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Commentary

Bangalore Pink Slips and Resilient People

Meltdown impact: It was over in 5 minutes

Sandeep Jadhav, a 27-year-old professional in India’s outsourcing industry, had only seen the good times. He worked hard as a support technician in the local subsidiary of an American software company and took home an annual salary of about Rs 5 lakh.

He frequently bought expensive sarees for his wife, toys for his eight-month-old son and cricket gear for himself, maxing out on his two credit cards. In December, he planned to take a home loan and buy an apartment in the Kanakapura suburbs of Bangalore. Last week on Tuesday, Jadhav was called in by the vice-president of his company, handed a month’s salary and sacked on the spot.

“I signed the letter, took my cheque and walked out without speaking a single word. It was all over in five minutes,” said Jadhav, reliving the moment. The vice-president told him that he was being terminated due to “bad market conditions”.

Despite being pink-slipped, Jadhav himself holds no grudges against his employer of one-and-half years, Dulles, Virigina-based Everest Software, which makes products for small and medium businesses. “If Yahoo, IBM and Microsoft , all big companies with huge cash reserves can lay off, why not smaller companies which lead a month-to-month existence?” asks Jadhav pragmatically.

In the last few weeks, most of his colleagues in the company have been fired, too. “I was one of the last to be shown the door because I was one of the better performers,” he says.

The slowdown in India’s outsourcing industry, the mainstay of Bangalore’s economy, is showing up in unexpected ways. The city’s restaurants and drinking lounges are reporting a 30 to 50 per cent dip in revenues. A publicly-listed real estate firm has slashed prices of apartments. Others have introduced low-end options. Rush-hour commuters are even talking of de-clogging in the roads during peak times as outsourcing workers prefer taking the company bus or riding a two-wheeler to driving their cars.

In the last week, Jadhav has been frantically surfing the internet and scouring the newspapers in search of a job. He has dispatched his resume to a dozen companies unsolicited. He has fired it off to several placement consultants. He has attended three interviews so far but he has had no luck.

Jadhav may not yet have a job offer but he has a plan. “At the next interview, I am going to say to the company, give me a job, don’t give me a salary. Pay me only after I prove myself. I’m ready to go to that level.”

Jadhav’s wife Debadrita quit her job as a content editor at Yahoo when she became pregnant last year. The couple now has an eight-month old son. Jadhav has crossed the overdraft limit on his two credit cards and has run himself into a Rs-70,000 credit card debt. As he describes, “I am quite a spendthrift”. If he does not land a job in the next one month, Jadhav cannot pay his credit card dues and the card company will “come knocking to my door.”

This story hits home in a number of ways.

  • I was in Bangalore till last January, and have seen most of this – the job hopping every few months, the high salaries, the pushing of the credit card envelope, the living way beyond one’s means, and at the time, the getting away with it.You might think: who can have sympathy for the likes of Jadhav – the people who spent beyond their means. I am sure he doesn’t want sympathy either, because it was a high risk, high return game – he enjoyed the returns when they lasted, and he will ride out the downturn too. The fact that he has a young kid and family and huge credit card debts means nothing – it’s his responsibility and of course, eventually, the credit card company’s problem.

    Jadhav is not unique, or different. Hundreds like him have stretched themselves to the limit. I know some of them, and all of them are resilient enough to last out a downturn. We needed a recession to get rid of the madness; and what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger.

  • I left Bangalore in Jan, and one of the reasons was that it had become such a rotten place to live: Traffic was obscene, restaurants were full, roads were smoked out, and people were just too mercenary. A lot of that has changed, and perhaps will continue to change. That city might just get liveable again. Meanwhile, Mumbai has become mean and depressing.
  • Last but not least, I knew Everest Software. I worked there for a year, among the early employees, in 1997-98, when it was called ICode, and it was in Electronics City. I still knew people there, despite a lot having changed – even the founders were shunted out by the VCs a few years ago. I even recently interviewed a few folks from there – who told me about the firings – and was pleasantly surprised to see some of the fundas that were created when I was there still existed!

Of course, that means nothing – what deserves to die should die. Unlike GM, these people aren’t looking for a bailout.

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