Monday, July 24, 2017

Vendetta

There was this exciting sport which used to be practiced by Italians, more specifically attributed to the Sicilians, called the Vendetta. Apparently, if some chappie took it into his head that another chappie was just the person needed to complete the Heavenly Harpists group and decided to send him there with the benefit of the lupara or some such...well, the entire family of the newly-made Harpist would take it upon themselves to add this guy too to the Heavenly Choir. Some families, apparently, took a more wholesale view of the issue. They would feel that the maker of Celestial Harpists would do a better job of being a Harpist himself if he had his entire family along with him. Accordingly, they would pledge to send all of them to join their own dear departed in torturing the Harps of Heaven and sending angels flying in every direction to avoid the cacophony.

Legal luminaries across the world, either because they are not musically inclined or because they prefer the music to be played here rather than up there, frowned upon this sporting endeavor. Or, perhaps, it was a problem because it could not be marketed like other sports. After all, the other sports worked, eventually, on the basis of personality cults. I mean, come on, if every tournament threw up a different winner and, even, had a wholly new set of participants do you really think that you could get to be interested in it? Where would tennis be if Federer could win only one tournament in his lifetime, as would Nadal, as would...you get the point. This Vendetta game is somewhat like that...you win one, you become the target of your victim's family...till you are dead and your killer becomes the target of your family...well, where is the fun in that? And all that the players would be good for is to endorse coffins...so how much funds can you raise from endorsements from Undertakers alone to keep the sport going?

So, for whatever reason, legal luminaries sort of stomped down on the sport. Apparently, though, it still thrives in secret but...well, if it cannot be televised or discussed threadbare on social media, it may as well not exist, right?

But you cannot keep a good idea down, can you? Even if it has to morph a bit in order to keep in with pesky laws.

So...

"This idea is unsound and illogical..."

There goes that vile chap who just attempted the murder of the idea that you and your friends espouse. "VENDETTA", we all scream and...

"It is a pity that your father and mother met the one time they did..."

"A face so ugly that even a mother cannot love..."

"What did you use to blackmail your teachers into passing you out of school?"

"You have friends? Which gutter did they crawl out of?"

"So you took time out from beating your wife and raping your children and came here to talk nonsense about our ideas?"

The Italians and Sicilians were milksops. I mean, come on, their son is killed and all they can think of is kill the killer or at best his whole family. We, if he even dares touch our ideas, we can convert him into a bastard born of a one-night stand, ugly as sin, blackmailer from childhood...we rewrite his entire history from birth onward; vilify his whole family and friends and neighbors and servant maids and the person who takes out his trash; denigrate his clothes, his car, his choice of pet and even the lamp-post opposite his house; in short, we can make him know what a fate worse than death really is.

Those guys who lay claim to the parentage of vendetta would do well to take our correspondence course on the subject.

THIS is real VENDETTA.

Monday, July 17, 2017

e-Narcissism

I am slowly realizing that if something does not have an e-avatar it might as well not exist. That, though, is not likely to be a fate that Narcissism will suffer. In fact, it is quite likely that it IS Narcissism that drives all of social media interactions. At least, it is that way with me.

I mean, come on, I did not start blogging - which is where I started off with my social media voyage - because I thought of a blog as some sort of a private storage space, a sort of external memory storage, for my thoughts. Of course, I was there preening about how well I write and wanting the world to echo my thoughts. Self-absorbed? But then what did you expect of me? To not be narcissistic?

The problem, though, was that everyone else in the world (of blogging, at least) was also too busy preening to watch MY feathers. So, it was like I had to go and admire other people's feathers so that they could, in turn, come and admire mine. You know what, these others, they are such dumb creatures. Instead of understanding that their function in the world was to come over and admire me they seemed to think that I existed to admire THEM! Such self-absorbed narcissistic people as I had never expected to see.

And then I came upon Facebook. Here, at last, I could find myself an appreciative audience. I showcase my brilliant thoughts, throw out quips by the dozen, and find no takers. What the hell was wrong with these guys? Then, I realize that the same damn thing was wrong here as well. I mean, this preening all day is sickening I tell you. If people cannot take time off to be entranced by MY preening, they must be too selfish for words. Back to the old grind, again. At least, it cost less effort here to go admire others. In blogs I had to read them and give 'meaningful' comments. Here, a 'Like' sufficed, though some were too narcissistic to be satisfied with them...they needed comments, too, greedy folks that they are.

And, meanwhile, all these chaps think I am fool enough to be taken in by just 'Likes' on my post...especially my blog posts. As though I did not know that you could scatter 'Likes' like confetti without even being aware who had posted what. I mean, if they do not even write a comment...

As you may well be aware, I had not risen to the stratospheric heights of being 'Shared' as well. Well, to 'Share' is human, to be 'Shared' is divine...and everyone seems to aspire to divinity rather than humanity! AND they say there is something called Twitter and other such media, each of which would have its own equivalent of how to let someone else know if you admire their preening so that they may watch you preen in your turn, hopefully.

