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.