Monday, April 17, 2017

Random queries

People are so unjust. I, too, am a curious chap and have a lot of doubts about the world around me. If I do not make a nuisance of myself asking people to clarify my doubts, and thereby proving that I am observant and analytical, it is merely because people have this unnatural habit of braying laughter when I ask my most serious queries.

Take this for example. I have never really understood why girls pose in photographs as though someone had yanked the straw out of their mouths just as they were about to suck on their soft drinks. And most times it is not even like it is a soft drink advertisement where I could assume that they are supposed to look angry at being deprived of their favorite drink. I seek clarification on this. The women 'unfriend' me and the men share the post with a 'Can you believe this moron?' Come now, is it fair? Others ask questions and you praise them for raising important issues. When I do...

But then I had not understood this interest in photographing oneself. I mean, even in the past, people used to go to great lengths - tying strings to pull and click themselves, setting timers and running like a hare to position themselves in front of the camera, and what not. So, yes, when the 'selfie' thing came around, making it easy to click oneself, I sort of got why it became so popular. What I never did get is WHY human beings so loved clicking themselves? I mean, the professional photographer would do a better job than you, so why did you so want to click yourself? I raise this query on this important facet of human psychology and all I get is, "Of course you would not know. YOU would dread looking into the mirror, so why would you want photographs of yourself?" Ah! Shades of Narcissus!

Maybe the only way I would learn about the deep meaning of all this would be if I started doing it myself. If you cannot learn from others, you perforce have to learn from experience.

I hold my phone at arm's length and purse my lips as though I was about to suck on a straw. I look at the image on my phone...

You guys thank your lucky stars that I dropped my phone and screamed in fear...before the pic was clicked!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Non Sequitur

There was this time when using Latin tags was the heights of sophistication. So, you would die rather than use 'Therefore', when you could use 'Ergo' and so on. Actually, though, I am mistaken in saying 'was' there - it is still widely prevalent.

Latin tags are a great help in developing jargon. You respect an economist for saying, 'Ceteris paribus' and look down on that stupid wannabe who blabbers, "Other things being the same". As for the philosophical debate, you can scream 'ad hominem' and blame the other guy for bringing in personalities into an intellectual debate. If, on the other hand, you merely said, 'You should discuss the point, not call me names', then you are merely whinging.

Naturally, I was very fond of this phrase - 'Non Sequitur'. It has such wide application, considering how many types of logical fallacies it covers and how prevalent it is in real life. The problem, though, is that you will find it easier explaining Einstein's theory of relativity than why what someone is saying is a 'Non Sequitur'.

It is seemingly simple. All that 'Non Sequitur' means is that there is no logical connectivity between two statements though the chap who was propounding them thinks there is.

Take this - 'Yesterday, he gave me an apple and his name was Rajesh. Now, you gave me an apple, so your name must be Rajesh." Do you think that the second statement follows from the first, logically? That is a non sequitur (of a specific variety called 'affirming the consequent', though that is not really important to this discussion).

Easy-peasy? So you do not see why I find it difficult to explain when something is a non sequitur? Well, how about this one - "A baniya cheated my grandfather. You are a baniya, so you will cheat me". Easy to prove the non sequitur? Not really is it? And even tougher when this whole damn lot gets bundled into "All baniyas are cheats".

Ah! Well! Racism/Casteism is difficult to argue against. It should be easier in other circumstances, obviously. So, let us see.

"Fanatic Hindus think all science has been developed by our ancients. So, anyone who proposes to study our history for ancient science is a fanatic Hindu"

Absolutely logical? Why am I even proposing this as a non sequitur? Quite. Saying that there may be SOME useful science in all those eons of civilization is not the same as saying all science was developed by our ancestors? Mere hair-splitting, of course.

Or, perhaps, this

"Pakistan raises issues about Indian Government's treatment of Kashmiris. Anyone who raises any issues about Indian Government's treatment of Kashmiris is pro-Pakistani"

Quite. I mean, my enemy WILL try to see fault in everything I do, so anyone who points out any fault in whatever I do is obviously an enemy. How can it be a non sequitur? A good friend would point out your flaws so that you can improve? Nonsense...no such chap will ever be my friend!

And that accounts for why I found that this term was fairly useless in elevating me as an intellectual in the eyes of my audience. I could not find one single place where I could use it to others' satisfaction!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Straw Men

We, humans, apparently love to give names that are in diametric opposition to the nature of what is being named. Like 'Little John' for someone who towers so high that you need a phone to speak with him even when you are...err...face-to-face, if the phrase may be used even when the two faces are separated by a meter of height. Like 'Common Sense' for the one thing that is so uncommon that people generally react surprised and hurt if they find it in what someone says to them.

