Monday, October 31, 2016


There is this anecdote by Jerome K Jerome right at the beginning of "Three men in a boat" about the protagonist reading a medical encyclopedia for light reading. (Where is the damn straitjacket when you need it?). He gets more and more engrossed in the reading when he finds that he has every single disease listed in it, to varying degrees - the book almost seemed like his autobiography. At the end of it, he is rather perturbed by the fact that he has been basely prevented from claiming a perfect score by his body's recalcitrance to admitting to one disease - Housemaid's Knee.

Of course, at the end of it he wants some clarity about the situation and approached a doctor friend to see if anything can be done to save him. No doubt, he also wanted to take advantage of an attractive offer on coffins and cemetery plots, in case saving him was not possible. What happened after is not really germane to this post but, if you insist on knowing, the doctor advised him to eat a hearty meal and stop reading things that he did not understand. He, in order to complete his cure, went along with a couple of friends on a boat trip and inflicted this book -  'Three men in a boat' - on the world, thus forcing everyone without a sense of humor to pretend they found it funny.

I found myself somewhat in his position when I went to an event in Bangalore where writers honing their talent were reading out stories based on phobias. AND, would you believe it, I found that I had every single phobia that they spoke of. The problem, though, is that I could not see WHY these fears were at all called phobias. A phobia is an irrational fear, says the dictionary (or so people say but I do not know for myself since I have a phobia of dictionaries as well), and I found most of these fears entirely too rational. Take 'Sesquipedalophobia' for example. I mean fearing THAT word is entirely too rational, isn't it? So why then call it a phobia when you fear long words - for, after all, THAT's what that word means. (WHAT?? You do not believe that I have it, because of the sort of words I use? Well, 'long' is a word that means different things to different people. It is just that I am quite fine with three or, even, four syllables in my words and do not scream in panic at the first sight of a word with two syllables. You guys will do ANYTHING to deny me my achievements, won't you?)

There I was, walking out with Jean and Karthik, counting on all the phobias that I now possessed and dinner gave me yet another chance to brandish a fresh new phobia - Consecotaleophobia. Yeah - we walked into a Chinese restaurant and the first thing I saw by the side of the plates were...chopsticks. People who have seen me wield a knife and a fork find themselves out of breath gasping with laughter at the very memory of the sight. THAT, I assure you, is nothing in comparison to what I can do with a couple of chopsticks. (What was THAT angry face about? Oh! YOU are the guy whose eye I nearly put out that time? Hmmm - you have a mighty poor sense of humor if you are still fuming about that day). Tell me, WHY is a fear of chopsticks irrational? Especially for the 'angry-face' chappie from the parenthetical comment?

The problem with the world is that people, instead of going out and achieving something themselves, keep spending all their time in pulling down other people. What do you mean that a lot of phobias are the opposites of others and it is impossible for one person to have all of them? I am the guy who has both Claustrophobia AND Agoraphobia. Just because one fears closed spaces does not mean that one cannot fear open spaces. When in a room, I like to look out a window and be assured that there IS a world out there. THAT does not mean that I actually want to BE out there. It is like a lot of people liking rains. It only means that they like seeing it from within their houses, not that they want to go out and have all that nasty water drenching them.

Anyway, whatever people dispute or do not dispute, the one undisputed phobia I do have is Ergophobia. Anyone who has seen me in the vicinity of work will testify to it - and how profanely will depend on whether my fear of work will saddle THEM with the job of doing it or not.

To return to Jerome, he claims to like work, likes piling it up and looking at it, cataloging it etc - anything short of doing it. I like being more cautious. You can always find the way work is entering the picture by looking at the direction I am running away from. I leave the aesthetic appreciation of work to Jerome K Jerome and the doing of it to people with Ergophilia.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Romancing Bollywood style

It may surprise you to know that, in my youth (long gone, I know, you do not need to tell me), I was also inclined to these rosy dreams of romance. Explaining the way it was in those days will take too long and, to too many of the youth, will seem like fantasy. (Reactions like "Come on! Next thing you will be saying that you played Quidditch at school and waved wands around screaming things like 'Crucio'") I will confine myself to saying that compared to proposing to a girl, killing someone and dancing on the remains was considered less heinous, especially where I lived.

