Monday, September 9, 2019

Too content?

"You know what's the problem with you?"

Again! And it had been a long while since I thought that 'the problem' meant that there was only one problem with me and all I needed to do was to sort that out. After the thirtieth time it had happened, each one outlining a different problem, even my optimism was not up to the task.

It was going to be a bad day today. It generally is, even with one friend playing psychoanalyst but now there were three of them.

"The issue is that you are too content."

"I would not say that", I said, idly. "I'd really like a larger house, be able to travel business class..."

"And what are you willing to do to get all that."

I reared up, as if stung. "Do? Me? What I meant was that if some fairy godmother would wave a wand and..."

"Exactly! Anyone can dream of being better. Like, say, wishing you could sing like Rafi with no real intent to become a singer. Unless you really want it, really feel dissatisfied with what you have, you do not put in the effort to get it. So..."

"It is not only that. The benefit is just not worth the cost, that's all."

"Not discontent enough..."

And as if one guy getting after me was not enough, another of these chaps butted in.

"Yeah, as though he could have become a...a CEO, say, even if he wanted to. It is just sour grapes, he just cannot become one so he acts as if he does not want to..."

"That's the problem with us guys. If he says he does not consider the benefits worth the costs, why not give him the benefit of the doubt? Why assume immediately that he is incompetent?"

I looked on the third chap, who had just said the last, with wondering disbelief. A friend who supports me? Where had he been all my life?

"Nonsense. If he could have, he would have. If only because of peer pressure."

"Peer pressure? That's the last thing I'd do things for", I said. "At school, I got pushed into engineering because of peer pressure. So, was that the end of the thing, the Holy Grail in my hands and the rest of life a sinecure? Nonsense, I find that I have a new set of peers, all engineers, and now the stakes were higher. So, I get into IIM. There...that settled it? NOW I have a hotshot lot of MBAs for peers, and the goals are even higher. All I have seen of succumbing to peer pressure is that I get pushed onto newer and newer treadmills which run harder and faster. I am all done with trying to satisfy pressurizing peers, anyway. I want people who will take me as I am, not make me feel that I need to battle every day to retain my right to be called their peer."

There was stunned silence. As was natural, considering that this was the first time I ever managed to say so many sentences at the same time in any meeting with my friends. The confidence that a teensy bit of support can give you, I tell you!

"So, you never really wanted to become a..."

"Become? Yeah, I too thought it was all about becoming. Becoming an engineer, becoming an MBA, becoming a CEO. The point is not about the becoming, the point is whether I would enjoy BEING what I had become. And I most certainly would not enjoy being on a perpetual treadmill all my life. Like, say, Ranjan here thought he would like BECOMING a retired person but he hardly found BEING a retired person to his taste, did he?"

"Ah! So you think we are all stupid fools running on..."

"Treadmill is how it appears to me. To you it could appear like paradise or, who knows, it may also appear a treadmill to you but you may actually feel ecstatic about running on it. Or you may need or want the rewards that running on the treadmill gives you. Unlike you guys, I do not think that the way I feel about life is the only right way and, if someone has not adopted it, he is either a fool or incompetent. Each of us are different and the only folly lies in not knowing what YOU want and pursuing it. Not in not adopting someone else's path."

"So, exactly what do YOU want in life?"

"Hmmm! What I have is quite fine - being a spectator to all your efforts. Except, of course, if that fairy godmother wants to exercise her wand and..."

Monday, September 2, 2019

I do? I understand?

Whenever there was this Workshop class at school, I used to get all tensed up. Ah, no, it was not only because I could not just sit in the back benches and sleep, as I did in other classes, though that too was a contributory factor.

There was this board in the workshop

I hear, I forget
I see, I remember
I do, I understand

Jolly good, I supposed, for all the people who had this strange urge to understand things. Me, I was quite fine with a bulb lighting up when I tapped the switch without needing to know why it did so, in all its excruciating detail. AND, even assuming that understanding could be thrust into an unwilling brain, it seemed to be based on the assumption that I DO. Me? DO? THAT seemed a bit of a stretch to assume about me.

