Monday, April 28, 2014

More contradictory proverbs?

It seems to me that some things, which are said for effect, tend to become proverbs and end up giving an impression of being in contradiction of other proverbs. People do say things to suit the psychology of the other person in order to get them to do what is necessary AND, when you deal with people, you do not always say what you mean. I know it seems to defeat the very purpose of communication but what can you do? The human race may be 'sapient' but totally lacks common-sense. (Another of those inherent stupidities of communication. You call a thing 'common' sense when you know full well that there are few things more uncommon in this world.)

I may be wrong (NO! I am NOT always wrong!) but it seems to me that some of these proverbs are more 'contrarian' proverbs - in the sense that they were intended to ensure that the recipient did the exact opposite of what you told him to do. Take "Never judge a book by the cover" for example. Everyone and his aunt knows that it is flatly against every single instinct that humans possess. Whatever else of the bestial nature has been rubbed out, what has not is the idea that anything that looks different is an enemy. So, where does one get off talking about not judging things by looks?

In all probability, the chap who first used it was talking to his recalcitrant teenage son, who would, naturally, do the opposite of what his parents told him to do. The 'sapient' father, of course, told the son to do the opposite of what he (the father) wanted him (the son) to do and less sapient successors took it as literal advice. Not that anyone in all the subsequent generations ever paid more than lip service to it - as witness the epidemic of fairness creams raging through the world.

So, yes, "Clothes make a man" comes closer to a literally meant proverb, though it needs more elaboration nowadays. One needs to add hair-styling gels, deodorants, six-packs, and God knows what else, to the mix to make the man. Almost the only thing that is totally redundant is character. Which means that the chap who said "When Wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when Health is lost, something is lost; when Character is lost, everything is lost" was also probably a contrarian and meant to say, "When Character is lost, nothing is lost; when Health is lost, something is lost; when Wealth is lost, everything is lost" - for, after all, without wealth, how can you get all those things that maketh a man?

So, then, what price 'All that glitters is not gold', you ask? Maybe so, but you can make quite a living selling gold bricks. They do say that "A fool and his money are easily parted" AND "A sucker is born every minute", so it does not matter whether what glitters is gold or not. (I KNOW, for I was the sucker of my birth minute). If you can make the world go around on pieces of paper, you can do it on gold bricks even if the contents do not match the glitter.

P.S: I owe a lot of this post to Titli's comment. As usual the (mis)representation is all mine.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Contradictory Proverbs - Again?

I had a few other contradictory proverbs handed to me on a platter in the comments to my previous posts. On in-depth analysis (Yes! I know! You think I am incapable of even thinking, leave alone in-depth analysis, but that is your opinion and you know where you can stuff it), most of them actually do not stand the test of contradictoriness, if I may coin such a word.

Take for example, "All good things come to those who wait". If you did not think deeply about it, you may assume that "Time and Tide wait for none" contradicts it. Not so! After all, it only means that Time and Tide are NOT good things, since they do not wait for those who wait. (Yeah!Yeah! I know! Someone also said that "All things - that others do not want - come to those who wait". But, in that case, you would assume that Time and Tide are wanted by others and, presto, the contradiction vanishes. And, if you rid yourself of the foolish notion that what others want is, by definition, a good thing, then it does not even contradict the original version).

Let me prove it the other way. Tide, most certainly, a great majority of the people - who are not sailors - do not want anyway. And, poor sailors like me, positively puke at the very idea of a tide. As for time, I have heard 'I do not know what to do with my time' from more people than those who said the other thing, except when someone else - spouse or office - dictates what needs to be done with it (Make that presentation, I want it yesterday! When are you going to mow that lawn! etc. etc.) And, in the latter case, it is more a question of knowing what you do NOT want to do with your time - whatever you are being told to do, of course - rather than what you WANT to do with it.

