Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What is your Salary?

Note: If you came looking for the Michael Jackson post its here.

Long long ago, I completed Engineering, stepped in to this independent life thing and into the big bad world of graduate-students-in-the-USA. Having been spoon fed by mom and grand ma' for a big part of my life, I was incorporating unnecessary and unwanted knowledge of Rasam Podi, Samabar mix, etc into my life. In about 2 months, I learned to differentiate between different varieties of oil and began to appreciate the "making of the food that appears in your plate while you were in India". While it was good for the boy-grows-into-the-man philosophy, I didn't care. I didn't wanna grow up (because it didnt seem to help me acheive anything in particular) and I certainly did not want to be responsible for anything. So anyway the anecdote I was trying to narrate is -- one fine day, as we grad students called it - it was my cooking turn. This cooking-turn is the round robin system created by room mates. This system decided who will cook when. In our little heaven, we were 5 students, each from completely different backgrounds. Four were garden variety engineers, one extremely rich and influential in India, one who worked like a horse and even slept in school, one extremely geeky and serious, and finally one extremely lazy and irresponsible (that would be me). The fifth guy was an architect and he was the only non-science-based-engineer in our team. He was the only guy in our house who thought algorithms and logrithms were the same, thought programming languages also had swear words and gaped in surprised whenever printf's spit out a simple "hello world" ( He even said "wow" the first time he saw such a thing happen).

So I had come back from my school early, at around 4:00 PM to start my cooking. Since nobody else made potatoes that week and boy! did I like potatoes, I sat with a knife, a cutting board and a bag of potatoes by my side. I switched on the TV and started the hour long peeling and cutting process. In came the geeky dude with a handful of letters. It was that day's postal mail, something which I had never picked up from the mail box all my life. He said to me "bharath don't you ever get the letters from the post box". I was thinking " wow! we have a letter box and we get mail too..what else dont I know about this place". So geek boy begins to triage the mail and separates the mail due to each person. He hands me over a letter from my university and says "here are your Autumn grades in post". I again went "wow! they send grades via post too" ( I already got em via email). So I went back to my potatoe peeling. Now the fun begins, the geek-boy wonders if he should rip open the envelope containing grade information due to the architect and see his grades. Among us four engineers the rich-guy, geek-boy and myself were in the same batch, and so one way or the other we sort of knew each other's grades. The workaholic stopped taking courses eons ago and so we didn't really care about him. The architect guy was a surprise packet. So when geek-boy asked me if he should rip open the envelope, I knew instinctively that there was something wrong about doing it it. I couldn't articulate what was wrong about doing so. I had to cut potatoes, which was proving to be very difficult. I wanted to make them small and tiny'ly cut - just the way my mom did. I didn't know how many horizontal Vs vertical cuts I should do to get there and didn't have a clue whether peeling was good or not for this kind of an ambition. So I said to him, " I am not really interested..I am kinda busy now. You do it if you feel like.. its upto you". He paced for about 10 minutes up and down the hall in a Gollum like fashion saying, "should I.. should I not", while I watched him from the potatoe peeler point of view. While I listened to his rhetorical debate, I was trying hard to keep the cut potatoes from dropping out of the cutting board and into the dirty carpet. Shheeesh! how could women do this in the kitchen for a lifetime, amazes me. In the end, he finally succumbed to temptation, ripped open the envelope, and saw that guy's grade. Of course I made him tell me what the grade was :-). But then again I wasn't really that interested in the grade as opposed to what was going to happen, when this act became known to the architect guy. The Geek-guy probably realized the same thing and left the house immediately.

At about 5:00 clock, the architect guy came home. I had changed TV channel to HBO and they were showing some movie that had nude scenes. So we were both staring at the TV for sometime and thought "wow! porn during the day.. what else should I know about this country?". After the scene got over and we had finished paying respects to what we had just seen, archi-dude began to sift through his mail and saw that his grade-envelope had been torn and opened. He asked me intimidatingly " who the fuck opened my mail?". I became scared. My brain was already clouded. Porn does funny things to me. I was just cutting potatoes. All I wanted was a hearty meal. I managed to live a dreamy existence for so long and the only serious debate I had until then was regarding Aishwarya rai's hip size and Sushmita's silicon implants. The last thing I wanted was to get involved in a serious ethical debate that really didn't concern me. I was in a new territory called seriousness. But still, I managed to spit out 3 things quickly -- "geek dude bought the mail. nobody else came home after the mail was bought into the house. i did not open your mail". As archi-dude's face began to compute what I just said, his face went red. I was even willing offer my envelope to him and ask him to tear it to his heart's content if that would appease him in anyway. Right at that moment geek-dude walked back into the house. Archi-dude turned towards him and growled " did you open my mail" and geek-dude sort of bent his head down in shame and said "yes! I did". And then the real fun started. Mr.Architect sent out some swear words that would make some sailors feel shy. I was surprised by his rather extensive vocabulary. He must have interacted with rickshaw people a lot. After dissecting and critiquing geek-dude's family lineage from various perspectives, archi-dude said something I will never forget all my life -- he said -- " Why do you have to judge me based on how some one else has judged me on a completely different field".

