Shortly after the “Hello World” episode, the startup shutdown. Cast into the wilderness, not yet 27 years of age, boasting a pregnant wife and mounting debt caused by 3 months of no pay, I drifted out of the corporate world. Disillusioned by the posturing, the politics, burned out from nearly 5 years of 80-100 hour weeks, constant travel and bad eating habits I was in no mood to face smug interviewers, licking their lips at the opportunity to harass and annoy a young man who had no current employer and was thus clearly vulnerable.
As money got tighter and tighter I pretended I was in business for myself. I dreamed up a name and went back to looking for free-lance system design and development work. It was my father-in-law, as singularly perspicacious as he is humble, who one day introduced me to one of his friends who had just installed a computer in his business and was looking for someone to build him a system. And promptly produced a cheque for Rs 500 made out to my business name.
To deposit the cheque, I needed first of all a business chequing account. The business chequing account needed a sponsor and a willing bank manager. It also needed a minimum deposit of Rs.500 before I could deposit the cheque. Once again, my father-in-law stepped in.
Obviously, the contract was on and despite my misgivings, there were no other options in sight. So started the first assignment, way across the other side of town in Phoolbagan. Development needed to be done at client’s location since I had no computer of my own. (PC days, but PCs hadn’t hit homes yet.) Travel time – 2 hours each way by means of the cheapest motorized means possible; tin buses. The pictures on that link tell me that the interiors have not changed since 1987. Clearly some government mandate has changed the exterior into a blue and yellow paint job. These were really wood frame buses with a thin aluminum sheet tacked to the frame. It cost me Rs 0.45 or 45 paise per ride on route 3D/1.
A rupee for lunch was all I could spare and so lunch consisted of dry muri (puffed rice)
mixed with fresh green chillies,
chanachur (a spicy mix of fried chickpea flour sticks and peanuts)
and a teaspoon of mustard oil. Filling? Yes. Nutritious? I leave that to you.
I would love to say that this first contract was a resounding success. It was not. With voltage fluctuations the norm in power starved Calcutta, stabilisers were necessary especially with appliances such as refrigerators and computer hard drives were particularly vulnerable. Disregarding my instructions, the client blew up his hard drive by running the computer without a stabilizer. A year’s worth of data was lost. Worse, the source code of the system I had built was lost as well. Backups were corrupted as well because they had followed instructions for a change and overwritten daily backups with corrupted data.
Three months effort was lost for good. To rebuild the system would not just wipe out any earnings but cause me to raise even more debt. Despair and the birth of my first child loomed large.