Two weeks back, I had to take Chhatisgarh Express again and like always, the train was late. So, I located an empty seat on the platform and made myself comfortable. The guy next to me was almost my age, had a laptop with him and his lappy-bag was carrying a Kingfisher-airlines tag. In sum, he was clearly a software engineer coming from Bangalore/Hyderabad for a vacation to his home, or so I thought. Since it was still more than an hour for the train to arrive, I tried initiating a conversation.

“So you too a software engineer?”

“No, I am not.”

The tone was blunt and the implication was clear => “I am in no mood for a conversation.” So I thought of winding up the conversation.

“Sorry, you are approximately my age and were carrying a laptop. I, by default, assumed that you must be a software engineer.”

BIG MISTAKE!! The guy was already offended.

“So, what do you think? Only software engineers deserve to have laptops? Or can only people like you engineers afford to have them?”

😮 I, of course, in no way, meant anything even close to that. And about the question of affording, in a good number of cases (including mine), the laptops that we software engineers carry are not even ours, they are company property. But yes, I still was quite sure that at least in our age-group, it’s mostly the software engineers, who’re associated with carrying laptops.

“Well, In India, the IT revolution hasn’t caught that much. So mostly, you’d find people having professional uses for a laptop carrying it?”

ANOTHER MISTAKE!!

“Oh!! In India!! And where are you from? Are you not from India?”

“Of course, I am an Indian and I am proud of it”

“Yeah.. It’s very clear how much proud you are. Generalizing everything from the eyes of a software engineer and commenting negatively in public on progress of the country. See!! I am from defense and I hate it when you civilians make fun of India”

Oooh!! So the guy’s from army. That explains his passion for the country. But this time, I was offended, the phrase “You civilians” pinched me. I had heard this or its different connotations earlier too and I find it really disgusting.

But this wasn’t a time for a counter-attack, I thought of setting things right first. I objected to his remarks and told him I wasn’t making fun of the country, I was just looking at things as they are. I also told him about my own feelings for the country and also about what this “civilian” is doing for his alma-mater and society. Within 5-10 minutes of conversation, I guess it was clear to both of us that it’s an argument between two guys, who actually are passionate about taking India forward. But he still wasn’t too friendly. So I gave up saying that I understood that he was upset over something else and hence, there wasn’t any use in carrying the conversation forward. Precisely, at that time, somebody called him up and perhaps this was the break he needed.

After the call, he was a bit mellowed. He admitted that he had missed his train 2 hours back and hence, wasn’t in a good mood. We had a very good conversation then onwards. I told him about my life as a software engineer, also discussed my MBA plans and what I want to do after that. He told me about his life at Navy: how he gave up his dream for joining an IIT and never regretted the decision after entering the National Defence Academy for the first time. Felt really good to see that the government is taking very good care of the defense people. They surely deserve every bit of that for the work they do for the country.

Very soon, the announcement for my train’s arrival was made and I cursed myself for not bringing up the topic about his attitude on civilians in a conversation of about an hour. So I told him about the blog and promised to write about the conversation.

And then he did it again: “May be someday I’ll see your photograph in a newspaper as a successful businessman and realize that this was the guy I fought with. You seem to be a good guy. If even some of civilians start thinking the way you do, the country would be in a better shape.”

Ha!!This was one of the times when words of genuine praise do not make you happy. I thought of correcting him, but the train was already there. So I reminded him of my blog and took leave.

I may have made a mistake in generalizing that most of the laptop-carrying guys are from software industry. But what is worse: This generalization or generalizing that all civilians have zero feelings for the country? Aren’t people like Narainmurthy, Leander Paes, Mother Teresa, AR Rahman all civilians? They may not be fighting it out in the open, but in their own way, aren’t they doing their bit in making a name for the country? Talking about common men, I agree that most of us don’t do much in our daily life. But when the call from the country is there, a good number of us respond in our ways: be it contributing for flood-hit areas of Bihar or standing up against reservations, you’d find civilians contributing to the cause. This may not compare with the live action that army-guys are involved in, but would it be justifiable to write that off completely? Most importantly, like every other bunch of people, no two civilians are the same (or for that matter,no two defense guys either) Then, why this generalization: “You civilians”?? Why do you actually need to have a dichotomous view of the world: civilians and servicemen?

These are some of the questions I would have liked to ask that guy. I am still looking for the answers. I understand that some of the civilians would be making comments on this post as usual, but I would love to see the view point of somebody from defense too.

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8 Comments on “You civilians!!”

  1. Jennifer Cookson says:

    Very interesting. Some thought provoking points.
    Jennifer Cookson

  2. Tulika Garg says:

    Some really nice points brought up here. Even I am anxious to read comments on this from some defense people.

  3. Bhavya says:

    Interesting. Quite right, sometimes we generalize a lot of things based on our perception which may or may not be accurate and we do end up offending people. But I liked the way this guy winded up the conversation on such a positive note.

  4. mbabound says:

    Though I haven’t had as vitriolic a conversation with somebody from defence as you did, I have definitely felt such undertones in conversations with people in the armed forces (or with the kins of such people).

    I, as are you, am proud of the work these guys do. But, surprisingly, some of them think us ‘civilians’ (for want of a better word) as having shirked our duty. I totally agree with you when you say that fighting it out on the border, for the country, is not the only way to show that we care. And some people have a hard time digesting that fact. Guys, we are grateful to you for doing what you do, but everybody does what he/she can & must, and this is not the only job (because for most people, a ‘job’ it is) that matters…!

  5. Ashish says:

    Really an eye opener blog which shows that even in the era of communication we are still out of synch of our fellow countrymen who are doing their own bit in progress of our country. I wonder how many of us have a close friend who is not an engineer. The challange we face today is not of how we keep in touch with our coterie of s/w engineers but to reach out to those who still have not heard of blogspot and wordpress.com.. unfortunately internet is not the answer to all the questions.

  6. Breezenwaves says:

    Hi,
    I happen to see your blog post today while i was on facebook and got directed to this blog posts of your. You write very well. You have a flair for writing and words flow smoothly.

    I agree with you, all “civilians” are doing their bit by contributing in some other way or the other. Be that teachers, musicians, businessmen, sportsperson or those civilians who dont live in the country anymore. Even they too are contributing by letting the word know that we “indians” have the capacity and capabilities to beat others and march ahead. They are contributing by projecting an image of India which a lot of people have misconceptions about.

    This word “civilian” reminds me of a childhood friend of mine who was in the Indian Army and always calls me “civilian” and my reply to him back is “Militant” 🙂

    • “This word “civilian” reminds me of a childhood friend of mine who was in the Indian Army and always calls me “civilian” and my reply to him back is “Militant” ”
      Brilliant!! I am going to do that next time somebody uses the C-word for me!! 😀 (After checking that he’s not carrying his gun :-|)

  7. Navin Parwal says:

    Very Well Written.
    I still do not understand the Civilian community are looked upon so differently amongst the Army or Defense Personnels in India .
    I too used to face a similar plight when I used to interact with some of my friends whose parents were in Army during my school days .
    Its time we understood that the progress of the country is the responsibility of all the citizens and non-citizens of the country who contribute in what ever manner.

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