Exploits of a cyber coolie
Big Apple 2 Bites
by Arunabha Sengupta. Frog Books, Mumbai. Pages 275. Rs 275.
Set in the US on either sides of 9/11, Big Apple 2 Bites is a contemporary novel. The name of the protagonist Anirudhdha Sen Sharma is quiet a mouthful, he is simply referred to as Sen. He is a statistician holding a mundane job of a consultant with Technomind, India. It is his job which brings him to the US.
This is the story of every young Indian who finds himself in the world's greatest landscape. On his first trip to the US, Sen along with seven other software consultants is "going through a process of knowledge transfer..." and no one is sure about his role in the project. The writer intricately weaves the lives of all characters. He has an excellent ear for dialogue and a good sense of humuor, which becomes evident as the novel progresses.
The story depicts the world of the techno coolies who have a life beyond software. The reader gets a peep into the fast, cutthroat world of technology, where your colleagues hack your roots. You have no security of a job as you can be fired any time. This novel points towards the fact that "the United States of America is going through one of the worst periods of slow down." Through the character of Maureen, the writer highlights the antagonisms of the Americans towards the Indians who will soon take over their jobs. The Indians are but cheap labour.
While reading, you are also introduced to the martial art aikido. The New York Aikikai forms an important part of the story. Sen finds a friend in Akira, an uchi desi or resident student at the Aikido school. The writer's exuberant prose regarding this martial art made me think of learning it to.
The writer brings to the reader the scents and smells of America. "Around you there is a conglomeration of variety. An Americanised Japanese couple is busy necking in the back of the coach. A huge black man in Bermuda shorts...A Hispanic girl with crimson-hued hair is moving around distributing leaflets about the evils of war."
Sengupta has very rightly captured the middle-class mentality of the Indians in the US. Most of them mentally convert the dollar into rupees. You will have a hearty laugh at Krishendu who has bought huge quantities of rice, dal, tea and cigarettes from India. He makes a large amount of khichdi and eats it everyday to avoid spending a few dollars on a regular meal. Once back in India, he will find a moneychanger who will offer him the maximum exchange rate for the dollars.
This novel would be incomplete, if I did not mention Allison Palmer, the protagonist's love interest. She is a Julia Roberts mingled with Cameron Diaz look alike. They exchange e-mails, do the rounds of the art museum and click many photographs. But there is a hitch. The attraction seems one-sided and the lovely nymph is engaged .The story has a myriad of characters—Ray Atkins who loves to watch and discuss Sex and the City, boisterous Gurmeet, practical Aniket, unbearable Charanjeet, and many more. The reader will also meet the American-Born-Confused-Desi and he can also accompany Sen and his friends to the desi-bhangra-pop-dance-night and shake a leg on Daler Mehendi numbers. Get intoxicated, and if you are lucky, a 'desi chick' may dance with you.
After the revelry comes the shock. Two aircraft have flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, and 9/11 is a day the world will remember. Then follow days of distrust and rioting. Sen returns to India and is soon given the pink slip. His new job takes him to the US again. America has survived the terror attacks and its spirit is intact. Does Sen meet his ladylove again? Read the novel to satisfy your curiosity.
The writer has dealt with topics as diverse as software, religion, racism, philosophy, emotions, fate and globalisation. The novel is racy and the language is simple. At times the software jargon gets a bit too much, but overall it is an interesting read.
To read this review on Sunday Tribune's Website, go to
Author Arunabha Sengupta has combined with his wife - both of them Process and Quality professionals associated to the IT industry - to launch a new website dealing with Professional Asides of their world.
Titled 'Even Crosby Cried' (http://crosbycried.googlepages.com), the site is about the experiences of Arunabha and Rumela in the world of Process and Statistics. Characteristically, the articles, especially the ones by Arunabha, are hilarious, incorrigibly irreverant, tongue firmly in cheek, with penned caricatures of a number of individuals who would shudder to see themselves in their projected form. Even people not remotely associated with the profession will be able to identify with the content of the site - which plays on the title of the book by Phillip Crosby - Quality without Tears.
The articles, broken up into sections Process and Statistics, are also available in the blog sites Even Crosby Cried (http://crosbycried.blogspot.com) and What 'Lies Ahead' (http://lies-damnedlies-stats.blogspot.com.)
Philosophy or romance? There is a lot of both and the reader will be hard-pressed to decide which of the two dominates in the book. Despite suffering the weight of too many issues cropping up throughout, Big Apple 2 Bites redeems itself somewhat with its honest portrayal of society as it is.
