Monday, January 23, 2006


"So you think you can't trust her?"

"mm hmmm ... yeah, you can say that."

"Considering the position you're in, that's intriguing...but I've never understood why you need to trust someone at all? I mean, what's the point?"

"Huh? What do you mean why? We all need to to be able to trust people, don't we? Isn't every meaningful relationship based on trust?"

"Yeah, that's what everyone says, but then probe a little and you find things are different."


"Yeah, different.
In my opinion, trust is, in some way, connected to expectation. There is a want, a need, to trust only when you want something in return. When you want nothing in return, there is no need to trust!"

"Huh? You just lost me there..."

"So what's new?... See, say you have a motorbike ok?"


"It's 5 in the morning, it's freezing cold, and you have to get to some place in half an hour. And the only way to do it is by driving your motorbike there..."

"mmm hmmm..."

"...and this is a bike which you've shelled out a fortune to own. A bike you expect to conform to a certain level of performance. A bike you expect to come to life when you kick it on a cold morning, when it's freezing and when you have barely enough time to make an appointment; you expect, you trust the bike to start..."

"Of course, but..."

"...and when it doesn't, you feel let down. You're disappointed. You curse the bike, you bad-mouth the maker...all because you expected the bike to perform..."

"And what's wrong with that? After all I have invested so much on it haven't I?"

"Exactly. You have invested so much on the bike, you expect it to perform, you trust it to start when you need it the most, and when it doesn't you feel disappointed."

"So? I still don't see what you're getting at..."

"I'm trying to tell you that trust, of any form, invested in anything, demands from the object of its attention an emotional fulfillment; a satisfaction that the object was worth the trust..."

"Yes, I think you could say that."

"But apply the same analogy to people, keeping the emotional satisfaction part of it out of the picture -- have you ever asked why you need that emotional satisfaction at all with people and why you would want to trust them?"


"Say you have a secret. Now you can do one of two things, apart from not telling anyone about it. Declassify it as a secret by revealing it to everyone. Or, confide in a friend, trusting him to keep your secret, expecting him not to divulge it. Now when he keeps your secret safe, you get the satisfaction that the trust you invested in him was not in vain. Or when he doesn't, you get disappointed and lose your faith in him."

"That makes sense, but still don't see what you're tring to say"

"When I shifted the analogy to people, I invalidated a fundamental assumption that is implicit in something like a bike.
A bike, like most machines -- within their working lives -- is not expected to deviate from its expected norm of performance, at least within tolerable limits. And unlike people, it's possible to know everything about a bike, take it apart, analyse it in detail, put things back in place, get it working again, and reinstate your trust in it.
But when it comes to people, firstly, it depends on your own faculties as to how well you can judge people. And even when you can judge them well, it's only with respect to those aspects of their behaviour which you have had an opportunity to observe in the context of certain circumstances. And secondly, people are notoriously prone to change, it's in their nature, it's the only way human beings, being creatures subject to varying emotions, thrive. So when you are not a good judge of people -- I believe nobody ever can be -- and when people are going to change so much, you have two courses of action if you don't want to be disappointed..."

"Hmm which are?"

" either trust everyone, expecting nothing out of them, in which case you can no longer call it trust; or you could decide not to trust anyone and not reveal anything at all, thereby totally eliminating the need to want something in return. Either way, don't expect anything out of people."

"But isn't that just being self-defensive?"

"No, it's just being logical..."

"Ah, this sophistry is nice when it comes to trivialities like secrets, but how about a practical situation -- say at work? Don't you need to trust people there?"

"Here again, you are depending on the power of money implicitly. You trust that when you give someone X amount of money to do a good job, you trust the power of money to ensure that the job is done well. Of course, secondary causes like emotional satisfaction, personal growth and loyalty also play a role in the quality of the work done, but that is entirely a personal trait. You as an employer have no control over it. In fact, you have no control over the person's behaviour; he could do an excellent job, or he could contract the mad cow disease overnight, go insane and leave you in a quandary. The only expectation here is what you have out of the money that you offer, and money, like a bike, is a non-living thing whose 'performance' is established, something whose power you can trust not to change."