Today when I think about it, I can't help but realize how true it is? So how is this anecdote related to the blog's topic? Talk to anybody who has lived for a reasonable time outside India and returned back to India. Ask them how their return-to-India experience has been? Whether they may appreciate or critisize India on any other topic, you will certainly hear them say 1 BIG HUGE critisism about India. "Why does everybody whom I talk to want to know my salary". This will 100% be part of anybody's return-to-India experiences. Then comes "What is the price of your car, How much rent do you pay? What is the cost of your house?". These are parameters that a person asks so that he/she can calculate your worth as a person. Based on my experiences and those of people whom I have talked to -- this bad habit is an undeniable tradition of India. No matter how much patriotism you have for India, even if you drape yourself in the tri-color and go to bed everynight this is something that will never go away. While salary is calculated based on your skills, your marketibility and your usefulness to the company, you often wonder how this factor should influence the people who are unrelated to all of this. Is the psycological basis of asking for salary information connected to what my room mate had so profoundly said years before? Why do they judge you based on a factor that is decided by completely unrelated parameters? The answer... same Bat channel..same Bat time... well.. er... More on this in the sequel blog :-)


Forrest Gump said...

interesting post.
people judge others not based on parameters which they should, but rather based on parameters that are more often talked about in a particular community. it hardly matters to most of them if you are happy living out of the country, or whether you are enjoying your life or not. in this particular case - if you earn a lot of money - you are inevitably on the top of the world, else not. contrast this to what people who really care about will ask - i doubt ones parents ask these questions, and even if they do, i am sure that it is not the first thing that comes out of their mouths.

Hawkeye said...

/* i doubt ones parents ask these questions, and even if they do, i am sure that it is not the first thing that comes out of their mouths. */

100% true. couldn't agree with your more!

Anonymous said...

Hey Bharath,

On a lighter note, What is your salary :-) ?

Parents arent exceptions to this. If not the first question, it will be there in the next couple of questions. We like quantifying whatever we do.

Hawkeye said...


in case u have seen 'that' mike myers movie...its billion zillion billion dollars ( make agesture by keeping left little finger on the mouth and jump a little)

ssk said...

Hmm as a Software engineer I myself have asked the same question to people who have returned from Onsite . I guess the tendency amongst us is to calculate how much we wud be able to earn when we get to go out of india.
Since this is an extremely materialistic world, people will not care about the intangible parameters but on the most tangible one : namely the money you earn !!.
I would say I'm used to it now!!
Am awaiting ur further dissection of the topic ;-)

-- Senthil

Anonymous said...

Why do most of the guys ask only about the look of the girl. Whenever I bring in a girl's(new) name in conversation with guys, invariably most of the guys will ask about her looks!

I don't think anybody judges people based purely on salary. At the end of
the day, personality and comfort zone is what comes to play in friendships. I think people ask this question plainly out of curiosity.

Anonymous said...

Men ask about looks coz they really care how the girl looks. Thats why you find more guys around a good looking girl. If the girl doesnt look good, most of the guys dont even care to find out if they will have a good comfort zone.
Looks wouldnt take a relationship all the way, but definitely defines the first couple of yrs of a relationship, which inturn decides the long term relationship.

I think its just a part of the Men brain to be partial to good looking girls:) Its programmed to think that way. You can count the number if guys who are not partial. Sad but true.

If they are impartial, they were partial once upon a time and were kicked in their ass hard enough(by a good looking girl/or by the girls boy friend:) ) to realize that they were wrong or call it sour grapes.

FYI, I am a guy and not a girl whining out of jealousy:)

But you brought up a good point for which I am searching for an answer too. Why is it that people really think only about looks to decide how good a girl is ...espescially before marriage ?

I hope this triggers some kind of argument so that we can get different perspectives.

Ram said...


If you aren't one of those people asking such questions, you simply cannot conclude that everyone who asks these questions means to evaluate you based on the parameters such as grades or salary. It could be a host of other things. If I were an elderly person, I could be comparing how times have progressed from then to now, if I were a peer, I could just want to see what Wipro is paying vs what TI is. If I were a junior, I would want to see what I might be getting tomorrow and so on. We should give people a benefit of doubt and should not always think that they mean to evaluate us. Even if they wish to, that's their problem and they need to fix it.

Anonymous said...


Your logic is flawed. You are basing your argument assuming that asking the question is right but the reason why the person is asking the question is debatable.

