Monday, December 21, 2020

Show time at the office

It's rather funny how things that you tend to think of things learned for some purpose to be exclusively of use for that purpose. I mean, most people actually seem to have thought that the math that they learned at school was exclusively for use to pass exams and are astonished at the thought that it may have any applicability in life after school.

That, though, is not what I wanted to talk about. Though I am going to talk of what happened in offices, it is not about the applicability of math in office. ('Thank God', you murmur? Yeah, right, I know. Had it not been for calculators and computers, you'd have realized that math IS necessary for work in office. That you would need to know how to add, subtract etc instead of merely typing things into forms. See what you made me do? THIS was not at all what I intended...oh, leave it!)

Anyway, there was this friend of mine who was talking about his uncle's suffering at the hands of his much younger boss. (No, I am NOT that uncle though, but for my quitting early...)

"He is close to retirement, has quite a few lifestyle diseases which seems to have become the norm these days...even for people a decade younger than him. And this boss of his screams at him, stresses him out. No matter how often my uncle tells him about his blood pressure issues and asks him to not create such stress the bloody chap won't listen."

"Well, really, is there anyone who can understand things these days? I mean, they do not even understand if you tell them that the profit has increased by 25%. You need to SHOW them a bar chart with one bar 25% higher than the other for them to appreciate the fact."

"What's your point? Should my uncle be making a power-point with BP before and BP after graphs?"

"Hahaha! No, you take things too literally. He should do what my uncle does."

"And what does your esteemed uncle do?"

"He...well, he clutches his head, reels a bit and then drops into a chair. After the screaming session, he rushes to the company medico, complaining of dizziness. Of course his BP is high, after the stress of being yelled at. Whereupon he moans to the physician about how he has been telling his boss that all that screaming is only reducing his effectiveness by making his BP shoot. Apparently, after 2-3 episodes of this behavior and the consequent sick leave that he takes, he only has to lift his hands half-way to his head to silence the boss. Of course it's not a career-enhancing move. But, then, my uncle was close to retirement as I understand your uncle also is."

For the first time, I interjected. I mean, I had only thought of this as some esoteric idea used by writers.

"Ah! You mean TELLING people of your health issues is no use. You have to SHOW them. Like the difference between saying you are hurt and actually shedding tears?"

"Bingo! And you thought Show vs Tell was only a writing related thing."

Ye Gods! Now, if this sets people in your office reeling around every time you take them to task, do not blame me. Blame my friends!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Hate the sin first?

It never pays to assume that you have mastered something in the practice of philosophy. Never. It, perhaps, is fine as long as you are hugging the thought to yourself and feeling chuffed about it. But if, by chance, you feel the need to express your happiness...or, as the uncharitable are likely to say, boast about it...

As I made the mistake of doing. You see, Hinduism talks of three gunas - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Three character-types in a simplistic translation and, if this blog does not count as simplistic, I'd like to know what can be. Sattva is considered the best of the three and a Sattvik person is one who is peace-loving (among other things, yes, but those other things are not what I wanted to boast of, since I am too truthful, and of course too afraid of getting called on a lie, to boast of what I am not.)

Peace-loving should mean non-confrontational, surely. Now, as everyone knows, if I am running in one direction, you can rest assured that there is some confrontation going on in the other. Otherwise why would I, the model based on which the tortoise was designed, be RUNNING? Now if that does not count as being non-confrontational, what would, pray?

So, there I was, basking mentally in the glow of being that rarest of rare beings - a Sattvik person - and up pops a friend, needle in hand, to burst the balloon of my happiness.

He was not really opposed to my avoiding ALL confrontations. I mean, he very kindly agreed that when two people were fighting about who should get the first chance to bat - based on the eminently logical grounds of the one being the owner of the bat and the other being the owner of the ball - it was perfectly alright for me to avoid that confrontation. Where we differed was on my running away from ALL confrontations.

You know, like when people are ganging up on someone and pulling him down for being dark/fair or stammering or some such. I mean, really, to ask those guys not to do it is to enter a confrontation right? And to not enter confrontation is totally Sattvik behavior, right? Not so, according to this unsettling friend of mine.

According to him, that sort of avoidance is Tamasik behavior. And, when someone is inclined to do things like this avoidance, he has to first learn at least the Rajasik option to fighting against that sort of injustice. Only when he DOES oppose that sort of action AND does it in a peaceful manner can he consider himself Sattvik.

Obviously, I'd have given him the horse's laugh, as anyone does to someone who tells them unpalatable truths. But then he threw in my face the name of Swami Vivekananda who, according to him, had espoused that view-point. That sealed my mouth and he started giving me a lecture on it.

Well, the gist of it was that I needed to first learn to hate the sin AND to oppose it. THEN, if I could learn to fight the sin without hating the sinner, I could call myself Sattvik.

Ye Gods! I mean, come on, that's putting the cart before the horse, right? The way you identify a sin is exactly the opposite, isn't it? You first hate someone, ergo he has to be a sinner. Therefore, whatever he does is a sin. THEN you hate THAT sin. How the hell, then, can you hate a sin, without hating the sinner, when the very identification of the sin depends on hating the sinner?

If THAT is what philosophy expects you to do, I give up. It requires performing six miracles a day before breakfast and then continuing it all day. No wonder, people have lost all interest in being Sattvik these days.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Golden Silence

 "Silence is golden", they used to tell me in my youth. I used to be duly impressed and think very highly of silence even at that age when I had no clue why gold was supposed to be so valuable. Though, yes, belonging in the 'Have mouth, will speak...incessantly' category of human beings, it generally made me feel inadequate for not being able to belong in the 'gold' category of people.

Of course, I also did not understand why silence was held in such high regard. I mean, yeah, they did tell me, "It is better to be silent and be taken for a fool instead of opening your mouth and removing all doubt." The problem was that, when my geography teacher asked me, "What is the capital of Denmark?" and I remained silent, she started swishing her cane. No sign of any benefit of the doubt to me, let me tell you. Nor did that IIM professor who interviewed me for a seat in IIM-A select me because he had some doubts about whether I was really a fool when I maintained silence to almost all his questions.

On Social media, I find that this saying 'If you have nothing to say, say nothing' is looked upon with great contempt. It, apparently, is when you really have nothing to say that you express yourself with great verbosity. In this, I find that age had caught up with me, after all, and I have been left so far behind the curve that I can never hope to catch up. True, I belong still to the 'Have opinion, will speak' category of people but I fail miserably on two counts.

I still have this old-fashioned idea that it is not necessary to have an opinion about everything. I mean, really, is it absolutely vital for me to form an opinion about Gandhi's stance on feminism or about whether Arjuna was a better warrior than Karna or...? The number of things people form an opinion about, and practically go to war about on SM, astounds me. I bleat about why it is not necessary to have opinions about everything and they look upon me pityingly as a poor outdated Boomer. I...oh, forget it, it's too painful to remember.

The other way I prove my age is even more damaging to me. To actually think that you should form an opinion based on knowing at least some of the facts and assumptions to base it on; that you should be open to modify your opinion or change it if new facts are presented to you or if your assumptions are falsified...I mean, if that is not a sign of old age, what is? If I were really young, would I not know that an opinion is unassailably right if it is what all my friends think?

And, so, I find that age has caught up with me and I NOW understand how silence can be golden. NOT the silence that you keep simply because you do not know; or because you just do not care to know what people are saying; or because you have closed your mind to whatever the people around you are saying and do not care to argue with these 'mindless idiots' who do not know the one right way to think about these issues.

It is more to do with a receptive silence. The intent to listen with an open mind, where you are not busy thinking of what you will say next and actually listen to what the other guy is saying; not busily thinking up counter-arguments to what the other chap is saying. In short, a silence that can come only when you consider a conversation as a means to widen your own knowledge and attitudes, and not a debate which you intend winning at any cost.