So, if you have something but do not know what to do with it, it is useless, isn't it, and how can a useless thing be considered a good thing? (Now, do not throw all that footwear that you bought, but never used, at me - that does not count as a legitimate use of the footwear.) Ergo - Time and Tide are NOT good things and, thus, 'All good things come to those who wait' does not get contradicted. I offer, further, in proof that they also say 'Haste makes Waste' which further reinforces the idea that blissful idleness is best for the soul. And, what about "Don't count your chickens before they are hatched"? That, too, says wait to do things since you may end up doing far more counting than necessary - and who wants to do any more math than is forced on you? - if you started too early.

Bill, as usual, is a pain-in-the-neck. He says, "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune". One could, of course, assume that you need to just go with the flow, and not be rushing around hither and yon doing things, in which case this one admirably suits the 'waiting' principle and I will have to retract my harsh words about Bill. I think, though, that Bill intended one to BE rushing hither and yon. I hold to my 'waiting' principle still - and offer as proof the fact that this piece of idiocy was uttered by Brutus, and we all know what happened to him at the end of the war with Octavian and Anthony. So much for taking the tide at the flood - and getting drowned in it.

In sum, "All that glitters is not gold" (Bill - again! Though, in this case, he merely popularized it!) OR, in other words, 'All that appears contradictory does not contradict".

P.S: I owe almost all this post to Moonstone and Titli for their comments. The (mis)interpretations are all mine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Discarded proverbs

Talk of proverbs and good old Bill pops up like a bad penny, every time. This time, though, I must admit he popped up as a consequence of that ' thine own self be true' crack that I quoted in my last post from his 'Hamlet'. Somewhere before that piece of advice, he also said, "Neither a lender nor a borrower be". (I know, two quotes within a space of a few words is a bit too much even for Bill, but then you know the guy. He seems incapable of writing, without scattering around quotes like confetti.)

Unlike most of Bill's quotes, this one about lending and borrowing has been pretty short-lived. I mean, if you started advising your kid this way, he would be on the phone calling for an ambulance from the nearest mental hospital even before you hit the 'be' in it. Just imagine putting an end to lending. Bang goes your entire banking industry and with it a few million jobs. As for putting an end to 'borrowing', what do you think the younger generation would have to live for? Currently, of course, they live to pay their EMIs.

With the 'lending/borrowing" thing dead as a dodo, another proverb also bit the dust. "A penny saved is a penny earned", indeed! That one needs to be kissed goodbye, fondly or otherwise, and replaced with "A penny borrowed is two pennies that have to be earned."

There is yet another proverb that needs discarding because it has failed to move with the times. "Don't look a gift horse in its mouth", they used to say. NOW, if you stopped looking gift horses in the mouth, you will start believing that THAT Nigerian lawyer, offering you a zillion pounds in an unclaimed bank account, deserves to get the complete details of your bank account - PIN, Internet banking passwords and all (Oh! And, by the way, I can quote a contradictory proverb here - "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". THAT gift was a horse, too, although a wooden one and called a Trojan Horse, though the Trojans would have been pleased, in retrospect, to have nothing to do with it). Well, believe in that proverb if you want, but do not ask me to. My gift horses will receive a complete dental examination - from a safe distance of course.

And, no, I am not 'throwing away the baby with the bath-water', even though I am, as yet, undecided about the desirability of babies - since they have this unfortunate and undesirable habit of growing up!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Contradictory proverbs

As though it is not enough that proverbs are difficult to understand, they also turn out to be contradictory on occasion. Then, it is up to you to choose what you believe in. Since you were anyway confused with your choices and did not know which to choose, it is no help for the proverbs to also leave the choice to you. You might as well have played 'Inky Pinky Ponky' to make the choice instead of trying to gain your wisdom from the proverbs.

Take "A rolling stone gathers no moss" for example. I mean, I know there is no real reason why the stone should be happy about gathering moss that we can understand. But, to be honest, the stone would also find it tough to understand why we would put in so much effort into gathering money (as opposed to using it), so it is only fair that we do not make value judgments about the stone's ideas of a happy life (Well! I, myself, do not understand why we collect money, but then people do say that my head is full of clay, instead of brains, so my understanding is probably more at par with the stone than with humans). Let us just assume that gathering moss is something that gives a stone ineffable pleasure and, thus, anything that stops a stone from doing so is undesirable. Which, in effect, means that it is best to stay put instead of rolling around since it is only the former that allows you to gather moss. (WHAT? You mean that it is meant to say that you need to persevere in your efforts in one area rather than flit from one area to another? Well - that may be YOUR idea but...)

