Monday, September 21, 2020


 "You know, you missed the point when you were talking about expectations."

The world has two types of people. The ones who just paste a smile on their faces and close their ears to what you are saying; and the ones who keep silent unless they can point out something wrong with what you are saying. (What are you babbling? That there are also people who only appreciate and people who can both appreciate AND criticize as necessary? Wake up and smell the damn coffee. Fantasies are only for dreams.) AND I have been endowed with a whole circle of friends who not only gleefully pounce on anything wrong but also go out of their way to FIND something wrong.

"The important thing is comparisons, not expectations."

Huh! Was that not exactly what I had said then? That the problem lay in comparing reality to expectations. Really! The depths of nitpicking people will delve into merely to find something to criticize!

I said as much and he snorted derisively.

"So, you think that comparisons are a problem only when you do it between expectations and reality? You cannot conceive of comparisons being a problem in the expectations themselves?"

What? I looked blankly at him and he continued with a snide smile.

"Of course you cannot see. Look, in your own example of math test results. Are the expectations set at a certain percentage of the total marks? Or is it set as better than most in the class or ALL in the class."

"Well, my dad..."

"Yeah, fine! He could expect anything. Say, in English your dad expected you to get 75% and you got 80%. Will he be happy with that? Even if, say, most of your class got in excess of 80%?"

Uhoh! Yeah, the chap did have a point, after all. Yes, my dad would have got after me if I had got less than 75% unless I proved everyone else got less than me. But even if I had exceeded the cut-off, it would still not have helped if everyone else had scored more than me.

As usual, he assumed that the pained look on my face was lack of comprehension and not because I was having to swallow the bitter idea of his being right.

"See, you may WANT a 50% raise in pay to meet your EMIs. You may EXPECT only a 15% raise because that is the best your company could give. You may be happy to get 18%, with the assumption that it is the best raise anyone got. Till you see someone else has got 25%. THEN you start getting unhappy."

Of course! Expectations are very seldom restricted to facts and figures, are they? You set your expectations both on the quantum as well as the relative performance and, unless BOTH are met or exceeded, you end up feeling unhappy. Not to mention the fact that the less tangible expectation is the one where you see the most problems in the future...promotions and what have you, since the chap who got the 25% raise has been rated better than you.

"What then when the expectation itself is ONLY based on comparisons?"

Uh! This guy is too much really.

"Like what?"

"Like, say, being the best designer. Or being the company with the highest market share. Or..."

Ooops! And, obviously, that would be the most stressful thing. I mean, yeah, being a better designer than you were yesterday is...controllable. It is a question on improving YOURSELF, depending on your own skill improvement and application. But better than all the others? How do you also control ALL the others and what they do? 

THAT is why I never ever tried to set those sort of expectations for myself. How it ended up was that I would assume that they were far better than they really were and screwed up all my life trying to better THAT. I mean, yeah, it sounds rather cool to be pushing yourself to up your skills but, come on, there ARE other things in life than designing and ending up chasing one thing exclusively is a sure shot recipe for a nervous breakdown. And there are those who find that becoming the best designer is merely a question of sabotaging the other guys than improving yourself, which is one of those unhealthy side effects of expectations set on a comparative basis.

"AND then there are those expectations, even about what you want to possess, based ONLY on comparisons."

Uh! Would this guy never stop?

"Like wanting to have things, be able to do things that not everyone can do. With not even a clue of exactly WHAT it is you want...merely that it should be something that others do not have."

Mmm? What was this guy blathering about?

"Which is why companies thrive on 'exclusive brands'. The value of those products is not in what YOU may not even WANT it when you get it. The value is in the thought that you can have it but OTHERS cannot afford it."

Ah! Somewhat like the kings of yore having a totally unnecessary piece of cloth trailing behind them making it impossible for them to walk unless they had a crowd of people lifting it off the ground and carrying it. Train, they called it I think. They could well dispense with it and walk comfortably but THEY could afford people to carry it behind them and others could not, so...

I said as much and won a smile of approval.

"Exactly! So, you see, the biggest enemy of happiness is comparisons. More especially when you set your expectations on a comparative basis."

"Yeah! I knew I was right. THAT's why I said expectations are a problem," I said triumphantly. He snorted in disgust and left.

Now THAT was undiluted pleasure. For once, I had the last word in an argument with a friend. Quite exceeded my expectations, I tell you!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Great Expectations

 I never realized how what actually happened matters comparatively little to how happy we can be. Till the day I walked out, sore in mind and body, after I had shown my dad the test results on my math paper. And found sounds of celebration and revelry coming from a classmate's house, sweets being distributed and the said classmate being practically treated like an all-conquering hero. My astonishment knew no bounds when chocolate was thrust into my grasping hands and the reason for the celebration was trumpeted into my unbelieving ears.