So, it is no wonder that everyone speaks of logic, assumes that he is behaving, thinking and speaking logically...and the list of logical fallacies is longer than almost any laundry list you can think of. In fact, it is quite likely that if we blanked out all that is illogical in what is spoken in the world, the world may well be so silent that one would be justified in thinking that it is populated by deaf-mutes.

This straw man thing, though, which we seem to have carried into urban areas in a sort of nostalgia for the rural scarecrows, is so widely prevalent that its absence can single-handedly mute almost every single verbal bully in your vicinity. There is no such mute button, alas, and so...

"This demonetization policy could have been better implemented."
"You are an anti-national supporting the criminals and the corrupt."

Ah! You are not even questioning the impact of the policy, only questioning the implementation so how does it tell the other guy that you are opposing the policy in order to let criminals and the corrupt go scot-free? This sort of thing is a typical use of the 'Straw Man'. You avoid discussing the issue of implementation by distorting the comment and arguing against that distortion rather than the original comment.

"Shut down all illegal abattoirs"
"I am Hindu but I should be free to eat what I want"

Of course, except if you want to turn cannibal. But, pray, why is shutting down illegal slaughterhouses an impediment to your eating habits? Question the implementation if the implementation is spreading beyond the 'illegal' but what in THIS order itself makes it seem like it is against your eating habits? To claim limitation of freedom WHERE it is being limited is logical. To claim it where it is NOT is a Straw Man.

Straw men, though, practically outnumber real men and women in the world. You can hardly wish someone 'Good Morning' without someone getting on your case - "Why do you want only the morning to be good?" You cannot warn someone about even a fire hazard without someone else spouting, "So what? Would you want humanity to go back to hanging from trees and being afraid of fire?" My nightmares are full of countries where Straw Men march up and down, vote in people to power, set the rules by which we need to live.

And I wake up and find that...maybe I am not just dreaming after all.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Socially conscious

I have always been very socially conscious as everyone who has had to shove cotton into his ears when in my vicinity can certify. Why, I can wax eloquent about animal rights, greening of the environment or whatever for hours on end or till someone knocks me out with a scientific blow to my occiput.

The thing, though, is that people do not seem to accept that as a sign of a strong social conscience. Talking nineteen to a dozen about a subject is not enough, apparently, unless you fly business class to exotic locations and do it to a lot of other people who have also traveled in order to do the same to you. Now, THAT is beyond me nor, indeed, am I well-versed in the jargon of the area, so...

(As an aside, I am really vexed with the way jargon spoils everything for me. It is not enough that you SAY the same things that the acknowledged experts say. You need to say it in the same special words that they use to say it or they laugh you out of court if you claim to be an expert. Quite spoils my chances of being considered an expert in anything because my memory is jigged to remember only the concept and not those keywords.)

Given that the talking option was getting me nowhere, the only other possibility was the doing option. Therein lies the nub of the problem. I mean, when I think of having to bestir myself, walking out in the hot sun, actually doing something to clean the environment, or care for stray dogs or whatever...well, you know this enthusiasm for being known to have a social conscience sort of seems rather silly and not worth all that effort.

And, as usual, Social Media came to the rescue. Like take my recent venture at showing my social consciousness. I just posted on Facebook that Cancer was a deadly disease - a priceless piece of information that no doubt upped the information quotient of everyone who saw it - and then went on to say a lot of things about how cancer awareness was important and how my real friends would copy-paste and post this so that all those people in their circles, who thought Cancer was just a nice excuse for claiming Sick Leave, were informed otherwise. There, now, I have raised cancer awareness.

And, of course, I can always sign a few petitions on Change.org asking the Government to be nice to stray dogs and things like that. Nowadays, I am feeling quite noble about how socially conscious I am.

Well, there are always those who would say that, important though all this may be, more is needed from socially conscious people. Greedy pigs, that is what they are, who are never satisfied with what I do for Society!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Miracles

The problem with life is there just are not enough miracles of the right sort. And there are way too many people who will not even allow you to lament about the fact. They will insist on putting in their own opinion about all the miracles that they see in life. Well! What is the freaking advantage of someone else enjoying miracles, anyway, when you do not?

I mean, take all those teeny miracles that I prayed for all through school. First I pray for the very tiny miracle of falling sick on the day of the test, so that I can avoid doodling all over the test note and end up getting whacked by everyone who has a spare minute and the inclination to spend time on the activity. No matter how much I gag, cough and hold my stomach, it does not seem to work. Then, all the way to school, I pray for the slightly larger miracle of the teacher falling sick. One would have thought that THAT would work - considering the number of people who were likely praying for the same thing at the same time - but nope! The last prayer - that somehow my teacher sees some sense in my doodling and passes me - ah, well, even I did not have much hope in that miracle happening. And the adults in my life tell me all about how life is a miracle. MY life certainly did not seem like one to me, let me tell you.

