Thursday, November 10, 2011


When I see people come on T.V. and talk excitedly about the various jobs that they are doing, I tend to ask myself if I would have liked to spend my day doing similar things and the answer would invariably be negative. For example, this type of job will bore me in no time (not the genome sequencing part - that may be interesting.) Many people remind me of the soldier in the marching band whose mother shouts out, 'There goes my boy - he is the only one in step.'

Sometime back, a classmate of mine at IIMA, Rashmi Bansal gave me her latest book I Have A Dream, It was the first book about the business world that I was reading in many years. (It is not strictly about business. It is about many entrepreneurs who work in the social sector. Anyway it is very different from the kinds of topics that I had been reading about for the past few years.) As is my wont, I frequently asked myself whether I would have liked to be in the entrepreneurs' shoes and the answer always was 'No'. I would have felt overwhelmed by the challenges that the entrepreneurs faced and would have quickly given up.

Perhaps I have got used to my slothful existence and reading whatever catches my fancy. As this song says,'Na naukri ki chinta, na roti ki fikar...' Of course I do feel sometimes that I am being an enormous burden for other people although no one has ever said so. I get out of this hole by thinking that I will not help anybody by wallowing in self-pity. As Bertie Wooster would have put the cliché, what cannot be c must be e.

I listen with a quiet smile to glowing accounts of the seduction routines that most corporates put on show for new recruits. Talks of multiplexes, shopping malls, grooming accessories etc. will be rather uninteresting and I will think that people are wasting their time on kiddish stuff. (But I will be psyched by this kid. At that age I would not have started on Enid Blyton.) Perhaps it is all an elaborate rationalisation on my part to hide my envy. Whatever it is, it works.

Actually, since I became interested in reading about evolution, I become interested in jobs connected to it or in related areas like ecology or biogeography and most other jobs seem boring in comparison. (But not if it involves squeezing through narrow gaps.) Not surprisingly, the project that caught my eye in Rashmi's book was Project Chilika for cultivating seaweeds started by a marine biologist, Dinabandu Sahoo. I was interested to learn that he was part of an international team for deliberating on the problem of ocean acidification which I had read about some months ago.

Another project that caught my eye was Super 30 because I had seen a program about it on Discovery Channel. I was also interested to read about Prof. Trilochan Sastry, who joined IIMA as a professor when I was a student there. I didn't know that he had done some remarkable things (while also running a couple of NGOs and carrying out his professorial duties).

There were many tales of struggle and deprivation in the book but none more hair-raising than the one related by Anshu Gupta of Goonj:
Given the lack of excitement in his career, Anshu was getting his 'kick' from other sources. And that story started in 1992, when he wrote a moving piece for Hindi newspaper "Saptahik Hindustan".

"I was a new journalist so I went to old Delhi to look for a story. There I see a rickshaw, and on that were the words 'Delhi police corpse carrier'. So I wrote about this man whose job was to pick up unclaimed dead bodies from the roadside."

The man received Rs.20 for every body he brought in, and a piece of white cloth. Two things he said really shook Anshu; in fact they haunted him for a long time.

The corpse carrier remarked, 'In the winter business is good, sometimes there is so much work that I can't handle it.'

And his five-year-old daughter added, 'When I feel cold, I cuddle a dead body and go to sleep'.
I kept thinking how lucky I had been at most stages of my life. I didn't have the luxuries but I never had to struggle for the necessities or the educational opportunities which cannot be said for the people among whom these entrepreneurs work. I should guard against falling into the trap of privilege blindness. John Rawls also has some points to ponder.

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