Apparently, there was this chap called Narcissus who caught sight of his face reflected in a pool and fell in love with it. Every time he tried to touch his 'love in the waters', his love also leaned towards him but vanished as soon as he touched 'her'. He kept pining for her till he turned into a lovely flower of the same name.

I rather think that if I do wither away like that guy, I may end up being a noxious weed. Though, from the 'Likes' I get when, rarely, I post a pic of myself one would think that I was as handsome as that fella Narcissus.

No wonder the world of social media is so Narcissistic!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Flummoxed by reviews

You know, I never really wanted the world to look up to me. I was quite content if it did not look down on me...well, even if it did, as long as it kept the opinions away from my awareness, I was fine. What can be more modest than that - just asking to be left alone? But, no, even that is too much to aspire for, apparently.

Well, you see, I read books (What else does one read? No need for the sarcasm - there are newspapers, cinema hoardings, advertisements, user instruction pamphlets...). Harmless and certainly not an area where I thought I would be facing anyone bothering to look down on me. And then..."Ah! You say you read thrillers and have never read Baldacci? Tch! Tch"; "Hmm! Ok, so you read Ludlum and Clancy and all those potboilers. Fine. Anything better than that?"! (I have said this before? So? You do not repeat yourself, often? No? Well, you cannot expect everyone to be as peculiar as you.)

And then people told me there were such things called reviews. You could read them and get to know what books to read and all. Sort of guidebook to books, you know what I mean?

And, then...

"....if only the author would not keep writing tired old tropes...."

What was that? I would not know a trope, whether tired and old or young and energetic, if it bit me in the nose. How was I supposed to make out whether this book was good to read?

"...the author almost manages to bring to life, with words, Daliesque scenes..."

What the hell was that? I go searching for enlightenment and discover that this Dali chappie was someone who messed around with paints. What had that got to do with books? Oh, you mean it gave the same sort of feeling to read the book as when you see Dali's paintings? Yeah, I feel the same way whether my cousin shoves the scribbling of her dear daughter in my face or someone drags me through the Louvre...an irresistible urge to escape. So, how does that help me understand the book? Am I supposed to be a connoisseur of paintings as well in order to understand which book to read?

I really think it is not as bad as a friend caustically said once, "Reviewers forget that they are supposed to inform you about the book and not about what they know about everything else but the book." He was of the firm opinion that they sought to highlight their own knowledge and not what you ought to know about the book. Not true, I think. It is merely that people feel special when they use the jargon of their profession, they feel 'professional' only when they do it and, as a consequence, they end up writing reviews that only other reviewers can understand. Or, maybe, there are these beings called discerning readers though, to me, it appears as though they will use up all their discernment in just understanding the reviews. I must be wrong, of course, I usually am.

So, then I think perhaps the readers who give opinions will be a better bet in getting to know if a book is worth reading. The process though reminded me of Wodehouse. Writing from America, about the new wave of movie Westerns, which believed less in the six-shooter and more on the analyst's couch, he says that the Sheriff calls in the town badman, psycho-analyzes him and discovers that the reason why he holds up the stage, robs the bank and shoots up the Malemute Saloon on Sundays is because someone deprived him of his all-day sucker at the age of six. I needed to do something like that to find out what these reviews said of the book, too.

For one, "I could not engage with the characters" could well mean, after analysis, psycho or otherwise, that the reader did not like the fact that the female character wore stiletto heels and the male character sported sideburns. I may be averse to sideburns but may not think that necessarily disqualifies the person from being a protagonist. As for stiletto heels...let it be, as it is I get bashed up without having male-bashing added to the list.

And then, "The heroine...she is so sexy, I loved the story". Ye Gods! THAT's like loving the movie merely because Sunny Leone features in it...the sort of movies she features in THESE days, I mean. I know that 'fans' is a word that is merely a short form of 'fanatics' and there are such who will follow their darling star through any trash that they may act in but to have that happen in books too?

Anyway, you will now realize that I am still reading any and every arbitrary book. Look down upon me all you will...I am done with reviews.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Ladders everywhere

I must have some sort of vertigo, though it does not seem to be the conventional kind. I mean, I can climb up ladders, literally, and even look down upon the ground. Yes, there is that dry feeling in the mouth and shivers down my spine and all that. I certainly would not prefer to cross over to the next building on a tightrope but, get this, my head does not start spinning nor do I feel the pressing need to end it all by taking a swan dive into eternity. But THAT is only when it comes to physical ladders.

