Monday, December 31, 2018

Friendship defined?

Udukkai izhandavan kai pole; aange idukkan kalaivadhaam natpu - Tirukkural

A true friend extends help in need with the same instinctive speed as your hand stopping your robe from slipping off you in public - Loose Translation

That is one metaphor I really love. I mean, you can really GET what the chap means. Like, if you were wearing a towel around your waist and have to answer the door and the towel starts slipping off, it is not like you have to issue a request in triplicate to your hands saying, "There is nothing on below the towel and there is this delivery boy in front of me, not to mention the auntie in the opposite house. It would be embarrassing to have the towel fall off now, so kindly go over and hold it in place." AND, of course, have a return reply, saying "This is an automated reply. Your complaint has been registered. Our service representative will be in touch with you shortly."

No, the moment the towel shows signs of slipping off, and even before you have seen who is at the door, your hands are holding the towel in place. So, Tiru says, that a true friend is one who helps you with the same sort of instinctive speed, not waiting for you to express your need and seek him for help.

No, I really don't think that he meant that, when you press 'Like' the moment you see it is your friend's post, you are being a true friend. That sort of instinctive speed can be a problem, especially if the said friend has put out a message saying his mom is ill, say. The point is about doing the help that is NEEDED at the moment, not just any action. Like, it is not really the time for the hands to toss off the towel, as it would be if you were preparing to dress.

Pretty demanding on the friend, though. I mean, it requires both a continuous empathy and observation for the friend to realize WHEN you are in need of help and WHAT help is needed. More often than not, it is not like YOU understand HIS needs naturally. Like, you may stuff yourself with sweets when you are hungry, he may be a diabetic; you may laugh off some issue and the same issue may cause him to feel suicidal. To see the world from his point of view, to do what HE needs, whether or not YOU would need it in his place - that is tough.

But then, whoever said that being a friend is easy. I mean, like if all you had to do was keep liking and commenting on social media posts, you could maintain thousands of friends, easily. (And lose them as easily, if you are sick for a week and unable to do all that? Yes, of course.) Tiru probably had a more demanding idea of friendship.

You know, what? THAT's the sort of friend I love, really!

What about me? WHAT??? You mean you expect ME to be that sort of friend? Ye Gods!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Destructive speech?

Yaakaavar aayinum naakaakka; Kaavaakkaal sokaappar sollizhukku pattu - Tirukkural

Control your tongue even if you control nothing else; Else your ill-said words will come back to bite you - Loose Translation

When I first heard the first part of this, I was shocked. I mean, I LIVE for my tongue, for the taste of all sorts of food and this...thankfully, the second part kicked in. The man was only talking about speaking, not eating! Thank God!

Or, perhaps not. Diplomacy and I have ever been strangers, the former skulking out of sight whenever I appeared on the horizon. You know that story, the one about the King calling in an astrologer who predicts that all his relatives and friends would die before him? Thrown in jail for giving that terrible news? Followed by the second astrologer who predicts that the King would live longer than all his friends and relatives and is rewarded handsomely for being the bearer of such wonderful news? Yeah, I'm sure you have heard of it. Well, that first astrologer...he reminds me of myself so much that I shudder every time I hear that story.

But, yes, I do understand that this is not one of those things where Tiru's advice is dated. I mean, you actually can give offense just because you are not careful with your words even when you had no intention to hurt the other person. Like, say, saying 'Your work is error-free today' and leaving the other guy feeling that on all other days you were going mad correcting his errors. And, then, there are all those times when you shoot from the hip and repent later, taking offense where none was meant, and creating life-long enmities where silence would have allowed a small misunderstanding to blow over in no time. It is not like you can just say, "Oh! I am short-tempered and say things that I don't really mean" and expect it to sort out the issue. Your subordinates may have to act like they believed you but...well, just think how often YOU have believed it when your boss acted so?

And, then, later when it comes to bite you back you start feeling all outraged and rant at the world for not controlling ITS tongue! 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Ideal forgetfulness?

Nandri marappadhu nandrandru; nandralladhu andre marappadhu nandru - Tirukkural

Never forget a favor; immediately forget any injury - Loose translation

This thing about gratitude really vibes with me. Who does not like receiving a benefit that one had no right to expect? And a favor is not something that you have bought and paid for, and can complain to customer service if you do not receive it. To forget favors received is to take them for granted, as something that you receive as your right - somewhat like the Government collecting taxes and hounding you if you fail to ante up.

But that other part - this forgetting injury the very same day...that seems sort of crazy. You know, like that 'good man' of yesteryear movies, who is cheated by someone, takes him back and signs over a power of attorney to him thereby becoming an overnight pauper. Yeah, seems like the sort of thing that made being good the same thing as being too stupid to live.

It is not so, apparently. Or, at least, Tiruvalluvar was not particularly inclined to be giving moronic advice. So, it is not like he would be asking you to forget the past villainy of people, give them a knife and turn your back on them, trusting them not to test the sharpness of the knife by pushing it between your shoulder blades.

What he was saying is, probably, more the normal things that break up friendships and cause schisms between loved ones. Things like a harsh word in an off-mood, or not coming over to an important family function, not showing empathy when you needed it (or not Liking your social media posts, not Sharing your Instagram pictures...? You mean it matters that much to you? Well, then, that too.)...stuff like that which you keep trotting out every now and then in your mind, every time you feel that you want to resent the other person. Tiru feels that it is best to forget it the same day, if not the same hour, instead of carefully storing it in a corner of your mind and taking it out and viewing it like it is some beautiful piece of jewelry which you wish to rejoice in, over and over again.

