But Seriously

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There is a popular video game called “Guitar Hero” in which the controller is like a guitar. As notes scroll by on-screen, players have to hit colored buttons on the controllers at the exact moment the note is highlighted on the screen. The more “notes” you hit, the more the virtual crowd goes into a frenzy and the more points you score.

Writing for the foreign media, whether it be articles or fiction, is often like playing “Guitar Hero”—you mash the right buttons at the right moment and out comes a publication, in the same way “music” comes out of Guitar Hero. An example of this kind of ” say-what-your-foreign-audience wants-to-hear” writing that hits the hot-points can be found here, in an article written in the New York Times by Manu Joseph, also referred to sometimes in Middle Earth as the Bane of Barkha.

In it, Manu Joseph says that Indians are prickly about the negative portrayal of it in the foreign media, but truth be told, there is nothing much positive to say about the country (He has to “search for something good to say about India” as the headline goes). The Indian press carries positive stories about India because it sells, not because it is the truth. Other countries (like Greece for instance—-since we Indians presumably care enough of Greece to hate it) can be attacked since that is popular but not India, even though it still remains a shitty third world country. Whatever India has advanced is because of  the munificence of the West and their industry finding markets in South-east Asia and even Pakistan has done spectacularly as a result of this. So Indians should not be crowing. India= Pakistan.

There are a few things to point out, not least of all the effect of the influx of foreign bribe money into Pakistan’s infrastructure as a contributory factor for its prosperity. For one, this.

But, sometimes what makes a country proud is actually a poignant indicator of how far behind it lags. For instance, when a country’s tennis doubles players are national celebrities, as they are in India, you know that there is something wrong with its general sport talent

But sir, Mr. Joseph,  what you forget to tell your phoren audience is that Indians are proud of many people. They are proud of Bollywood stars, cricket stars, business magnates, doubles players, and even authors who win the Booker. So what does that prove?

For someone whose book critically portrayed Indian society as defined by rigid caste (one of the Guitar Hero notes needed to be hit for critical approbation for “literary” Indian writers in English), Mr. Joseph displays a surprising amount of Bramhinical elitism. It is not just limited to being disparaging of “tennis doubles winners” as if that is not “really” an achievement worth being proud of. Read this:

And many of them who have begun to work in call centers cannot be trained beyond a point because their fundamentals are weak. For instance, they have never attended an English-language school.

A senior human resources executive with a call center in Gurgaon, on the outskirts of Delhi, said with a chuckle: “The swanky office is to impress the foreign client. Some of our people who work inside, I know they would be happy in a cowshed.”

Happy to be in a cowshed? Wait, what was that again? Why is this blatantly elitist/classist/casteist remark used in this piece as a means of buttressing an argument? And oh “fundamentals are weak” –what is the correlation of that with never having attended an English-language school? Call centers do not require their employees to analyze Proust or be able to find the “gentle humor” inside Manu Joseph’s “Serious Men”. All they require is the ability to speak decent, understandable English. The fact that Indian call centers “get the job done” is testified by the return business they get. End of story.

India’s status as a software giant has long been a happy story. But it is an exaggeration. India is a not a software giant. In your computer, there is probably not a single piece of software whose license is held by an Indian company.

What India is, in reality, is a giant back office. There was a time when Indian software companies confidently stated that there were so many talented educated Indians available to them that they would be able to swiftly “move up the value chain.” That was the refrain.

What Mr. Joseph does not understand (and he is not alone, many India critics make the same mistake)  is that one can be a “software giant” without being a leader in innovation. A Microsoft Office product might conjure up images of American workers in Seattle, but significant portion of the effort  that goes into making the product might be coming from development centers in India, run either by Microsoft themselves or outsourced to Indian vendors. And what does that mean? The Indian economy makes loads of money through software services and becomes, yes you guessed it, a software giant.

Looking a bit deeper, one detects yet more bias. Somehow the quotidian “Dalit” lower-value-chain tasks of testing, maintaining, creating software support infrastructure for software companies, banks and hospitals  are considered inferior to the more “Brahmanical” tasks of innovation and product design, even though both generate revenue and both are critically important in the overall development chain.

Hmmm…

The larger point here of course is how come this very ordinary, poorly-argued piece gets into New York Times. The answer for it is provided by Mr. Joseph himself, albeit in a different context. In the West, negative stories of India sell. At a time when the US is being hammered economically and are being told by no less than their own President to “compete” with countries like India, it is “feel-good” therapy to hear that these upstart Indians are as smelly and dirty as they always were. Right-wing US media like Fox have goombahs like Glenn Beck for this kind of pandering—according to him, India has not yet discovered modern plumbing and river Ganga sounds like a disease.

New York Times, being a liberal media outlet, knows how racist and chauvinist it looks if a white American guy says “People in India would be happy to work in a cowshed”.

So they look out for Indians who will do the hatchet job—-serious women. And serious men.

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111 thoughts on “But Seriously

  1. never knew manu and adiga were in the same league…what lame asses….how does the point that the call centre guys never went to a good english medium school stand in good stead as an argument to what he’s trying to prove…Seriously pathetic….

  2. Love your point on the ‘software giant’ bit. Most people, including several disgruntled have-nots in the IT industry, espouse the same theory without looking at the big picture.

  3. How embarrassing to be proud of our tennis pair who made 4 grand slam finals in a year. Well reasoned piece, GB. The book of Manu begins to show it’s true colours.

  4. You have a point Greatbong.
    Its not just the media, go into academia and the bias is worse. Literature, history, antropology, sociology….

  5. Excellently written! Though I would trade that “say decent, understandable English” for “speak decent, understandable English”.

  6. Good post..Better than the last one.If Spain can fill up tennis courts to support Nadal or spend outrageous sums of money for football stars in a crippled economy I do not see any harm in idolising two doubles superstars in tennis.Maybe someone should tell Mr Joseph that if Indian firms stopped doing chunks of software(dev,testing,support) work the online edition of the New York Times might just not be available(hypothetically)..Then again Mr Joseph will just be harping about his article appearing in the New York Times whilst drinking scotch in his swank new apartment in GK,Bandra or Koramangla.Lapping it up will be some men/women who would then ask about Soho and the price of boots there.

