Monday, September 26, 2011

RIP My Transcription Career (Mon, 24 Sept, '07 – Fri, 23 Sept '11)

Today marks the first Monday of my unemployment. For the past four years, this particular day has been the scariest of all. But not today. I left my job as a transcriber gone Friday and I guess I’m done with business transcription for good! I always knew I’ll be quitting someday but I just didn’t know whether I had the guts to type out a polite resignation letter. We tend to find a comfort zone and then get stuck in it, not knowing what lies beyond that perfunctory farewell mail.

Two years ago, I wrote this piece commemorating my completion of two years in the industry! But as of now, I can claim to be a former transcriber instead of a transcriber. What a relief! No matter how accomplished a transcriber you are, it's always a pain to explain what transcription is all about. And trust me, not many people are aware of it. I’m sure even you don’t know much about it. (So, you don't know what transcription is all about, huh? I wish I had that privilege!) Unfortunately, the greatest thing about transcription does not exist. The corporate clowns speak. The listless transcribers discern. The editors curse transcribers for shoddy work. The transcription industry yawns.

A:- "Which one is easier when you're dead sleepy – transcribing or editing?"

B:- "Sleeping."

I joined transcription after I dropped out of engineering college. It was like an escape or a detour or something to ease my cluttered mind. I just needed a job and got one and stayed with it for the consecutive four summers. Much to my colleagues’ amusement, I often joke that I drained 4 years of my not-so-precious life for the *betterment* of this industry. You see, transcription requires a very basic skill – listening. And not many of us carry a good pair of unbiased ears. A lot of joinees discontinue, unable to take the stress. Yes. There is a very stress-friendly environment out there with the blaring microphone latched on your pate; eyes rolling; fingers tap dancing; a leg placed on pedal to adjust the flow. In spite of all these hyperbole, the job is rewarding to those who know for sure why they got themselves into this nocturnal number-chasing rigmarole! ‘

The next level of progression for a transcriber is to become an editor. Editor’s job looks easy but is way too tedious and arduous, too. For me, if you’re are transcriber and aspiring to be a better transcriber, you’re screwed. Your aim should be to be ANYTHING other than to be a transcriber. An editor, perhaps. Or a Quality Analyst or a manager or the CEO of the damn company.

Of course, this shows the kind of transcriber I am. I mean I was. Every time I watch an English movie without subtitles, I realize how terrible a transcriber I turned out to be. Being a lousy transcriber, I hated my profession from the bottom of my fingers. My typing was not an issue. 90 WPM is my bitch! Even the foreign accents were not an impediment provided the audios were of good quality. My issue was I just couldn’t find out the reason why I wasn’t in some other job that involved writing – to be a writer – the ones who are able to accurately transcribe what the voices in their head dictates.

The unfavouritest quote in transcription: "Please standby. We are about to begin."

As a kid, my only ambition was to become Mowgli. I don’t know when exactly Mowgli got replaced by Transcriber. How life transforms from chasing dreams to chasing deadlines! As a solace, Transcriber is the superhero who types so quick that sparks fly from his fingertips, not to mention his bleeding ears. Professionally speaking, the fact that Lord Ganesha ‘transcribed’ Mahabharata was a huge consolation for me.

The favouritest quote in transcription: "And we have no further questions. You may now disconnect."

People ask me why I quit and that too in the middle of the fiscal year. I could have stayed back 4 more months and collected my annual bonus and then quit. On top of that, I recently got a raise. My colleagues are basically perplexed. Nothing new but I had many benefits in this job which I’m not entitled to anymore. They always had a hunch that I am a moron but this abrupt act of leaving confirmed their doubts.

To be honest, I myself have no particular reason or answers. Perhaps I just wanted to be blissfully unemployed. Anyway, for a two-bit transcriber, I was way too busy. Secondly, my health was suffering too. My former sleep pattern jumped out of the window and committed suicide. I can say I was healthy once upon a time and then I joined this ball-busting industry. My ears have grown deaf, too. In fact, partial deafness is the first sign of becoming a brilliant transcriber. But in my case, the brilliance got replaced by a higher volume of deafness.

I know I’m sounding pathetic and unprofessional. But let me remind you, a jobless guy can’t afford to be professional. Besides, they'd call you unprofessional in case you died transcribing in the office. Even if you are the world’s finest transcriber, you'll never hear an ant sing or a heart break. And then one fine day, your will be speaking in a strange accent and your job would have rubbed off on you.