"But don't employers, who invest so much in an employee, have a right to expect what they want in return?"

"Of course they do, but for that they don't have to trust their employees. Because trust or no trust, the employee doing the job well depends on how much the money means, or doesn't mean, to him."
"So what's your point?"
"That even when it comes to work, there is no point in trusting people, and when I say trust, I mean expecting something in return. Rather, trust your money. If you're going to trust people, then be prepared to be disappointed."

"Ok ... but what about love? What about marriage?"

"What do you do when you love someone? Love itself is just an idea, an abstract one at that. But let me stick to the conventional meaning of it.
Conventionally, when you 'love' someone, you expect a lot in return -- like you want to be loved back, and in certain situations, through the love that you offer that person, you impose on him/her certain implicit demands, like loyalty for example, though this need not be the case always.
And it's precisely because you have invested so much love, so much emotion in that person, and because you want all this (loyalty etc) in return, that you trust the person to accept your love and not to act in a way which would cause you disappointment and hurt. And you do all this thinking you know how the person is on the inside and thinking he/she won't change, when we very well know that they are going to change.
So, when you stick to the conventional meaning of 'love', it means 'trust' which in turn implies you want something in return.

But if you would care to delve deeper into the meaning of love, if you seek the truth, you would learn that you love someone for what they are, for what they stand for, for the way they make you feel in a certain way about yourself, about them and about the world. And not because you want something in return. And when you love someone like that, it really doesn't matter what they do, what they say, whether they hurt you or not, because you would always understand.
This, to me, is unconditional love, the love that you possess for someone without expecting anything in return. This is different from another form of 'unconditional love' some talk about, where you love someone without cause or reason.
The love I'm talking about is the form of love that a father has for his daughter or a son for his mother; you just love them for what they are, you don't expect anything in return. And when you love without expecting anything in return, there really is no need to trust is there?"

"But there is something wrong in what you say ... since you say people change, and if you love someone for what they are, for what they stand for, when they change from what they are and become someone different, someone whom you don't like, someone who doesn't make you feel the same way as they used to before, what then? Would you still love them?"

"I would neither love them nor hate them. I would just become indifferent."

"Even if they were your parents?"

"Even if they were my parents...because that's the only way the love I feel for them would have any meaning."

"How is that possible?"

"Precisely because I didn't expect anything in return. And since I would love them for what they are, when they change into someone different, I can walk away unaffected because I didn't want anything in return for my love for them. I would accept and understand that they have changed.
And I would also accept that my love for them is no longer valid because it was spawned by what I saw in them before; not loving them for what they have now become is the only way I can lend value to the love I would offer to others. And I would not hate them; I would just become indifferent.
And if my love is capable enough, then it would seek those who are worthy of it, those who would change, but only within their tolerable limits, like the bike, those whom I wouldn't have to trust but just love, those who wouldn't expect anything in return from me and just love me for what I am and those whom I would love for what they are without expecting anything in return."

"But by saying that your love for them is based on them not changing into someone whom you would not like, aren't you expecting the 'not changing' aspect of them in return for your love? Aren't you, by loving them, trusting them not to change?"

"Yes, but it is not an expectation in the usual sense; if that expectation is not fulfilled, I would not be disappointed because I don't derive any emotional satisfaction from them not changing. Again, the 'change margins' are different. When someone says 'I love humanity' the 'change margin' is huge; when someone tells his/her partner 'I love you', the 'change margin' is highly specific."

"But isn't that a contradiction? Is love not an emotional satisfaction?"

"No. Love could be called an emotion, but there isn't any satisfaction or disappointment associated with it."

"But isn't love by itself a form of trust?"