Be that as it may, it did not matter so much at school that I never did do. The irksome thing, though, followed me into college. Maybe you think that if I went in for Engineering, then I jolly well ought to have known that 'Workshop' WOULD be a part of it.

But, hey, I was in there for Chemical Engineering. Exactly why was I, then, to work at carpentry and what would it make me understand? Unless, of course, we are preparing for the days when we may have to go back to doing chemical reactions with wood shavings.

Anyway, there I was with a block of wood and some weird thing called the planer or some such. The idea, apparently, was that I would shape that block of wood into a perfect rectangular prism with smooth faces. And all that merely by running this planer on each face, shaving off the roughness.

I did run the planer diligently but, you know what, somehow the face ended up sloping down. I switched ends and started operations only to find that that pesky slope also ended up reversing directions. Rinse and repeat the end-switching and planing till...

Well, at the end of the carpentry class it did seem like I thought I was there to convert wood to wood shavings. I thought it was useful but, then, as usual there was no meeting of minds between me and the powers-that-be. Something that has plagued me all my life.

And then, exactly why did I need to learn to become a blacksmith in order to become a Chemical Engineer? True, that we, as a nation, have found that even our appliances tend to believe in goofing off unless they get a whack on the head but...I mean, taking a sledge hammer to a reactor in order to encourage it to work is not precisely the prescribed corrective measure. AND to swing that same sledge hammer on the controls in a control room...well, the mind boggles at the thought of someone, who is interested in the continued welfare of that factory, actually thinking that THAT would help.

But, then, the mysteries of academia are well beyond me, so smithy it was. And there I was diligently fashioning a square-headed bolt as per demand. And I did successfully make one. As usual, though, the instructor would not agree with me. "There, one number square head", I said, pointing to the blob of metal in my left hand. "There, one number bolt." pointing to the roughly cylindrical piece of metal in my right hand. "Successfully done. What more could you want?" I said, bringing my case to a successful conclusion.

Apparently, he COULD want more. The chap makes the unreasonable demand that he wanted the square head AND bolt in ONE piece, not two. People in authority, I tell you!! I had to retire defeated.

Anyway, by the time I finished all that DOING, there was only one thing I UNDERSTOOD. That I could NOT do. Possibly that I could never DO.

And I spent a big proportion of my life, wondering what next. That board in my school workshop never mentioned anything about 'What if you cannot do'.

Finally I figured it all out. So, now my board would read

I hear, I forget
I see, I remember
I do, I understand
I cannot do, I retire

Monday, August 26, 2019


kaRka kasadaRak kaRpavai katrapin niRka adhaRkuth thaga - Thirukkural

Whatever you learn, learn flawlessly and thoroughly; and live in accordance to those tenets - Loose translation

The thing about Tiru is that, after you have a dose of him, you get a whole new appreciation of how lenient your parents really are. Even if, right from their 'good morning' to their lullaby, their sole litany is your school grades. I mean, yeah, they do really push it but, honestly, do they ever expect perfection from you? (Yeah! Well! They know you too well, no matter how doting they are as parents. Perfect? You? HA!)

But Tiru...! The chap does not even know the guys he is talking to and he will settle for nothing less than perfection. Learn thoroughly? Flawlessly? He really expects that you will understand what you are learning completely without any misunderstanding of the concepts? Cloud Cuckoo Land stuff, really. Yeah, one can give some leeway for the fact that he does not know you personally but still...I mean, is it even human to expect it? And, LIVE by those tenets? As if anyone was learning for anything more than getting a good grade, even in his times.