  7. Nice article Greatbong. I find it equally frustrating to see the praises heaped on to these India bashers as opposed to someone who would write an article praising India. As if writing good things about your country is a bad thing…

  8. As an unwashed Indian I feel this desperate urge to pick my nose and chuck the produce at Manu, and perhaps spit out my gutka remains on his tuxedo as well.

  9. @Arnab

    Totally agree that overall Manu Joseph is wrong about the Indian growth story, however I think he’s (or she’s ?) right about software.

    “one can be a “software giant” without being a leader in innovation.”

    – I don’t think this is true. There’s a reason Google invests all that money into R&D and keeps putting out failed products (Buzz was a flop, Health is being shutdown, Youtube doesn’t make money), it’s cos eventually they’ll get something right and it’ll be the next search and that will more than make up for all the money they’ve spent. Microsoft does not innovate – that’s why they’re stock is going nowhere and share holders are calling for SB to be sacked.
    – For what it’s worth. Our Indian s/w model relies on cost arbitrage pure and simple. Sooner or later one of two things will happen:
    a) Those jobs will just be automated away. This btw is already happening: if what you’re doing isn’t that hard and can be done by 24 perl scripts woven together, bad times are coming. Americans are expensive to hire, Indians less so, but guess what computing power is cheaper than both.
    b) Someone cheaper will come along. Dollar rates are only going to go south and salaries in India are not trivial anymore. This is what happened to manufacturing jobs in the US and it’ll happen to IT jobs in India.

    Cool post though, and I totally agree overall Manu Joseph is just pandering to what people want to believe.

  10. Greenspan is the Man,

    You are an expert on the housing industry (:-)), but allow me to say something based on *my* expertise. Test-automation of the kind where testing, maintenance jobs are *fully* automated away, is still science-fiction. Trust me on that one. Whether India will remain a s/w giant in the future, I do not know. Currently it is one. And it does not need to have an Apple or a Google for that.

  11. Arnab – you are making a valid point. India for all its failings has lot to be proud of. For starters – India and Pak started off pretty much at same level and anyone can see the difference. We keep comparing India to a handful of highly developed countries in Western Europe, North America and Aust/NZ. These countries account for about 20-25 countries and total of about 500 million people.
    What about the other 200 countries and 6.5 billion people – why does everyone forget about them? Indian is well placed in this group since it is only fair to compare likes – countries with similar histories and societies.

    The biggest problem in India I would say is the growing disparity – I really cannot see anything done about it. Just throwing more money at this problem only results in the haves getting even more of it as the pipeline sucks it up!!

  12. “New York Times, being a liberal media outlet, knows how racist and chauvinist it looks if a white American guy says “People in India would be happy to work in a cowshed”.

    So they look out for Indians who will do the hatchet job—-serious women. And serious men.”

    Wow! This one hit the spot.

    [GB adds: Please desist from impersonating famous people. Hence name removed. Thanks]

  13. @greatbong
    you have astutely observed the brahminical bias in Manu Sharma’s writing.
    There is also a huge mastodon size hole in his argument about tennis players being celebrity implied tennis is shitty shape if you apply it in reverse.
    Our top publishing physicists are not celebrities – hence Indian Physics is in awesome shape.

  14. so after a way below average post, u r back and back with a bang.
    didnt even know who manu was till i read this post.
    I agree that he is selling what sells in that market. but even then the article is way below average. may be NY times is mid-day or mumbai mirror of US, i do not know. (hope mid-day or mumbai mirror do not kill me for comparing them with NYtimes)

  15. So good to see the GB of old times – scathing, incisive, and to the point. Very well reasoned post. Loved it.

    Back to the brahminical elitism – I almost get amused by the amount of B.E. that goes around in India as well. You have many people who cut langes while driving, and abuse the Indian civic sense when someone honks at them. There are many caucasians who get awed by the service levels at a Taj hotel, and then want to go to Dharavi to experience the real India.

    Manu Joseph is catering to an audience (a la Munna Bhai’s hungry india, naked india joke). A country which is probably a lot more diverse than most(because of its history, geography, evolution, and many more such things) can/should not be painted with a single brush. That’s why I’d always refrained from saying all Australians are racists, or something like that. Yet, writing an article without those colors would put his roji-roti in danger, won’t it. And in some ways, our frustration at reading his piece serves the purpose (eye-balls, linkbacks, popularity, etc.) – no publicity is bad publicity! :)

  16. As it happens often, we are incapable of taking or expressing a moderate view but I think Manu Joseph has a point. Anyone who tells me that bulk of the work done by the great Indian IT/BPO machinery is cutting edge AND is extendable to the far greater numbers needed for collective growth of the country is delusional.

    While I understand the point Manu makes about our jingoistic celebrations, I see no reason why we should NOT celebrate our victories – starved as we are for them. What disturbs me more is the elevation of the mediocre to greatness which is all encompassing.

  17. I thought Manu Joseph had his mind in the right place, being anti-Barkha and so on. But yeah, this article of his was an eye-opener, in the sense, you know where he stands. What a pity.

  18. Slumdog millionaire, if made by Manu Joseph, would have had the same stereotyped storyline. But I am sure the music director would have been someone different assuming he would hate A.R Rahman, because maybe as per his logic “when one of the country’s most talented musician is a national celebrity, as he is in India, you know that there is something wrong with its general music talent”.

    He writes, “But over the years, it has become evident that beneath the topsoil, Indian talent does not run deep. Hundreds of thousands of graduates are unemployable as they pass out of substandard institutions.” Not sure to the extent to which this can be generalized just for Indians (because irrespective of the quality of the institution, employers worldwide rue the fact that fresh graduates have to be trained per business needs). I have not read Manu’s book, but given that he is an Indian author who is actually “Searching for Something Good to Say About India” (in spite of India’s shortcomings), he sure has described his talent perfectly!!

  19. For once, I am in disagreement with your article. India is a backyard for outsourced jobs. Jobs which do not require skills and braincells above a certain threshold. Please note, all the while, I am talking about ‘majority’ of software (s/w) services industry and not about ‘complete’ s/w services industry.

