Monday, May 20, 2024


There is a lot of problem translating some words from Indian languages to English. More often than not, it is because the word encapsulates a nuanced meaning for which there is no direct equivalent word and, thus, you need a phrase to get across the meaning. (AND before you start the war of which language is superior, I hasten to add that such an issue can arise the other way round as well.) I tend to get peeved when translations take the easy way out and drop the nuances in favor of a single word translation.

There are also times when this problem of translation occurs because the CONCEPT itself is alien to the culture to which the other language belongs. OR the concept is not totally alien but is rare enough for an exact word to have not been invented to identify it. To go so far as to say that the word I am slowly working my way around to IS a word for which the concept does not exist in English-speaking cultures requires the sort of chutzpah on my part that I do not have, given that I cannot claim to be any sort of expert on the culture. If I did, I'd be a shining star of the WhatsApp university, no?

So, getting around to what Tiru said which set me off on that meandering prologue...

Utra noi nondral uyirkkurukan seyyaamai atre thavatthir kuru - Tirukkural

To stoically endure your own suffering and to cause no pain to others is the nature of penance - Loose Translation

Now, that word 'penance' is where I get into translation trouble. Rightly or wrongly, penance always gives me the nuance of atonement for some sin. Whereas 'Thavam' is more a religious meditation, a state of being where your devotion to the Divine excludes everything else.

AND Tiru explains in what shape 'Thavam' manifests itself. That such a person endures stoically whatever sufferings are thrown his way AND the thought of causing pain to others does not cross his mind. It is not merely that the chap does not seek revenge; most of the sufferings in life do not have a villainous face against whom you can vent your ire. It is that he does not even think of merely passing on his pain to others like most of us are wont to do.

I mean, look, how often have you said, "Must have had fight at home", when your boss spews venom at everyone who crosses his path? How often have YOU spewed venom - either at office or at home - merely because someone hurt you somewhere? THAT thing, this 'Saab ka mood karaab hai' issue does not happen with this sort of person.

Nor, indeed, does this sort of person destroy people in the path of achieving his own ambition. Well, in one form, he HAS no ambition since his mind is focused exclusively on the Divine. But, even where he sees it as his DUTY to do his best, his best does not automatically include riding rough-shod over others. If you ARE focused on the Divine, the idea of causing gratuitous hurt is anathema to you.

One keeps talking of the Divine here cause the idea of Thavam automatically includes the idea of focusing on a larger power; else you talk of 'Dhyanam' for meditation and use the more 'secular' words like that.

Whether or not such people really exist is moot. Tiru, however, gives you one yardstick to assess people who claim to be such a person. Not that we are going to use it, of course. As usual, we will assess based on whether our circles endorse that person or revile him!

Monday, May 13, 2024

The right experts?

The funny thing about advice is that you really respect only that advice which vibes with what you yourself want to do especially when the results of following the advice are either long term or indeterminate. You know, like you have the choice of becoming either an engineer or a doctor...choosing one negates the possibility of the other and you can never be certain that choosing the other would have led to a better outcome. So he who tells you to do what you want to do is the better adviser as far as you are concerned. (As opposed to your wanting to become a musician instead of an engineer when you are tone THERE it is tough to convince yourself that you would have starved equally as much if you had chosen to become an engineer.)

When it comes to determinate and relatively short-term issues, though, you tend to think that the better adviser is the guy who helps you to successfully fight fires. In other words, he who sorts out a current problem is that best adviser for you. Tiru sort of agrees but...

UtraNoi neekkki uraa amai murkaakkum petriyaarp penikkolal - Tirukkural

Cherish those who help sort out current problems and protect against their recurrence - Loose Translation

Now, yup, Tiru does feel that it is important to have advisers who will help you to sort out your existing problem. But he sets a higher bar for cherishing them. They not only have to sort out current ills but also help you to put in place systems to avoid recurrence of the same problem.

You know, that's a huge ask. It is easy enough for you to see how someone has helped you put out a fire. It is much tougher to see how he is helping you when he has you install fire extinguishers here and sprinklers there. All you can see is that he is increasing your costs, taking advantage of the fact that you have had a fire. You probably have a sneaking suspicion that he is taking a cut from the chaps selling you all those devices.

Even if you do avoid all those dark suspicions, it is difficult to look on with respect at a person, who is busily running hither and yon, doing things that are not relevant to any current problem. The chap who is helping you put out the next fire is the guy who has your respect currently. The chaps who are with you helping you put out fire after THOSE are the ones worthy of respect; worthy of cherishing.

