Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Failed Actors in a Flat Stage (World)

The perfume lurking in the air
waiting for none
proud of itself
barged into me.

Blown back, by weeks and months,
it told me the names of
actors and acts
never forgotten,
but rarely remembered.

Two years ago...

Father was starting his scooter. He was going out to pay some bills. Hearing the sound I went to the gates to close them, after he leaves. As I was closing them, an aged man appeared. Frail, grey hair, wrinkled skin and a large thick plastic bag in hand.

Flashing a polite smile, he moved towards me. With an apologetic expression he asked, "Nanaakaan chooral kaserakal vallathum undo (Are there any bamboo chairs to repair)?" Even before I answered, he knew the answer and his expression didn't hide it. "Ivide chooral kaserakal onnum illa (There are no bamboo chairs here)", I told him, waving my hands in the direction of a couple of plastic chairs lying in the front veranda.

I had expected him to be disappointed. But to my surprise, his eyes remained silent and with a steady soft voice he said, "Enikku ariyaam... ippol chooral kaserakal kuravaanu (I know.... bamboo chairs are few now-a-days)". Except the tools sleeping in his plastic bag, he didn't seem sad. There was instead, a glint of triumph; he had been correct in his guess once again.

Thinking the conversation was over, I moved forward to close the gate. Suddenly, the phlegmatic strength on his face cracked open; painfully. The wrinkles on his skin huddled together for strength and eyes squinted, in embarrassment of what was to come. "Oru chayakulla kaashu tharaamo (Can you give me money for a cup of tea)?", he asked. It was a voice too proud to beg, embarrassed about the words he spoke and desperate in need.

I stood there stunned. Standing before me was a professional; an expert in his trade and tools. Yet for survival he had to beg!!!

I went inside and returned with a 2 rupee coin and gave it into his eager hands. Thanking me with a small smile, he moved on.


Two weeks ago...

Excerpt from a net conversation. Character, place and company names have been changed to prevent future trouble.
8:24:40 PM Sreejith >> I know this is a late question still, Keat, how were you contracted for this project? I understand you belong to a different company and that you are here on contract. Where do you actually work and what is the kind of projects you have handled before?
8:27:08 PM Keat Pecking >> Brief history...
Started my career with MultiTech (an MNC) in 1979. Came to this company, SkyMach (an even bigger MNC), in 1984 and worked here (in this building) until 2000 when I got an offer from a start-up telecommunications company. Big salary, stock options, bonuses, the works. I got laid off 8 months later. Tried to get back to SkyMach, but 2 months later the 9/11 attacks occurred and I was out of work for 2 years. They don't have the ability in this group to get a requisition for somebody of my experience level, but hired me as a direct contract for 3 years. Then laid off again. Now hired as 3rd party contract. Been back for about 3 months.
8:31:15 PM Keat Pecking >> That's the problem with contracts. It's an up and down type of business.
8:31:45 PM Keat Pecking >> I work for a company called GTC.
It took me a few seconds to digest Keat’s history. It was shocking to know that a person of Keat’s experience and knowledge had been out of work for two years.
8:32:43 PM Sreejith >> Ok. But why doesn't SkyMach hire you directly if they need a person of your calibre? Is it economics or something else that i don't understand?
8:34:22 PM Keat Pecking >> It's economics mostly. At my experience level, they would have to hire me at a certain salary. They won't do that when they could get 3 college hires for that price. Personally, I think they are mistaken in their assumptions, but that's the way it is. I kind of like working 3rd party contract now.
8:34:52 PM Keat Pecking >> There's a company in Calsys, US that hires very experienced people only. I heard they're doing very well and intend to look into it.
8:35:22 PM Keat Pecking >> I'm having too much fun right now to go looking very seriously, but also need to keep in mind that this won't last forever.
8:35:48 PM Sreejith >> I sincerely hope you won't leave.
8:36:00 PM Keat Pecking >> Not anytime soon.
8:36:42 PM Keat Pecking >> I enjoy this work. My contract is for 1.5 years. The problem is that with a bad economic downturn, I would be one of the first to get walked out the door.

Two actors trying to play out their lives to a changed script they had no clue of. Two years have passed since the first episode. Ever since, I have been keen to post it in the blog. So when I decided to revive the blog, I didn't have to search deep for a topic.

All of us have come across beggars; people who survive on the alms and kindness of other people. I had always thought of them as people who were weak or old to do a job or who were plain lazy to find one. The aged bamboo worker gave me a third kind - professionals forced to beg, though only too willing to work.

Keat and the bamboo worker maybe in different geographic locations. But the force that changed their fates is the same - Globalisation. The bamboo worker's case is a classic example of the millions of farmers and traditional artisans who were hit hard by an economy that opened up quicker than they could scamper for shelter. The influx of cheap imports and substitutes from neighbouring and developed countries, and the introduction of new technologies in all spheres that effectively killed complacency and inefficiency was a jolt in the dark for many who hadn't even heard of terms like "open economy" and "free trade". R Venkatesh in his article, 'Why Jet Air is a success and ICAI a failure' (available at http://www.rediff.com/money/2007/dec/03mrv.htm) writes thus, "The lessons behind the calibrated opening of the civil aviation sector are instructive and remain, in my view, an appropriate lesson in our process of globalisation. If civil aviation is a lesson to emulate, the opening up of the Indian accounting sector is in contrast an abject lesson in mishandling the globalisation process. The Indian accounting sector too has extraordinary potential (because of its substantial numbers, knowledge of accounting and of course the English language) to be a global player but has been subjected to premature external liberalization and without adequate preparation.
Consequently it is becoming an endangered species even within India.
In conclusion, globalisation is the war of entrepreneurs, who are a rare breed and require nurturing by the State. It is the profound duty of the government to ensure that the entrepreneurs succeed by its appropriate choice of policy and programmes......"

The government and the society failed to warn its citizens of the effects of a globalised economy. While opening up the economy was a brilliant move, the economists and politicians who masterminded it, never foresaw the need for educating the concerned people. As is evident from the booming IT, telecom and high-end manufacturing sectors, an enlightened society would have reaped better all-round results. AV Birla group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla defined globalisation as the most powerful and defining current underlying a multiplicity of challenges. "We must recognise that not all countries benefit uniformly from globalisation. The benefits tend to percolate to the advantaged and to those with the right education and training," he had said once. Keat's predicament forces me to add geographic location to the list of factors that determine the quantum of advantage.

The world has flattened as far as economy is concerned (and I guess that is more important than geography for most). It is our duty as much as the government's to help a generation caught in the turbulence of global economic transitions, act out their final scenes with dignity.

The Last Ink-Drop : This blog had been unattended for the past few months. Few of my friends had asked me about this. It was never intentional. To repeat a cliché, "I was too busy with work". Thank you all, who kept checking the blog for new posts. It feels nice when I write something and I hope I'll be able to do so more frequently.....