Sunday, January 26, 2014

Self Portrayal

(A year that starts with repeated travel. Off-contact again for the next five days)

The number of things I am mistaken in, if laid side by side, would probably stretch from here to Alpha Centauri. Among that multitude, there are still some that stand out, if only because they are the few that I have (all too late) realized to be mistaken impressions. The idea that people do not take you at your own estimation is likely to be the most prominent one.

It seems logical, does it not, that people would know that you are likely to be the last person to be able to see who yourself as you really are? That you would tend to overestimate or underestimate yourself? And, even if you could see yourself clearly, you were most unlikely to let on to the rest of the world all the warts you have OR were likely to concentrate only on the warts depending on whether you wanted the world to respect you or reassure you? Logical, yes, but when has anyone accused Homo Sapiens of being a logical species?

I can vividly remember my first days of working in Delhi. On my visits back home to Bangalore, I used to say, 'You wake up in the morning, rush through all your ablutions, rush to board your chartered bus, go in panting to punch in just in time, reach your seat and, then, wait for the tea to arrive and start wondering about how to occupy your time for the rest of the day." That was taken so literally that guests coming over would say casually,"I am reaching Delhi on Wednesday at midday. Pick me up at the station" with the understated satisfaction of having done me a good turn by giving me something to do on a working day. (Ah! Yes, my office WAS paying me for the 'grace' of my presence BUT that did not mean that they were all too willing to dispense even with that for hours on end.)

I changed over to talking about how my office was keeping me busy and how my boss wailed like a demon lover missing his mate if he did not see me every hour on the hour. Things changed rather dramatically. Guests solicitously checked with me about whether it would be convenient if they came at 8 AM on a weekday and, overall, the idea that my office would be only too happy to be rid of me for a few hours (if not permanently) dissipated slowly.

It helps, of course, if you really believed that your entire office would be nervous about their prospect of surviving a few hours of your absence. It would put that much more conviction into your performance. Yes, people may joke about your exalted opinion of yourself but they would, nevertheless, believe that you were one of the foundation stones of your office if not THE foundation stone and act accordingly. I, unfortunately, could never really see that person in the mirror and believe that the entire corporate world is periodically mourning their loss consequent upon my desertion of the corporate world AND this is why my success has not been as spectacular as it could have been.

It is not merely in saying things about yourself. What is more effective is acting like that the sort of person. For example, I tend to say things like,"There is little that I learnt at school but I vaguely remember someone saying that the Sun rose in the East". People, then, automatically assume that I cannot be right and, if and when they ascertain the facts and reluctantly conclude that the Sun REALLY rose in the east, would attribute it to a mere fluke.

On the other hand, let one of the others say,"I have assessed all the facts and come to the conclusion that the Sun rises in the west." Nods of agreement follow almost by instinct and, if and when they ascertain that the Sun rose in the east, they would only assume that the speaker had a deeper meaning in what he said. "Ah! He means that 'East' and 'West' are arbitrary designations we have given AND one could well have named them the other way round", says one. "I think he is probably talking of a time when the Earth reverses the direction of its rotation", says the other. The net conclusion is that the person concerned IS correct and only those who fail to see the deep inward meaning of what he was saying feel that he is wrong. Such is the power of Self-portrayal.

I look into the mirror again and that ass that looks back at me seems absolutely incapable of really believing that he knows all and his reasoning is invariably and inevitably correct. Without that self-conviction, it seems impossible to be THAT impressive.

I have now found a solution to my problem. I am going to change all the mirrors in the house. Convex or concave? Any suggestions?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Birders again - Chilika Lake

I know you people have lost hope of being free of the bird-brain but you must have thought that you had, at least, finished with the Birders. Not really! There is more to come but, thank my kind heart, no more than this one. At least for now.

The trip to Sunderbans was followed up with a trip to Chilika Lake, some 100 odd kilometers off Bhubaneswar in Orissa. Since this is considered the largest wintering ground for migratory birds in India, it was a vain hope to avoid Birders - and, of course, birds. Not that the birds were any problem to me, in and of themselves. The problem only was that people kept asking me things like, "Did you see that bronze-skin Jacana?" and I go "Ho! Hum!" - looking 45 degrees away from where it was - only to hear a derisive laugh and the words, "That's a little egret, you idiot!" Times like that, I wished heartily that Nature had not been so creative and had stuck to making only one type of bird.

