Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dressing decently

Give me an instruction manual with clearly defined rules and I am comfortable. Something like "If he kicks you in the pants, he does not like you' and I know where I stand. The problem, though, is when things get imprecise. People, more often than not, are more like "Sometimes, he will yell at you. Sometimes, he will smile and walk away. Sometimes, you can keep talking and he will gaze over your shoulder as though he is listening to an angel blowing a trumpet in the far horizon. Any of that may mean that he does not like you. It may also mean that his mind is elsewhere. Or...". You know what I mean - imprecise!

Why individuals? Even Society is like that - and never more so than when it comes to defining decent dressing. The dratted thing seems to obey no rules. I have tried and tried to determine the rules to identify decent dressing and failed miserably.

My first assumption was that the more a dress revealed of skin acreage the more indecent it was. Applying that concept proved a failure. People wrinkled their noses at me for walking in wearing a lungi-kurta whereas the chap in shorts, showing spindly legs and knock-knees, was apparently the heights of decency. As for women, the half-sari was by far more decent than the salwar-kameez apparently though the latter concealed more than the former, since the former did leave portions of the mid-riff bare. (Tamil Nadu, ladies and gentlemen, so please do not poke in your 'indecent' North Indian ideas).

Assuming all this was merely applicable to adolescents and the rule would work much better in adulthood was also a fallacy. The first time I walked into a club wearing a round-neck disabused me of the notion that concealment was the essence of decency. "Collars! Collars!" was the cry as a man with his shirt-buttons open till the waist, revealing a chest that would rival a gorilla, walked insouciantly in, while I was stopped by a sneering security guard. Seemed to me that wearing collars without shirts was more decent than shirts without collars.

Perhaps, then, indecency constituted of WHAT was being revealed. Maybe I could derive a standard rule on that basis. I float this idea with a friend and he came out with a shocker. Apparently, at some point in time in England (Victorian age??), a woman could cut the neck of her dress to just above the nipples and still be decent. BUT, nobody would be tart enough to allow the hem of her dress to rise high enough to show her ankles. Ye Gods! If I cannot decide upon decent dressing by whether it conceals the most NOR even expect the need for the same parts of the body to be concealed - across cultures and across time in the same culture - I was sunk.

Seems to me that decency in dressing is what we decide is decent and the same shall change from time to time based on our whims and fancies. A lot of people, though, are not nimble enough to adapt to the fact that what was dressing indecently yesterday was the heights of decency today and the vice versa. No wonder they make fools of themselves by crying themselves hoarse over indecency and finding no support.

The way things are, I suppose something like this would have happened in the early days of mankind's existence.

"Do you know what Lilith has gone and done?"
"What now?"
"She is wearing leaves around her waist"
"NO! Really?"
"Yes! That tart will do anything to attract the attention of the men."
"True! Why can't she be decently nude like the rest of us."
"What next? Will she be covering her breasts too?"
"Wouldn't put it past her. Wanton hussy!"

(That, of course, with due apologies to those who KNOW that it was Eve who started it all after being inspired by eating an apple.)

Anyway, now I know that I will never get the hang of what decent dressing is all about. Will someone - PLEASE - give a detailed listing and blow the whistle on it every time there is a change?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Boys will be boys?

The world is a perplexing place to live in, as more intelligent people than me (which is about all of the rest of the world's population) have found. For men, the world of women is not merely perplexing, it is downright beyond comprehension.

Since times immemorial, men have clearly indicated their fascination with the fact that the chests of women are shaped differently from those of men. By now, of course, one would have expected that this quirk of the male personality would be taken for granted and ignored, much like you do not gasp in surprise and exclaim, "Wow! The sun rises in the East" every single morning. Not so! Centuries have passed and women still find it a cause for amazement and amusement.

Not that they seem entirely oblivious of the fact. It may be that the best uplifters of the downtrodden, enhancers of the seemingly inadequate including even injections of the sealants are all meant specifically to ensure that that men do NOT take notice of the chest area and concentrate their eyes on the horizon. It is quite possible that those plunging necklines are in use precisely to highlight what men are NOT supposed to see at all. It is quite possible that it is all to ensure that they appear great to their fellow-women but my brain (I assure you that it still resides in my skull and has not slipped down to the place between my legs) refuses to see it that way.

