Bangalore tech workers are the Ugly Indian
Paul Rako - December 3, 2011
I saw a great article in the BBC about a volunteer group in Bangalore that calls themselves the Ugly Indian. The group is largely comprised of engineers and technical workers. Like engineers everywhere, they love to solve problems. The problem they decided to tackle was run-down sections of Bangalore that have become open garbage dumps. They don’t try to sell something to fix it. They don’t try to manage other to do it. They don’t create a financial pyramid scheme to loot. Like technical folks everywhere, they just wade in and do the work. Check out the Facebook page.
What really impresses me about these Indian engineers is that they don’t go off on a tangent and decide what other people want. They first learn all the “stakeholders” in the situation, the business dumping garbage, the residents in the area. In one case they cleaned up around the Bishop’s Girls School. There was a closed public restroom in the middle of the dump. First, they investigated and learned that a homeless woman was living in the restroom. Rather than report her and kick her out, the included her in the cleanup, and now she maintains and area since she now lives in a little park instead of an open dump. They took movies of the cute little girls having to walk over and around garbage on the way to school. They showed the videos to the local waste management department, and yeah, those bureaucrats have kids too, so they moved the collection point to a different location so the area would not be a garbage transfer point anymore. The Ugly Indian then enlisted the aid of the children’s van and bus drivers that wait outside the school. They made a waiting park and planted gardens, with the help of the Bishop School gardener. The area was a public urinal. Rather than try to change the fundamental nature of the human man, the Ugly Indian installed urinals and privacy partitions so the bus drivers had a place to relieve themselves.
Watching the YouTube videos of the Ugly Indian cleaning up Bangalore will really cheer you up this holiday season. They all volunteer their time and there is an ethic of anonymity, they don’t just wear medical masks for health, they do it because they don’t want to be seen as showing off in their charity. The way I waded into the Ugly Indian videos is first looking at the short and accessible http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gclDjxtDbkg. This highlights that there were many Oracle and other tech workers volunteering. This is why I think engineers and programmers and the highest form of life on the planet, we fix problems and make the world a better place.
You can see in part 2, how the tech workers fixed up this little open dump and urinal right near the Oracle building in Bangalore. It only took a few Saturday mornings, and once it was nice, people stopped using it as a urinal. They even repaired the road median so they could paint it. One nice thing about watching all the YouTube videos of the Ugly Indian, I got to liking the music track, in the Oracle one they use a well-know Indian musician, Prasanna. Here he is at the TEDx Talk, and here is a nice easy-listening mix, but I can hear some strains of Zappa in there too, maybe just coincidental use of unusual scales and keys. You traditionalists and world music aficionados will like his Sitar piece here.
So back to the Ugly Indian, after getting jazzed watching them clean up around the Oracle building, there is a much more ambitious video Despair in Defence Colony. This 7-part masterwork shows how technical people can solve intractable problems with almost no budget. They went to garbage transfer point, cleaned up the area, painted and beautified, and hung plastic banners to hide the trucks. I loved how they punched holes in the plastic. I thought it was to relive wind loads, but they said it was to make the plastic film useless to steal. But this project was great since they did some real construction. They used concrete that had been dumped in the abandoned lot to make boarders and structures and benches. Then they got really ambitious and made a large ramp structure so the small garbage carts could dump directly into the compactor truck. Once again, they got buy-in from all the affected parties. Best of all, when their home-made ramp was too rough for the small carts, the Ugly Indian asked for government help, and seeing all the work and effort, the government was inspired to finish the job with a real paved ramp with concrete aprons. Gosh it makes me proud. With all the finance scum and politicians and hustlers and Ponzi scheme scam artists, here are our fellow technical workers just going out and making the world a better place.
Once you are blown away by how quickly and directly these Indian technical workers improved a decades-old eyesore, you are ready to see the epic, the 18-part SpotFixing at Bishop Cotton. This is where they fixed up a garbage dump and open urinal that was right next to the Bishop Cotton Girl’s School. Like I said, all the hard work was impressive, just what you would expect from technical types, but what really impressed me was how the Ugly Indian worked with the government, the school, the homeless women living in the restroom, the gardener, the van and bus drivers, and especially the students. The Ugly Indian say they never have to ask for volunteers to do painting, something Mark Twain noted in his classic Tom Sawyer story.
After this epic you might want something quick and light, I highly recommend Hello Koramangala! - The Ugly Indian drops in, where the Ugly Indian cleans up a playground and cricket pitch.
Now for an excellent feel-good human interest piece, the Nightmare on Museum Road is 4-part Ugly Indian spotfix that has the kind of Karma you might expect from a bunch of Indians doing good works. It turns out that the ugly wall was owned by the descendant of Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, the famous engineer that helped modernize the Indian Republic. He is the fellow for which they hold Engineer’s Day on September 15th, which I think is a day we engineers should celebrate all over the world. If you want to know why India will soon surpass the United States as a superpower, it is because they celebrate Engineer’s Day and we celebrate Lindsey Lohan.
Once you learn about Sir MV, you can dig into the Wikipedia entries on Bangalore and the Mysore state of India. All and all it will be a happy and uplifting spirit. Watching these Ugly Indian videos and maybe a re-watch of The World’s Fastest Indian, will convince you of the fundamental decency and honor of the human race and maybe you can get through another holiday season without throwing yourself off a bridge.