Monday, June 18, 2018

Bilbliophilic elitism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

Quantum Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now...ah, now...

Now, AFTER the box is opened...

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

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

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

When oh when will I catch up with the curve?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Confidence Lessons-III

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

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

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

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

So, what is the net result?

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

WIMP!

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 28, 2018

Confidence Lessons-II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I DON'T KNOW"

Monday, May 21, 2018

Confidence Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Empathy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

How you ought to live - IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 30, 2018

How you ought to live - III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

How you ought to live - II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

How you ought to live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 9, 2018

Timely Help

Kaalatthaal seidha udhavi siridheninum gnalatthin maana peridu - Tirukkural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well?" he asked.

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

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

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Becoming modern

You know, as you keep aging you keep getting dated. The bell-bottoms, which were the acme of fashionable dressing, make people think that you are a clown escaped from a circus. The hair poking out of the neck of your shirt is no longer macho - only a sign of bad grooming identifying you as a chap who does not know the use of wax. The less said about the belly region, the better.

No-one can say that I do not try, though. Ah! No, I have not taken to wax, now, I mean I am actually glad that hair grows somewhere even if not on the head. But in behavior, most certainly I try...I really do. Why even the other day...

I walked into my office and saw my subordinate coming towards me.

"Expectation is the cause of all disappointment", I said with a smile. "Good morning".

The chap had a pained look on his face that I could not account for. Oh! Well! Must be suffering from dyspepsia, I thought, and walked past serenely.

You know how it is...the one chap you can happily live without seeing is the one guy who bumps into you everywhere. So, the next guy to come in my way was my peer and rival. Well, one cannot make it too obvious that you hate the sight of him. Politeness, yes politeness, that's the watchword.

"To know that you do not know is the first step to wisdom", I said politely. "Good morning."

The guy looked furious but he always looks furious when he sees me. Just not good enough an actor to keep his rivalry from warping his face, unlike me.

Who should I bump next into but my boss?

"Assessing what is said without regard to who is saying it is the hallmark of wisdom. Good morning, Sir", I said and went to my seat.

I had barely relaxed with a cup of tea when my subordinate barged in.

"So, I am not getting my promotion now, is that it? I am supposed to keep my expectations low?"

"What? Why...I..."

The door slammed open as my colleague walked in.

"So, I know nothing, do I? You are the wise know-it-all..."

I had barely taken in my breath before the peon came in with the summons from the boss.

"How dare you call me a fool? Just because you were proved right the last time when I overruled your opinion...Here! This will show you who the fool is."

"Out of a job merely because I was trying to become modern", I whined to my friend.

"What had becoming modern got to do with..."

"Well! You know how it is in WhatsApp. All those memes along with the morning wishes? I thought that this was the modern way to wish..."

There was a weird noise, suspiciously like retching, from my friend.

"Why do you want to apply WhatsApp ideas in real life? If someone cracks a joke do you laugh or hold up a smiley?"

Well, I do not know why they do on WhatsApp what they won't do in real life. But...

A more horrid thought crossed my mind. So, in real life, I cannot just say 'ROFL' for a good joke? I would actually have to roll on the floor laughing? Ye Gods!

AND who on Earth really wants to see me actually doing a ROFLMAO?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Discussions

I may have mentioned this before. I really do have very peculiar notions of most things in life. No wonder whenever I am in a group of people, there is this air of people in a zoo looking at the duck-billed platypus or some such rarity. So, it really is no surprise that what I thought discussions meant was at wide variance from the rest of the world.

The problem, you see, is that I tend to take the meanings of words too seriously. So, yes, I used to think of discussions as happening between people who may or may not have opinions but are inclined to talk to other people to find out whether their opinions are right or whether they needed to change them. I know, I know, that's a pretty stupid idea of what discussions were all about.

I should have known better, I suppose. I mean, I do know that when people get together the main thing that interests them is how THEY impress other people. It is hardly ever about seeing how the others impress them but even THAT is possible. The idea of people actually wanting to LEARN from others to modify their opinions, unless it is something useful like how to make a chicken curry, is so ludicrous as to not be acceptable even in a fantasy trilogy.

