Happy Birthday to me!

I am turning 12 today instead of 30. It was 12 years ago, on an ordinary September day that I came to this world. I was going about my work as usual, oblivious to the sudden death and the rebirth that was awaiting for me on that day. I was walking briskly down the bridge at the railway station hoping to catch my usual train. The train was already at the station and I sprinted forward to get on it. As destiny would have it, just a few feet away from the platform, I slipped and fell and got torn in half between the hot iron tracks and the rusted cogs of the train. The old me was dead and the new me was born. My world turned dark and whatever I know from then remains hearsay.

They said I was lucky the train had not picked up full speed. I was immediately taken to the hospital. My blood loss was severe enough to knock me out completely. The doctors did not think twice about amputating my severely crushed left leg. The pain was enormous. No amount of painkillers would have helped. In hindsight, I am glad I had enough physical pain to keep me distracted from the emotional trauma that was lurking around the corner.

Just like a newborn baby doesn’t remember much about their formative years, I do not remember a lot from the first year after the fall. The only recollection I have is that I ate a lot of painkillers, got a lot of psychological counseling, and wasted a year of my engineering college fees which was on top of the massive medical bills. My recovery was slow. I had a series of operations. My left leg was amputated and my right leg had to be shaved off of 2 inches of bone. I lost 2 inches of height. The surgery wounds took a long time to heal. I was bedridden for a year and then I started taking baby steps.

I resumed my studies, and at the same time started exploring options for a ‘Jaipur leg’. They are cheap and nice but not as good as the international prosthetic legs. When I first started using Jaipur, my skin bled a lot. I struggled harder than most toddlers do to learn how to walk.

Eventually it all seemed like a routine.

There were emotionally explosive moments too. Like the time I couldn’t get good grades in engineering, but still managed to secure an admission in a good college for my post graduate studies due to the handicap quota. It was by far the worst decision of my life. I felt guilty of having it so easy to get in. Also, the fellow students there were way smarter than me. There was a lot of pressure on me to just cope up with their level of performance. The education did little help to my career, but a lot of damage to my confidence.

Then there was the case for my marriage. My family started looking for matches early on as I was a special case. I was rejected ( quite reasonably ) by hundreds of potential spouses. They all sympathized with me and they all did not want me. These many rejections drills the thought in your brain that you are not really wanted by anyone. I was lucky enough to get married to a guy who is physically fit but of little means. Try being married to a person who only married you for your family’s money. Every night you go to bed knowing he doesn’t really like you, but he is stuck with you as he doesn’t have any other option. Hey, but I am not complaining. I lost half of my human rights the day I was born again. I am since then surviving half as a pet in someones care.

There are other minor occasional things that bother me. My prosthetic leg is now of an international brand and expensive, but unfortunately not water proof. I still feel the pinch when I see others do water sports and I know I cant. Also I can’t run or walk a lot. It hurts. Bad.

I am 12 and excited to start my teenage life. I am yet to deal with the regret I have of hanging on the door of the train that led to my fall. Only If I hadn’t.Life would have been so much different.

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Anita

Let me tell you a story. This story is about a girl named Anita who stayed in the same building as I did. She was a bright and hardworking child. She did well in school and usually topped her class. Everyone expected her to do well in life and had great hopes from her. Even though she was smart in studies, she had no airs about her. She was a humble, down to earth person. Part of the reason why she was so humble was because her own family had modest means and struggled quite a bit financially. Her dad was unsuccessful in his business and her mom tried hard to makes ends meet. But these hardships meant nothing to her and she was, in general, quite a happy child.

Soon after graduating as an engineer, she went on to work in a different city. She fell in love with a guy at work, and soon enough they were engaged to be married. However, fate had a totally different set of plans for her.

One night she received a call from her father. He told her that her mother has been arrested by the police officers. Anita felt her entire world shatter in front of her. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Arrested? Her mother? Police? What in the world was happening? She immediately got on the first bus home. She was shocked and confused. She cried the whole way. Her father did not tell her much about what had happened. Later she found out that her mother had been arrested by the police for income tax fraud.

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Anita was raging mad at the stupidity of these officers. The one thing she could not figure out was how in God’s name can a family with little to no savings in their bank account be accused of income tax fraud? Surely these people must be crazy. Her dad had never seen a profit in his entire life of trying to set up a business and her mom never made enough money to even be considered in the tax paying bracket. She thought, surely there was a misunderstanding somewhere. The police weren’t disclosing any information and she was clueless.

Meanwhile, I should tell you briefly about what actually happened on the fateful night at her home. Two uniformed officers went to her home and searched her house for black money. Upon finding nothing, they arrested her mother and took her to the police station in the van which was parked in the building. The entire building watched this episode play out. No one knew what really the matter was and soon everyone had their own version of rumors to spread. Such events are highly frowned upon in India and its socially very difficult to face them. However, it was particularly bad for Anita.
Shocked and sad, Anita informed her fiance of all the problems that had hit her family. Her fiancée, instead of trusting her, decided to play Sherlock himself and asked her neighbors for why Anita’s mom had been arrested. Believing in all the stories the neighbors spun, he called off their engagement.