A visit to a beauty parlor is, apparently, the feminine equivalent of a foretaste of Hell. Waxing the legs, I hear, leaves them with no reason to fear whatever Satan may do to them, having experienced the worst that he can throw at them. And, yes, they put themselves through all these tortures so that men can studiously ignore their legs and concentrate on the poetry of Shelley. I believe you - or, I am trying to! Like I also try to believe that men build six-packs and wax their chests merely to feel good about themselves and to impress other men. Like I try to believe that, if Homo Sapiens were a hermaphroditic species, there would still be a cosmetic industry and a fashion industry doing roaring business.

Since puberty, I had somehow got this mistaken impression that all this was meant to be appreciated by men, as well. Hey! Lady! Before you start on my effigy, let me explain. I do NOT mean the appreciation which expresses itself by a touchy-feely physical appraisal of the assets. I am not here to take the cudgels up on behalf of those men who seem to be under the misapprehension that the female face is situated in the region of her chest and try to make eye-contact by focusing on that area. Nor do I have sympathy for the man who prefers his communication with a woman ONLY three hand spans below her mouth OR for he who feels that such communication is solely his prerogative and the woman has no say in it. These are boors or criminals or both, and I have no intent to be counted among their ranks.  And, most certainly, I do not think that women, who beautify themselves, are actively inviting the attentions of all these chaps. So, stop imagining me with a turban, paan in my mouth and a tendency to spouting, "Humari sanskriti mein...".

My problem lies with the fact that the rest of us, who do appreciate your beauty but only as being a part of you and NOT the whole of you, are being assumed to belong to one of those categories, if not to all of them. So, you do know what we are likely to be looking at when we give you a passing glance and, yet, you feel that it is risible if not exactly uncouth. AND, simultaneously, you also laud the rebirth of female sexuality! Have a heart! At least for the heterosexuals, female sexuality would be meaningless without sexual interest being alive in males - and you know where male sexual interest centers (And, puhleeze! Do not tell me that you really believe that a good man would be rendered blind to the attractions of other women once he falls in love with and/or marries one woman). If it makes it any better for you, we too do not know WHY we get aroused by certain parts of your anatomy compared to others, but there it is - we do and that's why we gaze, more by knee-jerk instinct than conscious thought. (The same sort of instinct, perhaps, that purportedly makes success more attractive to women than character?)

Yeah, I know! Your problem is only when we gaze 'too long' and therein used to lie the nub of my problem. How long is too long? My experience, hitherto, has been that the answer depends on how handsome (or rich or famous, depending upon tastes) a hunk is doing the gazing. It is Relativity at work - if it is Quasimodo, a nano-second is too long whereas if it is George Clooney....

NOW you know why I had a problem. I was and am a Quasimodo, without the hunch in the back.

P.S : This was inspired by Purba's post but NOT meant as a rebuttal since I think she has said both point and counter-point, leaving no room for rebuttal :)

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Did I ever tell you the only time I ever voluntarily entered a foot-race - as opposed to the times at school when you were coerced into doing all sorts of unwanted activities? I have? That's all right, you will survive hearing it once again.

This unnatural activity happened during my brief stint at SPIC, when I was masquerading as a chemical engineer trainee. When they announced that all trainees who participated in any event on their sports day would get the day off, it was a no-brainer that I would participate. It was equally as much a no-brainer for me to put in ONLY for the 100 meter race, as being the most cost-effective way of getting that holiday. Who wanted to exert himself any more than the minimum required?

Considering that my normal means of locomotion resembles a duck's waddle and also considering that it was NOT a race with ducks, it was but to be expected that I trailed the entire lot of runners home in the very first heat. Unfazed by the derisive laughs of the spectators, I loudly proclaimed, "I was the man behind the victors." THAT, of course, was the closest I ever got to winning.

