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?"

"Yes!"

"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."

"Well...is 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!

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 Helium...it 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 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.