Thursday, December 27, 2007

Adieu Benazir

She was the second woman politician I recognised, the first one being Indira Gandhi. She had just become the Pakistani Prime Minister, in 1988. The pages of India Today familiarised her face to me. As a four-year-old boy then, she was the one among the three faces I could recollect. (The other two were Phoolan Devi and Madhuri Dixit!)

What made me remember was her surname. It appeared pretty for me then. As the calendars changed, the name became more familiar.

The next big thing about her was the large black & white photo in Mathrubhoomi. It was her second term as the Prime Minister. I was in third standard then.

By the time I joined my high school classes, I had garnered considerable knowledge on this lady. Her foreign education, how her father was killed, the number of her supporters in a male-dominated Muslim country... all were more-than-interesting facts.

But then, she also acquired another status in my mind: Corrupt.

It was 1999, Nawaz Sharif was in power. Corruption cases against her featured regularly in the international pages of local dailies. The Vajpayee-Sharif peace movement had increased my esteem for the Pakistani premier. Benazir and her husband had fled Pakistan to avoid prosecution. Soon, Musharraf came and stole the headlines. I had left high school by then.

She was almost pushed into the corners of my memory.

She gained back the prime slot, only after seven long years. I was no more a student, but a man on his own. She was trying to forge an alliance with the deported Sharif to combat the General. Opportunistic politician, my mind muttered.

However, that plan never took off. Then she chose the General as her ally.
After eight years of exile life, she dared to return to Pakistan last October, only to be welcomed by the blood of her 139 supporters.

Still, she couldn’t regain the charisma she once had in my mind. And today, a sudden panic in the news desk gave away the news.
She was assassinated!

I went up to see the television, it showed her death as breaking news. I was walking back when I saw a computer screen with the Reuters update saying that she was hurt badly, not dead.

In my computer, a Bloomberg copy updated 25 minutes ago was showing that she had escaped unhurt.

That ignited a hope in my mind: What if she escaped?

But she had indeed gone. Another memory. Adieu Benazir.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Job: Through different eyes

Brigadier (remember?) got his first job last week. And Thomman filed his second resignation the week before. He will join his new firm next month. Everyone in our ‘Editors-n-Engineers’ house, except Brigu, is now one-resignation old. Even Raku, who has completed only five months in the city, has filed a resignation. He is on his second job now.

Just 18 months into profession, and this is my second job. For Thomman, it’s third.
Last May, I had made a trip to Gujarat to attend my vallyachan’s (uncle, paternal, elder) 60th birthday. It was also his retirement day. A central government employee, he had spent his entire career in Western Railways. A career spanning almost four decades! He ate, drank and slept as per the railway timetable.

And there was a great gathering in his house. His friends in the railways, and a good number of north-settled Malayalee families; all of them who left home to make a life, just like the several thousand youth of their time, and mine.

He had left home during the 60’s. At his youth, he had achieved what every person of his age craved for: A respectable government job. His was all the more great because he was a Central government employee, and he earned it on his own. Other than my father and my younger aunt, all members of the clan were government employees.

By the time I was in the kindergarten, they were all employed. I still remember the day Unni maman (uncle, maternal, younger) got his first salary. Everyone back home was happy. Being a clerk in a state government department, the day he counted that few thousands was his happiest in many years.

Revolutionary ideals harboured in his head during the restless 70’s and 80’s. But now, he had achieved what scores of middle-class Indians crave for: A government job. A job in a public-sector bank commanded the next grade of respect.

Business, in our small locality, meant shops. Those who made big were the cashew exporter families. You have to born big to make it big. Rare exceptions were the NRI elite, the ones among the hundreds of ‘gulfees’ who made the extra buck with that stroke of luck pushed by the right deeds at the right time.

Persian Gulf, even after the Iraq attack on Kuwait, was a tempting job hub. Conversion offered a never-before-seen advantage. Saving a dinner worth 10 dirhams or 5 dinars and sending it home as Rs 120 was the routine of the blue-collar Malayalees there. Manage to get a white-collar job, and your finance is secured! My father had joined the fray in mid-80’s, even Unni maman took a long leave and left for Dubai.

But government jobs still commanded the highest grade of social respect and financial security. Even the privatisation boom in the 90’s could not harm its reputation much.

Then came the Y2K, followed by the IT boom. IT jobs came had an attractive wrapper of swanky offices, hefty pay packages and a reputation that was far more attractive for the cable-TV-fed net-savvy generation in comparison with the seemingly mundane government job. Demand for engineering courses multiplied by the minute, so did the number of self-financing engineering colleges.

The personality, pace and pay of work underwent drastic changes. Stipulated work hours gave way to ‘leave-when-you-finish-the-project’ schedule. Permanence gave way to contracts. HR guys became trained authorities specialising in veiled lies. All this had a deep impact in the human resource policies of the private corporate sector.

I got my first job in June 2006. By next May, I was planning to quit. It was then that I took the train to attend vallyachan’s birthday-cum-retirement party. Two of his counterparts were also retiring. The send-off party held at the railway conference hall near Mumbai Central Railway station was a gathering of many who were virtually wedded to the department, and maybe the post they held.

Why do I feel that they are the last of their kind?