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Zoho shows way for software's outcasts

I saw on Sunday 'Rang Rasiya' and that somehow that brought back memories of last week, when I was visiting software product firm Zoho in Chennai. Zoho is unlike any IT company I have seen in the past two decades or so, writes N Madhavan.

columns Updated: Nov 18, 2014 15:51 IST
N Madhavan

I saw on Sunday Ketan Mehta's biopic on Raja Ravi Varma, "Rang Rasiya" and one of the enduring scenes in the movie is where a lithographic print of his painting of a god is used by a lower caste community banished out of Hindu temples to worship -- with the message of how his prints made deities accessible to those kept out holy places in the traditional social hierarchy.

Somehow that brought back memories of last week, when I was visiting software product firm Zoho in Chennai. Zoho is unlike any IT company I have seen in the past two decades or so.

Apart from shunning venture capital or the idea of going public, it trains dropouts and underprivileged to learn coding on the job. Durga Devi, not yet 18, told me how she uploads stuff in the morning and learns coding in the afternoon.

Consider this the digital age equivalent of how in the old days, someone who would be a coolie in the morning and attend classes for literacy later.

"First, I did not understand, but when I saw the output, I did," she said. It is as simple as that: when she types and sees the outcome of what she learnt, she has become a programmer in the simplest sense of the term.

Zoho in thus demystifying software, taking out of the temples of modern India such as the IITs.

I find in this a striking similarity with the Kerala painter who could well be called India's first modern artist.