Yet, hormones will not be denied or, in other words, the inclination to stupidity in the teens far exceeds any commonsense a man may possess. The problem, though, was that there were no DIY books or manuals to help you do it. Asking someone for advice would probably get you the indigestion without the indulgence. In other words, what is the point in being pilloried without having even proposed?

Bollywood came to the rescue. Seeing that the boy invariably gets the girl (and a bad end more often than not but THAT did not weigh as heavily then on me), those ought to be the best moves to win a girl. There were multiple methods (Yeah! It surprised me no end, considering that I could not even think of one) proving that there is more than one way to skin the cat (Though why would someone even want to....leave it).

The method that seemed the most suitable to me was this looking soulfully at the girl from a distance and singing mournful songs about beauty and love. If she was not around, you looked at the horizon, as though someone has painted her portrait on the clouds, and did the same. True, in most of those cases, the chap ended up singing mournfully till the end, growing a beard if he could, and wetting his throat periodically - and with increasing frequency - from a bottle of liquor of his choice. The girl generally waltzed away with someone else but...and this is the important part...she did it with mournful looks at the soulful chap.

The major attraction of this option was that it gave me plausible deniability. After all, if someone accused me of mooning after the girl, I can always say I was only trying to remember my chemistry lessons. THAT would rather neatly account for the pained look on the face as well. Trying it though produced markedly different results. The lass of my dreams walked over and asked me,"Why are you making faces at me and bleating like a sheep?" So much for the soulful look and singing.

I summarily abandoned the 'Moony lover' option. It was time to take stronger steps. I need to take the 'Serenading Lover' option, along with letters, roses and the works. More risk, of course. It would really take a liar of genius to explain why he was recollecting his chemistry lessons under a girl's window every day, especially considering that he would also need to explain exactly how roses aided his memory. All that even if written evidence cannot be produced that the chemistry that he had in mind had nothing much to do with what was taught in school.

I decided to try it without much of the other evidence. The serenading, alone, could possibly be explained away. All you do is stand and sing under the girl's window - without the violin or the guitar, since I possessed neither. No-one could readily point fingers at me, at least on the first day. So, off I went, and did my thing.

"What is that howling out there?"
My lady love screamed back, "It is only Suresh practicing his animal imitations, dad."
"Ask him to do it somewhere else."

That, then, was that.

The other two schools of thought involved too much energy and conflict. The 'Macho' hero school involved saving the girl from goons. If you get tired lurking around waiting for goons to assault the girl so that you can rush in and save her, you could always hire the goons yourself. The latter option had the added attraction that you do not risk being beaten up by the goons and the girl dancing off with the macho option of the victorious goon. The problem, though, was this - I knew no goons and had not even heard of any that would do it just for the love of it. And someone who does not even have money for an ersatz get the picture.

The other school depended, like Hercule Poirot, on the 'psychology of the individual'. Given the assumption that women are contrary creatures and do exactly the opposite of what you want them to do, you went around trying to make yourself as obnoxious to her as possible. Ergo, since you appeared to want her to hate you, she would love you.

The idea is that you had to look at her, not soulfully but as though you are planning her murder. You had to tease her and it is especially effective if you can do it with a full song and dance routine with a huge crowd dancing along with you. My imagination got in the way of this 'Eve-teaser as lover' option. With difficulty, I could see MYSELF dancing, but that crowd...I'd probably gather the crowd but only to stand in a ring around me throwing stones. Besides, the issue of hating you or loving you only works if she first NOTICES you.

