Monday, March 28, 2016

Of heroes and villains

Now that all the minor issues that can engage humanity's brains have been taken up - with Hawkings and his ilk bothering about 'Why and what is the universe?'; Trump and his ilk ably handling how to help people live with each other; and any number of gurus fighting to tell you the truth of what happens to you after death, burial or cremation or being fed to the vultures apart - I can concentrate on the more important conundrums of life.

Picture this scene - something that is quite common in Indian movies, specifically South Indian. The Mafia Boss tell his henchmen to go and hunt down the hero. Immediately, hordes of them, wielding machetes, cram themselves into cars and drive off in a flurry.

Tell me, is that the time you would feel the pressing need to do some calisthenics? When crammed twenty to one car, with no space to breathe without your stomach bumping the tail-bone of your companion? Yet, there they would all be, with machete-wielding hands sticking out of the windows, swinging them vigorously while they scream at the top of their voices in a pathetic attempt at the Japanese 'Kiai'. One would have thought that a playground would give them for their calisthenics. Is it because it is necessary to do warm-up exercises before you engage in murder? Having never committed one, I am woefully ill-informed about these things.

And, of all times to draw attention to oneself, the last, I would have thought, would be when you are out to murder someone. Sort of like taking a selfie, just as you slice someone's neck, and posting it on the net. I mean, I know this is a selfie-obsessed generation but to take a selfie just as you are killing someone and to post it on Facebook is a tad too far even for them. Not even if it will get you a million likes. I don't know if you are allowed to check on Facebook, when they drop you through the floor, with a noose around your neck to keep you from falling all the way.

If the villains flummox me, the heroes leave me gape-mouthed in wonder. The knife flashes in at the abdomen; the hero can twist out of the way, jump backwards, slam the wrist of the opponent aside - and with a million such options available, what does he do? Grabs the knife and, with blood dripping off his palm, twists it out of the villain's hands and tosses it away. That, apparently, is macho behavior. You know, something like a batsman hitting a bouncer with his helmeted head in order to prove his cricketing prowess.

Much of this macho attitude seems to demand such a level of sheer boneheaded behavior that it is a wonder that the species survived till date. If our ancestors had patterned themselves on our heroes and villains, they would have disdained to produce spears; would have attacked saber-toothed tigers bare-handed and skewered their own guts on those saber-teeth to prove their machismo - net result being that the cockroaches would have developed to cockroach sapiens, with us unceremoniously vacating the field in favor of being digested by the less macho, more pragmatic carnivores.

But then all this is peculiar to Indian cinema - or, even, to South Indian cinema. So, perhaps, the species IS safe after all.

Or is it? It seems like the chest-thumping gorilla version of humanity is gaining the upper-hand all over the damn place. But, then, THAT is inevitable when people stop thinking and start emoting. Worse still, when they actually think that knee-jerk reactions are what thinking is all about.

Homo Sapiens, indeed! One needs to remove that Sapiens and put in a more appropriate word. Homo Trumpensis, perhaps?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Early to rise?

(Just to keep you guys posted, my book's review was carried in Business Standard here

If you read it and are overcome by a passion to buy the book, you can always click on the image to the right and go to the book-links :) )

"Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise"

When I first heard of this, I was ecstatic. I surely wanted to be healthy and wealthy. (I was not too sure about whether 'wise' was something THAT desirable, being but a kid then, but if it came enclosed with the other two, I could make do with it as well.) AND all I had to do to be all that was only to sleep early and get up early? THAT sounded like a plan...and a damn good one, well within my capabilities, or so I thought.

Early to bed was a cake-walk. Considering that, by all reports, I was the sort of baby who, after the customary wail to warn the world that it would have to put up with me going forth, had been totally inactive, not even bothering to scream to let my mom know that I was hungry, and considering that growing up had not changed, by one iota, my immense ability to lie supine, this was about the easiest thing imaginable for me. (Did you read THAT sentence in one go? YOU can never be as consummate an idler as I am!)