    It’s this easy, low-brain, eas’ier’ money s/w industry work (IT/ITES, BOP,KPO) which has spawned a generation which is confidently ignorant or worse still, confidently wrongly placed in their priorities and contributes most to the ‘India-the Farce’.

    The likes of Manu Joseph, Adiga might have pushed the envelope too far for most of us ‘self-dignified, self-righteous’ Indians, but the truth remains that today, majority of the younger generation’s outlook, priorities etc. are very narrow, short-term and ‘typically’ third-world (ok, let’s use ‘emerging’) country-like. And whatever else you see in this ecosystem, the media, the politicians, which we rant about; they all are just catering to these consumers of theirs

    A doubles player/jodi enjoying huge popularity; these Dhonis, Rainas etc.; All this is just another manifestation of idol worship for the current folks who suffer from insuffiecient brain-growth and the lack of self-belief and thus are always in search of a ‘role-model’, ‘god-like’ beings. Extend this to other areas, and you have Sathya Sai Baba and other Godmen.

    No need to go too far; Just look at the relationship between males and females here in India. Ridden with MCP-attitude, male-ego, disguised dowry etc., most of it in the name of ‘tradition’; we are the biggest hypocrites, at least when it comes to female treatment (wife, mother, sister, prostitutes etc.)

  20. Funny how people compare Indian and American s/w companies. If you join any industry you start from the bottom and work your way up. Its not like one fine day all Indian companies will wake up and say, come next Saturday we will start filing patents and do only cutting edge technology. Moving up the value chain takes time.

    Thats what Japanese did, if you go and read American newspapers of 60′ and 70′s you will think Japanese were good only for making cheap unreliable cars and copying tech from Americans in electronics . How many nobel prizes were won by Japanese scientists in 60′s and 70′s and compare it to last 20 years.

    Ask any active researcher in academia they will tell how the quality of papers coming from countries like South Korea has increased dramatically in last 10-15 years.

    I can already see a lot more new college grads preferring to work in start ups than existing companies, for every google, facebook and vmware there are dozen other starts up which went bust.

  21. Hi,

    I am happy you beat me to it. Cud not have done a better job than what you have done.

    Our faults & shortcomings not withstanding there is much to be proud of & cheer.

    Lets forge ahead & work for a better tomorrow.

    This was also written on the specific request from an online publisher in US India’s role in global economy??? http://bit.ly/jtWUfS

    Great going keep up the good work.

    Sincerely
    Anil Kohli

  22. I am thrilled to see someone taking the likes of Manu on. This isnt his first piece in NYT that is disparaging towards India. In fact, i am sick of NYT as a publication and their overwhelmingly negative tone when it comes to talking about anything Indian.

    Your point on MS office is a good one. i worked in seattle for close to five years for the software giant and interacted with many brilliant engineers in the india office who sometimes built global products from soup to nuts for the company.

    Thanks for writing this rebuttal.

  23. An update on the Indian software scene which Manu spoke about and you rebutted:

    The “India runs call centres, outsourcing and back office” meme is very dated now.

    Big time tech companies setup and run their offices out of India, many times from multiple cities. These have gone beyond maintenance, support and testing to product development to product management to research. Yahoo India runs a research centre, Google, Amazon, microsoft, IBM etc etc are here not just for “back office” or lower end work. Working in Google Bangalore is like working for Google Seattle. It does put out significant products. Obviously the company defining work like Google+ gets done in mountain view and not Bangalore or for that matter Seattle.

    The irony is that when Manu Joseph puts out his next book on the Kindle, He will be using a publishing platform which is developed, built and run out of sultry Chennai.

    For the next phase, ie to make it the main development centre, we need to produce a Google. And that is also underway. The number of tech startups is multiplying greatly and yes some of them are doing really good work. Just go to an event like proto.in or unpluggd to see what I mean. Obviously you have to smart small… But the talent and the ambition is there. The design/UI/product is also reaching world standards. Coupled with a cost advantage lets people put out and succesfully run a company like helpdeskpilot.com (also out of sultry Chennai)

    I have seen this sea change on the ground because I am IN the industry but not everybody is aware of it and I cringe every time somebody writes a stereotypical piece on the state of the Indian tech industry based on old facts. Infosys is a good business and a good story, but is an old business and an old story. What Infosys does is respectable, but please also realize that we have already moved to the next phase.

    Some of the comments on this post like @Ashwin are not aware of this change.

    I hope you can expound this view and clear the ignorance :)

  24. Seriously??? Is this the standard of featured articles published in NY Times? And we complain abt TOI, but still there are features written by people like Swaminathan Iyer, Swapan Dasgupta et al which are 5000 times better than this load of c***. Thanks GB for such a swift rebuttal, but I really felt the standard of that article is wayyy below the minimum standard required for you to write a full post about, it’s not worth your blog :)

  25. @shekhar,
    So according to your definition which job require skills and braincells. In UK and USA evryeone wants to be in finance, does finance require braincells above a certain threshold ?Germany produced bucket full of engineers, does engineering require braincells above a certain threshold ?
    If you want that in some country majority will do “high-brain” job then the only profession has to be mathematics researcher, isn’t it ? People have certain skills and every thing is equally important. The majority of my genertaion is manual labourers, not IT,ITES, BPO’s.

    “but the truth remains that today, majority of the younger generation’s outlook, priorities etc. are very narrow, short-term and ‘typically’ third-world (ok, let’s use ‘emerging’) country-like. And whatever else you see in this ecosystem, the media, the politicians, which we rant about; they all are just catering to these consumers of theirs”
    Then which country you suggest does not have very narrow , short term outlook and priorities. Sirji, let us clear the definitions of all the words you have used here. As far as I have seen the world, the young generation or old generation of all the country’s I have seen so far satisfies these properties. So please enlighten us with examples about how we are more worthy of having the typically third world outlook.

    “A doubles player/jodi enjoying huge popularity; these Dhonis, Rainas etc.; All this is just another manifestation of idol worship for the current folks who suffer from insuffiecient brain-growth and the lack of self-belief and thus are always in search of a ‘role-model’, ‘god-like’ beings. Extend this to other areas, and you have Sathya Sai Baba and other Godmen.”

