Thursday, November 28, 2013


It is about time I enshrined the excellence of my handwriting. The time seems to be fast approaching when people will be saying,"People actually used to write with their hands? How quaint". Provided, of course, they have still maintained the other quaint habit of talking with their mouths.

I can well visualize an evolved human species whose love life goes something like this.

"luv ya" texts one sitting opposite the other.
"me 2" texts back the other.

And both feel the same ecstasy as though they had actually done the hugging and kissing - and show it by exchanging ecstatic emoticons. Why, I can even imagine the parents expressing the extremity of their rage at their offsprings' love by texting a "*Facepalm*" and an emoticon shooting steam.

But - I digress! We were talking about the excellence of my calligraphy. (We weren't? Then we will!)

Apparently there is a sub-species of human called graphologists who claim to read character from handwriting. My mom took a sample of my writing to one such and sought to know about my character. He studied it for long and raised his head and said angrily, "What do you mean by walking a chicken all over the paper and bringing it to me? Are you testing me?"

With such an auspicious start to my calligraphic career, things could only look up. I still remember my class teacher having given me half the marks on all answers when comparison with my friends told me that I had got them all correct (Yeah! It did happen once or twice. More often than not, though, my perfection showed itself the other way round - in getting everything wrong). I indignantly went to her seeking an answer and she said wearily, "If only I could read what you had written, I may be able to answer you"

That day also taught me the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. My mom was all gung-ho about my performance. "If only he had better handwriting, he would be the topper". My dad, though, had tangential ideas. "Who knows? If the teacher could have actually read it all, he might have got a zero. It is thanks to the illegibility that he passed the exam." Now, who was the optimist and who the pessimist I leave to your judgment.

In my initial days dealing with banks, I was always in and out of the bank manager's room. Every time I issued a cheque I needed to go personally and verify the changed signature and read out the recipient's name as well as the amount. Things came to such a pass that I started fearing that the day would come when someone would just have to bring an illegible cheque and the bank would debit it to my account. So, it is with great relief I took to internet banking.

Time has rolled on and it has been ages since I needed to use pen and paper. The world may have lost a great calligraphist but there is none more relieved than the calligraphist himself. After all, when you type on Word it does not change the font to suit the calligraphic abilities of the typist. Thank God!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Success Again

It is almost a truism that it is the 'unsuccessful' who have a multiplicity of reasons for their lack of success. The successful, almost invariably, have only one reason. Of course, it is their own inimitable abilities and dedicated hard work that yielded success. Luck? Only the losers prate of luck!

Being unfortunate enough to belong to the former category, I need to exercise all my ingenuity to determine why success has eluded me. The main reason, of course, is that I never did understand what constituted success - as I have explained in great (Excruciating? Not at all. There are too many of you people intent only on spreading unhappiness) detail in my previous post. But why was it so difficult for me to identify what was success?

In the not too long gone past, the successful man was the master of his time. While lesser mortals toiled to earn a living, the man of success had the time to go chasing after foxes, whacking a small ball all over the place trying to put it into a small hole and other such eminently important pursuits as would take his fancy. It is true that success was determined at birth and the only contribution of the person to the success was being prescient about selecting his parents - but that is not the point. The point is that a successful man was a man who had the freedom to use his time as he saw fit.

Having read extensively about success of this sort, I was all agog to succeed myself. Not that I had anything against foxes - and everything against strenuous physical exertion - nor was I particularly keen on working at putting a ball into a hole only to have someone else take it out immediately. It was just the fact of being able to do anything with my time and I would have used that liberty to laze around in bed and desultorily read a book. So, as I said, I was keenly anticipating becoming a successful man.

Society played a scurvy trick on me. Suddenly, I found that all the successful men were people who were saying things like,"Oh! I cannot make it this evening. I have an important meeting"; "How I wish we could catch up on the good old days. Unfortunately I can spare only ten minutes" and "I hardly get to see my children. Too busy traveling all over the world". I would have conveniently assumed that these were the failures of the world but for the fact that they say it all so proudly and seem to expect you to genuflect in their presence, full of gratitude that you had been granted the privilege of hearing a few words from them.

So, apparently, one works 12 hours days in order to achieve a successful upgrade to a position where one could work for 15 hour days. If you proved your mettle there, then you may ascend the dizzying heights of being able to work for 18 hours a day. And, all the while, you would have a Smart phone hanging around you like a dog's leash to ensure that you did not feel unwanted by your office during the rest of the time. So, you could be woken up at 2 AM by a tug at that leash - just so you feel all the more successful - without even the dog's pleasure of being able to lift a leg and piss on the other guy's trousers.

