Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The accursed generation


Seldom do you meet a man who's as humble and unassuming as Suresh Chandrasekaran, One of the best that blogosphere has to offer, his language is graceful, humour understated and he always has something substantive to say. There's no way you can skip through a C.Suresh post. Such is his grasp of the language and subject that he holds your attention till the last sentence. An IIM graduate, he gave up the lure of the corporate world, to pursue his heart's calling, a path very few will dare to tread. His many fans rightly believe that it was Life is LIke this that deserved to win Indian Blogger Award for the best blog in the humour category.

In this post, Suresh talks about his encounters with the exotic PC and prays for an escape button for a generation enslaved to this digital monster.

A-P-P-L-E --- Apple; B-O-Y --- Boy……

“Yes, Teacher”

There we were sitting deferentially at the feet – metaphorically or literally depending on your school – of the teacher, who was the repository of knowledge that you did not possess. Faintly at the back of your mind is a glimmer of hope that, someday, you would be the font of knowledge from whom those younger than you would drink even if you did not choose the teaching profession.

Now that you have been through the education mill with straight “A’s (All Right already! Mainly “C”s and a smattering of “B”s if you want to be THAT literal about it) and come into the ripeness of years, you will at last occupy the seat of wisdom – or so you think.

H-V --- Have; G-R-8 --- Great ……

Uhoh! Every generation up to now has reached a time when it teaches after having been taught. I belong to, probably, the only one that started off learning from the old and now has to be a student of the young. Great …umm.. I mean gr8. Sorry, Teacher!

I blame it all on that thing that we used to call the computer. I still cannot bring myself to call it with all those pet names that the young use for it – as though it were a friend, boon companion or alter ego. The scars of my early run-ins with that thing are still fresh in my mind.
 


I remember vividly the day I was standing in a long queue of nervous college boys clutching in my damp hands the offerings for what seemed to be a tribal god’s shrine. All those rumours about being fed to the god if your offerings were rejected could not be true, could they? I check with my neighbour and he adds to my misery with bloodcurdling tales of new-born babies being sacrificed on moonless nights to propitiate the god. With dragging feet I approach the sanctum sanctorum, remove my shoes, genuflect reverently and enter the temple with trepidation. The acolyte – they call him Computer technician, the acronym IT having not been invented yet - holds out an imperious hand.

“Give me the punch cards”

I hand over my offerings with a nervous prayer.

“There is some error. Your program does not work. Go”

I swallow nervously. “Can I, really?”

I breathe a gusty sigh of relief and joyously exit having escaped being chewed up by the god, only to be chewed up by my professor.

Once you have seen something as a fearsome deity, it is difficult to get on pally terms with it. The next encounter at my office, though, was with a much less awesome entity. It squatted on a table just like one of the boys and one could directly hold a conversation with it using a keyboard. (Mice were still things that evoked shrieks and not pets to be cuddled, yet)

The first encounter, however, sufficed to let me know that the tribal god may have lost its size but none of its temper. My very first attempt to get pally was rebuffed disdainfully with a “Bad Command or Filename” and an angry bilious glare. In the manner of gods who only helped those who helped themselves, it did not even deign to specify whether the Command or the filename was bad. (If you, perchance, are thinking that I was alone in my generation with this deity fixation then let me disabuse you. There was this lady who was similarly rebuffed when she gave a command “Save” and, thinking that the deity was furious with the lack of politeness, she typed in “Please Save”)

The other god-like attribute was the habit of entering into deep meditative trances – ‘hanging’ was the approved religious term – in the middle of a conversation. You were left wondering whether it was advisable to attempt waking it up and, if so, how to go about doing it. The traditionally approved method was to have some lovely dancing girls to `disturb the trance. Much as it would have enlivened the office atmosphere, you were handicapped by the fact that you did not know where to get some not to mention that you could find better uses for them than to propitiate a cantankerous deity. (In deference to my hostess here I really thought of having dancing men and a female deity but the problem is that I have an unreasonable aversion to having my house stoned and my effigies burnt for having insulted our goddesses)

As though it were not sufficient to have the deity’s inconsistency, you had your bosses with their own weird ideas of the computer. It was common for my boss to hand over a humungous amount of work to be finished by the evening with a dismissive, “After all you only have to do it on the computer”. I generally left his room feeling that he thought I was Aladdin, the computer was a genie and all I had to do was to go to it and say, “Fetch” and the job was done. No-one who has not been sandwiched between a boss, who thought of you as something akin to a dog-trainer, and a Computer, which acted like a deity even if was really not one, can realize that absolute pitch of furious resentment.

Now, of course, that tribal deity of mine has spawned an entire population of its monstrous offspring – PCs, Laptops, Tablets, and Smart Phones - and taken over everything. Why, even the language we write has changed causing me to go back to Kindergarten all over again.