Anyway - there we were on a boat, propelled by a pole on the marshy lake with birds galore around us. Marsh Sandpipers, Black-winged stilts, egrets and herons - they were all over the place. After those days at Sunderbans of peering hopefully at the shore in the hope of finding a lone Kingfisher and jumping with joy when a distant bird deigned to make an appearance, this was boring. I mean, when there are so many birds around you, where is the excitement in sighting one?

As usual, I was wrong. When you have a plethora of birds, you apparently started looking for the ones that were not so ubiquitous and felt excited about it. So, you start looking at distant dots and scream,"There is a Brahmini duck" OR "There is an open-billed stork" and go into raptures. Soon I was into the full swing of things, clapping the guide's binoculars to my eyes and going gaga over rara avis - while concealing the fact that I could only manage to swing the binocs between the sky and the water and could sight nary a bird with it.

This was the evening of the first day. Apparently far more birds frequented the place in the morning. I went to bed with visions of shooing off the pesky pond herons and jacanas, which were too mundane to be noticed, in order to view the Grey heron and other such relatively rarer birds.

The next morning, when we went to the lake, we found that there had been a communication gap. Birds were supposed to flock the lake then but, apparently, no-one had thought to tell the birds. We found only as many birds as on the evening before. Maybe the birds thought it was a pity to have traveled so far and not take a look at the dolphins and had gone over on a sight-seeing trip.

The trip had its moments as usual. There were a couple of egrets engaged in either a mating dance or a fight (And people assure me that the two are different in humans as well as in birds. It is all hearsay evidence for me). One bird kept jumping close to the other only to have the other fly off to a different location every time. There was that Casanova of a buffalo with both a drongo and a little egret perched on its back while the others had to do with only one or none. (Did I forget to say? The locals apparently grazed their buffaloes in the lake). There were those couple of drongos ecstatically putting on a virtuoso aerial display - maybe a mating dance again or maybe they were just show-offs playing to the gallery.

We rounded off the trip with a visit to the Lingaraju tempe in Bhubaneswar - a marvelous example of Kalingan architecture. Needless to say, I prayed to be saved from the fate worse than death - of becoming a Birder!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bird-brain among Birders

A trip to Sunderbans only evoked a pleasant feeling of going out into wilderness and, maybe, manage to see a few wild animals while I was at it. Little did I realize that my first sighting of a new species would happen at the Howrah Railway Station. I had heard that such beings existed but it was, nevertheless, a fact that I was shocked and surprised by the fact that Birders were not mythical beings. Worse still was the discovery that the harmless beings, that I had hitherto trekked with, also morphed into these awesome (or is it awful?) beings when I met them at Howrah.

For a person who could not see any difference between a sandpiper and a sand plover, this was a huge shock. (Confession: The only sandpiper I had known till this trip came in a bottle). I can still hark back to my first lesson on birds - that the black one was a crow and the brown one a sparrow. I capped off my learning about birds and was proud to have mastered the theory on the day I realized that the hen, which is still not convinced that wings can be used for flying, and the eagle, which soars so high always that it seems unconvinced that the legs are of any use at all for locomotion, are both birds. That my pinnacle of achievement did not even mount to a respectable amount of bull excreta was driven into me in the course of this trip.

Three days spent in a launch (I skip the nights at the resort - drunken revelry is not a fit subject for this blog) surrounded by bazooka sized cameras, machine-gun like binoculars and frenzied cries off "There! There! Look at that ibis" and the like! In the intervals when the launch took to the middle of the waters and no sightings were possible, the conversation revolved between the Greek of photography esoterica and the Latin of rare birds like the Great Indian Bustard. Having no experience of looking wise and interspersing apparently knowledgeable questions that concealed the absolute vacuum inside, I was reduced to gawking and looking the perfect imbecile (NOT looking my natural self, thank you!).

