Sunday, December 25, 2011

Want Flies With That?

“The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his gray shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.”

So begins one of the great novels of English literature, “Lord Of The Flies.” I was thinking about the book while walking today alongside a huge graveyard here in Hyderabad. I became engrossed by the similarities in the novel with what I see in India.

India is a very young country demographically, and has been thrust into the global marketplace with very little elder guidance. The older generation is largely ignorant of the high tech world and the business structure and challenges facing modern start-ups. For all intents and purposes, young India may as well be on a deserted island.

The story of “Lord Of The Flies” centers around 4 main characters representing various points on the continuum between civilization and savagery. Allow me the license to redefine civilization as to mean effective and directed organization, and savagery as the chaos of “Me First.” We then have the four main characters:
Ralph is the character representing law and order imposed by society or government.
Jack is his antagonist representing the natural inner savage.
Simon represents order and morality as a better human condition not requiring outside imposition, but rather encouragement of the noble human.
Piggy represents science and its abuse by both sides and its dependence on civilization.

I see then a country filled with these four characters. Driving on the road, leading teams, standing in line, watching a movie, in each a Ralph desiring calm and predictable order, in each a Jack wanting to be first regardless of who it hurts including himself.

The story ends with civilization about to be defeated by Jack hunting and killing Ralph, but a military officer steps in at the last moment to rescue the boys and with them, civilization. The irony that he himself is taking part in his own savage destruction of civilization is completely lost on the officer.

India must end the story another way. India must give the conch back to the Ralphs or the one coming at the end will not be a well meaning officer to bring children back to worried parents, but rather foreign corporations feasting on the carion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Monsoon Sanctuary

“From Which Country?” an old Muslim man hard of hearing shouted, apparently thinking everyone else was as well.

“Amrika” I replied.

The old man walked to the edge of the awning as he hacked up something from deep inside and spit it out.

“Amrika Is Biggest Terrorist Country!” again speaking loudly rather than angrily.

I expected this to happen one day, but I was surprised how long it was before it did.

“Amrika Makes...” he stutters and shakes trying to find the right word. “...Most Weapons And Sells Them! How Can... Peaceful World...How Can Peace... With Weapons?”

I looked out at the pouring rain. The monsoon was on full force and I wasn't going anywhere.
“World War I.... 1914... 1917... ekh, doh, theen... 3 Years... There Was A Purpose... 3 Years!”
I was trying to understand his point.

“World War II... 1939 to 1945... Six years... There Was A Purpose!”

The rain still poured down around us. The others in the group made gestures that he's crazy, but I don't think he is. I'm getting interested now to see where it goes.

“Amrika Always Fighting! For What Purpose? Cold War Building Weapons! For No Good Purpose!”
I nodded having given up trying to speak a while ago.

“Amrika, Russia, France, England... Most Terrorist Weapon... ICBM... Now Russia... Begging For Money... Now Russia Begging World For Money!”

The rain has let up a bit, but still enough to make leaving awkward.

“Amrika, France, UK, Now No Money... Begging World For Money.... Begging China For Money.”

“Amrika Fighting... 10 Years... For What Purpose... Begging Money To Fight...World Never At Peace if Amrika Keeps Selling Weapons!”

The logic was hard to ignore. Without the Soviets supplying the other side the US supplied both sides rather than neither. Is it the right thing to do? I don't know, but I don't think so.

“Amrika... Laser Guided Missles... Tanks...Weapons... Long Range Missles... Short Range Missles....Why Does Amrika Need Everyone To Come To Amrika To Work?”

I couldn't figure out what this had to do with immigration policy.

“Amrika Makes Weapons... Needs Workers To Make Food... Weapons No Purpose... Why... uh... Why...” He taps his head and speaks softly in Hindi. “Why... Make Amrika...Why Tell... Amrika Best Place To Go... Why Amrika Needs Our Workers... Amrika Makes Weapons For No Purpose.”

“Amrika Will Be Begging For Money... Begging World For Money... For What Purpose?”

