Skip to main content

Suryanarayana & Other Fearless Indians

Two years ago, at a technology seminar in Bangalore, I got talking to a telecom engineer in his 40s. He worked with one of the bigger private telecom companies and was responsible for building and maintaining their fixed line infrastructure. As I look back, I would say he looked like a homely, south Indian man of the house, with a soft-spoken and gentle demeanour.

The kind of man who would work hard and well until 6 pm and then go home to his extended family in a house possibly built by his father or grand father in Malleswaram, the older part of Bangalore. And so we spoke, of the challenges of telecom infrastructure and the opportunities that were opening up. And the competition.

Then I asked him where he had worked before his present job. I presumed he had worked with a state-owned telecom company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam. I was right, he had. But then he said he was away in Africa for a couple of years before returning to his present job. Where was that, I asked, mildly. “Somalia,” he answered, with a sheepish smile.

Black Hawk Down

“What in the blazes was he doing there ?” I asked, visions of Black Hawk Down in Mogadishu fresh in my mind. “Well, laying a cellular phone network,” he said. “For whom,” I asked. “For one of the territories, under the control of one of the warlords.” This was amazing. I asked him whether it was simple as he made it sound. You know, rise in the morning, read papers, brush, have tea, shave, quick breakfast and off for work. “Well, not exactly,” he said.

He explained that you couldn’t be walking around on your own, you usually had the guards with you. Of course they belonged to the warlord your cellphone company owed allegiance to. “So you were walking around Somalia with gun-toting guards erecting cellphone towers ?” I asked. “Well, you could put it like that,” he said, as we sipped our coffee in the sedate ballroom of the Taj Westend in Bangalore. Somalia I discovered later had six cell phone companies and a state-of-the-art network.

Reading about the beheaded K Suryanarayana, I was reminded of my meeting with the telecom engineer, who I shall not name. Both seem similar in disposition. Suryanarayana actually quit a job at the privately owned Tata Teleservices to take up this assignment in the Middle East. Which in turn got him to Afghanistan. Where he was working on a longish assignment. One that was doomed to never return from.

Risk Vs Rewards

Its not that both these telecom engineers were not aware of the risks of working in these places. The money was obviously good, but not work risking death. And yet they were. They couldn’t be more middle class than you can get, with families. Though, reports allege Suryanarayana had more one than one family to look after. Be that as it may, the prospect of not returning home was high. Or in their god-fearing outlook of life, death wouldn't visit them unless fate commanded it. Wherever in the world.

I asked the Bangalore telecom engineer what made him take up the Somalia assignment. He said he wanted a project challenge. And somehow did not place too much emphasis on the risks that came with it. He sounded embarassed about it. I couldn't figure this one. I concluded, partly, that as always, India had failed its aspiring populace. Some aspired for money, some for challenges, some for sheer excitement of seeing the world. Their government jobs were deadening and numbing. Of course, for others, it was bliss.

So they moved out. The sad bit I thought was that they never would get a hero's welcome when they returned. Because they were not heroes in the taditional sense. And they were not exactly fighting for the flag. They would be treated with the same disdain most returning Indians are treated with, at the immigration counter. They wouldn’t mind either, waiting only to get to their homes, sometimes far away from the cities where they landed. This was just another job. Except for A Suryanarayana. Who never came back.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Aamir Khan Swing For Narmada ?

He is not the first celebrity to do so. But he’s turned out to be the most radical, activist Bollywood filmstar by far, all in day's least as far as my memory serves me.

The reasons why he would back the Narmada Bachao Aandolan
could be several. Ranging from the fact that a cousin associated with the movement influenced him to the fact that he was in and out of the Kutch for six months whilst the shooting of Lagaan.

Lets assume all that contributed significantly. Still, why join the protestors in the manner he did ? Why become a face for the movement ? Knowing well there could be consequences that may not be the most desirable.

Dammed If You Do..

To his credit, he did not buckle to the mob frenzy that followed his signing up a few days ago. Instead, he calmly called the attention of all and sundry and asked if these were really the politicians and political parties they wanted to be led by ? He even accused the political parties of trying to bully him.

There are those who de…

The Gatecrashers Of New Delhi Airport

Am traveling again, this time I pass through the hallowed gates of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport. If you want to showcase how Incredible India is, this is the classic one. And it makes me wonder whether the ownership really transferred into private hands. Anyway, the experience kicks off nice and early as I drive up the incline. A long traffic jam has developed. My driver alternately jams the accelerator and brakes to stay in one place. And its raining heavily.

The airport is packed with people, even more than Mumbai and Hyderabad airports, whose vast collections of crowds usually amaze me. Like all other airports in India, roughly 95% of the folks who visit the airport ain’t going anywhere. They are here to see off the other 5%, or is it 2% in New Delhi. Most of them travel very long distances.

Passengers like me are a hopeless minority. In every way possible. For a moment I thought I would give up and return, so challenging did the task of entering the terminal appear. T…

Emigration Clearance Required For China, You Must be Joking !

A few months ago, while checking in for a flight to Dubai, I was told by the counter girl that she would not check me in. The reason was that my passport did not have a ECNR stamp (supposed to be given to any genuine 12th standard student or graduate from an Indian university).

The matter escalated to the immigration manager who hemmed, hawed, expressed much disappointment in educated people not being aware of the law and after much haranguing, gave me a temporary clearance. This, after I, brandished copies of my IT returns (I was forewarned about the hurdle at immigration since the ticket was bought just a day before), pointed out that I was not likely to work as a driver with a sheikh or a menial worker whose passport might get confiscated and my work was only for two days (do see my tickets). So, he or the Government of India did not have to worry about `protecting’ me from being sold for cheap in the middle eastern job market.

It was half an hour to go and the aircraft doors were …