Monday, March 31, 2014

Out of the box

There is this old Tenali Raman story about how the King once told Tenali Raman to never show his face to the King again. TR, apparently, then wore a pot with two eye-holes over his face and came to court. The King, apparently, loved the new fashion in head-gear so much that he rescinded his order. Or, rather, as people choose to claim, it was TR's out of the box thinking (I thought it was more in the box..err..pot thinking) that captivated the King.

That, for me, was the first introduction to what people choose to call out of the box thinking. I must admit that I was not particularly impressed by TR's sagacity. I mean, here was his boss allowing him a long - nearly interminable - vacation and the idiot bends his brain to find a way to come back to office. Pure stupidity, it always seemed to me.

Of course, I must also admit that I could never really fathom these nuances. Thinking is such an alien thing to me that the entire damn exercise seems out of the box. So, what is all this thing about in the box thinking and out of the box thinking?

My brother, at school, offered me one example that, certainly, made more of an impression than TR. In a Hindi exam, he was asked to write five lines about the cow - in Hindi, of course. I would have been tempted to write, "Maybe I can manage the Hindi, but why all these zoology questions here?', provided I could have mustered enough knowledge of Hindi to do so. (I still do not know the Hindi word for zoology). My brother was never in a box, since he felt too claustrophobic in such confined spaces. So, his answer went, "Gaai ek animal hai; gaai do animal hai; gaai teen animal hai; gaai char animal hai; gaai paanch animal hai" - all in the Hindi alphabet, of course. He ended up getting half the marks for the question, losing the other half for not having used the Hindi word for 'animal', I think. THAT was good use of out of the box thinking.

In my family, though, the peak was hit by my cousin sister (female cousin, apparently, is the PROPER English but why should I limit myself because the British were not inventive enough?) in her kindergarten classes. She was faced with the question - Write "A to Z". Now, me, I would have stared at the blank sheet, doodled a bit, and generally whiled away the time worrying about the natural result of taking home a report card with a big zero in RED. (Yup - teachers did LOVE that red ink pen). Others of my ilk, but with a shade more knowledge, would have started laboriously on "A, B, C..." pausing to wonder about whether it was 'L' or 'N' that followed 'K' and how many 'n's should be attached to each other to make an 'm' and things like that. Not so my cousin. She buzzed through the test in half a sec after writing "A TO Z"! Now, beat THAT for out of the box thinking!

So, am I now convinced about the importance of out of the box thinking? Not really. After all, the only two instances where I admit the use have been at school. A School is a place where, presumably, children are taught to think. NOW, if I really do not know what use it is to think and, therefore, what need exists for people to learn to think, it seems a sort of circular argument to say, "Out of the box thinking is useful in a place where you are taught to think." Especially now, considering I have no intention of ever going back to school!

Thursday, March 27, 2014


I have always believed that there is a time and place for everything. To be sure, the time is never now or even today; the place is never within a 100 kilometers of where I am present; and, needless to say, the person to do it is never me. That, however, does not detract from the central thesis - there is a time and place for everything!

Now, what has this to do with procrastination? Well, there are two ways to prove the benefits of anything. One can either directly attempt to list the benefits OR one can list the ills of the opposite to prove the inevitable rightness of one's position. Not that I have always adhered to my own position but that non-adherence is what has proved to me the essential goodness of procrastination.

There is a saying in Hindi that propagates the absolute opposite of procrastination. "That which needs doing tomorrow, do it today. That which needs doing today, do it now." Having taken that for gospel, I adhered to it. For example, I knew I needed to have dinner in the night. So, I ate enough for lunch and dinner for lunch. Of course, you cannot just adhere to your philosophy only once a day - a principle is no principle unless you follow it invariably. So, I ate enough for next day's breakfast AND lunch for today's dinner. This staunch adherence to the principles embodied in that saying should have reaped me rich rewards. It did! I had to change wardrobes - to the next higher size - once every two months AND was also in need of a Gelusil chaser for all my meals. Not quite the rewards that I was looking to get. THAT put me off this stupid philosophy and I became a staunch adherent of procrastination.