It is things like this which make me wonder whether Tiru really belonged to the Human race at all. I mean, we all know that Humanity is known for its irrationality. We know how happy it makes us to remember people being good to you and how it painful it is to remember people hurting you - and, so, we duly forget all the good that people did to us, and remember with absolute clarity every nuance of when we were hurt by people. And this chap actually thinks that people can do the reverse and choose to be happy.

Or, perhaps, he did not. After all, nobody goes around telling people to breathe because it is important to do so in order to live. You only give advice when you know that people are not already doing it.

And, as with all good advice, people nod in acceptance and duly pass it on. Without ever applying it themselves.

As I am doing now!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Love only supports virtue?

Aratthukke Anbu Sarbenba Ariyaar; Maratthukkum akdhe thunai - Tirukkural

The ignorant think love is only a support for virtue; it is also a support for ridding yourself of your vices - Loose Translation

You know what, this chap Tiru really had ALL his marbles. In his time, at least, and for quite a few decades after that, this 'destroyer of vice' thing has been of great use for all the so-called 'bad boys' of the world. Or so, at least, popular literature would have had me believe.

There was this thing, then, about women preferring to love the 'bad boy' because they wanted the high of having their love 'redeem' him. How true it is I would not know, never having been a bad boy OR having had a woman in my life. And, yes, I was also of the 'ignorant' who thought that love would support the virtuous, though my definition of virtue was rather elastic. Alas, even so, it probably did not get into the really interesting territory of being a 'bad boy', perhaps!

If that is true, this idea of women loving bad boys because their love can then be a destroyer of vice, I suppose that the bad boys of the day had strong reason not to be redeemed. I mean, yeah fine, so the love kicked in to destroy their vice but, once the vice was destroyed, could they bank on it to stay on to be a supporter of virtue or not? If not, what was really the point in losing both the vices and the love?

But, yeah, all that in popular literature is probably so much gas...and patriarchal, let me say before others jump on me screaming it. Tiru was not all that much into this sort of exciting speculation, nor does his life history say anything about his wife Vasuki marrying him to 'redeem' him.

So, it is more than likely that what he means is that if YOU love a person, as in really love which means that you really take pleasure in making that person happy rather than in seeing what they will do to make YOU happy (Yeah! Think mothers and their children, if you find it tough to think that of spouses), THAT love will ensure that you not only stay virtuous but will also cause you to rid yourself of your vices. For your virtues and your vices will also reflect, in the eyes of Society, on those you love, even when they do not directly affect them (You know the sort of thing - she is that thief's mother, that drunkard's wife...things like that).

Well, he was living in more ideal times, of course. At least in his mind. It has been ages since your virtues or vices had anything to do with your social standing.

It is all about money, now!

Monday, December 3, 2018


I have discovered that the thing that is screwing up our happiness is mirages. You know, like that thing which appears like water from a distance, and, when you get close, you discover that it is the same damn sand that you had been trudging on all along.

In life though, this trick is played across time more often than across distance. I find that, when I am planning to do something the next day, it appears so exciting that I am all keyed up to get cracking on it. When the next day dawns, though, the same damn thing appears so tedious, so boring that I get keyed down (if I may coin a phrase) in a nanosecond. And people think I am procrastinating, when I have only been deceived by a mirage! Yet, somehow, the same thing appears as exciting when I think of doing it the next day. Life really plays scurvy tricks on you.

It is always like this, though, and I think for everyone. When I was a kid, I could not wait to get to college which seemed like a real cool place to be in. When I got to college, it seemed to be such fun to be earning your own money with the freedom to do with it as you please. I sort of cut short the next couple of steps - you know, that nice feeling of belonging and stability that seemed to come only with marriage (along with other things) and, then, that lovely feeling of being a parent with kids who looked up to you (the most deceptive mirage of all. Kids? Looking up to parents?). Then, you looked forward to the peaceful feeling of retiring from the rat race. Once you did that, what do you do? The mirage thingy does not seem to work as attractively with the total peace of the grave, so you look back and yearn for the innocent days of childhood. Life, I tell you! The bloody thing always shows such wonderful images...but only when you are distanced by time from it.

It is not just this. You look ahead and think how happy you will be once you get a two-wheeler. Then you get the two-wheeler and find that what you actually need for happiness is a car. You get the car and find that what you need really is a bigger car. now, you know how it goes.

If you are really unlucky, you can suffer a bigger shock. Like you work your butt off to become a surgeon, always dreaming of the joy of becoming one, and discover that this was not what you wanted at all and you really would have preferred to become a rocket scientist. Or, you dream of becoming an author, with fans stampeding to buy your books and mobbing you for autographs only to find that you have a tough time proving that you even wrote a book and have to go around begging door-to-door to get people to read it. Mirages, I tell you!

There is one mirage, though, that never let me down. Or, rather, it is not a mirage when you see water from a distance and it really proves to be water, is it?

I always thought I would love to be able to laze around all day and, boy, I do!

Monday, November 26, 2018

The problem with democracy?

It is not always that I go seeking my friends for advice. There are times they come seeking me as well though, yes, it is very seldom for advice. More often than not, it is primarily to sound off their own theories of life in the perfect confidence that the audience is incapable of punching holes in their pet theories.

"You know that saying 'When a man knows and knows that he knows, he is wise, follow him; when a man knows and knows not that he knows, he is asleep, wake him; when a man knows not and knows that he knows not, he is ignorant, teach him; when a man knows not and knows not that he knows not, he is a fool, avoid him'?"