The problem with the world is that it is too damn full of metaphorical ladders. You run into them the moment you hit school. (You probably run into them even before on the "Oh! Your Chintu started walking only at xx months of age? My Montu did it in xx-2 months" basis but, at that time, your parents do not get on your case, berating you for your tardiness in toddling around the house breaking glasses). School...Ah! 'Look at Kumar! Always comes first, scores 90+ in all subjects. You...Even if I total up all the marks in all the subjects, you do not equal his score in one subject' These, of course, were the days that grades had not come into the picture though, I am sure, there is an equivalent of this even now. So, there you were, bemusedly wondering about the fact that people saw you squatting on the lowest rung of a ladder that you could not even see.

By around the time you got ready for college, you HAD started seeing those ladders too. IIT - top rung; Medicine at JIPMER/MMC - top rung with a strong case for putting it a notch above even the IITs; NITs next rung and so on till you reached the abysmal depths at which you were positioned. By then, of course, I had developed a definite aversion to these ladders, considering that it seemed like whichever rung I occupied was the last possible rung in everyone else's opinion.

About the time I joined the ranks of the wage slaves, I found out the ultimate bitter truth. Life was a perpetual ladder climbing expedition. You never got off it. You could only fall off it and be stamped upon. First, you are on a ladder of a starting salary comparison, slowly you are on another ladder where your position relative to batch-mates/friends/relatives and the man on the street was important; then, of course, it is position in WHICH company; then your lifestyle; then the sort of people who you know and who know you, then...

Well, sitting at this end of seeing a job as only a way to earn money to eat, drink and be merry, I was lost in the bleak contemplation of an endless life of being the play-piece on an infinite Snake and Ladders board. THAT is when I developed that vertigo, this swimming sensation in the head, the pit of the stomach nausea and an irresistible desire to take a swan dive into eternity.

AND then I realized that I could just refuse to climb them...pile up enough to suit my modest needs and walk away. Which I did.

AND I thought I was safe. Books, I thought, were safe enough a refuge and nerdy book-lovers a solace from all this endless ladder climbing.

"Ah! You read John Grisham and David Baldacci? No Murakami, no Paulo Coelho...Tch! Tch! AND you do not like Rushdie..."

Omigod! 

"If you have not delved into the layers of meaning in the Kafkaesque prose about an Orwellian universe..."

Now, what was all that? I thought the damn thing was a good read. What the hell is Kafkaesque prose and is this Orwellian universe a flat Earth universe or a Copernican one or dangling on strings or afloat in quantum foam?

"What? You only know that you liked the book? Come on, you should be able to tell me whether it ranks for literary quality with a Jane Austen or depth of characters with..."

Ladders here as well! AND, as usual, I am on the bottom rung!

Does being descended from monkeys mean that we should be climbing something always? Ye Gods!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The humor writing business

Making people laugh is no laughing matter. Someone should have told me this before I...oh, wait, a lot of people did but, as usual, I never take advice that runs counter to what I want to do, like most other people. Until, of course, not taking the advice sets your...err...fundament on fire and THEN I berate the people around me for not insisting on my taking their advice.

Let me please clarify a bit. Making people laugh without tickling them, I meant. (You mean that should be obvious since no-one has yet developed a e-tickling APP? You really do not know the absolute weirdos that you can come across in Social media. Even God would stoutly refuse to acknowledge them as His creation. Of course I do not mean you!) I had no idea what problems I had invited on my head when I blithely decided to write humor.

You see, the first thing about writing humor is that you have to hit bull's eye every time. I mean, sure you have written a moving tale, and the reader looks sad as he reads it. You automatically assume that your writing has moved him to sadness when, possibly, he is only sad because he has been forced to read it. No such chance of getting good vibes with written humor, though. I mean, come on, a guy pulls a long face as he reads it and you can think he is laughing his ass out? It requires more imagination than I possess. With other genres, ‘somewhat tragic’ and ‘somewhat thrilling’ works as a compliment. Somewhat funny? THAT’s a kiss of death. You, what, sort of say “Ha” and stop trying to laugh?

On top of it, you yourself can find almost nothing funny when you read it after you wrote it. Like, say, when is the last time you laughed when you remembered the entire joke as soon as someone started telling it? Except politely, of course, as can happen when it is your boss telling the same joke that he pulls out every time in a party, ever since he joined office in the days of Aurangzeb. It is the unexpectedness of the punch-line in a joke and the descriptions in dry humor that makes it funny. AND for it to BE unexpected to the guy who wrote it, the guy has to suffer from the Ghajini-style memory loss, which unfortunately is not one of my mental afflictions. So, there you go...you write it laughing all the while, read it dead-pan and put it out wondering whether it is really funny or not...

To face up to no reactions. You sort of feel that, maybe, people read and enjoy it but do not always think to write and let you know that they did. But, you know, THAT seems like the same sort of thing you used to tell yourself when you were infatuated with the class beauty. Just because she was smiling when her eyes encountered your face (in stunned, disbelieving and nauseated surprise? Not really. I, of course, refused to see all that!), you delude yourself into thinking that she loves you madly and devotedly...till the day she crosses the road to avoid you and spits at the sight of your face. So, yes, having made a habit of deluding yourself...

