Chapter 3: Sumanth’s Predicament

Read Chapter 2 here.

It was not an environment conducive to solve any problem.

Afreen sat on Sumanth’s table, tearing a curried, crushed tissue paper into the thousandth bit possible. Then she lined it, just below the hem of her skirt, right over her bare thigh.

“If you were that thorough with your work…” said Sumanth, not taking his eyes from his laptop.

“This is boring!” replied Afreen, “That lunch was so heavy” Post lunch hour was always slow, people stood chatting around, with each other.  Deepak himself was out smoking somewhere instead of breathing down their throats.

“I don’t know how you find this boring. Our departmental ass is on fire here. Perhaps you could be persuaded to get off your ass and help me fix this?”

“Why can’t we just roll back to the last version.”

“Because at least fifty developers from three departments, have checked in changes after the previous build. Lets just wipe all that because Madam Afreen is too lazy to troubleshoot? I’m sure Deepak wouldn’t mind. Who should tell him? You or me?”

“Nah..” said Afreen, yawning, “Your girlfriend should.”

“Pinky is not my girlfriend!” said Sumanth, the flush of red warming his neck.

She flicked a tissue paper off her thigh and onto his hair, like it was a carrom, “But you want her to be.  That’s why you spend all your time fixing her problems like you have nothing better to do.”
He felt his body tense, “Hey….Deepak specifically asked both of us to fix this. Not just me. And he said that the director was already asking questions.”
She picked a piece of tissue off his hair, “So where is your girlfriend…?”
Sumanth stood up, and roughly brushed himself from all the pieces of tissue that she’d heaped on him. “She will be here soon…and she is not my girlfriend…you know what….don’t help me.”
“Where are you going?” asked Afreen, “This is your seat. You can’t stomp out of it.”
“Why not,” said Sumanth, “All you are willing to do is torture me.” He grabbed his laptop, his charger, and everything on the table.

“Wow. Wow.  Don’t make a scene. Just when I was about to tell you that the problem is in the core,” said Afreen.

He stopped and stared at her, “Don’t bluff.  If it was in the core, the problem wouldn’t have been this limited. Servers would have collapsed all over the place.”

“Fair point,“ said Afreen, “But I checked the logs. I mean, any engineer worth his salt should do that. First.”

“I checked the logs…don’t act smart…”

“Well, know the problem…”

“What problem?”

Afreen stared at him, her lips spreading into a smile, her heels indicating his chair.

“You just want to torture me. Why Why Why” said Sumanth.

“Mostly entertainment…”

“If you knew the problem…why didn’t you fix it?”

“So…its complicated,” said Afreen, tousling his hair, “And it needs a smart man like you to fix it…”

“Now you are messing with me….” said Sumanth, pushing her hands off.

“No sweetheart….” said Afreen, “I’ll tell you why.  But you must listen to a story first. So once, a friend called me up.  I went over to her place. Supposedly, her washing machine had acted up, all the water was on the floor, soap suds up to the kitchen, real messy…and about the same time, there was like a fungus growing….have you ever seen an orange fungus?”

Sumanth interupted her, “How is this even relevant, again?”

“Well, listen to me, will you? Its an analogy for your code. And you have to understand it to fix the problem. ”

“Fine..whatever… Finish your stupid story.”

“So the fungus is kinda orange…and it was growing all over the ceiling…And when I opened the refrigerator, there was this frozen lettuce, and it stank like it had been there like…forever…”

“Oh my god….can you stop this…and get to the point…”

“The point is…can you really imagine me getting down on my fucking knees, mopping the floor….and cleaning the dirty fungus…and….throwing out the bloody lettuce…”

“That’s it….I have had it with you…” He grabbed his stuff and stood up, making to walk away, when she grabbed hold of his hand, and pulled him, he toppled over her almost, pressing his hands on the table to steady himself inches from her, “What is wrong with you?” he hissed.

She pulled him so close he could smell her perfume. “I can’t fix it. Its a memory fault.” she whispered.

His mouth fell open, then snapped shut, like he was goldfish in shock, and additionally struggling out of water.  He sat down, opened the laptop, and scrolled through the pages of the gigantic code base, to the files that represented the core.

