Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Old Fables New Morals - The Goatherd and the Wild Goats

You know, there are these times from Aesop got quite the wrong moral from his own fables. Yeah, I know that I did say once earlier that adults makes a mess of learning morals from stories but for the very guy, who is messing up with children's minds by telling stories with morals, to get it wrong...

Take this one, for example, about the goatherd and the wild goats. This chappie, apparently, went out with his goats and a snowstorm hit the place. Finding some wild goats also in trouble, he drove them also to his place. Intending to entice them to stay with him, he fed them better than his own goats for as long as the snowstorm lasted. When the snowstorm stopped storming, the wild goats scampered away. Hearing the goatherd fuming about their ingratitude, when he had taken better care than his own goats, they said, "That is why we are leaving. If we stay, the next time you find some new goats, you will neglect us and take care of them." AND Aesop thinks that the moral of that story is, "Old friends cannot be neglected with impunity for new ones."


To be honest, I thought so too. Till I used that fable once with a bunch of management guys from different areas of specialization. They opened my eyes to the reality of the moral of the tale.


"So, you think that fable tells me I should not offer attractive schemes only to new customers? Nonsense. As usual, you have got the moral all wrong."


"What? What have I..."


"See, does the tale tell anything about any of his old goats scampering away? So, exactly how has he lost? His old friends are still with him. AND, if even one of the new lot had stayed with him, he is better off by one more goat. I think the moral should be more of 'Change is difficult for people. You may not get the new, but you will not lose the old.'"


"Yeah, Right!" chimed in the HR guy. "We entice people from other companies with better pay and perks. That does not cause an exodus of our own people. Pity! There are some we would happily give a farewell party to..."


"You mean, you do not lose any old customers...or employees..."


"Don't go wholesale like that. It is alright for fables to talk in either-or. Whether it applies to wild goats or no, when it comes to people, some 'wild goats' will stick to us...and some of our own 'goats' may leave. The point is, we generally gain in the process."


Hmmm! Either Aesop got it wrong or human beings are a whole lot more stupid than wild goats!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Old Fables New Morals - Hercules and the Wagoner

So, there was this wagoner driving his cart on a rainy day when his wheels sank down in the slush and the cart would not move. The poor chap goes down on his knees and prays to Hercules to help him by lifting the cart out of the slush where it was stuck. Hercules appears and says, "Put your shoulder to the wheel and push it yourself. You will find your prayers fruitless if you do not first try to help yourself first."

The moral, apparently, was that 'Self-help is the best help' according to Aesop. But, then, the Wagoner probably had not done an MBA. Now, if you can conceive of an MBA actually doing things like driving carts on rainy days, instead of making reports about the logistics problems caused by rains, the story would have not ended with Hercules' statement.

"How may a mere mortal accomplish a task that is beyond the strength of mighty Hercules?"

(Note that he would not say, "I bet you cannot lift this cart off, you bum!" That MAY have had the cart off the mud but would leave the wagoner buried in the ground.)

"Lifting this puny cart is beyond my strength? What makes you say so?"

"Else why would kindhearted Hercules decline to help a mortal in distress? If he does, it must be because the task is beyond him."

And that would have the cart off the slush, Hercules' ears ringing with praises and apologies.

The moral of the story would really have been, "IF stroking the ego does not work, try wounding it."

Monday, August 27, 2018

Old Fables New Morals - The wind and the sun

This comparison thing that I was talking of some time back seems to have infected everything. Like, there is this fable by a laddie called Aesop (who seemed to believe that no child should ever listen to a story without being burdened by a moral at the end). And, you know what, even the wind and the sun apparently indulged in this comparison game.

So, apparently the wind and the sun were arguing about which of them was the strongest. Like all big-shots, they did not want to fight each other and risk being injured themselves. So they decided to try their strength on a poor traveler who was wearing a cloak. The deal was that whichever of them made the traveler take off the cloak was to be considered the mightier entity.

The wind had the first shot at it, with the sun retreating behind a cloud and allowing a free hand. The wind huffed and puffed, blew and gusted, buffeted and pummeled the poor chap, causing him to hold on to his cloak all the tighter. At last, the wind retreated in defeat.

Now the sun came out and shone on the traveler. He started getting hot under the collar...err...cloak, and removed it.

AND Aesop wants you to learn that gentleness serves you better than force. But, then, we can forgive the poor chap because, in his time, performance appraisal was not invented yet. As you know, this decision of who was the more useful, mighty, whatever of the two can hardly be left to them to decide. It has to be decided by HR professionals after a due process of appraising the performance.

So, the wind goes in first for this performance appraisal interview.

"What do you think of your performance?"

A shamefaced wind says, "I tried my best with all my strength. Despite my best efforts, I could not make the man remove his cloak."

"Yes, we know! We saw how much effort and dedication you brought to the task. You are a good team-player."

And then comes the Sun, confident that this time he would get a great rating.

"So what do you have to say for yourself?"

Nonplussed by a certain coldness in the query (That passive-aggressive thingy people talk about? Who do you think are the best experts at that?), the Sun said, "I successfully accomplished the mission."

"Nonsense! You were just hanging around, grinning all over your face, doing nothing. Just because the traveler chose to take off his cloak then, you claim you made him do it?"

That, dear friends, is the real moral of the story. "It is better to make visible efforts, even without results, than to get results without making your efforts visible."

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Comparison game

Like all of us, my first introduction to this comparison game was as a child. Of course, I had no idea that this is the game I was expected to play, and excel in, all my life. In fact, this was what most people called life.

There I went, grinning from ear to ear and practically dancing all the way home. A most unnatural happening for me, let me tell you, especially when I was carrying home test results. The norm, under such circumstances, was to drag my feet as though I was struggling forward against the giant pull of Jupiter.

The reason why dancing featured on the agenda on that day? In a moment of aberration, my physics teacher had given me 89% in that test. So, I proudly present it to my dad and...

"What did Kumar get?"

Nothing pricks the balloon of your happiness faster than a question like that, I am sure you will agree.

"95", I said in a small voice, as though lowering the voice would make 95 less than 89.

Well, it did not.

You know, there are these people who go 'Awww' when someone puts up a meme saying "I cried because I had no shoes till I saw a man who had no feet". My dad, unfortunately, was not one of them. I mean, yeah, I did sort of hint that there were these guys who had not even passed the test, a lot who had scored less than me and that 89 really was not all that bad especially considering what I usually got and all that eloquence dashed in vain against the rock of the fact that Kumar scored more than me.

You know, I had always envied the guys who could celebrate the fact that they passed their test, every now and then, just to vary the monotony and claimed that their parents celebrated the fact. I passed every time (barely, perhaps, but still...) and there were no signs of celebration at my home, ever.

That is the strange thing about comparisons. If you dither around wondering if you will pass or fail, a pass is an achievement. If you are habitually in the 50s, a 60+ is ecstasy, but just passing is agony. And so on till you go and dash against someone like Kumar, who always out-scores you. And HE, I am sure, was always on tenterhooks lest someone pushed him to second place and HIS father got on his case.

This comparison game is a mug's game, let me tell you. I mean, yeah, it sounds rather high-brow to talk of shoes and feet and all but it is a teeny bit ugly to feel happy because someone is more unfortunate than you. (Yeah, I know, it was meant to shut up that 'self-pitying whine app' in people but it seldom works that way. It is mostly used by people who have a tendency to gloat). And the problem is that you are still playing the comparison game when you do that. By the nature of the game, you spend a couple of nano-seconds on looking at people worse of than you and then start thinking, "That's all very well but look at all those guys up there" and back you go to feeling unhappy.

