Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shapmochan (Curse redeemed) as published in NGI, USA

Though i have not written any blog for a long time, i have written an article "Shapmochan "(Curse redeemed) mainly due to insistence of  my daughter's (Sudeshna, Rini) friend from USA. The article is published in NGI, USA in their August 2010 issue. It is in page 8. 

It was summer of ‘72 as I landed in Saarbrucken, Germany on a scholarship. That was my first visit abroad and also my first flight in an aircraft! From the first day I was overwhelmed with German efficiency and affluence. I, however, got my first shock about German perspective of India when our teacher for German history, Frau Schmidt (Mrs. Schmidt), a diminutive German lady, quipped one day “When ever you are hungry, it must be very easy for you to pick up fruits like apples or mangos from way side trees while walking down the road!” I could realize that even for educated Germans, all the aid receiving countries, be it India, Burundi or Rwanda, are in the same category. 

 Since that day, I along with a handful of Indian batch mates became obsessed with projecting the proper image of India and became her unofficial brand ambassadors!  I don’t think I have ever loved India so much! To prove our superiority we concentrated on individual excellence in every field possible.  I don’t think I have ever studied so much in my five years in IIT than during those two years as a student in Germany. Even my Hausfrau (Land Lady), Frau Niehoff whom I used to call Muti (Mother) became so much worried that she forced me to join a dance school!

 I used to prepare probable answer to FAQ on India and challenge people where ever I met, be it in grocery shop, post office, university or even at dance school. But my effort was mostly limited in influencing only a handful of close friends and Niehoff family with whom I was staying as a paying guest. But there was nothing positive happening in India for the outside world to stand up and take notice.  For the vast majority in Germany, India remained a little known third world country! Either it was unrecognized or recognized as the land of tigers, elephants, fakirs and snake charmers! As a student I did travel extensively in Europe and found identical opinions everywhere!   

 There were instances which could be considered funny or humiliating in whichever way you want to take it. Once I was staying in a small village near the picturesque city of “Neustadt”. The village was so small that it did not have any hotel but only a small family run restaurant where the owner allowed me to stay in his guest room. The villagers had not seen any foreigner, particularly some body knowing German and used to come to the bar in the evening to have a word with me. Though the restaurant owner had a roaring time, I really had a harrowing experience! Every day I was barraged repeatedly with funny questions like “Do you know rope trick or snake charming?”; “Could you see wild tigers or elephants also on the roads in Kalkutta (Calcutta)? “Do you have modern houses in Kalkutta (I wanted to say “No! We all stay in trees except German consulate which is modern!)?”  The height was, however, when a school girl asked me “Where is your head gear with lots of white feathers?” I then realized that nothing has changed since the days of Syed Mujtoba Ali (Who was in Berlin just before WW II) and the “Indians” were still being confused with the “Red Indians”! Germans were not only confused about my country but even the continent!

 I worked mostly with German MNCs and used to travel quite frequently to Europe. I could find that the things took a turn for the worst in eighties when our economy was stagnating and the focus was shifted towards China which was opening up. India was practically written off as a corrupt and bureaucratic country which could not live up to its potential.

 Things, however, started looking up with the advent of nineties with the opening up of the Indian economy and the globalization of world economy. There was a lot of anxiety as well as euphoria about the possible outcome of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s economic prescription.  Though the corporate world was interested in India as a possible market, for the common people in Europe, however, India remained mostly unknown and at best insignificant.

 In 2000, though China was the dominant player, the economic liberalization and globalization were having a positive effect on Indian economy and the corporate world started looking at India as a rising economy. Goldman Sachs Report on economic potential of “BRIC” countries by Roopa Purushathaman created much of a hype and euphoria! I also joined a globalised German MNC and my urge to fight back the early humiliation helped me bring the Indian operation within the top fifteen within the very first year. Though the standing of our Indian operation rose within our worldwide corporate setup and I was travelling all over the world to explain to others about our turn around  and the future potential in India, I was still restless to understand how the common people all over the world, particularly in Europe perceived about India.

 Profitability through extensive computerization of our Indian operation was appreciated world wide in our organization but it also created lots of heart burn and rivalry amongst our overseas’ colleagues who always thought that they could only teach us about the best practice and not the other way round. I became quite used to their remarks as long as they recognized us.     

 “How do you feel being second in world ranking?” asked Ehud, my Israeli friend famous for dry humor and working with our set up in Holland.

 “In what? In population? After China?” I replied cautiously

“No. In software development. After Israel!” replied Ehud laughing.

I just gave him a dirty look which could have surely killed him if I had Yogic power like in olden days

 Much water has since flown through the Ganges and India is now recognized by all economic forums as a rising economy next to China. I was, however, not sure how it is now perceived by the common mass in Europe and the rest of the World. 

It was summer of 2005, almost thirty-three years to the day I first set foot on Europe, as I landed in Malpensa airport, Italy for my business appointment at Milan. I did not ask for the office car and wanted to take a taxi.

 “Do you know English or German” I asked the taxi driver before boarding.

 “I know English and can also manage in German” replied the middle aged driver politely in a heavily accented voice. As is the practice in Europe I wanted to take the front seat but the driver opened the rear seat for me.

“Are you from India” asked the driver, looking through the rear view mirror, after we have left the airport area. Malpensa is quite far off from Milan.

 “Yes?” I replied hesitantly, expecting a barrage of questions on rope tricks to tigers. “My God! Not again!” I silently prayed. 

“Oh! The software superpower! My salute to you!” said the driver in a genuinely appreciative tone without any trace of mockery.

“My God! You have made my day!” was my spontaneous exclamation.

 Though I have nothing to do with software, except for its utilization, but I felt extremely elated by the recognition of India by a common taxi driver in Italy! Truly I felt that the curse was redeemed (shapmochan) after so many humiliating years!

 Though our problems are far from over, I am confident that the new generation Indian need not remain handicapped carrying the burden of non-recognition. Without any control tears started rolling down my cheeks.

 “Anything wrong” asked the driver in anxious voice, looking through the rear view mirror. He could not understand the mood swing of his middle aged passenger from elation to crying!

“No, it is alright! You just gave me the greatest recognition in my life!”