December 17, 2008

After six months in Mumbai, working in an office which is equal parts legacy Maharashtrian staff and fresh new Bong and TamBrahm deputees (it’s a banking subsidiary, there have to be Bongs and TamBrahms around), I have come to an important realisation: Maharashtrian laziness is very different from other races’ laziness.

At one end of the laziness spectrum is the sort of laziness that Terry Pratchett describes in Moving Pictures:

Ordinary laziness was merely the absence of effort. Victor had passed through there a long time ago, had gone straight through commonplace idleness and out on the far side. He put more effort into avoiding work than most people put into hard labor.

People who didn’t apply themselves to the facts in hand might have thought that Victor Tugelbend would be fat and unhealthy. In fact, he was undoubtedly the most athletically inclined student in the University. Having to haul around extra poundage was far too much effort, so he saw to it that he never put it on and he kept himself in trim because doing things with decent muscles was far less effort than trying to achieve things with bags of flab.

Another form of dynamic laziness is structured procrastination:

Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

So these are the forms of laziness which actually get things done. It’s this sort of laziness which Larry Wall was talking about when he said that the three virtues of a programmer are laziness, impatience and hubris:

  1. Laziness – The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it. Hence, the first great virtue of a programmer. Also hence, this book. See also impatience and hubris.
  2. Impatience – The anger you feel when the computer is being lazy. This makes you write programs that don’t just react to your needs, but actually anticipate them. Or at least pretend to. Hence, the second great virtue of a programmer. See also laziness and hubris.
  3. Hubris – Excessive pride, the sort of thing Zeus zaps you for. Also the quality that makes you write (and maintain) programs that other people won’t want to say bad things about. Hence, the third great virtue of a programmer. See also laziness and impatience.

Alas, few people are virtuous enough to use their laziness for good rather than evil. Instead, many people are French or Bong. In that case their laziness expresses itself in refusing to show up for work earlier than very late, and refusing to stay for work later than very early. On the other hand, this is well understood, and people can work around it. And maybe the French and the Bongs are enjoying themselves when they’re off work, in which case the laziness at least is benefitting somebody.

KT laziness, according to Monkee, consists of passing the buck to other people. While this is not as desirable as coming up with shortcuts and hacks yourself, at least it ensures that the buck will eventually land up with someone who believes that the buck stops with him or her. And so things get done.

Maharashtrian laziness is different altogether. Maharashtrians don’t arrive late and leave early the way the French and Bongs do. Nor do they pass the buck. Nor do they come up with easier and faster ways of doing things. They just ignore everything. Asking a lazy Maharashtrian to do something – whether in person, over phone, or over email – is futile. It won’t get done. They won’t claim to be busy with something else. They won’t ask you to get the work done by someone else who is supposedly responsible. They won’t tell you to do something else instead. They won’t even acknowledge that you’ve requested something.  Your request just vanishes. Pooft. Like into a black hole.

This habit can actually be lived with. The other Maharashtrian habit – cellphone ring volumes turned up to maximum, coupled with polyphonic ringtones – can’t.

Political Incorrectness Gone Wild

February 19, 2008

Apparently, Bombay colleges are appealing to their students to refrain from making ethnic jokes, what with the inflamed situation:

Several colleges — probably the city’s most multicultural hubs — have informally cautioned students to go easy on community remarks, which would otherwise mean nothing more than harmless jokes and jibes. 

“The students are very young and have no malice. Since we have a huge mix of students, it is important to be careful,” said MB Madlani, principal of Raheja College, Santacruz. “Teachers have informally talked about the issue and our students have responded maturely.” 

(Hindustan Times)

This is all well and good. Especially because this appears to be a sensible discussion of risks rather than a blanket ban, which is quite surprising for Indian education. But what to make of this quote?

Sociologist Nandini Sardesai said the caution is demographically defined. “Colleges in areas like Parel, Shivaji Park and Dadar should be more cautious. India, including Mumbai, has a tendency to be communal at every level, be it religious or regional.”

I am enraged. How dare this so-called sociologist draw these invidious distinctions between the various regions of Mumbai? Where does this Colaba-prancing, Marine Drive-promenading, Cathedral-types socialite get off claiming that Goregaon types1 are more prone to violence than she is? This is regionalism of the worst sort. Someone should advise her to avoid unnecessary remarks.

1:For the benefit of new readers, IIM-B racism splits Maharashtrians into Cathedral Types (those who live in Bombay south of Mumbai Central), and Goregaon types (everyone else).