Huh! For the results of the SAME math test? A test which he had managed to pass by a whisker while I had failed to hit maximum by the same whisker? Ye Gods! How could a pass mark cause so much happiness here while 95% convulsed my house in sorrow?

Oh, I don't mean only the happiness to my classmate and the sorrow to me - though, at THAT time, I was thinking only of that. There is no real doubt that my dad WAS gloomy that day himself and my friend's family was ecstatic. Though, merely going by the marks on the test paper, you would interchange the destinations of the happiness and the gloom.

And THAT is why I say that what actually happened matters little to your happiness. What matters is what was EXPECTED and what really happened. Happiness is a consequence of reality exceeding your expectations and disappointment is a given if reality falls short of your expectations.

So, there you go, my dad's expectations were not met, my friend's dad's expectations were exceeded. Comes the time when YOU set the expectations, it's good to remember this. If you promise your boss, say, that a job will be done in 3 days and you do it in 4 days; your colleague promises to do it in 5 days and does it in 5 days, guess who is the under-performer? YOU, of course, and no amount of wailing that you did it one day before your colleague will help. Your boss may agree, at that time, but the impression of you being an under-performer will STAY, especially if you continue working the same way.

As with spouses, too. The spouse who ALWAYS forgets her spouse's birthday gets away with an indulgent 'memory like a sieve' comment. The one who forgets ONCE will be faced with a 'You don't love me any more'. All because of expectations.

Your expectations are what determine your relationships in life. Expect too much of the people around you and you will find that all relationships disappoint you. And then you may well wail about 'false friends' about the same people that others praise for being very helpful.

Happiness IS a consequence of reality exceeding your expectations. Specifically, it is what you GET out of life which you have expectations about. Money, power, fame, recognition...THOSE are the subject matter of expectations, generally. So, a life is happy if your expectations on ALL fronts are exceeded. (Provided, of course, you do not keep changing the goal-posts, as happens too often. As you keep climbing the social ladder, you keep finding that there are more rungs above the one which you had originally aimed you keep climbing...and climbing...and climbing...and when you have no choice but to stop, you look yearningly up at people on the rungs above you and feel disappointed with your life.)

The easier way is to SET the expectations lower. Which is not really a lack of ambition, only a reorientation of it. Set your ambitions to what you can learn and do and be(character, NOT position)...not what you can GET.

Me? Ah! Well, my dad did always say that I had NO ambition!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Judging by the cover

When they said, "Don't judge a book by the cover," I nodded enthusiastically. I mean, yeah, it was a wonderful feeling that, for once, there was a piece of advice which I was already following.

I mean, come on, what does the cover tell you anyway? It demonstrates how good the cover artist is, not how good the author is. Even if the author did have a say in it, it only tells you how capable he is as a judge of art...not how capable he is as a writer. (Ah, well, THAT's a losing argument I know. I mean, if people take so seriously what an actor has to say on politics or sociology, no matter how reluctantly he is coerced to say it, what's the point someone telling them that being a good actor does not necessarily mean that he is an expert on sociology or politics?)

But it is not all that nitpicking logic which decided me on not judging a book by the cover. It was just that I cut my reading teeth on books borrowed from the library in Neyveli. And most of them were what we called 'bound books' with a binding that looks just about the same on all of them. If I had to judge books ONLY by the cover, Shakespeare and Mills & Boon would all be assessed the same; PG Wodehouse would seem just as funny as Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Which comparison, if you know PGW - and Solzhenitsyn of course, would have PGW spinning in his grave.)

So, from a tender young age, I judged books by the blurb and a bit of a sample read, rather than by the cover. The idea that people could judge books by the cover never ever crossed my mind...and came as a shock when I was told that it was indeed true.

It should not have been so much of a shock, though. I mean, if ever there was any other species which both prided itself on its ability to think as well as displayed extreme reluctance to apply that ability, I do not know of it. So, judging by the cover WOULD be the norm because it probably placed the least stress on what Poirot calls the 'little grey cells'.

I should have known, because books are not the only things that get judged 'by the cover'. I mean, how often do the opinions of people get discounted because he 'looks like a fool'? (AND given undue importance because he looks wise? That, too.) Or because HOW he says it - his accent, his inability to speak fluently - overpowers any assessment of WHAT he says. How often does a degree or a position automatically hand over the victory in an argument, regardless of the logic of the stances of the opponents? People get judged 'by the cover' all the time.

What, indeed, is racism or caste-ism or sexism? Taking the physical or social attributes of a person as definitive indications of their ability and/or character is but another form of judging by the cover.

