Very few people know that most of the continental railroads in North America were laid down by the refugees from South China. Such labourers were ignorantly called “coolies” by those who were not familiar with the Chinese. The word itself comes from two Chinese words, “koo” meaning to rent, and “lee” meaning muscle. The coolies were those who rent out their muscles, that is, unskilled labourers. These unfortunate souls toiled day and night to lay down the foundations of a network that later became the backbone of the nation and gave America a launching pad to greatness. But those Chinamen have remained hidden from mainstream eyes till this day. Other countries like English and Dutch, once they found the economic inevitability of slavery tried to emulate this model. The slave trade was officially abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807, but a fact that goes undocumented is another form of slavery that continued well into the 20th century – the story of Indian indentured labour. These people were also derisively called coolies.
That was another era, but the term has resurfaced in the last decade when the steady trail of Indian software programmers started landing at American coasts. Initially they were assigned the cumbersome (actually brainy) job of coding whereas the planning and management jobs were more preferred by the Americans. Increasingly the American software companies found out the prowess of Indian programmers and started relying more and more on them. Those sharp Indian programmers made the things work but the limelight was always taken by the American software giants. The key fall out of this reliance on Indian expertise was that it opened the window for Indian entrepreneurs to open shops at Bangalore to provide the coding talent to the American companies and thus the term “outsourcing” evolved. But still the stigma of techno coolies remained on these super intelligent programmers. The things have started looking up in the past few years as more and more Indian companies climbed up in the value chain. The most prominent among them is i-Flex Solutions, it was among the first to break down the myth that commercially viable products can only be developed in west. Its path breaking software Flexcube has been the most sought after software product by the banks all over the world. It has helped its partner banks to break the shackles and lead them on the path of high efficiency, productivity and profitability. The success of i-Flex means that nobody can dare to call someone from i-Flex as techno-collies but they now operate on equal footing with their customers and partners. More importantly the business model of i-Flex has ensured that the Indian software programmers would not face the fate of the China men of the past era.