Monday, September 30, 2019

The power of headlines

You know, one of the things I realized very late in life is the power of headlines in news of all sorts. If you, like me, are the sort to just generally browse the headlines - or what now flashes in 'Breaking news' - without bothering to go through all the fine print, you could end up getting a totally erroneous idea of what is happening in the world. Of course it is all to the good since everyone does the same and, after all, what everyone knows IS the truth regardless of what some strange people think is the 'real truth'.

You know, though, this is one of those things that we invented way back in the past and forgot to claim the credit for. I mean, this use of headlines to manufacture the truth hails back to the ancient Indian history (or myth, for all those who are now called pseudo-sickular or some such quaint name.)

Aswatthama Dead

Now that was the headline Yudhishtir flashed and Drona, like us modern folks, did not go beyond the headline and chose to abandon the battle and got killed. Of course he can claim that he had a legit excuse. That when the fine print about 'Was it the man or was it the elephant?' was being said by Yudhishtir, Krishna and the other Pandavas blew their conches and drowned it out. But then, hey, for us too, the fine print is all drowned out by the pinging of various notifications from our multiple social media sites, not to mention the fact that the phone goes around in circles trying to locate the fine print.

Really, though, it is not like we were all waiting for the modern folks and appliances to create the impression we wanted to create, regardless of the 'real' news. I mean, yeah, there were even those guys who read a few paragraphs of the news before jumping over to the next and, for them, we were prepared. So, the Aswatthama news would have been played out like this in the old days.

"The valiant Bhima picked up his mace and answered the challenge of the mighty Aswathhama. Twirling his mace with wonderful dexterity, he deflected every attack. The mighty blows of Bhima seemed to have little impact on his courageous opponent. Undaunted the son of Pandu pressed his attack on his invincible foe."

And so on and so forth, for five to six paras till at the last, we would end with

"And then fell the mighty Aswatthama to the valorous Pandava. When the dying breath of the mammoth elephant gusted out, the Pandava army roared with victory and praised the second son of Kunti, 'Hail, Bhima! Slayer of the great Aswatthama!"'

And there you were. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...except that the 'elephant' has a 'blink and you miss it' reference. It has been statistically proven 999 out of a 1000 people would come out convinced that Bhima had killed Drona's son. (AND the thousandth? HE would yawn and say, 'Did you say something?')

Knowing this, and being such wonderful people in the PR department, it surprised me that the Finance Minister should have been talking of Auto sector job losses and said something like 'Millenials using Uber and Ola is also a reason for reduced demand'. Of course the headlines were 'Nirmala Sitharaman blames millenials for job losses in auto sector'. Naturally, no-one likes being blamed for anything and, if someone blames you, the mature mind always reacts by blaming that someone for everything from the great flood onward, doesn't it?

Now if only she had said something like "Millenials are environment conscious and, so, prefer ride sharing services in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Good though this is, it does have the effect of depressing demand for cars." That, at least, would have opened out the possibility of a headline like "FM praises millenials for environment consciousness." Now, you really cannot troll someone who is busy praising you, can you? (You can? THAT is probably an ability that they forgot to install in us older models!)

Anyway, this long an acquaintance with how a journalist can write ANY news so as to convey the message HE/SHE wants has left me in the 'No news is good news' frame of mind, where the 'good' is indicative of the quality of the news and not the nature of the news. This, even in the days when only the viewpoint was manufactured not the news itself.

But the one indelible impression I want to leave in your minds is that


Monday, September 23, 2019


I don't know exactly when I started getting judgmental about people. It probably started way back in school. You know how it is - every class has this irritating bunch of people who seem to think that marks below 90% (grades, these days, I suppose but it was all about marks then) do not exist and take it as a personal insult if they score less than 100%. It is too much to expect the rest of us to go around with hangdog expressions, looking up in awe at these lofty people. So, naturally, we judged them to be the sort who 'mugged up and vomited' (Memorized without understanding, for the uninitiated) and not really intelligent at all. We, the truly intelligent, could not stoop to such degraded practices even if we were inclined to drop playing hooky and spend time with books.

After that promising start, it is but natural that I scaled new heights. In office, the chap who ascended the ladder was, of course, invariably the boss' pet. I mean, not as in 'pet' because he was good at his work and, thus, ascended the ladder but ascended the ladder because he was the 'pet'. Sometimes, yes, it became difficult to not accept that the chap WAS good at his work but, then, hey the chap had such awful haircut, or had such terrible table manners or...well, usually there WAS something about him which was so rank terrible that he did not deserve to be where he was. Such a pity that such undeserving people got ahead in life. Life is so unfair.

The biggest problem, though, was with those people who are held up as examples. I mean, uncomfortable chaps like, say, Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. Those character elements and those achievements for which they are known and you are exhorted to try to live up to...very irritating. So, yeah, what would you do? Try to find if there is reason to believe that they did NOT do what they are said to have done, right? If you cannot find that, then go searching for SOME reason to pull them down, so that you can say they are not great idols to follow, right? After all, they are human, they must have SOME flaws. Precisely what I do. And if they are long dead, so much the better, since they are not going to be around to take you to court for slander or libel. Naturally, I did not rest till I found feet of clay in ANY idol. It is SO irksome to think that they can be, or become, better humans than me.