I nodded warily, not sure where this was heading. Invariably, things like this ended up in my getting insulted. Like, this one, was there some way I had proved that I knew not that I knew not? No, it could not be, for in that case he should have avoided me, not sought me out like he did now.

"You know, when you are totally ignorant of your own ignorance is when you are the most confident about your own opinions."

"If I am ignorant, how will I..."

"Come on, you idiot. Has anyone seen God? Has anyone searched every nook and corner of the Universe and found He is nowhere? Yet, the one thing everyone confidently asserts as absolutely true is their own belief in whether or not he exists. Ignorance does not stop you from having opinions and ignorance breeds confidence. When you know, you also know reasons to doubt your own opinions, so you tend to be more tentative about what you say."

It sounded okay to me and, anyway, I did not want to set him off on what he really thought were the contents of my skull, so I nodded.

"And those who know that they do not know...who are they more likely to believe? The one who is confident about what he is saying or the one who is tentative?"

Now, these are the questions that I am afraid of. I mean, the chap is out to prove a point, that much was obvious, and he expects a certain answer so that he can establish his point. Give him the wrong one and he is likely to bust your nose for you.

"Hmm! I suppose...err...the confident guy will be believed."

He beamed and I sighed with relief. Right answer!

"And, between the ignorant who know their ignorance and the ignorant who do not, you have the majority of Society."

Thank God, this was an assertion. If it had been a question...well, I had never gone around collecting statistics of who was who.

"So, you have the blind leading the blind in a society that is ruled by the majority - this democracy of ours. No wonder the world is hurtling down a precipice."

Yeah, I know you are berating me for a coward for not smashing his face in for indicting a holy cow like democracy. But, come on, even the literal holy cow is not safe these days, so big deal about the figurative ones! Which is about what a lot of people seem to be feeling these days.

"So, your point is that democracy is bad?"

"You really do have an unerring ability to misunderstand things. I meant that an ignorant majority is the danger in a democracy."

Monday, November 19, 2018

Numbers don't lie?

The chappie who said, "Numbers don't lie" probably meant it as a statement of fact. You know, like "The Sun rises in the East" or some such thing that people do not like to dispute. The problem is that a lot of people have taken it up as a challenge. "Aha! You think we cannot make numbers lie? Just you wait and see." was probably their reaction. And they got to work on it.

Now this is not about lying about the numbers. Like the guys who create what now has the respectable name of 'Fake News'. Always wondered if it is fake, can it be news? You know, like saying '78% of the people in Timbuktu love koalas', when you do not know if Timbuktu even exists, cannot distinguish a koala from a whale, have no clue about how to work out percentages and put it out. 78% may be a number and this is a lie but THAT is a lie about a number but not a number that has been made to lie.

There are, then, the more obvious ways of making numbers lie. They call it massaging data or some such physiotherapy term. You know, like you check out with your spouse, your sons, your poodle and say '90% of people in India prefer Dairy Milk to Toblerone' or some such thing. No wonder, the first lecture on statistics for me started with, "You have white lies; then you have lies; and then you have statistics."

But what set this off for me is the latest use of numbers, which I keep bumping into on social media. You know the thing. Some government project is proposed and promptly you get memes saying, "For this cost you could have had 8 IITs, 16 IIMs, 32 primary schools etc etc". AND, you see, generally these chaps know how to use calculators, if not computers, and so the division is not erroneous. So, then, what's the problem?

You see, I belong to the old school and I like to know whether the objectives are desirable and whether they are cost-efficient. And, for me, these things say nothing about either, they merely obfuscate the problem.

You think not? That if at the cost 8 IITs can be put up, obviously the project is not worth it? I'll explain why I am confused, maybe you can sort things out for me.

For the cost of feeding one man, you can feed 4 dogs, 8 cats, a score of mice and thousands of ants, say. Now does it make it obvious that you should starve the man and feed the ants? No? Why not?

It is difficult to take a call on the welfare of men and ants, except perhaps for PETA? Okay, here is another question - "For the cost of setting up one IIT, you can set up 20 schools, feed 500 children...", say. Now?

Okay. A third question. If there is a decision to throw a 100 crores worth of copper into the Arabian sea, do you need someone telling you how many schools you could have built with it, or how many people you could have fed? When there is NO desirable goal, there is no need to compare shit like this, you just prove that the goal is undesirable.

Of course, things are not as clear as that normally. THEN, you need to discuss the fact that the goals of the project are LESS desirable than setting up an IIT etc, BEFORE throwing numbers at me. Otherwise, how am I to know that the numbers you are throwing at me is not the same as the 'how many ants can be fed by starving a human' thing?

Is your objection to the cost? Then compare the costs and benefits and tell me that the money is better utilized elsewhere. Or, how am I to know that it is not the same as comparing how many schools can be set up for the cost of one IIT?

If you will only put up this shit, it is only a way of making numbers lie. The numbers say nothing about either the desirability of the goals or about the costs and benefits of the project. AND, by indirection, you try to make the numbers tell me that the project is undesirable. (Witness, if the project is useless, it is useless even if the money will only allow me to set up 1/4th of an IIT or 1/2 of an IIM. But the comparisons never show anything LESS than 1. It is always multiples.) It is like seeing me buy a kilo of apples and telling me I could have got 5 kilos of Onions for the price and trying to make me feel that apples are not desirable.

With me, though, all that these numbers tell me is that you know division...provided you got your sums right.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Art of Generalizing-III

I really expected the chap to snap at me to go boil my head when I asked him for a simpler way to start on this Art. For a moment, it did look like he wanted to rearrange my face with his fists but, thankfully, the moment passed.