Which essentially means that you listen, process the information, check out any areas where you do not agree and ask for clarification (NOT jump up saying, "THAT is wrong, which is WHY I keep saying you guys are stupid").

In short, Silence may well be golden but I do not know whether it can be considered human!

Monday, November 30, 2020

What people say

"But what will people say," used to be one of the bugbears of my youth. And, of course, I used to be pretty much contemptuous of the 'oldies' for bothering about these mythical 'people' who had nothing better to do than say things about how other people lead their lives.

Of course, when I wore those so-called 'bell-bottom' trousers or had my hair 'step-cut' (anachronisms, I know, but not all of us can be millenials, you know, and, therefore, our youth did happen in a different era), it had nothing to do with 'what people say'. It was a whole different beast altogether. 'Peer pressure', you know, not that stupid oldie thing of people saying things. Not that I could have explained the difference, except that the 'people' who would 'say' would be different - my age group NOT their age group.

Sometimes, in fact most times, I feel this entire damn social climbing game is only the process of trying to shift from being the 'people' about whom things are being said to the 'people' who are doing the saying. (Of course, I mean in the informal pushes and pulls of Society, not in formal hierarchies.)

This jockeying for social position as individuals seems to work largely on the basis of who can criticize how others behave - dress, eat, whatever; and who has to walk on eggshells, with an eye over the shoulder for the ever-watching, ever-critical eye.

Racism, Casteism etc works on somewhat the same basis. The class that sets the rules and sets itself above being criticized. And the class which has to care about what is said of it.

Like, say, the British 'saying' we are uncivilized for eating with our hands and, so, we start pushing around a masala dosa with a fork and knife. Automatically granting the British the position of people who can 'say' and ourselves the position of people who have to care about what people would say.

And then there are those who, sort of by divine right, assume that they are born to be the people who SAY. That THEY are the divine arbiters of what is right and what is wrong. And can never even conceive of any right-thinking person saying anything critical of them. There is a term for it I believe - Megalomania.

And when a class of people or a society is convinced that it is the divine arbiter of right and wrong...

Monday, November 23, 2020

Keep it simple

 You know the sort of advice that has everyone nodding in acceptance when it is handed out? That, generally, is precisely the sort of advice that people find nearly impossible to follow. Or so it has seemed to me always. The more people agree with the advice, the less they actually live by it.

A recent incident brought home to me the fact that nobody really 'keeps it simple' though everyone is all for it.

The doorbell rang and I wheezed my way down a couple of floors, not looking forward to climbing back up, to see a couple of youngsters who had come to take a look at the ground floor flat which was available for renting. Not that they needed the keys from me or anything, the property agents had that in hand but...

"Uncle! Is there a gen-set here to use when there is a power-cut?"

"No," I said and that was that.

Except that, as I came to know later, that what they really wanted to do was check out the electrical fittings and, in the absence of power supply, they were unable to. If they had only told me THAT, I would have told them to switch on the mains, right behind where they had stood while talking to me, and try again.

And that is how not keeping it simple mucks things up for you. I mean, so you did not find power supply in the house, you drag me down two floors anyway, while in the meantime thinking, "No power supply, so the only way we can check things out is if there is a gen-set here and ask the upstairs guy to switch it on." And me, I get asked if there is a gen-set, assume that they are checking out whether there IS one, and say, "No!" If they had only told me WHY they were there and asked me if there was a power-cut...But then, that would have been too simple, wouldn't it?

No point blaming the guys really. I mean, getting too complex for our own good is sort of wired into the human nature. We called ourselves 'Sapiens', meaning 'wise' apparently, and then spend our lives in trying to act up to that name, making fools of ourselves.

I mean, like, if you wish someone 'Good morning' and he seems not to notice, what do you do when you talk to him later? Do you say, "I wished you in the morning. Did you not notice me?" OR do you say, "Oh! You are now a big-shot. You hardly notice little people like me." Instead of keeping it simple and asking about the incident, if you will draw conclusions from it and then question about the conclusions...

The more I see of people, the more I find that people have a habit of reacting to what they concluded themselves from what you have said, rather than what you actually did say. Like, if you are in a discussion and say, "But, will we make a profit if we sell at that price?" you end up getting a "You finance guys always think that we marketing guys are out to destroy the company."

The train of thought there would be something like, "NOW this guy will try to prove that our proposal will cause a loss to the company and shoot it down. Like these finance guys always do." and Voila! Keeping it simple by just answering that question or asking, "Why do you think it will not be profitable?"...Nonsense! What do we have brains for if we kept it THAT simple. We are shrewd operators who can read between the lines...So much so we, most of the time, skip what is IN the lines entirely.

In every walk of life, in every relationship, in almost every meaningful communication, humanity shows the extra-ordinary ability to refuse to keep it simple.

And nods and smiles in approbation whenever anyone tells them the mantra, "Keep It Simple, Stupid". While being totally convinced that it is only the stupid who keep it simple!

Monday, November 16, 2020


 I never really managed to understand what the heck this 'maturity' really means. I go around checking out what various people think about it and, from the sheer variety of answers, I could come to only one conclusion. One thing that is common to ALL of them. One thing that EVERYONE thinks is mature. One thing that everyone would say, if they were being totally honest.

"IF a person behaves as I expect him to behave, he is mature"

That apart, there is not a thing that everyone seems to agree upon as being mature behavior. My own family assumed that, with maturity, children would grow up into good corporate wage slaves, make as much money as he could legitimately make, marry, have children, yada yada. I have reason to believe that the business classes thought of that as a sign of immaturity; that the kid would work off his childish rebellion working in one of those suited-booted companies before coming back and taking up the family business, after having matured. Of course, to go out in the 'real' world and do things, instead of poking around with books and computers at home was a sign of maturity. Till the likes of Gates, Zucky et al happened to the world.

Comes to social interactions, my own family looked down upon even loud voices as a sign of immaturity, leave alone nasty things like fisticuffs. I did not need to go around asking others what they felt of it. All that they needed to know was that I would hate to be seen shouting in public and they started the yelling match themselves. And I would concede merely to avoid being seen as an immature brawler. I'm afraid it did not make me feel very mature though.

Roughly speaking, I realized that the idea of mature behavior lay in the ability to control your emotions and direct them in a socially appropriate manner. Now, if only someone would teach me what that socially appropriate manner is...and keep that damn thing constant or changing slowly enough for me to keep track of it!

Monday, November 9, 2020

Of discontent and progress

Say anything and there is always someone who will find something wrong in it. Even if he has to analyse it nano-meter by nano-meter. And, so, when I say something about happiness, how can it be that it does not face censure?

"I know you are the laziest bum around. Does that mean that you have to make a virtue of not having any aspirations?"

THIS with an audience, too. Another friend was also lounging around. And you know how it goes. You can take it when you are alone but your ears start burning when there is someone else listening in. So, naturally, I was all upset and defensive.

"What do you mean? Wait...was that about that happiness post. About always postponing it because you want something more?"

"Yes! What's wrong about having aspirations? Where is progress if there are no aspirations?"

"Yeah, if you are content you do not want to get anything more. So you may not...progress. But that's how it is. Happiness comes from contentment. Progress starts with discontent."

The other friend cleared his throat.

"Tell me," he asked the other guy. "How do you define discontent?"

Oh, this was going to be one of those things. Where people start defining terms, start fighting over the definitions till you totally forget what you wanted to say. Thank God, he was addressing the other guy. Intellectual I am not, being unable to pay sufficient attention to the fine art of splitting hairs.

"To want more than what you have. To know that things can be better than they are. That's the root of discontent. And, unless you want more and better, you will not strive to get it. That's how you progress."

NOW our lad was going to ask the definition of progress, I am sure.

He surprised me.

"Progress...hmmm! Tell me, was Einstein necessarily unhappy? He thought a Unified Field theory should be discovered and proved. He did not manage it in his lifetime, did he?"