As his rant trailed off, so too did the rain. I left the shelter of the little awning and went on my way. I don't know what he was trying to say beyond the obvious, but I've had many new revelations thinking about what he might have meant. He was trying too hard to make his point for it to be America should stop being mean. He really wanted to tell me something.

Perhaps one day in a little shelter from the rain I will have understood what he was trying to say and desperate to say it before the meaning was lost I will corner a stranger with a broken disjointed ramble from an old man everyone thinks is crazy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why I will cry when I leave India

There's not much I am sure of regarding my getting out of this mess in India. Actually there is only one thing for certain. When the doors close and the acceleration pushes me deep into my seat. As the wheels lift off and there is no going back. I will be crying.

Not tears of joy as I would have thought, but tears of loss, betrayal, and wistful what could have been. I feel like a man deeply in love with a siren knowing she is bad for me and knowing what could be. The fantasy of possibility dragging me onto the rocks. India has a beauty and a charm hard to express. It either sneaks its way into your heart or you are permanently immune to its charms. If, however, you are not immune there is no cure. You will forever love India as I do.

Every time there is renewed hope I will go home, I don't feel joy. I feel joy and a horrible tearing of my soul at the same time.

India has forever changed my view of the world. So often that is followed by tales of religious retreats and the spirituality of the Gurus. Horseshit! India is a cold gritty place with huge problems and violence and death on every corner, like NYC in the 70s. But it's also full of joy and camaraderie. A place where accidents are met with a rush toward the scene of people trying to help rather than sitting in cars hoping 911 will do something.

It's a world where politicians suck, but they all suck for the same reason. A world where we all agree the problem is round and the solutions are square. There is no pretending the corrupt greed of the rich and powerful are destroying the country, but rather the dismissive realization that politicians buy off rural voters at the expense of everyone else. Everyone knows corruption is rampant and nobody wants to stop it. The country is in agreement and is refreshingly open about how messed up it is. And I love it.

Contrast to the US where the economy is 12 freshly baked cookies and the rich take 11 while turning to the Tea Party member and saying “That Union worker is stealing your cookie.”

Here we all know the rich are taking all the cookies. Maybe the result is the same, but I never fear talking to someone about politics.

The world makes so much more sense here. The analysis of what works and doesn't falls on the stake of India. Nowhere more than here do pronouncements of what is right and what is wrong seem more laughable. Assertions that this cannot happen in the face of what I see everyday become comical.
India's major flaw is its intense divisive nature. India's major strength is its intense divisive nature. India has been a country divided for 6000 years. It may never become united, but having accepted the nature of India, it may have found a strength lost on Americans. The accepting nature of India to religious, ethnic, tribal, caste, and wealth divides allows an honest discussion not allowed in America.

Why will I cry when I leave? I will miss my little gecko friends eating the mosquitoes. I will miss the grunts of the cows. I will miss the kids playing cricket in every field and alleyway available. I will miss water Buffalo causing traffic jams at rush hour. I'll miss the monkey wars fighting for my food. I'll miss preserving drinking water because it is scarce. I'll miss washing with gray water because it is not. I'll miss the shop owners who take such pride in their little 3x5 shack. I'll miss the tea wallas who feel their tea is important to keeping you well and insist you drink enough whether they get paid or not. I'll miss the joy of the monsoon and mango season. A joy not owned by a corporation and shared by everybody. I'll miss great friends and souls so powerful I am like light and unable to escape. I'll miss talking without fear of boundaries. I'll miss not agreeing and it being OK. I'll miss long talks with Ashwin about the nature of man and structures of society. I'll miss Vishnu bringing a giant sack of joy wherever she goes. I'll miss late night auto rides across the city after an amazing night with friends. I'll miss Umair and Nickle trying to goad each other. I'll miss Surrengen and his fierce loyalty and guidance. I'll miss so many friends who refused to abandon me. I'll miss being asked if I want to see a movie and there are 20 other people. I'll miss freshers so happy to be making games.

