Monday, August 2, 2021

Relationships

Relationships! Hmmm! Come to think of it, that word takes in a lot of territory. Including trolling, hating etc. What's that catch-phrase? Ah, yes, Toxic Relationships. Those are not the sort of things that I wish to dignify with the word 'relationship', so I shall only speak of those inter-personal interactions which have a modicum of positivism associated with them.

You know, when things are going well with people, when it is all fun and games, everyone seems to be a great friend or well-wisher. Your birthday pops up, bang come the good wishes; you put up a 'Hey! I got my idli perfect today' and people chime in with congratulatory messages worthy of your winning a gold medal in the Olympics; and so on. It's tough to differentiate between relationships when things go well.

But, comes the time when, say, you have been busy or stressed and unable to respond to their posts...THEN you will find a lot of them have suddenly found the need to cull their friends list on Social media and you are among the culled...unfriended, is the appropriate term, I believe.  A lot of the people you know are the 'What have you done for me lately' type of friends for whom memory of past deeds last only as long as it takes for their twitter feed to refresh.

Such relationships happen in real life as well. At any point in time, you have a group of people around you in the circumstances that you are in. At school, college, in your current job location, whatever. Most of those remain friends only as long as you are there. Once you split, the relationship totally dies with some...to the extent that they will fail to acknowledge you if you bump noses with them later in life. Except, of course, if you have become the next Zuckerberg or Prime Minister of India or whatever, in which case 'What have you done for me lately' gets substituted by 'What can he do for me now'; and their memory makes a miraculous recovery.

With some others, you can meet up again with goodwill and a 'Hail fellow, well met' sort of relationship, where you enjoy spending a few moments, down a couple of drinks, and part happily. What we guys used to call 'Time Pass' friendship. Good for a few laughs but a relationship that is strictly to be undemanding. If, perchance, you are sick in their city, say, and need them to care for you...Ahem!!!

Then there are the others who you can meet after ages and get along like a house on fire as though the intervening years never happened. These are the people with whom you have a bond that transcends having common interests (like trashing the same boss, say) and frequency of interactions. If you are lucky, you may have a handful of such people in your life (never mind the thousands of Facebook followers who Like your every pic).

Be it family, or be it friends, there are those relationships which are almost self-effacing, but are worked into the very essence of your being. Like the tanpura or harmonium in a classical concert, they are the very back-bone of the music of your life but, like the backbone, they are generally invisible. And, yet, without them, you would not be you. If one were to ask people if they had someone who was like that to them, the most common answer is likely to be parents and, perhaps, siblings. You take them almost for granted but whenever you do spare a thought for them, it is with gratitude that they are there in your life. (Yes, there are a few who may be unfortunate enough to have bad parents. AND a lot more who realize what their parents meant to them only when they are no longer around.)

I have been lucky that, in addition to parents, there have been others who have woven themselves into the warp and weft of my being. People who I, almost unconsciously, always assumed would be there for me through all the travails of life and regardless of my own position and achievements or lack thereof. (Yeah, yeah, lack thereof IS the thing. Who realizes the selflessness of someone's affection when he is hugely successful? It IS failure that brings you face to face with true affection or...err...lack thereof!)

This year, though, has been depriving me of some of those who have been the mainstay of my being. First a cousin. The man who, when I told him that I had been a sick for a couple of days, was enraged that I did not call on him for help; who had hosted my family for months on end when my mother was being treated at Adyar Cancer Institute and I was working in Delhi; who practically commanded me to come over and stay with him when I fractured my hand. He went to sleep one night and did not wake up.

Now my aunt. She had always been a mother figure, most especially since my own mother passed away. The sort of person who, while recovering from surgery, can worry about my straining myself in coming to the hospital because I had twisted my ankle a couple of weeks back; who would, regardless of the pain of arthritic knees, would insist on cooking my favorite dishes turning a deaf ear to my pleas to not stress herself; remember my birthday, my star birthday and be the first in the morning to call me to wish me (Large families and she would call up everyone, so we are really talking about a mind-boggling database of information); small and big things which demonstrated how much she cared. It probably was a totally different model of human, those days, those few who had such large hearts that they could care for so many people with such selflessness that they took little heed of their own needs. Gone, now.