The problem was with this 'early to rise'. Opinions seemed to vary rather widely about what constituted 'early'. Since the school bus was at 9 AM, half-past eight seemed to be early enough for me. This eminently reasonable proposition found stout opposition within the family. They, apparently, thought that somewhere close to half past five in the morning would fit the requirements, though they would allow me to make do with half past six. Eeeks! Having only had hearsay evidence that such a time of the day existed and having none of that exploratory spirit which seeks to confirm such hearsay evidence by personal experience, I balked.

Collecting empirical evidence from elsewhere did not help. The kids of my age were all in favor of my interpretation of 'early' - with a couple even deriding me for fixing it as early as 8.30 AM and scoffing at the idea that it was necessary to board the school bus or even go to school - but the adults were all uniformly in favor of my parents' interpretation. There was that nightmarish man, too, who spoke of dark and spooky things like the existence of 4 AM in the morning. God!

I presented my evidence to my parents. This definition of 'early' is just a generation gap thing, I argued, and, for my generation, 8.30 AM was early enough to be going on with. To which my mom said, in a clinching argument, that the saying was said by an adult and, thus, it is the adult interpretation which would hold true.

You know what - I decided that I was just a kid and it was too early for me to be seeking health and wealth! Time enough to wake up early when I was an adult and more desirous of such things.

The problem, though, was that the time never came for me. You know how it goes - for anything like that tomorrow seems to be a better day to start doing it than today and when tomorrow turns to today, well, obviously, tomorrow still seems a more attractive day.

And, now, I am afraid that I lose even the half-chance of becoming healthy, wealthy and wise. For now...I seem to have even lost the ability to be 'early to bed'!

Monday, March 14, 2016

What if...

This process of making legislation seems to involve a lot of thinking up What ifs. Lawyers seem to revel if thinking up possibilities which need to be covered by the law. You know how it goes - "What if this happens? Put in a clause for that. What if that happens? Put in some condition to cover that..." My first brush with this was when I had to put up the implications of the ordinance that the Government issued to put in place the 'Employee's Pension Scheme 1995'.

There was this curious clause in it that haunts me to this day. The law provided for the possibility on the lines of 'If the widow of an employee gets remarried before the death of the employee...'. Since the law was curiously silent about how someone can become a widow of someone who is yet to die, I was flummoxed. I had to admit that my acumen fell far short of these lawyers, considering that something that struck them as too obvious to explain puzzles me to this day.

Anyone who has tried to hack his way through the thickets of 'What If's in any law - and, obviously, given up within minutes of starting the attempt - knows how difficult it is. AND we have not even started on what they call the fine-print. After putting in sustained and concerted efforts at ensuring that the law is as incomprehensible as it can be made by human effort to any ordinary, they turn around and tell you,"Ignorance of the law is no excuse", thereby creating a market for their ilk in the private sector.

It is difficult, though, to blame them. Especially when it comes to business laws and fiscal legislation. They have to put in place as closely-knit a piece of legislation as possible because they know an equally, if not more, brilliant lot of their ilk will be paid to be hard at work trying to find what they love to call a 'loophole'.

My understanding of this 'loophole' is what irrevocably qualifies me as certifiably insane. First let us see what this insane view is, so that you can then better understand the proper sane view. (Oh! I SAY all this but which insane person has ever really understood that he is actually insane, except if he has some sporadic sane moments.)

Let us say that a law is put in place to prohibit certain actions. It is possible that, when you read the law and all its what-ifs, you do not realize that what you intend doing is also intended to be prohibited. A genuine error, which cannot even be covered in the "Ignorance of the law..." since the law does not SAY so. A loophole, though, literally means that you are intending to find a hole in this net of what-ifs to do exactly what the law is there to prevent you from doing. In other words, you KNOW what you are doing is what the law is there to prevent and deliberately decide to find a way to do it. AND at the end of it, if you are called on it, you can always throw up your hands and say, "How was I to know? The law does not SAY so."