And then there are those who say 'Compare not with others but with yourself'. That's rather pithy and nice but the problem is that THAT will make you happy only when you are better off today than yesterday. What if you are not? What exactly do you think makes a retired person morose if not because of comparing his yesterdays with his today?

So, you end up with the guys who say, "Compare yourself today with what you were yesterday, not on the basis of what you had, what society thought of you or any such external things. Compare yourself on how you have grown as a person, in wisdom and realization." Nice...but, you know what, one has to be a Saint for that to work. Else, you look to others to see if they think you are wiser now than you were...and find that they are trying to impress YOU with THEIR wisdom. AND, hey, there you go, comparing "Am I wiser than that guy?"

It is a mug's game, like I said before. Play it only when you are sure that you love being unhappy.

OR if you, like me, want to compare yourself on how lazy you can be. THEN you would find that you CAN get too lazy to bother to compare!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Moral of the story

As a kid, the words I used to dread were, 'So, tell me, what is the moral of the story?' Invariably, whatever I understood from the story turned out to be absolutely wrong and would end up with a long dreary lecture...when the adult telling the story is in a good mood, that is. When in a bad mood...well those were the 'Spare the rod and spoil the child' days, so I guess I do not need to say more.

So, yes, I did like to listen to stories but the thought of that question lurking around quite spoiled the joy, let me tell you. I mean it is all nice hearing about animals talking and all but, when all you were intending is to get entertained, it is really irritating to be expected to have learnt something from the doings of ants and parrots and lice and bedbugs. Quite makes you yearn for the physics lessons where, at least, it was clear whether you knew the answer or not (You know, like 'What is Boyle's law?' and you are sure that you cannot recognize it if it was served to you on a platter). I have a sneaking suspicion that most kids get driven away from reading fiction because they have not been able to get over the trauma of being asked for the moral of the story.

Like that tale about the ant and the grasshopper. Where the poor grasshopper comes starving in winter to the ant asking for some food and the ant asks it why it did not store food in summer. The grasshopper, being musically inclined, was so lost in singing that it had not found time for storing food. So the ant says, 'Now go and dance then'.

And up pops that damn question. My first try was 'Ants are cruel. I should stamp them when I see them'. Nope, that did not cut the mustard. My next attempt was 'Ants do not like singing. They prefer dancing.' That look on my dad's face, it somehow did not seem like appreciation, more like an interest in playing the drums on me. By now, thoroughly vexed and wondering why I ever was interested in listening to stories, I tried, "Singing is bad." And then the drums really started. So, that the moral of THIS story was 'There is a time for work and a time for play' was, shall we say, drummed into me.

So, yes, the net result was I developed a serious antipathy to ants. And grasshoppers too for if only the dratted things had stored food, there would never have been that story and I would have not known how the drum felt when it was used in a performance.

Came adulthood and I thought adults would always know the right morals of the stories. Surprise! Surprise! The only difference was that they did not run the risk of physical punishment that I ran. Otherwise...

Like, there was this tale from the Puranas about Tulsi. Her husband is a demon who is the scourge of the gods but cannot be killed as long as Tulsi is chaste. So, while he is at war with Shiva, with Shiva's trident attacking him in vain, Vishnu takes his form and seduces Tulsi. Thereupon Shiva kills the demon - Shankachud. Coming to know of the deceit practiced on her, Tulsi curses Vishnu to turn to stone. He takes the curse on himself and THAT is why the Shaligram stones are considered Vishnu.

Now, apparently, the Purana expected people to understand that to thus breach the chastity of a woman, for whatever reason, had to be punished even if it were done by Vishnu. (AND if that is the intent, I'd give the Nobel in literature to someone who can manage a story which communicates that 'moral' WITHOUT Vishnu seducing a woman in such a manner). That, though, is not how it works. A lady came around screaming that Hindu gods were always anti-woman. And, I am sure, there would be men claiming, "Why are you blaming me? Even Vishnu did it." as though it was meant as a precedent. (Strangely, though, they never get told the second half '...and was punished, and so will you be')

Essentially, if asked the moral of ANY story, almost invariably people get it wrong. Just like kids. People will understand only what they want to understand. They call it 'confirmation bias' or some such learned thing, I believe, which essentially breaks down to saying that they will first form a belief and then understand facts/incidents/stories in a manner that supports their belief. (If only I COULD use these terms...THEN I'd be considered wise, erudite and all sorts of things that make people go 'Awww", instead of the 'Yetch' that I normally get.)

If only I had known that as a kid...then I could have said, "Even you do not get the moral of the story right, so why pick on me?"

Not that it would have helped much. They would have only said, "Do as I say, do not do as I do" and continued with the drumming.

AND the moral of THIS story is...

Monday, August 6, 2018

Impressing people - the easy way

You know, every time I see people looking at me, impressed with my intelligence or my sense of humor or whatever, I do not even have to pinch myself. I know I must be dreaming.

The thing is, it is so damn difficult impressing people. I mean, when someone has shared a thought, I have cudgeled my brains and come up with brilliant additions to it. When someone cracks a joke, I have come up with additional funny lines. None of that seem to work.

So...(Come on! Yes, I was going to bring a friend into it, why do you have to steal the words from my mouth even here?)

"You know what the problem is with you?"

Yeah! If ONE time a friend of mine will think that the problem is with the other guy and not with me, the Kalki Avatar will be swinging a sword and riding a horse all over an apocalyptic world.

"I'm sure you will tell me."

"Well...if only you knew how to look at yourself in the mirror. Anyway, the problem is that you try too hard."

I did not see THAT coming. I mean, here I was, some sort of an understudy for the modern Rip Van Winkle and I...I...was being accused of trying too HARD?

"Yes, too hard", he said, noticing the look of utter incredulity on my face. "All you needed to do on that day was to appreciate Ramesh's idea. Instead of working at thinking up more variations..."

"Come on! What's the big deal about appreciating a..."

"Well! If your mouth will always outrun your brain..."

While I was dumbstruck, trying to choose one of a dozen insults to hurl at him...

"Think! If you can, that is. If you call him a genius for being able to think that up, he is unlikely to think of you as an idiot, is he? I mean, who can be proud of being called a genius by an idiot?"

Hmmm! This chap...he had a point. I mean, yes, unless I can see the guy praising me as a discerning chap, what would be the value of his praise? So...hmmm! This seemed easy...

"Of course, you will muck it up as usual. Go all wide-eyed and say 'How do you manage to do that?' when someone cracks a yawn, instead of when he cracks a difficult problem. AND then come complaining to me that my advice does not work and people only think you are being sarcastic. To even praise so the other chap wants to bask in your praise...that does take SOME discernment. And unless he wants to bask in the praise, he will not develop any higher opinion of you."

Water off a duck's back. I mean, you can get used to people calling you names if they do it often enough. And then...it is sort of like hearing a Punjabi using swear words. You stop thinking of what they mean and see them only as punctuation marks.

"Does it also work for being seen for having a sense of humor?"

"I knew this was coming. That's even easier. All you had to do that day was laugh at Sohan's joke. Instead, you go trying to cap his lines and steal his thunder..."

Ah! Why did it never cross my mind? I mean, I am the original lazy bum so why in this thing alone did I choose to work more than I needed to? But...

"Hey! That is not how it happens with me. I mean when I crack a joke or..."

"You see, THERE there is a difference. People are not trying to impress YOU, then. They could not care less what you thought of them. They are trying to impress the others around..."

Ye Gods! So that was why...

