Monday, March 25, 2019

The seeds of happiness?

Nandrikku vitthagum nallozhukkam theeozhukkam endrum idumbai tharum - Tirukkural

Good behavior/thoughts/habits is the seed of happiness; bad behavior/thoughts/habits leads to sorrow - Loose translation

You know, I really hate these words that seem so simple and peel off in layer after layer of meaning. I break out in tears much like I would when I peel that pungent vegetable which also has so many layers.

You cannot blame Tiru much though for using them. For some weird reason, he HAD decided to give all his advice in couplets (for those of my compatriots who prefer the foreign to the Indian one may call them sort of haikus) and if he had to cram so much meaning into so few words, he had to squeeze each word for meaning till it cried 'Uncle'!

This 'Ozhukkam' is one of those words. AT first sight, it means discipline. The problem is that it does not stop there. It means morality, behavior, attitude (NOT the attitude that teens so love. It means the way you view and interact with the rest of the world, not color streaked hair and tattoos) and what not. You need to read it to mean the sum total of your character - thought, word and deed - rather than merely a list of dos and donts that you need to stick to.

So, essentially, Tiru says that the seeds of happiness lie in being a good person, in thought, word and deed. AND not being good always leads to unhappiness.

Very questionable, isn't it? I mean, we live in a world which largely equates being good to being a loser. Though, yes, in Tiru's time they had a sort of long view of happiness - they tended to see it as something as applied both in life and in the after-life, so perhaps they meant that overall being good would equate being happy. Largely in the afterlife, maybe.

But, then, I am not too sure, overall, that Tiru is wrong about the happiness while you live. Yeah, to be sure, being wealthy seems a better prescription for happiness than being good, so one tends to see the latter being sacrificed in pursuit of the former. The issue, though, is...

Well, there is this story about Duryodhan and Yudhishtir. The former was asked about the people in Hastinapur. He said most of them are knaves who would do anything in the pursuit of their own goals. When Yudhishtir was asked the same question, he said that they were all good people pursuing dharma. The moral (yes, that damn thing does tend to crop up in such tales) being that each saw others as a reflection of who they themselves were.

THAT is the issue. I mean, if I am bad, I live life in suspicion about all those around me. If I am good, I am more willing to trust, more likely to make meaningful relationships. (AND, thank you, being good does not mean being STUPID, so it does not always mean that I would end up becoming a pauper). Which of the two is a happier life is left to you to decide.

The most vexed thing about this whole issue is the definition of good and bad. Right from the clothes you wear to the food you eat, there is always someone ready with a classification of good and bad...and willing to kill for it. As far as I am concerned, anyone who only lives up to HIS classification is good; anyone who tries to impose his classification on others is bad. Period.

I tell you one thing for sure though. If all the people around me were 'good' THAT is not merely the seed of MY happiness, it is a whole ORCHARD!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Educated idiots?

Ulagatthodu otta ozhugal pala katrum kalladhaar ariviladhaar - Tirukuural

He, who knows not how to get along with the world, is an idiot, no matter how well-educated - Loose Translation

Well, well, well...and I thought that this Emotional Quotient thingy was something that the West kindly developed only recently and handed over to the rest of the world to marvel over. This chap, Tiru, seems to have got on to it centuries back. Though, to be sure, he fails miserably on the only count that matters. He does not realize that what is said is unimportant. What is important is to label it nicely. This bloke never bothered to label it at all and see...nobody knows he even said it.

Nice, though, to find one thing that has quite a modern ring to it. There he goes saying that you could be a genius at Physics but if you cannot get along with people, you will only count as a fool. True, you can get that warm feeling that the rest of the world is wrong and you are right. The essence of discovery or invention, though, is how far it advances the knowledge or well-being of mankind, not merely in your own opinion of your scintillating genius. If the latter were the only criterion, you can always have the opinion without necessarily having the genius.

Actually, with all pithy sayings, this does not mean that a successful quest for popularity trumps all knowledge. Though, to be sure, it does seem that such is the case these days. The point Tiru makes covers the gamut of social get along with people, to be able to communicate effectively with them, to even lead them. Essentially, all those abilities that are packaged under the so-called EQ.

Tiru was a wise chap. HE did not think that if someone is a great warrior, he would also be a great orator, a great farmer... Of course, HE did not live in the days of TV where, because he wrote Tirukkural, he would be interviewed on his views about which crop to grow at which place, whether Raag Yaman Kalyan was more mellifluous than Raag Hamsadhwani, which of the various court dancers was the best exponent of Bharatanatyam, yada, yada, so he could hold the view that expertise in one area did not mean expertise in all areas. So, it is unlikely that he expected phenomenal EQ in someone with phenomenal IQ to not consider him a fool. But, yeah, he certainly considers a minimal competence necessary.

Me? I am safe. Let them bother who have the IQ and are worried about not having the EQ. When you do not even have the IQ...

Monday, March 11, 2019

To do or not to do?

