Wednesday, April 26, 2006
The rules of the game, I was told, were very simple. There is a revolver and two people, and the gun is loaded in only one chamber. You keep doing turns and pull the trigger at your forehead. The last man standing, literally wins. I don't know why or how I was there. It was like your dreams. When what is happening in the imemdiate vicinity matters and the how or why disappears.
The man in front of me was slightly older: 40, maybe. The men around me were a mixed bunch. Their dusty yellow clothes seemed to be splattered with red spots. Some were older. Some even younger than I. And there was a man who was taking bets. His hands stuffed with notes and a small blunt greasy pencil and a paper pad. In the general commotion around, he was the only one who seemed to know what he was doing. The dust, the dim yellow light on the top of the table, the drunken voices --- it was all a kind of heart-throbbing stupor.
The man before me loaded the gun. All six chambers were empty, and he carefully inserted a bullet into one of them. And then spun them around. And the house went silent. I seemed to remember, right then. He was a man who had survived the last two such games he had played. The first one had been with a young lad -- maybe my age. The man had gone for it first, and in the second shot, when it was this young man's turn, the gun had gone off. The other time, again, the man in front of me had gone for the gun first. He was facing a sturdy fellow, someone who had seen the world. But after the first set of blank fires, the fourth chamber had killed him off. And now, the man, the 'survivor' in front of me, went for the gun and the first shot, again.
The room had been silent for some time now. But the silence around me was deafening, as he lifted the gun to his temples. There was a wry smile on his face, as if he knew that this was not his death. He closed his eyes, and I felt my heart stop. Gradually, the lines on his face drew to an intense expression, and he squeezed the trigger. Pufft!... it went. No bullet. And along with the rest of the room, I heaved a sigh. I realised that I had held my breath for a long long time. But then it dawned on me, it was my turn!
I could not look up towards the people around me. The collective murmur that had gathered after the last shot died out as I reached for the gun. I found my hand shaking. But this was not a time to be unsteady. "Steady, my friend!", I told myself. With a shaking hand, I raised the gun to my head. And then I closed my eyes... As I began to squeeze the trigger, I had a thousand thoughts racing through my head. Will I live? How are my mother and brother? Will I ever hear a sound again? What will happen? Can I not just run away?
Too late. I head the cranking of the inside of the barrel. The hammer went 'Clannnnnn... kk!!'. The sound reverberated through the barrel of the revolver, and close to my ear. But it was empty. The clank that I heard was the pufft that the others around me had listened to. And they heaved a sigh again. Whhoohh... said, everybody, and whoohh, said I. And I breathed normally again.
For the first time that evening, I was able to smile. I felt insanely happy, that I could breathe some more, could hear some more, and could see light for a little more time. But the man in front of me did not seem to share my happiness. This man was a winner of the last two games... this would be a hattrick if he sat through it. If I died, I though. With a grim face, he picked up the gun, and raised it to his head. It was so sudden. Perhaps it was too sudden for the rest of the room, too! They had just recovered from my shot, when this guy had it already to his head. And they all felt silent. This man seemed to have an attitude that said, "Enough, now lets get on with it". He seemed to know something, and was quietly confident. As soon as the noise in the room died down, he went for it. But you cannot be relaxed with a gun at your head. Just before he pulled the trigger, his face contorted with an indescribable expression -- the expression of one who sees death in his mind. This time, too, the familiar "punfffft" came out of the gun --- he was alive!
There seemed to be no escape as I went for the gun. The man who was taking bets around us suddenly seemed to be more popular. Everybody was eager to know the figures or to bet some more money. I however, suddenly felt as if I had nothing to lose. And so as I raised the gun towards my head, it seemed to go wonderfully empty. I was suddenly aloof, beyond the situation. I will face this, I thought. I wanted to see death come to me, and so kept my eyes open this time. It was wonderful, watching the expressions on the faces of people around me. Either they had not seen a man shoot himself with his eyes open before, or there was something really amusing around here. They seemed to have a blank look on their faces --- something altering between wonder and eagerness.
I pulled the trigger. The familiar clanking sound came out. The people who had placed their bets for me cheered loudly. And I came out of a stupor. "What was I doing here? Oh my God, please tell me this is a dream"... I thought. But unlike nightmares that end when you jerk them off, this didn't end so easily. As I tried to jerk my arms off the table and run away. But I was held down. By the people who had their bets on me. Or perhaps against me? There was no escape. I suddenly realised the meaning of "It was either him or me now".
The man in front of me reached for the gun again. He was smiling as he examined the gun. And then I realised. Oh my God!! 2-4-6!! I was to be killed in the sixth one... the others who had played with this man before me had perished on the second and fourth shots! And now I destined to die by the sixth! Perhaps this man knew how to spin the chambers! Perhaps this was a conspiracy! Perhaps I was mad!! Oh yes, I thought, I was mad. Nothing else explains all this madness!!