I am a sort of hide-bound character and find it difficult to change my ideas all at once. To me success still meant being the master of my own time.

Oh! And, by the way, there was one way whereby I could have been successful both in my eyes and the eyes of Society. I came to know of it when a friend of mine said that his driver was now a multimillionaire thanks to the fact that his dad had a few acres of land near Sarjapur Road in Bangalore.

It is thanks to the fact that my dad made bad investments that I have not achieved success. Instead of investing money in the stupid exercise of trying to get me educated, he should have bought land around Sarjapur Road.

So, now you know why I am not a success. It is all my dad's fault!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


I wish someone would start listing the most unsuccessful people of the world - a sort of Fortune-less 500. I am sure that I would find a place there. Why, I have not even been successful in identifying exactly what is success.

It is not merely a fad of my adult days. My tryst with obscurity started right in my childhood. My mother - with all the good intentions in the world - started me off on the alphabet with A for Ambition, as opposed to the customary Apple, and went on to teach me B for Bravery, C for Caution etc. The only problem was that I never did manage to figure out what Ambition was and, thus, could not go beyond the first alphabet. Thus, my potential academic achievements got nipped in the bud - the very first bud, in fact.

About the only sign of ambition I ever displayed was when we were standing in line for the school assembly. Being among the shortest in the class, there was always a tussle with another vertically challenged chap about who was the taller of the two.

Me: (Hiking up the shoulder next to his) See, I am taller.
He: (Standing on tip-toe) No, I am taller.

No bean-pole ever took more pride in half a centimeter of height than two short guys vying not to be the first in the line. Do you think Amitabh Bacchan ever stood on tip-toe to be considered the taller one?

In fact, my only problem is that I failed to continue on the same lines. Maybe, just maybe, I would have achieved success too. The issue was that I, somehow, had the mistaken impression that adult ambition was different and lofty. In retrospect, I find that this one mistaken impression ruined all chances of success for me.

Adult 1: I have a huge car.
Adult 2: My car is bigger than yours.

(Of course, they say it all differently. Adult 1 probably says, "This BMW is such a comfortable vehicle" and Adult 2 probably replies, "Once you use a Rolls, you will never look at another car" but it all amounts to the same thing)


Adult 1: I know big shots.
Adult 2: I know even bigger shots.

(In adult parlance:
Adult 1: I was just telling Rahul the other day...
Adult 2: Next time Barack calls me, I will tell him this)


Adult 1: I go on foreign vacations every year.
Adult 2: I go to even more expensive places.

(In adult parlance:
Adult 1: When I was in Kuala Lumpur last year..
Adult 2: Nothing can beat skiing in Switzerland)

They teach all sorts of things at school but they fail to teach you this simple thing. The difference between schoolboy success and adult success is purely a matter of semantics. Your ambition is only as childish as the words you use to boast about your achievements.

Not that it would have helped me much, come to think of it. At school, it was always the other chap who proved himself to be taller even at the cost of standing on tip-toe all through the assembly. I just could not be bothered to put myself out so much.

So - I wait for that Fortune-less 500 to give me my fame (That, incidentally, was the F of my mother's alphabet!)

Monday, November 18, 2013

An envious 'Humorist'

If it is truly possible for someone who is normally colored brown - shading off to black in the sun-burnt parts - to really turn green, then I would disappear from view in the vicinity of any plants. Envy, they say, is one of the seven deadly sins but, I am afraid, that THAT has not caused me to avoid it.

The problem is that I am a man, I am 50 and I still insist on trying to write humor. Why should that be a problem, you ask me? (You did not? It is OK, let us assume you did and proceed) Let me give you chapter and verse of all the problems I face and why I feel envious.

If I were a woman, I could write pieces about the ineptness of men in the kitchen, in the shopping mall and while changing diapers and probably have people - both men and women - rolling in the aisles. (RITA?) I could write about women in any funny manner and still have them rolling on the floor (ROFL!) laughing. The moment I try to write something like "When women change the tires", for example, and write  it with scintillating wit (Alright! That scintillating wit part was hypothetical. Use your damn imagination - even if it is a HUGE stretch) do you think I am going to have people laughing their bellies out? It is more likely that I shall hear the following conversation.

Lady 1: A gender-stereotyping male chauvinistic pig.
Lady 2: I think he deserves to be stoned to death.
Lady 3: The Europeans had a better idea - he should be hung, drawn and quartered.
Lady 4: Be Indian, Try Indian. How about frying him in boiling oil?

