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!