Stuff you don’t ask a transcriber during quarter peak season: "How are you?"

There were things I liked about my job. For instance, we work in absolute silence. Transcribers appreciate silence. In reality, no one appreciates silence more than a transcriber who is covering an accented conference call. Although I couldn’t become a good transcriber despite spending four years on it, there are guys out there who can pick up stuff normal human ears can’t possibly replicate.

So, what next? I’ve got no idea. I don’t even have a back-up job. Most probably, I’ll stay home for a while and try to get my procrastinating ass into some writing-related work, if possible. In the meantime, also teach some SSC kids grammar for a month or so. Sleep at night for a change. Jog. Live.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

the journey from Pakis(ass)tan back to Pakistan....

On 19th September, 2011, Pakistan woke up to a bomb blast in Karachi and somehow managed to end the day with the same in Peshawar. And to top it all, Pakistanis are pretty much used to the trend now. For a nation carved out for the welfare of the minorities, it doesn’t care about smaller communities nor bears the necessity of protecting them at any cost.
To paraphrase, Pakistan is an international headache. Worse off, an incurable migraine. Add to this, the natural calamities it faces nearly other year. Last year, one-fifth of Pakistan was under water. As we speak, Sindh is badly affected by flood and the kind of apathy shown by the government as well as the people in other parts of the nation is shameful to say the least. All in all, you’ve got a country that’s mired in acute hopelessness and financial debts. Over the years, it has accumulated so much bad press that the image is not going to cleanse itself overnight. The throes of disasters ranging from serious internal rumblings and suspicious bearing in the global fora are everyday fodder for news.
Sounds clich├ęd? Well, the word is facts.
Now, let’s change the track a bit and see what could be on the other side of the canvas. After all, challenges beckon opportunities to rise! I know we can’t compare instances of revival that happened in the case of Japan, S. Korea, Singapore, and China. But did Japan in its heydays anticipated that in the years to come, China will recover its lost economic ground and gain foothold in world affairs?
Well, Pakistan finds itself in a unique paradigm. So that’d be totally out of question considering the extreme parameters and present day circumstances. But then, we can’t discard the possibility either. Anything can happen. And anything does happen. There is still a floating probability that Pakistan will rise in the future. All it has to do is some soul searching provided some soul is left in there. It has to ask tough questions and then settle with the truth.
No other nation on the planet in modern era had tried to tamper with genuine history the way Pakistan has. Here is a nation founded on the basis of fear. Fear of being ill-treated and subjugated by the majorities. And to sustain this theory, it had to create a false grandeur of paranoia and self-righteousness. Of course, this practice helped for a while to keep the newborn nation united but eventually the seams came apart. And the Frankenstein we are witnessing today in the form of domestic terrorism is a byproduct of that experiment.
People often say Pakistan’s biggest problem is its obsession with religion. Yes, it’s true but that’s not entirely the case. Religion is merely a blindside designed for the benefit of military, mullahs and self-proclaimed ultra-nationalists. The real problem is commerce. Or should I say, the lack of it. Citizens shy away from paying taxes. Law and order is synonymous with nepotism and cronyism. The loans granted by the Western countries are rising on a daily basis. Net-net, everything appears shoddy thanks to the sway military holds within the boundary with no opposition whatsoever. Democracy is a charade. Ironically, Pakistan wholeheartedly exercises democratic freedom of expression only when it comes to allowing anti-India slogan rallies.
Furthermore, the National Assembly is highly inspired by the Indian Parliament and functions more like a circus and less like the way it should be. Under such situations, economy is bound to choke. And it is choking. Badly. As far as economics goes, Pakistan has become the 51st state of United States but pays the price with innocent lives.
Foremost of all, Pakistan needs to be at ease with itself. It should embrace its history. There is no point running away from its origin. Changing syllabus doesn’t change a nation’s chronicle nor its destiny. Secondly, it should breathe free and develop a vision for itself. That doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with what Jinnah had in mind for it’s quite obvious that Jinnah was a confused personality. Like Gandhi, he too was a flawed character, but unlike Gandhi, he wasn’t the introspective kind. No wonder Pakistan finds itself without a horizon today.
Islam at its sectarian best resulted in nothing but bloodshed after bloodshed after bloodshed. Even during the holy month of Ramadan. The idea of secularism should be given a chance. If not, the most reasonable solution would be to allow Pakistan to be a moderate Muslim country. That'd include electoral reforms like abolition of separate electorates system, reorganization of provinces based on mix of ethno-linguistic claims and administrative convenience, etc.
Reforms must take place be it in agriculture or foreign policies. Speaking of its neighbors, it has to build a more transparent relationship with everyone in the vicinity. China may be an all-weather friend but when the heat’s up, only Pakistan sweats. Plus, it’s high time Rawalpindi overcame its India-centric complex. Pakistan's fiercest enemy is Pakistan, not India. In fact, Pakistan is one of those few blessed countries (along with India) that can do without an enemy!
Kashmir is and will always be an apple of discord but a Pakistani snubbing Balochistan but urging for Palestinian freedom is a lot like an Indian ignoring Kashmir but advocating Tibetan independence. Go figure. That’s how things are in Indian subcontinent.
Trade should be the language between the two countries; forget conjoined past and sentimental attachments. Better grow up before time runs out. Besides, the nuclear warheads ain’t going to feed the masses (especially, those from the non-military end). Besides, the climate of hatred and indifference should be checked.
I know expecting the above said would invite lot of criticism, muted or otherwise, or may even invoke laughter in some quarters as Pakistan is indeed a very curious case. Agreed, the State of Pakistan is in denial with its milieu but will that be the case forever (or to be honest, aren’t there still many sane voices, maybe overawed by extremist souls?). Someday, there’ll be a strong possibility of ordinary citizens asking very uncomfortable questions to the State instead of mullahs and televangelists and demand legitimate answers and not postulate conspiracies as pills for remedy. That day isn’t far away.
Like the world is now coming to terms to rise of the East i.e. Asia [exclude Myanmar, Pakistan (you were expecting this, right?), etc], others may need to comprehend Pakistan when it may rise (if it will). Assuming that it will, it’s better to hope for the best and work towards that goal. Anyway, Pakistan is a 64-year-young country. There is still time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