The supreme irony is that I cannot even find a shoulder to cry about the calamity that has overtaken my generation without the help of this monstrous species. Mine is a truly accursed generation, which can neither ignore this species nor ever forget the fear that it once inspired. Spare us a tear as you move the cursor over to the “Like’ button!

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47 comments:

  1. Crisp is the word which I will want to use for this post. Hits the right notes, flows well. Apt copy! Good work!

    Regards

    prassad.rs@gmail.com

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  2. Purba! That was too kind of you. It is a rare person that will say what you have said. Yours was a deserved winner in the humor category.

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    1. It takes two to be part of a mutual admiration society.

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  3. Poor you, though I'd attribute this new kind of language to the advent of the 140 character limits imposed on SMS and the increasing need for speed in the youth of the nation, I can sympathize with you over the behaviour your computer deities showered on you. Wit, personal experience and good language fuse to make a mighty good combination, as this.

    Cheers,
    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. Thanks Aesthete and I sure hope that the last line does not count as blasphemy :) Actually all of that arises out of the microchip - so siblings all :)

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    2. Say thank you to Brattain and Bardeen then :)

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  4. "Spare us a tear as you move the cursor over to the “Like’ button!" - Spared a tear for you, Suresh. But one which rolls down between gut-wrenching bouts of laughter and girly giggles. Wonderful post. When the 2 super humour bloggers "meet", what do you expect? :)

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    1. Thanks Sakshi - particularly for the laughs :) The most I thought I normally evoked was a smile.

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  5. Interesting experiences, Suresh. You didn't add how later you did befriend your nemesis after you quit the job and how your best friend keeps you worried with its bad health and your fears he would die in your arms. (Or is it already dead?)

    Great initiative - inviting Suresh over, Purba.

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    1. I still handle the damn thing gingerly TF - yet to convince myself that it shall not open the third eye some day :)

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  6. hehe You have my empathy, Suresh! I can not relate to your experience though ;). Even my father has befriended this fuzzy creature and its offspring :). So, did you eventually buy a laptop after your PC died on you? Fun post this, Suresh! And good of you Purba to invite him over.

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    1. I did get a laptop and I am using that now :) Thanks Rachna!

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  7. My problem was open and close ... you opened a new file, you worked on it and then it stayed there on your screen until you closed it. I mean, if a thing is as intelligent as a computer is supposed to be, it should auto-shut shouldn't it, once it realized that the work is done. Don't blame me, blame it on door closers and autoshut devices

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    1. Mine was between :) Opens and then does not do a thing except blink at me :)

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  8. Suresh, you are a past master of gentle, self-deprecating humour. What I didn't realise though that you had a coloured past with computers too! Man, you date back to punch cards?!

    I can so identify with all those IBM PC reprimands, however. Remember Eddy lives somewhere in time? And to tell you the truth, this is what I have to say to the Gr8 Matrix GenX:

    'Bad command or filename'

    ps: That is an apt introduction by Purba.

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    1. And before Punch cards, Uma :) You can never realize the problems of the first time computer user caught between bosses who had no idea how it worked and thus thought of it as some magic-worker and subordinates who were weaned on them and think of you as an incompetent who has somehow worked his way to their boss' seat :)

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  9. Fortunately the calamity which has overtaken us has its advantages too. Gr8 post, subtle wit, striking prose and easy flow. It's a pleasure to read your post on Purba's blog.

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    1. Thanks Alka! Hmm every cloud has its silver lining but I oft wonder whether it is worth having a cloud merely because it has one :) In other words, I would have preferred being in the next generation :)

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  10. I started smiling at the first mention of the Tribal Deity and haven't stopped since :) Although I am not old enough to have used punch cards with computers, I do belong to the pre-mouse generation and could completely relate to the 'Bad command or filename' joke.

    Awesome post.

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    1. Thanks Mahabore! Bill Gates did not bother to be polite, did he? :)

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  11. This was like going back through the Time machine as very similar memories of having worked on humongous DEC 10 and VAX 11 computer to the present day smart phones perhaps more powerful and easy to operate! Lovely flow of thoughts and adorable post! BTW learning is never ending so it is Gr8 to b gud wid new vocabulary to rub shoulders of GenY:)

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    1. It was the VAX that rejected my offerings :) Learning for me sort of stopped even before I hit college :)

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  12. Entertaining as usual.It is true -this computer drives you crazy before making you literate( according to present perceptions).I am still struggling with it.Sometimes i win and sometimes the deity.