I have always found that winning is very much over-rated. People tend to think that winning will make them happy, little realizing all that their winning does is to place them on the treadmill where they will need to keep running just to stay in the same place. Imagine the school kid who stands first in his class. Do you think he can then relax and take life easy? If he does and drops down one place, there will always be a sympathetic friend who will come and say,"You must have been sick on the day of the exam. Obviously, you are more intelligent than that guy." There will be a derisive chap who will comment,"I knew it was a fluke that he came first last time. Must be some error in the correction." His parents, of course, would jump on him with "Just because you came first once does not mean that you can slack off" forgetting that the second place he got this time was probably far better than his performances before he was unlucky enough to come first. After all this, our innocent friend will not only have to study all the harder but will need to keep an anxious eye out behind him to see if anyone was close to over-taking him. Such are the fruits of winning.

Staying short of  'winning' keeps you comfortably off the limelight. If you skid and take a purler, no-one is looking your way to laugh at your antics. If you move up a step, of course, there is hardly anyone to notice, except maybe someone close to you who will raise a disbelieving eyebrow. You can expect to be chugging along happily without anyone egging you on ('Come on, Suresh! Come on') or eagerly expecting to be there when you fail.

There, then, in a nutshell is my attitude to winning. I expect to enjoy myself doing whatever I am doing and I find that nothing drains away the joy faster than when someone tags you a winner and, then, the world sits around waiting to see you lose. A winner has to keep running all the time at full speed to remain one; an also-ran only has to participate to retain his tag as an also-ran - unless he has the misfortune to win!

Sour grapes, you say? Well, these grapes ARE sour! So there!

Monday, May 19, 2014


I have always been a very confused sort of person. (You knew that always? The things you already know, after you have been told!) Since school I have found myself weltering in a morass of doubts when my peers seem to be seeing things through crystal clear glasses.

For example, I had always harbored the opinion that West Bengal ought to be in the west. If it were not, why call it 'West' Bengal? It seemed to me that they deliberately named it like that in order to provide trick questions for school-kids. "Where is West Bengal?" - "In the eastern part of India". No matter how much people assured me that it was so named only because the rest of Bengal was situated further east of it, I stuck to my stand that it was a deliberate ploy to mess up with the minds of kids so that adults can feel superior about knowing more than them.

With my geographical orientation the way it was, it is but natural that Chess should be far more confusing. With so many pieces moving in so many different ways on the board, I just could not keep track. Yet, I persisted in playing chess with my brother and, as was inevitable, lost invariably. Or I would have, but for the fact that I started throwing the pieces at him somewhere around the time when defeat seemed inevitable, thereby converting a virtual battlefield into a real one. Despite all this, he did manage to get quite good at chess. If he had learnt the way pieces are moved from the way I used them, rooks would fly, bishops would be hurled like javelins, and the only way he would have won any game would be by putting out the eye of his opponent with a knight. (Though I cannot help thinking that Chess would have been a more appealing spectator sport played my way than the way the likes of Anand play it.)

Comes to the interview I had for selection into IIM, though, I really cannot blame myself for being confused. I mean, I was a chemical engineer (certified as such, at least) and the interviewer asks me, "What does increasing positive entropy mean in the context of the Universe?" Have a heart, guy, I did not say "Astronomy", I said "Chemical Engineering". It meant that the universe was expanding, I believe. Well - can someone tell me in what way an expanding universe would help me in selling soaps, after my MBA? An expanding waistline, I can understand, because it provides more surface area to wash and, thus, more demand for soaps. Sometimes, I feel that interviewers have a mistaken impression of what they are supposed to do. Instead of testing how clever the candidate is in the concerned area, they seem more intent on showing off how clever they are.

By the way, if you thought that I was chucked out unceremoniously, you are sorely mistaken. Believe me, I was selected into IIM-Bangalore based on THAT interview. Goes to show that I may not have been the only confused chap around. Or, maybe, the sheer confidence with which I said, "I do not know" must have made the interviewer feel ashamed about knowing that tit-bit (Like you would say loftily, "I do not know", if asked about how you would scrub the floor) and he had to select me. It is a pity, though, that I lost that lofty confidence in latter life but that is another story.