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Anita was devastated. Her mom was at the police station. Her fiancé dumped her. Her father was of little to no help and her neighbors made her cry every time she spoke to them as they would mock her or incessantly question her on what was going to happen to her mom next. She was lonely, hungry and very angry. She had hit life’s lowest point.

She consulted a lawyer with the charge sheet the police gave her and realized that her mother’s case was actually a big mistake on the IT department’s side which was later exacerbated by her mothers ignorance. Her mother had always struggled to buy a house in Mumbai, where property rates are sky-high. Her uncle was living in the United Stated and he decided to help her out by gifting her a home. He transferred $20000 overnight in her moms bank account which enabled her to purchase the house they lived in. A transfer of $20000 is a big amount for someone who doesn’t pay taxes. Soon the Income Tax office sent out an inquiry letter to her mother. Her mother was not street smart and was pretty ignorant. She ignored all letters of inquiry from the IT department which caused the arrest.

The case took 5 years to clear in the court and eventually her mother was acquitted. However, just because her mother wasn’t street smart and did not much about law and policies in general, she paid a high price with all the upheaval in her life

There are thousands of people in India who don’t have a good understanding of the various laws and policies that need to be followed. Most of the times it doesn’t affect them, but for some like Anita’s family, it changes their life forever. Always be aware of rules and regulations so that you never have to be helpless in front of the law.

Woman In Tech

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I am a woman software engineer working at a famous tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area. My journey from Mumbai, India to San Francisco, USA has not been an easy one. When I got an offer letter from my current company, I was thrilled! I finally felt it was time to enjoy the fruits of my labor and have a good time. Unfortunately, this feeling was short-lived. Soon after joining, I realized that I would have to work twice as hard as others to achieve the same things. Being a woman engineer is not easy.

There are few women engineers who code

It’s common knowledge that software companies are struggling to maintain gender diversity and that women engineers are way less compared to men in the industry. When I joined my company, a quick insights search revealed that around 38 percent of the R&D workforce was female. However, upon joining I realized that a majority of these women were User Experience designers who did not have the same responsibilities as software engineers. The obvious lack of women engineers (who code ) around me made me slightly uncomfortable in asking any question to my fellow teammates. The ease with which fellow men conversed in the team was never present when they conversed with me. My teammates were nice. But we had no common interests. They played basketball and volleyball, and I had no interest in any sports. I loved reading books and they never touched any. Lunch time conversations with the team were awkward as we never really had anything to discuss. It wasn’t long before I was labelled shy. There were male college graduates who joined after me and yet developed a much deeper bonding with the team than I had done. This bonding plays a big role in achieving success in your role as then you are more comfortable discussing solutions, brainstorming ideas or even asking for help. I feel that had there been more female engineers in the team, I would have been much more comfortable with them and that would have helped my career a lot

I am not aggressive

Another problem I faced was totally related to my personality and not at all related to my gender. I am not very aggressive. I like to do good work, but I don’t like to force someone to work my way. From my one year at my job in the bay area, if there is anything I have learnt, it is that your success is directly related to your visibility. My company was filled with engineers who were all technically highly competent. Then how is it decided who is the best amongst the best? The answer is the one who is the most aggressive and hence most visible. Now aggressive is a strong term and I should not use it lightly. Allow me to explain what I mean by aggressive.If you are at any top company in the bay area, it is generally expected that even as an entry-level software engineer, you display leadership skills. Managers seldom assign tasks to you and it is totally up to you to decide what do you want to work on from the list of available tasks. Aggressive people will always take the most interesting or impact generating tasks and gain a lot of visibility for themselves. They will be quick to do that. So if you are a person like me, assuming the other guy in the team is going to be nice and offer you a chance to get the meatier piece, forget it. Its like the game of dog and the bone. Whichever dog grabs it first, the bone is his. I am slowing learning to keep my chivalrous nature aside and be a bitch!

I am above 30

I am not going to dwell much on this one as it is common knowledge. If I am learning the basics in my early 30s as opposed to others around me who are learning at 22 (especially when the people teaching them are 24 themselves) then we all know what is to be expected. It doesn’t help that I come home to a family, as opposed to working at the office till 10 pm (many of the young co workers do that). I have been encouraged many times to leave my comfort zone and push myself more like the other recent college graduates. Hmmmmm.

This sums up some of the major problems I faced at my job. Hey, but you know what? I am not a quitter. I am proactively working on solutions to help me achieve great stuff at my workplace without letting the above problems affect me. I will post about it soon!