U. Mahesh Prabhu

Investor | Author | Media, Management & Political Consultant

The Wrong Precedent

GossipIt was a usual GSB wedding ceremony in Udupi, but it was my first attendance at a wedding since seven years. I hate attending wedding ceremonies for a very simply reason that I hate gossips. ‘Who are you?’, ‘What’s your Fathers name?’, ‘What are you doing these days’ (employment they mean), ‘Are you married? When are you getting married? Any girl friends’, these are the sort questions that I hate answering especially when they come in the order I just mentioned. It’s, somehow, embarrassing for me. But because it is natural I don’t criticize it. That’s because, even if you don’t like things the way they are, I don’t think it you should start condemning them.

However let me tell you something about the marriage proceedings. It was my cousin’s wedding. He has been serving as a doctor in Great Britain for over two years. His fiancée, now his proud wife, had just completed Post Graduate in Journalism. Bride as well as groom, hailed from a highly educated family and fashion and glamour of the west were fairly visible among the masses present at the wedding, through they wore reasonably good cultural clothes.

The way I see it is that although my community has been greatly influenced by the western world and education it has yet to lose its traditional tryst with gossips and I believe it never will – come what may! And I think that’s right – that’s my community’s very unique distinction, its defining characteristic to be precise.

As I had not been on the scene for quite a few years now… every one was queuing up for what I would like to call ‘Interrogation Session’. They wanted to know my whereabouts. And why shouldn’t they? They have every right to know, now that I am in their realm. If I am not mistaken I must have had answered over 123 questions. However, there was a relative of mine who had very recently completed his education in Engineering. He was indeed a bright chap and had scored well with a first class mechanical engineering degree. For some reason he wasn’t able to get into a good company, and he resisted the temptation of joining a silly company and instead was trying for a seat on an MBA course in various management institutes.

He, perhaps, had a worse time than I had. I was quietly watching those silly questions being thrown at him. ‘What are you doing?’, ‘Didn’t you get into Infosys?’, ‘Why not Wipro?’, ‘How much was your percentage?’, ‘You know my nephews sisters grandson has got into Infosys? He had really struggled hard for gaining that success.’ Many had something similar to say, like the last one: ‘Oh, very bad… you see why you don’t try abroad? There are some good avenues available for engineers in US, UK, Dubai etc. Perhaps even Kenya or Zambia would suit you fine.”

Those are, at least for me, extremely saddening statements or questions rather. They are indeed discouraging. I feel sad as to how be working for Infosys or Wipro has now become a ‘Success’ in itself. A simple software customization service provider hardly demonstrates any great innovation. Frankly speaking today are doing no more than providing manpower for the American conglomerates. Yes, their success indeed is stunning and my hats off to them. I have no doubt that they have achieved something commendable. But how could one call working for those companies a matter of ‘Success’? This is a sort of hysteria that has taken root in the minds of many literate, mind you not illiterate, communities in and around Mangalore, not simply in the GSB community.

Somewhere during 1990’s Infosys’s now Mentor, and then Chairman and CEO, Narayana Murthy offered ESOP (Employment Stock Option Plans) to his fellow employees. Simply speaking ESOP is a way shares of the company are given to employees for them to retain on a long term basis under a sort of an illusion that they were now [partial] owners of the company.

Murthy was so passionate about the plan that he even gave shares in the company to his chauffeur. Eventually during the 1998’s stock market boom the Infosys, as well as other IT companies’, share soared to phenomenal heights. Each share with face value of INR 10 was by then worth at Rs15000 or so. During this time those employees, who owned the shares, sold them to make a fortune for themselves. Overnight they became millionaires! People from this place called Mangalore, began buying symbols of richness like bungalows, cars and many more.

Not knowing how these Infosys employed made so much cash; local people began thinking that working with Infosys would instantaneously yield plenty of money. Then began, what I would like to call, the ‘Mad-Mad’ run of our fellow parents to push their children to study hard and ensure that they got into engineering. All they wanted at the end was that their son/daughter got to work for Infosys. The engineering colleges were overwhelmed by the excessive number of applications for admission.

E&C and Computer Science were two branches of Engineering where people were willing to mortgage their whole property, for raising money, to ensure their child got the seat in E&C or Computer Science at whatever the cost. Incidentally, or accidentally, some percentage of the population did well in their studies and even secured employment in those companies. Others who failed either worked with some companies in Bangalore or they went abroad. They also left to escape embarrassing comments like my mechanical engineer cousin had to face. After all how much can you stand when questions, like the ones I just mentioned, being asked to you? Considering this don’t you think that this is silly thing? Indeed it is, trust me! There is a very good saying ‘Those who follow the crowd should understand that the crowd would never follow them’.

I am not trying to condemn those IT companies or those wonderful and, of course, intelligent people working for them. But all that I am trying to say is: don’t discourage your kids or the kids of your friends if they aren’t able to make it to a specific subject of engineering or a said company. Let me `try and convince’ such parents, to support their kids to pursue other profession. After all IT is not the only thing. You can make your mark in dozen/hundreds of other professions. Mangalore has been home to some of the finest journalists like M V Kamath, scientists like U R Rao, eminent administrators like Dr. T M A Pai, and bankers like the late Haji Abdullah Saheb and many others. We have a diverse pool of talent; let’s focus the younger generation’s energies where they have talent and not just where there is money or where you want them to be.

And there’s one more request that I wish to make, to all our parents, and that is that let’s not think of the talent present in your kids only as a commodity. We make it a commodity when we educate our kids and push them outside the place, from where they have been born or brought up. This is one of the few, but important, bad precedent we have set. It certainly needs to be changed.

U. Mahesh Prabhu | indiamahesh@gmail.com | September 1, 2007

Author | Investor | Painter | Media, Management & Political Consultant

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