Many years ago, I worked in a charming little software company. Like every other software company in India, we had American clients, good salaries, and an appalling sense of fashion. We also seemed to have a lot of trouble understanding the concept of time. Most mornings would pass in a haze of interminable meetings, tea-breaks, conference calls, checking office emails and hotmail, and a quick online chat with a friend (this was the era before social networking). When the clock showed 7pm, our collective conscience would be burdened with guilt, so we would decide to actually do something productive. Like ordering pizza.
I remember this one day, my Tambrahm genes had suddenly kicked in, and so I decided to go to office a bit early to get some work done. I swiped my card in at 6am, and settled into my chair. I was just stretching myself when my foot hit a hard object. I tried to push it aside with my foot but it wouldn’t budge. It seemed to be attached to something bigger. I peered down. It was a pair of shoes and, here’s the thing, they weren’t on my feet. In fact, the shoes appeared to be standing up by themselves. This flummoxed me for a few seconds because, being a well-trained engineer, I was dimly aware that one or the other of Newton’s laws was being broken. I decided to put my head under the table to investigate. What I saw terrified me. The shoes appeared to be attached to legs, which were, surprisingly, attached to a torso and a head. It was a body! I screamed, pushed away my chair and started to back away at top speed.
At this point, the body rolled over, sat up and and said, “Hey Suchi, how come yaa so early??”
The body turned out to be Jitty Nair. Apparently, he had taken it upon himself to work late (that is, eat pizza) and then had decided to spend the night under the table. “Yanyway, my room is not A/C.”, he said, by way of explanation.
I remembered this incident when Mary, our elderly household help, told my mother the other day that we had a new neighbour. “It doesn’t speak Tamil but it is like your daughter”, she said blithely, “It has job in saaptwear. It takes same big bag like her and also wears same-to-same black thread around its neck.”
I was initially amused that this new neighbour and I had been clubbed together into one category, as though all that mattered was that we worked in IT. And then, I realised with alarm what had happened. IT had become the new caste.
The signs are everywhere. Like people belonging to a single caste, all of us “IT types” tend to live in the same areas, in gated complexes with silly Western names, sporting abandoned gyms and one-third of a swimming pool. From there, we brave the real city to get to our IT parks, modern-day agraharams where people who are not of our caste need to line up for entry. We dress more or less the same, we speak with an odd mix of Indian and American accents, we eat the same overpriced food. And, increasingly, we even marry within our own (gasp!) caste.
I suspect the news media have known about this for a while, although they prefer the term “techie” to “IT”. Take city headlines, which normally read something like this: “35-year old man arrested for posting too many curd-rice photos on Facebook” or “Youth launches CD of songs hummed by pigeons”. As soon as the journalist finds out that person works in an IT company, the entire focus of the headline changes: “Techie falls prey to female biscuit gang on Rajdhani” or “Techie hailed for buying her own ballpens instead of stealing from office”. If they belong to a high sub-caste within IT, they get an even more special mention: “Infoscion wins cow photography competition” or “Google techie confesses to liking the IRCTC site”.
While this is a disturbing trend, I like to focus on the positive side. I recently travelled by train from Jodhpur to Jaipur. Within the space of ten minutes, I had been obliged to share with my neighbours the details of my hometown, marital status, father’s inheritance, and lunch parcel. And then, like they do in those parts, they asked me what my caste was.
“Bangalore IT”, I said without flinching.