With my hands and shoulders tied down to my chair by a dozen men, I watched as the man raised the gun to himself. The was smiling the wry smile yet again. But his calmness was not to be seen. Perhaps he had not expected this to go on so long. Perhaps he was too sick by this time. Gradually, his smile faded as a sense of intense hatred and fear came over his face. I perhaps felt more sick than he did, and in spite of the sweat and shaking that my body had launched into, I could not move an inch as I was pinned down to the chair by those dozen arms. The man in front of me then pulled the trigger.
BANG!! The gun had gone off! I was expecting the "pufft", so to say, but instead, it was a bang! The brains of the man had been blown off, and the blood added fresh stains of red on the clothes of the people around me. Some just dusted it off. Others gathered around the man taking bets to get their dues. The people who were holding me down released me from theri grip. Blood seemed to flow through my arms and shoulders once again. I was shaking from head to foot! And was drenched in sweat, and dust. But for the first time in my life, I felt, ALIVE!!!
Ok junta... I am going home. So I will not be able to write for at least 20 days I think. Please bear with me. And yes, one last word --- the above was a work of fiction. I haven't gone mad... yet!
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Thankfully, the worst part was over first thing in the morning --- getting up! Come on, it always hurts to get out of the covers from a sponge bed to get ready for the full day, especially on a weekend. But soon the day started off well, with an early morning start and everybody fully packed and excited about the trip. As soon as we moved out of Edinburgh, we were presented with the scenic greens across the countryside. It was the middle of March, so the snow was just melting and roads were clear and sunny. We were in a bus -- or as they are called here popularly, a coach. The good part about it was the curtained but clear open fiber-glass panes that we had for our windows, but the bad part was the minimal number of stops. But we couldn't actually blame the less number stops --- we were covering about 350 miles in less than 12 hours. Yes, you can do the math.
Our journey went along smoothly, and we literally glided along the smooth roads all the way. And our coach's driver doubled up as our guide, and so we had a constant commentary going on all the time on the speakers in the bus (yes, we had a PA system inside the bus itself). Michael (our guide) knew a lot... ranging from Scottish history to local clansmen and their stories, from the formation of the lakes to the broken castles along the way. We wondered at times how a man could go on talking like that for so long. We went past beautiful mountains and lakes... and were all going snap-snap-snap all the time. What was most enchanting was the fact that we were passing so close to the mountains, the lakes and other places that we felt that we could almost touch them.
The snow-capped peaks were fabulous... somehow their edges seemed to melt into the bluish white sky, and it felt as if I could spend hours staring at them . But behind the snow were the rocks, dead solid and strong. Apparently, most of the place was formed out of volcanic rock. And so the colour of the rock edges jutting out from behind the curtain of snow looked dark and black. But man has forged his way through rock, snow and hail... and it gave me some kind of satisfaction to look at the bridge in the picture above. It represented man's triumph over the bare unforgiving rock, or so I felt.
I had seen beautiful scenery in and around Edinburgh before I went on this trip as well, but the way the scenic Scotland manifested itself as we toured past the lakes was beyond description. We just passed through the famous Lake District of the country, and along the way came Loch Lomond, Loch Ness and many other small and big lakes. I found myself humming
"You and I, in this beautiful world,
Green earth, blue sky, in this beautiful world".
All around, whenever we passed the lakes, it was really wonderful. Even the small canals had a sort of simple elegance. The beauty of simplicity and tidiness silenced me for a while as I found the man-made waterways in a peaceful harmony with the nature around itself.
The view from the boat was nice, but it was rather cold. Anyway, a little swaying with coll breeze on the boat and some snappetty-snappetty-snap never did anybody any harm, and neither did we break the tradition.
And so, all was well that ended well. As we went home through the evening, the best snap someone could manage of all the cities and lights we passed was this:
Saturday, April 08, 2006
For one, my siblings and I are all computer-savvy now and keep in touch through email most of the time. But getting my mom to come to the computer was another story. So, after much persuasion, she joined a course at NIIT, and she became computer-literate, so to say. So I had felt a tinge of ineffable joy when she sent the first email to me. Actually, any letter, phone call, anything from my mother is special. But that email now told me that I could be in touch all the time, anytime!
But now something special has happened again. She has put her first comment in my blog, which she has been following for quite some time. Take a look at this, at the end of the page, and read the comment from her. Just in case you were wondering, my nickname at home is 'Chhanu'. I think I have read that comment about 10 times now, and will read it again someday whenever I miss her.
I don't know what feelings you can gather from that comment, but I am overjoyed. The fact that she is a PhD in English Literature is evident I guess from the little paragraph. What may not be so evident is the fact that I owe all my English vocabulary, my style of writing, etc. to her and so if you like my style of writing, or if you have heard me at debates or elocution competitions, all the credit should go to her! And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
But here is the catch... she still insists on getting hand-written letters from me. So I need to go off and finish a letter that I started writing long ago and post it home. In the meantime, you go home and give your mom a hug!
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Every year, as you step into the final year of engineering, you gear up for that all-important placement. You go through loads of books on aptitude, puzzles, wordlists… and of course, your own course textbooks. After a long agonizing wait, you clear the written test, the group discussions, the interview, and finally your name appears on the list of the select few --- the chosen ones. And you think that finally all that (hard work?) paid off. You are wrong: the story just begins when you think it ends.