Then you put out a humor novella. People known and unknown buy and praise it...but all too few it seems to you. You salve yourself thinking that people just like things for free and do not like paying...and there is this nagging feeling inside that says that, even if people do read you, they read you only because it is for free but do not think that it is worth paying for. So, what is the worth of your writing after all?


But, then, yes you have been listed in the Top 5 humor blogs in India by Blogadda. Perhaps there ARE a few who do laugh when they read your posts. THEN you find that Baggout has listed your blog in their Top 13 humor blogs. It gives you a lot more pleasure, because you had not even been aware that they were into any such exercise and that your blog came to be considered not because of any action of your own...except writing it, of course.

And then when, equally as surprisingly and without effort on your part, your blog gets listed in the Top 100 funny blogs and websites in the WORLD...at No.55 in a list that includes staffed websites and You-tube channels...

There MUST be something right about your writing after all!


Monday, June 19, 2017

The bad old days - Adult

Old age is when almost all that remains of life is reminiscences. (Not that I am old, you know. After all, a chap who has remained single is always young. As in, check out any marital ad. It is always "Boy aged 54...." and NEVER "Senile dolt aged 54..."). AND once you get on to the 'old days' it is not only about when you were kicking and screaming about your dad refusing to buy you your toy train. It is also about the time you found the missing decimal point and saved the day for your company.

You know, those were the days when it was either Engineering or Medicine or, quite likely, finding out the joys of unemployment. Of course there WERE other jobs - it is not like people wanted ONLY engineers to turn lathes and only MBAs to fill in ledgers, but there were not enough going to be sure of employment. (Going by what I hear, THAT is more true of these days! People seem to NEED engineers even to change bulbs, going by what people employ engineers for!) I love unemployment and have always regretted the need to work but the problem was that I also loved to eat with reasonable regularity. The pity was that this need to eat sort of overcomes all other needs if it is not satisfied...so, yes, things were sort of stressful in the bad old days.

The problem, though, with these days is that, unlike then, the stress does not END with getting employment. THEN, once you were employed you were all set. There was scant little you could do with money beyond a point. Once you got a color TV, a fridge and an ambassador car, you had achieved the acme of success. You could wait till 40 before you started thinking of owning a house and, generally, you could afford one. By and large, a job meant that you were set for life, except if YOU chose to change it. The ultra ambitious anyway vanished beyond your ken by taking themselves off to foreign shores and restricted themselves to bringing 'Dove' soaps and Toblerone on their annual visits home.

Which roughly meant that, once you had become an Engineer (and wonder of wonders, an MBA too) and got a job, you were a guaranteed gold-plated success. AND if you did not, a lot of the people around you were sailing in the same boat. Plus the ones who did manage also realize that 'There, but for the grace of God, go they'. So, there was none of this 'You loser, I winner' thing. True you may starve but you starved without someone sneering at you for starving.

NOW - the day you joined a job, you have to get a vehicle on loan or you are a loser. Within a couple of years or so, you buy a house or you may never be able to buy one with dwindling outstanding years of work and escalating EMIs. Gadgets, household goods, foreign vacations - keeping up with the Joneses (Guptas?) is a full-time expensive proposition. AND, above all, the Damocles' sword of losing your job and needing to get one that pays enough to keep up with the EMIs! Thank God I lived in the 'bad old days' for the most part of my life.

AND, going to office through THIS traffic...no, I am not going there, after all I am not into writing horror!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The bad old days - T(w)eens

There is some things certain to be common between 'old days' and 'new days' in the teens, I suppose. Adults generally seem to make no sense; your peers are wiser than Socrates; the music you love is invariably seen as cacophony by your parents and theirs sound like funereal dirges to you; in short, adults think you have no sense and you return the compliment in spades. So, yes, all of this was just about the same then as now.

There is one certain advantage that the 'new' days have over the old. The advent of Infotech, smartphones and all most certainly ensured that you were more CONFIDENT about knowing more than the previous generation. We preferred to think so but the lack of conclusive proof left a certain sediment of doubt, the niggling possibility that we were only fooling ourselves in thinking so. Today, though...though, how long it will last no-one knows. Just as my generation had the curse of feeling inferior to the parents in childhood and to children in adulthood, the current generation may well have the blessing of feeling superior to their parents AND their children, if technology does not keep changing lives at the same pace.

But, I have the joy of knowing that in one thing at least we were better off. After all, we only had to juggle with a handful of friends and worry about the 'He likes me, he likes me not' and generally feeling unwanted and unloved. This generation...If I had been born in this one, my spirits would fly and sink (generally sink) with each FB post, with each tweet. (I put up that pic on me eating breakfast and only 24 Likes? Have people not seen it or is it that lesser people like me? AND that there stupid idiot puts up the pic of his bike and he gets 103 Likes, at the same time! So people do not like me! Despair!) Thank God!

