Monday, March 30, 2020

The illusion of control

Yeah, so I am this chap who totally hates getting out of his house (out of his bed, to be totally honest), as almost all my friends will testify. And, the said friends automatically assume that, in these days of quarantine, it would feel no different from my regular days for me. And, to be honest, so did I.

Surprisingly, now that I am not allowed to go out, the great outdoors beckons to me enticingly. It seems a great deprivation to not step out, wade through those growling street dogs, to go to that neighborhood tea-shop and gulp down that brown mix of sugary hot water that he facetiously calls tea. And merely because I am not allowed to do it! When I never ever wanted to do it before!

This thing about control is really strange. When I was in control of my actions, I never had the urge to get out of the house, hated the idea, in fact. But now that I am forced to do exactly what I always choose to do...Merely BECAUSE it is no longer in my control, no longer my choice...

That's the thing about control, isn't it? That you feel you have a choice, the power of choosing one over the other is all yours. And, as long as you are given the illusion of being in control over your actions, your life, you are serene. The moment, however, you are made to feel that it is not your choice, that what happens to you is not in your control, fear, panic, mayhem! If, further, you start feeling that your government or, even humanity as a whole, is not in control of events, then...

Which is why, when people want to sway you, they give you the illusion of choice. THIS or THAT dreadful one? And you choose, THIS of course, feeling that it is your choice all along. Or, in times when nothing is in your control or seems like it, someone comes along and says "THOSE are the people responsible for it" and you go around bashing them up. And feel that you have taken control of your life and eliminated the drated thing which threatened your control over your life.

Or, even, hunting around hungrily for news, reading up day and night about it - the eternal human confidence that knowledge leads to control. (Knowing full well that knowledge could but YOUR knowledge of anything has failed, hitherto, in even controlling the daily delivery of your newspaper.) Not just the knowledge of the dos and don'ts but everything. Though, yes, as a first step to the most useful type of control - what is mentioned in the coming para, knowledge is useful. If, however, it does not serve that purpose...

And, yet, there is the one thing, the ONLY thing the sages say, which you truly can control - always and any time. You cannot control, always, what happens to you or around you but you can control how you feel about it. How you react to it. They call it the 'freedom from opposites' - indifference to joy or sorrow, success or failure etc etc.

I'll take recourse to English sayings, in these days when anything attributed to our sages is automatically considered superstitious nonsense. Kipling said "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two Impostors just the same; Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it.". And THAT is a state of mind, which is in your control, and not the Universe which, like it or lump it, is not.

Which is not to say, utter passivity. The point is about how you control your feelings, it is not about being supine. Do what you CAN. But replace panicked running around screaming 'We are doomed' with purposive action. Even if inaction is all the action that is possible to you.

THAT - the control over how YOU feel and react to whatever happens to you are around you - is the ONLY control which is not an illusion!

Monday, March 23, 2020


When it is the worst of times, I find that I am invariably considered frivolous. Rightfully so, probably, considering that I have never managed to understand how moping about how bad things are helps the situation. That, though, apparently is a prerequisite to let people know you are taking things seriously. If you go further and start mourning the end of the world then you are indeed the pinnacle of social consciousness.

But, then, I never did manage to see why funny is necessarily frivolous. I mean, yes, when there is a dangerous situation, to pooh-pooh the real dangers IS being frivolous. But why is it that I cannot even write funny things about other every day matters OR laugh at harmless jokes without being blamed of frivolity? Is it so necessary that, to show how seriously I take an issue, I have to go around perpetually moaning about it?

But, then, THAT is another of those very many things I have never understood. I mean, I have never yet seen hardship go away merely because I am shedding tears about how bad things are. Fate, apparently, takes no cognizance of your agony, doesn't relent merely because you sob all over its shirtfront. On the other hand, acknowledging the hardship but not allowing it to prey on your mind makes it easier to bear. Or so I always thought. Looks like I am wrong. All the world seems to think that it is necessary to be groaning under the yoke from dawn to dusk when hardship comes your way.

Seems to me that people do not realize the difference between sharing information which helps others to take appropriate precautions and sharing information that merely serves to worry people. AND, just in case the difference is not clear, when there is potential danger pointed out about which you can do something, it is the former. Where the potential danger is something about which you can do nothing, then all you can do is worry. Like, if you say avoid social contact during an epidemic, it is useful. The economy is going into a tailspin and the world is going into a depression? Now, not being the finance minister or a World Bank honcho, I really don't see how it helps me to know that, except to start me worrying about holding on to my job or paying the EMIs.

But, then, it is sort of ingrained since childhood in us, I suppose. "Don't cry, or else the boogie-man will carry you away" and all that. So, unless you are threatened with dire consequences, you will never do what is needed, so piling threat upon threat upon threat has become sort of second nature to feel that you are getting your point across about how important it is to control the spread of the virus. Except, of course, that most of those threats do not even offer the hope that the predicted gloom may be averted by taking some action.