It was fun to be a mere spectator when people fight each other and not over how truly stupid I am.

"Why would he be? After all, he was instrumental in a whole lot of progress in Science..."

"There you are! See, there IS a type of discontent which pushes forth progress. In Einstein's case, it is a discontent with the current state of knowledge. Yet, the pursuit of knowledge is itself sufficient for happiness, even if you know full well that you are not going to completely eliminate the lacunae."

"Your point being?"

"A pursuit of excellence in your own field, a pursuit of ridding yourself of the weaknesses in your own character...there is a lot of such discontent which causes individuals and societies to progress. But the gap between the ideal and actual is not cause for unhappiness."

"What do you mean? That, unlike what this fellow said, aspirations are not at the root of unhappiness?"

"No! It depends on what those aspirations are. If you aspire for possessions, aspire for what you want to get from Society, THEN you have unhappiness for a permanent guest. For, then, you will keep pushing the goal-posts further and postponing your own happiness."

"Essentially, you are saying that if the GOAL is what I think will make me happy, then I shall be unhappy all the time. Because I will keep pushing for the next goal and so on. If the process will make me happy, then discontent is a non-issue as far as being happy goes."

"Yes. THEN it is like a child's curiosity. The child seeks to know the world around, has a great deal of fun exploring it, but is not unhappy if it does not understand it."

"Hmmm! Point."

"The point also is aspirations focused on gaining knowledge and improving ability keep you enjoying the process. Aspirations focused on acquiring wealth and power keep you goal-focused."

"Hmm! You are back to 'Karmanyeva adhikaraste, maa phaleshu kadachana'. 'Focus on what you do, not on what you can get from it', if I may slightly alter the saying."

"It's probably not even an alteration, only one of the possible interpretations."

I poked my nose in.

"Also the truth of the other saying. 'Para adhinam prana sankatam'. Dependence on others is distressing to the soul. So, if you are always social climbing, working for other people's respect, of course you will be unhappy."

You know what! I had the last word once again! Yippee!

Monday, November 2, 2020

Change All, Change Nought

"I did not quite get what you meant by working within the other person's view of the world. You know, when you were talking about convincing people," I said.

"That was the only thing you did not get? You surprise me," he said.

I should have known. Open my mouth and they find a way to shove something up the other end.

"Well," he continued condescendingly. "Take this issue of Caste-ism, for example. We are all agreed that it is an evil that needs to be done away with, right?"

"Yes," I said. I should have been saying it assertively but for the fact that these conversations seldom head where I think they are heading...and invariably end up shafting me.

"That is to say, we guys are. But Society at large seems not so convinced and we need to convince them about the evils of it. True?"

I nodded my head, not daring to open my mouth.

"And there are those guys who claim that Caste-ism is not actually a part of the Indian culture. It was a Varna system and the British converted it into a Caste system. Not so?"

"Yes," I said, my enthusiasm getting the better of my caution. "I mean, really, those people just cannot accept that anything was wrong in our culture."

His lips curled in a sneer and my heart quailed. Now what had I said wrong?

"That Varna system they talk of. Was it not saying that the social divisions were meant to be based on aptitude and character, not based on birth? That way, it's supposed to be the social equivalent of the corporate woyrld's classification of people as managers, executives etc? By qualifications, ability and attitude rather than by birth?"

"Yesss...but, really, who can believe..."

"Does it matter? I mean, what are YOU arguing for when you argue against caste? Is it not for people to be valued for what they ARE rather than where they are born?"

I nodded.

"AND they claim that THAT was the way it was in Hindu culture. THAT this 'by birth' thing was a distortion introduced by foreigners. So why are you fighting them on whether it was or it was not? Why don't you co-opt them and say that it is now time to restore the glories of our own culture by eliminating this 'by-birth' treatment of people? Time to throw off the colonial shackles imposed by the British? Instead of opposing them?"


"But, nothing. IF your intention is only to eliminate Caste-ism why are you losing the support of people who can help because you also want to oppose Hinduism? OR because you want to prove them wrong and yourself right? THIS is what I mean, convince people on things from THEIR perspective rather than yours. YOU may be an atheist but that does not mean that you need to push atheism in order to eliminate Caste-ism. If you try to change ALL attitudes in one go, you'll end up changing NOTHING."

"But, I only want to establish the truth..."

"Truth? I thought you wanted a more egalitarian society today. But you want to establish the truth about the past?" he snickered cynically. "Nowadays you cannot even conclusively prove the truth of what exactly happened at your street corner today. And you want to prove the truth of what happened centuries back? Good luck."

These guys, I tell you!

Monday, October 26, 2020

Arguing and Convincing

 "You wrote a series on logical fallacies some time back, didn't you?"

"Hmmm...", I said, apprehensively. This sort of start to a conversation almost always boded ill for me. Now, what fault was this guy going to find with that series?

"You do know that most logical fallacies are used, mostly knowingly, in arguments between people, don't you?"

"Of course I do. So?"

"Tell me, what is the difference between arguing and convincing?"

Yuck! What do these guys think, I am some sort contestant in quiz contest? And, all of you must be familiar with the fact that if someone asks another person a question like this, it is NEVER to learn anything. It is, almost invariably, to prove that the other fellow is stupid. Which means that, whatever you say, the other guy is going to find a way to prove it wrong.

"Arguing is the process and convincing is the end result," I said.

"Yeah, right! How many arguments have you seen where either guy has been convinced that the other fellow is right?"

What did I tell you just now? There he goes, out to prove I was wrong.

"Well, I should say convincing is the desired end result of an argument."

"Really? You know, I think you are mixing up discussions and arguments. When you are discussing something, you are still trying to convince the other guy. The moment you stop discussing and start arguing with him...that's when you have given up on convincing him that you are right."

"Oh! Yeah? So then why would I continue to be talking about that subject at all?"

"Because you either want to establish that he is stupid...or that you are not. Or both. Especially when you have an audience. The only point in an argument between two people is one of these."

"Does that ever get established?" I said with a sneer.

"Of course both parties will not agree on that either. You only try to silence the other guy, which is all you can do by arguing. You can never convince him. And how handy all these logical fallacies are to silence people! Ad Hominem, False equivalence, Straw Man, you name it."

"Is it at all possible to convince people?"

"Not by calling them names, no. Not by trying to change ALL their ideas in one go, no, not even when those ideas are ALL wrong. You have to pick on one thing you want them to reconsider and work within THEIR view of the world to make them see the issue your way. If you try to impose YOUR view of the world in toto on them, depending on your arguing ability, you can only silence them. Never convince them."

"What if their view of the world is itself the problem? That it obviates the possibility of even entertaining the idea of change?"

"Well, then, do you think arguing is going to help convince them? Or only give you the pleasure of telling them off? You don't waste time with those, only the others who may differ with you on various issues but are still flexible enough to possibly change."

"So, you'd have me singing and dancing to other people's tunes..."

"Well, just make up your mind about what you want. Whether you only want to win arguments and feel superior or whether you want to bring about change."

Eeeks! I WANT neither. I just want to keep writing my blog without people jumping on me. Just give me peace, Lord!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Conditional Happiness

You know, this happiness thing is really strange. Most things in life that you truly want, you are willing to bend over backwards to get them. Comes to happiness, though, it is funny how we seem to be so reluctant to invite the dratted thing in.

Like, yes, when you are a child, you are happy unless something actively makes you unhappy. Like a pain in the tummy, be it because of hunger or indigestion, or a mosquito bite or some such. I mean, you need an active cause for unhappiness to take you away from happiness.