AND this pressure of getting girl-friends/boy-friends! It was such a pain in my times, this boy and girl thing. Up to a point, when you actually hated girls, everyone pushed you into their company. Why teacher even used to punish you for talking in class by asking you to sit between girls, when you washed your hands if you even touched a girl's desk accidentally. (What the girls did to deserve having your smelly self sitting in their midst, no-one said). AND then you discover that girls are strangely attractive creatures and, presto, everything changes. NOW the adults are on your case if you talk to girls for any length of time and if, by chance, you started trying out becoming a Shelley by writing to them, you were liable to suspension and worse. (Those were the 'Spare the rod and spoil the child' days, so...) Is it a wonder that we thought of adults as strangely contrary, slightly mad creatures who wanted you to do only what you do not want to do?

This generation probably has it better. But, for me, probably mine suited better. I mean, getting a FRIEND was difficult enough for me. Getting a GIRL-FRIEND? If it had not existed, any girl I asked would have probably invented that phrase, "If you were the last man on Earth, I would probably prefer a monkey". So, I was safe in my times since hardly ANYONE had a girl-friend and the ones who did were considered the 'bad boys' anyway. Now...that word 'Loser'...it is not the most musical of words to hear when it is applied to you. So...

So, yes, ANY times are enjoyable to someone or the other and NOT to someone else.

AND, of course, the old days are ALWAYS good to those for whom they are the 'old days' of their OWN life!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The bad old days - Child

Once you hit a certain age or, more to the point, once the next generation hits a certain age, it becomes customary for you to start saying things with the preface, "In the good old days..." Were the old days all that good?

Back in my long-gone childhood, in Neyveli, I could still remember how few avenues for entertainment we had. Once you had seen the movie in the lone theater, which would not change for the next 3-4 months if it was a hit, and listened to the cricket commentary on the crackling static-ridden transistor, which happened at best 2-3 times a year, you had sort of exhausted all avenues of BEING entertained. Unless your family made a trip to Chennai or Bangalore, where you had more theaters and, thus, more movies. (TV? What is THAT? And I'm sure you are intelligent enough not to ask about computer games, Internet, Smartphones and other such works of sorcery.)

Yet, somehow, I do not remember being bored. I remember the lot of us neighborhood kids rambling through the woods all day - on holidays - and parents assuming that we will come back in the evening, dirty as usual. (AND not even bothering to say "Surf Excel hai na?" to excuse the dirt. Being dirty was a given for kids!). Between lunch and dinner, a variety of food would have found its way into our bellies - the raw tamarind that we knocked off the trees by pelting stones; the lone half-ripe guava, acquired after a five minute fight with Senthil, along with a half dozen unripe ones; The sucked nectar and petals of hibiscus flowers (Sorry! We kids saw EVERYTHING in terms of eating it); gooseberries, raw mangoes and even cashew fruit. What is more, our parents used to assume that we did not go hungry. And bored? No-one ever heard of a bored kid then - except when sick and kept to his bed. As long as he/she could go out, there was no question of being bored. (I believe things have changed now. NOW if they are allowed to stay in bed with their smartphones they are not bored, apparently; what bores them is being forced to go out. But what do I know? I get my info from parents and they are obviously prejudiced.)

As for games, the toy scene was pathetic then. I mean, a top and a handful of marbles just about completed the entire toy set of an affluent kid. The less well-off used to make do with ball bearings scrounged off the streets, and with bicycles being the main mode of transport other than walking, there was no dearth of them. (Oh! Did I forget the bows and arrows? Made of casuarina branches and twine, with broomstick twigs for arrows. We were a total menace to passers-by.) Such a poverty of toys must have made for really pathetic entertainment (not to mention lack of mental stimulation.)

And yet...yes, they sufficed. There seemed to be an infinity of games that could be played with those small spheres of glass (or iron) and we played them all. Everyday, we could hardly wait to toss off our school-bags and rush out to join the gang. If we lost our marbles (not figuratively, only literally) we could always engage ourselves with our tops. And without tops, there were still games without props - I spy etc. No, I do not remember that even having NO toys ever hampered our joy. AND, when, after relentless pleading, your parents deigned to replace your lost marbles, the excitement, the squeals of joy! There was none of this "Oh! This one is old, has only 57 games. I thought you would get me the latest" about us!

The rush of joy when you heard the tinkle of the ice-candy man's bell. The thrill you felt when, for once, your dad thinks that he can spare the 25p for the cup ice-cream instead of the customary 5p candy. (No 'Oooh! You bought strawberry icecream. I like only chocolate') A life where blueberries and roasted groundnuts were treats and almost all savory snacks and sweets were homemade and you drooled with the anticipation as the smells of cooking filled the house.

The old days were not all that bad, after all!