And so it persisted in life. The day you are nursing a headache (Hangover? Quite, but is it really necessary to delve into all those nasty details?) and wishing that the office has a slack day...that is the very day on which all troops are called on parade and asked to work on a war-footing to complete an absolutely urgent project that popped into being the previous night. (How the corporate world loves its military metaphors! Gives you all the high of fighting brave battles without springing a sweat - the clamor if the A/c fails to function has to be heard to be believed.) The one time you make a mini-blooper in your report is the one day your boss is in the mood to dot every 'i' and cross every 't' in your report. The time you want to take off into the mountains for a break is the exact time when your boss has already taken off, leaving you to hold the fort. Praying even for these minor miracles very seldom worked.

And so it went till I quit my job. Nowadays, I hope for the minor miracle of seeing some polite and neutral behavior on Social media...and the net result is that the regular media loses whatever vestiges of politeness and neutrality it retained.

Alas! Miracles never seem to happen...at least not to me.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mobile mania

I think I will never really get this modern world. True, I never really got the old world either but, at least then, I thought I eventually would. The world these days, though...

Huh? Don't get so dismissive...'Old men and their hankering for the good old days'? If that is what you think this is...

You know, we got so used to things being used for the purpose for which they were made. I mean, like we could use the pencil to scratch our backs, yes, but we sold and bought them mainly on the basis of how they wrote. We would have been surprised if someone brought out a pencil touting how well it serves the purpose of scratching our backs. So...

Yes, you got it. I mean, really, a mobile phone is primarily for talking...oh! All right, you people who are all thumbs can use it for more than that...browsing the Internet, WhatsApp, what-have-you though it seems to me that all you do is the same old gossip using newer and newer ways...but what do I know? But do I see it touted as a communication device?

Not really...it is touted as a camera mainly. They sell it as a camera with a built-in flash, a camera to shoot adventure pics, a camera for taking the clearest pics...

And a very specialized camera...you will not waste its abilities shooting any arbitrary thing that catches your eye...oh, no...you will use it only for one specific purpose...shooting selfies!

Looks to me like the manufacturers are preparing for the day when all other uses of the smartphone fail...there will still be you and the phone, so you CAN shoot selfies still!

I don't know if they have got their ideas right though. Are you guys truly all that obsessed with shooting your own face? Searching endlessly for that one shot which will make your face not look nightmarish?

Or, maybe, they have got you wrong. I mean, these are the guys who also think that the time when you call them up for a service complaint, and are peeved about being put on hold endlessly, is the right time to try and sell you their other services. (Or have you never heard the spiel when on hold)

You really do not get what I am telling, do you? Alas! It is not only that I do not get the modern world...the modern world does not get me, either!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Blank

Ever faced the situation where your mind goes blank? Totally? (There you go again, speaking of that as the permanent state of my mind - IF I have one. Let off on me, will you?) When someone asks you something, you think you ought to know it but you are not even sure that it is on the so-called tip of your tongue? Feels like your hard disk has been corrupted when you do not even have the option of calling for service and take your mind off your problems by listening to inane ads while you are kept on hold.

The first time it happened to me was in an exam. (Where else?) I was used to my mind BEING blank when faced with questions - but those were all when I knew I had no clue about the answer or even what subject the question came from. THIS, though, was a peculiar situation. It was not like your not even raising a query because you knew you did not have the answer. This was like you raise a query and the mind goes into a blank spiral - you know, something like that small bloody blue circle rotating on and on, when you have lost connectivity. It is a very irritating feeling to have your mind do that, most especially when it clicks through with a 'Eureka' and hands you the answer, moments after you have handed over the damn answer sheet and exited the hall.

It, of course, invariably happens to me in interviews. There is something about the expectant or, more often than not, sneering looks of the interviewers that interferes with my data retrieval system. I mean, there really have been times when people have asked, "What's your name?", and my mind is still trying to come up with the right answer, when one of the others loses patience and looks it up in the records before him. Interviewers generally have trick questions, more often than not merely to prove that they know more than the interviewees. They hardly ever had to waste them on me - asking me my name was tricky enough for me. (Well, it really WAS. I mean with this South Indian initial-name combo, it is always tough to remember whether to say C. Suresh, Suresh Chandrasekaran or Chandrasekaran Suresh!)

At long last, I have found one place where it does not happen at all, ever. I mean, of course, on Social media. Here, you can have an opinion almost before an incident even happens. When you can just type in any random thing and put up a status or a comment, you do not even need to bother to TRY data retrieval. So, naturally, there is no question of coming up blank, when you did not go down to search in the first place.

And what a blessing it is. This way, you may never need to even realize that your mind is a blank ALL the time.