I'll miss life. I'll miss a world where life exists on the streets and the front porch rather than tucked away on the patio or in the tv room. I'll miss the chickens and pigs darting through the underbrush rather than being disapproved of by a housing society. I'll miss a world where kids play and ride bikes and run around even though the traffic is a million times more dangerous. They don't get hit by cars and they're not fat. Go figure.

When I think I am going home I am filled with joy and sorrow. When those hopes are dashed I am filled with sorrow and joy. Leaving India will not be easy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Myths, Legends, and Life

Most of my friends won't understand what I'm talking about, but it's OK. Learning is worth the effort, but I do not intend to teach here.

The great things about legends is that no matter who we are or how we grew up, any cultures legends can teach us and guide us. And the greatest villains and greatest heroes resonate so strongly in us because they are us. We created these villains and heroes and so they reflect who we are as a people. I've long understood that in principle, but I now have a better understanding why these stories are so important to us. I read a book called “The Palace Of Illusions” which is an interpretation of the Mahabharata. I know I will get much of Hindu mythology wrong in this, but what is important to me here is that these characters, even through an interpretation, has the essential and powerful necessities of a truly great and everlasting legend. The necessity is that they helped me understand what I was doing and what I was going through.
I went through some recent hardships that I could not understand and I let that misunderstanding nearly destroy me. I rejected everything in my life, even those things that were most precious to me. I turned against those I loved and I felt betrayal and anger to those close to me.

Panchaali, as she was dying, was asked to remember a moment of pure happiness. She thought to her husbands, she thought to the one she desperately loved, she thought to her family, but they never brought her pure happiness. The one who brought her happiness was a very good friend.

How often do we watch a movie or read a book and think we are the hero? How often do we also think that we are the villain? And rarer still, when do we see ourselves in supporting roles? This is the power of myths and legends, we are all those characters, or we wish to be. All of them. I grasped immediately that my friend was Panchaali. That was true in so many ways it was almost scary, though not in the most blatant of ways. The way she holds tradition and rebels against it at the same time, the way she draws everyone to her, the way she cares for everyone she loves in a way that makes each feel incredibly special. So sweet, so caring, and all consuming.

But I was the one who had lost all direction. I was the one desperate to find understanding. I read the book as a way to be close to someone I cared about when I could not be. As the story progressed, I tried to imagine who I was. I looked with hope that maybe I was Bheem, the one husband who really loved Panchaali, but I knew that was stupid. Certainly I had that no question kind of love, but not the tolerance or patience, and most important, she was not my wife or ever likely to be in any case.

I settled on Karna. I felt rage and humiliation at losing somebody I loved more than I ever could imagine and I felt I had been slighted and humiliated and toyed with. I felt my feelings were not reciprocated and worse still, a source of mockery and pity. The pity crushed me more than anything else could have ever. I tried to understand why I was being treated as I was and why was I being slighted? Why was I a distant third? Why was I not good enough? I wanted retribution. I wanted pain. I wanted destruction. But, as with Karna on the battlefield, when opportunities arose, I could only protect my enemies. When the chance to create havoc presented itself, I could not follow up. I loved them all and I could not be a source of pain and suffering. And like Karna's death, I was attacked at this vulnerable moment, or so it felt. The thing about legends is that we follow them to the end because we associate so much with the character. True, I could make a very strong case I am Karna minus, regrettably, being the one true love of Panchaali. I had the anger and the love and the loss and the pain and the attempted reconciliations. But, the story continues.

I saw in the great war everything I felt. Everything being destroyed for foolish lies, misunderstandings, and strong emotions. I was wrenched with the realization that I had been willing to hurt those I cared about for stupid feelings of pride. I wanted revenge. I wanted to make others hurt like I did. I never acted on these feelings, but they were there and it took everything I had not to hate or hurt those I love.