"That, my friend, is the point.
Love is not trust. Love just is. It exists for the sake of itself.
Love is based on the 'not changing' aspect. However, I don't have to 'trust'. I don't 'expect' anything which would bring me emotional satisfaction; I don't expect 'anything' which, when I don't receive, would cause me disappointment.
But trust isn't; trust never is; trust needs that something, that emotional fulfillment, in return to sustain itself.
When it comes to filial relationships, the 'change margins' are pretty much non-existent, anything goes, and it takes a great deal before the love -- for our parents, for our siblings -- vanishes. But when it comes to someone we want to spend our lives with, or our friends, we somehow are more stringent; we expect a lot in return, we are looking for someone to trust, looking for someone to hang onto in an ever-shifting world, for someone to vindicate our existence...we are not looking for someone to love, we don't want to give our love unconditionally.
We want security, we are happy to seek refuge in the inferority of need and trust, rather than celebrate the glory of love and the freedom of not having to trust."

"That somehow doesn't make sense to me."

"It never does. All of us have to figure it out for ourelves. We have to, some day or the other..."

"But I still don't think I can trust her..."

"I can only wish you good luck, my friend."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bachelor, of Engineering

Four bloody years. Down the drain. And just when I think it's time to shift lanes, Life throws a surprise, and asks me to reconsider.
Last Friday, 10 P.M.
Y looks at me, a question in his eyes. He's tired. As tired as anyone can be. His normally-on 100-watt smile long gone, now replaced by a grim stare. He's pushed himself all week to get 'the thing' ready. Two days earlier a problem had cropped up, and he, we, all of us, spent a day and a half trying to find a solution. We did find it, but not before Y lost his cool on more than one occasion. Quite unusual for this easygoing Electronics Engineer from Pune. And now this had to happen.
I look back at him. Then I look around the garage. It's filled with fumes, and it's awfully hot, despite the uncharacteristic mist that descends on Chennai at night these days. I look at S, standing at a corner, towering over all of us. S is an Iyer, a terrific Mechanical Engineeer, and as the mechos go, he's a 'robust' giant indeed. He bites his lip and blinks back at me through his glasses. His wife's already called him up a dozen times in the last half an hour. He got 'the thing' ready for Y to work on. He won't take the decision.
I hear SMD muttering something under his breath. I can see he's tired as well. SMD is a software Engineer, and as good as they come. His enthusiasm is overwhelming and I want to keep going for his sake at least. But I know there's no point, at least for today.
I look back at Y, and he's still asking me the question with his eyes.
I breathe deeply. And I decide. The others voice their agreement. We give up on 'the thing'. For tonight. We'll be back on Monday.
Disappointed, we walk out the garage and head home. We'll wait for CB.
I rarely talk about my work on this blog, except for my very second post. But today I have to.
The certificate that I got at the end of a totally useless undergraduate course says I'm an 'Electronics and Communications Engineer' but at the bottom of my neart I know that's a big lie. I was no more an Engineer than Laloo Prasad Yadav when I left college. All I had, and still have, was common sense and rational thinking, with an insatiable curiosity, and a sound mind.
And then I landed a job at a company where I've continued to stay ever since -- much to my surprise, a place I've grown to love, a place where I feel I've grown from strength to strength because of the belief and confidence they have reposed in me and the opportunities that I've been blessed with. I get to do a lot of things that my friends don't, like having a say in business direction, influencing recruitment etc My job is a dream that I stumbled upon. Stumbled, is the word.
Anyway, six months into the job, I was assigned to a team which would build Injection systems for engines in automobiles. We would build and assemble the mechanical and electronic hardware, as well as write the software that would reside inside an Electronic Control Unit which typically runs these Injection Systems. At the time of writing, as far as I know, nobody in India does all of this; some or most of this is imported or outsourced. I was assigned the role of a Control Systems Engineer which involves understanding what goes on in an engine and writing software to make it happen, as well as spending a lot of time on the vehicles, testing them and understanding them. It's an interesting job. And that is an understatement.
Monday. Morning.