Essentially THAT. Hope. IF you have no hope to offer, no plan of action to suggest, then better not keep sharing the threats. For, after all, if you convey the message that a dire end is inevitable, you end up making people feel that there is no point in being careful, since it is all going to come to a bad end anyway.

But, then, that's me. I, who think that it is still OK to have what fun you can, laugh when you can, enjoy what you can enjoy, as long as you are taking the precautions suggested. Frivolous, that's the only word for me.

I'm fine with it. One can be lot worse things than just frivolous, after all.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Physics of Me

I am sure that this chap, Nityananda, must have been a Sciences student at school and, possibly, particularly tormented by Physics, if not his Physics teacher. (You don't know the guy - the Lord of the earthly Kailasha? What stone were you living under?) I mean, going by the way he hates getting into the Physics of anything, much preferring to get into the Chemistry. Even Time, where the mind really boggles wondering about what could be the chemistry of time!

I have a sneaking sympathy for him in this. Physics! Faugh! The subject where people take up weights, ropes and pulleys, make a rat's nest out of it all and then ask YOU why the whole damn thing is not falling down. When you look at them in dumb misery, wondering why YOU should be answering for the mess THEY created, they helpfully tell you to use the Momentum Balance or some such. With not a hint of where you can buy the damn thing or whether it comes with a helpful instruction manual.

You know, Physics is the nosy-parker of all subjects. Not at all like other self respecting subjects like the chemistry and biology, which Nityananda so likes. Chemistry sticks to the small - molecules and such - and doesn't go too far in that direction either. Biology, ditto. Sticks to manageable sizes and, now that the dinosaurs are extinct, those sizes are not too large and, as for the small, once they hit the DNA, RNA and gene, and some sundry chemicals, they said 'Enough' and rested content. But Physics?

On the one hand the ruddy thing goes first to stars and star systems, then galaxies, then the Universe and, now, not content with the Universe, which supposedly should mean EVERYTHING, they go on to something called the Multiverse! God knows what next. AND, as though that were not enough, they start worrying about what they cannot see. Dark Matter, Black Holes, what have you. I ask you, is there no end to being snoopy?

So, yeah, one sort of feels 'Ok! Bother all you want about things too big for me to worry about" and starts ignoring them. AND then they start off on the small. It was all fine when they hit the atom - supposedly meaning 'not divisible further'. AND proceed to divide it. Electrons, Protons, Neutrons...and dragged in Chemistry as an accomplice too.

Even Chemistry balked when they did not stop there. I mean, come on, dividing the proton, the electron and all? Quarks, I believe. Where will they stop? And they apparently have assigned flavors to the quarks to further subdivide them. (One is sorely tempted to shove in a handful of Ghost Peppers into their mouths and say, "THIS is flavor!") Just as you are patting yourself on the back that, even if your mind is reeling, you still have not fainted, they sock you with the proposition that something can be both a particle AND a wave, at the same time. I mean, come on, that's like saying that the same person can be Jennifer Lopez and the Hulk at the same time!

First they say that nothing can travel faster than light. THEN they talk of tachyons which cannot travel slower than light. As for relativity, I have no complaints, we knew it all along. Especially when it comes to Time. Which Indian does not know that "5 minutes" means different things depending on whether you say it to the boss, your friend or a stranger?

So, yeah, I am against this dratted Physics too. Even if that means that I have to figure out how to chemically analyse Time!

Monday, March 9, 2020


It must have been at school that I heard this thing about the importance of examples to explain concepts. Yeah, I know that all of you know about how I thought of a classroom as the best place to catch up on my sleep. It is impossible to be sleeping all the time, you see, and this thing about examples must have seeped in during one of those brief episodes when my sleep was broken.

It HAS to be school, cannot be anywhere else. I mean, the teacher even acted upon that dictum and used examples to explain concepts and it WORKED! Obviously had to be school for that is about the only place I have seen it work. It probably works only with children, who tend to be unquestioning when it comes to authority figures. (WHAT?? Not even children are unquestioning? Especially children are not unquestioning? Ah, well, that must be the millenial gene or something, which we guys did not have.)

Came adulthood and, as usual, I tried applying the lessons of my childhood...yeah, one of those which never work, again! (Getting monotonous, is it? Well, I cannot keep track of what is monotonous, and what is not, for you. Bollywood actors routinely changing their significant others seems to be endlessly fascinating and non-monotonous to you, so how am I to know what you will find monotonous and what not?)

So, yeah, there I was trying to explain that, if you are seriously interested in retaining a particularly talented person, you tried to give her what SHE wanted instead of what YOU think she should want. The latter invariably reduces itself to what YOU yourself want, as we all know.

And I came up with THIS example.

"When you are fishing, you bait the hook with a worm, don't you? It does not matter that YOU do not like worms, what is important is what the fish likes."