So, there we are, deciding that not running around doing things is the best option. Then we run into the proverb that says, "A wandering bee gets the honey." Uhoh! So, now, the best option is to run around and do things? Well, the wandering bee may get the honey but it hardly gets to enjoy the honey or use it, does it? After all, it is us humans who seem to get to eat the honey (not to mention the drones and the Queen bee who get to eat it without troubling to gather it.) It seems like the bee gathers honey (as opposed to just consuming the nectar) like a stone gathers moss - to no purpose to itself that we can understand. (Why would you keep interrupting? I am NOT interested in your opinion that this proverb means that one should put in effort instead of idling.)

Well, the same purpose - or is it non-purpose? - is served for both stone and bee. Unfortunately, the stone has to stay put to collect things that we see as useless for the stone; and the bee has to wander to collect things that we see as useless for that bee. Should we, then, think of ourselves as the stone or the bee? In other words, should we sit at home OR should we run around the place in order to collect things? Me - I believe in 'When in doubt, do nothing."

Willy had different ideas. He says, in one of his wholly tear-filled plays - 'Hamlet', "This, above all, to thine own self be true." Now, go figure - whether you are a stone or a bee, and act accordingly. I think I shall go to sleep now and try figuring out what 'my own self' is, after I wake up - if I am in the mood.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Proverbial Lessons?

One of the main reasons why I never learnt what people chose to call the 'lessons of life' is because people never talk straight when they are giving such advice. That is probably because they find it difficult to string together sentences all by themselves when it comes to abstract ideas. So, they dip into a pool of what people from before had said, in similar circumstances, and, apparently, in the days of yore, people believed in not saying anything unless it could be said with a metaphor, however obscure the metaphor made the meaning.

The first time I ran into these proverbs was when a friend said, "The early bird catches the worm." Considering that we were talking of how I had missed the school bus by a whisker AND that I had made no query about the breakfast habits of birds, I could not understand why he thought that this bit of ornithological information would brighten my day. Upon stringent cross-examination, he revealed that THAT was a proverb meaning that if you needed to get something, you ought to be early. I really did not get the point, still. I mean, if I were a bird it is all right since I would get the worm to eat. BUT, the worm was early too and I could not see that it benefited greatly by being early. If it had lazily yawned its head off, stretched its body and crawled out, well after the birds had done with breakfast, it would have been the better for it. When I questioned my friend on the applicability of the proverb, on these grounds, he glared at me and departed in a huff.

There is this other proverb, also meant to push the message of timeliness. "A stitch in time saves nine", is what it says apparently. Of course, with my 'acute' intelligence, my first confusion about it was the fact that it seemed incomplete. It is all very well saying, "..saves nine" but it left me asking 'Nine what?' Apparently, it means '...saves nine stitches later' and whoever wrote the proverb decided to save a couple of words, even if it left the meaning a shade ambiguous to people of 'acute' intelligence like me. What with this confusion and all, the proverb left me feeling that I should be perpetually moving around with a threaded needle in hand, an eye to the clock in order to be in time, and an ear keyed to the sound of tearing. The very thought was so fatiguing that I gave up any idea of taking up stitching. (WHAT? You mean it was meant to say that action should be timely in any endeavor and not only in stitching? I don't believe you. If that was what was meant, why not say so in so many words instead of giving tailoring lessons?)

Anyway, I found myself unable to understand most of what people tried to teach me. I bemoaned the fact to another friend and he says, "You can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink." Huh! What the hell sort of reaction is that? Who wanted to know anything about the drinking habits of horses anyway?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Much Ado about 'Nothing'

When you have nothing to say, say nothing! Easy to say, but whoever said it was not a blogger. I mean, if I started remaining silent only because I have nothing to say, pretty soon this blog would be full of cobwebs and dust with no-one offering to mop and clean the place and make it habitable. It is good then that when I have nothing to say, I can say a lot about 'nothing'.

