Monday, July 27, 2015

Mere 'achche din'

When I landed in Delhi, armed with some bookish knowledge of Hindi, I little realized that over the next few years my conversational lingo would be reduced to just one word. Well, actually, I was not really thinking in terms of conversations to start with. It was my first job and I was thinking more in terms of whether I could fool my employer into thinking that I was actually worth keeping.

From the moment I landed in Delhi, though, the language issue pushed everything else to the background. It was all that reading the sub-titles, when seeing Hindi movies, that had destroyed me. Considering that Hindi movies were my only chance of hearing Hindi in Tamil Nadu, I should have tried to understand by listening, I suppose. But, then, I had no clue then that my understanding of Hindi would be of any relevance in my future.

Initially, I had no clue how to deal with this. I mean, when someone spoke it was first a jumble of noise. I had to parse it first into words in Hindi; then check on my mental dictionary for the meanings; leave blanks for the words I had no entry for; then fill in those blanks based on context. Having finally got what the other person had said, I then had to frame my answer (in Tamil OR English, as it struck me at the moment) and then start translating it mentally into Hindi. By the time I got around to this level, the other person had made his choice between (a) This guy is an imbecile (the most popular choice, considering the vacant expression on my face, while I was doing all that processing) (b) This guy is deaf-and-dumb or (c) This guy is a manner-less brute.

So, by the time I got to the level of saying "Eureka" and started that long stagnant conversational ball rolling again, the other chap had taken action according to his choice. Thankfully, the last option was opted for by very few, and even those were more mild-mannered, or else I probably would not be alive to tell the tale today. So, mostly, I got those fingers twirling near the forehead act OR people making signs at me (AND, if I was worse at anything than Hindi, it was sign language).

I am normally not a quick learner but, in this case, I really outdid myself. Within days, I had realized to recognize the intonation at the end of what the other person was saying and only if it seemed like an interrogation would I set the creaking machinery in the brain working. (At what? You know noises to Hindi words; Hindi words to Tamil....and all that) If not, all I had to do was make indeterminate noises and the other chap would continue.

The acceptable indeterminate noise, I had learnt, was "Achcha". As an adjective, it normally meant 'good', but you used it when you just wanted to indicate that you were listening. In no time at all, I was scattering my "Achcha"s around with the best of them. The issue, though, was that it got to be so ingrained a habit that I found myself scattering my "Achcha"s, even when I was visited home and actually could understand and participate in the conversations, much to the amusement of my mother, relatives and friends.

This "Achcha" is really a most versatile word. If you just said "Achcha" in a neutral tone, it just meant "I am listening" - the equivalent of "Hmm", without a snore punctuating it. If you said "Achcha?" with that interrogative tone at the end, it would mean "Is that so?" and, depending on your tone of voice, it could be a surprised "Is that so?" or a derisory "Is that so?" If you sort of elongated the word, it could mean, "Ah! NOW I understand." Over time, I mastered all uses of the word and, needless to say, I needed it when I had reached the point where the translation app in my mind worked smoothly enough to convert Hindi to English in a jiffy, but stuttered and stammered when it came to doing the vice versa.

After a point, though, the machinery in my mind was greased so well that there was no perceptible interval between the end of the other guy's statement and my reply (It was NOT more an issue of the other guy trying to slip in a word edgewise, thank you). Slowly, the"Accha"s disappeared from my daily conversation.

So, that spelt the end of my 'achcha-wale din' or, in short, 'achche din'.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Paradhinam prana sankatam

Loose translation: Dependence on others is distressing to the soul

This is one thing that put paid to my budding career as a Wodehousian character - you know, the sort of guy who leads a carefree life cadging funds from his friends and family. There I was, merrily planning for a life in which I neither toiled nor spun but gently flitted from friend to friend, lightly nicking a thousand here and a five hundred there to accommodate my modest needs. Then, some busybody friend (prescient and taking preemptive action against my cadging from him? Maybe...people are SO devious) shows me this saying. Huh! Distressing? THAT is not quite what I want for a life.

