An Indian take on The Social Network, Part 1 – Chehrakitaab?

This is not a review for the movie ‘The Social Network’. Enough accolades and adjectives have been doled out for the Movie, Facebook, Mark Zukerberg and etc. The movie itself was just above the ordinary as far as I am concerned, but all its pitfalls were eclipsed by the raw awesomeness of the story and portrayal on how the guy built up Facebook.

This post is on a throught generated by the movie and Facebook from an Indian perspective, as an answer to the second most repeated question about India after “Why doesn’t India get into the FIFA World Cup?“, which is: Despite being chok-a-block with millions of so-called culture-rich, brilliant, intelligent, (and rich) people, why has India not yet produced a Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Oracle, Amazon, Apple, AOL..? Heck, even with the world’s largest concentration of Orkutiyas, we haven’t even come up an Orkut, for all our brilliance! We have some of the brightest minds and programmers on the planet, and still there is no product or company that has come out of India. Well, it is not so difficult to fathom why. Let me put it in perspective, by telling a story.

Definitely NOT Indian.

What if Mark Zuckerberg was born in India?

Mahesh Shakkarpahaad was born in Gonda, UP, to middle class parents. He went to “English Medium” where he learned to write letters that say: “This is to kindly beg to bring to your attention that.. ..Please do the needful” and so on. Like most Indian kids, he too was instilled with the great Indian ‘cultural value’ right from his childhood: “Cram your ass off, get into IIT, followed by a job in ‘phoren’, then marry a homely girl from your own caste (who will be chosen by your parents, of course) and do service for your elders.” Or something on those lines.

Our boy was brilliant, intelligent and was immensely talented. He grew up learning immensely useless algebra, trigonometry et al, which helped him understand world-saving facts like how much time a train will take to cross a lamp post and how the world functioned in x-y and Sine theta. He successfully crammed his way into IIT where he falls in love with the college belle, but couldn’t muster the courage to tell her so. In a dreamy attempt to put his adolescent amor in material form, he creates a website where male IIT students can compare FLAMES with any girl in IIT of their liking. However, the network was not designed to take all the hits it recieved from the 200+ male students at the same time (there were only like 10 girls in IIT anyway). He was seriously admonished by the IIT management for crashing their network, and was suspended for 2 weeks after ‘enquiry’, hearing which his parents went into shock as if he was convicted for first-degree murder.

Not one to give up, Mahesh came up with an idea for ‘Chehrakitaab’, an online service where people could connect with other people (especially women) online, through profiles and messages. He burned the midnight electricity perfecting his plan, complete with code and GUIs. But when he presented his idea, the entire Shakkarpahaad khandaan was scandalized!  His mother wept silent tears, his father threatened to disown him and his mamaji and other relatives rued about how life in the big city with ‘modern girls’ had corrupted him making him go against Indian traditions and values. He was reminded about what the goal of his life was, that he was supposed to cram his way and get “good grades”, and not to go around inventing useless stuff. His professors, most of whom were self-importance and ego-encrusted fossils and relics of another era, were aghast at the thought that one of their students could be more creative and intelligent than they are. He was told him he had better pull his socks up and study, anymore deviating from the line would result in “serious repercussions.” Also, scoffs of “Who do you think you are, Bill Gates/Steve Jobs?”

His dreams shattered, Mahesh gave up, crammed up whatever was pounded into his brain and vomited it on his answer sheet. At the end of the course he was picked up by SoullessMegaCorp, Inc., the leading software US MNC, prompting a shortage in Laddus and Cadbury’s supply in Gonda. Within 6 months he was ‘onsite’, drawing salary in crisp US Dollars and ‘elders’ declared that it was time for him to propagate the Shakkarpahaad clan. A frenzy for dowry ensued and 30 acres of land, enough household appliances to fill a Croma showroom, 100 tolas of Gold and a brand new Honda Civic sealed his fate. The bahu, as Mataji insisted, always wore the pallu above her head and made nice rotis. 15 days after the marriage, Mahesh was on a Continental Airlines flight back to Newark. The bahu followed 6 months later.

Mahesh Shakkarpahaad is now settled in Edison, New Jersey, has two girls aged 5 and 3, and still slogs for SoullessMegaCorp as a software programmer on H1B as his Green Card processing will take a year more. He earns a meagre salary by US standards, and the bahu knows just enough English to shop at the nearby 7 to 11. Trips to India are once a year on Air-India out of JFK in economy and his mother still prays for a grandson. He sees his future laid out before him. Sometimes, sitting in his claustrobhobic cubicle, he looks into the distance and pauses to think about his idea – Chehrakitaab – What If? He knows how it all could have been different.

Chicken Coop and more

There are hundreds of talented Zuckerbergs in India, but in India, balls to talent! The only thing that we are supposed to do is act as our family tells us to do, which we are bonded to by ‘cultural values’, the most effective brainwashing tool ever invented to keep an entire people from discovering themselves, from which we cannot break free. Only people who have immensely hard conviction of mind and rock-hard will can rise above this bond to create worlds of their own.

In addition to this “Chicken Coop” mentality as Arvind Adiga calls it in his Booker-winning book “The White Tiger“, talent is scoffed at and ridiculed and brilliant ideas are brutally repressed as we wallow in our long inculcated inferiority complex and sub-conscious slave mentality. The British designed our education system to create cheap literate clerk labor for them. We are following it even today, creating clerks of a different kind. Ideas generated by talent are thrown into the dustbin of egoism and tradition. And like everything else wrong in this country, it is not going to change anytime soon. You know now why India has no Facebook.

A tear, to all that great talent going wasted like a lit candle inside a closed pot.

Read Next: Bollywoodization of the movie “The Social Network”

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