I read how the war did nothing more than create grief and pain. It hurt the heroes more than anyone else. The anguish they carried matched mine. They felt they had no choice and they could not have done any different, but of course they could. Everyone in the story hid information that would have solved most of the problems, but everyone was too filled with pride, honor, or fear to speak out. I understood how they acted poorly because they did not have the full story. I thought this was the problem. If only I knew the truth! If only I knew everything. I could have behaved different. I could have been a better person.
I love to lie to myself.

I got to the end of the book. Panchaali is about to die and Krishna comes to her. She realizes that Krishna, who never wanted anything from her but her friendship, was always there when she needed him. He taught her what she needed. He helped her when she needed and he left her alone when she needed. His was true love because it wanted nothing in return. This was the love I had felt until recently and it gave me such joy. Stupid vanity and jealousy destroyed that! The more I chased a love that was not my kind of love, the more I destroyed the love I did have. This is the love that I had shared and threw it away for vanity and jealousy! I want to be, and hope to be her Krishna.

The future is unwritten and in it there will be pain far greater than anything we have felt in the past. It will have joy far greater than in the past. But the future is a joy to watch unfold. I now know that I will continue to cherish love and hate jealousy, but I now know that there are many kinds of love and each of us need different kinds of love at different times in our lives. And love that seems unimportant now can be the most important love in a person's life later.

In the end, we just want to be important to those who are important to us. That requires us to be trusted and act worthy of being reliable. And I was not. But the future is funny. It allows us to grow and change. Maybe it's too late today, maybe not. But, we can make the future a better place for those who stick by us through our follies if we learn from our past foolishness.

Is this too much to take from a legend or myth? I don't think so. It is this ability to embed it's teaching into our lives when we need them most that these stories remain with us. I'm now going to at least read the Bhagavad Gita. Maybe I'll come away from all of this with a better understanding of myself. At the very least I'll understand my new home a bit better.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

This is what it's all about

This is what it's all about
Dancing and laughing and singing in the rain.
Sitting under a nice shelter with friends,
the smell of the rain drifting through with the cool, damp breeze.

Having a great dinner and laughing at great jokes
and groaning at stupid ones.
Dancing to bad music, then good music,
then no music at all.

Doormen and valets looking on as we never seem to leave.
Night deepens to early morning.
Running and laughing softens to gentle singing.
Comrades, friends, loved ones, all in one.

A world within a tiny covered drive
and a world without limits of time.
A world of immense importance without a care in the world.
And of no meaning but it's own existence.

This is what it's all about.
And this is all it's meant to be.
And in that little covered drive,
I was immensely happy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sir Gwain and the green light

The wind whipping by, cold then hot then cold again, goose bumps marching steadily down my back, chest tight with cold, fear and exhilaration scuffling for control. I’m riding a motorcycle through the streets of Hyderabad. Effortlessly, years of riding manipulate my body forcing it to do the right thing though my mind is still struggling to remember what to do. Almost two years of auto rickshaws and trying to cross the street here has prepared me for this. Years of riding in the US has also helped.

I’ve always ridden with the assumption that everyone on the road is out to get me, and here they really are. This was the most free I’ve felt in India since becoming comfortable taking autos. I could have ridden all night.

When I decided to get a motorcycle I told myself simple, I’ll ride very conservatively. Not weave through traffic, not pass in oncoming lanes, and cross intersections cautiously. That lasted the first hour. I feel as comfortable riding here as home. The rules are different, but the game is the same. Somebody will cut you off. They will pull out in front of you. They will stop suddenly, same as at home. But here it’s at 60 kph not 60 mph.

The light barely works, the horn doesn’t, the turn signals don’t, there’s a strange rattle from the front end and the brakes are drum, not disk. And, I love it!

It’s like my first car, a symbol of freedom. It will always be in my heart a magnificent bike. Years from now it will become more powerful, bigger, better, and more beautiful with every telling of the story. For now, it is my Llamrei.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Career Change

“I've contacted and registered with the U.S. consulate in Chennai so they are keeping an eye on me. I have a legal team giving me advice, and I have a safe-house. What more could a guy want?” And so I closed my e-mail to my friends back home. I was scared and I needed to reach out to somebody. Nobody in India wanted to have anything to do with me. I could not go into the office, I could not hang out with friends, and every time I saw a black Mitsubishi I looked for safe places to run. I was living in hiding from extremely powerful and possibly unstable people.