The process of growing up - of 'maturing' as someone with a really nasty sense of humor named it - seems to primarily be a process of setting up a lot of conditions which have to be fulfilled before you will let happiness into your life. It starts at school where, in order to allow happiness a place in your life, you set the condition that your performance at school should meet the expectations of your parents and teachers. At that stage it is probably not you who are to blame for setting up the conditions. It is the adults around you who do and you, perforce, cannot be happy unless THEY are satisfied. Because they will ensure that what YOU consider legitimate reason for unhappiness will happen in your life as a consequence of not meeting THEIR expectations.

But, then, you have not matured yet. The process of maturity is where others do not need to give you a bad time. When you do it to yourself, end up giving yourself hell for not meeting those expectations...well, THEN you are mature. So, when happiness comes knocking, you say, "Till I buy a house of my own and have a car, I have no time for you."

Then you get the house and car and happiness comes over again and you say, "Ah! Well! What about my EMIs? I need to pay those off before I can let you in."

You pay them off and poor happiness comes again and knocks and you go, "Call THIS a house? A 2 BHK in THIS locality? Besides, the most I can do on a holiday is go to Manali. When I can afford to go to Switzerland..."

And so it goes.

It is not like you never get down to situations where you do not revert to the lower expectations of childhood. Break a bone and you feel, "If only I can get back to using this limb as usual, I'll be happy." Get gastroenteritis and spew noxious fluids from both ends and happiness seems only as far away as the day when your alimentary canal stops behaving like a leaky tap at both ends. And, once you are back in shape, poor happiness comes along and knocks timidly at the door and you snap, "What did I tell you? Don't bother me till I get my bungalow on Marine Drive!"

And, yet, ask anyone and he will claim that he wishes for happiness most ardently. After treating the poor thing like an unwanted relative who keeps popping up at the door-step to trouble you!

Till, finally, the time comes when your joints creak, your digestion gives way, your muscles never cease aching and you say, "If only I recover my health, I'll be happy."

Which is when Happiness completely gives up on you. For, this time, your wish can never come true.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Multi-purpose tasking?

"I read your blog about what this chap was saying," said a friend, gesturing to the other chap in the room, "about purposes and all."

I actually did not hear much after 'read your blog'. Someone actually READ my blog. Yippee Yay!!

"Provided, of course, what you wrote is actually what he told."

Yeah! Right! I should have expected that to come. My balloon of happiness hardly starts inflating before they poke a needle to puncture it. Every. Time.

"Broadly speaking he did," said the other guy.

"Hmmm! You know, I thought you guys were over-simplifying it. Like everyone seems to do these days. I mean, yes, it all sounds nice and clinical when you speak of a man's purpose and all that. But, really, does a man have only one purpose in life?"

"Why not? It's possible that a person does not recognize what his purpose is, yes. But most people really do not chase after too many rainbows."

"Oh, Come on! Can anyone say that he wants social respect, say, and is fine if he gets only enough money to eat? Or that the intellectual stimulation of chasing after dark matter suffices for him that he cares nothing for social respect OR a comfortable living?"

"Perhaps not. But then does every man want to work towards a Presidential breakfast invitation AND calling Zuckerberg and Musk by their first names? OR hungers for a private aircraft and a yacht?"

Ah! This was more like it. I should always have multiple friends around me. THAT way, they can tear at each other and I can get my bhel-puri and enjoy the fun.

"Your point being?"

"Yes, everyone needs a bit of everything. And there is a certain minimal level that he has to have of everything, failing which achieving THAT becomes the purpose for that time. But there is, by and large, only ONE thing that a man cannot have enough of. Be it social respect or money or intellectual stimulation or the satisfaction of serving others. Whichever THAT is, THAT is the purpose of that man's life."

"You will find it difficult to get anyone to say that he can ever have enough money."

"Really? Yes, people WOULD say that, yes, but largely they say that with the tacit assumption that they would not have to sacrifice anything for it. They even sacrifice things to chase it when they do not realize what they are losing. IF, however, they are asked whether they would care to live a solitary life for untold wealth OR a life surrounded by friends and family with just adequate money...THEN you will know whose purpose is wealth and whose is social respect."

"You mean, like those genies granting wishes..."

"Precisely! IF a genie were to give the options and the person KNOWS it will come true...then you will know about them. Though, yes, people CAN be fool enough not to even know what they want."

"Oh! Well! Maybe you have a point there. About people being fool enough not to know what they really want. And then moaning about what they missed on their death-beds!"

"Which was what I was trying to tell this chap here."

Back to me? Why can they NEVER leave me alone?

"But why did you bother? HE can never have enough of only one thing. Lolling around in his bed. Which he is anyway doing."

They say it is a pleasing thing to make others happy. Oxytocin, Serotonin or some such thing. I NEVER found it so, though I seemed to make people laugh around me all the time. Maybe because they, invariably, are laughing AT me.

"That's better than running around all your life and realizing on your death-bed that you failed to chase what is most important to you," I said peevishly.

A red letter day for me! I had the last word for once!

Monday, October 5, 2020


 "So, what did you understand from what I said the other day about ambition and purpose?"

Huh! So, now I have to pass an exam on what I thought was an idle conversation? With an external examiner, no less, what with another friend looking on with that usual sneer on his face, expecting me to make a fool of myself like always.

"Um...that I should not be aiming to write if I want to eat."

"What did I tell you?" said the chap, indignantly, to the other guy. "If I use an analogy, the most I can hope is that this idiot will assume it is only about the analogy and will not even try to understand the underlying idea. Though, I did not expect he would make a hash of understanding even the analogy."

You know, it is dratted irritating when people talk about you in your presence as though you do not exist. Especially because it is invariably uncomplimentary to you.

"What the hell else did you mean then?" I asked.

"If I stick only to the analogy, I meant that there is a difference between wanting to be a successful writer and wanting to be a success and choosing to write as the means to that end."

There was a difference? Really?

My face must be very eloquent, indeed, considering that he seemed to get my doubt. Far more eloquent than my words had ever been.

"Oh, yes, it IS different. If you want to be a successful writer, then your purpose IS to write. You get satisfaction out of writing. Of course, you want to be good at what you are doing, get better at it and, so, you want to be successful AS a writer."

"So what's with the other thing?"

"There you have defined success for yourself - in terms of money, fame, whatever. Your purpose is to get THAT and you think that writing will get you what you want. If you want to be a successful writer, you keep plugging at it even when you do not get this money etc. If you only want to be a success, you try to write so you get what you really want OR you abandon writing for something else. YOU, of course, would only keep moaning about it."

The other chap interrupted and said, "In general, you were saying that his purpose may be either to be a writer OR to be a success. His ambition, in either case, would be a bestselling author, say, but his purpose would be different. To be a successful author OR to be rich and famous."

"Yes! And the same applies whether he wants to be a corporate hotshot or an entrepreneur or whatever. Plus, of course, the definition of success itself may vary. One may see the respect of his friends as success, another may see it as wealth, for example. And BOTH may choose to chase wealth because the former sees wealth as the means to the respect of his friends. So, for that guy, his PURPOSE is social respect but his AMBITION is wealth; for the latter both his purpose and ambition are wealth. Though, yes, progress in what he chooses to DO to get that wealth will seem like his ambition to him."

My head was swimming. I mean, I just sat at my laptop and went pitter-patter on the keyboard. These guys...I mean, come on, if I started splitting hairs on all these things, I'd never get anything else done. Not I anyway got anything is the principle of the thing.

"Why didn't you say it like this the other day?" I asked. Not that I understood things any better but...

"My fault! I overestimated your intelligence."

I like that! Overestimate MY intelligence! THIS, coming from the guy who thinks my brain is so small that he actually tries to hear it rattling in my skull every time I shake my head!

The other chap - the external examiner - now intervened.

"You are underestimating the role of milestones here. See, most of these PURPOSES are such that you cannot handily measure progress. Social respect for example. How do you measure in how many people wished you a good morning today and how many more did it tomorrow?"

Aha! The external examiner was now targeting the lecturer. Now was my chance.