No wonder I feel extra-intelligent these days.

Monday, February 20, 2017

False Equivalence

A eight year old boy pushes a girl off a swing in a park and sits on it himself. As is customary, the screaming match is far hotter between the mothers than between the children.

There is always a third person, who comes in to cool down tempers and ends up becoming the main target of the more aggressive party if not both parties. This time, it is the mother of the girl who has been lobbing all the missiles while the mother of the boy was mainly engaged in defensive action. And, so, when the mediator comes in saying,"Please don't fight over it. Boys will be boys", there is an explosion.

"Yes! When he grows up, he will rape girls and people like you will say the same thing."

Ah! Our luckless mediator only meant that, at the age of eight, it is hardly likely that a boy will be offering an arm to escort the girl in, open doors for her and pull chairs for her to sit on. IF he did and IF the girl is intelligent, she will skip a couple of steps away when he crooks his arm for she would know that it is the only way to avoid an elbow in the ribs; jump back if he holds open a door, especially the auto-close ones, since she knows he is doing it only to let it swing back into her face and laugh maniacally; and would know not to try and sit with the boy pulling the chair, for the chair would be pulled much farther away than necessary. In short, when you are saying 'boys will be boys' about children, it only indicates that they tend to be mischievous, even when they are not malicious, and not that they have license to be criminals.

There is this widespread tendency, though, to make statements of false equivalence, like in this case - equating the downplaying of the mischief of a kid to the condoning of criminal acts by men - and silencing others. It is a nasty habit which used to be generally adopted only by bullies who care only about getting their own way without regard to others. The problem, though, is that it is increasingly being adopted in public debates of all issues.

In the recent discussions about the Jallikattu issue, it was argued that it was long-standing tradition. People promptly countered with 'So, would you argue for Sati and Child Marriage as well?" Yes, tradition is not a sufficient argument to retain a practice. But if, say, the Central Government enacts a law banning the wearing of the Mysore Turban, and one argued tradition, would you still be springing Sati and Child Marriage on the opponents of the ban? This is use of false equivalence again - the discussion has to be about whether the Jallikattu is as heinous as Sati as to warrant a ban DESPITE it being a tradition. To automatically ASSUME an equivalence is to leave no room for discussion; to deny any legitimacy to an alternative viewpoint. To illustrate, there is a tradition of ear piercing for children - male and female - and it is not like children jump with joy at having to undergo it. The conditions are met here - pain is caused to someone who cannot give informed consent and it IS a tradition. As bad as Sati/Child Marriage?

Much the same happens when people grumble about the implementation of the demonetization exercise. They are anti-nationalists who spit on the brave sacrifices of our men in uniform. Really? IF something CAN be done better and has not been, you have to be a traitor to your country to point that out? IF it could not have been done better, in your opinion, and I think that it could have been, I have no respect for my country? To equate criticism of the government to a slur on the country is the use of false equivalence too.

Societies change not by diktat but by evolution. When you seek to change deeply ingrained ideas, you need to be listened to with interest if not respect. Overstating your case engenders disbelief in your veracity and thus to a denial of the concepts that you espouse. If someone is renting a floor of his house out, and does not like meat cooked in his house, he may choose to rent it only to vegetarians. Start calling him a racist and you will end up creating one in him.

False equivalence is one of the most dangerous things in liberal speech these days. People may not be able to logically counter the accusations but, make no mistake, they will be aware that you are being unjust in your portrayal of them and THAT will render them deaf to all that you say, reasonable or not. You do not endear yourself to people and cause them to be open to your thoughts, when you start your speech by calling them incorrigible villains. You end up making them feel that they might as well be hung for sheep as for lambs.

But, then, if changing Society for the better is an unimportant by-product and the main intention is to gain personal popularity, false equivalence IS the way to go. When has Reason ever gone Viral? Only diseases spread that way!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Of a winner

We are born; we live; we die; and we fight endlessly about our beliefs about what happens after we die. While we live, we seek relentlessly to 'succeed' and we define ourselves and others as winners and losers based on the achievement of 'success'.

The yardsticks we use for success are all out there in the world. Our material possessions, our position in Society, the people who respect and care for us...and, yet, when we see someone succeed against odds, we respect them the more. Like when a Dipa Karmakar, who despite flat feet and lack of top class support, becomes a top gymnast. There is something in us that understands the inadequacy of the material measures we use and appreciates the fact that it is the character that is needed to achieve success which makes a winner.

But, yet, we do need the person to achieve the external success before we appreciate the character which caused them to succeed. The fact, though, is that it is invariably the character that makes a person a winner, whether or not the life and efforts of that person were crowned by 'success' as it is popularly understood.