Seithakka alla seyakkedum seithakka seyyamai yaanum kedum - Tirukkural

To do what you ought not do and to not do what you ought to do both lead to disaster - Loose translation

I have always been a master of 'Strategic Inaction'. Oh well, for all you non-management chappies with no real appreciation of jargon it is what you would call the 'Ostrich syndrome'. (I? I call it that only when OTHER people indulge in it. When I do it, it is always strategic) You know the thing. 'Bury your head in the sand and hope that the problem will go away' strategy.

To be sure, it is a big help when adhering to the first half of Tiru's sage advice. If you do nothing, there is no way you will be doing what you ought not to do. When I read this one, halfway through I was patting myself on the back and giving myself high fives in the mirror for having avoided disaster. And then, Tiru ups and spoils it all.

There is such a thing as what I ought to do? And not doing that will also lead to disaster. Ye Gods! Is there no way an ordinary man can escape disaster in this vale of tears? (Not an ordinary man? Me? What do you mean? That all you ordinary guys go leaping and bounding, joyfully doing things all the time, and I am the lone guy who is attached to his bed with Fevikwik? Nonsense. If you did not have spouses chivying you out of bed and making you do all sorts of things I'd like to see what you would do. Opening a beer-can, a bag of popcorn and switching on the TV is about all you will manage before collapsing in inartistic poses onto the Lazy-boy, totally exhausted by all that strenuous action.)

But, yeah, I should not take all this advice personally. Impersonally, as applied to other people in the world, I can see what Tiru means. I mean, like the government does not build good roads in time, there will be traffic jams and accidents. If I do as I ought not, as in not maintaining any sort of lane discipline, there will be traffic jams and accidents. If I do not do what I ought to not stopping at a red light when I ought to...there will be traffic jams and accidents.

(What?? Why this obsession with a traffic jam metaphor? Well, THAT means you have never traveled on Bangalore roads. Take it from me, for someone who has, it is a telling metaphor.)

So, yeah, perhaps Tiru does have a point after all. To do and to not do can both lead to disaster.

Now, if only I can rub out that sneaking suspicion that Tiru meant it for me to apply as well...

Monday, March 4, 2019

Look before you leap

Ennitthuniga karumam thunindhapin ennuvam enbadhu izhukku - Tirukkural

Consider well before you decide on a course of action; to decide first and consider later is folly - Loose translation

Tiru has generally been considered a wise old bloke. Yeah, to be sure, I have had reason to believe that his advice suited his times better than they suit ours. But, even in his times, I doubt that people would have lauded his wisdom if he had asked a fellow to think long and hard before tossing his pants off if they were on fire (Veshti, if you want to be too literal about it, given that pants were not what a well-dressed Tamilian of his times was used to wearing).

So, yes, I am sure he really did not mean that you had to hold a round table conference and chart out a full project report before you reacted to an emergency situation. He would not have wagged a finger at you and called you a fool if you ran out of your house in your underwear if the roof was falling down.

What he probably did mean with this wise old saw is about those things that you did have the time to think about the options. THEN there is a point to actually studying the pros and cons, to decide on a course of action, to anticipate possible problems and be prepared with ways to tackle them and all that rigmarole BEFORE you set the ball rolling. You know, just like that English proverb about looking before you leap (Yeah! I know, there are those very wise people who come out saying 'I did look. It still did not help when I fell into the well. I'd have been better off learning to swim.' THAT comes of taking things too literally. Of not understanding that to look before you leaped did not mean that the leaping should inevitably follow the looking. That you could choose not to leap if the looking showed you that you would certainly fall into the well if you leaped.) Tiru, though, goes further and says you need to think and plan, to not merely come to a 'Yes' or 'No' decision but also to know how to carry out the action in case you decide on 'Yes'.

The problem, though, is what I would call 'Other-Handitis'. I am a major sufferer from this dread disease. Any time I need to take a decision, I am like 'On the one hand, it will help me in this' but 'On the other hand, there will be this problem' know how it goes. My head keeps oscillating between this hand and that hand till it goes all dizzy and the decision gets taken for me because the time for action is long past and I am still vacillating between hands. (What? People call that 'Analysis-Paralysis'? Let them. I call it 'Other-Handitis'. So there!) So, if anything at all gets done by me, it is only when I leap first and then tackle issues as they come.

Quite naturally, my work ends up full of sticking plaster. I mean, it is like I start building something, there is a leak there so I apply sticking plaster on that, go on finding something else has developed a crack, apply sticking plaster on that...and so on and so on. Which, essentially, is what Tiru warns of. But, hey, however rickety it is, I did build the damn thing, even if it all falls apart within a week. Otherwise, nothing would have been done.

Bully for me, yeah, but that is not exactly the sort of person organizations should look for, is it? I mean, like, you would not really love a mobile, say, which breaks down every other day, redirects your GF's Whatsapp messages to your parents, drops calls whenever it is not in the mood. Not even if the operator says 'Hey! Count your blessings. You do have a mobile, don't you? It has still not burned to cinders, has it?' You kind of expect the guys backing it to have 'looked before they leaped'.

Tiru is spot on. Except, of course, that he expects ME to do it as well! If only advice applied exclusively to other people...