"Or happiness, for that matter. On the basis of how many times you laughed yesterday and how many more times you laughed today?"

"Yes! So, naturally, you decide on some measurable means to achieve your purpose. Ambitions provide you with milestones that help assess your progress, a feedback system to know whether you are progressing in achieving your purpose."

"Quite," said the other guy calmly. "That, indeed, IS the purpose of ambitions. The point is that, unless you are clear about your purpose, you end up picking the wrong ambitions. OR, even, mix up your purposes and ambitions and chase ambitions even when it takes you away from your purpose. Like the man, who slaves day and night to make money for his family, only to have his spouse divorce him and take his children away because he hardly spends time with them! Which is what I was trying to tell this idiot the other day."

They both laughed. 

"You know, I don't know WHY you were telling him. If your purpose was only to expound your idea, fine. But this ambition of making this guy UNDERSTAND it...THAT is where you made your mistake."

The duo literally fell off their chairs laughing.

I really did not see what was SO funny about that!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Of Ambition and Purpose

 "You know, people never really understand the difference between ambition and purpose."

Why me, Lord? Why do people think I am not only interested in this sort of thing but will also show an intelligent interest in what they say? Me, who has never really understood the need for either ambition or purpose to lead a life. As far as I can see, saying that you have a need for an ambition or a purpose is about the same as saying you have a need to feel stressed.

As usual, that agonized look on my face is taken for incomprehension and not for pained disinterest.

"Ambitions are generally related to what you aim to GET. Purpose is all about what you want to BE."

"Be rich," I said.

I was seriously scared at how red his face went. He looked like he would swell up and burst.

"When I say 'Be' I mean what sort of person do you want to become. Not this...this frivolous nonsense. Just because you say 'Be Rich' instead of 'Get a lot of money' doesn't mean that it becomes a purpose."

One of the things about people who start on their pet topics is to allow them to run their course. You can oppose them or ridicule them if your idea of a pleasant day is to pick fights with people. Me, I am all for a quiet life.

"So, you were saying..." I said placatingly.

"Look, when you say you have an ambition, what you mean is a goal to shoot for, where you can measure your progress along the way. Which, invariably, means that it has to be in terms of acquiring things...either money or position or power or even fame."


"Purpose, though, goes to WHY you do what you do. Your motives for doing things."

I HAD motives? I mean, yeah, if I eat it is because I am hungry so I suppose THAT is a motive. And because I want to continue eating...

He snorted. "How do I explain thing to a dumb...Look, You want to be a writer, right?"

I nodded, vigorously.

"Why? Is it because you like writing so much? Or because you think it will make you famous? Or because you can do it sitting at home at your leisure and not have to handle conflicts with people which can happen when you work in organisations? Or..."

Ye Gods! This guy can keep going on and on. And, really, I mean is it not a bit of this and that and the other? Does anyone really have only ONE reason for his choices. Like, say, I only want the money but not the fame? Or I like writing so much that I do not care if I earn enough to eat or even become so poor that I lose the respect of my friends?

I said as much.

"True. But what is the deal-breaker for you? THAT is the sticking point. If the fame is what matters the most, then you should understand that for every one writer who gets fame, millions will go around saying "My book has been published" only to have even close friends saying, "Ho Hum" and switch the topic to Bollywood rumors. Will you STILL want to write?"


"Look, if your PURPOSE is fame, your ambition is to become the next Chetan Bhagat, then you need to see if an ambition to become the next Shashi Tharoor or the next Visweswarayya or some such is better. Because, WRITING itself is not your purpose only the means to an end. If your purpose is MONEY, then you may as well go to a job, as a means to THAT end writing is as good as trying to win a lottery. If..."

"I get it," I said, hastily, just to get him to stop. He seemed prepared to go on till the cows came home. "But, now YOU are saying getting money can be a purpose..."

"I really have to spell things out for you, right? If you are looking for fame or money as your primary goal, you want to be the sort of person who is looked up to in Society. If you are inclined to writing well, you want to be the sort of person who is looked up to by your peers or the sort of person who takes pride in doing a good job. So, it is got to do more with what you want to be be, than what you want to get."

Sounded like nit-picking to me but then...

"But...I mean, really, you do need some money etc etc right? As in, fine, even if I have money to live off, you cannot keep the respect of your social circles and your friends if...well, can there be anyone who will be willing to risk sacrificing all that because he wants to WRITE? Is it not..."

"A friend is supposed to be one who makes you comfortable in your own skin. Not someone who makes you feel that you ought to dress up in borrowed finery to impress him."

Hmmm...I must seriously consider whether I need THIS guy for a friend! I cannot remember the last time he made me feel comfortable in my skin.

Monday, September 21, 2020


 "You know, you missed the point when you were talking about expectations."

The world has two types of people. The ones who just paste a smile on their faces and close their ears to what you are saying; and the ones who keep silent unless they can point out something wrong with what you are saying. (What are you babbling? That there are also people who only appreciate and people who can both appreciate AND criticize as necessary? Wake up and smell the damn coffee. Fantasies are only for dreams.) AND I have been endowed with a whole circle of friends who not only gleefully pounce on anything wrong but also go out of their way to FIND something wrong.

"The important thing is comparisons, not expectations."

Huh! Was that not exactly what I had said then? That the problem lay in comparing reality to expectations. Really! The depths of nitpicking people will delve into merely to find something to criticize!

I said as much and he snorted derisively.

"So, you think that comparisons are a problem only when you do it between expectations and reality? You cannot conceive of comparisons being a problem in the expectations themselves?"

What? I looked blankly at him and he continued with a snide smile.

"Of course you cannot see. Look, in your own example of math test results. Are the expectations set at a certain percentage of the total marks? Or is it set as better than most in the class or ALL in the class."

"Well, my dad..."

"Yeah, fine! He could expect anything. Say, in English your dad expected you to get 75% and you got 80%. Will he be happy with that? Even if, say, most of your class got in excess of 80%?"

Uhoh! Yeah, the chap did have a point, after all. Yes, my dad would have got after me if I had got less than 75% unless I proved everyone else got less than me. But even if I had exceeded the cut-off, it would still not have helped if everyone else had scored more than me.

As usual, he assumed that the pained look on my face was lack of comprehension and not because I was having to swallow the bitter idea of his being right.

"See, you may WANT a 50% raise in pay to meet your EMIs. You may EXPECT only a 15% raise because that is the best your company could give. You may be happy to get 18%, with the assumption that it is the best raise anyone got. Till you see someone else has got 25%. THEN you start getting unhappy."

Of course! Expectations are very seldom restricted to facts and figures, are they? You set your expectations both on the quantum as well as the relative performance and, unless BOTH are met or exceeded, you end up feeling unhappy. Not to mention the fact that the less tangible expectation is the one where you see the most problems in the future...promotions and what have you, since the chap who got the 25% raise has been rated better than you.

"What then when the expectation itself is ONLY based on comparisons?"

Uh! This guy is too much really.

"Like what?"

"Like, say, being the best designer. Or being the company with the highest market share. Or..."

Ooops! And, obviously, that would be the most stressful thing. I mean, yeah, being a better designer than you were yesterday is...controllable. It is a question on improving YOURSELF, depending on your own skill improvement and application. But better than all the others? How do you also control ALL the others and what they do? 

THAT is why I never ever tried to set those sort of expectations for myself. How it ended up was that I would assume that they were far better than they really were and screwed up all my life trying to better THAT. I mean, yeah, it sounds rather cool to be pushing yourself to up your skills but, come on, there ARE other things in life than designing and ending up chasing one thing exclusively is a sure shot recipe for a nervous breakdown. And there are those who find that becoming the best designer is merely a question of sabotaging the other guys than improving yourself, which is one of those unhealthy side effects of expectations set on a comparative basis.

"AND then there are those expectations, even about what you want to possess, based ONLY on comparisons."