I was not willing to take it as true, right away. One does not just abandon one's pet projects like that. When he explained, I could sort of get his point, though. I mean, if I had only one friend and the chap went away on a long holiday, whether or not it would distress my soul, it would distress my stomach - if I ran out of money before he came back. Besides, even with many friends, if they wanted nothing from me (if they wanted something, it would be inter-dependence, not dependence, right?) they could just refuse to give me my money. (These modern people are SO ungenerous). One would then have to go find new friends, tap friends after carefully checking whether they are feeling generous (or weak-minded) at the moment and all that. Too much hard work and THAT would certainly distress my soul.

You know what, I have found that people can get dependent even when it is not a matter of survival. Some depend on one person for affection, love or friendship and are forever hungry to get it. Have you seen someone hug a child too tightly? Does the child smile, hug back and dribble all over his shirt or does it squirm and try to get away? (If you think it will be the former, you have never hugged a child in your life or are only trying to pick a quarrel with me) Precisely the same thing seems to happen when one person so hungrily depends on the other for emotional sustenance. The situation gets so claustrophobic, that the other person tries to escape in any way possible. AND, if it would not be distressing to see that chap run away at the sight of you, you would not be smothering him with your presence in the first place.

The funniest thing, though, is the way people depend on others, whom they never see or even put a face to. I mean, pleasing someone you know is difficult enough, but pleasing a nameless, faceless multitude is impossible. On top of it, if you decide that your happiness rests in pleasing this nameless, faceless multitude, then you ARE doomed to distress. Yet, you decide on a career, even your spouse at times, a style of living, what you eat, how you eat, where you go, how you travel in order to get what you call 'social respect'. Exactly who constitutes this 'Society' I am yet to discover, other than, perhaps, a multitude of other people who are also trying to please 'Society', which apparently includes you. And, yet, none of you actually seem to decide what it is that should please you. There you go, hanging your happiness on 'others', and whether you are happy or distressed by having to pay all those EMIs for the house, car and appliances that you bought to get this 'social respect', only you can say. I, in your place, would certainly be distressed, if I let my personal goals for happiness be dictated by unknown people, who would seldom bother to praise me when I succeed in achieving the goals, criticize me when I fail, and even reset those goals at whim.

But, then, I would not be in your place, would I? After all, if I were the sort to bother about achieving 'social respect', I would not have set out planning to live a life cadging off friends. Alas! Fate sent me that idiot, who spoiled it all for me by telling me this quote!

P.S: A response to a 3-quote challenge, tagged by Rachna

Monday, July 13, 2015

This is intelligence?

EpporuL yAr yAr vAy kEtpinum apporuL mey poruL kAnbadaRivu - Tirukkural

Loosely translation : True intelligence discerns facts based on what is said and not based on who is saying it.

Have you seen this thing about these sayings and quotes? They seem to be designed to make life difficult for you. You go to them, thinking that they will help you to make life easier for yourself, and they send you out with a flea in your ear, and a conviction that life looked a lot easier before you were foolish enough to take recourse to them.

Take this one for example. There you were thinking of life much like it was at school. You sit in class, the teacher squiggles on the blackboard and says this is 'A'. Did you spend time thinking whether it was really 'A' or not OR did you take it for granted that it would be 'A' because the teacher said so? And now this chap TiruvaLLuvar pokes his nose in and says that you cannot lead your life assuming things to be true just because they are said by some people (teachers or otherwise) and not true just because they are said by others (your juniors, the school peon...). Well, you can, but you ought not to consider yourself intelligent if you do.

Being considered intelligent is sort of nice. So, you think that, maybe, you should apply his concepts. Maybe there is an exception only for schoolchildren and adults have to operate by different rules. The problem with it is that it seems to involve too much...err...thinking.