    Atleast they are worthy of their fame. Tell me the names of few english celebrities who are worthy of their fame ?

  26. @Utsav, good reply to Shekhar. And just to carry you last paragraph a little forward, which country should be an ideal one, the one where majority worships Justin Bieber? (OK, little exaggerated)

  27. Every country has their pluses and minuses, every country!! Looking at either of them and not looking at the other renders the job incomplete. Today’s India is a serious global force, taken as a whole, and I don’t think any country in the world can deny that! There are countless evils, yes- poverty, unemployment and public heath service for the poor need a world of improvement. But I don’t see why that should stop us from celebrating our successes, of feeling proud of what we have achieved. There are many of our generation who almost sound apologetic to be an Indian! I have observed this especially when they are in the company of some white foreigner, eager to show them what sucks in here, and eager to reinforce their stereotypes! I have especially seen this in some MNC when a foreign client needs to be attended to, its almost as if we love to show them they are superior to us! This makes me cringe everytime! While I am aware of our weaknesses, I won’t believe anyone who tells me of a “perfect” country! Let us work towards betterment, but why should we be apologetic of our successes?? And what on earth is wrong with idolising celebrities/individuals? They help build national pride and we should be happy about that! And of course, literature today seems always to veer towards extremes, I yearn for a piece of literature which offers a balanced perspective! But then I guess that won’t grab eyeballs in this sensationalist age!

  28. @Utsav: Sorry, but you (and ‘majority’ of the comment posters here), in each of your 3 paras, are basing your points on comparisions and arguing on a relative front (or shall i be a bit more curt and say, ‘taking refuge’ in the comparisons). It’s just not about which other jobs require more braincells, which other country people do not have narrow outlook or if there are any English celebrities or not. That ways, almost everything in this life in every walk of life can be justified.
    It’s all about standing on a strong ‘absolute’ platform.
    But yeah, i agree with you that this thinking which i am talking about encompasses both younger and older generations.

  29. Ok there must be another “utsav” here who shares the same first name as mine.
    Comments by my friend “Utsav” above are not mine.
    Greabong, how do we solve this issue? Is there a first come first serve rule at your blog with nomenclature?

  30. Utsav, never had one policy here before. Other “Ustav”, could you please put a 1 after your name (or any distinguishing character) while commenting since there is already an Utsav here?

  31. Thanks Shekhar for taking the lead in going against the masses who just start barking whenever something bad is said about India. I won’t comment too much on the original article or this one – but a country which works because it’s currency is weak compared to the dollar has no future unless it takes drastic steps to change it. For example, when the US dollar fell to around Rs.40/dollar, Infosys had to introduce working Saturdays; enough said.

  32. Anindya,

    India is a IT superpower *now* and there is no way one can deny that (unless you want to drink Manu Joseph’s Kool-Aid). In the future, we do not know. Some people say that with US’s deficit and its indebtedness to China, it wont remain a superpower in the future. On the basis of that, can you deny that they are one today? Really !

  33. @Shekhar: ‘majority’ of the comment posters here, in each of your 3 paras, are basing your points on comparisions and arguing on a relative front

    And what “absolutes” do you talk of? The things you mentioned (idol worship, celebrity culture, narrow interests & priorities) are true to a large extent to the entire human race. You speak of adulation of Dhoni, well he won a World Cup. What did William and Kate do to earn worldwide adulation, apart from getting married? This isn’t to “take refuge” but merely to point out that these are common human failings and apply across the world. You speak of Sai Baba, well Benny Hinn and the ridiculous spectacle of Scientology would tell you that charlatanry is another thing that afflicts humanity everywhere. These aren’t India-specific, though the form of these afflictions may vary.

    You’ve mentioned only one thing that is specific to India and other 3rd world countries – MCP-ism.

  34. @Shekhar
    Sirjee , I started barking because I found the less braincells comment very offensive. I don’t care about something is said against India or Indonesia as long as it is not against the honest hard working man trying to use the minimal chances left for them. Yes India and host of other third world countries get the benifit of weak currency. But can you suggest any other way for them to start getting themselves visible in current world economical structure. A person who is working in BPO’s may have chosen this occupation since he or she does not have any other options left. They are not cheating or creating false economic prediction to drive the whole capital of the world to wrong direction. They just want to survive, to have decent lifestyle. These jobs might have gone to some other places if these BPO workers haven’t worked that hard.
    @Shekhar In an absolutely perfect world, every job and every skill should be equally important. To say that some job requires less braincells and hence should be looked down upon is very castiest. If everything is so wrong about India, and majority of Indians are suffereing from insufficient braingrowth then how the hell this India place runs with minor hiccups ?

  35. “For example, when the US dollar fell to around Rs.40/dollar, Infosys had to introduce working Saturdays; enough said.”

    I happened to be working at Infosys at that point. I never even heard of it, leave alone actually having to work on Saturdays. Can you substantiate the above?

  36. @Shekhar

    >”but the truth remains that today, majority of the younger generation’s outlook, priorities etc. are very narrow, short-term and ‘typically’ third-world (ok, let’s use ‘emerging’) country-like.”

    What again are the priorities of first world younger generation? Let me guess – partying and sleeping around from high school, buccaneering all the way till the end of undergrad, general self absorption followed by a wedding and a quick divorce. And if you can afford, you will likely ‘discover’ yourself by traveling through “third world” countries. Then come back home and face 20% real unemployment and start bleating about jobs being outsourced to “third world countries”.

    >”All this is just another manifestation of idol worship for the current folks who suffer from insuffiecient brain-growth and the lack of self-belief”

    One answer – Which countries originated the hit shows – “American Idol”,”Keeping with the Kardashians”, “World according to Paris” blah blah.

    >”No need to go too far; Just look at the relationship between males and females here in India. Ridden with MCP-attitude, male-ego, disguised dowry etc.”