Anirudhdha SenSharma or Sen for short is a statistician temporarily in New York on work and readers are given a glimpse of the other side of outsourcing— loss of jobs for many Americans, the bitterness and frustration at losing their jobs to lesser paid Indians, corporate charades and manipulation to grab projects, relying on the subtle art of lying to save one’s skin etc.
Sen is also well-read and mouthing philosophy at the drop of a hat. Most of it goes flat on his not-so-well-read colleagues.
His life is dominated to a large extent by his infatuation for his soon-to-be married American colleague, Allison Palmer, and to a lesser extent to his commitment to the martial art, aikido. In the middle of all this comes 9/11 and for Sen and his Indian colleagues it’s time to pack up and go home.
Sen has a second bite of New York when he returns on another job three years later, more mature and sure of himself, but with his infatuation with Allison and his love for aikido intact.
Although Sen’s philosophising gets tedious in some places, it can be read for its fresh perspectives on almost everything from the very mundane to the most lofty.
The minute someone mentions that s/he is somehow related to the IT industry, what is the first word that springs to mind? More likely than not, the person will probably be dismissed as yet another geek. This is where books like Big Apple 2 Bites come into the picture.
The protagonist, Aniruddha, is a process consultant in India, who has been sent (read outsourced) to New York to work on a project. The story revolves around his experiences in the Big Apple prior to 9/11, along with the friends he makes, the romantic venture he attempts and the way he handles his bosses.
Come 9/11 and his fortunes are diametrically transformed. As the project comes to an abrupt end, he is sent back to India, where he is eventually laid off. However, the next job that does come his way requires him to return to New York where the economy is now coping with the disastrous events of 9/11 along with the two wars waged on Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2 Bites in the book’s title is a reference to New York in two distinct eras, one on either side of 9/11.
So what is it in the story that will make you both empathise and sympathise with those in the IT industry? First and foremost you’ll realise the kind of ignorant management personnel these people have to put up with, along with the crazy hours and the higher echelons of authority, who want everything in terms of figures no matter what.
For instance, Aniruddha is asked for probability figures but when he gives a figure of 0.7, he is informed that this figure will not impress the client, so a figure of 700 to 800 must be fabricated. Apart from a deep insight into the work of a process consultant, the story also makes one realise the misconceptions about other cultures and their norms and values which still rule in spite of globalisation. The way different American characters talk about Indian society and the myths that Aniruddha has to dispel are quite astonishing. The reverse is also true.
The book has its funny moments, for example when Aniruddha tries to strike up a conversation with his colleague Allison Palmer. It is amusing to note that once he goes online and chats with her, he becomes quite coherent and eloquent, illustrating once more the power of the internet to make one completely different from what s/he is in everyday life.
The hallmark of the story and one that distinguishes it from many others is that it is written entirely in the second person, instead of the first or the third person. When contacted, the author, Arunabha Sengupta had the following to say in response to why he chose this particular form of narration.
“The reason why I used the second person was because the book was supposed to be an account of the realisation that comes to the main character through his journeys in life. It is as if he is being taught lessons by life. And so I thought if it was written in the second person, it would be more appropriate because then it would be as if life was indeed talking to the protagonist.”
“Also, use of the second person instils a dreamy feeling in the narrative, which was required for the second part of the novel which is quite philosophical,” he concluded.
Even though the book drags at times and gets quite technical at others, it is well worth reading. — Hafsa Ahsan
To view this review on the Dawn's website, go to http://www.dawn.com/weekly/books/archive/070624/books12.htm
A Techno Tale - Review of Labyrinth by Shyamala Narayan
A Techno Tale
Arunabha Sengupta's novel Labyrinth is set during the years of the computer boom, when hundreds of young Indians found work on the Y2K problem. It gives a vivid picture of their life in a huge software company, interwoven with a tale of young love. In some respects, it parallels Chetan Bhagat's novel, 'Five Point Someone'. Bhagat presented the life of three young men who join the Indian Institute of Technology, after tough competition. 'Labyrinth' shows these brilliant young graduates caught in the labyrinth of a huge software company.