Fools, all of them, anyway! I mean, come on, I can hardly get an audience for what I am saying and these guys really think someone is going to bother to check THEIR responses to me and be impressed? Fat chance!

Now, time to go and practice laughter which sounds appropriately appreciative...

Monday, July 30, 2018

A license to be rude

It is either that there is a strong streak of masochism in me or that I feel it is better to be criticized than to be ignored. AND, believe me, I do know there is that alternative of being praised but THAT is an alternative that seems to exist only for other people.

So, there I was, feeling the warm glow of having done my bit to save the environment and expecting my friend to praise me for having yelled at the chap who tossed a chocolate wrapper on the road. Expecting him to take a pic and share it to the rest of the world was also a pipe dream at the back of my mind but...well you know my friends, by now.

"Exactly what do you think you were doing?"

Anyone who has ever legitimately expected praise and got yelled at will know exactly how I felt when I heard that.

"What? Plastics are such a bane to the environment and that irresponsible idiot..."

"Yeah! I agree that it is a serious pollution issue. But why do you think that seeing him toss plastic on the road is a license for you to be rude? It is hardly a year before that you were doing exactly the same and, at that time, you did not consider yourself an irresponsible idiot."

"Now, everyone knows..."

"Do they? AND even if they did, is it so impossible for you to consider that it may have been an unconscious action, since this is a relatively new habit. AND exactly why is rudeness acceptable, whatever you think of the man? I could have understood it if you had told him politely and HE had ignored you or been rude to you in return. THEN I would have yelled right alongside you. But, as it was..."

"You always think I am in the wrong. Why, that time when that chap was smoking..."

"Yes! I know! And from what I could see he was smoking where he thought he was affecting nobody. HE had no idea that we were sitting on the bench on the other side of that bush. So, why could you not have merely requested him, instead of screaming at him as though he was specifically targeting you for a cancer victim?"

There you go. If I cannot even yell at these guys then exactly who can I yell at, I ask you.

"And the time you screamed at the neighborhood kid for bursting crackers during Diwali...you never miss a single chance to yell when you think it is socially acceptable, do you?"

"Come on! Why are you supporting all these anti-social..."

"Hmm! Well, they were all quite social not so long ago. That they are detrimental and need to be stopped, yes. But I still do not see why it makes you comfortable being rude to people on that count. Or is it just that civilization is only a micron thin veneer over a rabid animal in your case?"

So now I was a rabid animal merely because I did not say, "Pretty please..." while asking the guy not to chuck plastic on the road. I mean, come on, I have to do enough of all that 'Please' and 'Sorry' both at office and at home, so exactly where am I supposed to let my hair down? AND he...well, I did not see that HE was doing all that 'Pretty please' thing with me!

"So, why are you now being rude to me?"

"Because being right does not mean that you have to act self righteously. Because rudeness begets rudeness. Because people like you pollute the whole world with your negativity."

Self righteous? Now this guy was talking as though I was one of those guys who go around beating up people for not dressing the way I think is right. Does he not know the difference between beating up people for not adhering to MY standards and metaphorically beating them up for not adhering to what is currently widely accepted as the right standards?

I glared at him. He was unmoved and went on with his tirade.

"You should thank God that it has not yet become a widely prevalent idea that driving luxury cars is villainous, although everyone knows they are polluters. The day it happens and with people of your ilk, who seem to think being polite is a burdensome way to live and should be abandoned at the first opportunity..."

Ye Gods! Could it happen? That, unless I ride a bicycle or public transport, people will feel free to scream at me?

I hope they will not let it happen, whoever they are...

Monday, July 23, 2018

Only what I owe

"People are so demanding. They are never content", I burst out as soon as I sighted my friend.

'There he goes again', I hear you saying, and how right you are. My friends seem never to disappoint you in invariably disappointing me.

"What now?" Why that world-weary tone creeps into the voice of my friends as soon as they talk to me, I will never understand.

"There is this author on my Timeline. I even bought and read the damn guy's book, quite nice it was. Now he keeps putting up Facebook statuses about how happy his readers, who liked his book, will make him if they posted reviews. I mean, come on, why does he think I owe him a review?"

"Does he think he is owed one, now? Or is he merely saying that he would love to have his writing complimented?"

"It is so tough to write..."

"Yeah! I know! Complaining is always easy, praising is so damn difficult. But, if you want to make people happy..."

"Whatever!" I could see that this was going the way our conversations usually went and tried to shut him up. It works rather fine for teenagers, I hear, to shut up adults with this 'whatever' but, unfortunately for me...

"Remember the time I told you to surprise your wife every now and then with flowers and gifts and..."

"I know. Whatever for? I mean, I do my share of the house-work, get her presents on her birthday and our anniversary...I mean, every single thing she has a right to expect me to do, I do, so..."

"People WILL be very unhappy if you fail to do what they think you owe them but almost never feel happy if you only do what what you owe. But, then, were you not the guy who could not understand why I bothered to compliment the waiter at the restaurant for his prompt and courteous service..."

"Yeah! Why did you? After all, you were paying for the service and even tipping him, so..."

"It makes them happy, just as a review of a book you liked would make the author happy. It is your choice to make anyone happy or just stick to doing what you think you owe them. Only, if you want to act that way with everyone, don't come to me asking why people don't like you."

"Why would they not like me?"

"Well...that boss of yours...Raghav or some such...do you like him?"

"Of course not! He is an entitled prig. I slave for two consecutive days, without sleep, to complete an urgent job that would normally take a week. The asshole takes it for granted. Not a word..."

"Why should he? You are getting a salary and, after all, he will take it into account in deciding your annual raise. So..."

So? What does he think? That timely positive feedback is unnecessary because I am getting a salary?

What an idiot!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Communication Lessons III

You know, this wiring diagram idea of human reactions really had something in it. I know, I have not had much success with my phrases but I think that there are these words that act like buttons that evoke defined reactions.

My friend has a theory about it. The chap says people really hate thinking, it is too much hard work, and especially when it comes to judging other people. Like, yes, people do love judging other people, it makes such a nice change from being criticized yourself, but to try to make a good job of it is just too tiring. So, they find it simpler to judge them based on the words they use, which is easier to identify, than the meaning of what they are saying. The latter, after all, means that you have to hear everything they say as well as understand...and who has the inclination to listening to others when you can keep talking yourself?

To be sure, there are some words which you think are sufficient to express some emotions, especially when you do not actually feel that way. Like, "Please get me a cup of coffee" is supposed to be a request, even when you snap it like a general telling his orderly to get him one. AND, if the other person is fool enough to say, "Who do you think I am - your servant?", you can always feel injured and say, "I was requesting you. I said 'Please', didn't I?"

Like saying, "Sorry", as you bull your way through a crowd to get ahead, in a tone that as good as tells the other guy that the only thing you are sorry about is that you did not stomp him into the ground while you were at it. Of course, you were being apologetic about it since you said, "Sorry"!

Yeah, those are cases where YOU think that they are effective buttons but the other fella does not, but, as my friend said the other day, these buttons fail only when you try to evoke positive emotions in the other guy. Comes to the negative emotions, though,...

Take these so-called 'politically correct' words, for example. I have always had the feeling that, when humanity gave up on making people THINK and FEEL the correct way, we decided to stop with ensuring that it was done in how we speak. Which sort of accounts for the fact that these politically correct words keep changing from time to time - what was politically correct, yesterday, becomes incorrect today because the underlying negative emotions - contempt, hate, whatever - still remain, and transfer themselves to the new word with the same felicity with which they infected the old.