And all my male friends would chime in with helpful suggestions about where so much oil could be bought cheap; which would be the best location to conduct the ceremony and whether it would be worth creating a Facebook Page to sell tickets for the event.

Thus, you see, what is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander - probably because ganders are supposed to be inept cooks. That, in effect, means that, if I valued my skin, fifty percent of humanity are OUT as far as attempting any humor is concerned.

I have reason for this fear. A friend of mine was once talking of his wife learning to drive in his Tata Sumo. "A Tata Sumo, an 'L' board and a lady driver. The moment the others spotted all this in their rear-view mirrors, the traffic used to part like Moses parting the waters." He, wise man, said that in an all-male company. I made the mistake of quoting him in mixed company and complicated it further by laughing too. (Note to Self: Never laugh at your own punchlines. It makes you look such an ass - even if true there is no need to advertise it - when nobody else does.) And this ensued.

Lady 1: So, you find the idea of lady drivers that funny?
Me (conciliatorily) : No! It is the attitude of the other drivers it was about.
Lady 2: So, you find that attitude funny? It does not make you angry?
Me : The funny part was that thing about Moses parting the waters.
Lady 3: What's funny about Moses parting the waters?

By the time it ended, I felt much like the Pharaoh's army, which was caught in the middle, when the parted waters rushed to meet again.

So much for the disadvantages of being a man.

Were I young, I would have a whole new set of things to write about wittily. Older relatives always have such interesting idiosyncrasies that are a perennial source of fun for the young. They lose hair, they snore, they belch and they emit such 'wonderfully' different smells from the other end of the alimentary canal.  And they also feel bound to take up invitations since the family feeling is pretty strong in that benighted generation. How wonderful for me if only I were a young humorist.

The problem, though, is I am old too and age, unfortunately, leads you into becoming the perpetrator of some or all of the above. I can, of course, plead that - perhaps unlike the rest of my more accomplished generation - I have not gained such exquisite control over my adenoids and bowels that I can snore or stink to order merely to annoy my hosts. That may - MAY - save me becoming the butt of jokes but is no help in writing humor.

Apparently, even in the involuntary acts, there are some which are still politically correct to make fun of and others which are not. I, poor uninformed moron that I am, considered all of them out of the pale. Now that I have learnt that it is not so, it is too late since all the ones that are allowed for humor are the ones of which I am probably guilty myself. (That 'probably' is only because I have not yet heard myself snore and have to depend on hearsay evidence). As for the ones that I do not do, they are still outside the pale of decent humor.

Maybe, just maybe, I could make fun of how sleeping in a room with the young makes it difficult for me to sleep because of the intimidating silence of their sleeping hours? Maybe I could make fun of how the expense of putting in deodorants in the toilets was rendered useless? I could I suppose and I may also raise a laugh - a horse's laugh. I do like to get my audience laughing but I have an unreasoning antipathy to the horse's laugh. Nitpicking of me, I know, but there you are - one more example of the irrationality of mankind.

With almost every avenue of writing humor closed for me, is it a wonder that I envy the others who are free to pick from a host of subjects to write humorously? I, unfortunately, am left with only one subject to poke fun at - my own self.

Thank God I have so much to be self-deprecatory about!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


"What a pity that he was taking a leak when they were distributing brains", said a friend of me in the sort of sotto voce comment that is meant to be audible to the person being discussed.

Pity! Now, someone said that pity is merely sympathy clothed in bad manners. It was no use consoling myself that I ought to pity the speaker for his bad manners since it did not seem like there was any sympathy involved in the equation at all. It was more of a 'Thank God I am not he' sort of tone than anything that felt in the least bit sad about the fact that I was shy a few grey cells.

I do not know whether it is exclusively my experience or whether it is generic. This word pity is probably the one word that is used in conversations most pitilessly. Whenever someone says,"What a pity ....." about something related to me, it has invariably meant that that person was feeling superior about having something that I lacked (Or lacking something that I have - like verbal diarrhea). Sympathy is probably the 'There, but for the grace of God, go I' feeling where the speaker understands that he could have been in my shoes but for the grace of God (I know! I know! It is sort of difficult to imagine yourself, under even the most calamitous of circumstances, in my shoes but still...). Pity is invariably the 'No matter how bad I am, happily I am still not Suresh' sort of feeling.