I do not know how much I make people laugh when I write but I sure made a lot of people laugh for no reason I could discern. There was this friend of mine who would suddenly start chuckling when the two of us were tete-a-tete. If I asked him "What makes you laugh?", he would reply, "Nothing" and continue chuckling. Inevitably, this response sets me to check to see whether my fly was open OR if there was a smut on my nose OR if there was food sticking on my teeth OR...well, you get the picture. That is one 'Nothing' which starts you doubting everything. These chaps, apparently, do not want to tell you why they were laughing since the reason could offend you - and anything more offensive than someone laughing at you (well - if he says "Nothing", it is always assumed that he is laughing at you) and refusing to give a reason, I have not come across, even if the idiot did not keep cackling at discrete intervals after the event.

And, then there is the man, suffused with anxiety, and who replies, "Nothing" when you ask him what was worrying him. Of course, it is MUCH more than nothing - he would hardly want to avoid talking about it, if it were only a matter of having spilled some milk on the dining table, unless his wife were suing for divorce on that account.

Ever heard an angry man scream, "NOTHING" when asked what was making him so angry? Does it seem like it is a piddly little thing OR does it seem like he would reduce YOU to nothing if you persisted in badgering him?

It is one of the mysteries of life, for me, how people will develop words for one purpose and, then, use it when they mean exactly the opposite. Must create one hell of a problem of communication if we ever encounter an alien species. If you get really furious and say, "Nothing" to queries about what was making you furious, they may end up saying, "All Right, then" and go on blithely, thereby causing an inter-galactic incident.

Closer home, though, there are problems enough. All these "Nothing"s are normally the problem of the male of the species which has been conditioned to suppress its emotions. Comes to the more expressive distaff side, a question about what was worrying them would invoke a detailed response.

AND what does the male of the species do?

"You should not have said that, then."
"I think you are reading too much into the situation"
"Why did you not tackle it this way?"
"You should act like this in future"

Instead of assuming that the lady was assuming you to be the Oracle of Delphi, if you could only listen and say nothing, that would suffice.

BUT then we are trained to say, "Nothing" but not to say nothing, if you know what I mean! AND, thanks to that, there is much ado about your not just saying nothing!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The BIG Picture

"I am afraid you are not seeing the big picture here. Your suggestion is all right from your standpoint but does not fit into the big picture."

There was a time in childhood when you graduated from seeing pictures and moved on to reading. THAT change, I thought, was permanent but was soon disabused of the notion once I joined office. Apparently, reading is an exercise that is enforced by the teaching profession and, the moment you got free of their hegemony, you reverted back to pictures. What else can explain the fact that you cannot explain that your profits have doubled, in words, but, the moment you put up a bar chart with one bar twice the size of the other, the bulbs in the heads of your top brass light up with realization as they exclaim, "Ah! The profits have doubled" with all the enthusiasm of a Buddha who has realized the path to Nirvana?

Be that as it may, I do not think that this was precisely what my boss meant when he said the first sentence to me - simply because what I HAD suggested was not a means to color the bar chart nor would it have lent itself to pictorial depiction. Of course, it is the bane of the boss that not everything can be readily put in as pictures in a slide presentation, though Power-point is probably working to solve that issue.

If my boss did not mean that the suggestion was worthless merely because it could not be put in a picture - BIG or otherwise - what exactly did he mean? Maybe what he meant was that in a Creation probably full of millions of universes; in a Universe full of millions of galaxies; in a galaxy full of millions of stars; in a planet full of millions of beings, a suggestion that would add a few lakhs to the bottom-line of a company was not really fitting? Unlikely, because this is the man who, just yesterday, harangued me for half an hour because my computations had a error of .01 in a figure, that we would have rounded off to the nearest rupee anyway, AND it would round off to the same amount with or without the error. That does not argue for a person seeing the insignificance of human endeavor in the big picture.