But, as usual, the 'politically incorrect' words can act like buttons to evoke outrage, anger and outright hate. It does not matter that the word may be used by mistake while the tone and substance of the rest of what is said clearly shows that the speaker did not intend any contempt/hate/anger. In fact, with people who seem to work mainly on the button principle, you are better off when you spew contempt using politically correct words rather than express respect using the politically incorrect ones. Goes to show that with most of humanity, form trumps substance any given day.

And I with my trenchant opposition to jargon...I dread the day when I, with not a derogatory thought in my mind, say something like, "He turned a deaf ear to all my pleas...", and get jumped on for not saying, "He turned an aurally challenged ear to all my pleas...". Or should it be "He turned a differently-abled ear to all my pleas...", now?

AND before you start jumping on me for my 'insensitivity', let me clarify that being challenged or differently-abled is not something I look down upon. I only have respect for anyone who can handle any of the curve-balls that life throws at her and lead a meaningful life. The point is that, if we thought of any of that on the same lines as, say, having black or brown eyes, if the thoughts had been politically correct always, words like 'deaf' would have been seen as no more contemptuous than words like 'brown' (AND, before you say it, I do know that in some contexts even 'brown' can acquire derogatory status). AND, if those thoughts never do become politically correct, we shall always be hunting for newer and newer politically correct words, because we shall keep transforming the new words into terms of contempt from the very moment they are devised.

Thus, giving the button-driven guys more and more chances of feeling outrage. AND, since outrage is what seems to drive most of social media, maybe that is seen as a good thing.

About time I hunted for a secluded cave for myself, I suppose!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Communication Lessons II

I have always been a people-pleaser. Or, more realistically, a people-pleaser-trier, if that makes any sense. You know, the sort of guy who always tries to please people but...

So, of course, I was finding it tough to understand why I do not succeed. Why, despite that permanent ingratiating smile on my face, and those sweet words (smarmy? There you go, making fun of my earnest efforts), people fidget and squirm and run away at the first opportunity. The polite ones, that is. The rude ones...ah, this is a family blog, so I cannot really type in the words that follow, "Get lost, you..."

And, yes, you guessed it right, enter one of my wise friends who are so full of useful advice. It is just my fault that I never am able to use it to my advantage. But, like that spider in the Robert Bruce story, I try again...and again...and again. (ad nauseam? There you go again!)

"You see, there are some words that trigger off some reactions. Say, if I told you, 'A baby in diapers can write better than you...'"

"Damn you! I ask for advice and you make fun..."

"THAT! See, some words evoke anger, so much so you will even forget it was only illustrative..."

That bulb that lights up above the head of comic characters...it lit up for me.

"Oh! You mean like...they work like buttons? Push one button, evoke one reaction, push another you evoke another? THIS is more like it...tell me what buttons to push and what reactions to evoke and I will write it all down."

Say what you will about me, just get me a rule-book to act by and I am the absolute master. It is only when I am supposed to think for myself and decide how to act and react...

"Uh! You make it sound like communication can be reduced to some sort of wiring diagram...but, then, yeah I suppose that is the only way I can get you to understand anything at all. So, tell me, what do you want to learn?"

"I want people to like me. I know I have to make them happy for that, so..."

"Hmmm! I don't know that people necessarily like those who make them happy. The entire 'hard-to-get' philosophy works on the premise that people respect and try to curry favor with those who make them feel inadequate but hold out the possibility that in time and when they improve...however, let us not get into all that. So, you want to make people happy?"

"Yes!"

"So, in your wiring diagram metaphor, you must first understand the nature of the person. When you push that button, there are those whose wires light up the "What does he want from me?" bulb. There are those whose wires connect to the "He is only saying it to avoid hurting me" bulb. There are those who have had a power-cut. They take it only as a statement of fact and move on. And there are those whose happiness bulb illuminates the room."

Busily scribbling all that, I was wondering if I could ask him to tell me how I could identify who was which sort. I mean, yeah, it is nice to know that all this happens but when you cannot trace the wires to which bulb it links to in each person...

The chap was still going on...

"But, you see, the wires do not lead to the same bulb in that person always. It also depends on who is pushing the button. Like, say, the class topper may have a power-cut when YOU call him intelligent but his happiness bulb will light up if the professor says so. Like that girl's "What do you want from me?" bulb went on when a dumb slob like you called her attractive but the "He is only saying this to avoid hurting me" bulb may go on if Ranbir Kapoor said so...Like..."

There was that dizzy feeling, that so often invades my head when I am hearing lectures, even though I was busily scribbling in all that, in the hope that I could make some sense, and use, of it all later.

"That is not all. There is also this thing called mood. So, even when it is the same person pushing the button, if the person is in a bad mood..."

"Hey wait! You mean, essentially it is like you push a button in a slot machine at a casino? Push it and hope for results?"

"Not exactly...but, yeah, for you it is probably exactly like that. You push your button and take your chances."

"What use is all this then? This is exactly what I have been doing all along."

"Well! You asked me how to make people happy. THAT is difficult. Now, if you had asked me how to make them angry...THERE you push the button and you will get the exact result that you want. No problem about who the other person is, who is doing the pushing, the mood...nothing. Though, yes, whether you get your nose mashed up or you merely add to your vocabulary of swear words...that may change..."

"Say, what do you mean? That the wiring in people is more predictable, more efficient in making them unhappy than in making them happy?"

"Yes. You can push what you think is a button for happiness and trigger off anger. But you will never have a complaint about a wrong reaction when you push the anger button. THAT will never trigger happiness."

"I don't believe it."

"Believe what you will. After all, these days, everyone is so strong on their right to have their opinions. So, if people can believe in a flat earth, why can't you believe that people are wired to be happy?"

He walked off in a huff. With him, at least, that anger button worked and, thankfully, not to the extent that he wanted to try out his fists on my nose.

But what he said? I mean, wired to be more certainly unhappy than happy?

It can't be right, can it?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Communication Lessons

What is the one question that almost all human beings seek the answer for? For most of their lives? Yeah, I know, there are those strange beings who want "Who am I?" answered or even,"Why do I exist?" or, if they are really verging on insanity, "Do I exist?" (And, no, I do not think that it is only to assure themselves of their existence that people take a selfie an hour and post it on Facebook.) That question, if you stop trying to look wise and profound and all, is "What do people think of me?" Though, yes, a lot of times you tend to put in one person's name instead of people into that question, it is still the same question.

So, yeah, I bother about that question, too, as much as anyone else and, in my youth, the answer was 'They dislike me'; 'They hate me'; 'They want to run at the sight of me' and so on. (Nothing much has changed? You think you are informing me of something I am ignorant of?) And, by now, you know of my various helpful friends, one of whom said, "The problem is with your communication. You give rise to too many misunderstandings"

Turning over a new leaf, so much so I looked positively green, I walked into college.

"Good morning", I said to Anita with an ingratiating smile.

"What do you want from me today? I am not allowing you to copy the assignment from me."

Vasu interjected, "Nah! He probably thinks that it is his saying so that makes the morning good."

Undaunted in my new green avatar, I used lesson one from my friend. Turn aside criticism with a compliment, he said, and it seemed wise to me.

"You look very attractive today."

"Really? So I was looking like a hag till yesterday?"

"Are you flirting with my girl-friend?"

Ah! Well! Things were not going too well with the compliments. Maybe, I should use lesson three: apologize, even if you are not in the wrong.

"I am sorry if..."

"Sorry for what? Calling me attractive?"

"No, maybe his Highness is sorry about speaking cordially with plebeians like us."