Uh! Would this guy never stop?

"Like wanting to have things, be able to do things that not everyone can do. With not even a clue of exactly WHAT it is you want...merely that it should be something that others do not have."

Mmm? What was this guy blathering about?

"Which is why companies thrive on 'exclusive brands'. The value of those products is not in what YOU may not even WANT it when you get it. The value is in the thought that you can have it but OTHERS cannot afford it."

Ah! Somewhat like the kings of yore having a totally unnecessary piece of cloth trailing behind them making it impossible for them to walk unless they had a crowd of people lifting it off the ground and carrying it. Train, they called it I think. They could well dispense with it and walk comfortably but THEY could afford people to carry it behind them and others could not, so...

I said as much and won a smile of approval.

"Exactly! So, you see, the biggest enemy of happiness is comparisons. More especially when you set your expectations on a comparative basis."

"Yeah! I knew I was right. THAT's why I said expectations are a problem," I said triumphantly. He snorted in disgust and left.

Now THAT was undiluted pleasure. For once, I had the last word in an argument with a friend. Quite exceeded my expectations, I tell you!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Great Expectations

 I never realized how what actually happened matters comparatively little to how happy we can be. Till the day I walked out, sore in mind and body, after I had shown my dad the test results on my math paper. And found sounds of celebration and revelry coming from a classmate's house, sweets being distributed and the said classmate being practically treated like an all-conquering hero. My astonishment knew no bounds when chocolate was thrust into my grasping hands and the reason for the celebration was trumpeted into my unbelieving ears.

Huh! For the results of the SAME math test? A test which he had managed to pass by a whisker while I had failed to hit maximum by the same whisker? Ye Gods! How could a pass mark cause so much happiness here while 95% convulsed my house in sorrow?

Oh, I don't mean only the happiness to my classmate and the sorrow to me - though, at THAT time, I was thinking only of that. There is no real doubt that my dad WAS gloomy that day himself and my friend's family was ecstatic. Though, merely going by the marks on the test paper, you would interchange the destinations of the happiness and the gloom.

And THAT is why I say that what actually happened matters little to your happiness. What matters is what was EXPECTED and what really happened. Happiness is a consequence of reality exceeding your expectations and disappointment is a given if reality falls short of your expectations.

So, there you go, my dad's expectations were not met, my friend's dad's expectations were exceeded. Comes the time when YOU set the expectations, it's good to remember this. If you promise your boss, say, that a job will be done in 3 days and you do it in 4 days; your colleague promises to do it in 5 days and does it in 5 days, guess who is the under-performer? YOU, of course, and no amount of wailing that you did it one day before your colleague will help. Your boss may agree, at that time, but the impression of you being an under-performer will STAY, especially if you continue working the same way.

As with spouses, too. The spouse who ALWAYS forgets her spouse's birthday gets away with an indulgent 'memory like a sieve' comment. The one who forgets ONCE will be faced with a 'You don't love me any more'. All because of expectations.

Your expectations are what determine your relationships in life. Expect too much of the people around you and you will find that all relationships disappoint you. And then you may well wail about 'false friends' about the same people that others praise for being very helpful.

Happiness IS a consequence of reality exceeding your expectations. Specifically, it is what you GET out of life which you have expectations about. Money, power, fame, recognition...THOSE are the subject matter of expectations, generally. So, a life is happy if your expectations on ALL fronts are exceeded. (Provided, of course, you do not keep changing the goal-posts, as happens too often. As you keep climbing the social ladder, you keep finding that there are more rungs above the one which you had originally aimed you keep climbing...and climbing...and climbing...and when you have no choice but to stop, you look yearningly up at people on the rungs above you and feel disappointed with your life.)

The easier way is to SET the expectations lower. Which is not really a lack of ambition, only a reorientation of it. Set your ambitions to what you can learn and do and be(character, NOT position)...not what you can GET.

Me? Ah! Well, my dad did always say that I had NO ambition!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Judging by the cover

When they said, "Don't judge a book by the cover," I nodded enthusiastically. I mean, yeah, it was a wonderful feeling that, for once, there was a piece of advice which I was already following.

I mean, come on, what does the cover tell you anyway? It demonstrates how good the cover artist is, not how good the author is. Even if the author did have a say in it, it only tells you how capable he is as a judge of art...not how capable he is as a writer. (Ah, well, THAT's a losing argument I know. I mean, if people take so seriously what an actor has to say on politics or sociology, no matter how reluctantly he is coerced to say it, what's the point someone telling them that being a good actor does not necessarily mean that he is an expert on sociology or politics?)

But it is not all that nitpicking logic which decided me on not judging a book by the cover. It was just that I cut my reading teeth on books borrowed from the library in Neyveli. And most of them were what we called 'bound books' with a binding that looks just about the same on all of them. If I had to judge books ONLY by the cover, Shakespeare and Mills & Boon would all be assessed the same; PG Wodehouse would seem just as funny as Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Which comparison, if you know PGW - and Solzhenitsyn of course, would have PGW spinning in his grave.)

So, from a tender young age, I judged books by the blurb and a bit of a sample read, rather than by the cover. The idea that people could judge books by the cover never ever crossed my mind...and came as a shock when I was told that it was indeed true.

It should not have been so much of a shock, though. I mean, if ever there was any other species which both prided itself on its ability to think as well as displayed extreme reluctance to apply that ability, I do not know of it. So, judging by the cover WOULD be the norm because it probably placed the least stress on what Poirot calls the 'little grey cells'.

I should have known, because books are not the only things that get judged 'by the cover'. I mean, how often do the opinions of people get discounted because he 'looks like a fool'? (AND given undue importance because he looks wise? That, too.) Or because HOW he says it - his accent, his inability to speak fluently - overpowers any assessment of WHAT he says. How often does a degree or a position automatically hand over the victory in an argument, regardless of the logic of the stances of the opponents? People get judged 'by the cover' all the time.

What, indeed, is racism or caste-ism or sexism? Taking the physical or social attributes of a person as definitive indications of their ability and/or character is but another form of judging by the cover.

So, while we keep prating of not 'judging by the cover', the corporate world, knowing full well that THAT is exactly what people will do, merrily keeps pushing products on the strength of the cover. The biggest margin earners are the ones which sell MAINLY or ONLY because of the cover! What we call big name brands.

And so, I still continue not to judge by the cover. The problem is I do not know whether to be proud or ashamed of it!

Monday, August 31, 2020

Then and Now

 Yeah, I know that the moment you see that title "Then and Now" and put it together with my age, you will add it up to a post on how in the 'good old days' we were all paragons of virtue and the world was a paradise on earth which all you young whippersnappers (Look that up! I HAVE to use the words that herald my age, haven't I?) have messed up royally. You will be surprised to know that it is NOT the intent of this post. (What?? You read that to mean that I do NOT think we were paragons of virtue? Of course we were paragons of virtue, it is just that I am much too modest to boast of it.)

But, yes, I do intend to wax eloquent about how much things have changed. To say something is different, you may be surprised to know, is not necessarily the same as saying it is better or worse. TRY to act as though you really believe it, at least for as long as you read this post, even if you find it difficult to accept it. It will save me having to plow through comments where the word 'Boomer' features frequently.

You see, all of us HATE change. Just because the world that is around you IS the world you are used to, you cannot see how much trauma it inflicts on us. I mean, you guys start screaming all over social media every time an App changes its damn interface and still cannot understand how upset we can be about Apps BECOMING the interface between us and the rest of the world. It is not that it is more difficult or more inconvenient or any such. It is just that it is DIFFERENT and THEREFORE more difficult, more inconvenient...simply because it forces on us the difficulty, the inconvenience of having to relearn how to do things. Change is a pain even to the youth; to the aged...

And when the world changes topsy-turvy, as it has in a few cases...

