Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Tale of two Towns


Mohan Kumar felt very good about what he had done, but still was restless and frustrated. It was around 10 PM at night and he was just recapping the events throught the day. Earlier in the day, he had just posted a nothing-held-back kind of message in his company’s intranet message board. Somehow it seemed cathartic for him momentarily, until despair returned. For those who do not know Mohan Kumar, he works in Bangalore – and an assumption that he works in an IT company is correct. He has about 7 years of experience in the IT industry and has had it very good; but of late he has been extremely angry. To understand Mohan’s anger, we need to rewind a bit more.

The IT industry in Bangalore has been booming, from the late 90s. The growth has been tremendous and the employees were king. Yearly salary increases of 30% were the norm. Then the bubble burst in the US in 1999-2000; and the companies shutting down was the new normal everyday event. These events found its echo in Bangalore. The salary raises came down; and worse, certain companies whose planned business growth did not pan out, spiraled out of control down to closure. Some companies had to cut costs drastically, which translated into very little salary raises… In the company that Mohan worked for, they had gone through the exact same path: a period of nearly 2 years, where the salary raises were non-existent, with a few exceptions that covered the cream (ofcourse, Mohan was unaware of this for obvious reasons). In the past year, his company has stabilized and so looked the industry. Also the IT industry seemed that they never get back to the heady days of the 90s, but stabilizing and tending towards maturity. In ground, it translated to yearly raises averaging to be around 10%... For Mohan it came down to much less. Personally, Mohan was planning to upgrade his car to the mid-size; but with his EMI payment to the flat he had invested in and the “meager” salary raise, he just could not afford the upgrade…

…And hence Mohan’s angst.

Mohan was extremely aggravated and unhappy. He has not seen the kind of raises that he was used to when he joined the IT industry. Inspite of what he had experienced, he believed that elsewhere the picture was different than what his company was in. He had tried to change his job. From the days of “trespassers will be recruited”, the hiring criteria seemed to be more stringent. For one of the jobs that he had interviewed for, where he went with utmost confidence of being able to walk-in and the job was his to lose, he came back empty-handed. Where he was offered a job, the compensation offered was not to his expectation; Mohan felt he was being pushed into a dead-end alley…

…And hence Mohan’s frustrations.

And in his own company, his prognosis was bleak. He did not see much change happening in how the employees in general and specifically how he was treated.

…And hence Mohan’s outburst in his company’s message board (that his company has provided for the employees to post their opinions and their thoughts). He had posted as to how he and his colleagues are being taken for a ride, how the employee benefits are being withdrawn, how they are being paid pittance and finally, how they have all suffered through these times and all seems lost with no hope for redemption…

Cuddalooru :

As Lakshmi was lying down to sleep in the narrow confines, she was confused and hopeful. She had some idea of what was going around here, but she wasn’t old enough to understand it fully. Her life had turned topsy-turvy in the past twelve months.

About twelve months ago she was a happy child. Her father had a small grocery shop; although she understood that they were not rich, but they had enough to live happily – her sister, older to her by a year and she went to a government girl’s school and her brother who was very much younger to her, was going to a different school – the whole family doted on her brother. The schools were closed and she had gone with her family – father, mother, elder sister and her younger brother to a bigger town, to visit her periappa (father’s elder brother). It was holiday time and it was one of the best times she had. She had visited the zoo, saw a lot of animals that she had read only in her books about; also since her periappa’s house was very close to the beach, she had great time playing with the water. More than her, she found her brother to be really excited as any 5 year old boy would be – initially, he seemed to be scared. Lakshmi was proud that she actually taught her brother on facing the waves and how to splash water on each other. She even remembered how her she and her elder sister swung her brother back and forth holding his arms with every wave coming in pushing them out to the shore and on retreat pulling them back into the sea.

She could never forget that particular night and the next day. Her periappa’s house was next to a big church, as everyone called it. For the first time the whole family saw a building that big, lighted with bright and twinkling lights of various colors going on and off and she could hear music and singing from the church through the night; the night chill perhaps started her cold; and had to return back to the house. As the next day, they were leaving town, her brother wanted to play in the beach one last time. As she had cold from the previous night, she very reluctantly (with a tear or two) had to stay back in the house with her mother; with a promise from her elder sister that she’d bring some shells and her brother, some sea-water… That was the last time she had seen of her father, sister and family…

As she was grappling with things going around her and making sense out of it, she really was swept from one place to another place, along with her mother. Finally, both of them ended up in their Chitthi’s (mother’s sister) house nearer to their place, so that Lakshmi can continue her schooling; also initially she found that her Chithappa (uncle) was very welcome and seemed very nice and treating them well. She also instantly liked her cousin who was about her brother’s age. Also she over heard that Government had given her family some money for the loss. She found her mother getting to be recluse, not very talkative and staring somewhere, silently crying. When Lakshmi went to her, her mother would hug her but not say much. Lakshmi did not know what to do, but hug her mother, but that seemed to increase the sadness. Slowly, her mother was in bed more than she was out of it – she continued to have racking coughs. As her mother fell ill, she found that her chithappa was beginning to get ruder with both of them. One day, her mother too passed away and Lakshmi was broken; she could not go to school for a week then; one of those days, her uncle was shouting at her Chitthi about something Lakshmi’s mother had done with the money they had got. He was saying that now they have to put up with Lakshmi until she turned 18 to see the money – Lakshmi was scared, but her Chithi was still kind to her and took better care of her when the chithappa was not around. Her schooling had become irregular and around August, she altogether stopped going to school. Her Chithi too started going out to work. Her chithappa had asked to do some odd jobs around the house and to take care of her cousin, which she loved to do. Slowly, she did all of house chores and baby-sitting her cousin.

In the past 3 months Lakshmi was puzzled the way she was changing. She did not know what it was but she definitely looked different and felt different. Her Chithi made her dress differently now. However, what was worrying Lakshmi was she did not understand when sometimes her chithappa came home earlier than her Chithi, he was gentler to her, but returned back to being harsh one her Chithi came back home. Lakshmi was confused; and she used to be scared sleeping alone in the kitchen and sometime stayed awake for long. Three days ago, she saw on the TV, that a collector named Radhakrishnan was doing wonderful things for children like her in another district. It was also one year since she lost her family and six months since she lost her mother.

That night, Lakshmi remembered her family and the time they had in the big town and beach and sobbed softly. At that age, she couldn’t recognize that she was suffering, but she definitely had a hope that the collector would also come to her town and do something for her. That day she said a silent prayer and fell asleep…


Thus fell asleep two tortured souls, unrelated in two different towns; one with hopeless and futlie rage in his mind; the other full of hope that the things could change, without even knowing if the worst was behind or yet to come.


Anonymous said...

...great contrast...well captured..
- ar

Anonymous said...

Its quite good; but less emotion, ending a bit blunt
- nc

Tyler Durden said...

G, i know where you got the inspiration to write the first. :-) and it is indeed true what you have written.

The second i was hoping for some light at the end of the tunnel. It is okay if an airconditioned-cubicle occupying, 24x7 mail checking software engineer gets shafted, but not a poor little girl who lost her whole family. oh well, maybe you are counting on the reader's optimism :-)