    I think you are conflating civil liberties and law enforcement (common 3rd world problems) with MCP attitude. If sexual crimes, dowry and anti-discriminatory laws were strictly enforced, things will look far more different.
    As far as attitudes are concerned there are certain roles males and females have played in society for a long time across cultures mainly dictated by biology. It will take some time for the readjustment in the family structure as those limitations are removed by societal changes. However, there is no guarantee it will happen on the lines of US/Scandinavia in every country(Japan and Germany still have strong gender roles vis-a-vis work/life whereas many poor and oppressive communist countries did not). This is about average cases, delinquents will always exist and do crimes even when laws are effective.

  37. Its interesting how defensive Indians defensive when it comes to taking any criticism (remember Arundhati Roy?). And how proud when the American President says “India” 43 times in some random speech. Oh the unity in insecurity. Its kinda cute! Very Desi ;)

  38. GB,

    Going by Manu Joseph’s article, your post is likely to be called an NRI syndrome as Joseph begins the article by saying that India looks rosy to NRIs. Since you live outside India, what do you say about this?

    Still, Joseph’s last line: “There are happy Indian stories. As long as they are not fully told” shows that the author is too cynical and that makes the author biased to the negative. I wouldn’t take this article too seriously, esp. when it is an opinion piece devoid of basic facts. Yet NYT published it and that speaks for its credibility.

    Would love to hear what you think of the initial point.

  39. I meant NYT’s credibility. But also Joseph’s because he is an editor of a news magazine and hence a journalist, who should be balanced in his writings.

  40. The comment about India being a software giant -
    the point that Manu numbnuts is missing is that just because you are an American company does not necessarily mean that you are developing the software in America. It’s not plumbing for goodness sake.
    Wherever there is sufficient talent companies shall invest. Also India is taking its first steps towards innovation, and I can actually list a few softwares that are licensed into a lot of PCs which are “made in India” – but that does not give India an edge over others, cos Indian companies can set shop wherever there is enough talent to churn out those apps. A serious jerk this guy.

  41. Manu made an ass of himself by publishing a hatchet job on yoga by that ignorant quack Meera Nanda. The howlers were so many that a few rebuttals later Manu slunk away like a scalded cat. Manu is a bully who makes money by telling the world how washed up his relations look. He usually shutsup when he is given a tight verbal slap. I would have responded differently to this piece of trash, but you have done a good job anyway GB.

  42. maybe …just maybe..dont u think its reasonable not to rest on complacency and strive for excellence by actually hearing all criticism without getting defensive? when we get offended , mostly i feel, its becoz it has touched a raw nerve…what are so afraid of? Why are we becoming so sensitive?

    just wondering…

    love ur writing.

  43. I think people are being unnecessarily picky about this guy’s article. I would take any article on ‘India is the next superpower” or an article on ‘India is doomed” with a pinch of salt. Living in India I see some truths in his article like for e.g I find that it is mostly the NRI’s who seem to be more sensitive to criticisms of India. People who live in India see that things are not always perfect and take it for what it is worth.
    I also believe that things are not that hunky dory in India and that the growth rate may not be sustainable. However I think the problem is with the Indian Govt. and not the citizens or the fact that we lack innovation etc. Whatever Manu may say about the Giant back office blah blah, the truth is it has created many jobs and the spillover effect has been a flourishing private sector. The problem with India is that while we have very enterprising citiizens we are stuck with a third world Govt. (both ruling & opposition) who just doesn’t understand the meaning of Governance. Ordinary Indian citizens have been responsible for creating the India story and the growth but if the Govt. continues turning a blind eye to it and refuses to spend on infrastructure and other basic necessities and keeps indulging in Scams then it won’t be long before India becomes another has been. And its time all of us realize it.

  44. I hated Manu’s article, but i did not like this critique either. Instead of attacking the subject of the article, it resorts to the easier route of making fun/discrediting the author. Only a few tangential points of the article are dwelt upon in the critique, ignoring the basic premise.Not upto your usual standards is what i feel.

  45. @utsav

    I myself work in a “BPO”, and make decent enough money to have a good life. That was not my point; I worry that my job is tied to what is happening in US rather than what is happening in India.

    Secondly, a large part (note that I do not say all, so do not start giving me examples) of the off-shoring industry runs on exploitation, and I am not sure this will be sustainable in the future. Of course, it creates opportunities in the short term but the long term effects will soon be visible once the first batch of the BPO industry veterans turn 50.

  46. @Anindya

    “For example, when the US dollar fell to around Rs.40/dollar, Infosys had to introduce working Saturdays; enough said.”

    The above is not true.

    You may have been misled by the article. Infosys has not increased work hours, it has been like this for ages and that has nothing to do with dollar value.

    I am with Infosys so I should perhaps know this more than others :)

  47. “What Mr. Joseph does not understand (and he is not alone, many India critics make the same mistake) is that one can be a “software giant” without being a leader in innovation.”

    That is (part of) the point. No innovation really.

  48. Dialogue from the movie “Guru” – jab log tumhare bare me bura bolne lage…samajh lo tarakki kar rahe ho…

  49. The point isnt really whether manu is giving the foreign audience what they want. Its really whether he’s making valid points in his argument. And i for one think he is. Serious arguments can be made to show that india is really as shining and bright as has been made out to be in recent times.

  50. Technically, Joseph’s letters are published in The International Herald Tribune, which is the global edition of NYT.

    Given that NYT runs positive/objective stories on India diligently on a regular basis (such as the following story from AP today), it’s odd why they would entertain purely subjective pathological anti-India columnists whose writing is mostly with much self-aggrandizement (like Roy, Pankaj Mishra).

    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/07/02/world/asia/AP-AS-India-First-Light.html

    In a big article on Kashmir, Roy stressed on writing about how arrest-worthy/important target she is even though nobody cared about her presence. Joseph wrote a whole piece on Tendulkar scavenging on one sentence that the latter spoke to him.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/opinion/09roy.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/world/asia/17iht-letter17.html

    One good thing is that more they express, the less credible they become. Their observations are not necessarily off the mark, but their pathologies undermine their objectivity. If, as Joseph asserts, that there is nothing happy to report with honesty from India, are the happy NYT stories from India that keep appearing regularly dishonest?

  51. if manu joseph can write, i too can write.if GB can write a book, even my friend lallu halwaai can write a book

  52. Manu’s reasons are not valid, but he isn’t making an entirely wrong point. And @D, thanks for that NYTimes article. It echoes a lot of my thoughts. I moved back to India after living outside for several years, and this is exactly how I feel people on the streets behave; without any concern for anyone else. And the being economic superpower is just adding to the overall arrogance it seems.