Unfortunately, I had also adopted that philosophy in other things. In office, I did what amounted to tomorrow's work today. All that it did was give the mistaken impression to my office that they had given me too little work. Which, in effect, meant that they kept adding to my workload till I could not even do yesterday's work today. And THAT conclusively proved to them that I was an inefficient employee. To think that people suggest adoption of this philosophy to give an impression of efficiency!

I look around at the current generation of employees and see further evidence of the underlying stupidity of this idea. They know that they will need to buy a car tomorrow; need to buy a house tomorrow AND, in staunch adherence to this concept, go ahead and do it all on credit today. Then, they groan through the rest of their lives burdened by EMIs that keep their nose to the grindstone and seeking ever-green pastures of more money. The problem is that everyone is doing it and will continue to do it - thereby pushing up the prices of houses - which, in effect, means that they just cannot postpone their purchase of a house since being late with it would put it well out of their reach. Ah! If only everyone realized the virtues of procrastination.

There is yet another problem with this philosophy. You either start off adhering to it OR you can never follow it. How are you ever going to do tomorrow's work today when the whole of last month's work is piled up for you to do? What is the use of a philosophy that cannot get a late convert? Take Procrastination. You can start off any time AND, no matter how long you have been idiot enough to follow the opposite, you can become an ace-procrastinator within a short period of time.

Ergo - given that the alternative has been proven to be conclusively moronic, Procrastination is the best philosophy. How sad, then, that it, like most of the ideals in life, is beyond the reach of most people!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Problems and Solutions

There are people who never get over the feeling of being called into the Headmaster's office - for, to them, it had always been for the modern equivalent of bending over and getting six of the best on the fleshiest part of the anatomy. You must have guessed that I am one of them, if not the most prominent of them.

I entered my boss' cabin with roughly the same shrinking sensation in the portion just below my back - a primordial response engendered from a vicarious past, where the cane met the bottom, not at all gently, with clockwork regularity. The first thing that catches my eye as I enter is the board that says


As usual, I wonder about the quote. Was it meant for my boss himself - since HE was the one who would see it the most frequently? And how does he answer the question?

Maybe the chap came to office every day with a briefcase bulging with solutions and with a torrent of solutions knocking at the slipway of his lips, eager to pour out in a raging Niagara that would wash through the office and leave it a cleaner and better place. For me, though, HE was the problem - the whole of it and not merely a part.

He started, as usual, "We have a problem?"

This 'We' is a very nebulous thing in Boss-speak and needs to be interpreted according to context. When it comes to having problems, 'We' must be treated as meaning 'You'. If, however, the statement is "We have done a good job", then 'We' means 'I'. The conventional meaning applies only in statements like 'We have to go to a meeting'.

Having loaded me with the problem, he dismisses me to unload the next problem on the poor wight who is even now patting his bottom tenderly while waiting in the anteroom.

I come back to my seat to see my subordinate waiting for me.

"There is a problem", he says.

Ah! THAT means HE has a problem and wants ME to find a solution for it. What does he think? That I come to office with a briefcase bulging with solutions and a torrent of solutions knocking at the slipway of my lips waiting to pour out in a raging Niagara that will wash through the office and leave it a cleaner and better place?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Guest post for Dagny Sol

I am the jester with a peaked cap, a false nose and jingling bells all over, capering around in Social media, reveling in the freedom to express that blogging offers me. Dagny, on the other hand, is the philosopher talking to the depths of the human soul. It is a wonder that the two of us should find anything in common.

Please do not assume that Dagny sits around solemnly pontificating on the thusness of things putting her readers to sleep. Her posts as laced equally with humor as with wisdom. Her humor, though, partakes of the wit of the intelligent whereas mine are the japes of a clown. So, amazement is an understatement for the feeling that overtook me when she invited me to write a guest post for her.

