I could have titled this proud Andhra, because it concerns people of Andhra Pradesh. However, many people living in that state, including me, do not relate to that word. Therefore, Telugu is an appropriate term to generalize people living in that state.
We Telugu are a proud lot. There are certain traits about us that we brazenly flaunt knowing very well that we will derive respect and admiration from others.
One day, six years ago, while working for an Indian company in Bangalore, I was given a ride by a coworker in his car. During the course of discussion he asked me where I hail from. When I told him that I come from land of Telugu (amusingly or derogatorily called ‘Gult’), he immediately said, ‘Wow! You must have got huge dowry then’. That immediate reaction surprised me because that was the first thing he thought about me when I said I was a Telugu. Over a period of time, I realized that many people immediately connected a Telugu guy with a huge dowry. At a conference, a lady who got to know that I was Telugu immediately concluded I received a big package when I got married. It became little tough for me to explain that there are some of us who don’t practice that.
Later on, I realized that how universal this phenomenon was – many Telugu guys openly talk about the dowry they receive, the way engineers compare their salaries or the way project leaders talk about the number of people reporting to them. ‘I got a dowry of 25 Lakhs’ is said in the same vein as someone saying ‘I got into state semifinals for tennis’ or ‘I climbed Mount Everest’. Getting a huge dowry is an achievement like building a home or buying a car.
Telugu guys fail to notice that it’s the girl and her family which has just bought the guy for a price. But then we Telugu people don’t think like that. We think in Silicon Valley terms – more progressive and modern. We like to equate marriage with an exit for a startup. There is nothing to be ashamed of selling one’s startup. In fact one should be proud of it. Don’t startups boast the kind of money they get when acquired by a bigger company? Telugu people see dowry as an exit – for all the efforts they put in while studying for entrance exams, for all the money the parents have put in to give them a good education sending them to top schools. Why else would they send their kid to a convent school or an engineering college if not for receiving the dowry at the time of exit?
During an interview held at the Indian company where I worked, one candidate reportedly said that the prime reason why he wanted to join that company is because he is about to get married and this job would give him much bigger dowry. The guys who were interviewing him got stumped. They called me right from the interview session and asked me whether they should hire him because he was utterly honest though they did not agree with his reasons. While most others may not cite this as a reason though that might the ulterior motive, this guy was blatantly candid about it. Actually I had to think about it – should I reward him or punish him for his honesty? (In the end we did not hire him - because no matter whether he was honest or not, and no matter what his personal tastes about dowry was, we couldn’t hire him because his primary motive for joining had nothing to do with contribution towards the organization.)
For many Telugu people openly discussing the dowry is not a matter of shame. While growing up, the members of the family, relatives and the society talks about it openly and hence the guy does not feel ashamed. It is like growing up in Nazi Germany and talking about distaste for Jews. Nobody thinks it is a matter of shame to hold such a prejudice. It is so common that it is even considered a virtue.
Our brazenness is not confined to taking dowries. When it comes to being deceitful we are not far behind most egregious cultures in the world.
Recently a young engineer was taking my ‘advice’ on getting into US on MS program. So I told him in detail about exams he has to write, preparing the statement of purpose, getting the recommendation letters from his professors, etc. He said ‘never mind’ to recommendation letters. Upon further probing he told me they can be tailored the way he wants it. In fact, there are agencies in Hyderabad which can tailor it for you. One doesn’t have to meet the professor at all. The seal, the signature and contents are all forged. And when I told him that’s NOT how it is to be done, he lost all respect for me. He was hoping for ‘gyaan’ on how to do things ‘smartly’ and not the meek advice that I was giving him urging to take the hard path.
It is not uncommon for Telugu people to completely cheat and forge our mark sheets. At one point of time, US Consulate was denying visas to many Telugu students aspiring for MS programs because none of the mark sheets or degree certificates could be relied upon. It had reached such gigantic proportions that if you were from an institute from Hyderabad there was good chance your mark sheets were fake.
It is not uncommon for us Telugu to fake resumes either. That’s also the reason why we become such a good fodder for Indian services companies that actually encourage such resume embellishments. There is a good reason why most engineers who are put onsite feel frustrated. The client is told that you have eight years of experience and therefore their expectations are really high. But you just got eight weeks training in that topic and you don’t know what to do. Telugu people thrive in such environments. Working together in groups they make up for lack of experience.
No wonder Satyam is a Telugu company. We are masters of forgery like no other. We could create more than 10,000 fictitious engineers with bank accounts and insurance and all that. When Ramalinga Raju et al were convicted of one of biggest white collar crimes in India, there were good number of Telugu people who took his side to profess their faith and allegiance in him. You have to do much more to convince us Telugu people to dissuade us from our loyalties. The fact that our leaders are corrupt, swindling, and degenerate does not change our opinions. In fact, we are proud of our diehard allegiances to our corrupt and swindling leaders and it comes out in times of adversity, such as unraveling of Satyam scam. While it was being unraveled on TV, our support for Rama Linga Raju only grew because we saw him as a victim. Here the victim was a fellow Telugu.
The corruption in Telugu land has once again taken on the modern ways – it is the most transparent system found anywhere- transparency in the sense that you know exactly what the other person is paying in any other part of the state. If it is the post of Lecturer it is 5 Lakhs, if it is the post of Professor, it is 20 lakhs, if it is the post of Vice Chancellor, it is 1 Crore. It is standardized across all universities in the state so that in case you balk at paying the amount you are told, ‘Sir! This is what everyone else is taking. If you want, you can go verify at this other university.’
So, it has been standardized so much that one can actually quote the prices openly. Bribes for challan, land registration, ration card, constable position, etc, are all highly streamlined so that you pay the same amount of bribe in any part of the state. That way you know you are not being swindled. It’s being fair in our Telugu sense of fairness.
Am I proud of creating such an open and transparent system? Of course, I am. I am a proud Telugu. With e-governance, we can even streamline the bribes with an option called ‘Pay Bribe now’.