Maybe, he was taking the point of view that the ultimate purpose of being born human was to purify one's soul and all these attempts at corporate achievement were mere vanity? That one, too, did not seem to fit, considering that his secretary was still in tears after the shellacking she got over the fact that she had failed to print his designation in bold in a letter. 

Waiting for him to explain the big picture was a waste of time. I have invariably found that the boss who throws the big picture at you to trash your suggestion seldom bothers to elucidate exactly what it was and why your suggestion does not fit. The ones, who give reasons for why your suggestion does not fit, seldom invoke any picture - big or otherwise. Seemed to me that the usage of 'Big Picture' normally meant, "I am BIG (bigger than you at least). Better get THAT picture clear in your mind and behave accordingly". I worked with this as a first step approximation to the meaning of that phrase and it never let me down.

I came back home and my nephew had his complaints.

"Just because I have exams does not mean that I should not see TV at all."

"You need to see the big picture here"

"Uncle! I would love to. The problem is that my dad will just not turn in this piddly little 22" TV for something 40+ or 50+"

Now THAT was the sort of big picture that made sense to me!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Less than three

When I first encountered “< 3” in Social media, I am afraid I thought it was some esoteric mathematical formula. The problem with having spent your collegiate years in a dull haze – alcoholic or otherwise – is that the education, that was flung at you, pops up at unexpected times, leaving you resentful about the fact that it never deigned to make its presence felt when you were sitting for exams. Much later, I was given to understand that it stood for love.

That, probably is because “< 3” looks like a heart that fell after it was broken in two, horizontally, by a brutal blow. Why love is always represented by symbols of mayhem beats me but then when has love ever been subject to reason? First, you have the heart pierced by an arrow and, now, it is the turn of the blunt instruments, with the heart broken by a club or mace. Maybe it is just a cynic’s prescience to show that heart-break is an inevitable consequence of love but let us not get into that. I intend this to be a happy post. (Let us also not get into the anatomical details of the heart and whether it can be broken. I do not want to compound the error of starting off with math by giving a guided tour of all the sciences starting with biology)

The surprising thing about “< 3” is that it is so apt for love – an accusation that cannot be levelled against most of Social media parlance. I mean “< 3” would have been read as ‘less than three’ before Social media changed its meaning AND ‘less than three’ is sort of a prerequisite for love. The saying “Two is Company; Three is a crowd” is particularly true for lovers. Ever seen a pair of mooching lovers? Unless they are so far sunk in a roseate fog that they think they are alone even when in a crowd, they prefer nobody around them because what seems like Khayyam’s poetry, when they have no audience, turns to embarrassing nonsense if there is a third party listening in. Truly, love flourishes only when there is ‘less than three’. Of course, any person in the vicinity makes rapid tracks away from the afflicted couple because so much syrupy sweetness is nauseating to anyone not afflicted by Cupid.

What about love after marriage, always assuming that love can survive that traumatic experience? With all those interested uncles and aunties questioning, “When are you going to become three from two?” it would seem that love after marriage is contingent on NOT staying ‘less than three’. Of course, they are not asking the husband when he is going to bring home a second wife – much against his fond hopes. Nor are they asking about when your in-laws are going to come over for an indefinite visit. Those are, actually, further examples why ‘less than three’ is a necessary condition for love.

So, what is that ‘becoming three’ business all about? A Baby, of course! So, is the baby an exception to the rule that ‘less than three’ is necessary for love? Not really! The coming of the baby is, in fact, the harbinger of marital discord. Where the night was spent in connubial bliss, it is now rent with discordant cries of, “Why do I always have to lose MY sleep to comfort the crying baby at 3 AM?”; “It is about time you started to change the diapers” and sundry such lovey-dovey comments. Not to mention that schooling, teenage rebellion and college fees draw the curtains on Romance and unroll the red carpet for responsibility. So, yes, ‘less than three’ is the only way love flourishes.

Am I missing something here? After all ‘1’ is also less than three and where is the room for love when you are single, you ask? Ever heard of Narcissism? That’s me! For every person, who even his mother finds difficult to love, there is always one’s own self.