An Engineer in India

engineers, IIT, etc


(revised with inputs from Mr D H Ashish)

For Indians, disparaging the front person is a matter of routine. Every opportunity to sneer at the educational qualifications of the front person is relished, and is to be amplified by gossip sharing the insult with a group of like minded foxes!

This vulgar tendency is on shameless display on the artifact of the modern industrial revolution called as the Shop-Floor.  All workers, ITI, Diploma holders, gang up to vanquish the spirit of their mortal enemy: ‘The Engineer’

The Shop-Floor is full of overloaded, overworked, poorly maintained machines, replete with Indian ‘Jugaad’ practices, and more often than not, these ill designed patches fall apart, and the machine stops. In technical jargon, this is ‘a machine break down’. When the machine breaks down, the worker who is almost married to the machine by working on it for the past 10-15 years knows precisely what has gone wrong, and which patch has given way. Yet, the call is made to ‘the engineer’ on duty, to come and fix the machine.

Digressing here, if you are imagining, that ‘Jugaad’ patch, is something similar to the patch stitched to cover the torn portion of a garment,, well then,,, you are right!  Visit a shop floor, and you will easily find a few instances of a piece of metal, haphazardly cut, clipped, welded at odd locations. If you find the logo of the manufacturer, pasted at a 45degree angle, rendering it almost unreadable, then rest assured it is hiding a crack behind it!

Anyways back to our engineer. Responding to the call is typically a recent graduate of the engineering school. The seasoned ones have learnt it the hard way to stay away from the hostile territory and are typically a couple of hundred meters away from the dreaded shop floor. Hence, the onus is on the newly joined, the fresh meat, to face the music. This new engineer, has little or no knowledge of the machine. When he or she visits the machine, the first shock they are in for is, when they have an actual look at the machine. The machine looks completely different than the pictures and diagrams from their engineering textbooks. The hesitation with which the engineer touches the machine, in itself becomes a matter of a good laugh for the workers around. Yes, like foxes, they hunt in groups, they encircle the clueless engineer, and slowly bite away the dignity of that engineer with their smirks, giggles and facial expressions. Some engineers prolong their own humiliation in “trying” to solve the problem, and predictably making it worse, widening the smirks. This brutal cycle ends with a fatal blow ruthlessly delivered by one of the foxes, “कसला engineer आहे , हे माहित नाही” (What kind of engineer are you! you don’t know this much)

Such kind of bullying is ingrained in Indian society and is celebrated as a virtue amongst peers

I, too, underwent a similar experience, however, in my case I was forewarned about such happenings at the place. I was a Trainee at a reputed automobile manufacturing firm in Pune, fortunately my senior at college had trained at the same place, and he warned me to stay away from the shop-floor. However, the unavoidable can never be avoided, and D-Day came. I received a call from the ‘Worker’ that there was a ‘Break-down’ of a machine and my expert attention is required. I reached the scene of the disaster, looked at the machine, and said, ‘I don’t know this machine, and I can’t help you with this machine’. This instant surrender somewhat diminished the enthusiasm of the skulk, still one of them predictably sneered with, ‘how can you not know such a small thing, what’s the use of you being an engineer!’

I retorted by saying, ‘Because I am smart!’

This answer bewildered the crowd, akin to a fast bowler doing the full run-up and bowling a leg-spin googly upon reaching the wickets. All those mere commoners could do is ask, ‘how?’ in a very meek tone.

As a sage in his element, I sermonized, ‘I have less knowledge than you, yet in a few years, I will be earning at least the twice of what you earn, so, who is the smart one here?’

The rest of my training period was a cruise. I sat on a desk on the first floor, a glass window by my desk was overlooking the entire shop-floor, all workers could see me, yet no one bothered me. It resulted in maximum utilization of the high speed internet line, watching at least a couple of movies a day, chilling with my headphones on, completely oblivious to what is happening in the company.