There was the last option - the 'You are my life' one. It worked on the lines of 'If you do not accept my love, I'll commit suicide'. The point is that it could involve standing on precarious heights making out as though you would fall off it - and, given my perfect sense of balance, I'd probably fall off even before she has time to answer. (You see, it is tough carrying around a rope and finding a convenient tree to hang a noose on, if you choose that variant of the 'committing suicide' option. As for poison, even the ones that have a huge 'Poison' written on them with nothing much else on the label, girls do know that bottles need not always represent the contents - unless you are after a truly STUPID girl in which case she may be stupid enough to accept you. THIS jumping from the heights IS the tried and tested method, though you would find it difficult if you came across the girl on a grassy plain.)

The other problem is that I had nightmares of the girl saying,"I was considering the option of accepting your love. But your proposal to commit suicide, if I do not, is an offer that I cannot refuse" and where would I be, then?

I do not know what modern Bollywood teaches the youth of today. From the little I have seen, all of these options still linger around but with the extra proviso that the men also wax their bodies, a la Chetan Bhagat, AND build six packs around their waists. The more popular ones seem to be the 'Tumble in Bed and talk of love later' option, which works based on pick-up lines; or the lesser option of 'Accidental embrace/kiss'. But what do I know, I am an old fogy now.

Anyway, I truly hope it offers more effective lessons than it did me!

Monday, October 17, 2016

The ability to quote

God must have been having an off day (AND the mother of all off days) when He made me. The number of things that He seems to have left out in the process is truly mind-boggling and it is a wonder that He did not skip putting in the heart, too, while He was at it. (NO! It is NOT a pity) Among the various things that He left lying on the shelf was this ability to quote. (Why don't I stick to only the things He put in, so that you can save time in the process of getting to know all that He did not? Well, who said I was interested in saving time, anyway?)

Take this ability to quote, for example. To have a memory that is word-perfect in pulling out from the archives something that you have read. If only I had this ability, I'd never have suffered so much in life.

It all started at school - like it usually does. You happily write an exam, thinking you have done well, and when the D-day comes, your paper is full of red ink. And why? All because I can never replicate anything as it is and will always end up writing it in my own words. To me, "If there is a certain quantity of gas, increase in pressure will decrease the volume and vice versa" seems the same as "For a certain mass of gas, pressure is inversely proportional to volume" but, alas, not to my teacher. Just because I wrote the former in place of the latter, my knowledge of Physics was valued at zero.

I did not expect this problem to dog me at IIM as well. But there it was again, like Mary's little lamb, at its post even there. Take this one from where I had to write a book synopsis on Male Chauvinism. "Male Chauvinism is the domination of women by men", I started out, fully confident that I was quoting the author from the book. Nope - there went the red ink, again. I seek to find out why my definition had been bloodied, to find that the book says, "Male Chauvinism is the domination of men over women". What is more, I had apparently totally reversed the definition because either 'over' and 'by' meant the same thing or having women before men in the sentence automatically meant that the former dominated the latter. Once again, my inability to quote and, instead, putting things down in my own words had ruined me.

In as simple a matter of my own reading habits, I got looked down upon. I make a comment about reading books every day, with nary a thought of putting myself up on a pedestal, but again I get egg on my face. I just cannot quote a single thing from those I consider my favorite authors and, in no time, I am seen as this pretentious social climber claiming erudition when I barely know the names of the authors. God! You have a lot to answer for.

Of course it continued to bother me all my life. In my profession, quite naturally, since wise words were more important than concepts. In arguments, most certainly. There is nothing that beats down the other guy than saying, "Like Oscar Wilde said, '.....'" Say the same thing yourself in your words, and people look at you with all the pity due to someone who had gone for a hike when they were distributing brains. Oscar Wilde did say, "Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit" (Yeah! I googled it. So?) but I had not realized that it was the ONLY evidence of wit.

If only I had had the insouciance of another friend of mine. HE would say things like, "Like Marx once said, '....'" and push his point. I asked him, rather enviously, how he managed to remember so many quotes. He tells me, 'I just throw in the names. Most people do not know any better. People cannot think for themselves, anyway, and assume you cannot either. So, unless you throw in names, they do not take you seriously." I did not know whether to be upset by the cynicism of attributing quotes or the cynicism about people, and settled for being aghast at the risk he was taking. "B..but what if someone knew he did not say it?" He laughed and said, "Ah! Well! Then I say, 'It must have been some big shot like Marx. Why are you concentrating on small things like who said it? What is said is more important'." THERE! God! At least THIS you must have given me.