  53. who cares about what someone says in some paper. we should use our own judgment. i have lived in bangalore for 14 years (moved from silicon valley) and live here around 8 months a year (rest in Tokyo).
    Resource wise – india is no worse than Japan. But what makes the difference is people’s behaviour. Just speaking from my urban experience, if we only respected laws (didn’t cheat on taxes, for instance), respected public property, obeyed traffic rules, somehow managed to remove petty corruption – our cities would be great.

  54. Truth is bitter, Arnab!

    Why do you guys hate people like Arundhati Roy or Manu Joseph or anyone who dissents?

    Personally, I may not agree with all the things Manu Joseph has written in the peice, but I think there is a lot of truth in the fact that India’s software story is all about back office jobs. The only people it has helped most is the middle class get good jobs and salaries, and some of them opportunities in western countries like yourself- They would have been working as clerks like Waghale in Waghle ki duniyan.

    There is no denying the fact, no matter how much your ignorance, that there is too much gap and concentration of opportunites with a few and the progress India is making as a contry is too less and insignificant to the peoples it comprises of, and their fundamental aspirations. (You net surfing,fancy restaurants dining, mall shoping, and Goa and Laddakh traveling urban middle class are just one tiny bit of that India)

    And it is not fair on you all with those opportunites to support (or try) covering the fundamental flaws of the society and systems and institutions because everything has been a honeymoon for you, instead of becoming the agents of change and hope.

    Gaurav

  55. i agree with gay rao singh on this. he and myself included, do not get equal opportunities as arnab and the rest of the middle class does.

    so we are not middle class and we dissent with everyone and we agree with arundhati and mamu joseph

  56. @Kallu Mochi

    Ha ha- That was a nice one- ‘gay rao singh’. That namecalling was aimed to degrade me by hitting below the belt and trying to show that I’m gay. Unfortunately I’m not a gay, but too bad that I’ve got an insight to your attitude towards gays. I urge you to change this attitude with the changing times. Along with your other biases and prejuidces.

  57. there is a lot of truth in the fact that India’s software story is all about back office jobs. The only people it has helped most is the middle class get good jobs and salaries
    While that is true, there is nothing wrong with it either, unless you contend that it would be better to not have an industry that helps the middle class get good jobs and salaries. Sure, it’s low value and its mostly back-office. And so is most of the s/w industry worldwide. The Googles and IBM Watson projects are exceptions even in the West.
    The funny part is the phrase “the only people”. One cannot seriously expect any one industry to provide employment to most of the people on its own. The s/w industry is contributing to some extent, we should be taking that as an encouragement to build up in other industry sectors rather than running it down because it helps only one set of people. This is the trouble in buying into Joseph’s analysis, because once you accept there is nothing impressive about it then there is nothing to learn from the example, nothing to take heart from it. That way lies defeatism.

    There is no denying the fact, … that there is too much gap and concentration of opportunites with a few and the progress India is making as a contry is too less and insignificant to the peoples it comprises of
    There is no denying that there is indeed a very large gap. Unfortunately, people tend to forget that such a large gap cannot be filled overnight. And the time required will further expand when the govt is in the pockets of the Ambanis and Tatas, as Manu Joseph’s own magazine revealed.

  58. @gay rao singh , i must tell you bro, i like mamu joseph and arundhati very much.

    And you and me don’t need attitude adjustment bro, these middle class Indians working in software back offices need that.

    i got a plan for you and me bro

    lets make mamu Joseph start his software company and you and me will make the company run like Google and Microsoft.

    and if the plan does not work bro , we will make arundhati the HR head and she will recruit naxalites and kashmiri freedom fighters for coding.

    These guys will do ground breaking research in computer science.

    India will get rid of the software back offices and the stupid Indian middle class will have no jobs.

  59. @Chiron

    Good points!

    My only concern is that it never happens- The gap keeps on increasing between the haves and the have nots.

  60. @Anindya

    Which part of the article talks about working during weekends? It only talks about increased working hours. What the article states is substantially different from your original claim. I would expect a honest person to acknowledge the error and retract his statement, instead of coming up with such clever-by-half “substantiation”.

  61. It must be pretty obvious to any person with common sense that Manu has been picking up facts selectively to prove his prejudiced thesis. The most obvious one is the comparison with Pakistan – he is quite right about many other third world countries experiencing fast growth during the days of easy money (2003-08). But what happened to most of these countries when the bubble burst? It has averaqed less than 3% since then. In contrast, India has managed to grow at >7% during the same period. And its not an accident that we have been able to maintain pretty strong growth over the last three years while most other economies are down in the dumps. As economists like to say, India is an excellent long term structural story led by strong domestic growth, increasing savings rate/capital formation, demography and the two most important differentiators among third world nations – a mature democratic political system (relatively speaking!) and a private sector with top class management/entrepreneurial talent. And all of the above, except the demography part, are outcomes of smart economic decision making and our social and cultural strengths that we can justifiably be proud of.

    A lot of comments here have already trashed his dismissal of the India IT story. I would just like to address one aspect which a few have raised in his defence (does that make them Manuwadis?). These people think that since the IT industry is just an outcome of “cheap” currency, it is not a sustainable model, and worse, it is somehow a less than honorable path towards economic development . Clearly a case of weak fundamentals, as Manu likes to say. First of all, it is not weak currency in the sense of the currency being artificially undervalued. It is a case of low standards of living which gets reflected in willingness to supply labor and goods at lower prices; a very natural economic phenomena and one that has kick started the process of economic development of many maor economic success stories – Japan, S. Korea and of relevance to India, China in recent decades. All these countries started with low-end manufacturing and steadily moved up the value chain. No reason why the India cannot repeat the same in IT. As many have pointed out, it is already happening at a steady pace though it will take a long time to come to fruition. In the meanwhile, the Indian IT sector is a resilient, robust, multi billion dollar sector providing solid value for money to at the low and medium end of the segment and well paid jobs to millions of people – claims which are easily substantiated by numbers. The industry has shown double digit growth in a recessionary period (2008 -10) and net margins of top IT companies are an impressively high 23-28%. That is irrefutable evidence of the terrific value proposition – obviously, at some point the competitive advantage will start to erode but it is silly to fear that this will vanish overnight.

