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Steve Jobs In India

Steve Jobs In India

October 05, 2012

Decoding the Indian influence on yet another tech czar.

“I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it.” This was one of the earliest factors that brought the young college dropout, Stephen P. Jobs to India. Also, I think it is perhaps one of the more important, yet, underrated parts of his blockbuster life. Today, as the world commemorates the first year of a void that Jobs and his persona left behind, I remain intrigued about his Indian epoch; the one that made sure he never came back. In the 1970s, after hearing about the Haridwar kumbh mela from a mutual friend Robert Friedland, two hippie friends (Jobs and Daniel Kottké) accrued their savings to pay for the trip to India; a trip that they saw to be in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. But a fairy tale wasn’t the only temptation that landed them in India. It was the springboard. Jobs was drawn by the writings about Neem Karoli Baba and, broadly, by eastern spiritualism. All this bears an uncanny resemblance to that Indian thing which, even today, makes many foreigners trade-in material wealth for dollops of wisdom at the ashrams. Despite starting with a profound emotional interest in India, the repugnant truth was ignoring India in his latter life. Ever since the Indian economy opened up and channeled the I.T. boom, top tech honchos made numerous visits to the land, with almost every tech multinational under the sun capitalizing on the Indian growth story. In the Delhi street in which Jobs squeezed into a crowded ratty bus unnoticed, thirty years later, Bill Gates rode in his limo cavalcade while the mango people watched in awe. As Samsung and Microsoft have their Indian cash registers ringing non-stop, Apple is probably the only company that continues to keep a cold distance from the country (garnering decent sales nevertheless), and that may be due to Steve Jobs. Therefore, what turned him away from India is maybe still in force. For people of Indian origin, it’s probably what enforces a love-hate relationship with the country. Steve Jobs wasn’t Indian, so it was easier for him to brush India under the carpet, apparently. The totally peculiar diversity found only in India makes it a land of contradictions. Jobs and Kottké, on being deeply influenced by the spiritualism, singled down on a trip that they thought would change their lives forever. A dramatic change certainly occurred, albeit not in the slightest way they expected. From all hype about Indian spiritual magic, Jobs must have preconceived that India was a happy nation. On arriving, what he did find was a stark contrast between opulence and poverty, something that surprisingly seemed minimal in his capitalist homeland. This mingled with God-men who claimed that they had all the answers to life, and the nirvana defining the very purpose of human existence seemed obnoxious to Jobs. Was this how the enlightened country ought to be? Neem Karoli Baba passed away before they got to meet him, which left Jobs taunted. As if being chased out of Karoli’s ashram wasn’t disappointing enough, having come in search of nirvana, Jobs and Kottké continued to trek through the wilderness and a “hundred plus step” cliff. The supposedly reincarnated avatar of Karoli Baba seemed way less divine and profound, and things just didn’t click. During the trek back, an insane thunderstorm scared the wits out of them. It felt like the most difficult test of life. On the spiritual search, both Jobs and Kotke were struck by diarrhea thanks to the melting summer, had their belongings stolen, and were heard to be cheated by fraudulent God-men. But Jobs did go back to America with a shaved head, draped in lungi and kurta, and as a Buddhist. Jobs, in the true sense of the word, did not go back replenished or a divine man. He wasn’t pleased and later confessed, “We weren't going to find a place where we could go for a month to be enlightened. It was one of the first times that I started to realize that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Karoli Baba put together.” But I think he did subconsciously gain a lot from the seven-month ordeal. Kottké was later quoted saying “I think the trip influenced us both in a general sense of broadening our experience of life on earth and putting our lives in the US in a wider perspective.” Particularly, the intuition that Jobs found in the people living in Indian villages gave him a sort of base into knowing what people really wanted, as opposed to relying deeply on intellect. “The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.” Thus, later on when he pioneered at Apple, NeXT, Pixar and made his second stint at Apple, intuition drove the companies deeply to understand and create the kind of products that most others had no clue about. But despite embracing Buddhism, he still disliked India. He found it “intense and disturbing”. True, poverty was in many other countries, but the kind of imbalance and injustice that seemed unique to India was despicable. Yet, he did give the country a second chance. In 2006, Jobs set up a three thousand dollar support and back-end site at Bangalore with thirty dedicated Apple US engineers overseeing the project, only to close it down within months after getting complaints from customers about the abysmal quality of service. This is the trick that this great country plays. The dispensable tough conditions, contradictions and tyranny that people living in India face mold them to see the rest of the world completely anew and a better place. In the end, Bharat Matha remains bruised and tormented. Is it her sacrifice? Photo credit: www.footwa.com Dear NRI readers why not connect with us on the following social media platforms. Click here to join our Facebook Fan Page Click here to join our LinkedIn Group