Monday, May 29, 2017

How I stayed a bachelor

(My very first guest post on another blog, long ago. Now reproduced here)

“Just tell me what sort of girl you want to marry. Leave the rest to me”

When I looked at myself in the mirror in the morning what looked back was certainly not something that girls would be queuing up for the chance to marry. In fact, as Wodehouse could say, it was something that girls would probably run a mile in stiletto heels to avoid marrying. What gave my aunt the confidence to make a promise like this beat me especially since she had not even a nodding acquaintance with electoral politics.

I was young then, folks! Now, of course, I realize that it is one of the regular party games in South Indian weddings. The aunt, whose worst nightmare would be to really have to find a girl for the good for nothing misshapen gargoyle in front of her, has to act as if finding a match for her nephew was her only ambition in life. The good-for-nothing misshapen gargoyle, whose fondest daydream is to be able to hoodwink a girl and family into considering him an adequate bridegroom, has to act as though the very thought of marriage was anathema to him. It was a game with serious hazards – for the aunt. If she failed, nothing was lost. If she succeeded, however, she had a choice of either actually finding a girl or disguising herself as a flowerpot every time her nephew or his family hove to on the horizon.

Even if all the other descriptions applicable to the nephew also applied to me, the one thing that did not was that intense desire to make the life of a girl miserable by ensuring that she woke up to my face every morning. I am coming on all too altruistic here. It is not really concern for this unknown girl but concern for my own self that made me feel not inclined to marrying. Make no mistake, I like women and love all the positives that people associate with marriage. The problem, however, was that if I married I would have to work! Now that was too high a price to pay!

Meanwhile I have this aunt to deal with and a whole gaggle of relatives on the sidelines eagerly watching the match(-making!).

“Well! I want a beautiful, intelligent, rich, talented, considerate and loving girl”, I said.

“Good! Good! We will soon find one”, said my aunt, though the sickly look on her face belied the enthusiasm of her words.

“But, then, if she is all this and will marry me how can she be called intelligent? And if she is not intelligent, how can I marry her?”

That gem of logic gave me the game, much to the relief of my aunt! In fact, with that one single piece of logic I have successfully fended off all efforts at getting me married. There is, certainly, one girl in this world who owes me a huge debt of gratitude!!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Nirvana

"Vinu is weak in Maths, Rohit. I think we need to send him for some Maths tuition"
"As though that is going to jump his marks up from 40% to 100%. And improve his Physics, Chemistry and Biology scores from 60% to 90%"

Yeah, Right! And the wife was probably thankful that he did not want the Maths tuition to make Vinu bat like a Tendulkar, bowl like Shane Warne and field like Jonty Rhodes as well. (Yeah! I know...old fogy, so dated comparisons. Thank your lucky stars that I did not start on acting like Dilip Kumar and all that jazz!)

There are these guys who have no other job than to hunt around logical fallacies and give them a name. Given that human beings operate more on fallacies than on logic (Remember the number of times people have smugly smiled at you, after uttering some totally idiotic gem of illogic, and touted their victory in an argument? So there), these chaps probably find 24 hours per day too few to be going on.

Anyway, they have managed to get around to this one. In fact, they claim that our man has managed to hit two related fallacies in his one piece of dialogue. First, he sees the tuition as useless if it will not jump that performance from 40% to 100%, as if jumping it to anything less, like say 90%, is hardly worth the effort. THAT, they have named the 'Perfect Solution fallacy' - that if the solution does not eradicate ALL the problem, then it is not worth it. Like, you know, not cleaning your house at all unless you can be sure of ridding it of every single speck of dirt.

AND, not content with one piece of illogic, our man has gone on to attempt an entry into the Guinness book of world records with another. Not only should the solution be perfect for THAT problem, it should eliminate ALL related problems or it is not worth it. THAT they named the Nirvana fallacy. (WHAT? You saw the title and expected me to talk of how the soul achieves...You been here before? Yes? AND expected it of me? Ever considered going to a psychiatrist?)

Essentially, the chap, who holds onto the Nirvana fallacy closer than to a lover, prefers no solution rather than a solution that will not bring about instant Nirvana. Somewhat like not cleaning the house at all, even if you will rid it of every speck of dirt, because it will only get dirty the next day anyway. Unless a solution can be found that will clean the house and ensure that it will never get dirty, let no-one try ANY solution.

In a land of quick fixes our man is a lone lamp of perfection. And, these idiots will ridicule his attempts to make the world perfect by calling it names?

But wait...

"The pipe to the kitchen sink is corroded and is leaking, Rohit. So is the bathroom pipe"
"Get me that M-seal..."
"Why do you always go for these jugaad solutions?"
"Come on. You want a magic solution to all problems? You know what is wrong with you? You suffer from the Nirvana fallacy."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Follow the Leader

You know what, every time you really enjoy something, there is always some spoilsport who rains on your parade. But this one really took the cake. I mean, all of us know that the world's favorite pastime is 'Follow the Leader', so you would have thought that no-one would dare point fingers at that. Goes to show that there is nothing really safe and dependable these days.