"I thought I was giving you a cheat sheet and now you want a cheat sheet for the cheat sheet!? Well, the simplest way is to change your mindset. When someone finds fault, you seem to think instantly about what is wrong with your work and try to defend it. Instead, you should learn to instantly think, 'What is wrong with this guy that he is finding fault with my work?' THEN, you will find ways, ranging from that chap's own lack of ability to the various generalizing possibilities to counter him effectively."

"You mean...when I am thinking of my possibly being wrong is when I appear to be unwilling to take criticism? And when I automatically assume that the fault is in the other guy is when I seem to be taking it well? That does not seem right."

"You will never learn. Next thing you will be saying is that the chap who appears the most busy is the guy who does the most work. Just take it from me. You have to have unshakable confidence that you are, you know, when someone opposes your leader, you can call him a Bhakt or Libtard or whatever and go hammer and tongs at him. THEN you have no problems in adopting the art of generalizing, do you? Whatever the specific issue, you..."

"THAT is because my leader is infallible. He can do no wrong. So..."

"Exactly! You have to assume YOU are infallible. Then, you will know what to do automatically. Though, yes, it is easier to assume that your leader can do no wrong. When it comes to you, though, your memory can inconveniently pop up instances of when you made an ass of yourself."

That last was true but this thinking of myself as always right...that I felt optimistic about managing with practice.

"Thanks, dude! I think I can manage this from now."

"What have I done?" he wailed. "You were insufferable even without this. Now..."

And THIS was the guy I thought was sympathetic!

"But...a feeling of infallibility has to be bone-deep. Otherwise, you can never manage it in the heat of the moment. So, maybe, not much damage done after all."

Ye Gods! Was I still going to be no better after all this learning?

Part I; Part II

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Art of Generalizing-II

This learning business has always been difficult for me. I had heaved a sigh of relief, once I got a job, at the thought that it was all behind me. Only to find that it is a pest that one can never be rid off as long as you lived.

So, now, I had to learn this generalizing art.

"So, can you teach me how to generalize?"

He looked at me dubiously.

"I can try, I suppose", he said, reluctantly. "Listen, the first thing to do is forget about what is being said and concentrate on who is saying it."

"Ad hominem", I said, proudly, that phrase floating on top of my murky memory.

"Shut up and listen. And, remember, logic is the enemy of generalizing."

I nodded humbly.

"So, the first thing to consider is 'Is this guy someone who can be portrayed as being antagonistic to me?' If he is, you need to think no further. All you have to say is 'Of course you will always find fault with whatever I say or do'. THAT's something you ought to have learned from your family interactions, actually."

I HAD been silenced by that argument at home, almost invariably but...He was continuing his discourse.

"Either the guy starts defending himself, in which case you have deflected the criticism to generalities. Or he will make a snide comment like 'That is because you are always wrong' in which case you retort with 'See, he admits that he is prejudiced against my proposals'. And the argument turns to whether he admitted it or not. It is a rare person who can still stick to the point but if you cannot recognize it in him, you have no business playing this game at all."

I nodded, doubtfully, not sure that I could recognize that paragon.

"If the other guy cannot be readily portrayed as antagonistic, you attack his function. You know that sort of thing. 'You finance guys do not know how it is in the market.' OR 'You finance guys are too conservative' OR like your marketing guy did 'You are antagonistic to marketing proposals'. That serves very nicely to deflect a specific criticism to generalities."

This I understood, having suffered from it very recently.

"Then there is this technique of trying to understand your point which very subtly shifts the argument to general lines. The other two have a bit of a problem, especially in open meetings. There is always a third guy who can put his oar in and shift the argument into specifics. OR the whole lot of them may end up getting pissed with both of you, which is no help in getting ahead in the organization. This one, though..."

"What is that?" I asked eagerly.

"Ask general questions like 'Are you against attractive promotional prices for capturing a market?'. You are a mere seeker after information, trying to understand the other guy's point of view, after all. And slowly keep shifting the argument to the general till you finally attack with the 'You finance guys are too conservative. This way we will never be able to introduce a new product.' If you keep taking the discussion away from the fact that even raw material prices are not covered, and into the general theory of market pricing, you will get your point. Did you get that?"

I did not, really, and I suppose it showed.

"Look, if someone complains about the biryani you cooked, if you shift the argument to what he thinks is a good biryani, he is bound to say things that other people may also disagree with, right? Then the whole discussion becomes about the general theory of biryani, so to speak, and not about the problems with this specific biryani. And it is the other guy who is put in the position of defending his theory. Instead, if you defend YOUR biryani, you will come across as a whiner."

I thought I got that but how exactly I would work it to specific cases that were not about biryanis I needed to figure out. But the chap was obviously running out of patience.

There must be a simple way to make a selection, to make a start on this exciting new Art. But what?

Part I; Part III

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Art of Generalizing-I

This time I headed towards the most sympathetic of my friends. It had been a horrid day at office and I was feeling too sensitive to handle what my other friends generally tend to hand out to me. I poured out my tale of woe to him.

"So, you said that the proposed pricing policy for the new product would not even cover the raw material costs. And the marketing guy accused you of being biased against the marketing function. Right?"


"And, of course, you said it was no such thing, that you had supported them in a past instance. And he cited ten other times when you had opposed them and so on and so forth?"

"Yes, I told you..."

"Your marketing guy is an expert at the art of generalizing. Instead of arguing the specific point you raised, which he probably could not counter, he made it a problem of your general attitude to marketing. Now, it is YOU who were on the defensive instead of him. And, I am sure that his proposal was approved."