Afreen slipped off the table, and sat beside him. She was quiet now.  He felt his hand tremble, as he began wading through this cobweb ocean prehistoric code written by engineers who were probably dead, fired, or just relocated as far away from it as possible. After a few minutes, she slipped her hands into his, and he looked at her questioningly. She said, “Are you going to tell Deepak?”

He took his hands from within hers, and returned his gaze to the laptop.

She said, “You know you have to.”

“I don’t need to. I’m going to fix it” said Sumanth.

“And why would you do that?” asked Afreen.

“Because Pinky is my friend.  And if Deepak comes to know, its going to look bad on her. She doesn’t need this now.” said Sumanth, his voice was cold, quiet.

Afreen was bloating up like a porcupine, “You can’t just enter the core like that. There is a process.  We need to flag the department. You need to tell Deepak. What if something happens?”
“Nothing will happen…” he snapped. “Besides, I am already there.”

Afreen’s voice was turning shrill, “You probably don’t even have permissions. And even if you fix it, we have to tell.  Do you think of yourself as some Bollyhood hero out to save the day? Fix a bug and win Pinky’s heart?  You think this is your family property? And what about me? I would have to tell.  Have you thought of that?”
The words came out with more venom than he intended, “Why you want to get into Deepak’s good books, is it?“

Her nostrils flared as she gritted her teeth, “Because it is the professional thing to do!”

“Oh…so now you understand professionalism?   But if I want to help Pinky, it isn’t? I think that’s quite hypocritical, Afreen. By your own logic, you must have a crush on Deepak.  Or maybe, you are just sucking up to him.  Or maybe…you are just a telltale…Or maybe…”
He couldn’t complete the sentence. She flung the tissue paper on his face, a thousand dirty pieces, and stomped away.  He watched, wondering at the implications of what he had done.

He sighed. Afreen was right, actually. It was team policy to report memory faults. And she could in fact tell on him. Which means he had even lesser time.  But if the problem was gone before they came, it would be his word against hers. And by then, he’d be the hero who’d fixed the problem, just as Afreen had declared.
He felt a rush through himself as he entered the strange mishappen jungle.  It was a place that nobody understood, tested, bugged a thousand times, and beaten into its current shape.  It worked for reasons that nobody understood. And he had to enter, fix and get the hell out.
How hard could it be, he thought. And then,  fifteen minutes later,  he was lost.
The place had traps every where.  One wrong step and he would collapse more lines of code. He changed a line. What was that about code that looked beautiful. This one looked like as scenic as a graveyard. He changed another. Then another. He commented a few. He had to start a new version so that he could revert back. He felt his mind enter a sudden quagmire.

He wondered if Pinky had beem here, made a change unknowingly.  She wasn’t the kind that would do anything that risque, but why then had a memory fault occured.  Did she lose her way like this? It was primarily modules related to Pinky’s that were failing now. Interfaces, Configuration, DMVPN.  But it could mean a larger problem from a code change. Wait, what was that? Had he changed this line? Or was it always there? Shit, shit, back track. Back track. It was too late. He had changed too much. And he barely knew the way back.
He heard Deepak entering the zone, chatting he noticed, to one of the directors.  Time up. He had to get out. This code was sinking now. He looked at it one last time. Somewhere in that murk, it felt like he was leaving Pinky. That she was drowning, and he was leaving her to it. There was nothing he could do. Except save his own skin. Selfish as one got. It disgusted him.
Then he realized something. That line. If Pinky had added it, allocated that gigantic heap of memory? The little line could have resulted in this spectacular memory hog. The wind and storm seemed to bleated and screamed in his ears.  Change it! His brain had screeched to an alert, onto a speedboat it had leapt, swerving and curving over the angry waves, and down, a quick scoop, he had the line, he whacked it into shape, and disappeared out before the code realised what had happened.
Suddenly, the code wavered and stormed, and shimmered into a beautiful symphony.
He ran the build, and saw the compilation with a beating heart. This was what he loved most about why coding.  The tension of rolling code.  One line after the other, the whuzzing build. He whistled as the world had conjugated to that single moment, where nothing else mattered but lines of execution logs thrown at him against the slow whirring of the air conditioning.

Someone tapped his shoulder as the final message was printed out on the screen.

Build Failure. 55 Errors, 17 warnings.

When he looked up, he met Deepak’s eyes, it felt like fire alarms were ringing across every continent on the globe.