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Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Patriot's Paradox

I had to wait a while ( just 3000 seconds . I love waits (they're wondrous, sometimes they get me wild enough to leave immediately and save my day) before the Guest turned up. The welcome programme began with the right rhythm - welcoming, keynote, honouring (the Chief Guest.) The next item was "Chief Guest's Address," given the absence of a schedule, my narrative should do insofar. The event started just an hour late. Punctuality is to be suffered by the few who choose it.

The Chief Guest took to the lectern, and opened out what seemed to a long written speech. He is a Software Developer whose entire career has been between a Large Township supporting a Factory and Academic updates at a Regional Educational Institution. Until then, he had not spoken a word, and we looked at him with reverence.

The floodgates of callous, anachronic, disconnected sentences poured open the most obnoxious speech, I have ever heard of my Nation. "India is a nation that has always been and continues to be slaves. We have been and ever will be slaves to technology, except for the happenings of the past 3 decades where some hope has dawned." he began, shocking though as it was. This was the moment, the idiom "empty vessels make more noise," had waited for. He went on, "Alexander, the Great (Alexandros Megasthenos) defeated an Indian warlord Purushottam because they had superior technological advantage in cavalry. Purushottam (or Porus,) was defeated by the supreme army because he had slow moving elephants, while Alexander's cavalry were swift and made quick work of Porus' defeat." According to the Chief Guest, this was a great historical example of how Indian technology has never developed and bowed down to western greatness.

Insulting the people who lived in that time (c. 326 BC) and attributing a reason out of nowhere, while giving the keynote address of a Scientific Paper Presentation discourse. He seems to have forgotten that Elephant formations used cavalry for protection. Agile archers wearing no armour using the thick forest covers easily ambushed him. Given the genius of Alexander the Great, he defeated Porus with fair strategy. For a strange reason, he let him live, and also let Seleucus Nicator venture South Westward to establish the later Seleucid empire. Alexander's battle troops were too tired to be trained for better tactics to face interior India. The Kingdom of Porus is within the territory of present day Afghanistan. Accounts cite that Porus, grieved at the loss of his son, surrendered but refused to accept Alexander as his Emperor. Alexander's teacher Aristotle once quipped, "The east has a way of swallowing its enemies." The visit proved that to be true.

Did he know that the Greeks rode all the way down across Persia, with a cavalry, riding bareback on horses that did not have a saddle? Did he know that the Indian cavalry of Porus had saddles, and armory for the horse?

More words, now came, in torrents with confidence on a subject with minimalist knowledge.
"Babur invaded India somewhere in 500 AD, or something. He had superior artillery power which gave him full advantage and some other King in India, who had not invested time nor effort to build technology. That is why we (Indians) are slaves to technology."

This was Babur's special mention in historical annals. A force of 10,000 defeated Ibrahim Lodi's stronger force of 110,000 (arithmetically equivalent to 1 averaging 110 kills.) Ibrahim Lodi, despite strategic advantage lost. Wait, where and how did Lodi come from? At least at that time, Lodi wasn't considered a native Indian, but a descendant of recent migrants. The battle also took place in 1526 AD (a frequent one in 'are you smarter than a fifth grader?' [India]) We have forgotten that this is one migrant attempting to thwart another.

Emperor Ashok became King in 274 BC and held what is probably the largest Indian empire for another 8 centuries. Let's ignore him, his technology, the Arthashastra. Politics is misunderstood as history. It is also recorded that Ashok was one of the earliest monarchs to have passed an edict that outlawed slavery. Most battles are won or lost the moment planning is done, execution at every level has its surprises, but the political gameplay controls (almost) everything. India had advances in politics and diplomacy at that time.

He continues to drum on, while I reined in my eagerness to chip in. He then went on to say, "SAP started in 1973, with founders who had left IBM. They believed in a new model, but held their resolve for two decades, only to reap one of the largest market rates in 1993. We, Indians are not resilient, and therefore do not achieve."

SAP, as a company has a history, quite unlike the garage startups which originated from the Silicon Valley. Was SAP too slow to deploy? Did they find too early a solution? In today's market no one can be resilient? If they had started two decades later, we wouldn't be referring t them here.

Are Indians Resilient? Historically, we have always shown great resolve. All cultures who invaded us, we have assimilated. India: "Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated." The ancient lifestyle is recorded in many books including the Arthashastra for a period 300 BC. After 12th Century AD, we have several documented examples to refer to and show our resilience. Indian software developers tend to develop a culture of sticking to a mother ship, rather than hitch hiking the galaxy on space trawlers. Yet, we are not slow, we are big, huge, larger than imagination might yield.

He tried his hand at humour, but that comedy is subject for another post.

He continued, "We Indians are still having the slave mentality. All the global companies I had worked with used to state that we are a nation of snake charmers. We do not want to start our own companies or build our own Intellectual property [snip] Indian Infotech professionals create IP and sell it cheap to big clients who make millions, if not trillions of dollars We are not patenting or creating new ideas and intellectual property. We must start creating at least now and not continue to slave and make products for big companies elsewhere in the globe."

Interestingly, he seems to forget that IP is not only created and monetized in India, but is protected by networks of law firms for the geographic region. Vinod Dham or Sabeer Bhatia probably aren't counted as Indians. All the technocrats who originated from here, what happens to them. India now has a TIE chapter (pun intended), several meets where VCs and Investors meet Sponsors. Entrepeneurship, IP creation, Originality, it's all here. Brand "Bangalore" has been made. No longer is India a land of Snake Charmers.

Can inventing, creating be given enough focus in college curriculum or should curriculum be shortened to teach essentials, allowing inventions and creativity to follow through in extended apprenticeships? That is food for thought. If what we are creating is invisible to the eye and intangible, and yet, we continue reaping fruits of our labour, we are creating, competing and getting better. Who owns land or the intangible is always debatable under legal jurisdictions.

Note to self: Next time you go to a function, take the last seat. If you are disinterested, leave the hall pretending to take a photograph. Run for some sanity cover.