So, guys, here is the lesson on communication. It is impossible to avoid misunderstandings because...

People will understand only what they want to understand!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Bilbliophilic elitism

You know, the worst of claiming to be a reader is that people assume you are well-read. The problem is the books that they expect you to have read. Murakami makes me yawn, Arundhati Roy puts me to sleep and Salman Rushdie stresses me out more than my job ever did. Things have come to such a pass that, whenever a book is said to feature in the long list for the Booker prize, I rush to strike it off my TBR (the 'To Be Read' list which book lovers compile, much like the to-do lists that you make and then forget totally about.) Elitist I mostly certainly am not, duly certified by the incredulous laughter of anyone who ever heard my name and 'reading elitism' in the same sentence.

When I do read any book which has words, metaphors or writing that I cannot grasp, I do not chuck it into the garbage bin and run around telling the world that the book is trash. That sort of reverse snobbery - of expecting to be praised for NOT reading Rushdie, Roy et al and looking down on the authors for being too stupid to write what I can readily understand - seems to have skipped me as well. (Am I ashamed of not reading them? I know this is the digital generation and all that, where every issue has to be a zero or one, but is it so impossible to conceive that I can be neither proud nor ashamed? I mean, I do eat every day and I do not see it as either a matter of pride or shame, so can you kindly make the effort to think that this, too, could be one such thing?)

What beats me, though, is this idea that all books are created equal and it is only individual opinions that classify them differently. I mean, come on, does this mean that no fiction can be bad fiction and none great? That's like saying a masala dosa is a masala dosa, so why bother going to MTR for one (Just to clarify, the MTR restaurant, near Lal Bagh in Bangalore, is (was?) famed for its masala dosa.) It could well be one person's opinion that it is no better than any other, but quality in matters of taste is more about consensus. To say that you did not find any difference may be considered a legitimate opinion but, if you choose to say, "There IS no difference", then you should not be too surprised if people laugh at you, bad manners though it may be.

Food does that to me - makes me digress...and drool. To return to book-lovers, it is fine (and right) for a book-lover not to be judged for the genres he chooses to read. (Like, I'd consider it reprehensible to laugh at someone for preferring paranthas to masala dosas...Ugh! there I go again.) To judge a person based on his genre preferences could well be termed elitism (AND, no, Classics is NOT a genre. Those are books of various genres which have retained their charms well after the time they were written). But, within the genre, there are books and there are books. There are books that you want to chuck away at the first page; there are books that you plow through hoping that the author will redeem himself sooner or later; there are books that you find OK to read but will not regret losing your copy even midway through the read; there are books that you will want to read through non-stop but will not want to revisit; there are books where you come out with some of your own attitudes, morals and view of the world changed to a lesser or greater extent...

So, YES, there is such a thing as quality in the writing and it is NOT all a matter of opinion. OR popularity. Almost everyone of us reads for comfort at times, and most may well read ONLY for comfort. Books that provide you a comfort read are the ones which vibe the best with your own attitudes and morality, your own biases and prejudices, where you can switch your brain off and just coast. Since almost everyone reads for comfort at times, these are the ones that will be the most popular. When attitudes change or when people with a different cultural attitude read, these books fail to appeal, for THEN they will not suit their readers (unless they are so well written that the reader forgets the lack of topicality, in which case they are not merely pop fiction). Which is why most popular fiction has always to be new and topical. Even in such a thing as a thriller, the pop fiction reader will not vibe with a story that is set in a society without, say, smartphones. (Oh! The tragedies of the past because someone in city X could not communicate with someone in city Y except via telegrams!) THAT is why it is said that great fiction has to stand the test of time and transcend cultures...to be read and relished years after the author is dead or by people with different cultural mores or both.

Opinions about how a book measures up on the yardsticks for great fiction can differ. But to junk all the yardsticks and claim that it is all a matter of opinion...

Just because all recipes say 'salt to taste' does not mean that you can dump a kilogram of salt into a kilogram of dosa batter and claim that it has been cooked well! YOU may like it but just try feeding it to others. THEN you will know that quality is not merely a matter of your opinion!

And, no, I do not think it is elitism to say so.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Quantum Facts

You know, as usual, I am behind the curve. If that is the right thing to say of my sort of person. You know, the guy who wears narrow trousers when bell-bottoms are all the rage and proudly struts around in bell-bottoms when the world is gaga over jeans. That sort of person.

So, yes, I was bemoaning the fact that I could not form opinions without knowing facts. Of course I had no idea that quantum physics had invaded the real world.

Yeah, I know, you are astounded at the thought. (Not at the thought of quantum physics invading the real world but at the thought that I even know that there is some such thing as quantum physics? You @#$%) You see, in quantum physics, unless there is an observer, a thing has not happened. So, apparently, all possible outcomes are inherent in a situation but NONE of them have become reality as long as there is no observer.

This chap called Schrodinger then went on to create an elaborate paradox around it. The so-called Schrodinger's cat.

So, if there is this cat in the locked box, which cannot be seen through, along with a radioactive atom (with a long half-life one presumes) and a Geiger counter. The Geiger counter is set up such that it will break a vial of cyanide if it gets a reading of radioactivity. AND the cat will die. Radioactive atoms may or may not decay and, so, the cat may be alive or dead. (THAT half-life thingy? It means that at the end of the half-life, the lump of radioactive material will have decayed by 50%, which means that the other 50% has still not decayed. AND over the period equivalent to the half life in the next round only 50% of what remains will decay. So, any given radioactive atom may never decay in the lifetime of even the Sun...or decay almost before you close the door on the box). When the box is opened, you will see either a live cat or a dead cat. The question is about whether the cat is alive or dead or 'neither dead nor alive' before the box is opened and the situation observed. (Coma? THAT's not an option, thank you. Schrodinger, thankfully for him, did not have to face up to helpful suggestions like this.)

See, the elaborate arrangement with atoms and Geiger counters and all? THAT's because, this thing about the Observer deciding the reality was supposed to exist only in the quantum world. Which means, in this whole set-up, it is the state of the radioactive atom - whether it has decayed or not - is indeterminate till it is observed. So, naturally, whether the cyanide vial is broken or not also becomes indeterminate, thanks to the Geiger Counter set-up, and thus the cat's life is also depends on being observed. In the macro-universe it does not work that way. Or so, Schrodinger and his fellow-physicists thought in their day. They also thought that, once it is observed, the situation resolves itself to ONE reality for ALL observers.

Now...ah, now...

Now, AFTER the box is opened...

Observer 1: "The cat is alive"
Observer 2: "The cat is obviously dead."
Observer 3: "There is a cat. But where is the box?"
Observer 4: "There is a box. Where is the cat?"
Observer 5: "THAT's a cat? You blind idiots cannot even recognize a monkey when you see one."
Observer 6: "What cat? What box? What monkey? There is nothing here."
Observer 7:.....

AND THAT is what Schrodinger escaped by dying. NOW not only does the Observer decide the fact, even in the regular world, but there are as many alternate facts as there are observers.

And I was talking of forming opinions only based on facts. Without realizing that the important question is 'Which set of facts?'

When oh when will I catch up with the curve?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Confidence Lessons-III

The times, they are a changing. And, in the process of changing, they can rob you of confidence as well. Not merely as in finding that your nephew knows more about how to deal with the world than you do because the world now prefers to be dealt with by a smartphone rather than in person. The times, they bring about a change in what is respected and what is not and...