Apparently, in his times what people considered education was morality, social behavior, human interactions and things like that. You know, it seems like fantasy really. I mean, can you really imagine a time where you were left to learn the STEM subjects on the job and taught ONLY the so-called humanities? And they called THAT education. But well, those were ancient times, so understandably they had no exposure to modern ideas of education where you only teach the STEM subjects and allow the humanities to be learned on the job, in a manner of speaking.

So, anyway, LIVE by those tenets did not really mean that, if you were a programmer, you had to live a life seeing things in 'zeros' and 'ones', since programming itself would not have been on the syllabus of that education system. So, Tiru was expecting people to live by the morals that they learned, adopt the social behavior they were taught and so on and so forth...and the chap does not even allow you the leeway to claim that you misunderstood the thing cos you get no brownie points for that. You are supposed to learn thoroughly and flawlessly, remember?

Anyway, that's all to let you guys know how much simpler it is for you guys now. All you need to get from your education is grades and you keep whimpering about pressure. Just think of Tiru's students!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Dealing in absolutes

"I am afraid that Kunal is no good to do unplanned trips with. He is too used to comforts and keeps complaining if things are a bit rough." I was saying when my friend cut me short.

"I don't like talking ill of friends like this"

Huh? What exactly was that? I mean, yeah, I would not like to go on impromptu trips with Kunal again, and was saying so, but 'talking ill of him'? It is not like I even thought of him as some sort of evil entity to shun, leave alone saying so. My comment was, I thought, more like saying 'He does not like aaloo'. You get what I mean? A comment on things to do with him, and things to avoid, more than character assassination but... and, anyway, I suppose food is not the best of metaphors to choose these days. It seems to lead to real assassinations, leave alone character assassinations.

But this is a problem that irks me these days. If it is a friend you are speaking of, you either are to be uniformly complimentary or you are being a bad friend? Seems to me that this attitude of being absolute about things is all over Society these days. You are either absolutely FOR a person, which seems to mean every single facet of him, or you will be considered absolutely AGAINST him.

I mean, what, all those guys who casually comment about how my head creates a halo around me in bright sunlight are not my friends because they are making fun of my baldness? More fool I, then, to have not considered that a 'true' friend would say nothing negative about me. I'm still not convinced, though. Like, yes, I'd not say that I'd prefer not to sleep in the same room as Vinay, considering that he is what my cousin chooses to call a 'sound' sleeper (and THAT, my friends will tell you, is the pot calling the kettle black, if THAT phrase is still permissible), but that does not mean that I do not like or respect Vinay or that I have turned against him totally because he spoiled a night's sleep for me. And saying that he does snore fit to wake up the dead is NOT the same as trashing his character, as far as I am concerned.

But, then, I should have known that this absolutism is the bedrock of human behavior. I mean, how many times have I heard 'He? He cannot even string a sentence properly in English." as a firm refutation of the chap's ability to compose music. As though the ability to flawlessly recite 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' from memory is the foundation on which musical ability rests. The basic idea seems to be that, if the chap was no good at one thing, he has to be no good at everything.

And the number of times you would have seen the corollaries! The fact that A is a better poet than B being cited as a triumphant rebuttal of an attempt to call B a better businessman than A, and such other major flights of human logic. I SHOULD have known that absolutism is deep-wired into the human DNA.

If our daily interactions take this sort of absolutist tinge, it is no wonder that, when it comes to politics or religion, we refuse to see any right in the opponent or any wrong in the leader of our own choice. I mean, a friend is merely someone I support and I cannot say or listen to ANY single negative comment on him without considering it a total denigration of my friend's character (and respond by trashing the chap who made that comment? YES!). SO what then about a leader who I FOLLOW? THAT chap obviously can do no wrong and it is only the evil spawn of Satan who will point fingers at him.

And so it goes. Bit by painful bit I learn that all this process of logical thinking, which I learned so painstakingly, is totally useless and only alienates me from my fellow human beings. I am trying to unlearn it and become a better human being but, alas, I fear that by the time I fully imbibe it, it will be too late.