Digressing here, since we are on the topic of engineers, there is a special species amongst us, popularly known as IITians.

and here I would like to make a bold statement, “IITians leaving India is not a Brain Drain”

People are obsessed with IITians, with the typical accusatory question raised against them being:

“Why do IITians go to USA and work in finance?, if they had to work in finance, why did they waste a prestigious engineering seat”. Ironically this question is raised with a mostly by those who have children or siblings, who have done core engineering like Mechanical/Civil and yet are working in an IT (Software) firm. To top it, these very core engineers, are angling in their job, for that onsite assignment, that H1Visa.

However, as they say India is a land where irony is wasted!

Now, let’s just assume, as a matter of an argument that an IITian stays back in India to work in a core engineering sector. What is going to happen with him, let’s see

The Shop-floor breakdown incident gets amplified a hundred times if the engineer in question is an IIT engineer. The IITian invokes a competition of ‘Who can best humiliate an IITian’. Here even fellow engineers, senior engineers. management personnel, debase themselves to join the workers in that competition. The insults range from the mild ‘how did you get a degree from IIT’ to the harsh ‘Throw out your IIT badge, it’s useless’

do you really want to subject yourself to such a brutal environment as an IITian?

I can make an argument that IITians are more suited to the West as they are divorced from the ‘real’ India. If you analyze, the route to IIT is through 2-3 years of rigor at  a coaching institute. During the formative years, cut-off from the outer world, they are just engrossed into rote learning. Then after they reach IIT, they spend another four years at a distant location. Besides Powai and Delhi, the rest of the IIT’s are isolated places, forming a kind of an echo chamber. If you talk to such an IITian, their ideas are bizarre about how this country runs, and hence they are better off in the West.

The worst fate is of those IITians who are IITians through a peculiar route called GATE, and get their MTech stripes from IIT. For an IIT, BTech is the son they always wanted, for whom the doors of placements are open. The son is allowed to be brash, and can renegade on their word to reject a previously accepted offer from a company , when a better company (pay) comes along. In the opposite vein, MTech is the daughter, the family burden they could not abort. No second chances or choices for the daughter, she has to accept whatever job is giving to her, and just carry on with her life. Hence for these GATE wallahs, it is better to travel to the West, where the people are ignorant of this discrimination between BTech and MTech and everyone is accepted as an equal.

Plus, mostly in India, IITians are more of a marketing tool than a technical tool. Everyone likes to advertise, we have 50 IITians with us, we accept only IIT engineers in our R and D and so on. This marketing is brazenly used by everyone, from IT firms, Fortune 100 companies, to Start-ups. Even ashrams cash in on this marketing. You must have heard, our second level Guru is from an IIT, he left the moh-maya and has joined us in our spiritual journey. The Guru’s work is not intellectual, beyond telling you how to breathe slowly, their spiritual insight is nothing more than a typical Facebook meme or a good morning message on whats app. Similarly the work that IITians do in Indian R and D is nothing more than tearing down a competitors machine and reverse engineering it without thought.

IITian as marketing tool
IITians as a Marketing Tool rather than a Technical Tool

The other problem with Indian engineers from prestigious universities is ‘Burn-Out’. The amount of pressure that they face, from parents, peers, teachers, coaching classes, is tremendous, and everyone has opinion about their life. Just imagine a student with a great interest in Mechanical engineering, clears JEE (IIT entrance), and at admissions, the choice for him, is either that IIT seat in Electronics, or Mechanical seat in a local engineering college. The chances of the student being allowed to leave the IIT seat are precisely 0%. Imagine the resentment this creates towards people, the student keeps grudges against his family, advisors etc. Hence, it is better for the engineer to leave the shores and reach a distant land, this keeps the resentment at bay, and prevents an explosion here. Otherwise, what is the alternative, An Ashram!

Even Chanakya has an apt remark for this

Do not inhabit a country where you are not respected,

cannot earn your livelihood, have no friends, or cannot acquire knowledge.

 Thus an Engineer in India is really an Engineer aspiring to be out of India, away from the insults, the contradictions, the hypocrisy. After-all, if you are going to do secondary work, at least get better paid for it!





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