Anyway, I have confusedly bumbled through life for this long and...what was I saying, anyway? I am a bit confused!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Scratch my back, please

As it often happens with me, I was in dire need of advice. There was this friend who was supposed to be wise in the ways of the world and I went to him.

"I have a problem, dude! This world of blogging is full of back-scratchers. More often than not, I get comments on my posts only when I go and comment on others' posts. How do I get genuine comments?'

"Be the change that you want to see."

Huh! And I thought I was done with proverbs! Now what the hell did that mean, anyway? I posed the question to him.

"Do you comment on other people's posts when they do not come back and comment on yours? Do that first."

What? Here I was asking him to help me get more comments on MY blog and he was suggesting ways to increase comments on other people's blogs. What nonsense. And I thought THIS chap was wise!

"That's fine, dude, but how will that improve comments on my blog?"

"See? YOU will not comment on other people's blogs unless they comment on yours and you complain about backscratching."

Was this guy for real? The idea of commenting on people's blogs without expecting return comments! If I ever got the reputation for doing it, that would spell THE END. I mean, once people knew I would comment even if they did not comment back, they could well decide that they could use the time, that they spent on my blog, somewhere else and gain one more comment. And THIS was this wise guy's advice to improve comments on my blog? Absolute drivel!

I put this point up.

"Come on! Don't you read some blogs because you enjoy what is written?"

Ye Gods! How did this nutcase ever survive for this long? Fine, so I read blogs that entertain me but why the hell would I waste time commenting on them? All the benefit is derived once I finish reading the blog, so where was my advantage in also thinking up and typing a comment?

I am afraid that I said this rather derisively.

"You idiot! How will the author ever know that you enjoyed his writing or that you even read it?"

Holy cow! There is certainly one lunatic asylum missing an inmate. Why should I bother myself with adding to some unknown author's store of knowledge? What the hell did it matter to me what tit-bits of information that chap knew or did not know?

I could understand that someone, not knowing blogging, could not answer some questions. But THIS one belonged in the general category, so to speak. After all, what I was asking about was getting praise AND whoever heard of anyone wanting to GIVE praise? Is it not ALWAYS about getting it?

So now, will someone PLEASE scratch my back. On and around the spine between the shoulder blades. Just where I cannot reach!

P.S: I assure you that THAT was a tongue-in-cheek parody! (Except for wanting my back scratched - metaphorically!)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Proverbial cliches?

The problem with people is that they label some things as cliches and think that, therefore, they are useless. A cliche becomes a cliche ONLY because it is true and, thus, you ignore it at your peril.

Take "The Boss is always right", for example. Most people seem to think of it as a joke. Why, the damn thing has morphed into so many humorous sayings like "I am the Boss in this house and I have my wife's permission to say so" and the like. I trace back the stress, that today's subordinates go through, to the fact that they have not understood the absolute validity of this saying.

Your boss may be the biggest fool ever born and with a capacity to be unerringly wrong. But, if you point out his errors every time, there is certainly a bigger fool in the office than your Boss - YOU! I have heard a lot of people - bosses - say that they understand the value of adverse criticism. They may even be honest about it BUT I have never yet heard anyone tell me, with any conviction, that they liked the person handing it out. Your advice may - I repeat, MAY - be valued but, rest assured, YOU will be disliked and, sooner or later, will face the fate worse than death - acquiring the reputation of 'not being a team player'. SO - start the day with this mantra - The Boss is always right - and, if he is wrong, let him discover it himself. You do not need to act the retriever dog for him - well you can if you are only finding his socks or hanky but not his faults.

"Squeaking wheels get oiled", everyone shrieks and goes off into peals of laughter. Then they go out into the wide world and think hard work will get them rewards. The problem, there, is that employers tend to think 'Work is its own reward' and end up handing out more work to these sterling folks. If you need oil, by God, you need to tell them that you need oil (Do not forget that, in most places, you also need to be a wheel and not merely a squeaker). Keep laughing at the 'Squeaking wheels get oiled' business AND you will soon be moaning around about "If you pay peanuts, you will get only monkeys", not realizing that THAT is exactly what your employer thinks you are, and also that they are perfectly happy with 'performing' monkeys.

