Ansuman Biswas

Placement at HP Labs Bangalore

More questions than answers

Posted by Judi Coe on 7th April 2008

Excerpts from Ansuman's blog

... I was born in Calcutta and brought to London as a young baby. I grew up as an immigrant always with one foot in each country. I spoke Bengali with my parents and in the extensive Bengali social network of London. I learned to use a knife and fork at school dinners and learned about England in the playground and through the cathode ray tube. I never really examined my Indian-ness. It was just a fact of my life, of which I was sometimes vaguely embarrassed, sometimes acutely ashamed. I tried to be British for half of my life. Then in my early twenties I realized that this British part of me was in denial. I felt I had an immense amount to learn about my heritage which was of vital importance if I was to make sense of certain strange lacunae in my own life and the cultural life around me.

Then I began to engage more consciously with Indian culture, but always, it seemed, at a slight remove. The idea gradually formed that in some way I needed to really deeply participate in this significant place. Over the years my interest in Indian arts and philosophies has been cultivated.

Iíve studied as much as I can in Britain, attempting to integrate the various influences and elements that converge in me. Iíve gradually formulated a plan to spend an extended period of time living and studying in India, not just as a tourist or as a family member, but in some directed, professional way.  When this opportunity to work with Hewlett-Packard in Bangalore presented itself it seemed like a perfect next step...

... I've grown up as an immigrant in the West and have always felt to some extent uncomfortable there. A little brown boy dressed up against the cold in a smart, ill-fitting suit. The steady sun does what the violent wind cannot, and now I'm starting to feel my real body again. I'm an Indian and proud of it. That means embracing my colonial history and the wild diversity of this place. There are so many things that I disagree with, that I'm horrified by, that I'm dismayed by. But nevertheless somehow there seems to be a deep commitment to truth here. I feel a responsibility to do whatever I can to express that truth in the face of the bigotry and narrow-mindedness that is also rife. I need to engage in the debate. This debate is more live here than I've ever experienced it in the insulated west.

... One of the most significant ideas I've heard in the last few weeks came from a conversation with Rama who sits in the next cubicle to me. I'd watched a demo of the printcast technology which HP has now licensed out and which is changing the way local government happens in this hugest of democracies. I was asking her about the process of identifying new projects to work on in the field of education.

I have no idea how one comes up with new ideas and asked whether she started by looking for the failures in current practice. On the contrary, Rama said she preferred to find what was really working and think of ways to scale it up. This has stayed with me and continued to be a useful conceptual tool. It's a brilliant encapsulation of the creative method. Suddenly I can see the point of technology. It's the means by which we actively participate in our evolution.

... The change India is undergoing is a change in kind not a change of degree. The medium that is producing this change is communication; not some influence of the West on the East. The phenomenon of communication is something that affects a world not a country.

Here in India, and in the context of this placement at Hewlett-Packard, I'm consciously confronting myself with the question 'what am I professing to do?'. Everything about this country only amplifies this question. What is my true profession? Am I part of a problem or of a solution?

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