I was stunned. That was precisely what had happened.

"You, I am sure, in his place would have been arguing why the price had to be kept low. And keep giving more and more ammunition to more and more people to attack the proposal."

" that not what we are there for? I mean, the idea is to make the best possible decision for the company, not score brownie points..."

"Yeah! Well! Who do you think is going to get a better raise next year, you or that marketing chap?"

Shit! I really need to learn this generalizing thingy. Fast!

Part II; Part III

Friday, November 9, 2018

A dog eat dog-food world

Books are like food - as they age, they spoil. Ah, no, that was not really what I thought or think now, but, as in many things, I seem to run counter to the rest of the world. 

Perhaps, you know, it is like fashion. The bell-bottoms of  my youth are the clown's wear of today. The quiff that Travolta made fashionable in Grease would get a raspberry today. (even that phrase has given way to fashion, it would get the finger these days, or has that changed too?). So, perhaps, books do not spoil, they just go out of fashion.

Except when they become classics, of course. OR immensely popular which, these days, amounts to the same thing. I mean, if it is not popular it cannot be a classic, can it? AND if it is a classic, it ought to have been instantly popular in its day, no?

So, essentially, there is no room for a book to be good, if it is not recent and if it is not already popular. Which accounts for the fact that I have seldom bothered to push my own book after its 'shelf life', as the marketing guys call it. (Ironical to be adopting the ideas of marketing professionals for a book which is a spoof on marketing management and consumerism!)

All that is, of course, to say that I am here pushing it now well after its 'shelf life'.  Not my fault, not entirely, since it is Amazon which is now giving a 60% discount on the book.

It is more likely that any of you who are interested have already bought it and those who have not will not. But, if those who have bought it, actually read it and liked it, know of someone who may like it too, please do let them know that the ebook is now available at a princely sum of Rs.47/=. (Cheap for a cup of coffee but too expensive for a book, I know, but what can I say? Amazon fixed the extent of the discount, not I.)

'Good Heavens! Is there no end to this man's optimism?' I hear you cry. There IS no end, else would I have ventured to write a book in the first place and priced it, knowing how much people like reading only for free on the Net?

So, the link is here...alas, I think that the discount is only for those in India. For the rest, there is Kindle Unlimited.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Buy the Ferrari first

You know how it is. If you habitually wear rags, the reactions depend on who you are. If you ARE poor, it is the poor-fellow-he-cannot-afford-anything-better reaction you get. If you are in the middle class, the reactions range from 'miser' to 'uncouth', taking in 'tasteless' on the way. If, however, you are uber-rich, it will be 'how simple and unassuming the man is'. (If you also have charm and presence, who knows rags may become haute couture, and become totally unaffordable for the poor!). Unless, of course, the other guy is also uber-rich!

If you did not know this basic truth, you would consider it ironical that a guru, who is supposed to be spiritually enlightened and above all this social climbing, is respected ONLY if he is a success by the mundane standards of society. Enlightenment is validated only if the said guru runs a successful charitable or religious organization or rubs shoulders with the high and mighty or both, failing which he is considered only a loser masquerading as a guru. In other words, you would prefer to learn about the futility of chasing material success only from someone who has achieved material success!

Needless to say, it is also mandatory that he be perfectly coiffed (NOT Mohawks and all, thank you. Yet! Flowing hair and flowing beard, but not unkempt, oh no! How can one take someone to be one's guru if one is ashamed of his haircut?), impressively dressed and articulate. If a spirit that is free of all these material considerations of life fails to even notice how it is clad, let it roam the Heavens in bliss, no quarrel with that. But we shall not respect it for its enlightenment or seek to learn from it. (Yeah! Such a spirit will probably not even notice the disrespect, maybe, but what do we care about what it notices or does not?)

That, though, applies only to gurus who started out that way. The other lot who get respect are the ones who abandoned their careers and became spiritual. In which case, it is probably not necessary to be running a  famous organization and all that. Note, though, that they have to abandon SUCCESSFUL careers if they are to be respected and not middling ones. (Unless, of course, they make a success of being gurus - the successful charitable/religious organization, coiffure and all that jazz.) In other words, you need to have BOUGHT that Ferrari first and THEN sold it, if you are to gain respect. Of course, you can be enlightened even otherwise and be a blissful spirit, but a guru of many you certainly shall not be.

It does not do, of course, to reverse the order. I mean, if you start off being a guru, THEN start a successful business and all, you probably may be respected as a businessman but you probably blotted out all your chances of becoming a successful guru. It is no help to be the monk who BOUGHT the Ferrari in becoming accepted as a guru. You could try to later sell it off and re-establish yourself as a guru but I rather doubt that it will work as well.

Ergo, to be successful at teaching people to abandon the stress of striving for material success, you first need to be successful at achieving the same sort of success. Talk about the irrationality of the human species!

Monday, October 29, 2018

The bitter truth

"People prefer to believe the worst of others", announced my friend.

"You have spent a lot of time on Social media recently", I deduced with the aplomb of a Sherlock Holmes.

"Shut it! Yes, I have, but it is true of people even otherwise."

"You are becoming a cynic in your dotage."

"Nonsense! Tell me, if a person is accused of something and the people in his circles say he is incapable of doing it, what would you say?"

"You cannot believe them. Of course, they will say anything to support their friend."

"If someone who does not know him well says that he is a good guy?"

"If this chap does not know him well, how can he know whether he is good or not?"

"So, then, if someone who knows him well says he is a bad actor?"