The fact remains that I still do not have the ability to quote. AND what a handicap that is, only someone like me can know.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Impressing people

I know you must think that I am a glutton for punishment because I keep going to friends for advice when it has never really worked well for me but what would you do? I mean, you have a problem, you do not have a solution and googling for it gives you so many contradictory options that you need someone to sort it all out for you. End of the day, you HAVE to go to someone for help.

"Ah! So, you want to be more impressive to others? I can see why. It must be tiring to be putting up your hands and pleading for people to listen. And being interrupted after the third word, even if you get a chance to speak. Though it is great practice for being a guest on Arnab's show."

I mumbled assent. Yes, this portrayal of me as a timid schoolboy putting up his hand for his teacher's attention was not really pleasing but what can one do? It is but natural for people to sit on their high horse and look down on you when you ask for advice. After all, THEY get very few chances of putting themselves on a pedestal.

"It would have been a help if you had some charm and charisma. Then, you would not need to learn anything. You would just have to be yourself and people would flock to you. But..." His look said that if, indeed, I had charm and charisma, it was of the sort that made people's eyes slide over me as though I did not exist.

Yeah! Yeah! THAT was news to me, this idea that I did not have charm. Of course, I had, otherwise, been thinking that I was like this Ranbir Kapoor chappie, oozing charisma and all, till this dude opened my eyes to reality. AND, naturally, this blindness to my own lack of charisma is why I needed to come to this guy for advice about how to impress people.

THAT's one of the most annoying things about people. If there is something positive to say about you, they assume that you know it anyway and there is no need to say it. If there is something negative, they WILL say it ten times a day and twice on Sundays, even though it is pretty obvious that you would know it. ("You are going bald. Your hairline is receding", when I still had some hair, over and over again, for example. Yes! Like I had specially ordered mirrors that lied to me about my face and scalp and, so, I needed them to tell me about it.)

"You know, you really do not know what is the right way to act to impress people."

Yes, of course, I did not know that. I needed to hear that from him, which is why I was here.

"It is a wonder how you always manage to do exactly the wrong thing."

Hmm! Listen to my friends and you will believe you know exactly how to succeed in life - watch what I am doing and do the exact opposite!

"Take the way you react to someone telling a joke."

"Yes? I show him that I too have a sense of humor. By capping his punchline with one which is more funny."

"Exactly! Who do YOU think has a good sense of humor? The guy who knows to laugh at your punchline or the guy who keeps talking after that?"

"Obvious! If you do not get my punchline and laugh at it, then of course you do not have a sense of humor."

"Precisely!" and the idiot gives me a look as though he has made an important point. I don't get that at all. Is this the Zen of something or the other that only the saints can get?

"And then take the way you react at work. You point out every single flaw in someone else's work."

THAT was rich! Considering that he had been doing nothing but pick on my warts since I came to him, HIS saying that was like that some vessel calling the some other vessel black. Pot and Kettle, was it? Maybe, I am not up to date with all these housekeeping matters.

"THAT proves I am intelligent, does it not? That I have been able to locate those flaws?"

"Yes? Tell me, when you put up that report and Vivek pointed out..."

"Vivek! THAT fool. He could not see the ingenuity with which I found a way to solve that problem. Just because he keeps harping on a minor error in methodology on one of the..."

"Precisely", says he, with that stupid knowing smirk on his face. Ye Gods! Do all these guys take training with that Confusers or something (Confucius, was it? Well, you know, I have been boycotting Chinese these days), or maybe the same Zen thingy, to speak in parables? I prefer someone who calls a spade a spade. Not someone who tells me a story about a grave digger and expects me to deduce from the clues that he is talking about a spade.

