Labyrinth, Y2K and Software in India
Labyrinth is set in 1997. Time in India has just woken up and, on sighting a fast disappearing coat tail, is rushing to catch up with the rest of the world. Internet and cell-phones have not yet entered the lives of all and sundry. It will still take some years for the village grandmom to talk to across a couple of generations and continents through webcam. It is also some time before the vegetable vendor on the footpath will take orders on cell phone. However, they have already entered the market and have made their presence felt.
In the early nineties, Indian market opened up to the world and the cash rich western world suddenly found a gold mine in terms of software workforce. And this was taken to its logical, and sometimes illogical, conclusion when the race to solve the Y2K problem reached its crescendo in the late nineties.
Solving the problem was not rocket science – it took skilful management, which can be often read as slave-driving, and lots of lots of decent – and preferably cheap – programmers.
Where else would such a combination be found ready off the shelf but India – with its multitude of fresh graduates?
Labyrinth deals with the plight of some of the young recruits into the software world who have to face the monotony of working on Y2K, the pressures and unscrupulousness of greedy companies that have bitten off significantly more than they can chew and the aftermath of two centuries of colonial existence which has made many too tolerant of abuse, ignorant of employee rights and thirsty for the praise of the Western client. In a way, while agreeing with Friedman's assessment that the World is indeed Flat, Labyrinth goes further and shows that the flatness – on close inspection – is riddled with not so enjoyable bumps. And this results in a rollercoaster ride.
Vikram Gupta, the protagonist, is an unusual young man, the most outspoken and crazy of Sen's heroes, who decides to rebel – in his own unusual, curious, maverick ways.