If only I had known that, I would have known that whenever someone trots out an opinion, all he expects from me is appreciative noises and "How knowledgeable you are" and "How did you even think of this. Wonderful!" - all without even the remotest tinge of sarcasm in the tone. THAT's a discussion! A contra-opinion? Facts that oppose his conclusions? Are you mad? (Oh! Yes! There are most certainly discussions where there are people who love putting down other people's opinions in order to feel good about themselves. In which case, the following would be said by THEM and not by the guy who set this opinion game going.)

"Oh! If that is what you think" would greet you, if the man has some semblance of politeness.

"Well, obviously you know everything so why am I even trying to tell you things." if the chap feels truly irritated.

"Says the guy who thought that a black hole was a cigarette burn in his shirt" That, yes, would be the obnoxious lout whose only use for a sense of humor is to ridicule others, especially if it seems like they would prove him wrong. Strangely, though, that seems to be the most appreciated sense of humor, which goes to show that being able to look down on someone else for a change is quite a popular thing.

AND, if you ever get into this 'discussion' with the teens, you will get that wonder-word, "Whatever!"

So much for discussions. NOW I have understood what I am supposed to do.  Make appreciative noises . AND then comes technology to mess things up for me.

NOW, in social media, a discussion means groups of people lining up on either side of a fence and metaphorically throwing rotten eggs and tomatoes at each other.

By the time this new definition seeps fully into the real world, and Business starts genetically modifying hens and tomato plants to directly yield rotten eggs and tomatoes to keep up with the demand, I hope I will be the 'late so-and-so'.

What I am worried about is if it also hit the after-life. Then it will be inescapable for eternity.

I sure hope that Hawking is right and there IS no after-life, after all!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Homo Contradictus

God must have been in a particularly capricious mood when he created us humans. Or, perhaps, like all of us, he left everything to the last moment and, when he felt the deadline pressure of those 7 days, bunged in the brain without properly debugging it. As usual in such cases, it is we who have to live with the consequences.

Take as simple a matter as food, for example. I mean, do you ever salivate at the thought of that low calorie meal, no matter how yummy they claim the recipe to be? Does the thought of a bitter-gourd smoothie or a cabbage soup make you lick your lips and pounce on it the moment it is in your vicinity? (I still retch at the smell of boiling cabbage after going on a diet that seemed to mainline on it) Just get a distant whiff of a baking cake or the heavenly aroma of frying pakoras and try keeping the saliva from pouring out of the mouth like a Niagara! This thing of everything you like being unhealthy and everything healthy seeming unsavory - I mean, come on, how difficult could it have been to wire the brain and body to like what is good for it?

Then there is this weird code that seems to have been exclusively reserved for human brains. I mean, come on, ever seen an animal cause suffering to itself because of what other members of the herd would think? Can you convince a monkey to keep off the local bananas so that it can afford a half-meal of an imported banana a day, nicely wrapped though it may be, so that it can impress the other monkeys? "Nuts to you. They will not be impressed, they will only think me silly and, even if they are, why should I starve myself to impress them?", it would say. Or get a female bear to wax its legs? "WHAT?? If that bloody Bruin does not like the damn hair, there are a lots more where he came from" would be the probable response. And try telling it to wax the legs not for the male bears, oh no, but for the other female bears...And yet, that's the funny thing with the way the human brain is wired. Each one of them, left to themselves, may find it better to 'eat the local bananas' or 'keep the wax for the candles' but the fact that ALL are in agreement with that option somehow does not suffice to keep them from opting for the other, more torturous option. One rather wonders if God was really smoking something that day.

The only consolation for me is that He must be getting paid back in His own coin these days. Once we run the marathon of life and land up at His desk and ask Him for our rewards...well, good luck to you, God, trying to figure out whether we are asking for what we really want or what we think we ought to want. Sooner or later, a badly-written code does become a headache for the one who wrote it...now try debugging THIS!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Opinions

I really need someone to explain this opinions thing. I mean, yeah, it is not like I never had any, I have some but the problem seems to be that I am one of those mundane guys who can only have opinions about things that directly impinge on me. You know, like this summer is too hot this year, onions have become too expensive/never been cheaper...things like that. Not really the sort of thing that people look up to and say,"Hey! How intellectual of the guy, let us share this."