You just cannot take it for granted that pigs can fly, just because your friend says so, and start building nests for them. Nor can you sneer at your foe when he says that pigs prefer sties to live in, at least in comparison to nests on top of tall trees. Just as you were relaxing and thinking that you cannot go far wrong if you believed everything your friend said and disbelieved everything your foe said, this old man from the past pops up and upsets your harmony.

That's fine as far as friends and foes go - they are largely your age group and can hardly be expected to know any more than you. Teachers are all right - they can be trusted to know, or so you think. Then up pops your neighborhood kid - a nerd to end all nerds - and proves her wrong about what she thinks is possible with a Tablet. Huh? You revise your rules and say that if it is Infotech, the young are right and the old are wrong - and your octogenarian grandpa helps you out when you are stuck operating a spreadsheet! This old man from the past really does muck up your life. Centuries gone since he last took a breath, so how did he know about your neighborhood nerd or your octogenarian grandpa or even about Infotech that what he says proves relevant today?

If that were all, it would not be so bad. The problem with the guy is that what he says also means that you cannot assume that a woman dressed differently is 'asking for it', merely because your grandpa said that such was the case. You cannot assume that anyone ranging from a newborn babe to a doddering old man, belonging to a different religion, is out to shake the very foundations of your own, and that killing them will guarantee your own quota of houris in Heaven, merely because your religious leader says so. You cannot assume that there is no value in whatever has been developed or conceived in a different culture, merely because your own leaders have told you that all that is good is only there in your own.

In short, this chappie - TiruvaLLuvar - makes it very difficult to live. Being considered intelligent is nice, all right, but it involves too much hard work - thinking! Being an idiot is so...stress-free.

It is a no-brainer as to what I chose to be and, I am sure, most of humanity agrees with me.

P.S: A response to a 3-quote challenge, tagged by Rachna

Monday, July 6, 2015

Learning teaches humility

Vidhya dadati vinayam - Hitopadesa

Loose translation: Learning bestows humility

Huh! This is truly one for the books. What would be the point in putting in all those hours of work into learning something if you cannot even lord it over others who do not know as much as you do? Imagine being a doctor and not being able to say, "Am I the doctor or are you?" If you had to be humble, you might as well have remained ignorant.

Oh! So you were talking about the fact that the need to be arrogant would be lesser? That if I were learned, then people would automatically look up to me and I would not have to keep telling them how superior I am? So, when I speak to them, I could appear humble and still get respect without having to coerce respect from them by throwing my weight around? If that is what you meant, I am fine by it. I am not all that insecure a person that I would doubt getting respect and would preemptively throw my weight around to ensure that I get it.  Though, if someone fails to give respect...

What??? That was not all that you meant? So, exactly what did you mean? Learning would open my eyes to what is known; what is only believed; what is assumed; what applies only subject to certain conditions, and what those conditions are; and all that? That, knowing all this, I would not be assured of the fact that I am always right and would have the humility to listen and learn from other people? Rot! Your idea of learning seems to consist more of getting to know what you do not know than of getting to know things. Yeah, I know, I know, you will mouth off about "Knowing that you do not know is the first step to wisdom" and all that. Nonsense, I tell you. If that is your idea of learning, then you are a fool. I certainly do not agree and, what is more, almost the entire educational system of the world supports me - so there!

You really rise from height to height, do you not? Learning would expose me to the ocean of knowledge that is out there and would teach me that I had but drunk a drop or two of it? That it would make me feel that having drunk a drop more than the next guy would not feel like such a huge achievement that I would feel pride? Which is how Learning will teach me Humility? THAT shows how little you know about Human Nature. Who is going to bother comparing himself with this ocean of knowledge? I will only compare with the next guy and find that I have drunk double the drops that he has. Of course, it is a matter of great pride!

WHAT??? As long as I continue to feel like that I cannot consider myself wise? That Learning does not merely mean knowing things but to develop my personality, my character - to acquire wisdom? You...ah, why do I bother? You are incorrigible!

P.S: A response to a 3-quote challenge, tagged by Rachna