And, yet, I cannot bring myself to grieve. For, to grieve would be to admit that they are no more there for me. And I...I would prefer to hug to my heart, like the warmth of a hearth, the thought that they are still there for me...somewhere!

Monday, July 26, 2021

Old Fables New Morals : The Ant and the Grasshopper

It is normal for tales with morals to make children hate the 'moral' character of the story. Like the guy in your class who is held up as an example for you to emulate, moral characters seem to exist only to allow parents to tell you how disappointing you are. But our dear chap, Aesop, seems to have missed by a wide margin when he wrote 'The Ant and the Grasshopper' to teach morals. I mean, leave alone children, one helluva lot of adults seem to have taken against the hero of the moral here.

The tale goes like this

The Ant was busy scurrying around all Summer, collecting grains to tide over Winter. Seeing the Grasshopper singing happily, the Ant told him to spend some time storing grains for Winter.

In late autumn, as the Ant was drying out the grain it had stored up during the summer, the starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.

"What?" cried the Ant in surprise, "Haven't you stored anything away for the winter like I asked you to? What were you doing all last summer?"

"I didn't have time to store up any food," whined the Grasshopper; "I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone."

The Ant shrugged its shoulders in disgust.

"Making music, were you?" it cried. "Very well; now dance!" And it turned its back on the Grasshopper and went on with its work.

The moral, apparently, is that 'There's a time for work and a time for play' or some such noble thing. Going by a story that no less than Somerset Maugham wrote, all that the fable communicated to him was such a hatred for ants that he went stomping on every ant he saw, after reading the fable. And was pushed into writing a sort of anti-fable, where the hardworking 'ant brother' ends up poorer than the happy-go-lucky 'grasshopper brother' who becomes rich by virtue of marrying a rich woman. Now THAT is the morality tale the world wants - like teaching children to drop out of school and spend time in garages with a view to becoming a billionaire!

At that Aesop got off cheap. Thanks to having lived in a time when social media was not a thing. If he had written it now...

"So...this wuss thinks that the arts are no use? And artists should be allowed to starve?"

"This Aesop is a right-wing fanatic. To praise the virtues of hoarding and allowing poor people to starve..."

"What do you expect? Typical capitalistic behavior. The rich becoming richer and preaching elimination of poverty by killing off the poor."

And so on and so on. Maugham's character only stomped on ANTS. Had it been today, we would have stomped on AESOP!

To be sure, the Ant did have a communication issue. I mean, 'Very well, dance' sounds too much like 'If they do not have bread, let them eat cake." Not really the image that you want to project to the public. But, then, Aesop lived in times when PR was not a thing, I suppose, leave alone Social media. If you had wealth or power, you really did not need to bother with diplomacy with people less well-endowed than you. It was probably EXPECTED that you would be arrogant, failing which people would take you for a easy mark and rob you blind.

So, perhaps, Aesop's Ant, in modern times, would have said something like, "Look, I worked all Summer and just managed to store enough food to keep my family from starving through Winter. If I share with you, my children will starve later in the season. I am sorry." AND, perhaps, give the grasshopper the idea that he could, perhaps, crowd-fund his food and keep from starvation!

Essentially, the Ant would DO only what it anyway DID...refuse the grasshopper food. The difference between becoming a hero or a villain is only in what it SAYS...not in what it DOES!

The moral of the fable...more to the point, the moral of the reaction to the fable...is really this:

When you are unwilling to help, nothing gets you more widely hated than telling 'I told you so'. It seems too much like kicking a man when he is down.

Monday, July 19, 2021

GOAT?

I once had a credit card sold to me on a 'lifetime free' basis. A year down the line, the bill for annual charges for the card came in. Indignantly, I mail the chaps about why I was getting a bill when the card was supposed to be free for a lifetime. Promptly came the reply that the card was free for the lifetime...of the card, which was one year. Since then, anyone who mentions lifetime anything...free, guarantee, whatever...gets grilled by me on whose lifetime...his, mine, the product's, his grandmother's, my pet's and so on!

I keep getting reminded of that, these days. Every other day, there is a hue and cry about someone having become the GOAT - Greatest of All Times. Surprisingly, within a couple of days or so, someone else is hailed the GOAT for the SAME reason. 'All Times' seems to mean anywhere between 2 days to 2 months or so, nowadays. Somewhat like No.1 bestsellers on Amazon which can change every two hours or so!