I mean, like, the firefighter is a hero! Whoever gave medals to the guy who put up the firefighting systems?

Tuesday, May 7, 2024


Charity, for most of us, begins AND ends at home. Which is a pity, really, because the world is increasingly becoming a place where wealth concentrates and disparity widens between the haves and the have-nots. Wealth redistribution by diktat generally tends to have more negative consequences than positive - after all, if I cannot hold on to my wealth for myself and my progeny, I might as well not bother to earn it, no? The only other means of redistribution is of the voluntary kind. Which is where charity kicks in.

Tiru, though, is very particular about what he accepts as charity.

Variyaarkku ondru eevadhe eegai matrellaam kuriyedhirppai neera thudaitthu - Tirukkural

To give to the poor is the only charity; all else is given expecting recompense - Loose Translation

Well, for one, we all expect that 80G thingy (IF it is still there under the new dispensation) where your donation gets you a tax exemption. THAT actually makes it more attractive to give your charity to an 80G registered NGO than the local beggar; the latter, after all, cannot give you an 80G certificate!

The point is that Tiru is into what goes on in your mind. The determinant of your character is your motive in giving the 'charity'. When you give it to the truly poor, who can give you no recompense at all except their gratitude, you can only be guided by a charitable impulse without any admixture of any other selfish emotion (UNLESS, of course, your spouse is clicking you giving the charity so that you can post it on Instagram, which is an option that Tiru could not have thought of in his day). You give to NGOs with multiple motives, including perhaps getting into the good books of the chap seeking you to donate.

Be that as it may, we cannot turn snooty and refuse anything except 'true charity'. I mean, even if you do manage to get the rich to donate merely in order to preen about it, it is all good. The money can still come in handy to feed the poor, no?

So, there! It is all well to WANT people to be truly charitable. BUT it is good enough for Society to ensure that people want to masquerade, at least, as being truly charitable!

Monday, April 29, 2024

Know thy self?

If only I had a penny for every time some guru of success talks of 'Know Thy Self', I'd probably not need them...other than to tell me 'Know Thy Self' and adding a penny to my vast coffers. I mean, I rank this 'Know Thy Self' alongside 'Don't think of mangos'. Advice someone to do the impossible in order to achieve whatever and you can maintain your status as a guru indefinitely. After all, your advice would have made him the next Warren Buffet if only he could have avoided thinking of mangos or known himself or whatever.

I mean, come on! I cannot even tell you confidently that I had THIS haircut because I love my head half-shaved and NOT because of peer pressure alone. (Not ME you literal a******. Everyone knows that I need no barber's help to have a half-shaven head; So what if it is the wrong half for today's fashion?) AND you expect me to know things about myself that even my mom probably does not know.

And, yet, Tiru also wants the same. So, yeah, he is promising me that nothing will be impossible for me IF...I can achieve the impossible first and know my own self!

Olvadharivadhu arindhadhan kann thangich chelvaarkku selladhadhu il - Tirukkural

If someone, knowing what he can do and also the knowledge and tools needed to do that job, attempts diligently, there is nothing he cannot achieve - Loose Translation

Now, actually Tiru is not promising the impossible. I mean, yeah, he is promising that you will not fail at what you do but that comes with a precondition...that you will not attempt anything for which you lack the ability/power to do. So, within the limits of what you CAN do, nothing is impossible for you.

Which, yes, brings us to the first condition - that you should KNOW what your limits are. You may find some limits easy to identify - if you are a visual dud, you are hardly likely to think of yourself as the next Picasso or whatever. If you are tone-deaf, you do not aspire to the seat of Mozart.

The problem comes when you can do a bit of it. As in, if you are good enough as a bathroom singer, can you recognize that THAT is where your talent ends? That Hariharan or Sonu Nigam is not in danger of losing his place? Or recognize that a talent at fluently writing "In reply to..." may not suffice to win you the Booker Prize? I mean, you MAY not have sufficient talent OR, perhaps, it is just a matter of persistently honing it so that you can scale those heights. How are you to KNOW?

The second condition - of knowing what knowledge and tools are needed for the job AND the implicit statement that you need to acquire them - IS not merely doable but essential. I mean, it is all OK to sleep and dream of a princess falling into your lap and the king gifting you his kingdom but try PLANNING to have all that happen and you will either make it possible OR you will shift to more realistic dreams.

AND, yes, once you set out you need to have the patience, the diligence and the courage to persist with it despite the inevitable setbacks. Without all that, you will still not be sure of success.

But, yeah, it ALL starts with the impossible - KNOW THY SELF.