Clear as crystal, I thought. Communicates the point effectively, I fondly hoped. What I failed to realize was that humanity hated arguing about abstract concepts and much preferred sinking its teeth into something more...meaty. So, giving them a concrete example was an open invitation to mayhem.

And so...

"Why do we presume that fish do not like to eat beef? After all, sharks even eat human beings, so a bit of rare beef..."

"...or a hamburger..."

"...or even cheesecake..."

Yes, and someone would soon come up with the possibility of fish finding a nice shiny metal hook yummy. So, that was the lot which believed in dissecting the logic of the example rather than the logic of the concept itself. So, I start off with needing to give the fish what IT wants and here we were discussing what fish really want. A very productive HR meeting...if we were hiring fish! THEN we would need to know if fish liked cheesecake...

Though exactly how logical was it to expect cheesecake to still stick on to the hook when the line is thrown into the water...I caught myself. Ugh! I'd almost fallen into the same trap. Arguing the logic of their opposition to the example...

Meanwhile, the next lot had started on the subject.

"You know, I don't think I like this. Seems too much like our employees are being hooked like fish."

This, then, is the 'Example IS the concept' lot. Or the ones who find that taking down the example will take down the concept. Or, at the very least, take down the chap who is proposing the concept.

"Yes, baited and hooked. As though employees will swallow it all - hook, line and sinker."

Well, THAT one sank, with the only titters coming from the 'wit' who said it. Indian corporate offices are not too full of people who had the fishing metaphors pat, after all. Not that it was any help to me.

"What I am proposing is that we give them what they REALLY want, not hoodwinking or cheating them", I bleated, halfheartedly. This wasn't going the way I thought it would. Examples! Faugh!

"Anyway, I think fishing ought to be banned. We must all turn Vegan..."

There - the man with a hobbyhorse! The ones who would find a way to ride his hobbyhorse, even where no one else would think it remotely possible. (I mean, getting Veganism into a HR policy discussion, when you are not even discussing the Canteen...that takes SOME doing, right?) OR, as he would himself say, a man of such strong principles that he would not let them be abrogated even in a hypothetical example!

"Tell me one thing! Are we here to discuss fishing?"

THERE - a man of sense! All that we HAD done was discuss fishing.

"Let me tell you about the time I went fishing with..."

Uhoh! Sensible?

If only what we had set out to do was to discuss fishing! It could not have been any less productive but, quite possibly, much more fun!

Monday, March 2, 2020

Important, at last

What a boon it must be to be so sure that you are important to the rest of the world. You know, like when someone says what an ideal friend should be like, you automatically start assessing how your friends fare on that sort of scale. I mean, quite obviously they all should be worried about how they impress you, you being the center of the world and all. Why would it even cross your mind to think of whether YOU are a good enough friend?

Of course, you can adopt the 'curse' version of this same thing. Like assuming that everyone is talking about you when they talk something critical of someone. That, when they are talking about how a person is smarmy, you automatically correlate it to some action of yours in the past and start defending yourself. In that case, of course, it never crosses your mind that they could be talking of someone else. Obviously, nobody else can be important enough to be talked about when you still infest the surface of the Earth.

Though I had been spared the 'curse' version of this being important, and ought to be counting my boons, I have always regretted never being blessed with the 'boon' style of importance. Yes, people do keep spouting about counting your blessings and all but, tell me, when did it ever work for you?

Not being blessed? Well, not till some angel invented the Internet. Ever since that thing swam into my life, I have been the center of the world to all sorts of important people.

I mean, look at all those major companies - Google, Facebook, Banks, Mutual Funds - staying up all night and tripping over each other in order to wish me a 'Happy Birthday'. First thing in the morning! Not just that, they do it all year, for Diwali, for Holi, for Pongal...I tell you, I am so proud that I could burst!

And Facebook! By God, EVERY SINGLE DAY! That man Zuckerberg just cannot live without reading some post or the other from me on my Timeline! Addicted, that's what he is. So, every day, the chap pleads with me to share something. And, even when I do, he is not content. He wants a post on each of my pages, eggs me on to share tidbits from my life with him...He is such a fan of mine, and all my so-called friends in real life? They just do not realize what an amazing writer I am. It takes a genius to know one, let me tell you.

But, really, these guys can carry their admiration too far. I mean, yeah, I looked up a Smartphone, toying with the idea of buying one. But, damn it, wherever I go on the Net, they come obsequiously offering me various smartphone. I feel like a Pasha in a bespoke shop with salesmen trooping in all the time offering up goods for my approval. Sort of feels nice initially, yes, but it palls, you know. Especially when you are being shown the tenth smartphone AFTER you are done with the purchase. Spoils the mood, sort of. You start feeling that you are SO important to them and, yet, how did they miss your having finished with the purchase?

Anyway, whenever I start feeling that people are looking through me, all I have to do is log in. Immediately, I am at the center of the world!