  • Vivek Iyer
    Vivek Iyer
    06.10.12 08:47 AM
    @ Priyanka: Precisely! Who would be happy to see poverty in their own country? Internationally, I think Bollywood is doing a great thing exhibiting our rich culture, talent and technical prowess! And thats the way it should be. We wouldn't want to advertise ourselves for our poverty right? However, as you said, in India, we could attempt to skip the delusions, purely for our own betterment :)

    @ C. Suresh & Teesta: Thanks for reading :)
  • C. Suresh
    C. Suresh
    06.10.12 05:40 AM
    So, Steve Jobs did not like India? What else is new? I did not know success in business lent validity to the cultural views of the person.
    So, Jobs disliked India for summer dehydration and thunderstorms, among other things? So, we have been very remiss in controlling the weather, now!
    So, he finds Godmen cheating him here? Of course, on his way to Silicon Valley he carefully avoided California, I suppose! He can get all the cheating Godmen he wants there.
    So, he thinks Edison contributed more than Karl Marx? Great - while he was shedding his tears for the poor of India, he should have spared a thought to the Labor of the world who were working insane hours and from childhood - before Marx's ideas caused the British government to put in place Labor laws. Ask them whether Marx's contribution was any less than Edison's.
    Contrasting wealth and poverty is readily visible in Manhattan alone. If the poverty is not so stark it is merely because the country is richer.
    Comparisons like this are odious. There are issues in India - no mistake - and if someone seeks to highlight them it is best that they highlight them without making stupid comparisons with some other country - as if the fact that they are better off today makes them culturally superior.
    And, for Heaven's sake, stop this practice of using Western celebrities as a touchstone for India's culture. Whether someone takes pride in a foreigner lauding India or feels shamed with the vice versa it shames me - You do not catch the US going to town because Shah Rukh Khan or Ratan Tata lauds its culture - so why should there be any validity to Steve Jobs' ignorant assessments of India? Tech Czar he may be but who voted him in as a Sociologist?
  • Teesta
    05.10.12 11:26 PM
    Dear Steve Jobs lil puppy,
    how shameless are you?
    Don't you see the other side of your story where he dint turn out smart enough to suite the needs of the billions here?thanks to all his experience, he knew he could not survive in this God-men country and we, in turn, got saved from his meant-for-dumbs gadgets....Trust me, Bharat Mata is way happy enjoying her peace days with the ever entertaining happenings of her land than giving even a damn about one so called smarty not finding his space here because of his incapability.
    P.S. - it was all fun :)
  • Priyanka
    05.10.12 02:40 PM
    I totally associate with this...having lived in the UK for the last 6 years makes my annual Indian trips very hard when it comes to seeing the grim life most people in India have. I feel very blessed and extremely helpless all at once.The Indians who are well off see the world through rose coloured glasses (I know I did until I left) and just dont understand the problems the masses face on a daily basis just to survive and all bollywood and mtv is making youth as dillusional as possible. They only realise atta dhal ka bhaw once they have to start working for their money.But to be Indian is to always have hope and I hope that in the next 200 years India changes for the better.

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