  62. Do note that as much as we may want to rationalize why Joseph tries to sensationalize vacuous stories (ferreting out what cannot be written positively about India!), it is not an objective problem about misrepresented facts. (In fact, many of his opinions are shared by us all.)

    Joseph (I hope he is not another product of some Christian seminary in Kerala – recall Roy’s schooling in Corpus Christi) probably has a psychological deficiency due to senses of insecurity and inferiority (sometimes develops in minority youth).

    As can be seen from the excerpts below, quite unreasonably he makes sweeping generalizations about people with absolute certitude, which he thinks will provide his Western readers “India-Made-Easy” type insightful explanations. And he shares this uncanny pathology for generously dispersing gems of wisdom with the likes of Roy and Mishra.

    Perhaps the best thing for us readers to do is to psycho-analyze him as a clinical *subject* in return. Such condescension will negate his effort to self-aggrandize, reduce him into a banal blogger that he is, and make him humble.

    Excerpts –

    It might have appeared on Saturday that there is much that connects the different rungs of the Indian society and that cricket is the proof. But the truth is that cricket is the only manmade phenomenon that connects the nation’s upper classes with its vast masses. There is absolutely nothing else.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/world/asia/07iht-letter07.html

    That one sportsman could bring so much happiness to a whole nation is a consequence of the unsophisticated nature of collective poverty.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/world/asia/17iht-letter17.html

    …when a country’s tennis doubles players are national celebrities, as they are in India, you know that there is something wrong with its general sport talent.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/30/world/asia/30iht-letter30.html

  63. It appears that Manu Joseph’s condition has a technical name in psychiatry, it is called GCC, or Gunga Din Complex. It was first observed by Rudyard Kipling in 1892 that certain Indians who internally aspire to be white (“Sam Jaffe”) outwardly assume orthodox Hindu names (e.g. Manu, Arundhati, Gunga) to provide insider information about their native folk with the innate intent of betrayal, rejection of their own birth identity, and getting complimented hopefully as “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din”.

  64. It appears that Manu Joseph’s condition has a technical name in psychiatry, it is called GDC, or Gunga Din Complex. It was first observed by Rudyard Kipling in 1892 that certain Indians who internally aspire to be white (“Sam Jaffe”) outwardly assume orthodox Hindu names (e.g. Manu, Arundhati, Gunga) to provide insider information about their native folk with the innate intent of betrayal, rejection of their own birth identity, and getting complimented hopefully by a white man as “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunga_Din_(film)

  65. I was wondering when Manu Joseph’s religion would be brought into the mix as an indictment and cause of his “anti-nationalism”. And sure enough “Spy” provided the expected. :)

    The only strange thing was that so far the debate had avoided that particular route!

  66. It’s sad that a few people are ashamed of their origin. Mr. Joseph seems no different. He’s just another wannabe who thinks it’s cool to bad-mouth his own country.

  67. Interestingly, I am not tracing the origin of Joseph’s insecurity to any particular religion but to his probable minority status. Younger minority group-members are well known to harbour psychological insecurities all over the world. Religion, in addition, provides a dogmatic and historic foundation for this feeling of “I’m different/special” and hence I am targeted/a victim. This is clearly narrated in Roy’s own writing about being brought up by her (Malayali) Syrian Christian mom in the absence of her (Bengali) Hindu father.

    Below is a story from NYT today that some could construe as slightly negative on Indian social conservatism but obviously has an insightful true human subtext based on the great transformation going on in modern Indian lives that is captured and chronicled uniquely by NYT – no other news medium outside India has bothered nearly as much to chronicle these both fascinating and disruptive changes with due diligence and cost.

    NYT print edition – not greatly profitable – actually stations a team in India – this is something no other Western medium chooses to do – e.g. BBC recently shut down its Indian language services since it was too costly.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/04/technology/04piazza.html

  68. As a final thought, I do think there is merit in some of Joseph’s observations, which can spark re-thinking even among the Indian readers (such as his take on the bane of Indian quick-fix/short-cut approach, which we all know causes indiscipline, waste and callousness).

    However I hope Joseph will approach with objectivity and maturity that his complex subject (fast changing Indian societies) deserves. He ought to avoid making from-above sweeping generalizations with an aggrieved teenager-like “us versus them” attitude where the “us” comprises of Gunga Dins who can provide insider insights with their local backgrounds thus trying to help the rational West figure out the chaotic ways of the exotic natives.

    He should be humble enough to recall the premise of Western democracy that the collective complexity of many outweighs that of any single individual. And thus, explaining societies simplistically is only an expression of self-aggrandizement. If he forgets that basic premise, he risks being reduced to the platter of such silly writers as Roy and Mishra who are best served as fodder for psycho-analysis.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/world/asia/03iht-letter03.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/02/world/asia/02iht-currents02.html

  69. Manu Joseph through his article, reminds me of the servile Indian folk who prided themselves in serving the British and bending before them. Yes, there is plenty wrong with India, but that’s not new. Poverty, Population , Corruption have long existed. But there is a lot more positive happening now. Especially in the last 5 -10 years.

    Sports – We have started winning individual medals at Olympics. Better than nothing before. Bhupathi and Paes will be remembered as one of the top 5 doubles players in the history of the game. Paes is an overachiever – he won an individual Olympic Medal alongside Agassi. Cricket – we are the team to beat after having been on the losing side and having a defeatist attitude in the 80s and 90s.

    Software – Yes we are a giant. Yes 90% of time we are providing non-innovative service , but it is very akin to China providing cheap electronic product supply to US. However, arm-chair critics like Manu Joseph who lack exposure do not realize the rise of entrepreneurial activity as far as IT is concerned. Now you have angel investors and VC and PE firms hungry to fund India-made start-ups. We are not silicon valley yet, but a lot of bright talent is staying back in India and interested in developing modern-age solutions. US may be shooting itself in the foot by not encouraging immigration reform.

