August 21, 2011

Stereotypically Yours

When we tell people in the Netherlands what brings us to their country, the standard reaction is a smirk, and the statement (sometimes preceded with an apology for the generalization) that they should have guessed! Indians in the West means IT and computer programming!

This used to rile me up but I had nowhere to take my impotent rage. Just as I imagine Dutch babies being born on bicycles, they probably imagine bespectacled Indian babies being born tapping away furiously on keyboards. While I hope both images are making you smile like they’re making me, it’s all wrong, wrong, wrong!

I’ve been thinking about it, and from a purely sociological perspective, one can imagine why the average Indian the West encounters is an IT person. Remember our lives 15-20 years ago? Between our family backgrounds, our religions and communities, our role model relatives, peer pressure, our still limited options, and the absence of an international perspective in our daily lives, life for us was going pretty much in directions determined by external forces. Then the computer (even without the Internet) came in and changed the rules of the game. Costing more than they do today, they probably never made it to most homes, but at reasonable prices, they became accessible to most urban teenagers in “training centres”. Here was a new thing that parents who wanted kids to be 100% studious could not say no to. No caste or community could lay claim to or criticize this machine. Rudimentary English skills could get you into this hobby/profession. “Accomplished” Uncles and Aunties could not say whether this was better or worse than being the doctors, engineers and architects that they were.

One machine came and lifted an entire generation out of a spider’s web of tradition and expectation, and did not discriminate based on Daddy’s salary, Mummy’s hopes, your academic grades (based on irrelevant-to-life syllabi) or your geographical location. For anyone who wanted to be an individual, West-style, the computer was a passport. And many used it. And aren’t we glad they did?

It’s these escapees you see programming computers and creating apps in your country, O cycle junkies. The funny thing, though, is that the spider’s web has now comfortably woven itself around the computer. All the relatives now want you to be a “computer engineer” and “status families” are willing to pay huge dowries for geeks. However, it’s still something anyone can work towards, and that’s why the next Indian you will meet at Schiphol, coming in with his suitcase full of Indian spices and a pressure cooker (C’mon! THAT isn’t about to change anytime soon!), is going to be a computer programmer.

P.S.: I am not a computer programmer, and you won’t give me a job. That is another reason why you don’t see more people like me, and I have a feeling you’re happy about that. Now sell me your bike at half price a.u.b. Dank u wel.

1 comment:

dipali said...

Your analysis seems to be spot on!
The computer in its various avatars has been truly transformative. Great post, as usual!