Feeling much like Falstaff invited to a conclave of Socrates, Plato and the likes, I seek a starting point for the post from The Fool - who promptly asks me to write upon 'Existential Crisis'. Egads! Maybe I should not have told him that it was for Dagny.

Anyway - a promise is a promise and here is the post.

“Cogito ergo sum”, said Descartes, thereby ending the doubt for all thinking people about whether they really existed or not. To be sure, he is guilty of showing off by using Latin tags but the poor fellow may be forgiven this lapse since he was French and, therefore, probably did not know enough simple English to just say, “I think, therefore I exist”. What I find difficult to forgive, though, is the fact that he has left me in limbo. Along with all the other unthinking people, I am sunk in doubt about whether I really exist or not. 

Read the rest here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nobody likes compliments

If there is one thing that keeps repeatedly thrusting itself into my ken, it is the fact that anything that you assume to be logically true of human beings will be invariably wrong. Take compliments for example. One would assume that hearing praise pleases people and, therefore, they would not only like getting compliments but would also encourage the giving of compliments. Right? Absurd assumption!

Ever heard someone say, "I liked that movie" and someone else say, "Really?" in a sort of ah-what-else-can-one-expect-of-you tone? Nine times out of ten, the first person would be all apologetic explanations with "Well..the heroine, you know, did a great job of acting..the story was not too bad..of course, the hero could have been better..." and trail off with embarrassment. None in the audience would dare support the complimenting person for fear of being dubbed as lacking in discernment alongside that unfortunate wight. Of course, the possibility of support increases if the movie-maker is a darling of the 'cognoscenti' - since the support would merely be, "Come on! It is a Mani Ratnam film. Of course it is good!" The lesser known the creator, the weaker the wicket for the one who makes the mistake of complimenting.

On the other hand, have you ever heard of someone who trashed a movie getting challenged? Very rarely does it happen AND, in all probability, only when it is, as aforesaid, a movie by a critic's favorite. Even if someone does challenge, all that would be needed to quell the challenge would be a simple, "Oh! It was all right, I suppose, for the popular tastes. But, somehow, there was heart missing in the movie".

You need to be a lot more specific and put in a lot more effort to substantiate a compliment and can get away with vague assertions of inadequacy to support a negative criticism. People are only too ready to believe that your discerning eye has seen lacunae not visible to them - in a sort of mirror image of the Emperor's new clothes, whose invisibility was laid at the doors of the moral inadequacy of the viewers. Society, thus, goes all out to make the act of complimenting dangerous socially. Who wants a reputation of lacking discrimination?

But, surely, the person receiving the criticism would respect the one who compliments rather than the one who issues negative criticism? Wrong again! When someone praises you, how often do you feel unalloyed happiness and how often do your reactions range from 'He is saying this only to please me' to 'What does he want from me"? And, don't you think that the person criticizing you is more honest than the one praising you?

The answer to the latter question has, in my experience, been 'Yes' more often than not. Having heard that 'Truth is bitter' since childhood we have somehow convinced ourselves that 'If it is bitter, it must be the truth'. A person who compliments you has, in your opinion, a hidden agenda BUT people who criticize you seem to you to be supermen bound by an oath of honesty and also equipped with an unerring eye for the truth!

Thankfully, I have never been able to hold my breath for long and, therefore, am quite content to wade in the shallows of words instead of diving into the depths. If you say I am good, I am ecstatic and feel no pressing need to wonder why you are complimenting me. If you say I stink, I am upset but I feel no need to ascribe any more honesty to you than I would ascribe to the one who praises.

Of course, I prefer the sweet to the bitter - without a care for diabetes!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Acquiring Taste

It is tough to live as a man of no taste. You are looked down upon even by your fellow-tasteless people and, as for the ones with taste, you barely belong to Homo Sapiens. To be looked upon like a worm may be quite all right for worms but it gets boring for you to be constantly looking down to check whether you are actually walking or slithering in your own slime. So, I decided to go out and acquire some taste - or, at least, the reputation of a man of taste - from one of my friends.