There you are comfortably assuming that if your leader says, 'Sugar sucks', you can count on it to 'suck'. AND, if later he says that what he actually said was 'Suck on Sugar', you can be sure that it is YOU who misheard him. In other words, you are sure that just following your leader will lead to Heaven on Earth and straight to Heaven after death - if, that is, your leader will allow your death to happen. And then there is this foolish notion in a science that some idiot calls 'Logic' which talks of something called 'Authority bias'.

Apparently, when your revered leader says something and, of course, you KNOW it is right, then you MAY be suffering apparently from 'Authority bias'. THAT you take something to be right only on the strength of your leader saying so is biased thinking; that the leader can be wrong (horror of horrors!) sometimes, or even all the time. Of course, they do say things about any authority - like your teacher, your religious book or whatever - but you do know that all that is only a snide attempt to hide the fact that they are trying to make you disbelieve what your leader says.

The next thing they will do is that they may ask me to believe that the other stupid fellow, who claims to be a leader, can be right at times or even all the time (Oh! You mean they already have? The perfidy of these people). The hell with them. If they do not know my leader is always right, we will beat the idea into their heads!

Literally! THEN they will develop their own Authority Bias or whatever they call it!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Enlightenment

Life is just one problem after another. When I was young, people expected me to acquire knowledge; now that I am old, they expect me to impart knowledge. Ah! No! Not on the basis of teaching the young about the ways of the world. The way things have gone, it is the young that teach the old the ways to today's world, from the language up. (Seen that auntie making a cartoon of herself with her 'Yo' in that Dettol ad? Bad student of her son...)

It is that other thing that people think the old may know...you know, the purpose of life and all such deep things. Or, maybe, it is just that they are thrown in the company of the old and don't know what to talk to these senile idiots and pick on this topic. However it goes, you end up getting asked all sorts of crap and you have to make out like some sort of guru...

The problem, though, is that since childhood you learned nothing. Your brain seems seated safely behind some totally impermeable membrane and allows no knowledge to sully its pristine beauty. Makes it rather tough to spout knowledge when there is none to spout. Like the optimist who opens the municipal tap in India and expects water to come out...

It is not for want of trying, I assure you. All my life I have been thinking and thinking of this thing - what is the purpose of life? What is the best way to live life so as to achieve that purpose?

"Hey! Coming on a trek to the Himalayas? Will be great fun?"
"Nope! I need to figure out what the purpose of life is...and whether going on treks will help me achieve that purpose?"
"Eff it, yaar! Enjoy yourself. As long as you do not hurt anyone, it is a good life."

Hmm! How do I know I am not hurting anyone? Maybe, because I am trekking, someone in Somalia may be deprived of a meal...Chaos Theory, you know.

"Hey! What are you doing wasting your time? Take a course in programming..."
"I need to figure out what the purpose..."
"No time to talk with you. I need to rush to the leadership seminar..."

Ah! This is the man who is going to set the corporate world afire...Should I opt for...but is that worth it?

"Are you meditating? Good. The spiritual life is the only real life. Everything else is Maya."

Ah! Perhaps he is right. But this spiritual thingy...even if you are sure that this is the thing to do, you cannot assess whether you are progressing. You have to take it all on faith. If only I had enough faith...

I studied and studied and studied...and before I could come to a conclusion on what I wanted to do with my life, there was hardly any life for me to do anything with.

And you want me to give you messages on how to lead your life? What do you think I am, a messenger boy? Find it for yourself. For only you can find it for yourself.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Serve my neighbor

There are these wonderful social lessons that most people in my generation learned in their childhood and applied effectively all their lives. Something, though, always seems to go wrong in the works when I try to apply them. Story of my life.

Take this 'Serve my neighbor' thing for example. It is more pithy when I say it in the Tamil original - "Pakkatthu elaikku payasam". Literally, it means 'Serve kheer to my neighbor' and it generally is meant as being used in a festive occasion when a huge crowd is being fed simultaneously.  The intent of using that phrase is to say that you do so to ensure that YOU get more of the sweet dish and not because you are worried that your neighbor at the meal will feel deprived. (I know, that the current generation probably finds it a quaint idea that you cannot ask for it for yourself if you want it. My generation, though, felt it would appear too greedy on your part to do so, especially when you had to scream out aloud for what you needed, with a crowd listening in.)

Even in the literal sense, it never really worked for me. I mean, the idea was to call for the payasam for the benefit of the guy sitting next to you and, when the server came around with the dish, you could ask him to serve you, too, sotto voce, without letting the entire world know of your sweet tooth. Everyone around me used it very effectively but when it came to me...

The first time I tried it, the idiot next to me screams that he has diabetes and he certainly does not want any more of it. The second occasion was entirely my fault. I tried it without noticing that the guys sitting on either side of me had finished their meals and walked away, leaving no real neighbor to be pining for the payasam. The third time, the server came like a whirlwind, served the indicated neighbor and was nearly 100 meters away before the words, "And some for me, too" traveled the distance from my vocal chords to my mouth.