And, yet, what indeed is character? It is easy for you to be an optimist, when life is going well for you. It is easy to be compassionate and empathetic when you are yourself not in dire need of compassion and empathy. It is easy to be determined when you are confident of success. It is easy to be courageous when the risks are minimal. It is easy to be honest when the consequences of honesty or the rewards of dishonesty are not too important to you. It is easy to be generous when it involves no major sacrifice on your part.

Life can throw curve balls at anyone. When your life turns to one of pain and suffering, can you maintain your ability to laugh? When you are yourself in serious trouble, can you rise above your tendency to self-pity and show compassion and help others in need? When you are fighting a battle which cannot be won, can your determination rise to the challenge of living every day to the full? When your life and your well-being are balanced on a knife edge every day, do you have the courage to rise above the inclination to depression? When you need something badly, can you still be generous with it?

When a life is so lived that the person's character will remain stable or become better when put to the test, THEN is that life the life of a winner. Other 'winners' are mere impostors, who have not been found out yet.

It is a privilege to even engage with one such true winner in a lifetime. To have been born to one - my mom, to have met one in office life and, now, to have known one on Social media is a privilege beyond compare.

I have written of my mom in Child-Like. I have mentioned the colleague in 'Do you have the courage to face going slowly blind?'

This is a tribute to a man who suffered from cancer and passed away recently; a man who never ever put up a single self-pitying post on Social Media, through all that suffering and could still find life funny; a man who could still take interest in the pursuits of his friends and help them where he could; a man who I wish I could emulate.

Rest in peace, Bennett Parrish! In the modern parlance, YOU are a true winner. Or, in the words of the Bard...

"His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that Nature can stand up and say to all the world, 'This was a man'."

Monday, February 6, 2017

Learning from History?

Why this phrase 'learning from history' should remind me of this rather well-known anecdote, I do not know. (Oh! THAT was not an invitation for you to offer explanations about the abnormality of my brain or for speculations about whether I have one).

The temperance advocate was demonstrating the evils of alcohol. He drops a worm into a glass of water and another into a glass of alcohol. The worm in the water thrives and the one in the alcohol dies.

"What do you learn from this?"

"That Alcohol is helpful in killing the worms in your stomach"

People speak of something called a 'Confirmation bias'. You know, something like if you are convinced that your life has been a long story of bad luck dogging you like Mary's little lamb, you can remember all the incidents where you embraced an opportunity and ended up with egg on your face. Your friends talk of all those times when you did the equivalent of tripping over your bootlaces and falling into a girl's lap but you cannot remember any of those incidents to save your life. It almost sounds as though they are talking of someone else's life. THAT is confirmation bias - you only notice those facts that confirm your opinions.

In other words, facts, which support your own ideas, dance a bhangra around you, pinch your cheeks, pull your nose and kick your butt till you take notice of them. The facts that oppose your idea, on the other hand, are coy little creatures that play hide-and-seek with you, lurk in the undergrowth till you are out of sight and generally take the high road if you take the low. Of course, there is also that problem that, if you do catch one of them unawares before it can hide itself, you give it a cold stare and start seeking 'alternative facts'.

But THAT is nothing...after all it is only a small matter of cherry-picking your facts. What is a little thing like that compared to reinterpreting facts - like that alcohol-as-a-useful-vermifuge thingy - to suit your own purposes? AND people talk about learning from history. As though we do not! All of us learn from History but WHAT we learn from History somehow seems to support what we already think. (THINK, did I say? I am very much of a wuss. I should say KNOW, even if I AM talking of astrophysics and am in opposition to Stephen Hawking.)

Have you ever wondered about the fact that this fickle goddess Fortune always supports the leader you detest and does the dirty by your favorite leader? I mean, there is your leader doing astute and effective things, so it is all thanks to his brains and hard work that he achieves his goals. Every now and then, though, Fortune plays scurvy tricks on him and causes him to fail. That other moron does stupid things and works ineffectively, so it is of course thanks to his incompetence that he fails. But, you know what, this tricky goddess smiles on his idiotic bumbling every now and then, and grants him success. (AM I saying that you attribute your guy's failures and the other guy's successes to luck AND your guy's successes and the other guy's failures to their efforts? Of course, I am not SAYING it!) How is one to learn from History when results can be as much from luck as from policy?

AND everyone knows that History is written by the victors - so exactly how reliable can it be? I mean, if I like a leader, say, and he is known to have set the standard by which all human villainy is to be compared, it is of course because History has not told the truth of his sterling qualities and ended up vilifying him. AND that other guy, who I hate but the world calls a great soul? I mean, come on, how can someone who ate mutton in his youth ever be called a great soul? It is proof positive that all the rest of the things written about him is false glorification!