CB's here. CB works as a senior Engineer with our collaborators in Australia. I'm a big fan of him. He's really inspiring to work with. The attitude, the commitment and the work ethic that he brings along with him are just a few things that I have been awed by and of course imbibed. Always ready with a joke, always ready to break into a smile. And he's really good at what he does. He's the Project Manager on our collaborators' side, and he's here to supervise the integration of 'the thing' and get it running. This was what we were working on last week. We had wanted to get 'the thing' running before CB got here so as to impress him. We failed. Of course, we're still greenhorns and we were not expected to get it running before CB came over. But then our entire team takes a lot of pride in the work we do. And we wanted to prove ourselves.
CB knows what we've done so far. He's happy we've done so much without him. And he has an idea as to why 'the thing' won't run. CB and Y spend a couple of hours in the lab, setting up a test rig. I hover around them, I see them working patiently, connecting wires, setting up probes, the air thick with the concentration of their efforts. Five minutes into the testing and CB comes up with the solution.
(Please bear with me, I'll be going cryptic now.)
Basically it's this. CB's company taught us the technology with something they had made. Let me call it 6. And taking all that we learnt from 6, we made K. And we tried to run 'the thing' using K but with 6's configuration. CB had suspected that there could be a difference in the way 6 and K implement a fundamental thing. We weren't aware of this since certain things about 6 were shielded from us because of intellectual property issues. CB tests the two of them. And yes, they do differ. And exactly in the way CB had predicted. Boy, this guy is cool! I mean he had sugegsted that this difference could be a problem straight away. That's experience for you. Something no book can teach you.
I often ask myself what I would like to be 5 years from now. I want to be CB. If not better.
This is where it gets personal.
About a year and a half ago, I wrote an e-mail to one of my college e-groups. I still remember something I said in that e-mail.
"i'm also beginning to have second thoughts abt. being an engineer for life. i don't think it's my calling"
It was a time when I was going through the 'Quarter-Life' crisis. And I was examining a lot of things about my life and where I was going and also what I was doing. And considering the kind of work I was doing back then, I almost gave up on being an Engineer. A month and a half after that e-mail, I was ready to quit the company, having written a draft application letter to an advertising company in Chennai to take me in as a trainee. I somehow didn't send that e-mail and saved it as a draft. The very next week, three life-altering things happened.
My brother lost his job overnight.
My sister quit hers.
And I got assigned to this project, and my project lead tells me I have to leave for Australia in 3 weeks time.
Boom! I became the sole bread-winner in my family overnight. Life just dropped a bombshell.
That one month before I left for down under was quite traumatic. I didn't have a passport and had to literally run from pillar-to-post to get one. In between I had to decide. To be or not to be an Engineer. Add to that the confusion at home, and I was at my wit's end. I've always been one to give things a try, and so I decided to play along being an Engineer, for more reasons than one. It was not an easy thing to do, especially when you start questioning yourself if this is what you want to do. Like they say, Patience is a virtue. And I was in no hurry to get anywhere.
December 2004, and my first flight to anywhere. I spent the next two months at our collaborator's facility learning everything that I can. And I learnt how responsibility can be a serious motivator.
Monday, afternoon - Wednesday, 1.00 A.M.
The problem solved, we reconfigure K to match 6's configuration and spend the next two and a half days trying to get 'the thing' running. Problems of all sorts crop up -- mechanical, electronic and software related. We fix them patiently one by one. But 'the thing' is stubborn. It won't run.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, N -- the brilliant tyro in the team -- and I return from a late lunch to hear K -- another Mechanical Engineer -- congratulate us. We are confused. He informs us coolly that he saw CB get 'the thing' running in the garage. Dazed, we run over to the garage and peek in. 'The thing' stands there, mocking at us. We look around for CB. We find him looking at the squirrels up a tree. Panting, we ask him incredulously as to what happened. CB breaks into that million-dollar smile of his and confirms what K said. N and I can't believe our ears. We ask CB for visual confirmation. He goes into the garage and gives 'the thing' a strong kick.