    However, thats not to say that India is doing well. It has a lot of real challenges which Manu Joseph did not address. Things like primary education, rural , agriculture and power sector reforms. Things where the government has to be responsible in ushering in the change.

  70. Nice article. Though I wonder – is this selling because this is what the Indian public wants to hear? :P (I guess I have too much of a talent for recursive commenting! He he…)

  71. Hi Arnab, I am writing probably for the first time in your page though I am following you for six years now. You dissection and analyses are simply superb. By the way, I was a great fan of your father’s method of teaching at IIMC, he used to explain complex economic theories in very simple manner that even a weak student like me would not only understand but also find them interesting.
    I read Manu Joseph’s post in NYT; apart from “weak fundamentals”=”lack of english language education” I did not find many things particularly hurting. But then that is my sensibilities. Keep up the good work! Waiting for your book…

  72. Most (Indian) readers would perhaps find fault with Joseph’s facts or style. But those are objective issues that are less useful here.

    We must pity this guy’s psychiatric difficulty. It is never the form or substance of his writing that betrays him as much as his pathologic unsettledness. Like a teenage blogger (or Ramanand Sagar in Ramayana) who badly seeks importance to counter his insecurity, Manu finds it too agitating to keep himself from entering into his stories.

    Here’s his pearl of wisdom today! It bears evidence clearly in the direction I pointed to earlier – the angst of a teenage boy who grew up as a religious minority and who understandably had wet dreams of his coveted neighbor Saritha Chechi whose forbidden fruit lay on the other side of the faith barrier. *$#@%&!!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/07/world/asia/07iht-letter07.html

    Also -
    http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/voices/the-importance-of-arundhati-roy

  73. India has been on a much higher growth trajectory than Pakistan at least in the last decade. Instead of going with readily available data, he chose to use a quote from some obscure source. This is cherry picking of data to suit his narrative.

  74. On the bourgeois poet, Mani uvacha,

    “The writer and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, who was yet another national figure who professed love for the common man but took to wearing Dumbledore’s gown to distinguish himself …”

    Manusmriti. 6/7/11.

  75. After targeting Tagore’s gown, I fear that in his next NYT piece Joseph may target the cassocks worn by Catholic bishops in Kerala and cast doubt on their professed love for the flock. That would be very disappointing – for my theory about his mental insecurity.

  76. Spy,

    Manu Joseph, like Suzanna Arundhati Roy, will not pick on their own ilk. They are merely brown-skinned cogs in an imperialistic, white-skinned wheel that has been spinning for centuries.

    And don’t get too upset with Manu Joseph. He is barely a fly on the tip of the colonial iceberg and he’s doing his job exactly as he has been told. :) The rest of the problem has been clearly outlined in this scholarly book:

    http://www.BreakingIndia.com

  77. @Arnab

    You have made this said article more popular by dedicating an entire blog, doesnt merit this kind of attention or debate. Just another writer(albeit a bad one) trying to draw attention of publishers with that by-now-stale-trick- of-India-Bashing.

  78. Having read the post and Manu Joesph’s article. I have to go with Arnab on this one.

    Manu’s article does sound condescending and having spent a considerable amount of time in the so called ‘back office’ i can say with confidence that Manu and his hotshot friend in gurgaon are wrong.

    There are enough and more stories of innovations in these back offices that have brought about significant profits for the very same westerners who might be manu’s target audience.

    Manu has lost the plot with that arguement about back offices and lack of innovation. There are enough and more innovations that happen in the back offices which have real transformative capabilities for businesses. hence the fact that the offshoring industry has only grown.

    today most offshoring organisations have already moved up the value chain picking up higher order services including research and analytics. call centers now are mostly services from other locations/countries such as Philippines

    So that settles the point there. And whoever that human resources executive was, he or she really ought to be fired.

    Here is my larger issue. So we celebrate the victories of our tennis doubles players. so we like to talk about our 8% growth or our back offices. How does that make us any lesser or any more worse than any other people in the world?

    I think it is about time people like Manu let go of their ‘secret shame’ of being indian. This is what we are. we are emotional we celebrate small victories when we have them and we will celebrate bigger victories when we have those too. we have our weaknesses yes…events that happened yesterday prove that. but it does not make us any lesser or poorer than who we are.

    Yes there are massive inqualities, yes there is a huge gap between the haves and the have nots. but I do not see the value that writers like Manu bring to the discourse if the writing is as amateur as this.

    At one level such poor writing would only point to the writer’s inability or unwillingness to explore the issues to sufficient depth. Not really the kind that should be writing for New York Times. But hey who I am to judge. I am just another hack in one of Manu’s swanky cowsheds

  79. ok just as a side:

    my personal friend here in aus (bong brahmin guy from NE india …couldnt resist “brahminical”) started up and owns own software dev company worth over hundreds of million

    no one helped him, has no bias hires all nationalities..develops cutting edge software for all kinds of global clients including major and i mean major US corporates

    hence end of the day always a desi doing the job

  80. For all his condescension Manu Joseph seems to have a point when he talks about lack of innovation in India. Narayanmurthy himself noted that the vast majority of software engineers in India are not employable. And we are still waiting for the Indian equivalents of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Kilby and Gordon Moore. In fact I completely agree with Joseph that when it comes to internationally renowned licensed software or novel Indian patents equivalent to those filed by Microsoft or Apple, we are anything but a “software giant” and much more of a service-providing back office.

    Where Joseph gets it wrong is in labeling this scenario as something to be ashamed of. It’s worth remembering that our IT industry got kick started only about fifteen years back or so. It takes time to gear up and get to a stage where true innovation can begin. And of course, even relatively humdrum jobs provide employment and boost the economy which can only be good things. If in twenty more years Joseph’s description still applies we can share his disappointment. But for now as they say, we need to be able to stand before we can sprint.

  81. Went through the article – I think what Manu said was bang on my money , I think there is a lot of jingoism going around and a little self analysis doesnt hurt – esp on the software part except for some companies most of India is a big back office -cant comment on the call center part though and yes we got richer because there was room for us to expand .The only intelligent thing we did was to open the doors and let the liberization wave come in – we have been riding it ever since .

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