So, it is not merely bad manners but something that arises from the mind. Feeling kinship with me (yes, it is difficult but life is not supposed to be a bed of roses) leads to sympathy; feeling contempt (It is oh so easy but, then, you need to steel yourself and take the difficult path like a human) leads to pity - or, more to the point, to "What a pity....."

I am sure you have understood why pity is, normally, abhorrent. You have not? What a pity.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Praise Me

I was probably born with a placard hanging around my neck saying, "Praise Me". Unfortunately, it was probably written in some language that no-one could read - Egyptian hieroglyphics springs to the mind as a possible option - since no-one acted upon that request. Or, maybe, it is that unreasoning idea that someone should be praised only when he/she had done something worthy of praise - and people are so very persnickety about what they considered to be worthy.

The less you get of something, the more you want it. So, you can imagine a teenager lurking around with ears sharpened to hear something that was complimentary of him since those were the days when parents believed, "Give some praise and spoil the child" in addition to the more usual one about sparing the rod. So, there were a lot more rods than praises in my life then.

Ah! Where was I? Eavesdropping to hear words of praise? Well - you know what they say about what eavesdroppers hear about themselves. How true it is of the world at large I have no idea - but, of me , it most certainly was the absolute truth. I came to know I had many more shortcomings than I had imagined to exist in the world but, of praise, I heard not a single word.

It is thus that, even now, I practically go about with a fishing rod to hook some compliments. The more routine angling may yield fish but this fishing for compliments is a totally infructuous exercise.  You invariably end up losing your bait and cannot raise a single compliment in the process.

Over a period, I have found that I am not the only one with "Praise Me" around my neck. Almost all of humanity was probably born with that placard around the neck. It is only that it is neon-lit in cases like mine and it goes all the way to people whose placards are nearly wiped clean - but not quite.

Yudhishtir is reputed to have said that the biggest miracle in the world is the fact that people still do not believe in their own mortality despite seeing people dying all around them. I think he got it wrong. The biggest miracle is the fact that people know how happy praise makes them but, invariably, do not hand out praise even to the people whom they purportedly want to make happy.

Or, maybe, Yudhistir thought of that not as the biggest miracle but as the biggest folly?

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Martian Rage

It is seldom that I get truly enraged. But, now, I am hardly able to contain myself. Whenever I think of those ISRO guys my blood boils and steam shoots out of my nostrils. The callous people just shot off so much money to Mars. Just imagine their utter lack of consideration. Stealing the milk from the mouth of starving babies and shooting it off to outer space is how I see it.

What did you say? Why did I not get enraged when the government handed over flats and humongous sums of money to cricketers for winning games? People like you just cannot think rationally and have to mouth off as though you know everything. You just do not understand the importance of cricket in building the self-belief of the youth of the country. What have these ISRO guys ever done to compare with M.S.Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar? They just shoot off expensive rockets like my kids do every Diwali.

You ask, 'So, when politicians build huge statues for themselves and their patrons, is that not stealing mothers' milk from sucklings?' Trust you to say that, you unpatriotic so-and-so. How will posterity ever know our heritage if we do not commemorate them? A nation stands tall only when the statues of its leaders stand taller. You nincompoops will never understand the importance of symbols. Anyway, why are we talking of statues when I am discussing rockets?

Now, don't talk about all those scams and all. Those are not planned to happen - at least not officially by the Government. Of course, the people who benefited must have done a lot of planning. These ISRO guys wheedle official sanction of money from the government and keep the poor people starving. Callous brutes is what they are.

WHAT? What technological spin-offs? My neighbor Chintu who works every night to tell Americans how to use their washing machines is applying technology usefully - not blowing it up on a sight-seeing trip to Mars. And if the scientists will just go away elsewhere if ISRO is not doing anything, why not? At least they will be sending dollars here and bringing Scotch when they visit India. More useful than what they are doing now.

You keep confusing the issue. I am talking of rockets and you want to talk of roads getting washed away and money spent on redoing it very frequently. Tell me, are the roads here getting better because that rocket has gone to Mars? Oh! You mean how am I sure that the money saved by not sending the rocket would be used to feed the starving children? Well - at least 13 paise to the rupee would come down to the poor - even Rajiv Gandhi said so.

Scientific achievement building morale in our people? Don't make me laugh. All the rockets you shoot into outer space cannot compare with one World Cup win!