I did not quite like that up and down glance that clearly shouted, "YOU? A Man of taste?" but, thankfully, he did not voice it.

"You know what the problem is with you? You like too many things. The less you like, the more a man of taste you are"

"Like lesser...."

He gave me an exasperated glance.

"Let me what do I explain about...hmm..the only thing I suppose you will understand is food. Ok! cannot praise idlis, upma, pizzas and gourmet have to be selective."

"I I praise upma and criticize Lasagna..."

"There you go. I thought you would be that type. The sort to wax eloquent about Arnie Swarzenegger movies and sneer at Akiro Kurosawa. The second lesson is - sneer at what is popular and praise what is not."

"Hmm - so, if it is popular, it is not in good taste.."

"Correct! So if idli is popular and pasta is not, then sneer at idli and praise pasta. If pasta is popular and idli is not, then praise idli and sneer at pasta"

A bulb lit up in my mind.

"AH! SO that is why the sophisticate of one country is a rustic in another? The popularity ratings of things are different."

"Shut up! Do not try for a PhD while you are still in Kindergarten."

I was suitably chastened.

" do I know what is.."

"Must be easy for you..all you have to do is check if you like something. If YOU like it, then sneer at it. You will never go wrong."

Easy as pie. Like lesser things and sneer at everything I like. Soon I would be a well-known man of taste. But...

"Exactly how does one sneer?"

My friend was aghast.

"You have no idea how to sneer? I have heard of plumbing the depths...but this.."

He was speechless. After a while, he said, "Look down your nose at such things. Tilt your head up first."

I duly tilted.

"NOT like you want the barber to shave under your chin! Tilt it just a bit"

Losing patience, he seized my face and tilted it to the appropriate angle.

"Now try looking down your nose"

I tried. I really did. After going quite cross-eyed, I just about managed to sight the tip of my nose.

My friend fell over laughing.

"I ask you to look supercilious and you manage to look like a clown. Like you are making faces to amuse a child."

I went red.

"Can't blame you, I suppose. You need an aquiline nose to look down the nose properly. Your pug nose just does not suit"

Shit! NOW that I had the know-how to be a man of taste, I am defeated because I was fitted with the wrong nose. Thank God, I really like most things and do not feel the need to sneer at anything in life.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Small talk

"It is raining today"

When you are soaking wet and dripping water on the office carpet at the rate of liters per minute, this information certainly comes as no surprising revelation to you. I, under such circumstances, start wondering whether the other guy seriously thought that he was widening the scope of my knowledge. It so happens that such is not the case. This is one of the examples of what people call Small Talk.

Small talk is one of those various things that I have never managed to fathom. (Oh! You already know that I would not know it since I know absolutely nothing anyway? No need to sneer - at least I KNOW when I do not know something AND admit it instead of sounding off like one - or all - of the Three Wise Men. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it). What is the purpose of telling someone something that he already knows? That's a question which has, till now, remained unanswered to me and, therefore, I never really have managed to shine as a conversationalist. To imbue words like, "It is so hot today" with a wealth of meaning and interest seems utterly beyond me, particularly when I see the other guy pouring sweat and showing no enthusiasm for any reminder of how hot the day was.

It is not merely that I do not use Small talk. I do not understand it when it is being used either. While on a visit to another city and meeting someone new and, if the other person says something like, "Drop in some time", I end up giving a blow-by-blow account of all the things I need to do during that visit and why it would be impossible for me to 'drop in'. Of course, on my way back home, I keep kicking myself every five minutes for not just saying, "Sure" instead of feeding the guy a detailed itinerary. There must have been some failure when they coded my brain and, so, what comes out as an instinctive response for all is a data retrieval project for me - and, invariably, the retrieval is too late for it to do me any good. I take anything that is said literally and, by the time my brain says, "Eureka! This is one of those meaningless things that comprise small talk", the damage is done.