From what I had understood, the history of communication started off with figures representing each action, thought or idea which was to be communicated. That was thought to be too cumbersome and people devised alphabets and words, so that you could learn to communicate more easily that memorizing a million figures, with inter-regional variations. And so we grew up, confident that we could pick up and communicate newer ideas and thoughts with the basics we had already learnt. The last thing we would have expected was to have to go back to school to learn communication. And what happens? Smileys and figures of all sorts NOW form communication and we are back to the Stone Age as far as being able to communicate goes. AND I am left pondering what that chap meant when he sent that dancing girl in reply to my comment or whether this chap was insulting me or praising me when he sent me a meme with a ghost cavorting in it. Was the ghost smirking or smiling in appreciation, yada, yada, plagues my nights. (Maybe it IS the Chinese millennium after all. From what I have heard, THEIR alphabet is closest to the way our long gone ancestors communicated with each other.)

Even food has not been spared. I mean, time was when, as a cook, I only had to worry about whether the food smelt good and tasted good; as someone who the cook sought an opinion from, ditto. NOW if I say, "Oh! That smells divine, tastes like ambrosia", the cook gives me a glare and asks, "Forget the inconsequential things. Does it LOOK good?" Alas, I am not fit for the Instagram world!

Travel has been an eye-opener too. Time was when we were traveling and someone exclaimed, "What a lovely view", we would all turn TOWARDS the view to take it in. NOW we are supposed to swiftly turn our backs to the view so that we can click ourselves with the view in the background! (Oh! Yes! Those were times when photographs were for weddings and the like. Who could afford a camera, film for it and costs to develop and print the film...What?? Yeah, yeah, the most that had come about by then were FILM-based cameras. Remember Kodak? No? Ah, well, we thought History was something that happened centuries before. Now, Kodak is History!)

Parenting is a whole new ball-game. There is no way you can just copy your parents and get on with the parenting game. Like, my parents used to tell my sister, "You should walk with your eyes to the ground and head lowered." THAT piece of patriarchy would always get my sister's goat, rightly (I said RIGHTLY, damn it! So, please do not start on long diatribes which use 'patriarchy' and 'male chauvinist' once every three words) and she would sarcastically retort with, "If I do that I will be colliding with all sorts of people and things." NOW, parents have to tell, "Look where you are going, otherwise you will keep colliding with things. Do not always have your head lowered and eyes check out your smart-phone."

And, yes, if we saw someone gesticulating and talking to himself/herself on the streets, we would assume that they were either mentally disturbed or drunk. NOW, we hardly bother to even check if they are wearing earphones. Drunks, these days, must be feeling particularly ignored...even the tried and tested route of making a scene on the streets to gain attention has become normalized. People just take it for granted.

As though, technology had not already turned the world upside down, biology starts up too. Time was when someone, who was seen wearing a hand-kerchief around his neck, automatically qualified a potential goonda because such a hand-kerchief could readily become a mask. And someone WITH a mask was a proven villain, except in an operation theater.

NOW...masks have become designer-wear! Ye Gods!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Man of few words

Almost any person who has met me in person, and most especially those with whom I have felt comfortable about riding my hobbyhorses, will recoil in indignation at applying this 'Man of few words' to me. 'Verbal diarrhea' is probably the first word that springs to their lips if not the more poetic flight of fancy that one of them indulged in - 'Verbal diarrhea verging on verbal Niagara'.

Of course, those who have met me only when in a group are most likely to accept that description, except perhaps saying in surprise - "Few words? You mean he even has a few? I thought he had none." That is because I am rather shy of indulging in equestrian pursuits when in a group, so I very seldom climb aboard any hobbyhorse then.

And, then, to my total surprise, one of those unfortunates, who have been used to seeing me digging my spurs into my hobbyhorse and careening all over the place, called me a man of few words. And then, he qualified. "He is a man of few words and he keeps repeating them. Ad nauseam." I believe that it is a quote of what someone had said of someone else but that was no solace.

The point is, actually, who doesn't repeat himself at all? Only someone who keeps his mouth tightly closed all the time. It is just a question of who you are with, really. I mean, there really are too few people in the world with whom you share a wide range of interests. If you have a friend with whom you share an interest in books but he likes hard metal in music and you are into Carnatic music; he is a foodie and you can keep eating curd rice morning, noon and night and so on...well, what else do you talk to that chap except books? And, after a point, you bloody well will be repeating yourself, won't you, since what you have to say will all have been said, except on the rare occasions when you have a new book to discuss?

I suppose that's the same thing with meeting your school friends in a reunion. There are only so many times you can talk about the time you put the chewing gum in the teacher's chair and the time you hit all three stumps for a six with your reverse sweep...things like that. And, so, you go away and forget all about them till the next reunion where you can...repeat yourself. Unless, of course, you get really INTO what they are doing currently - job and family - so that there are more intersecting areas of interest.

The worst of it is ex-colleagues. I mean, most of your conversation WHILE you were all together would have been bitching about the company, your boss, the HR and office politics. And then you go away to another company. When you meet them after a while you find you have exactly nothing to talk about. You could not care less about THEIR boss, THEIR HR and THEIR office politics, even though you know those people. What's worse is when you start bitching about the boss and you suddenly find that they take offense because that chap had now become their best friend and revered mentor! As for YOUR boss, YOUR HR...well, all they can do is smile indulgently at your theatrics about these small issues and switch the conversation around to the weather. And, if there is anything more repetitive then weather...(I mean, I have never really found why people think it is so profound to say 'Kya garmi hai' in summer and 'Bahut tand hai aaj' in winter in Delhi. But, believe me, if I knocked out those words from all the conversations I had in Delhi, all I'd be left with is sepulchral silence for most of the days.)

These days, though, I find myself rather unhappy. I mean, yeah, it is not the greatest of things to be known as this man of repetitive few words but it was at least a distinguishing feature, something that made me unique. And, now, I find I am reduced to a minor player even in that ability.

I mean, listen to all the discussions of ANYTHING on TV, especially politics. ALL arguments on every side reduce themselves to even fewer words than I have used. Each side has its own limited set of words, the limits being set only by how many synonyms of the same word is known to the concerned parties.

Only goes to show my place in the scheme of things, even in using few words. A bit player, if that! Alas!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Sitting on the fence

 "You know what your problem is?"

Someone must really do a study about this, really! I mean, what is it about me that any friend who meets me feels the pressing need to introduce me to some problem in me within seconds of meeting me?

And it is not as though they are all talking about the same problem. Then, I can just say, "Yes! I know! My total inability to keep the hair on my head," and shut the guy up. But, no, everyone comes up with a new problem. Some day I should start listing out all the problems that people have found in me. I will probably end up with a comprehensive list of all the problems that it is possible for a human being to have. (Or, perhaps, like Jerome K Jerome, I may end up not having 'Housemaid's knee' or some such specifically female issue but, if so, that sort of thing is the only thing that I will miss out on having.)

"You persist in sitting on the fence. Most uncomfortable position. Neither side likes you and you end up with no friends."

The chap had something relevant to say after all. About the 'no friends' part. I mean, yeah, like most people who are not picky on Social media I too have close to thousand 'friends' on Facebook but, push comes to shove, I could not really see them do more than give a teary-eyed emoticon if I claimed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown...if not PUSHING me to a nervous breakdown by trolling me for not agreeing totally with their views!

"But," I said, "I do I choose a side? I find some things that this side says are relevant but other things that they support are terrible. I find a lot of things that the other side says are right but..."

"See, typical of a fence-sitter."

"Fence-sitter is the new term for being open-minded, is it?"

"Open-minded, fence-sitter, it is all semantics. What you are is neither fish nor fowl and so acceptable to neither side."

"But...I mean, come on, to choose a side I need to know who is right..."

"THAT's stupid. I really do not know how you survived so long. I mean, that is old-fashioned Boomer nonsense that you assess the ideas of a side and pick it if you find them right. The fact of the matter is that you pick your side and THEN you know which ideas are right...the ideas of your side!"