Matters were compounded for me when I discovered another of my uncanny abilities. When people were excitedly looking at that collared Kingfisher, I discovered that I had this knack of looking everywhere else except where it was. When they helpfully handed me the binoculars and said, "Look 2 O'Clock", I had to curb my urge for lifting my wrist for a look at my watch and compute what direction it meant. By the time I had done these trigonometric computations, the launch would have moved on, the bird would stay put and I would have to rework it all for 3 O'Clock. The net result was a Suresh spinning like a top (well - only 180 degrees, since even I had not gone so far as to look at the other bank of the river for a bird on this bank) on the deck of the launch with the birds looking on with grave interest, rather than the other way around.

Did I forget to mention? The Sunderbans is a lot of islands at which you can look on but not step on. So, you traveled in boats and tried to sight animals and birds that could be seen - if they deigned to come - on the banks of the river. This river too, incidentally, was one of the confused lot - it had not made up its mind whether it was a river or the backwaters since the water was brackish. The clayey soil ensured that trees had to adopt the ingenious means of poking their roots out into the air to breath - the so-called breathing roots. THAT was the only satisfactory part for me. Thankfully trees are large enough to be more easily located and also stayed put in one place so that I could take hours to locate them and still expect to find them.

Despite my super-abilities, I did manage to sight three crocodiles sun-bathing (I know - not the most brilliant feat of observation), a couple of monitor lizards and one jungle cat that swished a disdainful tail at me as it vanished into the woods. There was one monitor lizard that had blended so well into the trunk of the tree it was resting on that it was nearly impossible to locate. I did manage to sight it (AT LAST!) - a feat of which I was inordinately proud.

Some sights that will linger in my mind - a tree so hung with parakeets that it seemed to have more birds than leaves; a sandpiper taking a floating crocodile for a log and trying to alight on it only to recognize what it was at the last moment and hurriedly flying away; and, above all, the serene waters and lush green woods that were a balm to the eyes and the soul.

The wild has always exercised a fascination for me - and my own joy comes merely from soaking in the ambiance. I must, however, admit that this frenzy to locate the next bird found lodgings in me too and I was running around the boat and peering (in exactly the opposite direction most of the time) to sight the common kingfisher (something I disdain to notice even when it dances a saraband in front of me in Bangalore) and being sorely disappointed when I failed. The infection is wearing off now - but, who knows, I may yet morph into one of those mythical beings - Birders. Then, indeed, would you see a bird-brained Birder!

P.S: I am no photography buff and, so, no photographs till I get some from one of my companions on the trip.

PPS: About the only good news on my return from the trip is the fact that Blogadda seems to have shortlisted my blog for its awards in the Humor category. (Surprising, I know but these things do happen sometimes)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monkey see monkey do

(I am off on a wilderness trip from tomorrow and shall be back only on 18th. Please read this piece before you start your joyous dancing!)

I have never let the fact that I have not succeeded in doing something stop me from handing out advice about how to do it. In that, if in nothing else, I suppose I am in sync with the rest of humanity. (I am not? Well, then, one of us is certainly lying!) So, why should I let the fact, that I never managed to make my subordinates behave the way I would have liked them to, stop me from advising bosses on how to manage it?

You could well want your subordinates to stand at attention when you pass by them; to laugh at all your jokes as though they thought that the world lost the best stand-up comedian ever when you chose to become a manager; to listen respectfully when you spout your (interminable?) pearls of wisdom; and to say "How high?" when you ask them to jump. (Well! That last may be a bit too much to seek. They may only jump on your supine body with spiked boots even if they do not go so far as to shop for the sharpest spikes in order to do so)

As I was saying you may want all that but it is not possible to tell them so, is it? (You think it IS possible? Wake up - this is not the time for Mungerilal ke haseen sapne OR, in western terms, this is not the time for pipe dreams. Try it and you will finally learn what a horse's laugh means.) So, how then do you get them to do it if you cannot even tell them to do it?

