A Mass Culture

It was the dinner-table discussion time. The group of young women that we were, many topics of versatile genres usually did the rounds. However for the past few weeks, one predominantly over-shadowed the rest – the topic about life in a leading multi-national software corporation, which according to them, was recruiting “45,000” graduates in this season alone. Since, all of them except the one who wrote this article, were recruited in this “dream company”, it was inevitable that talks be inclined towards this topic for a while.

A brief content analysis of their exchange of stories would yield many little snippets of information – the strict culture there, the hectic schedule, the incessant battery of tests, the amazing star-hotel ambiance and infrastructure,
multi-cuisine food and even about one ghost that was supposedly haunting the place. Well, must be a very software-dedicated ghost, I presume.

However,deeper observation would clearly reveal that underlying the multitude of ideas, there was one emotion spread strongly across the participants that just could not escape notice – a feeling of being the “special” one. It can be
interpreted as a mixed repertoire of relief, pride, joy and excitement. Then, one turns to me and remarks, “But well, I got to admit, I admire this girl. I could have never refused an offer from a leading software firm and
joined a J school instead!”

The writer, at this point, wished to clarify that the above statement was not inserted into the passage as a means of vanity or ‘ego-boost’. Hell, who was I kidding? I would have been glad to have taken that offer. I remember the evening when the company came to college and recruited 256 of us in a day.There was celebration all around and I felt the same – relief, pride, joy and excitement. Indeed, huge amounts of them all. For weeks before that, I was ‘googling’ on how to write the ‘perfect’ resume, give the ‘perfect’ interview and tell the ‘perfect’ answers. I should
have known then, that it was my moment of induction into the ‘mass society’.

I can never blame these girls. It is not that I am radically different from them. I could never even blame the many suicides that happen across these intensive ‘training camps’ in the companies every year. If there is one thing that the software boom has primarily done to our psyche, it is that it has told us – “A quick easy way to happiness is now
possible!” They have transferred the desi version of the ‘American dream’ to all of us.

Perhaps a couple of decades ago, it would have been unthinkable that we could get a five figure salary right after we stepped out of the gates of the institution. Hence, one never created the desire in himself in the first place. He went
for what he wanted – he knew that it was the only way that he would see through it till the end and land a job. Today, the industry dictates what we study. Engineering is not a stream of study but merely a route to the IT industry.

And on the placement day, we come forward carrying not just the burden of the dreams sown by us for the past four or five years but under the weight of the dreams sown by our entire family. To know that it is possible to get 30k after
education and know that many others are commanding that salary and then not do so, is the surest route to worthlessness, guilt and shame and hence, we want to keep up.

And the process doesn’t stop with getting into the company – in fact, it is just the beginning. After that is the pressure to stay conformed, obey, and sustain the dream. Fashion, film and cricket help to distract us from the painful
reality of belonging to the herd.

This post is not a take on those working in the sector; to label or criticize them. Many of you might love what you are doing. That is great! A few of you might loathe what you are doing. That is okay too. Every industry has its share of boredom. Yet, a handful of you (or perhaps more) might have a nagging thought that there is something else you believe in and are capable of but remain prisoners of the trap of ‘stability’ as defined by the society. Perhaps this one is for you all. I am not asking you to quit, for I have no alternative to suggest to you. Surely, I can’t give you a job. I am simply asking you to be more and more aware of this nagging thought – accept it instead of pushing it
away and one fine morning, you will just know what to do. The answer will come to you.

Had I been a guy, no doubt, I would have been writing this post as a software firm employee. My gender gives me the liberty of choice. I am also perhaps confident of my abilities – abilities such as fluency in language, which again
was a gift of coming from an upper middle class family.

Sinduja Ragunathan