Thursday, January 15, 2009

Treading Egg Shells

A few weeks ago when the Satyam scandal was just breaking on the airwaves in India, my dad called in at work to check how I was doing. I could not make the connection and was really perplexed. Apparently other desis like myself who are also completely unrelated to Satyam had received similar inquiries from home. I figure this is our national malaise of treading on egg-shells, manifesting itself in a time of crisis.

We realize the truth about how government and corporations run in India, is often unpalatable but we don't necessarily want to have our dirty linen washed and aired in public. Home and abroad, desis have benefited enormously from the companies like Infosys, TCS, Wipro and yes Satyam. They have swank campuses, state of the art technology, armies of English-speaking technology workers and international presence.

Together they form the fancy facade behind which we gather as a people while projecting ourselves to the world outside. They act as a shield and barrier against ugliness that would have otherwise been impossible to hide. When a company (or any other entity) has the ability to elevate the stature of a country abroad, it becomes a de-facto holy cow in India. This one took a slaughtering and naturally there was collective dismay and disbelief.

What now ? Who is next in line ? Is this the beginning of a systemic collapse of the IT industry in India ? Is this Satyam business going to affect anyone close to me ? Naturally rumors were flying thick and fast and Ramalinga Raju was being made into this larger than life demon who played havoc with the lives and livelihoods of millions of innocents. It is like those fairy tales where the charming prince is suddenly transformed into a toad or worse an alligator with a nasty bite. As with fairy tales there are no shades of gray to this whole business - it is all black or white.

If this goes the way most headline news does in India, in a few days the Satyam story would have receded to the middle or end of the news papers. The talking heads would cease their collective hand-wringing and fulmination, the public would have found other issues to focus on - God knows there is no lack of burning issues in India at any given time. In the meanwhile, Raju et al would have gone into hibernation.

Once this has all faded from the public memory - which should not be too long considering we would be only too eager and anxious to see our pretty facade restored - he could be back in the action with a new name and legal entity for his company. This as we all know, is a tried and tested recipe home and abroad. He might want to steer clear of obvious giveaways like palindromes and such.

We the desi people for our part, can just pretend that all this never happened - toads have been known to turn right back into charming princes after all. Closer home, legend has it that Ratnakar became Valmiki - clearly we have a fine and long standing tradition of turning over a new leaf.

A few hefty fines, some high-voltage court-room drama and a dash of public humiliation would go a long way in easing this transition. A Ram Gopal Verma tell-all flick can only help. With all that taken care of, we could be sure that Raju has had his comeuppance and was going into this brand new venture full of contriteness and nothing but absolute moral uprightness to guide all his actions in the future.


Anonymous said...

"We realize the truth about how government and corporations run in India, is often unpalatable "

I dont think this is an India specific problem. Im sure you are aware of scams which are 10 times bigger than the Satyam scam, that happened in the US. But somehow it fails to catch your attention.

Heartcrossings said...

Anon - In India the scams big and small are pervasive and their tentacles spread to every crevice of society. Which is why the nice facade is so important. You don't want to open the larger can of worms and undermine the prospects of your country which depends on outsiders feeling safe about their where they are investing.

Of course much bigger scams are happening in the US and around the developed world but the difference is twofold

a) There are some areas of public life in these countries that are quite scam-free

b) The perpetrators have far greater hubris which effects the way the rest of the population views it.

When Indian scam artists achieve that level of self-confidence and can work with much larger numbers, the average desi will react differently as well.

It seems like the Rajus of the world are just learning the ropes, whereas the Maddoffs are the masters of the game. That makes all the difference.

AMIT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AMIT said...

Satyam Scandal shocked IT Industry.

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