You see, there was this time when someone was called a liberal thinker on the basis of how open he was to seeing everyone's point of view. How open he was to accepting those portions of ideologies which seem suitable and rejecting only those portions which do not. To do all that, a liberal thinker could not have an ideology of his own. (AND, yes, it is really possible to have ideas even if you do not have an ideology, strange though it may seem.)

So, there were these metaphors that applied to such a strange being - separating the wheat from the chaff and all that. This mythical being would seek to eliminate the weeds and retain the crop, instead of burning up the entire field after spotting a couple of weeds OR claiming that there were no weeds; would be able to see that millet plants are not necessarily weeds merely because you are used to rice and wheat; can see that someone could grow grass in order to feed livestock, even if grass is a weed in a paddy field.

The problem, you see, is that I was taught that this liberal thinking was the best way to be. There was this chap called Thiruvalluvar who also put his oar into it by saying 'EpporuL yaar yaar vai ketpinum apporuL meipporuL kaanbadhu arivu'. Meaning that you assess the truth of what is said without regard to who is saying it.

So, what is the net result?

Someone says something and I cannot confidently call him an idiot immediately. I sit around thinking about whether he had some modicum of truth in what he said, whether his ideas are valid in his context, whether the context itself has changed or remained the same...

WIMP!

Where is the confidence of seeing that, if the guy is not one of us, he HAS to be wrong? And what is this nonsense about being a liberal thinker? A liberal is one who holds views that oppose a conservative, it is that simple. All this nonsense about seeing whether he has a point...are you a bloody conservative, after all?

You see, I have not been able to move with the times. The definition of liberal thinking has changed but I have not changed in tune with the times. And my sort of liberal thinking...only losers think that way.

No-one can stop a man who knows he is in the right and keeps coming, even if his knowledge of his rightness is totally erroneous. The chap who stops to wonder whether he is indeed right, though...

I am afraid I am never going to appear confident, after all.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Confidence Lessons-II

Maybe my friend is right. I have not even taken the first step towards appearing confident. I mean, when I do not even think that I have a right to my opinion, how can I ever appear confident? Even the baby in diapers, these days, is sure that it has a right to its opinion and I claim to be an adult.

You know, the problem is that I am always looking for facts and, if the facts do not comprehensively prove it one way or the other, I tend to feel diffident about my opinion even when it is supported by a majority of the known facts. AND if it is an area where I do not have the facts to even feel that a preponderance of the facts support my opinion, I feel stupid about holding any opinions at all.

I sort of used to feel that I had the support of most people in my attitude. Like, for example, I do not see people vehemently arguing about whether the String Theory is stupid or the M-Theory is lunatic. (WHAT are they? Don't ask me, ask your physics teacher. I would only misguide you.) They seem to have no opinions at all about those things, just like me. (Of course, there are people just sloshing with so much confidence that they can dispute science, too. Like the lot who is confident that the 'round Earth' is a lie foisted on us by evil scientists OR the ones who are sure that Darwin belongs in a lunatic asylum for not realizing that Man was made by God and lost a rib to create Woman. But those soar so high in the realms of confidence that they are beyond the reach of most of us.)

Where I erred is in assuming that the same yardstick should be used for everything. This total lack of understanding of the fact that what applies to Science can be conveniently discarded when it came to philosophy or politics or sociology...THAT is what has destroyed me. I mean, come on, where is the confident guy who asserts that "There is no God" and where is this wimpy loser who says, "I don't know. Maybe He is jaunting around the Andromeda Galaxy or maybe He is only a figment of our collective imaginations."

You see, this kinky brain of mine has been the problem as always. There may be lamps which give birth to genies when rubbed and the genies may grant you three wishes when so born. If I want to sort out all my life's problems by rubbing lamps, I need to have an opinion here - that this genie business is true. Otherwise, I would not be setting out to hunt up lamps to rub.

If I do not intend to rely on genies to get me a girl-friend or pay up my Income Tax, do I have to necessarily have a wholesale opinion about all lamps and their potential to be fecund genie producers? I am a lazy bum, as everyone who knows me will certify in triplicate, and I sort of find it sufficient to believe that I will not get such a lamp...I really do not have to make the effort to have an opinion about all lamps from the dawn of time to now.

If I am that lazy even about lamps, why would I bother about to hold opinions about gods or whether they give boons or what their motives would be to cause suffering or whatever? Or about the mysterious ways of politicians or economists or bureaucrats. AND, when I do not have either the knowledge or the facts, I do not even know that I have a right to an opinion, leave alone the right to express my opinions. More evil has been caused in the world by the spreading of uninformed opinions than by villains, as far as I can see. In fact, no villain can ever succeed unless he manages to get people to accept and spread ignorant prejudices.

All that sounds nice and all, but the hassle is that it makes me out into such a wimp. There is a peculiar confidence that bolsters you, when you wear the blinkers of uninformed opinions, because you can see so many people around you wearing the same. THEN you can assert your point of view, and hold your ground against people wearing a different set of blinkers, confident in the support of the multitude who are like you. Skip wearing blinkers totally and you stand all alone.

AND you cannot stand confidently when the only banner you are waving just says,

"I DON'T KNOW"

Monday, May 21, 2018

Confidence Lessons

This confidence thing always has me beat. Not the thing about 'being confident', that's relatively a simple affair especially when you stick to doing what you know how to do. Like sleeping. The bugbear for me has always been 'appearing confident'.

Like the time when I was first appearing for interviews. About the first thing people told me was to maintain eye-contact in order to appear confident. And the first interviewer I come across steadfastly looks down all the time at my CV, no doubt captivated by the fiction I had written there about how much I loved engineering or, perhaps, busy trying to reconcile that fiction with the pathetic performance in all the subjects that related to engineering. Whatever it was, the only way I could have maintained eye-contact with that chap was if I was lying down on his lap and I understand that THAT is not the acceptable posture for interviewees.

The next time I was interviewed, the chap takes one look at me and snaps, "Why are you goggling at me like that?" Somehow it did not sound to me like an interview question and, even if it was, it felt that the right answer to that question was not "I was maintaining eye-contact so that I could appear confident." So much for eye-contact.

But that, I am sure, is the least of my problems with appearing confident. The primary issue seems to be something wrong in the wiring in my brain. (I so HAVE a brain, damn you, and I am not slipping in any lie, so there!) You see, I do not actually see anything from the right point of view and that is what is messing me up.

You see, for example, if someone says, "A friend in need is a friend indeed", what do you think?

'Well, did Reema help me last time when I needed some money? Maybe she is not really a friend.' 

'Achyut did kick in with cash that time when I ran short of funds for the party.' 

And so on, right? I mean, you know that it has to be applied to all the people around you, don't you?

Me - I am too stupid for that. What I end up doing is applying that to myself. Am I really a friend, did I always help my friends when they needed me? etc etc. And beat myself over the head about it.

Does it stop there? You say something about the ideal subordinates and, instead of assessing my subordinates on those criteria, I start assessing myself as a subordinate. Say something about bosses, ditto. Idiotic, I know, but...(What was that you said? None of that surprised you cos you knew I was a congenital idiot? Sheesh...a man cannot even rant without someone calling him names!)

The net result of all this is that I spend so much time wondering about whether my thoughts and behavior are really right, for me to project confidence. Respect comes to that man who seems to KNOW that he is right.

That knowledge generally means that you should be the sort who thinks that, if there is something wrong, it is always wrong with the other guy, never with you.

THAT way lies confidence. Alas, as usual, it is a lesson that will never benefit me!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Empathy?