Like, you know, Sridevi dies and the most I feel is a vague sort of sadness about the diva who captivated me in my youth. I mean, like, if I cross the road to avoid that man beating his wife and engage in prurient(and envious) gossip about the married colleague carrying on with that hot receptionist, I really could not see any reason to have an opinion about Boney Kapoor and her, even when it first happened, leave alone decades after and after she died. The guy next door, after all, affects my life more directly than some distant actress and I know more about the people concerned to know the rights and wrongs of it. If I did not bother to raise a voice about that, why even bother to have an opinion about distant happenings? (Precisely because of that? Lesser chances of getting bopped on the nose by the concerned parties? Ah!) But, apparently, the road to popularity lies through having such opinions. Alas! Now I know why I languish in obscurity.

But I cannot blame it all on luck, you know. I also do not happen to have the necessary intelligence. I mean, yeah, I am sort of looked on as a dimwit but this is one of those occasions when I have to sort of agree that it could be true. There are things that everyone knows of, but does not know or understand enough to have informed opinions about...you know, the sort of economic things that everyone talks of and you remain as ignorant before you started hearing them...or, if anything, a lot more confused. I have generally stayed off having opinions about things I do not understand...exactly why I suppose I really belong in that crowd of dimwits.

For one, if everyone around you is equally as ignorant, then it is easiest to have an opinion...after all, no-one can call you ignorant if nobody knows enough to do so. Secondly, if it is worth having an opinion about, it necessarily will be a controversial topic, which means it will have strong supporters as well as opponents. In which case, anyone disputing you can be called names, made out to be one of the 'blind' supporters or opponents, depending on your stance, and vilified. It is simpler, of course, if you start vilifying the person proposing/opposing the policy while you vilify/support the policy itself for, that way, you set the right tone for the discussion where you can participate without having to understand. As in, once you do that, all that will ensue is name-calling , which only requires a rich understanding of swear words, and from that point on who cares what the policy is all about anyway?

Learning too late has always been my bane. I think I may end up being unable to impress anyone with my opinions.

Any opinions on that?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Change

I hate change! Oh! I know, you guys will all come around preaching sententiously that change is the only constant and I should not be such a stick-in-the-mud and all the huge collection of cliches that pass for wisdom in the world. But...I HATE CHANGE.

Maybe, just maybe, if the darned thing happened in small doses, I could have swallowed it with a grimace and moved on. But this goddamn deluge of it is really getting on my nerves. And, as for the way it insouciantly wipes out a whole lifetime of acquired wisdom and renders you as much an incompetent as you were in your teens...

First to go was my much vaunted vocabulary. Times were when someone who encountered an unknown word in a book used to turn to me asking me for the meaning. Now I sit eagerly by, running through all the difficult words in my mind to be ready for the quiz...and nothing happens. Have I been surpassed? Has everyone been memorizing the dictionary just to avoid giving me my few seconds of limelight? Not really...there is this dratted thing called Google, and some busybody fools who put up online dictionaries and all my hard-won knowledge rendered worthless...CHANGE! HELL!

I do not suffer alone, though. There is this relative of mine whose encyclopedic knowledge of the roads of his city was the envy even of the city planners. Every time you were in a car, driving from place X to place Y, he was the central figure. Imagine his plight when a newbie driver from another city picks him up, and he is all geared up to impress with his navigational skills and the insensitive chap switches on some gizmo which guides him step by step leaving all the accumulated knowhow of our man fizzing inside him without outlet. His only consolation was,"What that woman did to 'Mariamman Koil Street' I would not do to my worst enemy" with reference to the lady voice guiding that insensitive lout.

Then one day, in comes my nephew, first job, first bank account and I see my chance of making him respect me (for the first time in his lifetime) with my wise words on which counter to go to get the withdrawal form, which to present it in and get a token, and whither lies the cash counter where the moolah will get handed out when his turn comes and...

"Shove your advice where the daylight does not shine, Uncle mio! I just walk into an ATM, swipe a card, enter my PIN and..."