"So, what are you saying? That I should go around praising people always?"

"Well! If you can do no better than you are doing now, yes! IF you want to impress people. The best way to impress is to praise with discernment - of what would have been difficult to do for them AND which they have managed to do. It is easier to be impressive to people when you praise them for what THEY think deserves praise. THEN, when you find fault, they are likely to take it more seriously."

I come to this chap to make myself more impressive to people. AND he gives me advice on how to BE impressed by people!

"But..that...THAT is SO difficult to do. I mean, I have to KNOW their area of work, figure out what is difficult and what is easy in it..."

"I said I would give you a solution. I said nothing about making it easy."

There you go. NOW you know why I think all advice is useless!

Monday, October 3, 2016

A writerly rant

If only I had known that they had totally changed the job description of an author, I may never have set foot into this area. From childhood onward, I had always lagged behind in being up to date with the latest trends but never has it cost me as much as it has now.

When I was young (Yes, I WAS! I did not spring up, all bald and pot-bellied, one fine day), the most difficult thing about the job was the writing. Editors in publishing houses were these all-knowing chaps who could see the merit in a piece of writing and selected or rejected based on quality. So, once you had the writing done well and pushed it off to these paragons, your work was done. If they rejected, no problem. You just sent it on to the next guy and then the next guy till you got tired of enriching the post office. (Oh! There was that issue - no email submissions)

If you got selected, there could be a problem. The editors could well say, "This scene needs a bit of tightening" and such other things that editors are wont to say. It is not like you can say, "Oh! I take in a couple of inches around the waist?" and get on with the job. You probably engaged in a ding-dong of either discussion or multiple rewrites and, eventually, end up with a finished product.

THEN, you can heave a sigh of relief and let the publisher unleash the book on the unsuspecting populace. Even mysterious incognito authors were still in vogue in those days. So the author did not need to walk the ramp, have pics taken in suitably intellectual poses, rub shoulders with Page 3 people and things like that, in order to be accepted as an author. It was enough if he had written a book that was accepted for publication and THAT, by any standards, was as difficult a job as any you can think of, so he was entitled to relax, one would have thought.

Then, apparently, readers were not content with what the book had to offer. They wanted to know the so-called face behind the book. And you know how it goes...if you do not KNOW the author, you could sort of presume you would like him and, thus, buy the book. If you actually MET the damn guy, THEN you really needed to like him and be impressed by him. (You don't think so? Ever heard of an author's personal enemies buying his book? So, there).

So, then there were the book launches, book readings, book signings and all that. You know, in selling other products, things are easy. You can always pick an attractive model to front for the product - it is not like the chemist who worked on 'Fair and Lovely'  had to be its Brand Ambassador as well. With a book, though, the author HAS to be the Brand Ambassador, apparently. AND, if I held a book launch and expected my charm and personality to enthuse people, my charm would certainly ensure that they queued up - to inquire whether they could turn in their copy and get a refund. This need to have charm and presence, in addition to being able to write, had me on the ropes already but that was not the end of it.

Apparently, like they used to say about women in the male chauvinistic days, an author's job is never done. He also needs to give a hand to the over-worked publisher in marketing his own book. You know the problem, right? If you are selling MTR pickles, you are a professional doing your job. If you are selling YOUR own pickles, you are a nuisance, at best, and...well, let us leave it lie about what the worst is. So, what would come easier to the publisher - and would seem a professional discussion - comes laden with all sorts of emotional overtones, when the author has to do it.

To be sure, there are those authors who can push their book with an air of doing YOU a favor by allowing you to buy their work. They may well seek a review from you in such a manner that you feel grateful to them for having given you the privilege. Alas, THAT is another of those seemingly necessary attributes of an author that seems to have bypassed me. Consequently, when I was faced with the situation, I had nightmares of starting my day, begging bowl in hand, crying piteously, "Review de de, Behenji! Bechaare author ko review de de, Bhai sahab!" and have responses ranging from "Aaj nahin hai...kal aanaa" to doors slammed in your face; then, after pausing a bit to wryly smile at all those daydreams of people chasing you with autograph books and pens (Yeah! Old fashioned, I know! My brain talks of selfies and all, but it has still not permeated my dreams), metaphorically pushing my cart of books on Social media, screaming, "Books for sale! Great satire, Goodreads 4.6 Stars, 50+ ratings, only Rs. 99/=", to the tune of people saying, "Here he comes again, making a nuisance of himself!" (Thank God! All nightmares do not come true.)