I have one simple mantra for you - Monkey see, monkey do! You act with your bosses in the manner in which you want your subordinates to act with you. When your boss calls you for a meeting, you put on your utmost serious expression and walk in with deferential alacrity. When you convey to your subordinates what he said you say it with all the devoted respect with which Arjuna would have talked of Krishna telling him the Bhagavd Gita. In short, you behave as though, if your boss has not actually been deified, it is because there has been some serious oversight in Heaven in the matter of promotions.

Actually, you may find that this is not foolproof but it does work. I mean all your subordinates may not pick up those cues and act with you the way you act with your boss but most will to a greater or lesser degree. To be sure, acting and speaking of your boss as the world's greatest fool works far better on the 'Monkey see Monkey do' principle. Your subordinates take to acting with you the same way with greater ease. But, even the other way round, the principle does work with most people.

There are limits though. If you get a phone call from your boss; shoot up to attention barking your knee on the table and upsetting your tea in the process; slam one hand on your forehead and clutch the phone to the ear as though you were trying to glue it in permanently; and utter staccato bursts of "Sir! Yes Sir! At Once Sir!", I am afraid that the principle may not quite work the way you may want it to. Your subordinates are more likely to curl up in fetal positions; hold their bellies with both hands and rock on the floor; open their mouths wide as though they wanted you to look at their tonsils; and utter staccato bursts of laughter. Like the Buddha said, avoid excesses. Moderation is the key.

To be sure, this is only for bosses whose bosses are really their bosses. If your boss is Mukesh Ambani's offspring, say, then it is obvious that you will be deferential with him no matter how cavalier he is with his boss. In fact it is likely that his boss would be deferential to him as well. So, this advice is meant only for those in the unfortunate position of really being their boss' subordinates.

It strikes me that this post may be read by some subordinates for cues about understanding how their bosses may prefer them to act. I daresay you may be safe enough to be deferential to him if he is deferential to his bosses. But if he is not, please do not think that he also likes you being rude to him. After all, not every boss has had the benefit of my advice and the poor chap may not understand that "Monkey see, Monkey do" is the best way to communicate the behavior he expects of his subordinates.

How successful was I in applying my own principle? Ah! You did not read the opening paragraph with attention. I can forgive that but not the fact that you have not even heard of the saying "Those who can do; those who cannot teach!" It may not be true of most people in the teaching profession but is most certainly true of me!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Influential people

I have always been fascinated by the things that people do not do because they are worried about "What people will say". Anything that I do not understand fascinates me and, given that I do not understand most things in life, I live an endlessly fascinated life.

Take, for example, a daughter wanting to delay marriage in order to pursue her studies. "What will people say? That we are irresponsible parents not trying to find a groom for you?" Why is it that what the daughter IS saying is less important than what people MIGHT say? I never could understand that.

Ah! Do not get me wrong. I do have a modicum of brains, even if you find it difficult to believe. If your son proposes to parade down the street buck-naked in the middle of the day or your daughter wants her music at some zillion decibels in the middle of the night, I can quite get your point. It is this funny idea that people have a right to say things about what happens within your personal lives that I cannot quite understand.

But, then, it is understandable in the context of the rest of human behavior - in the sense that it is as 'rational' as the rest of human behavior. We always do things that any rational being - assuming there is one such - would find incomprehensible.

This mythical rational being would assume that if you liked one person and disliked the other, the former would have more influence on the major choices of your life and not the latter. Right? WRONG.

Let us assume that your office has offered you a posting in your spouse's hometown as a CEO of a start-up. You have a comfortable niche right where you are and you do not want to move. (I say nothing of your reluctance to move close to your in-laws - so do not get after me for what I did not say) Your spouse, though, loves the idea. Do you agree to move because you love your spouse? Not that I have seen in real life.

After that huge argument at home and an adamant decision to turn down the offer, you reach office. Your colleague tells you that your rival had been telling all over the place that you did not dare take up the posting. So, what do you do? Say the hell with what he thinks and I will do what I want to do? Not at all. Pack your bags the same evening is what you are likely to do.

See what I mean? The spouse you love only makes you adamant about staying back but the rival you hate can make you change your decision. Thus, the most influential people in your life are the people you dislike and not the people you like.

Which is why I try to like everyone who crosses my path. I HATE having to change my way of life!