Given this track record of failure when I tried this thing literally, is it a wonder that I could not use it to any great effect when I figuratively applied it? Like the time I was making the case on Facebook for why people should comment on blog posts when they like it. I thought people would understand that it was also indicated that they comment on mine (primarily meant for that? Shhh!). SO many people came around to 'Like' that post and agree wholeheartedly with it that I was ecstatic. As it turned out, though...Well! My fault for not realizing that all those people meant that they should also GET comments, not that they were agreeing to GIVE them.

Needless to say, it works the same way with books. The plight of co-authors so moves me - that people would spend their money, read and review books by known authors, even if only to pan them, while the newbies would have to keep pleading for reviews even after giving away free copies; and all the while would also talk of how new authors had to be encouraged - that I post a plea on that. And find, as usual, a lot of people loving the post but...as usual, it is all authors who only want to GET reviews - not GIVE them. (What about me and what I do? Stick to the point, will ya? I don't like all this whataboutery!) Where o where is the serving that I expect to get out of it?

But, then, I am expecting too much of the poor chaps. I mean, much though they like my writing, even clicking on a link to read my writing tires them so much. So, how can I expect the poor chaps to open a link, pay money to buy the book, open the link again and leave a review? When they only want to rest content after praising my writing, when it is free and easier to access! So, yes, maybe this 'Serve my neighbor' is pretty unlikely to help even other people so I cannot really blame my peculiar abilities for why it does not work for me. Where it has worked, it probably has only because they were people who were the sort to do it anyway.

There is this friend who tells me that the whole problem with me is that I make it too obvious that my intention is only to help myself. Somewhat like screaming 'Serve my neighbor' while violently gesturing at MY own plate. Maybe. If acting abilities were being distributed when I was getting made, I probably was snoozing around then and missed my quota.

Considering that, anyway, I am not good at this 'Serve my neighbor' business...

"SERVE ME, PLEASE!"

Monday, April 24, 2017

Post Hoc

These Latin tags are addictive, you know. Or, maybe, it is that 'Look how learned he is' looks that I got the last time. Ah! There were sizable component of 'Is it really this moron talking?' mixed in but still...

So, here I come with what is referred to as the 'post hoc' fallacy. 'Post hoc ergo propter hoc', I say knowledgeably, and you all nod in appreciation. Ah! Not appreciation but incomprehension, was it? Well, the phrase says, "Afterwards, therefore because of", that's all. In other words, if you think that just because one incident happened before another incident the second incident was caused by the first incident, you are falling into this fallacy. Unless, of course, it is true.

Well, like you switch on the fan and the fan starts rotating, you are right in assuming 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' - it IS your putting the switch on that caused the fan to rotate. But if you switch off the fan, and the entire area blacks out, can you assume that your putting the switch off CAUSED the black-out? IF you do, THEN you are committing the post hoc fallacy in logical thinking.

Almost all superstition rests on this fallacy. It is Friday the 13th and I stubbed my toe, so it is BECAUSE it is Friday the 13th that I stubbed my toe. Like Friday the 13th has been declared the "Stub my toe' day. He sneezed in the morning when I left for office, and my manager rejected my leave application. So, it is his sneezing in the morning that sent some vibrations over to my manager and disturbed his mind. Chaos theory never works as nimbly as when it comes to personal life and its superstitions.

Add to the mix that thing I discussed earlier in this blog - Confirmation bias (I really must find a Latin tag for this) - and these things get cemented in place. Any day something good happens when the other chap sneezes is forgotten - you do not even bother to think back if he sneezed if something good happens - and every day when something bad happens gets added to the evidence and written in stone. And, of course, when something bad happens and he had not sneezed in the morning, it must only be because he sneakily sneezed silently! So, post hoc IS ergo propter hoc, even if the entire world opposes your conclusion.

Well, sometimes post hoc IS ergo propter hoc, but not as clear to all as the switch-fan combo. AND if you want to tell others that it is so, you should not overstate your case. Like saying, when your favorite party is in government, that everything from the monsoons to the success of Rajnikant's movie is because of that. AND when the party that has earned your antipathy rules, anything from the Indian cricket team's losses to your pet dog's illness is because of that. In all that wide list, SOME things would well be 'post hoc ONLY ergo propter hoc' but a lot of it is likely to be fallacy. If you attribute everything then you become like that chap who cried 'Wolf'. No-one believes you about the wolf, even when you can show the place where a chunk of flesh was bitten off your bottom.

But that has never stopped anyone, has it? People still do it even if it is like saying that the chap standing behind me in a queue is my son (After me, therefore because of me?) AND get furious when they are not believed.

If someone changes after reading this, miracle though it may be, would it still be a fallacy to say 'post hoc ergo propter hoc'?

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!