The strange thing is that these GOATs are almost invariably contemporary people. Makes you wonder whether people really think that nobody all through the past till right now did anything worthwhile and only those inhabiting the current world and their achievements are the greatest. (Somewhat like that 'Nothing good happened since Independence till now' thing.)

Being contemporary alone is not enough unless you are on the top RIGHT NOW. Sachin may have been God of Cricket, the GOAT is Virat. So, it is 'move over Sachin, Virat is here' time! As for Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Gary Sobers, Don Bradman...well, who are they?

Looks to me like people think that GOAT is like calling someone a 'Player of the Match' or 'Wimbledon Champion'...something that can readily change match to match, tournament to tournament, year to year. The idea that calling someone the 'Greatest' and tagging on 'All times' to it means that you think he is not only the best now, not only the best of all till the current moment, but that he will be unequaled in future also...Ah, well, what am I saying? In an era where people live from tweet to tweet, a few nanoseconds probably counts as eternity!

The easiest way, as you can see, to get my goat...err, all in small letters...is to start talking about GOATs.

Psst! Can you call me a GOAT in ranting, at least?

Monday, July 12, 2021

What you want to hear

The one truth about conversing with people is that you very seldom hear what you want to hear. Not only when you are eavesdropping (Eavesdroppers never hear anything good of themselves is true but it is mainly the powerful who hear anything bad that people have not already told to their face). That's probably because people feel uncomfortable about saying anything complimentary to others but find themselves feeling wonderful when they are being critical. Even to people who they profess to love!

You say something like, "I do not think I do this well," generally, of course, expecting the others to say, "No. This is excellent," or some such. How often does that happen? Mostly, what you get is either, "Yup! Why do you do things in which you are incompetent," or, if they are feeling particularly generous, "Fishing! Fishing." As though you will find it funny to be told that you are fishing for compliments OR that they are informing you about what they are sure you do not know. (WHAT was that? Fragile male ego? Hmmm! So, when you say something like "I look fat in this dress," you are thrilled to hear either a "Oh yeah, you do," or "Stop fishing"?)

But, you know, people trying to tell you what you want to hear can also be very...err...trying. There ARE times when you want to hear the truth and, presto, THAT is when people decide that they will tell you want they think you want to hear.

Like, say, you invite a friend for a party at your home and he cannot come for whatever reason. Haven't you come across the friend who decides that telling you that he cannot come will be too troublesome. (In order to avoid THOSE ding-dong conversations between one who does not even want the other to come and the other who does not want to come but..."I am afraid I have another engagement." "What engagement? We have been friends for so long and..." "A relative's marriage is on the same day." "You can come to my function and then go to the reception..."!) You get a 'Yes' from him at first, PLAN on his coming. Then, the day before, he calls you and says he has to go to another function but will certainly come, though he may be late. And so on...till you get a late night call telling you about the traffic situation in Bangalore and precisely which place he was supposedly stuck for three hours. There is a difference between planning a party knowing someone is NOT coming and planning a party assuming someone IS. You, who would have been happy if you knew he was not coming, get stuck with preparing for his advent just because he wanted to tell you what he thought you wanted to hear and feel absolutely pissed when he does not make it.

Call a workman home - an electrician, plumber, whoever - and you get treated to the same. He goes out to 'buy some material' and solemnly promises to be back in five minutes. You ask him whether it will take two hours; he assures you it won't even when you tell him you have work outside the house which you could do in that period; and eventually comes back after four hours. You have people coming in for the evening; you ask the plumber if the job will be done before then; he tells you it will be done so far in advance that you can probably fit in an aerobics class in addition; so you decide not to cancel your evening program; and, when your guests land, you have the unenviable task of telling them that any bathroom visits will have to wait till they go back to their homes. And so on...all because people want to tell you what they assume that you want to hear.

But, yes, it is true that people try to tell you what you want to hear because THEY do not want to hear what they do not want to hear! Recriminations, arguments etc etc.

But, why ME, Lord! I tell people that it is perfectly OK to tell me the other thing, that I would in fact welcome it and still...