Killed by Blackberry?

“Heard the latest? Ranjan Das is dead,” my friend Sudesh updated over GTalk. The bit of news numbed me, and for a moment I thought it must be some other Ranjan Das he might be referring to. Certaily not the Ranjan Das that I knew, the MD & CEO of SAP, who was young fighting-fit with a cherubic face. Amongst the many IT top guys that I knew, he was by far the fittest, Ranajajoy Punja (ex-cisco and now Vodafone) would come in second. I remember meeting Ranjan a few months back, the suave and genteel man seemed completely in control and excited to drive the German company’s revenues in India. In fact, SAP after many years had nominated an Indian for the top job (followed by Alan Sedghi) and Ranjan seemed to be the best man for it proved by the soaring revenues even as the economy took a dip. Hence, after a few anxious moments, I asked Sudesh “the SAP one?” To my dismay it was. And all that remained was a shock.

The reason for this profound effect was his age. At 42, Ranjan could be termed to be at his prime. He was physically fit, in fact he was returning from a session at the gym when the hands of fate stopped his Rajandasheart beat. Going by my own gait and girth, I for once would have been a more likely candidate for such an event in comparison to Ranjan. But then Ranjan is not the exception when it comes to a life snuffed out in the prime, in my own personal sphere I have come across numerous instances like Dewang & Sunil Mehta from Nasscom, Vivek Dayal from Mphasis, etc.

The one thing that is common to all these departed souls except for their relatively young age, is the fact that they all were involved in fairly high-profile work. All of these people including Ranjan were complete go-getters, always on the move, with set goals for the future and moving briskly towards them. The only thing a miss was that such work and lifestyle brings in tons and tons of stress with it. Somewhere their bodies could not keep pace with their ambitions and it gave up. Hard stress and not hard work killed them.

Digressing a little, let me tell you how my father (who is a sound recordist) used to work in the olden days. In those days, we did not have a phone at our place, there was one with the neighbours. The same number was circulated in a very ‘limited edition’ sort of way under the tag name — Request Number. The lucky few that had it, were dewang mehtaadvised to use it with strict discretion. Thus, effectively my Pa was not easily accessible at home. At his studio, there were indeed a few phones, but you could seldom reach Pa in the first attempt, so it was a lot of hit and miss. And if Pa is travelling in between, then there is just no way of reaching him even if the house was burnt in a fire.

Now look at my own life, I am always connected to the world thanks to the oh-so wondrous cell phone. So even at 2 in the night, I can be disturbed if the reason is good enough. Besides that I keep downloading my official and personal mails on my handset, reading or replying to them on the go. Then there is the Facebook, Nimbuzz, Wikipedia and the Google Reader. Thus, when I am not glued to the computer at the office or at home, I am constantly fidgeting with my cell phone. In fact, the last thing I do before I drop off and sleep is also the first thing that I do when I open my eyes; reach out for my cell and check my mail. Now considering my rather ‘un-mission critical’ nature of work, I can only dread to think what the hi-fi executives must be doing. And it is not hard to guess, almost everywhere we seeing the blue collared worker punching furtively on their Blackberries, that keeps hissing all the time.

Yet, with all the latest tools of technology, that lets us work from home on even in the WC, has not made our lives easier or fuller. We lead a completely stressed life that seems to be hanging by the next mail or the call. We have become slaves of the very tools that were supposed to liberate us. And one has to only google “blackberry + health issues” and the expert opinions will start pouring in. Apparently, there are a slew of ailments are associated with extensive usage of Blackberry or any other PDA. The most basic is the Blackberry thumb, then comes Carpal-Tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. If that is not enough, there is also the Blackberry elbow now, a persistent and painful stiffness in the elbows.

Other then the physical ailments, there are of course the psychological ones. Blackberry addiction is also equated with those of cocaine, etc. According to some the need to be connected after a point of time takes a shape of compulsive disorder wherein the person is constantly checking, re-checking and then re-re-checking the mailbox. Unable to stay away from the Blackberry after work, on weekends or sunil mehtaholidays. It is a dangerous infatuation that makes our lives miserable in the bargain.

The ever-increasing build up of stress can be really devastating, as is obvious from the case of Ranjan Das. Sadly today, we don’t have time to ‘stand n stare’ but only ‘stare n type’. A whole life spent fidgeting away in front of the computer or the mobile screen. While, I am not really sure whether my hypothesis was the one that took Ranjan (and continues to do so) life . I do indeed feel terrible at the loss of a young dynamic leader. Ditto for Dewang, Sunil, Vivek and so many others.

Meanwhile for lesser mortals like me, all I can say to the people, who are obsessed with the mails, the facebooks and the linkedins: Relax pal. You certainly are not as indispensible (to the scheme of things) as you would like yourself to believe.

4 thoughts on “Killed by Blackberry?

  1. WOW!
    This one actually made me ‘stop and stare’.
    Very bold n very true Shashwat to say that!
    If we were to really confess it honestly, yes, our life’s strings are wired to these tools today….and brings a lot of stress too.
    My dad scolds me a lot when he watches me hooked to that ‘darn’ phone all the time, the nosy gadget that beeps even during diinner hours and hijacks all my attention. And I cant say that he is wrong to have my laptop and phone in his bad books.
    I got the news of Sunil Mehta’s sad demise a few days after I interviewed him in person and it really struck me to grasp the fact that a person as calm, strong and smart as him would be no longer around.
    It is sad to lose stars of our IT galaxy to the pangs of a thing as dimunitive as a BB.
    But then, didn’t they say…whoever thinks a small thing can’t be dangerous, should try a mosquito bite.
    Great piece Shashwat, this one would stay one of my favs.
    It’s nice to see that you have managed to step beyond the media-reflex action of digging into the newsy part of a news, and have rather attempted a much more meaningful drill-down!

  2. I happened to interview Ranjan in 2008 at the Taj Residency Hotel Bangalore and the timing for the interaction I was give was 2:35 to 3:05 pm to , which I found ‘strange’ and ‘odd’. At exactly, 2:32, someone from their PR agency came and told me, that the interview will start in 3 mins from now and it will take me around the same time to reach the meeting room. I was ‘amazed’ with the ‘time consciousness’ and I was reminded of something we call “German Time’. It is said that Germans are one of the most punctual people in the world.

    As I engaged in the discussion with him the passionate way he pointed out about how India has become “jewel in SAP’s crown’ , I was interrupted by the PR person who said at exactly 3:03 that ” I have 2 more minutes” I told Ranjan that I have a few more questions and he agreed to take ‘one’ last one.

    Am yet to accept that he is no more and that he has been replaced by tephen Watts, COO APJ, as Interim President, SAP India..

    Link to Ranjan’s Interview

  3. Hi Shashwat,

    It would not be strictly relevant to relate the subject of this article to Vivek Dayal as most of us who knew him were aware that it was cancer that snuffed out his young, vibrant life.

    Yes, stress of being in a high profile job did lead to the cancer, perhaps. He was a brilliant professional and a wonderful human being. I had the good fortune of being part of his friend circle and had he lived, he would have moved up the corporate ladder. But it would have been at great cost.

  4. Couldnt agree more. Heard the joy of knowing all of them except Ranjan and felt the sorrow when we lost them.

    At a cognitive level,we all know its not worth the sweat but we still do it….

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