Do I judge myself, you ask? What nonsense. Why do you think I go around judging other people, if not to avoid judging myself? If I started down that slippery slope, then I would have to feel that I needed to improve myself or some such shit.

Such an uncomfortable thing to do!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Lost and floundering

You know, this brave new world of ours confuses me too much. Too often, I find myself totally lost and floundering when I try to make sense of it. (Yeah, yeah, I know you are murmuring, 'Why am I not surprised?')

I mean, take this climate thing for example. People are all groaning about our carbon footprint and all. So, I say to myself, 'Great! Now is when folks will be seeking people riding those scooters and motorbikes to switch to public transport or cycles.' And, you know what, within seconds of my thinking that, someone laments the fact that, because of the expense, people are not switching from scooters and bikes to CARS! Apparently, the auto sector is in a down spiral and it is important for jobs. Jobs beat climate change issues, I understand that. For, of course, it is more important to be able to eat even if you have to wear a mask to get out of the house. Begs the question, though, about what sort of species are we that we develop a system where jobs CAN come only at the cost of a healthy environment and we do not even start to search for an alternative system.

Then there is this whole brouhaha about plastic usage. There is hardly a thing that we use these days which does not have plastic in it, so I did think that people would start thinking about consumerism and its effects. Rank idiocy, I know, for the same chap screaming to stop using plastic is probably doing it on a brand new smartphone, which he bought because it took better selfies than his previous perfectly serviceable one. Apparently, reducing plastic usage only means taking a carry-bag to the mall. From chips to cool drinks, from shampoos to groceries everything we buy is packed in plastic but we will save the world by reducing carry bags. I mean, come on, if people stopped buying phones every other day, started consuming mainly fresh foods, juices and all, what would happen to economic growth? If we cannot grow without choking the planet with plastic, we will have to choke the damn planet. After all, the very chap pushing newer and newer products in your face, and enticing you with discounts, is building space habitats to which you can flee once you have gift-wrapped Earth completely in plastic.

I kept hearing 'Data is the new oil', a resource occupying the importance in today's economy that petroleum did yesterday. I was in awe about all these nerds collecting and analyzing data, possibly about the origin of the universe, possibly to efficiently use resources, possibly to pinpoint and solve critical problems. Some of that perhaps is happening but that is not the 'new oil' from what I understand. The really all important data that is collected seems to be about what shampoo I buy and how frequently, where I live and whether people in my area so desperately want to be fair or not, what movies I like, even perhaps when and how frequently I pee and so on. The most critical job that the top brains of the world are working on is how best to push an ad of the right product into my face at the right time, so that I buy it from that particular source. Though, to date, all they have managed to do is push the ad of the very product that I had just bought, twenty times a day every day of the subsequent week. They will get to when I get the ad from an Amazon or Flipkart, precisely when I am looking to buy the product and THAT will be the pinnacle of human achievement! The world holds its breath waiting upon whether I shall buy Sensodyne or Colgate Sensitive; from Amazon or from Flipkart!

But then, if you remember, I was the guy who never really got the seriousness of advertisements. An anachronism in a world which is run by ads. I mean, come on, people are running companies that are considered the most valuable in the world - Facebook, Twitter, Google, what have you - offering their ostensible main service for free and depending mainly on either advertising revenue or the data which helps companies target advertisements better. And, nowadays, they seem intent on converting everyone into an advertiser going by how much they pester me to promote my FB page or my blog or...

No wonder I am lost and floundering!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Too content?

"You know what's the problem with you?"

Again! And it had been a long while since I thought that 'the problem' meant that there was only one problem with me and all I needed to do was to sort that out. After the thirtieth time it had happened, each one outlining a different problem, even my optimism was not up to the task.

It was going to be a bad day today. It generally is, even with one friend playing psychoanalyst but now there were three of them.

"The issue is that you are too content."

"I would not say that", I said, idly. "I'd really like a larger house, be able to travel business class..."

"And what are you willing to do to get all that."

I reared up, as if stung. "Do? Me? What I meant was that if some fairy godmother would wave a wand and..."

"Exactly! Anyone can dream of being better. Like, say, wishing you could sing like Rafi with no real intent to become a singer. Unless you really want it, really feel dissatisfied with what you have, you do not put in the effort to get it. So..."

"It is not only that. The benefit is just not worth the cost, that's all."

"Not discontent enough..."

And as if one guy getting after me was not enough, another of these chaps butted in.

"Yeah, as though he could have become a...a CEO, say, even if he wanted to. It is just sour grapes, he just cannot become one so he acts as if he does not want to..."

"That's the problem with us guys. If he says he does not consider the benefits worth the costs, why not give him the benefit of the doubt? Why assume immediately that he is incompetent?"

I looked on the third chap, who had just said the last, with wondering disbelief. A friend who supports me? Where had he been all my life?

"Nonsense. If he could have, he would have. If only because of peer pressure."