AND then I ran into this other requirement. This taking criticism thing. No, I am not even talking of the fact that someone will trash your book with a 1 Star rating on Amazon because the distributor delayed delivery - something like trashing the book because the salesperson was rude in the bookstore. (Not a huge issue for someone who gets ratings in bushel loads but to someone who gets them in the tens at best...) I am talking about the fact that everyone and his uncle tells you that, as an author, you need to know how to take criticism. As though learning from criticism is the peculiar need of authors alone.

You know what, I have not seen ANYTHING in life where constructive criticism will not help you grow. Like, when I joined an office, I obviously was learning the job and, as obviously, I had my boss come down on me at times. Naturally, if I took every criticism of his as a personal affront and refused to learn from my mistakes, people used to tell me that I needed to know how to take criticism. But there was a difference.

If my boss just said, "You are an absolute idiot" without any specific reference to the particular idiocy that had prompted the comment and, more so, if he could not point out any such idiocy, I could always scream and rant about it to my colleagues. They would say, "Yeah! He is a jerk. Know what happened the other day..." and things like that. There would be none of this "It is his right to voice his honest opinion. You need to know how to take criticism." If I had found a damn good negotiation point in an ongoing deal and put it up, and all that my boss had to offer was, "In that third sentence, why have you typed 'oguht' instead of 'ought'? Why can't you be more careful?", I could find comforting shoulders when I rant about the lack of appreciation for the work done, and would get none of this, "Don't you see, you should have taken care. Obviously, if he has not criticized your negotiation point, he must have appreciated it." AND if my boss did it to everyone, someone above him would pull him up and say, "YOU need to learn how to criticize to manage people better." So, it was permissible to react differently to different types of criticism, and it was acknowledged that the fault in how you react to criticism may not always be yours; that the fact that you rant does not necessarily mean that you are not learning from the criticism; and THAT the people who criticized did not think that they were always in the right and were absolved of any need to take care in how they criticized.

I know, they probably mean that it is counter-productive for YOU to rant, as an author, because there could be too many such comments and to take them all to heart would stress you out; to ignore all of them would stunt your learning; and, theoretically, it is YOU who are better known and your ranting would spoil your image. But what seems to have happened is that people think it does not matter what or how they write about a book; the author is not supposed to be hurt or angry about anything, failing which he is NOT really an author!

A person who grins and bears abuse, and continues to care for the abuser; pleases everyone around, no matter how arrogantly or abusively he gets treated; never gets angry and never hates anyone no matter how they behaved - the last I saw such a paragon was in the yesteryear Indian movies playing the 'Sati Savitri' style wife. Apparently, now that they are looked down upon as characters in movies, they have shifted to books - as authors! Or so the world seems to think.

So there was the description of this ideal author. You needed to be good enough with the written word to bring to life your fictional world; sufficiently sensitive to get to the emotional pith of your characters BUT insensitive to hurt from criticism; with the charm of a Brand Ambassador; and the persistence and thick hide of a door-to-door salesman. It would help if you are also a Saint, since you need to turn the other cheek, and then be grateful, too, for the learning.

In other words, a good author is someone with the writing ability of a Shakespeare, the charm of a George Clooney, the salesmanship of a P.T. Barnum and the serenity of a Buddha.

I look in the mirror. What looks back at me does not seem to tick any of these additional boxes that an author is supposed to tick. As in everything else, I am late on this - I should have been born half a century back! THAT way, the only thing that may have happened is that my manuscript may have bounced on my face on its way back from the publisher.