"Well, he ought to know what sort of person he is dealing with. Of course, I will believe him."

"And if someone who does not know him well says he is evil?"

"Well, naturally he would be saying the truth. After all, when he does not know him well, what motive could he have to slander him?"

"So, whether it is someone who knows the guy or does not know the guy, you will believe him if what he says is negative but not when what he says is positive, right?"

"You are twisting my words. See, what a person close to him says is more likely to be the truth only when it is negative. If it is positive, it will only be a cover-up. On the other hand, the relative stranger can be expected to know the truth only when it is negative. Otherwise, he is not likely to..."

"In other words, you totally negate the possibility that the insider may have his own ax to grind in pulling down the fellow. And the possibility that the outsider may only be saying things merely because it is more dramatic..."

"You are reaching...they may be possible but unlikely."

"So, there you go. The insider can be trusted to be truthful only when he says the worst. The outsider can be trusted to know the truth only when he says the worst. Ergo, people prefer to believe in the worst."

And, that seemed like the bitter truth. That, unless it is bitter, it is not considered true!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Ideals and Idols

Ideals are pesky things sent down to the world merely to trouble us. All you want to do is to simply do what you please. And then these things pop up and get in the way of your pleasure by asking you to bother about how your actions affect other people. I mean, come on, I have enough trouble bothering about how they affect me, so why should I worry about how they affect others?

If only I could be convinced that everyone around me were exactly like me, pursuing their own desires, then one could conveniently brush aside these irritants with the 'Oh! That is idealistic. Grow up, get more practical, don't stay immature.' Unfortunately, there are always the few who seem to be at least a shade more ideal than you and then...

There was this nice lady called Ayn Rand, who said it was not at all necessary. Pleasing myself was all there is to life. Of course, she got a huge fan following, including me, for, after all, the most intelligent and enlightened person in the world is the one who offers a justification to you to do exactly what you want to do.

It stands to reason that everyone does what makes them happy to do, so exactly why should I feel inferior because what makes me happy is drinking myself silly every night and what makes the other person happy is feeding and educating orphans? So, the other guy was the same as me, after all, so I could relax and enjoy myself my way.

You know, I could not do it for long. I mean, yeah, he probably was making himself happy in his way just as I was in mine, but did that make us equal? I mean, end of the day, are we not better or worse based on WHAT makes us happy and not based on WHETHER we make ourselves happy? If what makes us happy is irrelevant to judge people, then the sadist and the rapist will claim to be as good as me, since he is only pleasing himself HIS way like I am in mine, and where would I be then?

There I was, back again having to wrestle with this idea of ideals. I would be quite happy to dispense with them, as I said before, but, when I start feeling that I am lesser than the guys who live up to them, the zing sort of goes out of the alcohol if you know what I mean.

But do they? Maybe they only SEEM to do so. Yes! That must be it. They are no better than me, it is only that they are better at portraying themselves as better! THAT must be it. A comfortably warm sensation went through my being. It is as easy as that. Just assume that they are not as good as they seem and no burr itches at the back of your mind. The moment someone is set up as a idol, start doing an chemical assay of the feet to assess the presence of clay. If you WANT to find feet of clay, you WILL.

And as for those where clay eludes your most persistent search...Oh! They are gods or Saints. You just cannot expect a mere mortal to follow their footsteps!

Monday, October 15, 2018

From rockets to drones

Every now and then, I hark back to my long forgotten childhood. You know, the usual 'Those were the days' trip the old are expected to go on. Not that I have been known to always do what is expected of me but this one...this is probably hardwired in the genes and gets triggered by age, like it or not.

And, so, there was this stray memory about what captivated the minds of us guys in those long-gone days. This was the time of the Sputniks and the Apollos, when foreign names like Gagarin and Armstrong became familiar everyday names. If I ever dreamed of a future, it certainly involved being an astronaut, visiting strange planets with ammonia oceans and carbon dioxide snow, maybe finding worms that speak and spiders which build skyscrapers. The Universe was a strange and fascinating place but, at that time, it seemed like Humanity would venture out into it and make a place for itself even under foreign Suns. Alpha Centauri, Rigel...those names became invested with fascination because of the thought that, perhaps, I, or some future human, would step onto a planet on which they shone.

I wonder what I would dream of if I were that child now? Maybe I would dream of becoming a drone 'pilot', sitting in the comfort of my cabin and guiding a drone over my city? Or, perhaps, of an evening spent in a 3-D world where worms and spiders could be made to do whatever I want them to do; and make it snow sulphur and rain is a matter of writing code, after all. The most likely thing, I confess, is that I would be dreaming of sitting idle at home with robots catering to my every desire...what is AI and ML for, if I cannot even have that?

In those long gone days, I think a lot of us kids talked of becoming Scientists. Next only to astronauts, scientists were the stars in our firmament (Oh, yes, of course there was the fascination of becoming a movie star but, for a lot of us, the mirror put paid to that as a serious ambition - we were not THAT divorced from reality, after all, not all of us at any rate.) Now, I suppose, Science may not be as much in favor, if I were a kid; technology is the thing. Talk of AI/ML and you get the 'Oooh! Brainy!" looks; Talk of String theory and M-theory, and you get the suppressed yawns and an indelible reputation of a bore. So, it is a no-brainer.  Nowadays, technology is cutting edge; Science is blunted. Nerd may be the in-thing now but you ought to be the right sort of nerd.