Of course, you can always say "When the going gets tough, the tough get going", after you find your office becoming a tough place to work in. Well, the wise also 'get going' - AWAY! One more of the cliches that you ought never to ignore is that 'The first impression is the best impression'. It takes a lot of effort to change this impression of 'not being a team player', if you have been fool enough to create it in the first place, and you are better off trying to make a better first impression elsewhere.

Talking about the wise 'going away', I think it is time to make a rare show of wisdom and bid 'Au Revoir' to this series on proverbs so that you can say, "All is well that ends well'. Or, maybe, all you want to say is "All is well since it has ended"?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Truncated Proverbs?

What a proverb actually has communicated can only be ascertained from the results upon Society. If a proverb purports to describe Society, then what it describes can be known from the realities of the society it describes. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. (Hmm! That this proverb should have been said in the days before Facebook is surprising. It is a truly amazing indication of prophetic tendencies in the past that that someone should have thought to say that the proof of the pudding lies not in how good it looks in a FB status picture OR how many 'Likes' the pic got, in the days when even photography did not exist, leave alone Facebook.)

From the ways of Society, it seemed to me that some proverbs are now available only in their truncated version and some words at the end have gone missing. Even this "The proof of the pudding is the the eating" can benefit in clarity by the addition of " or the spitting out" but that still ends up communicating the same meaning. Some proverbs, though, seem entirely misleading because some words at the end seem to have gone missing.

Take "Absence makes the heart grow fonder", for example. The World War II soldiers receiving those "Dear John" letters, which indicated that their spouses had decided to donate them to the service of their country and take up with someone else, would have been far less shocked had the full proverb been available to them - "Absence makes the heart grow fonder - of someone else". (Yup! There IS that proverb which suits the extended version better - "Out of sight; Out of mind")

There are a lot of people who say, "They also serve who only stand and wait". Others seem to think that these are people, who are slavering to really do something, but are reconciled to serve only by standing and waiting - only to be rudely shocked when they call on these people for service and find them VERY recalcitrant, indeed. If only the others knew that what they meant was, "They also serve who only stand and wait - for someone else to do the job." A rather neat way of getting the mantle of service without having to really serve.

I also find a lot of people getting irate about some people who appear god-fearing but are totally untrustworthy. I do not agree with casting aspersions on the god-fearing nature of these people, even if their acquisitive habits do not seem to see the difference between 'mine' and 'thine'. You see, it is just that their version of the proverb is extended version, "God helps those who help themselves - to other people's property".

I hear this clamor from you - "Silence is golden". Ah! If only you knew that I can always extend it with another proverb - '..but all that glitters is not gold'!

P.S: Thanks, Anita, for that 'they also serve who only stand and wait'

Monday, May 5, 2014

Proverbs requiring interpretation

Then there are those proverbs that really yield no meaning unless you spend time on interpreting them. Probably invented by the sort of people whom we all know. The sort who, when asked for advice, tell you something so ambiguous and esoteric, that you certainly feel that they are wise but have no clue about the wisdom that they have imparted. Like those books you proudly proclaim to have read and enjoyed, merely because you could not understand a thing and are too ashamed to admit it.

Take this "The pen is mightier than the sword", for example. It seems sort of ludicrous to assume that you can successfully repel someone attacking you with a sword by using a pen to parry his sword-strokes. So, what exactly does it mean? THAT you can wound a man far deeper with words than with a sword? Like you think being beheaded is better than being insulted? Then, what do you have to say to "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me"?

There are only three possibilities that I can think of. One is that a man wielding a pen can propagate ideas that can cause more destruction than a sword can. That, I think, has been proven amply in the past. A rabble-rouser is a far more evil person and capable of far more destruction than a mere armed bully. Especially bad are those who also believe that they are in the right and, more to the point, the ONLY people entrusted with the ONE great truth.