I was reading this poem that kept popping up on my timeline on Facebook. I know, I know, I hardly ever read poetry because I never really understand it. But, what can you do if it keeps popping up? If you do not read it, you will be left behind and cut a sorry figure on Social media...what this fear of being out of the loop can do to people, you ought to know by now.

Anyway, now that you are done with the heckling, let me get back to that poem. The chap was lamenting how people kept telling him 'This too shall pass' or 'These things are sent down to test you' and 'You should have done this or that or the other' when all he wanted them to do was to show that they cared.

Now THAT is something that I can understand. I, too, want people to show that they care for me. Instead, what do I get?

I am just about to press the bell of my friend's house, to which I had invited myself for dinner, when I hear voices from inside.

"You should have told him we had to go out for a wedding, when he called up and told you he was coming for dinner."

Do I hear my friend say, "Don't tell me what I should have done?" Nope, the ass, he grunts in acknowledgement and says, "I know. It just did not strike me at that moment."

Or witness this scene as I am watching TV at a cousin's place while he and his friend are chatting in whispers in a corner.

"Never mind. This, too, shall pass."

"But when? He is not even saying when he will go."

I am sure that even my parents were told, "These things are sent down to test us" on one of those various occasions when they have had to grapple with the idea of what they had let themselves in for when they birthed me. And have replied, "This is too hard a test. I did not sign up to be a martyr."

So, yes, as usual, I lament that this thing that the poet said did not apply to my own circle. THEY never were angry with the people who told them all those things that the poet was so worked up about. Instead, all the ire seemed centered around me.

And, as usual, my friend replies, "Have you ever cared for anyone? Seen how it looks from their point of view? If you have shown more empathy, then they too may like you better, may show you more empathy."

I like that!! I mean, come on, I did not see that poet sort of think that, maybe, this was how those people knew how to show that they cared. That they did not know a better way. So, he can seek empathy without showing any and people will praise him and share him all over the place.

I, too, am like that chap. So busy looking for empathy that I cannot be bothered to show any. So, why pick on me?

Monday, May 7, 2018

How you ought to live - IV

There are those people who have a rather wholesale idea about thinking up ways for 'How you ought to live'. Most people are content dealing with people on a piecemeal basis but these...they are more ambitious. They prefer to deal with ALL people; to tell ALL of them how they ought to live.

There was this chap some time back, with a frugal taste in mustaches and a fetish for people shooting out their hands at him. He had this idea that people should be in three classes, apparently - those who occupied gas ovens, those who ensured that the gas oven occupants did it in an orderly manner, and those who battled the rest of world to ensure that everyone accepted that this was how they ought to live.

Not everyone in this category is that extreme, however. There are those who are content with, say, people learning how to breathe of a morning; or those who only want people to stand around and laugh in parks; or those who are happy if people merely drank a liter of water or avoided dairy foods or some such; why, some do not even want to intrude too much in your life - all they want is for you to periodically put in money in their coffers.

The most active ones, though, have very strong ideas on how you ought to live. The thing is that their idea seems to be one of making you either a 'basher' or a 'bashee'. So, the way you ought to live is by bashing up the 'others' and the way the others ought to live is by getting bashed or going away. Nice, if you end up in the right category, one would think...but for one small hitch.

If only the bashees would accept their position, all would be well, if you are a basher. Unfortunately, someone or the other among them rises up with a similar idea of 'How you ought to live'. The problem, though, is that he wants THEM to be the 'Bashers'. So, as it stands, you have a good chance of being the 'Bashee' for someone or the other. AND, as an incompetent at the art of bashing, you know that the way you ought to live will always be as the 'Bashee'.

It was nice when these 'wholesale' gentlemen were only fringe elements. Now, EVERYONE seems to accept one of the Basher/Bashee sub-sects, so...

It is not longer about 'How you ought to live'. It looks like it will soon be 'Whether you ought to live'.

Monday, April 30, 2018

How you ought to live - III

This micro-managing of life, it is not all about 'How you ought to eat'  though that has been the most vexing thing for me. I mean, yeah, I am of those who 'live to eat' but I do not much fancy the idea of living my whole life learning how to eat. I have accepted being inept in almost everything but to make me feel inept even in the act of eating was going a bit too far.

That does not mean that this micro-managing has stopped at eating, though. What irritates the most is that first the defined way you ought to live your life makes a career choice for you and, then the damn career choice starts defining all the rest of your life.

Take the clothing, for example. I know, I have wept copiously all about it, raged at that sartorial strangler that people call a tie, fumed at the fact that people expected me to swelter in the heat of an Indian summer in three piece suits...(Awright! I did not say I DID all that, did I? Just because people expected it, I could not walk around with sweat pouring down me like I were some sort of walking fountain. Not that I do not spout sweat anyway.). You know, the funny thing is that, once you pick a career, you automatically are restricted in what you can choose to wear. "Who would think you are a manager, if you lounge around the house in a lungi?"; "Come on! You are a doctor! How can you be pottering around in shorts that have never seen a detergent in their life?"; "Walk around in grease-stained overalls and people will take you for a mechanic, not an engineer." Familiar? I mean, even a Swamiji has a dress code. Would you take someone in Bermudas and T-shirts for a god-man? (AND, yes, I'd rather not talk about the 'How you ought to dress' for a woman - that will take a whole book and will still leave a lot unsaid).

Do I really need to say anything about gelled hair, unkempt beard, tattoos and the rest? I mean, really, if I had my eyebrows pierced and a ring through it, tattoos on my cheek, and hair streaked in technicolor, would PwC let me even get INTO the interview room for a top management position? Ergo, once you are into a career, there is a whole new guidebook on 'How you ought to live".

Even unto where you eat when you are out of office. "You are in middle management and you want to eat in a dhaba? What will people think?" (Yeah, the same people who have nothing better to do than think horrid things about all the people they know). By and large, what they WOULD think is either that you are raving mad or that you are a miser. It would never cross their mind that you may eat in a dhaba because you like that food. Of course, if they thought that, they would put it down to your 'low' tastes. (That, though, is a problem of a lack of inventiveness on my part, I understand. Some genius invented the term 'Street food' and, now, it apparently is a rage. Alas! I did not understand that it was enough to use a sophisticated term to make an act seem sophisticated).

Needless to say, you cannot make the choice of house, car, mobile...anything without first checking out on 'what people will say' considering your job. You cannot even potter around on your holidays, doing nothing much other than watching grass grow. Oh! No! You should first stress about tickets and visas, go to a trendy destination abroad and rush breathlessly around, fearing to miss something that you ought to have seen while there. (AND, nowadays, when all you want to do is crash out in the night, you still have to properly upload all the pics on Instagram/Facebook/what-have-you before you are allowed to sleep. Sounds more like work, doesn't it?)

And I thought the whole idea of adulthood and making money was to be free to make your own choices! Not that I live as I ought to live my life. Wearing tracks and tees may have made me seem a sportsman but that huge bulge in the middle rather spoils the effect. Net result is that I am probably being taken to be insane.

If it is sane to strangle yourself with a tie, give me insanity any day!

Monday, April 23, 2018

How you ought to live - II

I had no idea that there was so much micro-managing possible when people set out to decide how other people ought to live. I was sort of relieved once I got to college, assuming that being told how I ought to live was all done and dusted now that I had succumbed to all that advice. How wrong I was.

I mean, fine, you sort of expect people to tell you what sort of job you ought to go into and all that. They have a vested interest in it - after all, if they are laboring to provide you with cars, they want to be sure that you would be laboring to provide them with food or some such thing. Nothing galls you more than to find that someone is happily living without working for it - it makes you feel such a fool for not finding a way to do it yourself.