Eeeks! What is all that mumbo-jumbo? Change has thrown me right back to my usual posture of abysmal ignorance, placed me metaphorically at his feet seeking to learn how to withdraw money from my account all over again.

Aha! But NOW I am equipped for the rest of my nephews who are yet to come of age. NOW I shall teach them how to handle their finances...

"Chuck all that crap! What do I want cash for? All I have to do is tap a few keys on my mobile and presto..."

Ugh! It has not even been a couple of years, God! This is CHAOS.

NOW, apparently, all you have to do is fly out of the shop waving your mobile...

Alas! I am too old to learn to fly by flapping my phone!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Writer's block

I kept hearing of this thing called 'Writer's block', which keeps writers from writing, and wondered exactly what it could be. Possibly laziness, possibly boredom and given a nice fancy name so they could feel important about it, I supposed.

I mean, come on, ever heard of an 'Accountant's Block'? Where the figures suddenly danced in front of your eyes and you started wondering about exactly what addition meant and how to do it? Or, perhaps, a 'Plumber's Block'? Now, now, I did not mean blocked plumbing. That can happen all too often and pretty messy it can get, too, when it does happen.

And then I started writing...and now I find myself with this strange beast and understand its nature. The problem is not in being able to write but in a selection of what to write. The Accountant gets his figures and knows what the report he is expected to produce. If he forgets how to get from Point A to Point B, it is a temporary or permanent memory loss or dementia, not a block. Ditto the plumber. The writer, though, has to select point A and point B himself and also decide whether he travels in a straight line or meanders all over the place as he gets there. So, yes, a 'blocked writer' can still write a spanking good piece as a content writer - where point A, point B and the route are all laid out. But when he gets to try original writing, he thinks up a subject, and the thoughts fritter away, jumps to another and find ideas vanishing like the mist...

In my case, I rather think it is more to do with what I could call 'existential angst' if I were to be writing literary fiction. I could say I am in a crisis of  the soul - 'What is the purpose of writing?'; 'What does a blog post (or book or poem) mean in the larger scheme of things?' and so on. But, being who I am, it is more of 'What is the purpose of MY writing? Is anyone reading it at all?' I never really have known whether it is that I am being too honest for my own good and could have acquired a lot more 'literary credit' if I dressed up my feelings in the appropriate language or...

The problem, you see, is in the nature of what I write - Humor. Now humor is something people get forwarded on WhatsApp. The idea of actually BUYING a book of humor, or even reading it for free on Kindle Unlimited, must appear riotously...err...humorous to them, I suppose. (THAT pic at the side with a dog and cat? Yes, that one! THAT was a humor book I wrote before I realized this) You know, somewhat like someone expecting you to pay for a couple of breaths (although THAT I am assured is in the offing...and even in practice in some country or the other.) Forget BUYING, the idea of even having to read more than 140 characters for humor...or, God Forbid, open a link...

Anyway, you get the picture. Me, I am like a plant...I need praise like that thing needs water. Otherwise I droop, pine and generally give up the ghost. (Ah! No! I like life very much, thank you. If no-one reads my writing, I am not going to slash my wrists or any such thing. There is always vodka, music, movies and reading, instead of writing) And when I, as I am drooping, think of writing my next blog post or book, and consider what to write about...

Maybe I should try writing Romance? But, then, a bachelor writing Romance...I never even had a girlfriend. If I had had one, I'd not be alive today to wonder about what to write, she would have shot me long ago. As for a love affair with my mirror...I hate the damn thing, it never shows me looking as handsome as I know I look.

Perhaps mythology? After all, I know how Maricha is the uncle of Ravan. He was the son of Thataka, who was the mother also of Kekasi, the father being Somali, and Kekasi, if you did not know, was the mother of Ravan. Why would anyone be interested when they do not even care to know their grandfather's name? What do I know...I know they are...I know these things but I do not know that I'd be jumping with joy if someone told me anything of this sort today.

So, yes, maybe I should write myth. And, apparently, one should write from a fresh point of view. Ramayan is a bit too dicey what with Ram being deified and people all too willing to burn you at the stake if you set a foot wrong.

