These times…

NY Times recently carried a section with user contributed pictures on how they are dealing with recession (link: http://tinyurl.com/czzbu8).

Some, like this one were heartbreaking. It showed how people are working harder to make ends meet. I’ve read numerous stories like these, where people are making compromises having to choose one thing over another, not caring about their health or personal satisfaction just to get by. Some others, like this one showed how during times of desperation, reason gives way to using whatever tactics one can to survive. This picture showed a car dealership urging people to support the country by only buying American cars. The banner implied that this country was not as great because people were buying foreign cars instead. I guess the fact that quality of the cars was the biggest factor in driving people away from buying their own country’s cars was easily forgotten by them. I wonder when they’ll learn that loyalty to one’s country is not precluded by choosing a better quality foreign made car over a domestic car whose engine breaks down in the middle of a highway, or for that matter in the garage within 1-2 years of having bought the car. Or maybe they realized that and as I said, were desperate enough to be able to ignore that fact conveniently. I hope they also realize that relying on these kind of tactics of using misguided propaganda to stoke people’s core values and not investing in improving the quality of their products is what got them into this mess in first place. One could probably consider buying their cars if it said, “Buy Cars from here and help me put food on table for my kids”. At least its honest and makes the customer feel good by having done a good deed rather than making them feel cheated.

The reality of these difficult times was driven even closer by the announcement made at my work yesterday. 2 of my team members were given layoff notices as their jobs were being transferred to an offshore location. I not only worked very closely with both of them, but one of them was also a very good friend of mine. I have known him personally and shared some good times together. I felt miserable for reasons I can’t explain. I dared not to think what would’ve happened if I were in his place. That reality also made me face the fact that this trend of replacing jobs with cheaper offshore alternatives will continue as long as the companies find it profitable. In these times of extreme competitiveness, either you aggressively survive or you sink. The workers in developed part of the world will have to continue to find ways to increase their productivity and justify the costlier rate of their services than the cheaper labor available elsewhere in the world.

I recently saw a truck for a food caterer asking people to enjoy life more by eating out. “Enjoy life, Eat out more often”, it said plainly. The lack of pretense in appealing to people’s desire for simple luxury for the sake of lining up their own pockets struck me as somewhat odd and distasteful. I remember being repulsed at that. The fact that the people at the top of the food chain got away with making some very disastrous decisions that totally altered the economic fundamentals and impact every single person – no matter how honest and truthful they have been is even more repulsive. I’ve always had the belief that if you stick to the core human values and be honest to yourself, you will always do well. The current times and things happening around me everyday now kind of shakes that belief a little. Maybe there’s a silver lining in that cloud…

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Just came back from lunch and the silver lining seemed to get thinner. We wanted to go to the Sumo restaurant close to our work but when we reached there, we found that it had been closed and the place was available for lease. So we went to another one that is a few miles farther away. And that was closed as well.

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Rat Race!

This Sunday’s (5/18/2009) LA Times carried a front-page article (link: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghan-deaths17-2009may17,0,4108227.story) about the Afghan Villages that were hit by a US Air raid which resulted in a number of civilian casualties. The air raid was called in when local police and American troops failed to defeat the Taliban insurgents who seemed to outnumber them. As the article pointed out, the actual account of the incident differs between whoever is reporting it but the ground reality is stark in any case: A number of innocent families, including women and children were among the people who were killed and those who survived incurred major wounds, some fatal.

I was haunted by the image that was a part of the print article (link: ttp://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghan-deaths-pictures,0,5189377.photogallery?index=2). The man was driven to desolation after the death of his wife and one son, so much that he was ready to give up his other son. I felt something inside my crumble away. I tried to imagine the desperation that can drive a man to give up his children, and I failed miserably. For the life of me, I couldn’t come even close to understanding what one could go through to be ready to intentionally give up their children, knowing that they may never see them again.

This morning when I came to work, I looked up the article and read it again. And I felt the same as I felt yesterday. I looked around me, I thought of what I had done since morning. 2 project meetings, reading through some emails and some documents. It seemed so disconnected with what was ringing in my head. I looked around at people’s faces and everything seemed so unreal. We fickle about having to pay 20 cents more per gallon for gas, we honk if somebody doesn’t move for 2 seconds when the traffic light turns green, we are daunted when faced with the decision whether to have one thing or other for lunch. Then there are people who are pushed to circumstances where they go through the mental process of having to give up their kids, and there are those who actually have to do it.

As I tried to find a slimmer of worth in what I was doing, I knew that what I was feeling will fade away, only to be brought back again sometime in future when something similar stirs up the emotions. I hoped that someday, for sometime in my life, however brief that may be, I will step out of the rat race and be a part of a group that helps people in situations where they can’t help themselves. I hoped that I will be strong enough to help my kids understand the vast disparateness this world is, how starkly different people’s lives are and to consider themselves fortunate to have that chance to be able understand all that – to understand human emotions, misery and corruption of minds and build a positive attitude to bring a difference to lives of other people.

The article ended with a grim note:

Meanwhile, under the scorching desert sun, traces of evidence fade away daily. The dead have been buried. And in all likelihood, the Taliban of Bala Baluk will be back.