Learning from History means to know how to pick the grains of truth from all that chaff. The problem with other people is that they do not realize that what I can so clearly see to be grains ARE indeed grains and end up picking up and holding the chaff proudly. No wonder, we all learn different things from History and, surprisingly, we are left exactly as we were before we started digging around in all that muck.

If only confirmation bias were the only problem...

Monday, January 30, 2017

Nostalgia

I have never really figured out this nostalgia thing. You know, going all dewy-eyed about a place from where you could hardly wait to get away, when you were there. Feeling all warm and fuzzy about the guys who you dreamed of bashing up, if only you could. Never really thought that it could afflict me but, then, every man thinks he is immune to any disease - till he gets it, that is. So, back in Neyveli for the nonce, all dewy-eyed and feeling warm and fuzzy and all that jazz.

Exactly WHY I am feeling warm and fuzzy, I cannot figure out. Yes, that was the Teachers' room where they passed around my test notes. Not because they were taking turns at admiring my intelligent answers. No. It is just that they were all taking turns at figuring out exactly what I had written - my handwriting being what it is. I was even told that there was a prize for the one who actually managed to decipher it - and it remained unclaimed till the day I exited the portals of the school. The sigh of relief of the teachers, I am told, was mistaken for a cyclone. AND, yet, I am all dewy-eyed in this place which had heard my name cursed in English, Tamil, Hindi and Sanskrit, and in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history and geography metaphors.

Not that the teachers had restricted themselves to cursing. I probably spent more time on my knees than on my ass; more time standing on the bench than sitting on it. AND, yet, these scenes of childish pain now evoke a 'Good Old Days' feeling - hah! Days very seldom become 'good' unless they become 'old', I think. But, I suppose, there IS a special feeling when you visit these places with the confidence that you cannot be made either to kneel or stand on the bench, now. THAT special feeling of immunity probably accounts for that warmth and fuzziness under your T-shirt.

And the people - your former co-students! THIS was the guy who thought that the pen was useful for only one purpose - to spray ink on your white shirt. (No - he is not in HR still reading ink-blots...). THAT was the guy who felt that a show of friendship involved wiping the dirt of his hands on your back. AND this chap...who came first in class all the time with the sole purpose of providing an example for parents to beat up the rest of us kids with. WHY am I feeling warm and fuzzy with them?

THERE, I think I have the iron-clad reason. You see, you may love but cannot be sure that the love is returned. You may feel friendly but cannot be sure that the friendship is returned. But, by God, if people have traveled miles to get back to this place, when you feel nostalgic about them, you KNOW that it is returned!

No wonder, Nostalgia scores are possibly the strongest emotion!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Halos

I have always wondered about halos. Note, please, that 'always'. So, it is not true that my interest in halos arises only from the fact that light is reflected by the shiny dome atop my body which has disdained all covering and preens itself in its naked glory. Unless, you choose to believe that I never had hair on my head, despite encouraging it to grow by frequent watering and copious application of fertilizers.

The days of my youth were spent with pictures of great men with a moon around their heads and ones without. Given that people told me that the former were Saints or Gods and the latter were great mortals, I developed a totally skewed notion about Saints in general. It is a fact that, subconsciously, I look for that moon behind and around the head of everyone who is called a Saint by people. I have to, sadly, report that I never have yet caught sight of one and, thus, have developed a totally unreasoning disbelief in the saintliness of those people.

Age brings with it either wisdom or pigheaded belief or, more often than not, the latter masquerading as the former. It is, thus, that I firmly believe that, some time soon, all these great mortals shall also be depicted with that halo. The difference between mortals seen as saints, and mortals who are merely seen as great, seems largely to be that we think we can emulate the latter and we do not think we can emulate the former. As in, the former are capable of producing miracles and the latter are only good even great people but human in their powers.

Now, we have started considering being good AS a miracle. It is no longer achievable by mere humans, as in phrases like, "I am only a human, I am not a Mahatma". Now that THEY, too, are now more than human and the doer of miracles, it is time to add that full moon to their portraits.

It would be a great service to humanity to do so. For, then, we can all happily relax, free of the guilt of failing to emulate them!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The hard way

Everyone is born naive but I seem to have stayed that way. There is so much that I never do understand though everyone else around me seems to be quite wise to everything. And so I, periodically, need to seek clarifications from my friends. Not that it has been a great help so far but...

There I was, as usual, with a friend, who had that how-long-is-this-going-to-last look on his face, asking him to clarify my latest confusion. A natural one, I thought. In a country where 'Jugaad' is the normal war-cry, this idea of doing a thing the hard way and eliminating a problem from the root up surely ranks as something out of the way.

"How easy do you think it is to change people's opinions and mindsets?"

"You ask me? I have been trying to change your opinion that you have a brain for so many years but..."

"Yes...yes...stop that will you? I am serious."

