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 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 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, 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, 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' 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!