When the normal way to enter a house is through the gate and the front door, if you are jump over the wall, cut a hole in the window-pane, open the latch and contort your way through, you could claim that you thought that the fact that the gate and doors were locked only meant that you were not allowed  to enter the house through them but were allowed to do it otherwise. In my insane mind, though, the intent to force illegal entry is clear and I further seem to assume that it is clear to YOU as well.

The problem is, as must be readily apparent to you, that I have lost the sanity to see things the right way. I seem to assume that the laws are put in place to safeguard the interests of society and the chap who bends his efforts to finding a loophole is actually working against the interests of society. (I know! I know! You are rolling on the floor laughing at this absurd idea. When you are done...)

You, of course, know that the fact of the matter is that it is only a game of what-ifs. The government and its team tries to find all possible what-ifs to prevent the corporate team from doing something. The corporate team, then uses all its ingenuity to find a way to do exactly what the government is trying to prevent them from doing. When the latter manages to do it, we - who are the spectators - applaud their ingenuity. The government, poor loser that it is, horrifies us by changing the rules of the game, retrospectively. It IS part of the game for the government to change it for the future and for the corporate world to shrewdly find a way through this new net of what-ifs in the next game, but retrospectively? If that is not changing the rules of the game to declare a victory for itself, then what is?

You can see how far gone I am, when even after having been told all this and having seen that Society does not even decry the immorality and has only praise for the ingenuity, I am still not convinced. If you see white when everyone around you sees white, it is YOU who are insane - unless you happen to be the lone sane inmate of a lunatic asylum.

But, then, how could I be sane after spending a decade and a half trying to parse what-ifs?

Monday, March 7, 2016


There I stood, restlessly shifting from leg to leg, as my aunt and uncle browsed through the family album. Why the sight of my sulky face glaring into the camera should hold any more fascination than the same sulky face glaring live at them I will never know, but so it was. Or, rather, maybe it was not MY face but the faces of the rest of my family that held their attention. If only they would look up, I could do the formalities of saying 'Hello' and vanish into my room with my book but...

"Ooh! Look how cute she looks!"

Well - that, obviously, was not me, considering the pronoun. But, then, it obviously would not be me considering that adjective, either. 'Cute' has very seldom been applied to me, though my mom swears that someone said it of me when I was a baby. You know how moms are...and going by my dad's expression when she said it, it was the sort of thing that only a mom would believe. The chap must have been cross-eyed and actually looking at the next crib.

THAT, though, is the reason why I hated these album sessions - and pictures in general. I mean, I can understand my sis being interested in the goings-on - SHE would get to hear things like 'cute' applied to her face on the picture and walk on clouds the rest of the day. Me...the closest I ever got was when someone said, 'He actually does not look bad in this", but the effect was totally spoiled by the disbelieving note in his voice and the three times he looked from me to the picture to ensure that it was not really a changeling in the picture. So exactly what did I have to look forward to in these picture album sessions?

Age has only added reasons for my hatred of any art of portraiture. I mean, yes, these aunts and uncles also used to dig out old wedding albums and start an impromptu quiz session. 'Guess who this is?" the rotund uncle would ask, pointing to a stick-thin figure grimacing at the camera as though he was planning the murder of the cameraman. Even the God who made him could not have found the resemblance but practice had made me perfect. There could only be one answer to THAT question! And, of course, that sylph-like figure gazing like a deer caught in the headlights is the one asking you to make the guess - a comfortable auntie who needs a king-size bed to herself, if she is not to fall off it at night due to inadequacy of space.

Age has added reasons, did I say? Yes - for, if it were to be now, I would be that rotund uncle surprised to remember that I was a stick-thin youth AND the chap with a skating rink on his head wondering if that head of unruly hair really belonged to me. Bah! I do not want to be reminded of these things.

Thank God, albums seem to have died out. Wait...they are ALL over Facebook. Ye Gods!

Now you know why I do not like...err...'Like' them. I HATE pictures!