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    1. The deity wins almost every time when I approach it :)

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  13. Hi Suresh
    I entered college thinking that like telephone calls emails sent abroad would be very expensive hi hi . U are right about bosses, they fail to remember that it's not magic . I have worked in IT before and with the arrival of these stupid smart phones some customers thought that all backend code was as simple as moving your finger across the phone screen ! Phew ! They still teach proper English in KG , God knows for what

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    1. I was in Finance Jaish - made it damned difficult with bosses who knew nothing whatever about Computers and thought doing anything on it was child's play if only you knew the magic words :)

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  14. wonderful :) The end is brilliant :) Truly said by Suresh that the generation is truly accursed one.

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    1. Thanks Saurabh! Did you spare a tear? :)

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  15. You have no idea how relieved I am! Being a student of literature, I always felt like a second class citizen in the computer savvy world. I still sit in front of the "deity" with much trepidation hoping I'll not send the wrong stuff to the wrong places. Loved reading it as always!

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    1. Thanks Ialkshee! Glad to meet fellow-sufferers :) Misery loves company :)

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  16. I loved the reference to the dancing girls hilarious...I even imagined a few Apasaras dancing around a 486 :P This was hilarious...

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  17. Hahahhahh! This was funny because it reminded me of a conversation I had with my first Manager many years ago. Apparently, when he was just a young kid at his first job, his boss took him computer shopping. At the time, "computers" were simple deities - all they comprised was a monitor, a keyboard and a box in the middle. So, after going through all the wonderful ways that this deity could transform the boss' life, the conversation eventually came to price. Unfortunately, the figure quoted for this magical genie was way too high to make it sound even remotely close to reasonable. That led this boss, in his infinite wisdom, to start haggling. He points to the monitor and the keyboard and says - "But I really just want these two things. Tell me the price without the box."

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    1. Hahaha! That way he would have got a quiescent deity :)

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  18. I remember the time when I used those football field sized floppy drives. I should have donated them to a museum. And the sound that my computer made while connecting to the internet could have put Leone to shame. :)
    A very nostalgic post.

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    1. I started out having to lug floppies with the operating system and software on them - with a penchant for getting corrupted at the most inappropriate times. Yes - the 8086 was my first attempt at directly working with a PC and the hard disk was the greatest innovation known to man when it came :)

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  19. I can imagine! The pace with which technology especially computers has overtaken this generation is crazy! And with it, as you rightly said, the mess that it has made of language and communication! Gosh, am so fed up of the SMS talk! BTW, don't get too comfortable around your laptop - in a couple of months, you might have to learn to operate a whole new set of programs again :D

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    1. Windows 8 is pain enough for me to handle :)

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  20. Love the humorous way you string words together, CS. Lovely post. The bit about having to learn from the previous and next generations really resonated with me.

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    1. To be treated as an ignoramus by every generation is a pain reserved for this generation :)

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  21. Classic!

    Reminds me of my first encounter with this mystical beast (or Deity) in college 24 years back.

    There were 70 of us in the class and one single computer in the lab. It was so crowded that I did not even get to look at it and eventually gave up and went to the canteen to do more important things. Needless to say I never got acquaintanted with this thing. But while I was there for a few minutes, I could hear my classmates mumble words like "compiling", "feeding data" etc and one thing I gathered was that you had to do something first (I had not figured what compiled was at that time) before you feed this beast some sort of data to keep it happy.

    Another thing I noticed was that people were talking (via the keyboard of course) to this beast with the CAPS lock ON. Only later did I find out that it was the computer language FORTRAN.

    When I had my 7th semester exam and had to write a program to add numbers from 1 to 10, this need to write in capital letters came in handy since I could clearly see what my friend sitting diagonally opposite, who knew what he was doing, write the fortran code. So there I was typing "FOR I:=1...I:=10" without even understanding what I was copying :) And to think that today I earn my livelihood by feeding this beast anything it needs :)

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    1. Ah! Don't remind me of my COBOL exam at IIM, which I tried to crack by opening the brand new book the day before the exam as I did with all other subjects. Unlike FORTRAN programs, COBOL programs cannot even be readily copied from the next guy considering that it takes 400 lines of code in COBOL for every one line in FORTRAN :)

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  22. I date back pretty far back too as re computers but not as far back as you. I have worked on CP/M OpSys. COBOL and FORTRAN were the languages I worked on before moving to BASIC. Pascal and C came later and C++ the last. I got out of the field with a brief skirmish with Java.

    Oh those were good old days. It was almost fun to have the COBOL compiler grimly accuse you of having made 346 errors simply because you missed one blessed period in one of the verbose 3 line statements!

    I hate the modern spellings. Gr8 indeed! Bah!

    Dagny

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    1. Tell me all about it - COBOL :) It was COBOL that put me off IT and made me shift to Finance while at IIM :)

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  23. The Deity is taking over !! Loved it made me shed a tear of joy for you :). I remember the BASIC days in our school lab when all of us used to make concentric circles from it (by copying :P).

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