The second, of course, is that a man can, with a pen and, maybe, a helpful lawyer, can plunder more than he can with a sword. You doubt that? Even after all those numbers, the zeroes in which you are not yet done counting, representing the money that went down the maws of people, whose greed far exceeds your imagination?

The last possibility is that soldiers may win wars but it is the man who writes of the battle that ends up claiming the victory for who he pleases. If the facts are indisputable about who won the battle, the trick lies in making the winner win by cheating - and, thus, handing over the moral victory to the loser. So, yes, the pen proves mightier than the sword.

As you can see, this seemingly innocuous statement needs interpretation and, at the end of all that serious thinking, you still do not know exactly what the correct interpretation is. To compound the problem, we have the other proverb, that thumbs its nose at this proverb - "Action speaks louder than words". What now?

Well, of course, they explain that this means, for example, that someone professing friendship is one thing but someone displaying friendship is quite another - and the latter is a more dependable proclamation of friendliness than the former. What an idea! I would say that this is on the lines of "Empty vessels make the most noise" - which means, since Action speaks louder than Words, Action is more empty than words, since it makes more noise. No? So, you actually are happier with a person who 'Likes' your Facebook status (Action) than the person who writes a complimentary comment (Words). If you do, you belong in a museum and shall be sent there forthwith, the moment we find time to create a Museum app.

So, you see, there are always those proverbs which end up being "Six of one, half a dozen of the other". AND that sort of confusion between choices is, precisely, where you started out when you decided to take recourse to proverbs for advice. If this is not 'running all you can to stay in the same place' I do not know what is!

P.S : The Moonstone is, again, responsible - through her comment - for this bit of lunacy. She contributed the proverb, I contributed the lunacy!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Proverbs of convenience

Sometimes, it seems to me, that a person pushing his case using a metaphor ends up creating a proverb. Like a certain Goebbels is reputed to have said, 'Keep repeating a lie and it will be taken to be the truth' or some such thing. So, what may have started as a self-serving statement ends up becoming received wisdom due to constant repetition.

Apparently, people believe that "Too many cooks spoil the broth". Looks to be quite possible, since I have never seen any two people being perfectly confident about whether the other will do what is necessary. So it is quite possible that one cook dumps a truckload of salt in the broth assuming that the other is obviously a nincompoop who cannot be relied upon to add salt. In a rare show of unity of thought, the other would do the same on the same assumption. (One of those inexplicable wonders of the human brain is that this "Two minds with but one single thought" thing applies mainly to pejorative impressions about each other). Naturally, the broth turns out to be a gourmet's delight - for gargling.

What, then, do we say about "Two heads are better than one"? Do not ask me "Better for what?" The proverb is conveniently silent on that. It seems to me that this must have been the sales talk of a number two in the organization, who has given up on the number one either retiring or dying. So, he goes with this spiel to his boss to ensure that he also becomes the 'head' without having to indulge in such medieval pastimes as assassinations to create a vacancy. No broth gets spoiled in the process, since our man only wants to get the Chef's hat and perks, but has no intent of entering the kitchen. (You have doubts? Even after all those Deputy Prime ministers and the like? I think the original doubting Thomas can take your correspondence course) As a matter of fact, it seems to me that neither 'head' wants to enter the kitchen these days, and the broth gets made on auto-pilot, thereby proving that 'No cook can also spoil the broth'.

Of course, you do have a doubt here. Why is it "Two heads is better than one" and not any more? Well, as they say "Two is company, three is a crowd" - and, therefore, we developed Boards of Directors, Cabinets and the likes to ensure that we have enough people for those rare occasions when we prefer crowds. You know the net impact of that, since "The IQ of a mob is equal to the IQ of its Lowest Common denominator" which, invariably, tends to the single digits.

And, yes of course, in any crowd of which I am a part, you know who THAT Lowest Common denominator is!

P.S : Owe this to Ilakshee's comment though she may not be particularly pleased by my (mis)interpretation!