxurious life this industry could give me. My awareness of computers and software was not much. To become a doctor or an engineer (not a software engineer) was every boy’s lifetime goal at that time. But it was an attraction towards a new option that made me take this path. Now I see a complete change in my lifestyle. It’s not only mine but also in the way our generation itself behaves, eats, dresses and in their confidence level. Jargons like management and leadership are being redefined in the corporate world here. The work culture is going through a paradigm shift in all other industries.

And now, I see my village changing. In my childhood, there was no television in my village. Now, in the same village, I see people talking about sending their kids abroad. Every year, there are lots and lots of English-medium schools coming up. We were able to achieve some things in a few years, which our fathers were not able to do for decades together. The previous generation thinks that we are more responsible than them though we know that they are wrong (J). The next generation looks at us for inspiration. All this would not have been possible if something called ‘software’ was not invented. Doesn’t this put us under tremendous pressure to achieve much bigger things?

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments regarding my views. I look forward to learning more about others within the organization.
- Bharathiraja

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