Now there is one person who has enraged me more than the ISRO guys - YOU!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Making People Pay - A Book Review

It is ironic that I should be reviewing a book of Taxation, considering that I shut down my consultancy merely because I was putting in more effort in computing and paying various taxes than I had to put in to earn the money. I have always considered it funny that this is one area where you need to put in a lot of learning and effort as well as seek expert advice in order to pay out money when, in any other realm of Society, the one who puts in the effort gets paid!

The author - Dr. Sibichen Mathew - is an IRS officer with a stellar academic background in Sociology, Public Policy and taxation. This book amply reflects his deep knowledge of his varied academic interests.

Dr. Mathew’s book “Making People Pay” aims to identify the reasons for tax evasion – specifically Income tax – and the means by which people can be enthused to be tax-compliant. In the process, he gives a glimpse of the global and Indian history of taxation peppered with various interesting anecdotes; the rationale and purpose for taxation – including the ones that, in the past, caused taxes to be labelled immoral at times and the reasons for lack of tax compliance. He also suggests the means whereby tax compliance may be improved and identifies some of the challenges posed by globalization to the taxation arms of governments.

What is specifically interesting in the book is the detailing of the genesis of tax evasion. The author does not rest merely with assuming evasion to be an outcome of a lack of integrity. He has applied his mind and effort on the various economic, sociological, psychological and procedural aspects that could lead to tax-evasive behavior and attempted an exhaustive set of studies to identify the causal factors.

The book is an outcome of studies conducted by the author and the details of the studies and conclusions are outlined in Chapters 6 and 7. All the preceding chapters can be understood by the lay reader – and the easy narrative style and interesting anecdotes will keep the reader interested. The chapters related to the study, however, do read like a report and, though they contain interesting insights into the mind of the tax-payer, they may prove to be a ..err..taxing read! If I may suggest something to the author it would be to re-write these chapters – the insights derived from the studies - in the same easy narrative style of the others and leave the details of the study to appendices.

Even with that minor glitch, the book is still not too taxing a read overall and gives insights into both the functioning of the Income Tax department and the causal factors of tax non-compliance. Anyone who is interested in the functioning of the world we live in will certainly find benefit in the book.

Details of the book can be seen here

(Disclaimer: The author, Dr. Sibichen Mathew, is a fellow-blogger and a friend)

Monday, November 4, 2013


I have always had a hatred of loud noises. A hatred accentuated by the fact that, just as I am lolling on my settee and avidly watching the Diwali movie on TV, my house shakes, the windows rattle and I am jerked out of my sloth with palpitations. Not even the magic of Rajnikant can withstand the shock of a hazaaron-wala going ballistic just outside the window. Needless to say, then, Diwali is that time of the year when I swathe myself in cotton and cling on to my bed for dear life.

This Diwali was different. I woke up in the morning - as people call it, though I am still not used to thinking of 7 AM as 'morning' - to a totally unnatural silence and started wondering whether this was indeed the day my cousin had invited me over. Was it really the day of Diwali or was I going to make the egregious mistake on landing on the previous day and cause embarrassment all around?

It was Diwali, thankfully, and I learnt that, all over the place, there was this new idea of celebrating Diwali the eco-friendly way - sans-crackers. I was ecstatic. There you were - we had fixed up a day to be eco-friendly and, thus, could happily keep boasting of our eco-friendly ways the rest of the year without the burden of having to live up to it. Yippeeee!

We have all these days - and the theory seems to be that those days are there to bring to the fore and celebrate all that was there in the back of your mind anyway. Seldom have I seen it work that way. I see those days as being more for keeping all those inconvenient things restricted to that one day so that we can get on with our 'normal' lives for the rest of the year. Independence day seems to absolve you of any need for patriotism for the rest of the year; Mother's day is the day you visit your mom in the old age home and get that warm feeling of having cared sufficiently for your mother and, if Valentine's day does not operate the same way, it is only because your valentine will just not allow it to be so. Now, Diwali is the official day for being eco-friendly, thereby absolving you of the need to do a thing towards eco-friendliness during the rest of the year.

I do not need to teach my child to take public transport instead of insisting on being dropped by car; do not have to insist on him not junking his mobile every other day to get the latest model; need not keep reminding him to switch off electrical appliances when not in use or close taps and, in short, do not have to teach him to use with care all the things that cause pollution in their making. After all, I have done my part on Diwali, have I not?

I, probably, am the only person who prefers the vibrancy of Diwali with all the pollution (though my definition of vibrancy still does not go so far as those hazaaron-walas) if only we would be eco-conscious the rest of the year. That, however, is too much work. Much easier to be eco-friendly on one day and relax for the rest of the year!