So, while we keep prating of not 'judging by the cover', the corporate world, knowing full well that THAT is exactly what people will do, merrily keeps pushing products on the strength of the cover. The biggest margin earners are the ones which sell MAINLY or ONLY because of the cover! What we call big name brands.

And so, I still continue not to judge by the cover. The problem is I do not know whether to be proud or ashamed of it!

Monday, August 31, 2020

Then and Now

 Yeah, I know that the moment you see that title "Then and Now" and put it together with my age, you will add it up to a post on how in the 'good old days' we were all paragons of virtue and the world was a paradise on earth which all you young whippersnappers (Look that up! I HAVE to use the words that herald my age, haven't I?) have messed up royally. You will be surprised to know that it is NOT the intent of this post. (What?? You read that to mean that I do NOT think we were paragons of virtue? Of course we were paragons of virtue, it is just that I am much too modest to boast of it.)

But, yes, I do intend to wax eloquent about how much things have changed. To say something is different, you may be surprised to know, is not necessarily the same as saying it is better or worse. TRY to act as though you really believe it, at least for as long as you read this post, even if you find it difficult to accept it. It will save me having to plow through comments where the word 'Boomer' features frequently.

You see, all of us HATE change. Just because the world that is around you IS the world you are used to, you cannot see how much trauma it inflicts on us. I mean, you guys start screaming all over social media every time an App changes its damn interface and still cannot understand how upset we can be about Apps BECOMING the interface between us and the rest of the world. It is not that it is more difficult or more inconvenient or any such. It is just that it is DIFFERENT and THEREFORE more difficult, more inconvenient...simply because it forces on us the difficulty, the inconvenience of having to relearn how to do things. Change is a pain even to the youth; to the aged...

And when the world changes topsy-turvy, as it has in a few cases...

From what I had understood, the history of communication started off with figures representing each action, thought or idea which was to be communicated. That was thought to be too cumbersome and people devised alphabets and words, so that you could learn to communicate more easily that memorizing a million figures, with inter-regional variations. And so we grew up, confident that we could pick up and communicate newer ideas and thoughts with the basics we had already learnt. The last thing we would have expected was to have to go back to school to learn communication. And what happens? Smileys and figures of all sorts NOW form communication and we are back to the Stone Age as far as being able to communicate goes. AND I am left pondering what that chap meant when he sent that dancing girl in reply to my comment or whether this chap was insulting me or praising me when he sent me a meme with a ghost cavorting in it. Was the ghost smirking or smiling in appreciation, yada, yada, plagues my nights. (Maybe it IS the Chinese millennium after all. From what I have heard, THEIR alphabet is closest to the way our long gone ancestors communicated with each other.)

Even food has not been spared. I mean, time was when, as a cook, I only had to worry about whether the food smelt good and tasted good; as someone who the cook sought an opinion from, ditto. NOW if I say, "Oh! That smells divine, tastes like ambrosia", the cook gives me a glare and asks, "Forget the inconsequential things. Does it LOOK good?" Alas, I am not fit for the Instagram world!

Travel has been an eye-opener too. Time was when we were traveling and someone exclaimed, "What a lovely view", we would all turn TOWARDS the view to take it in. NOW we are supposed to swiftly turn our backs to the view so that we can click ourselves with the view in the background! (Oh! Yes! Those were times when photographs were for weddings and the like. Who could afford a camera, film for it and costs to develop and print the film...What?? Yeah, yeah, the most that had come about by then were FILM-based cameras. Remember Kodak? No? Ah, well, we thought History was something that happened centuries before. Now, Kodak is History!)

Parenting is a whole new ball-game. There is no way you can just copy your parents and get on with the parenting game. Like, my parents used to tell my sister, "You should walk with your eyes to the ground and head lowered." THAT piece of patriarchy would always get my sister's goat, rightly (I said RIGHTLY, damn it! So, please do not start on long diatribes which use 'patriarchy' and 'male chauvinist' once every three words) and she would sarcastically retort with, "If I do that I will be colliding with all sorts of people and things." NOW, parents have to tell, "Look where you are going, otherwise you will keep colliding with things. Do not always have your head lowered and eyes check out your smart-phone."

And, yes, if we saw someone gesticulating and talking to himself/herself on the streets, we would assume that they were either mentally disturbed or drunk. NOW, we hardly bother to even check if they are wearing earphones. Drunks, these days, must be feeling particularly ignored...even the tried and tested route of making a scene on the streets to gain attention has become normalized. People just take it for granted.

As though, technology had not already turned the world upside down, biology starts up too. Time was when someone, who was seen wearing a hand-kerchief around his neck, automatically qualified a potential goonda because such a hand-kerchief could readily become a mask. And someone WITH a mask was a proven villain, except in an operation theater.

NOW...masks have become designer-wear! Ye Gods!