When China dialed 911

Technically, it’s still 9/11 today in New York. And that’s what matters. For the unaffected lot, it could be ‘World Conspiracy Theory Day’– a day that shocked humankind at the very onset of the 21st century. It was also a morning that redefined the word Terrorism and its extramarital affair with another word called Islam. Humanity, poor as it already is, paid a huge price. After all, hundreds of people perished within seconds leading to minutes leading to hours leading to days leading to months leading to years leading to a decade.

All in all, it was a terrible thing to have happened. And more importantly, it was a terribler thing to do. As a consequence, millions suffered and died (and are still doing) in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world where Western imperialism holds a sway. You see the problem with United States (unlike India) is it values her citizen’s life highly. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with it. Every nation should do the same. But not at the expense of others’ lives.

No other nation on the map today has disrupted and meddled in other countries’ affairs the way USA had. It’s an open secret. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that America’s foreign policies work mysteriously. For America. Perhaps with great power comes great responsibility to take care of your own. And no one but your own!

Now, my intention ain’t to decide who is right or wrong and whether the whole 9/11 tragedy was justified. First of all, it CAN’T be justified and secondly, who am I to decide? Thirdly, people shouldn’t be killed when they are at work in their offices. And we are talking of a casualty figure amounting to 3,000 lives within half a day.

Anyway, thousands of conspiracy theories have been circulating on internet since the day those two humongous buildings gave birth to Ground Zero. Some people are still not convinced of the terrorist attacks’ genuineness. They feel it was a deliberate attempt by US to enter Middle-East politics via Tora Bora and to ultimately gain a foothold in the neighboring regions. Muslims across the world pointed their fingers towards Zionist agents in Washington D.C.

Patriotism is a funny thing. American authorities lied through their teeth about WMD’s presence in Iraq and gave Saddam Hussain a free dental checkup while they were at it! Sophistry is a part and parcel of globalisation and the bloodshed it entails.

Amid such opaque circumstances and Pentagon classified documents that maybe shall see daylight 30 years hence, I thought why not add a new dimension to these theories and contribute to their long-lasting legacy in human entertainment?

Here’s my inference on what really must have happened: CHINA WAS BEHIND THE 9/11 ATTACKS!