The crime I was being hunted down for was the crime of quiting a job and moving to another company. Quiting isn't really exactly what happened, but that was the intent.

I don't know where to start. I began at the beginning and it was not far enough back. I started in the middle and nothing made sense, so I'll start at the end. I have removed all names as a precaution.
My co-worker asked me to meet with him after work on Wednesday. We went to a bar where he talked about his divorce, toasted women, our past accomplishments, the health of the team, and in short everything he could think of to toast. I drank very little because I was very suspicious and knew what was coming.

We talked about problems at the company and how my lack of understanding of the way things work in India made a bad situation worse. The problem was an Indian guy with a Napoleon complex destroying every project he touched and since he was close to the CEO, I had to try to get things done despite him on an incredibly tight deadline. I was tired of all this and had decided to leave the company for a competitor, but had not yet given notice.

We talked about how my stepping away from the problem would help solve it and how my ability to design at the drop of a hat was my most valuable asset. We drank to that and several other things. By this time it was getting late and my co-worker was very drunk. We ordered a few more bottles and toasted a few more things when my co-worker finally dropped the expected line. "Here are your tickets home. Get some distance from the problem and we will have you work from Seattle."

I looked him straight in the eye and said "I'm not getting on that plane." The rug had been pulled out from under him. He was obviously not expecting this. This was not the way the plan was supposed to go. I had an interview at my new company the next day and he had found out about it.

"I have been predicting this move for three weeks. That's why I moved my things out of the guest house. I checked my itinerary this afternoon and saw it was changed."

He was angry. He said it had now become personal. I would never take the programmers with me to my new company.

And that's when the trouble started.

They came to the guest house and confiscated my computer first thing in the morning. They took every computer in the guest house. They kicked me out onto the streets and asked for my phone. I told them if they wanted my phone they would have to call the police. I called all my friends and arranged places to stay and rides to my interview. I managed to get through the day and found refuge with very dear friends.
Once they had my phone, they began making fake calls and sms messages. They created a fake e-mail account to lure people into thinking it is me. Everyone here was worried that it was just the beginning. The movie guys are very tight with the Mob and they were very concerned. I was getting a little unnerved myself.

I had no job, no return ticket, I feared my safety, and was living in hiding. I wished I had taken the job in Colorado.

Things got a whole lot worse before they got better. Fearing for his wifes safety, my friend had to ask me to leave their apartment. My new company put me up in a serviced apartment, think long term hotel, until things calm down. They gave me a phone and a laptop to get in touch with everyone.

The CEO of my old company told the CEO of my new company, that they would be filing criminal charges against me for stealing source code and trying to sell it. My former CEO is closely related to the Chief Minister of Andrha Pradesh. That's the state Hyderabad is in. My new company offered to cover all legal fees and keep me on the payroll and furnish me with living expense money and an apartment. I had the option to go home now, or to stay till it all settled down.

If I left, my old CEO would file charges and I would never be able to come back to India again. They assume my fleeing is an admission of guilt and since I don't have to be convicted, it will be enough to keep me out. That had a very high likely hood of happening. If I stayed, and he pressed charges, my passport could be confiscated and I might be stuck here 3-5 years while I clear my name. I decided to stay at least 2 weeks so there is no indication that I would flee and when that threat proves baseless, I can go home for a much needed rest and to collect my thoughts.

I didn't want to do something that has life long implications. I guess either way is, but the odds are very much against those guys going through with it. Also, the owner of my new company is the other family's arch nemesis. So I have a dragon against me and one for me. It's also partly why they helped me. They have been fighting since the beginning of last century.

I have not really been able to write about all this. Friends will recognize that this is mostly a compilation of old e-mails. I still can't write about it. It may seem surprising, but it is the most frightened I have been in my life. I still look over my shoulder and feel sick when I see a black Mitsubishi.