Astronomical information is passe. (Who cares how many moons Saturn has or whether Europa had water...or even life? Unless, of course, it is sentient or if it causes a plague on Earth). Yeah, there are those nice pics sent across by Voyager and all, good for sharing on Social media but, come on, it's not like I can take a selfie with them in the background, is it? Talk of what percentage of women like what deodorant on men...NOW you are talking! So, it is all about Data Analytics, collating data generated by humans, and not about scientific information about the Cosmos. So, instead of dreaming of searching the Heavens for quasars, I'd love to dream of trawling the Net for information about my fellow-men and their foibles.

So, yes, now rockets are either for putting up satellites so that I can live almost all of what makes it a life on my smartphone; or, of course, to deliver nuclear warheads to far distances, which countries make in order not to use...or so they solemnly promise. (All this will push forward ambitions in Space? I wish, but I suspect it is all going to be deployed to sell chips better and cheaper.)

AND the ambitions of nations are restricted to building the biggest ant-hill on our mud-ball.

Or is there any nation that still dares to dream of the stars?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Trek to Hampta Pass - III

Nightmares? They were nothing compared to what that river crossing was really like. There you were, early in the morning, muscles still cold removing your shoes and socks preparing to step into the river. True, we had done one earlier in this trek, but it had been close to midday and the feet were hot from all the walking that had been done up to then. This, though...and it was a much longer crossing as well.

Holding hands as before, we stepped into the water and almost immediately people were rushing across to get to the other side out of the freezing cold of the waters. Devashis stumbled and would have fallen in but for being held by me on one side and Mudassar on the other. With the continuing drag of all the others, there was no time for him to extricate himself carefully so, as it became known later, he had severely bruised his toes.

Anyway, we were out of the river, after what seemed like eons, with both feet feeling more like blocks of ice suspended from the ankles. The guides set us to jumping around to restore circulation to the feet. If you have never felt the clawing pain of returning circulation to frozen extremities...

After that, whatever followed of that day's descent seemed like a breeze. We landed at Chatru, which seemed more like a fairground than a campsite, with the number of tents set up there. After all, it was motorable from Manali and, thus, it was not only trekkers who passed through it to visit Chandrataal.

The drive to Chadrataal, I am afraid, was quite the most painful part of this trek to me. Not only were the roads terrible for the most part, as indeed I had experienced on my Ladakh trek, but after the trek sitting with minimal movement of the legs ended up with the muscles shrieking in pain. The worst cut of the lot was to end up at Chandrataal and find that the lake was half-an-hour's trek away. (Oh! Yes! It is all fine to do the trekking but when you think that the trekking is all done...)

The lake, though...Words are inadequate a lot of times in life and this is most certainly one of them. There was that pristine green lake visible from the Kanchenjunga View-Point II in the Goecha-La pass trek and then there was this one...For once, let me allow the pics to do the talking. (I am there in the pics to provide the contrast to all that beauty!)

On the return journey, the ladies were asking everyone what they learned from the trek. Another of those idiosyncrasies of mine is that these questions leave me fazed. Everyone was replying eloquently to that question and I...I was like, "Is it possible to answer this one like a kindergarten kid saying, 'one ones are one, one twos are two' in reply to what she learnt in school that day?" Or, perhaps, I either do not learn as quickly as others do or am unable to just say things eloquently for the sake of saying them, either of which seems to make me less than the rest of humanity.

And then my dreaded turn came and I mumbled, "Life is what you make of it. So are treks."

That, at least, is what I live by...even if I did not specifically learn it from THIS trek!

Photo Credits: Devashis and other co-trekkers.

Trek to Hampta Pass - II

I have always been a strange character. (I know, I know, you think 'crazy idiot' suits better than 'strange character'. You can keep your opinions to yourself, thank you.) I mean, I have thought of any goals in life merely as a direction-setter to map out my journey. Once having embarked on a journey, it is the scenery, the people I meet and the relationships, the way I change that are of interest to me. It is more the journey itself, and how I conduct myself on the journey that gives me joy. The goal itself? Once achieved, all it would mean is that I would have the trouble of finding myself a new goal to chart a fresh journey or keep stagnating! All the important goals are what happens inside me, not where I arrive in the external world.

So, trekking very seldom disappoints me. A lot of times, what seems like the point of the trek (as, in this case, the Hampta Pass) is not, of itself, something that you can snap a pic of and have people go 'Ooooh!' on Facebook. Beauty lies strewn all over the trail and, perhaps, the apparent goal of the trek is probably not its most beautiful point. Or, sometimes, it could well be the weather that plays spoilsport and denies you what could have been a wonderful visual experience. After having toiled up a wearisome six hours, if you expect a climactic experience, you may find it...or you may not. There could well be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but, if you fixate on it, you may well end up losing on enjoying the beauty of the rainbow.

All of which is to say that a six hours wearisome climb ended up at Hampta Pass, which looked no more or no less than any stretch of the path we had taken up to there. Maybe the view into the valley would have been breathtaking but a mist lay all over it and it may as well have covered up the concrete monstrosities, that Delhi's winter mist covers, for all we could see of it.

My pleasure in the trek was no less for it, because the point of trekking for me is to BE there. To be conscious of my body, of the terrain, to breathe in the fresh air, hear the gurgle of the river as I walk or as I go to sleep, to look on the majesty of the mountains, to see beauty where I find it rather than search for it as a goal (much like they say about happiness in life), to feel for the time a serenity that bypasses me in the city. To meet new people, help them or be helped by them with no thought of future recompense (NO networking nonsense, in effect) sometimes to bond for a lifetime, sometimes to pass by each other waving a hello and a goodbye.