"So was I. Anyway...tell me what you want to say", he said, with that world weary 'let us indulge the moron even though he will bore me to tears' tone.

"See, I know you think my wearing tracks and tees to your parties is not done. But, if you beat me up for it..."

"I would, if I were convinced you would look better in anything else. As it is..."

"Listen, will you. If you beat me up, do people say we have to work to change your opinions about the acceptability of tracks and tees or to stop you thinking that you can beat up people because of your opinions?"

"The latter, I suppose..."

"If I go to the police with an assault complaint, do they advice me to stop wearing tracks and tees to parties, even if the policeman actually shares your opinions?"

"Well...try going to the police with this..."

"OK...if I leave my house unlocked and there is a robbery, does the police think that I was at fault for tempting the poor thief or do they register my complaint?"

"Where are you going with all this?"

"I mean, does my opinion count at all in this. Whether I think something is wrong or not, it is only the law that makes it a crime or legal. And even when someone is doing something illegal, it is still illegal for the citizen to take it upon him to punish him, isn't it?"

"You astonish me! I never knew that you could even understand anything...leave alone saying it cogently."

Experience had taught me to ignore these learned commentaries on my abilities. In the past, discussions had been diverted to increasingly tearful defenses of my abilities to no avail.

"Whatever...but the point is that, whenever there is an issue of molestation of women, say, why does everyone talk mainly about changing mindsets? I mean, the mindsets about how they assess women by their dresses and actions, say."

"Are you saying it is not important?"

"Important, yes! But if, say, there is a robbery, you do not say that you need to find ways to make all people honest. Or, eliminate all income disparities...certainly not as the first step. All of that may be desirable...but more difficult to enforce than the illegality of the act."

"A Solomon!! But you fail to consider one thing."

"What is that?"

"See, when someone makes suggestive comments to a woman in a bus and she beats him up, she is lauded as a braveheart...not as a criminal."

"So? She is supposed to take it all silently?"

"Not so! She is supposed to hand him over to the police for punishment, not punish him herself. If she is physically molested, whatever necessary violence she uses is self-defense. If the man is trying to escape, any violence she uses to restrain him is acceptable. But to beat him up as a punishment is illegal. And, yet, Society accepts it and the police accept it too."

"You cannot say both things are the same..."

"Can't I? I mean, if you accept that Society and the police can wink at some illegal actions because, in their opinion, it is justified, then have you not given leeway for them to use their opinions to guide their actions rather than act strictly as per the law of the land?"

"It is precisely because women cannot trust the law to handle these criminals that..."

"Yes! You see, when it comes to opinions about right and wrong, we all differ. Comes to...what is that quaint phrase...ah...'taking the law into your own hands'...we are all agreed that it is alright to do so if we can justify our actions to our own satisfaction."

THIS always happens...I come for clarifications and people confuse me further. The chap was still speaking...

"Since EVERYONE is supportive of putting their own opinions ahead of the law, you need to change the mindset of everyone in society to make them law-abiding. Whereas at least a proportion of society will share your opinion on other things. Changing mindsets there will involve change in lesser people and, so, it is easier to do."

He smirked at me with the satisfaction of an Einstein proposing the 'General Theory of Relativity' and I was as confused as, possibly, Einstein's audience was.

When you are convinced to the core that the law is an ass...and treat it as such...

Monday, January 9, 2017

English-Vinglish?

For as long as I can remember, I have always been told to tone down my English. If I had a penny for every time someone told me so, I would be rich enough to be able to not only ignore them but also have people trying to acquire my exact vocabulary as one of the essential prerequisites of success. You know, one of those 'Seven secrets to success by famous multimillionaire...' sort of thing and, since they are generally pretty silent about what the chap was famous for, other than for being rich, it would have been alright by me.

"Superfluous words", screams one; "How about writing so that us ordinary mortals can understand it?" cries the other; "I rushed to the dictionary some twenty times per page", proudly announces another; "Is it necessary to use such difficult words when writing?" moans yet another. And so it goes.

I sort of have an idea of the picture that they have of me while writing. Almost buried in a stack of dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?), I would be sitting and typing my next magnum opus. I would dive in and search through all those tomes to find the most difficult word I could find to mean what I want to say. Then I would google for which of them is statistically proven to be known to the least number of people in the world and, presto, I would type in that word. At the end of the day, I would read through what I had written, do a face-palm, and scream in horror, "How could I? There are seven sentences with three or more consecutive words that everyone can understand!" and mark them for editing the next day.

However right that scene appears, it is wrong (like most things which seem so right that people think that they just cannot be questioned). Totally. I have not looked up a word in a dictionary or a thesaurus in my life. Ever. And THAT means not even to LEARN the words, leave alone to look up words while writing. Any word I know, I know only by reading and understanding the meaning from the context of what I read.