With all these handicaps, you would presume that I would be the original strong silent man. Not really! I can wax eloquent on how difficult I found the task of getting out of bed in the morning - something that, surely, the other guy could not have known, at least not as certainly as the weather outside the window. Strange, though, that some really new information seems to hold lesser interest for people than what they already know.

It really must be true - what people say. People like the reassurance of being told what they already know. It makes them feel happy that they have not lost their marbles - yet!

As a consequence, it is I who am assumed to have lost almost all of  MY marbles - if I had them in the first place. Life IS unfair!

Monday, March 3, 2014

A sense of belonging

Among the very many things that have always left me bewildered is this thing about 'belonging'. All my life, I have had to face this "You do not look like a typical IIM student" and things like that. I look into the mirror and see that I too have a couple of eyes, a nose and a mouth like everyone else and wonder what is missing. It is true that I look more like a gargoyle than like Ranbir Kapoor but then not all my batch-mates could have modeled for Armani or whatever. And, at IIM at least, they were as disreputably dressed as I was and am. So, WHAT was this thing about my not belonging?

Now, again, there is the same issue but, at least, I know the reason why. To not be married and to not work automatically labels me a maverick, but I still cannot fathom why people do not see this as respectable. I mean, should the fact that I have not contributed to the increase in the world's population - something it is in dire need of - matter so much? And, why should my bundling derivatives and bringing down the world's economy be more respectable than reading a book?

It is not like single people not visibly earning money are all disrespected. Any sanyasin worth his salt is both AND has no dearth of respect. So, why is it respectable for them and not for me? After long cogitation and soul-searching I think I have found the answer. My problem is that I am not in the right uniform AND belong to the wrong class.

If I can dress up in flowing robes and adhere to the proper color code I would be respected as a sanyasin. Saffron or white are the only accepted colors. Who can ever consider someone a sanyasin if he is dressed in tracks and tees? A proper disregard for desires - including that of clothing - can only be expressed in saffron or white robes. Any other dress and you merely look silly claiming to be a sanyasin.

If you are an upper-class sanyasin, you live in a sprawling Ashram with all modern conveniences and cutting edge technology - suitably hidden behind a huge auditorium where devotees can reverently assemble to hear you. A beard is a huge help - but it must appear to be naturally growing, no matter how much the hair-stylist had to work to get it to appear graceful. Ever considered anyone with a french beard a sanyasin? IF he takes so much care over his personal appearance, how can he be above mundane earthly desires? Of course, we do not like our upmarket sanyasins to be unkempt BUT they just cannot parade their attention to personal appearance with french beards and dreadlocks. It just will not do.

The lower-class sanyasin has it relatively easier. Matted locks and unkempt beards; soiled saffron dhotis and bare upper body; everything is allowed. The one problem is that he just cannot dress in jeans and a shirt or have a regular haircut. Oh! No! Either shaved bald OR coiled locks is acceptable. As long as he does not approach a haberdashery or a barber, his position is safe. Of course, he sleeps where he will with no roof to call his own unless it is the roof of a temple.

My problem is that I am a middle-class sanyasin. I live in a flat - not an Ashram OR under a tree - and, being unable to keep a hair-stylist at my beck and call, I have a barbered beard. I dress in tracks and tees. So, even if I were free of worldly desires, I just do not belong in the elite group of sanyasins. Oh! Before I forget, the problem also is that I get high on the wrong things. If I could do with a chillum and bhang I could be with the in-crowd. Scotch just does not cut the mustard.

So, as it stands, I am doomed not to belong. So, if I go to someone's place for a meal and refuse the sweet dish, people do not say in hushed tones, "See, how he has renounced worldly desires". They merely sneer,"This is what comes of gorging on food like there is no tomorrow. He has no space left for the sweet."

Hmm! I just hope that in my next birth, assuming there is one for me, I will be born to belong - somewhere!