But it shows a very high level of indecency, when you ask people about their salary, Especially strangers. Its just too personal a question to ask. and India is the only country which doesnt treat it that way.

Talking about salary to peers would bring in jealousy and unnecessary competition in the company. With due respect, I find this habit in people who come here on their H1/L1 visa directly from india. The first question that they ask you is "So how much to they pay you? " Gimme a break !

Askin this question to anyone is wrong. Its just like spitting on the road. It is normal in india but is absurd in most other countries.

Anonymous said...

"Why is it that people really think only about looks to decide how good a girl is ...espescially before marriage ? "

You want a answer for this...Simple:-) One reason is that any guy would luv to hang out with the most beautiful girl that he could get hold of.

And a Second but the main reason is that we all want to take along with us/introduce to friends and family, the most beautiful girl that we can (even though we may not conciously agree to this reason). Imagine when you walk into a social gathering and it happens that the chick that you walked in with happens to be the prettiest amongst the lot and when all the other guys can't seem to take their eyes off your girl...the feeling that you get out of that is uncomparable(granted that you wud also be slightly pissed off that everyone is starring at ur girl).

When I was going to school in the U.S, I managed to date one of such females and it was an amazing feeling everytime I would take her out. It just boosts ur morale like anything. There were times when I would strategically choose the places that I would want to take her (a.k.a Indian Gatherings:-)) just for that reason, ofcourse she wouldn't know my motive:-) If you guys haven't done that, I highly encourage doing so just to have that experience. Trust me...It's AWESOME:-)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous who Answered:

So you treat your girlfriend like a show piece, that you could be proud of in social gatherings?

The lesser I comment about it the better it is.
Though, it is still a perspective !

--Anonymous who asked the question

Ram said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ram said...

To the anonymous who addressed me...

My point was that all people who ask you about your salary are not necessarily asking this to guage or evaluate you, which I think was the prime subject of the discussion. You could have stated your point without generalizing H1/L1 folks from India.

If you feel uncomfortable disclosing your salary to anyone, you are not alone. Just change the subject, after letting the other party know that you are not comfortable discussing that matter with them.

Many of us have grown up with or have atleast heard of the "social norm" which states, "Never ask a girl what her age is and never ask a man what his salary is".

No, it should not be normal in India to be indecent. I do not like this attitude. If you see instances of these, log them on to

Anonymous said...

"So you treat your girlfriend like a show piece, that you could be proud of in social gatherings?"

Feel free to comment about worries...Looks like you are talking out of desperation....but that's understandable:-)

thats why I said in my blog that most ppl may not consciously agree to this reason.

If you have a GF that's others envy..I dont see a reason why you shouldn't show off...though I agree that you should not get a GF with the sole intent of showing off. In my case atleast, one of the reasons that I initally became friends with her was her looks but the whole thing about getting attention was truly an after-effect which I was not even thinking about in the beginning.

If you think about it, generally good looking girls dont go for any guy. (I'm not talking about me the para below from a general person's perspective and not from my perspective) A person has to have some sorta USP in him, for which that gal falls for (I'm not talkin about one night stand) an extended relationship. There are many cases where even great guys (in terms of looks and other qualities) couldn't find a good looking girl. So, its not only having ur USP but effectively putting your point across. and these things require a certain skill and they are easier said than done so..when you have a good looking GF it could also be considered as an acknowledgement of these skills that one possess.
Then, I dont see why one shouldn't be proud about having those skills as long as you are using them for a good reason. I understand that these skills are not one of those ultimate skills to have but I dont see any harm if one has these.

P.S: I understand that this is not the primary idea of bhartha's blog but just thought I would give out my perspective.

When I was reading your first para, I was just visualizing it as it was happening in my apt with my 5 roomies. Brought back my student memories to life just like your Madras (I'll call Madras as Madras until my last breath:-))blog did.

Anonymous said...

cut it out guys. why all this cheap girl talk here?? stick to the subject please.

-yes, another anamika

Atta Girl said...

Ur blog is becoming one debating ground - and i can't stop laughing reading all these comments! (to anonymous who answered...etc LOL!) What u wrote is quite true, but it's really true from a man's perspective. For girls, it's a weird situation...coz they usually get to hear "the more educated the girl is, the harder it is to find a match for her" kinda shit, nobody really bothers abt how much they earn..infact it's worse if they earn more coz that automatically gets interpreted as ambitious "non-homely" girl etc!

Have lots to say on this blog...but DS forms/expense statements have harassed my brains today!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Atta Girl for your honest feedback. Appreciate it very much. :-)

nAradA said...

I bet every dEsi who hates being asked about his salary when he visits India (after a few years' stay in the US) was once as inquisitive as those who aspire to go the US. It takes a little trip down the memory lane to accommodate the curiosity of the person wanting to know the salary of the returnee.