"Peer pressure? That's the last thing I'd do things for", I said. "At school, I got pushed into engineering because of peer pressure. So, was that the end of the thing, the Holy Grail in my hands and the rest of life a sinecure? Nonsense, I find that I have a new set of peers, all engineers, and now the stakes were higher. So, I get into IIM. There...that settled it? NOW I have a hotshot lot of MBAs for peers, and the goals are even higher. All I have seen of succumbing to peer pressure is that I get pushed onto newer and newer treadmills which run harder and faster. I am all done with trying to satisfy pressurizing peers, anyway. I want people who will take me as I am, not make me feel that I need to battle every day to retain my right to be called their peer."

There was stunned silence. As was natural, considering that this was the first time I ever managed to say so many sentences at the same time in any meeting with my friends. The confidence that a teensy bit of support can give you, I tell you!

"So, you never really wanted to become a..."

"Become? Yeah, I too thought it was all about becoming. Becoming an engineer, becoming an MBA, becoming a CEO. The point is not about the becoming, the point is whether I would enjoy BEING what I had become. And I most certainly would not enjoy being on a perpetual treadmill all my life. Like, say, Ranjan here thought he would like BECOMING a retired person but he hardly found BEING a retired person to his taste, did he?"

"Ah! So you think we are all stupid fools running on..."

"Treadmill is how it appears to me. To you it could appear like paradise or, who knows, it may also appear a treadmill to you but you may actually feel ecstatic about running on it. Or you may need or want the rewards that running on the treadmill gives you. Unlike you guys, I do not think that the way I feel about life is the only right way and, if someone has not adopted it, he is either a fool or incompetent. Each of us are different and the only folly lies in not knowing what YOU want and pursuing it. Not in not adopting someone else's path."

"So, exactly what do YOU want in life?"

"Hmmm! What I have is quite fine - being a spectator to all your efforts. Except, of course, if that fairy godmother wants to exercise her wand and..."

Monday, September 2, 2019

I do? I understand?

Whenever there was this Workshop class at school, I used to get all tensed up. Ah, no, it was not only because I could not just sit in the back benches and sleep, as I did in other classes, though that too was a contributory factor.

There was this board in the workshop

I hear, I forget
I see, I remember
I do, I understand

Jolly good, I supposed, for all the people who had this strange urge to understand things. Me, I was quite fine with a bulb lighting up when I tapped the switch without needing to know why it did so, in all its excruciating detail. AND, even assuming that understanding could be thrust into an unwilling brain, it seemed to be based on the assumption that I DO. Me? DO? THAT seemed a bit of a stretch to assume about me.

Be that as it may, it did not matter so much at school that I never did do. The irksome thing, though, followed me into college. Maybe you think that if I went in for Engineering, then I jolly well ought to have known that 'Workshop' WOULD be a part of it.

But, hey, I was in there for Chemical Engineering. Exactly why was I, then, to work at carpentry and what would it make me understand? Unless, of course, we are preparing for the days when we may have to go back to doing chemical reactions with wood shavings.

Anyway, there I was with a block of wood and some weird thing called the planer or some such. The idea, apparently, was that I would shape that block of wood into a perfect rectangular prism with smooth faces. And all that merely by running this planer on each face, shaving off the roughness.

I did run the planer diligently but, you know what, somehow the face ended up sloping down. I switched ends and started operations only to find that that pesky slope also ended up reversing directions. Rinse and repeat the end-switching and planing till...

Well, at the end of the carpentry class it did seem like I thought I was there to convert wood to wood shavings. I thought it was useful but, then, as usual there was no meeting of minds between me and the powers-that-be. Something that has plagued me all my life.

And then, exactly why did I need to learn to become a blacksmith in order to become a Chemical Engineer? True, that we, as a nation, have found that even our appliances tend to believe in goofing off unless they get a whack on the head but...I mean, taking a sledge hammer to a reactor in order to encourage it to work is not precisely the prescribed corrective measure. AND to swing that same sledge hammer on the controls in a control room...well, the mind boggles at the thought of someone, who is interested in the continued welfare of that factory, actually thinking that THAT would help.

But, then, the mysteries of academia are well beyond me, so smithy it was. And there I was diligently fashioning a square-headed bolt as per demand. And I did successfully make one. As usual, though, the instructor would not agree with me. "There, one number square head", I said, pointing to the blob of metal in my left hand. "There, one number bolt." pointing to the roughly cylindrical piece of metal in my right hand. "Successfully done. What more could you want?" I said, bringing my case to a successful conclusion.

Apparently, he COULD want more. The chap makes the unreasonable demand that he wanted the square head AND bolt in ONE piece, not two. People in authority, I tell you!! I had to retire defeated.

Anyway, by the time I finished all that DOING, there was only one thing I UNDERSTOOD. That I could NOT do. Possibly that I could never DO.

And I spent a big proportion of my life, wondering what next. That board in my school workshop never mentioned anything about 'What if you cannot do'.

Finally I figured it all out. So, now my board would read

I hear, I forget
I see, I remember
I do, I understand
I cannot do, I retire