Two principal characters of the novel, Kiran Arothe and Vikram Gupta, resemble the young author. Vikram Gupta, like Arunabha Sengupta, has a Masters degree in Statistics from the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta and joins "Adieu Consultancy Solutions" straight from the campus. The author worked in Tata Consultancy Solutions initially. The vivid dislike of anything to do with Chennai, the food, the weather, the work atmosphere, and the longing to get back to Calcutta to his mother and dog, reflect the young author's own life. (The blurb informs us that Sengupta currently works for Cognizant Technology Solutions and lives in Kolkata with his mother, wife, daughter and a Golden Retriever - the four girls in his life to whom the book is dedicated). Kiran Arothe is a senior software engineer who has joined ACS because they promised to post him in Bombay after the initial orientation.
ACS is shown as a soul-less company, interested only in profit. When it comes to recruiting young people from the college campuses, they paint a rosy picture of their future career; once they have been inducted, they are made to sign a three year bond. But youngsters still leave, in spite of this. So, the Vice President, Digambaram, and Dr. Nageshwar, head of the Human Resource Department, get the brilliant idea of making the youngsters submit their original certificates. How Vikram manages to outwit the company and get justice for the young employees and Kiran Arothe forms the plot of the novel.
Vikram Gupta is a refreshingly different protagonist; he does not suffer from any deep-seated anxiety, or worry about the clash between modernity and tradition in India, or any such highly philosophical predicament. His peculiar sense of humour, love of practical jokes and irreverence for authority enables him to take on the corporate might of the software giant.
ACS has an unduly high opinion of its training programme :
"L1M12 was having their final class. "Effective Presentation". This was the class where in eight hours the instructor was supposed to remove all the habits and mannerisms that people had developed for over two decades and make each and every one a fantastic speaker. They were even shown video recordings of speeches by great orators. Vikram's batch had been shown the speeches of John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr."
He is the enfant terrible who asks embarrassing questions. "At the end of it all, Vikram had asked whether there was any special reason for showing videos of speakers who had all been assasinated."
There is a wide variety of characters. There is no attempt to present all managers as villains and the young recruits as angels. The author understands the psychology of the young people well.
The novel presents a true picture of the Indian workplace - differences based on region are there, but the difference in terms of individual characteristics is greater. This novel reveals the vitality of Indian English fiction. The language does not draw attention to itself, the novelist is primarily interested in spinning a yarn. It is confined entirely to metropolitan India; but no work can encompass the whole of India, and the software professional and the metropolis are as much a part of India as the farmer and the village.
Stereotypes, whether in terms of characters or situations, are avoided. Probably, the only cliche in the novel is the title.
Shyamala A. Narayan is Professor and Head, Department of English and Modern European Languages, Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi.
Big Apple 2 Bites
Indian software consultant Arunabha Sengupta presents a different perspective on IT outsourcing through his new novel Big Apple 2 Bites.
The story focuses on an Indian consultant working in Manhattan, where he travels twice on business assignments, once on each side of 9/11.
This could be the Mumbai version of Bartleby the Scrivener. In any case, most online commentaries gives it a thumbs-up for its insight into the Indian side of outsourcing.
Big Apple 2 Bites – Arunabha Sengupta's latest novel has hit the stands.
Copies are available from most of the major bookstores across India. Here are some details about the book and the stores from which it is available…
Big Apple ~ 2 Bites by Arunabha Sengupta , Frog Books, Mumbai
The serious and funny experiences of a Software Process Consultant during the days of rationalization, outsourcing and 9/11.
Reads like a dream. – P. Lal, poet and founder, Writers Workshop India
Available from most of the major stores including:
Chennai: HigginBothams, Landmark
Bangalore: HigginBothams, Sapna, Gangaram, Landmark
Kolkata : Crossword, Landmark, Oxford
Hyderabad: Crossword, Jaico, Bookshelf
Pune : Crossword, Manneys
Mumbai: Nalanda (Taj), Jaico, Landmark, Crossword, Oxford, Majestic
Delhi : Variety Book Store, Jaico
"This is probably the deepest any fictional work has gone in exploring the crazy world of process consultancy.“
"A large part of the book deals with the role of chance and lies in the world. Probably that is why Consultancy was the most suitable profession for the hero, to get a ringside view of the world of lies.“ – the author
“Seen through the eyes of a cynic and recounted with unconventional humor in every page, it provides snapshots of all aspects of life, covering segments as diverse as outsourcing and rationalising lay offs, war and philosophy, international economics and corporate politics, the software industry, chasm and similarities between the east and the west, the frontiers of science, human emotions, love, truth and deceit and numerous other issues which define the chancy, unpredictable modern world. The novel deals with topics of weight and importance with an irreverence that is almost mocking; while dissecting the society and laying it bare, tipping more than its share of sacred cows…” – Review in Asian Age