“If IT is going to take away our basic values, then you can burn Bangalore and burn IT,” thunders born-in-Basavangudi C.N.R. Rao, in his as-told-to Outlook column.
ALOK PRASANNA, also born in Basavangudi, and training to be a lawyer, picks 15 holes in the argument of the eminent scientist.
1. The greatness of Bangalore was that it allowed simplicity and enjoyment—a cup of coffee and a masala dosa at Vidyarthi Bhavan kept you happy.
The cups of coffee and masala dosas are still there. People have changed. They prefer their coffees to be mochas with chocolate sprinkles, to go. And people still come from across the country to taste the MTR masala dosa. Besides, the coffee is not native to Bangalore, nor is the potato which goes into your masala dosa. People’s tastes change. Live with it.
2. There was more poetry and music here before the IT boom.
And what is the connection between poetry and music and the IT boom? There’s no diktat among IT companies forbidding their employees from indulging in poetry and music as far as I know. If patronage on the arts is on the decline, I’d like to know just who the devil keeps Ranga Shankara and Bangalore Habba alive. Or just where the hell do they find the people to attend musical concerts in Bangalore.
3. Bangalore was always a highly intellectual city. Though people called it a garden city, there was more science here than anywhere else in India. Nowadays, nobody talks about it.
To me, this is the traditional rant of a scientist about the importance given to the engineer against that of a “pure” scientist. In today’s world, science cannot be conducted separately from information technology. It is called the Internet! What have IISc and all the other science institutions done to absorb and incorporate IT expertise and remain relevant in science? If people have stopped talking about it, doesn’t it mean that nothing worthwhile has come out of it for sometime now, Mr. Ex-director of IISc?
4. When it all started, I thought it was a good thing because so many people were getting jobs. Over the years, it has created a large upper–middle–class population who crowd the malls. There is nothing wrong in that, but what is really serious is the influence this has had on Bangalore’s intellectual content. It is wonderful to have a lot of young people getting big salaries, provided they don’t take away the essential lifeblood of other professions.
How patronizing. Without fine intellectuals like yourself, Prof Rao, who would ever tell us how stupid we the people of India really are, and how it is OK to be stupid, just so long as we don’t live in Bangalore or work in the IT industry. By your definition, 99 % of India, and possibly the rest of the world is filled with such people. So why pick on the IT industry in Bangalore for being responsible for this?
5. Bright people at a very young age, before they are even 20, think of IT as an option because they can make quick money. Lots of intelligent people are doing jobs that are much below their intellectual capabilities. They are like coolies who are working for wages and not producing great intellectual material.
“Intellectual coolies”? How original. With all your brilliance do you still not see an oxymoron when it stares you in the face? And perhaps as Chairman of Science Advisory Council, you know the precise intellectual capacity of every man, woman and child in this country, and thereby are empowered to determine exactly who should do what job based on their “intellectual capacity”?
6. Can an India of the future afford a highly skewed growth like this? All the humours should be balanced—we must also have good poets, good economists, fine historians, quality scientists and top-class engineers.
If other fields don’t give bright students the opportunity to make lots of money, why blame IT for being brave enough to do so? What spiritual obligation do “bright students” have to ignore money in order to fulfil some pre-ordained quota of engineers, doctors, poets, economists? Sounds very communist or very casteist, depending on how you look at it. Besides, all of 10 million Indians are directly employed in the IT or ITES sector, so that leaves about 490 million Indians to be economists, poets, doctors, etc. Is it the growth or your vision that is skewed, Prof. Rao?
7. An [NRI] recently asked me, if India is so great in IT, how come it produces only 25 PhDs in computer science per year? That’s a very good question.
It is stupidity to believe that the innovation in the IT sector is because of a team of PhDs cranking out papers for peer reviewed journals. Innovation in the IT sector happens faster than a journal is turned out, and it doesn’t need a research degree from a prestigious University to be at the forefront of IT innovation. In a country where computers became accessible to the middle-class only in the last ten years, it is hard to imagine that we will turn out a Shawn Fanning or a Linus Torvalds or even a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs anytime soon.
8. Right in the beginning, the IT industry should have planned their campuses in towns like Ramanagaram (40–odd km from Bangalore).
I’m pretty sure Electronics City fits that definition of 40-odd km from Bangalore if you listen to any complaining techie.
9. They should have created IT satellite towns, but they all wanted land inside the city. They not only took away that land, they also complain about not getting enough.
Oh yeah, because land acquisition in rural areas in India is so unproblematic and hassle-free as recent experience has shown. Did someone say Nandigram?
10. Why should we create roads?
Because the people who use those roads, the IT employees, are usually inhabitants of Bangalore also, and have every right as you and me, to use pothole-free and “jam-less” roads. Just because the IT industry has come out in the public in this demand, and sought citizen support for the same, it doesn’t mean that it is any less legitimate. Would we deny the roads to an exporter because all they do is just “export”?
11. IT people have a responsibility that they are yet to fulfil. If they’re making so much money, why shouldn’t they create an outstanding private university equivalent to Stanford or Harvard?
Seriously, Prof. Rao. You bring into question your credibility as an academic by a statement like that. Do you seriously think that a company that has enjoyed about 10-15 years of profits (and doesn’t figure anywhere in the Fortune 500) would be able to replicate the success and quality of a 400-year-old institution in less than 15 years? Screw Harvard, the IT industry as a whole won’t be able to fund and start an institution of the quality of the IITs in the same time. It took the Government of India years of funding to build 4-5 good IITs, and we are supposed to believe that a growing industry dependent on the Government for tax breaks (and a weak rupee) would be able to replicate it in half the time?
12. Had they done something like that they would have compensated for the other problems they have created.
I suppose the amounts given to their alma mater by IIT-alumni in the IT sector should be ignored since we are generally not dealing with much reality.
13. If IT people are making money, what do I get out of it, unless I am employed in Infosys with Narayana Murthy? The trouble is, we have given them a lot, but have got nothing in return.
Sorry Prof. Rao. Imagine pitting the benefits enjoyed by the people who are employed in the IT industry, and their families (along with the four other jobs created with every single IT job in Bangalore and their families) against the imagined injuries of a disgruntled academic. Next time, I’ll personally ensure that every paycheque contains a small “disgruntled former academic in Government position” deduction just for your benefit.
14. Our society has created a bunch of icons and role models who are distorting not just the future of this city but of all India, and of our sense of values.
Whoa… Didn’t know NRN was responsible for Nandigram and Godhra. At least that’s what you seem to be imputing. Maybe we should prosecute him instead of Buddhababu and Narendrabhai. Perhaps, if you are right, it is NRN’s fault that Deve Gowda caused the Government to fall. Bad IT industry, no cookie for you!
15. Our people have lost respect for scholarship. Money and commerce has taken over. If IT is going to take away our basic values, then you can burn Bangalore and burn IT.
Where was our respect for scholarship when we spent about 1% of our budget on education for 60 years? Where was our respect for scholarship when droves of India�s brightest left for foreign shores? Where was our respect for scholarship when no Indian Nobel Prize winner since Sir C.V. Raman can claim to have done his prize winning research in India? Money feeds and clothes the poor. Commerce gives jobs to the unemployed, educated or otherwise. I think we should offer the above mentioned, the choice between our “basic values” and “money and commerce”.