So, yeah, the Mahabharat it has to be. Remember that chap Sanjaya? Yeah, the same guy who watched the live telecast of the Kurukshetra war (YES! We got there eons before CNN) and relayed it to the blind Dhritarashtra. I think I should write the Mahabharat from the point of view of Sanjaya's wife's uncle's pet dog.

Any takers for an epic that goes like this?

"Bowwowwhoooobow...."

Monday, January 8, 2018

Another Humorist


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There is this problem with being a humorist. You keep guessing the punchline, expecting kinky ways of describing things and so on, to the extent that when someone says that there is another guy who writes humor, you are almost like, 'Oh! Yeah! Let me see." Not because of any competitive envy but because when you can guess the punchlines, the read is less funny...and, so, it takes a lot more to impress a humorist with humor. At least, that's the way it works with me...I mean, there are those people who start laughing all the more when they guess the punchline, and from the moment they guess it, and there are those who feel bored when that happens. I belong to the latter lot. (Yeah! True! You will find humorists laugh when no-one else does as well but THAT is because of the ability to SEE that joke...)

So, then I get into blogging and there is this guy, calling himself 'The Fool', who is also supposed to write humor. Bloggers come in all shapes and sizes, writing in all niches...you know parenting, travel etc etc...but almost everyone claims to write 'Humor', except only those who feel it is a shame to be writing any such frivolous thing. So, this 'supposed to be write humor' always has me approaching the blog with a metaphorical sneer.

Surprise! Here was one guy who actually DID write humor, when he wrote humor; a unique brand of humor - astringent, cynical, tangy - and capable of making you chuckle or even laugh out aloud. Withal, there was this refreshing feeling of an underlying honesty...the strong conviction that the author speaks from the heart.

Take this for example

"Parent Bloggers of the World, Spam me with your blog-links; A new customer is born today"

THIS was his way of announcing on Facebook that his son was born!

I get ahead of my story as usual. When I went into his blog and read this Great Indian Bride HuntI was hooked. You know all that I said above...that honesty, that cynical humor etc...that was what I found there.

We became online friends and went on to conducting a 'Writing Workshop' - a typical case of the blind leading the blind. We, indeed, SAW it that way...that we were there as much to learn as the others...but the fact of running it made it seem to the others that we had it in us to teach...anyway, as in most social media ventures, where the admins are not active on it, the workshop sort of petered out.

Not without causing one output, though. This chap, I and Radha collaborated on and put out an anthology of three crime stories - Sirens Spell Danger. In the process of putting together that one was my next major revelation about my new friend.

One of the things about writing is the process of beta-reading. So, you write something; you know it is absolute deathless prose and so you send it to people for what is called a 'beta-read', where they can tell you if there are areas of improvement; of course, you say that you expect honest criticism because you know your writing is near-flawless and, so, if it is honest, it can only be praise and, if anything, there will be a typo or two; and the damn beta-readers come out with pages of criticism whereupon you make wax figures of them, stick red-hot pins into them and dredge out all the curses that humanity ever invented; and, then, reluctantly change the MS and toss it back at the betas with the implicit 'You better like it or you will not survive the experience'.

I am sure that my friend was not really immune to indulging in waxworks and pins...the point is that he wrote and rewrote four times to get out the final story in that anthology. That capacity in him to junk almost the entire story or huge sections of it, if someone whose advice he respects tells him that it does not work...well, all I can say is that, in most authors' cases, what would be junked is that person and not the writing!

So, it is about time to introduce TF Carthick's first solo book - 'Unfairy Tales' - about which all I have to say is said there

Carthick has the unique talent to look upon the familiar from a strange vantage point and make it appear funny and wonderful. Here he applies it to well-known fairy tales to make them seem hilarious and fascinating. Be warned! If reading this book permanently skews the way you see the world, I am not to be held responsible.

Ebook: https://www.amazon.in/Carthicks-Unfairy-Tales-retelling-seven-ebook/dp/B0782P93G6

Paperback: https://www.pustakmandi.com/pre-order/Carthicks-Unfairy-Tales-T-F-Carthick

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37539849-carthick-s-unfairy-tales