The reason why I say so is, if you wonder who profited the most from the two pyrrhic wars Bush, Rumsfeld & Co. dragged United States into and the resulting financial crisis, the answer is plain and simple. China. The last decade proved to be a tilt in China’s favor in terms of economy and an unceremonious decline for her immediate rivals, Japan and USA . Also, better keep in mind that China is capable of such stunts. Moreover, since it’s China we’re discussing here, the question of morality doesn’t even arise. This is the very country that daringly sells arms to African outcast Sudan and Asian pariah Myanmar. And we better not talk about its clandestine contribution to Pakistan’s nuclear prowess. China does what it has to do to do others.

Coming back to the Sept ’11 attacks, the question that rings a bell in everyone’s mind is – how did those idiotically bearded terrorists manage to pull off such a brilliant Hollywood teaser with so much precision? The answer is simple. They didn’t. Some Kung Fu expert Chinese who grew up watched Con Air did. And they all died in the process leaving no trace of their identities. Who knows? Even Osama might have learned his withdrawal and tough-terrain-survival-tricks in Shaolin before ISI took pity and offered him an appartment at Abbottabad.

8 years down the line, United States slipped into recession while Beijing exhibited the most magnificent Olympics of all time. Collective embarrassment of banking sector followed by double-dip followed by quantitative easing followed by record unemployment followed America's bleeding trail like never before. On the brighter side, China continues to plays with the idea of pegging renminbi and boasts of an ever-increasing stake in U.S. foreign reserve. You get the picture.

Enough of lashing China for faring better than India at the moment in its race to superpowerdom! I guess I should stop here. This nonsense is getting stupider than I planned it to be. Whatever. This is exactly how a conspiracy theory ought to sound like.

Peace y’all.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

One small step for Jobs; One giant slip for Apple

There are very few people breathing out there whom I genuinely admire. Steve Jobs is definitely one of them. Not because he has more moolah than the U.S. Treasury itself. Or because he founded and guided the most valuable company on the planet. I look up to him because of the failures and daunting obstacles he faced and yet managed to ratchet through them. Needless to disclaim, he is not a perfect human being. No one is. But whenever I think of Apple, I see a thinner-than-before monkish guy in turtlenecks and jeans with a childlike enthusiasm to showcase the best of technology. And boy he does it so well!
Few years back, I read he used to walk 7 miles every Sunday night to ISKCON temple during his humble days to have a free-of-cost proper meal. I found the Indian tangent there intriguing but that’s not the point. The detail to gawk on here is his truly modest background. His father was a Syrian Muslim so basically he’s a Syrian-American though his mother was a white American. Since they were unmarried at the time of his birth, both kind of disowned him and put him up for adoption. His biological parents then had a daughter who is a famous novelist now. The surname Jobs comes from his foster parents. 

For any adopted child, the sense of rejection is always lingering in the back of their mind. I wonder how it must be for a person to grow up and then later learn who their actual parents are. And such corny stuff! As far as I know, he hasn’t reconciled with his biological parents/family yet. Maybe that’s how it will be for the rest of his life. 

Now, talking of Apple, funny things happened here, too. He hired a new CEO named Sculley who used to work for Pepsi-Cola in ’83 and as luck (bad luck, actually) would have it, Jobs had to leave the very company he built in ‘85. All thanks to the mutiny led by Sculley. Here, again, the idea of rejection by your own people returns to haunt him. But he’s not the kind to slip into a maudlin-filled cocoon. He sees this as an opportunity to check out new avenues. 

Animation seemed like a pretty new and daring venture. And that’s when Pixar took flight. He spent the next 11 years, amongst other things, on nourishing Pixar into becoming what it is today – the most profitable animal studio in the business – which he eventually sold to Walt Disney in ’06 making him its largest individual shareholder. Even Walt Disney would have been proud of him!

Meanwhile, Apple realized it can’t do without Jobs’ chutzpah so they invited him back and he rejoined the board in ’96. It’s been a helluva ride for all Apple-worshippers since then! His phenomenal vision with a mantra of keeping tech as simple as possible clicked with the masses. 

Beauty lies in the ‘i’ of Apple. 

Cute little gadgets like iPod, iPhone with countless apps and heavier products in the form of iMac, iBook and ilk captured market’s imagination. And still do. Only multiple times more. iPad2 was the latest offering from their storehouse. All in all, innovation has been a key word in the way Apple thinks and works. And Steve Jobs plays first hand role in every execution. In fact, an anecdote about him advising his employees from the hospital bed while he was admitted for liver transplant is legendary.