Impossible? Well, you see if I read something like "Wearing a coat with the buttons at the back and inside out to boot, with the tie knotted securely in a sailor's knot around the waist to hold up the trousers that ended somewhere between ankle and knee, he looked ludicrous", I can pick up what 'ludicrous' means. Since that is not exactly the picture of a dashing, well-dressed man-about-town, it is unlikely to mean 'elegant', so it probably means 'silly' or 'ridiculous'. And so it went, through school and college, till I ended up with a vocabulary like this.

I know I am the old model of human and the act of picking up a book of fiction to read does not automatically disengage my brain and put it to sleep, so I could process what I was reading unless I manually shifted the mental gears to neutral. The latest model of human, like the more modern cars, probably has automatic transmission and the disengagement happens without any conscious effort. It is even likely that the idea that the brain COULD be engaged while reading fiction strikes them as a novel, though quaint, idea. I assure you, though, that it IS true of me that my brain remained engaged and I picked up words without ever looking up a dictionary or thesaurus. To the extent that my sister, who fondly gifted me both for a birthday long back, looks ruefully at the books which are still brand new and untouched after a couple of decades...the ONLY two books in the house that have not seen ANY use.

The problem, you see, is in the books that I read. If you read Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' in fifth grade, run through almost all the English classics in the original before you are through with school (Yes! I read them even though I did not HAVE to for writing an exam or some such), and dip into Chekhov and Dostoevsky for light relief, your idea of what constitutes grade school English is likely to be totally revolutionary. It really is no use telling me to write so that someone in 6th grade can understand. I think I already AM doing that - THIS is my idea of 6th grade English because this WAS my 6th grade English.

I try desperately to mimic what others would see as toned-down English. Maybe, if I used smaller words? But then people just seem to think that 'humongous' is easier than 'huge' but balk at...err...'balk'. I try to make things simple by writing things like, 'He was a person very difficult to correct and no amount of education or persuasion could cause him to change his habits' and someone comes in saying with condescending helpfulness, 'Maybe instead of that Ramayan you could just say that he was incorrigible.' How was I to know that 'incorrigible' WAS 6th grade English, when people react petulantly when I use...err...'petulant'?

Maybe I should revert back to Kindergarten and start all over with the alphabet. THAT, though, is, probably, where all the problems started for me. My mom, when I was 3, taught me the alphabet based on 'A for Ambition, B for Bravery....' instead of the customary botanical/zoological route - you know apples, babies, cats and all. And with Y for Yearning and Z for Zeal, you know pretty much that my fate was sealed right then.

NOW, if I wrote in what I think is kindergarten English, I'd still have people clamoring for me to tone down my English!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Another New Year

Here that dratted thing comes over again, setting off that itch. 2016 is kicked out unceremoniously and 2017 walks insouciantly in. "You may call yourself new, laddie, but so did dear old 2016 some time back", I say and try to laugh off that itch. As though anyone has ever managed to laugh off an itch...any itch.

What is that itch, you ask? As though you have not just been scratching it. The New Year resolution itch, of course. Almost every special day is celebrated in some way or the other - some with crackers, others with colors, almost all with sweets - but whoever thought that making goddamn resolutions was a fit celebration of a special day ought to be lynched. Or, more to the point, those idiots ought to be lynched who listened to the gibbering of an obviously insane person and took it seriously. Just imagine...you have this so-called special day and how do you spend it? In doing something that will store up frustration and shoot up your blood pressure for all the remaining days of the year. If THAT is not crazy, I think someone changed the meaning of 'crazy' in the dictionary while I was not looking.

Yeah! Yeah! I know...YOU are too sane to be making resolutions. Of course you think that I, too, must be insane if I get the itch for doing a thing that I KNOW to be originated in the mind of someone who saw pink elephants perching on trees every time he ventured out of his house. The problem, you see, is that, unlike you, I am a social person and the sheer pressure of answering hour-long critical sessions on why I am NOT making resolutions is just too much for me. Unlike you, I cannot snappily answer, "Because I am sane", and have the whole lot of them ostracizing me.

Thus it is that every year on the year, except the first and the last one, I have been starting the year with, "At least this year, I shall..." By which you know how well I had kept the resolution of the previous year. The reason why I did not start off with that resounding phrase in the first year was only because there had been no previous year wherein I had so resolved and failed to keep the resolution. As for the last year...

I really thought I had the game beat. I resolved last year to just continue what I had been doing the previous year...laze around etc....and I had succeeded signally with my resolution. NOW you may think that I had the winning formula and can consider myself as having conquered the itch. I thought so too, but...

It is itching with the backlog of last year as well. Apparently what I resolved last year does not really count as a resolution within the meaning of the term as defined in the statutes governing New Year resolutions. And so...

"At least this year I shall..."