"But, damn it, are you saying that I should blindly..."

"THAT's your choice. I mean, yeah, it is much less stress on what you are pleased to call your brain to follow blindly. But it is not necessary. Once you are firmly on one side you will find that for ANYTHING you can always discover some interpretation to support what they support and oppose what they oppose. Even if you cannot find convenient 'facts' to support your viewpoint."

"AND what if I also see these...interpretations...for the other side?"

"See, THAT's only a problem if you have not picked your side. Once you have firmly decided on which side you fall, then you will find that the only interpretations you can see on the other side are those which paint them as villains; paint everything they support as the most hideous things on earth and anything they oppose as the best virtues. It's really that simple. Try it. You will make a lot of friends that way."

"So, then, tell me...which side do I pick?"

He threw his hand up in despair.

"You are incorrigible! Have you still not understood? It just does not matter which side. Pick the side on which your preferred potential friends are on."

Ye Gods! This modern world is too much for me!

Monday, August 10, 2020


 I keep hearing of the existence of people who I would have thought belonged only in idealistic dreams. Like, apparently, there are those who can just continue to do their thing till whatever is being expected happens - the arrival of a guest, the arrival of an expected mail, things like that. They never really experience the tension of waiting nor are they upset by any delays. People say such specimens exist, people even proudly claim that THEY are themselves such specimens. Me...I do not belong in any such fantasy.

It all depends on what that thing is which I am waiting for. Whether I am merely looking at the clock once every five minutes or once every nanosecond; whether I do that while lying around on my bed or pacing the house like I am preparing for a marathon; whether only butterflies fly inside my stomach or scorpions sting the insides. You know how it is...are you waiting for an appointment letter after long days of layoff or is it a friend dropping in for a drink?

The strange thing about me is that I CAN wait in relative ease if someone specifies a date and time when it will happen. Till that date and time, I really am like those fantasy world people - getting on with life with no real pangs of waiting. It is only when it gets near the time that...well all that clock-watching, the marathons and the scorpions depending on the nature of the event.

The fun, if I may use some black humour, really starts if it does NOT happen at that time. THEN it is of no relevance as to what the event is. I am like a volcano holding in lava from that moment on. Why it should be, I don't know. I mean, if the same event had originally been expected a month later than that day, I can be placid. But if it gets delayed by about an hour, for that hour I am Vesuvius just before it blew its top.

Or, perhaps, I do know. Up to the time set for the happening of the event, I KNOW how long my wait will be. AFTER, though...Now I do not know how much longer it is going to take, how much longer I need to wait. That uncertainty is what causes the pregnant volcano imitation, I think. And perhaps rightly because if I am informed in time that the event will be delayed, no molten rocks scald my insides.

To wait or not to wait, that is the question which kills you, especially where you are also considering reminding the concerned people, or perhaps abandoning the appointment. Plus, of course, there are those people who keep you waiting as a power-play, and not so much because it is unavoidable, which is further reason for anger. It is never pleasant to be at the receiving end of power-plays no matter how enjoyable it feels to be at the end that is dishing it out. Once you start feeling that the wait is intended to show you your place in their scheme of things...well, the relationship goes downhill from there.

And now to wait...while you decide 'To read or not to read'!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Cooking up philosophy?

I never realized how much I really liked or disliked the various foods I ate till I started cooking myself. Alas, that unfortunate necessity did come into my life, thanks to getting a job in Delhi in times when neither salary nor availability of South Indian eateries was conducive to a regular routine of eating out.

Now, it is not like I did not know my mind. My mother would have vouched for that, what with having to deal with my 'Ooh! Why did you have to make upma?' and "What? Is this ALL the masala dosai I am going to get?" all through my life till then. Not to mention the "Nah! How can I eat that? It has more salt than needed" and all that. I do cudgel my memory to recollect any time I actually said something good about the food but to no avail. No, not senility, my memory is alright. The poor thing can remember something only if it had ever happened, after all.

And then came Delhi...and the need to cook. It was then I discovered how much of a foodie I am, how really finicky I was about taste and how much I liked and disliked various dishes. I mean, like when you are in a hurry, upma is about the fastest dish you can make and, so, I found that I really did not dislike upma after all. The taste even seemed to grow on me. A shade more salt in the food was not all that bad. Besides I needed more salt in my diet what with all my sweating.

The more interesting set of lessons were about how much I liked certain dishes. I mean, yeah, I still liked some of them - the arisi kozhukkattai, the urandai kozhukkattai and the likes - but, really, for all the effort that goes into making them...well, the long and short of it was that I did not like them enough to put in all that effort. When my mom made them, I could not have enough of them...when you are weighing your joy against someone else's efforts, somehow the joy always seems to outweigh the efforts. It is only when it comes to your own efforts that the scene seems to change. (WHAT?? There are people who actually LOVE cooking? So? There are even eccentrics who actually claim to love working.)

Which is one of those things that we seldom seem to apply in life. It is all fine to like a lot of things but very seldom do we see whether those things are worth to you the effort that goes into getting them. It doesn't help that, unlike cooking, you cannot directly correlate the effort with the acquisition. I mean, if you knew that the luxury car will cost you twelve years of being lambasted by a bad boss or six years of high stress and ulcers for a parting gift or some such, it would be easier to take the call on whether your trusty old Maruti suffices for you or no. But, unfortunately, you cannot correlate. Cooking is easier that way to assess...the effort is directly related to the dish. Unless, like me, you start off making upma and end up with a charcoal mine at the bottom of your wok.

The funny thing, though, is that the best cooks I know in my family seem to operate the same way when they are alone, cooking the dishes that take the least effort. It is only when they have family or guests that the dishes that take effort get made.

True of life too, innit? I mean, most of the effort you put in is not because of what you want yourself but because you want to please or impress other people.

Cooking can lead to valid philosophy after all!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Lacking SMQ

Ever since I heard of this mysterious thing called Social Quotient, I knew I never had it. Not that I really understood what the dratted thing meant but I was reasonably sure that an attitude of 'Leave me alone' did not qualify me for high marks in any ability that had 'social' associated with it.

I put that to being what people label as introverted. If that means someone who thinks he is happy in himself and other people can only cause a disturbance in his contentment, though they are needed in small doses. And, when this Social media thingy popped up, I jumped in joy. At last, I could take even those small doses at arms length.

And then I realized that I lacked even Social Media Quotient (SMQ). Worse than that Social Quotient in fact because there I could at least understand those with SQ though not in the least inclined to emulate them. Here...

I mean, take this meme.

"I think the semi-colon is totally unnecessary as punctuation. Convince me otherwise."

I do not know this chap from Adam, so I would hardly be bothered even if he were announcing dropping out of school. So why the heck would I want to convince him otherwise if he merely wanted to drop the semi-colon from his writing? It is not as though he was planning to drop my baby on its head or something.

I expect sepulchral silence from that group, most of whom shared the same ignorance of this chap, and know what happens? Hordes of people rush in to 'convince him otherwise' or offer excuses for why THEY use the semi-colon still. Clearly I lack SMQ for I was even unable to understand why the chap would get even one frigging reply except from those who want to try out their sarcasm.

But then I am the guy who still finds it odd that people will say, to the public on Facebook, things that they would feel free to say only to their closest friends when in person. I mean things like their heartbreaks, their grief about losing a loved one, the sort that I have always considered as private emotions. To me, it seems like standing in the middle of a market place and shrieking and sobbing loudly about breaking up with my lover or some such but what do I know? I lack SMQ after all.

But, whether lacking in SMQ or not, I will never forgive people for sharing pics of food during this lock-down. I mean, I sit here forced to eat only what my limited repertoire allows me to cook and these @#$% share pics of scrumptious food when I have no option except to drool all over my mobile bemoaning my deprivation.