He was declared the CEO of the noughties for all the good reason. But he has detractors too who criticize him for his clandestine design practice and ego! At least Apple is not facing plagiarism lawsuits like some top-shot tech companies are. I’m not defending it or anything. Just saying that their way of functioning works for both ends – assembly producers as well as end consumers. 

Coming back to Steve Jobs, he resigned from his CEO position the very week I offered my resignation from transcription. Like they (don’t) say, great minds resign alike! He’ll be serving as Chairman though but his duties will be severely clipped due to the prostrate cancer he’s suffering from. The very news of his resignation sent the share market into a tizzy. But then it’s Apple and they hardly do anything wrong. He must have it all planned out. At least he always seems to.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Anna: An Inconvenient Hero

Now that Anna-mania has substantially subsided in this country, I’m wondering what exactly makes a person hero in India. It’s an open secret that for a nation of more than 1.2 billion people, we face a severe drought of real-life icons. And Sachin alone won’t suffice.

In the midst of such anomalies, a 74 year old Gandhian named Anna Hazare declares a non-violent war against corruption. His cronies, Team Anna, even came up with a strong draft (Jan Lokpal Bill) which according to them, and unsurprisingly most of the urban populace, would check corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in the future. They expressed their desire to convert the draft into a law. As expected, the government didn’t comply under the disguise of protecting our sexagenarian constitution. As accepted, Anna embarked on a fast in protest.

All the major cities experienced an overwhelming stimulus resulting in gatherings to express support and solidarity. No surprises there when the middle class including youth rose in large numbers onto the street to make their frustration visible. It was pretty clear that Anna was not only popular but someone who meant business. He completed 12 days without food and the ruling government had to blink first.

What next? Celebration took place and people were exuberant believing they have dealt a heavy blow to a government that is unanimously perceived as corrupt. We can conclude that Anna went hungry but won the first round. Of course while doing so, he kept repeating that Team Anna were representing Aam Aadmi (Common Man) and referred themselves as Civil Society. They went on record and said they were fighting the Freedom Struggle 2.0.

How can people trust a government that ran scam after scam throughout the calendar? Genuine question.

But won’t the very democracy that enables hoi polloi to take a stand against what they feel is unjust be compromised if the draft goes against the very tenets of constitution? Another genuine question.

Democracy is the cornerstone on which our ever-expanding nation is based upon and is the primal reason why neither the geography nor the demography has changed since independence. Secondly, the constitution has been a dynamic force behind it. As far as the Jan Lokpal Bill is concerned, to be very frank, I’m not qualified or well-read enough to comment on the nuances. Nor are the people who think they are Anna. That’s precisely where the problem lies. A majority of those who turned up at Ramlila Ground to express their oneness with the cause most probably don't even exercise their right to vote. Furthermore, the media appeared biased and was literally commending Anna’s food-defying efforts.

Being human, we are bound to get excited but while we are at it, we often forget the price our next generation might well end up paying. A majority of you, your friends and their friends might be supporting the Jan Lokpal without even having an iota of knowledge what it states per se. It's similar to living in a city of blinds. Even if the light shows up, no one will have a clue!

Anyway, corruption didn't just took birth one fine morning and we were bewildered by its might. It's far more complex than that. And Anna Hazare is a honest but a very naive person to deal with that. He commenced with strong speeches against corruption but when the script didn't went the way he thought, the word bhrashtachar (corruption) was effectively replaced by the word sarkar (government). No big deal considering how stained the ruling party is in flesh and blood. But still.

In reality, the fight should have been a gradual progress against a systematic decay. The current need of the day is to check bribe and goonism rampant in the administration. And I guess one single bill is just a small step towards eliminating the virus. But yes, a very necessary step. Thankfully, the entire “uprising” was more or less peaceful unlike the ones that took place post-Jasmine Revolution throughout the Arab world.

Anna Hazare is not Gandhi. What happened in Ramlila Ground is a far cry from what happened during The Emergency of 1975. But the best part of the whole event lies in its irony. Anna's detractors would benefit the most if Anna proves right in the long run. After all, he participated in one of the most interesting episodes that tested the strength of Indian democracy. Net-net, the ruling government received a jolt it so desperately required and the country got a hero in return.