And lo! Vrroom! Music! 'The bloody thing' comes alive giving us the most wonderful scare of our lives! SMD joins us to tell us that he was there when 'the thing' ran for the first time. He adds that he was peering into the exhaust when it kicked to life! We burst out laughing.
Over the next two days, we get 'the thing' slowly into shape. It's a finicky thing, wants everything to be exact, and we are in a hurry, 'cause CB's leaving on Thursday.We have a lot of tests to do, and we want 'the thing' running on a reliable basis.
Wednesday night, and it's past 1 at night when N and I retire for the day. We have everything ready for tomorrow, CB's final day here before he flies back home. It would be nice if we could give him the satisfaction of a productive trip.
As the project progressed throughout the whole of last year, I have seen myself grow from being shy and cautious to being assertive and confident. I've learnt to lead and be led. I've learnt to confront the prospects of failure and the shadows of doubt straight in the eye and emerge victorious. I've become more of myself.
My company has made this personal journey of discovery worth my while by revising its organizational hierarchy to put me higher up the ladder than where I should actually have been, And they treated the entire team to a windfall by revising the pay-structure to compare with the best in the business. And all this from a job I happened to stumble across! Luck? Destiny? Choice? Whatever, I don't care!
Y and I are early into the office. We hurry into the garage and try awakening 'the thing'. Another minor hiccup later, 'the thing' coughs, but refuses to start. Y and I are disappointed. CB looks on, immune to emotion. It looks like another long day. But The Boss interrupts the three of us, summoning us for a scheduled meeting where we'll be discussing the direction for the next year.
The meeting -- as is usual -- is a pain in the ass. MM -- our resident consultant -- does her best to throw the meeting into disarray and pretty soon most of us are in the Dreamzone. We can't wait to get out into the sun, and into the garage, and get back to working on 'the thing'. Somehow, CB and The Boss impose order on the meeting and we close, having put down a schedule for the next 14 months.
Y and I have a hurried lunch, haul 'the thing' out into the garden, set up the test rigs. We've done all that we can and if it doesn't run steadily now, then we'll have a long week ahead of us after CB leaves.
I stand beside 'the thing' and give it a series of kicks. It starts but rather reluctantly. I turn it off, turn it on, give it a series of kicks again, and it starts again, this time a bit more steady. Not convinced, I repeat the process twice, and each time 'the thing' starts increasingly well. CB, Y and I look at each other, grinning.
We continue to start it over and over again, just to make sure. And each time 'the thing' responds beautifully. We are over the moon. Pretty soon, the entire team is around us, witnessing the spectacle, all of us overjoyed beyond words, congratulations doing the rounds. All of us were relieved as well!
Well, that was that. CB and Y continued to proceed with all the testing that was to happen, all of which went off well as expected, throughout which 'the thing' behaved immaculately, like a school boy in front of his master.
In the evening, before CB left, we had a small celebration to mark this significant milestone in the project. To me it was more than a milestone. It was rebirth.
That one moment when I heard 'the thing' run for the first time, I knew this is how love must feel. It's too bad that the ephemerality of Life doesn't permit me to freeze myself in that moment forever, and that tomorrow is another day, with greater challenges to face and overcome. But today, tonight, this moment, I stand on top of the world. Base camp established. The summit awaits. And I know it's a long, hard climb.
As I sit in the office today, typing out this post, I can't help but recall what the description to my Blogroll link on a friend's blog says -- "...a budding writer and a reluctant engineer..." I was amused more than anything else when I first read that description. But now, I will definitely say, Engineer first, writer thereafter. I know that Chance had a great role to play in my continuing to be an Engineer, but then that's Life for you.
I realize being an Engineer has changed me as a person for the better and enriched my approach to Life in general. Engineering is not just about clinical thought, cold-blooded precision execution and attention to detail. It is about having faith in man's ability to conquer and mould nature according to his necessities. In a world where a lot of things don't matter anymore, and people are struggling to comprehend their purpose in lives, Engineering as a profession, as an ideal, as a way of life, as a purpose, as an end in itself, stands out like a neon sign, complete with a swoosh beneath it, proclaiming 'Just Do It'.
I'm an Engineer, and proud to be one. The B.E. degree rests easily on my shoulders today.