Like I said, that would be fine, but what I did not expect was all this "How you ought to eat" and such. I mean, yeah, even when I eat with my hands, parents got into the act saying that I ought to eat with only my fingers and not soil the palm of the hand (except when it comes to Rasam Rice - I defy anyone to eat it only with his fingers if it is to be properly savored). AND to get it to streak all the way to the elbow and licking it from there up - that was a strict no-no. I sort of got the point - for, obviously, you end up getting the food all over the clothes that way and, in that day of no washing machines, it would be such a bother for your mother to wash them off.

You can understand my surprise when I found that it was not the way I ought to eat at all. Society - by which I suppose one means all those neighbors, peers and 'friends' who have nothing better to do than pass criticism on whatever you do - taught me I was doing it all wrong. How I ought to eat was, apparently, with a fork, knife and spoon. There I was, back to getting food-stains on my clothes (if you have found a way to balance that damn napkin so you keep all your clothes clean, enroll me in your correspondence course), wondering if dropping the food on my belly, instead of into it, would feed me by osmosis.

No point waxing lyrical about it. My experiences of chasing food all over the plate with a fork and hitting a pea for a six is chronicled elsewhere. Suffice to say that, over a long period of time when I dreaded the ordeal that every meal posed, I managed to eat without dropping food on myself not more than four to five times a meal. I wonder though at the vagaries of society. I mean, really, why would any rational society want me to waste my time learning skills which I would not really have needed if I could only use my hands? I probably keep them cleaner than the servant maid keeps my cutlery.

And then I get another shock. I go with a group of friends to a authentic Chinese restaurant and get handed a couple of sticks. Just as I was wondering whether I was supposed to duel with them to earn my lunch, and was eyeing the forks and spoons longingly, the other guys start picking up the sticks and shoveling food into their mouth with them. Great! I mean, really, I'd have thought eating was about the only thing I could do without great trouble and the world seemed to have gone to great...err...trouble to make it as troublesome for me as possible. Imagine having to learn to eat, all over again, every time you change restaurants!

Apparently, it is sophisticated to eat Chinese food the Chinese way; Western food the Western way. As I try to fork my masala dosa and carry it to my mouth without dropping the stuffing on my belly button, I wonder why the hell is it so unsophisticated to eat Indian food the Indian way?

Yeah, I know, very gauche of me but will someone explain that to me please?

Monday, April 16, 2018

How you ought to live

By now it is no surprise to anyone that the only two grey cells in my brain are not on talking terms with each other. So, I obviously have great difficulty in deciding how I ought to live. Thankfully, though, the world is full of people who spend a lot of time on thinking about and telling you about how you ought to live. Why, some of them are so altruistic that they spare no time to even think of how they ought to live!

It all starts with parents. (Yeah, I am single and have not sat on the other side of the table. So?)  Oh, I am not really going to talk of this 'Brush your teeth in the morning" thing. The fact that my reasoned argument that I never had seen cows queue up at the dentist though they never brushed their teeth was...err...brushed aside still rankles but still...And as for my pleas that going to school was not exactly how I thought I ought to live...(I know! You are wishing heartily that I had succeeded and, thus, never learned to write. You do not need to keep telling me.)

No, I was not going to talk about that. (What was that? I have already talked about that rather too much? Stop heckling, will ya?). There are more important issues to talk about.

You know, when you are a child and have no thought beyond the next chocolate or ice-cream and you get called to meet your mommy's friends, you know what is going to happen. Other than being asked to recite 'Baa, Baa, Black Sheep' and wiggle your hips to the latest Bollywood hit, that is. You guessed it...you get asked, "What do you want to become when you grow up?" AND you, manfully swallowing all those ideas of becoming an ice-cream vendor (Yeah! I know! I was a effing child, damn it. So what if I thought that the vendor got to eat all the ice-creams he wanted?), say something like 'Pilot', 'Astronaut' or 'Shah Rukh Khan' or "Prime Minister". And then they all go 'Hoo' and 'Haw' and 'Cho Chweet' and that aunty from next door pinches your cheeks and hugs you while you are squirming to get away so that you can play with your friends instead of being played with by your mommy's friends.

If you only knew that is the last time of your life that they are going to ask you that question. I mean, when it is really time to choose what you ought to do, it is all 'Become an Engineer', 'Become a doctor', 'An MBA' and what not with nary of thought of asking you what you wanted to become. And even when someone rarely asks you and you answer, you hardly ever get a 'Cho Chweet', though you CAN do without your cheeks being pinched. THEN it is a litany of why what you want to do is about the most stupid thing to do, ranking next only to the dinosaurs thinking that they could live in ice.

Once you start life off being told what you ought to do, it is rather rich for people to expect that you can decide it for yourself later in life.

But, actually, people do NOT think so, they only think that you can do it for other people. And you do just that all your life...tell other people how they ought to live!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Timely Help

Kaalatthaal seidha udhavi siridheninum gnalatthin maana peridu - Tirukkural

Timely help, however low in value, is worth more than all the world - Loose translation.

There I was, as usual, with a friend asking for advice. (I know, by now you are wondering why I go to the guy since I invariably get the stick but what can I do? All my friends are like that)

"Rohit is so ungrateful, yaar. I mean, you know at yesterday's party to celebrate the success of his venture he was going on and on about some Rs. 50000/= that Shyam had lent him when he was starting out. And not a word about the five lakhs I lent him just a week back."

AND the chap comes out with that tagline at the beginning of this post. What is with these guys, they cannot formulate their own sentences and have to come out with obscure quotes that make no sense. I mean, the idea of the world being worth less than Rs. 5000/= (though they do say that with climate change and all...).

I asked him rather peevishly what he meant and he says, "Well! At that time, no-one was willing to risk lending money to him and Shyam did. Which is why he could even start this venture, which is now such a success. Now, people are queuing up...so, if not you, someone else would have given him."

"Come on! I have given him ten times the money. And I would have given him then but my FD was maturing only in another six months and you know what interest loss would have been there if I had broken the FD then."

"So, you will help only when it is convenient to you not when the other guy needs it. What's the point talking to you anyway? If someone is dying of thirst at your doorstep, you are the sort of guy who will want to finish your shave and morning ablutions, dress up so that you can go out and give him a glass of water. It will not even cross your mind that he may die of thirst before you are done."

"There you go too far. When have I ever shaved, with this beard? AND my idea of dressing is only shoving a T-Shirt over my torso, so..."

His eyes were bulging and throat working convulsively. Before he went down on his haunches and started croaking, I asked, "Are you alright?" while slowly edging towards the door.

Thankfully, the chap recovered though his face looked like a sun-burnt tomato.

Clearing my throat nervously I asked him,"So, you were saying..."

"Listen! Who would the Ambanis respect? The chap who lent them a lakh when Dhirubhai Ambani was trading polyester yarn in his initial days or the banker who lends them thousands of crores now?"

I wanted to ask who that chap was, and whether there was such a chap, but one look at his red face and I stopped. No-one can say I am not concerned about my friends.

"Well?" he asked.

"I think that it must be...err...the banker. After all, the chap would want his money back with interest whereas, you know, bankers..."

There was such a dreadful noise from him that I fled precipitately. Now, I cannot seek any clarification from him...he has apparently been diagnosed with chronic hypertension and been told to avoid all stress. AND, you know, he and his wife seem to have misheard the doctor and assumed he said 'avoid Suresh' when he said 'avoid stress'.

So, now, will someone please tell me why Rohit is right in praising Shyam and not me? I'm sure he is not but if you think so...