Before I trail off into the gyaan that I so much love to dish out, let me introduce myself and what this article will be about. My name is Sudipta Chatterjee, and I am a passout from your college, Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology, Surat. I received official confirmation of my bachelorhood in Computer Engineering in 2004, and then joined Accenture (you’ll find my photo on the PPT when they come to recruit at the campus). What will follow in the rest of the article will be a set of things I wish someone had told me when I was about to join this place. They are based not just on my experiences, but also on the experiences of most of my friends who joined other organisations. But this will not be a set of do’s and don’ts… it will be a chronicle of my and others’ little stories from life so far. It is your job to gather the do’s and don’ts from them. Also, this will be related mostly to the experiences of your seniors who have stepped into software or consulting organisations, but I believe that they will be helpful for others as well who step into what we locally call the ‘core’ companies.
The most enjoyable part of joining is the initial training period. In some cases, such as TCS and Infosys where you have a separate campus exclusively for trainees, it is what people call a ‘paid vacation’. In case of the rest of the people, such as Accenture or PCS, the fairytale (read company-provided luxury accommodation) lasts only till the time that you do not find your own houses. Anyway, this is the time when the sudden fun of telling yourself that you earn for yourself sets in. With no worries and not a care in the world, all you need to do is to attend trainings and inductions (which rather enhance the feel-good factors about the company), it is indeed the happy-go-lucky days of your life at their best.
There is a myth that I know of --- that people from computer engineering have an edge over people from other organisations when they join these software companies. The answer is both yes and no. The yes part comes in because when you are left to design something, a person who has been doing small designs for himself for the last four years of his life will be at ease. But please do not be alarmed --- most of us engineers thank heavens at least once a day for the wonderful key combinations invented which go by the names of Control-C and Control-V. Besides, it takes more time to unlearn things than to learn new bits.
Another popular ‘worry’ that most of us invent is like this: “Should I go into mainframes, or should Java be better? Will the market of data warehousing remain after 10 years? I don’t want to go into Testing, for God’s sake!!” Believe me, it should be the last of your worries. The reason behind this is that the software industry does not see any skill going into oblivion in the next 30-40 years at least. And testing is not all that bad --- I know toppers from IIT Kanpur find their ‘testing’ jobs quite challenging at Microsoft! So the moral of the story is that you need to keep an open mind about the technology you go into, unless you have won national competitions in some programming language.
One important part of getting accustomed to the corporate life is growing in confidence – to be able to feel oneself as belonging to the organisation rather than being awed by the occasion. It is essentially the simple task of forgetting the ‘Sir’ culture and being able to talk to a Senior Manager by addressing him with his first name. It feels a bit queer at first, but once you get accustomed to it, you actually will be surprised to hear the ‘Sir’ word sometime later. Once you have become one of them, you will notice that you can easily tell who is a fresher into the organisation. It is a whole change of body language, almost as good as the difference between a sophomore and a first year student in the ragging days!
We were once asked to guess how much we thought interpersonal skills mattered compared to technical skills for progress in corporate life. Stop before you read ahead and try to guess yourself: how much do you think? 50:50? 30:70? Sorry, you are off the mark. The ratio by which your interpersonal and communication skills matter compared to your technical skills is 80 is to 20, believe it or not. And I can affirm that it is true. Being ‘fundu’ doesn’t help too much, unless you can communicate clearly to the other person what you think, and thereby let him (or her ;) ) know that you are indeed ‘fundu’. Also, what matters more is how you can talk off the work hours than while you are on the work hours. How quickly you can go ahead and meet people frankly, how easily you mingle into the crowd. And in the end, it does add up to a lot.
Another aspect of stepping into the arena is to face the truth --- to be honest to yourself when you are here. If you do not understand a concept, raise it then and there! Keep raising it unless you have it crystal clear --- even if it means asking the person a hundred times over. Once into the organisation, you are on your own and not a part of the herd. So you cannot copy from your friend when the time comes to deliver, because unlike the college, you and your friend have two completely different components assigned to you --- they form pieces of the larger whole. The whole idea is that it is better to become intelligent by confessing that you do not understand than to sit on the doubt and remain dumb.
Finally, the last word --- as you start earning, you become independent. It is the sudden feeling of becoming a king from a pauper. I know that it feels nice to see that balance in your account, to be able to see things in five figures from the college days of having a permanent two-digit balance. But here lies the catch --- there is a need to restrain yourself from frittering it all away. You should not deny yourself the pleasures of being financially independent, but it is equally important that you grow from a boy to a man, and learn that each rupee you earn is hard-earned money. You are getting paid not just for the last month you worked for, but for the tremendous achievement of having studied for sixteen years or more and having come out victorious…. All right, let’s end this on a happy note. Most of you have dreams of making it big --- of CAT and GRE and of being sent onsite. Believe me, it is possible. There is enough time for that --- only you should never lose sight of your ultimate goal. And just for your information, this is being typed at Edinburgh, Scotland. Yes, you read it right --- I am onsite!! ?