But, yes, I could understand Archana and, later, Devashis when they expressed a sense of disappointment, for that is how we are geared. If you have put in great effort, you expect to be rewarded at the end of it. Hampta Pass, of itself and at that time, probably did not seem a sufficiently rewarding experience.

Beyond Hampta Pass, we descended into terrain which was much more desertified. Not so much greenery in the Lahual Valley and the terrain reminded me of my trek in Ladakh in the rain-shadow region.

The rains had started all over again and descending was made a shade more challenging than it should have been. I stuck around to see Devashis managing the descent like a veteran and then went on ahead. The day's camp was at Shea Gahru, which we reached as scheduled.
The next day was to be a very easy 3-4 hour descent to Chatru from where we would drive down to Chandratal to see that lovely Himalayan lake and then drive back to Chatru to camp for the night. Easy-peasy? Well, just to give one nightmares, we were informed that the start of the trek would be to cross the river by the side of which we were camped.

Ye Gods!

Part-I Part-III

Photo Credits: Devashis and other co-trekkers.

Trek to Hampta Pass - I

When you go on treks quite often, you tend to take the mountains, the fresh air, the greenery and the views for granted. No, it is not that you ignore them WHILE you are trekking, you are there for it all after all, but when you are back and sit to write about it, these seem usual and you hunt around for the unusual to highlight.
The unusual, for quite a few past treks, has been untoward happenings for me. Either natural disasters, where I was stuck in the middle, or man-made issues, like the riots that struck Kashmir post the killing of Burhan Wani. This time I came back, happy to write about having broken the jinx but, just I sat to write, there was news on 45 trekkers in trouble on this self-same trek due to heavy rains(They are safe now, I believe). That put me off my stride which accounts for why this post is so delayed.

Not that I escaped totally unscathed either. Rain was a constant companion on this trek. As for the other companions, I was trekking with a school friend this time - Devashis Ghosh - who, as is the case with anyone who partners me, had the unenviable role of putting up with my musical performances every night. (Ah! No, I do not mean only the ones that I perform while awake.) There were seven boys and five girls from Gujarat - all first year medical students - who added much to the color and vibrancy of the group. There were a group of ladies from Jaipur, including Archana who, despite having recovered from 18 fractures in her lower limbs and with plates screwed on, was there to brave the Himalayas. There was another duo of school-friends, just short of my age, Rathi and Bunty Sethi. There was the lone ranger from Bangladesh - Mudassar.

The first day's trek was to Chikha and was reputed to be a walk in the park. In the past, the guide says this and then sets off on what seems like an interminable 45 degree incline up, leaving you huffing and puffing in his wake, too winded to breathe curses on his deceitful head. Not so this time. It WAS easy and, like with all easy days of trekking, we ended up lazing around for a long time, in between, on a grassy incline, soaking in the atmosphere, to give time to the trek organisers to get ahead and erect the next campsite before we reached. There was even a convenient tea shop offering some snacks as well. (Someone will have to explain why Maggi seems such a gourmet food in the mountains. I mean, mention that Maggi is available, as it was in this shop, and there are wails of 'Oooh! Maggi!' as though it was the Holy Grail, with people dashing to the shop.)

We had barely arrived at the next campsite, with rain pattering on us for the last part of the day's trek, when there was a noise of a cannonade. We looked up to see a huge boulder rolling and bouncing down the mountain on the other side of the stream, on whose banks we had our camp. Just a warning from Nature not to take things too easy I suppose.

The next day was a tough day of trekking. Six hours of ascent, with rains coming down intermittently to ensure that the trail got slippery enough not to get too easy for us. Not that it was very easy terrain, anyway, boulder-ridden trails seldom are, but easier certainly than slippery boulders slick with rain. Devashis had not trekked before on rough terrain, his one previous trek having been in Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib, so I was a bit apprehensive. But then not everyone is like me, so ill-equipped with a sense of balance that he has to learn it over the years by repeated falling. Devashis was pretty good at managing his way, slowly but surely.

And I...given to normally huffing and puffing was this time handicapped by an ill-timed attack of Nasal Pharyngitis, causing me to breathe exclusively through my mouth. Even in the normal course, I am known for my imitation of a steam engine but this time...this time, with the whistling noises I was making, about the only thing I had to do was hold my hand in front of my mouth and Devashis would have taken it for my reverting to childhood, playing 'Koo! Chicku-bucku'. (Which, to explain to the kids of today, was one of those archaic means by which we twentieth century kids used to entertain ourselves, playing at trains, the other one being rolling a tire along screaming 'Drrrrrr' in imitation of a bike.)

Midway, we had to cross an icy stream holding hands to ensure that we did not lose our balance and get carried away by the current. A sunny day, and I would have found it fun, but with these brooding clouds and wind, the last thing one wanted was frozen feet. But, then, what you want and what you get always happen to be two different things on a trek. Like, you would want long rests en route when you are to ascend for 6 hours and are OK with short rests when it is a mere 2.5 hours but what do you get? Yeah! You guessed it!

Still, it was quite a decent day, not absolutely tiring but Bhalu-ka-Gheera was a much colder campsite. And the rains were not helping Devashis either, for he was feeling the cold rather badly. I...yeah, by now you know that cold is not one of the things that bother me too much.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining they say. AND this one had a...rainbow.

The next day was going to be the toughest day, an ascent of about 5-6 hours to Hampta Pass followed by a descent of about 3 hours before we reached the next campsite at Shea Gahru. But, meanwhile, we had the rainbow to enjoy.

AND, hopefully, a good night's sleep!

Part-II Part-III

Photo Credits: Devashis and other co-trekkers.

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 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...