Monday, December 20, 2021

Swag vs Sense

Nostalgia caused me to re-watch an old Rajinikanth movie - Priya - after seeing a reference to it on Facebook. There is this scene near the climax where Rajinikanth - essaying the role of Sujatha's lawyer-detective Ganesh - is in a quadrangle of high rise buildings in one flat of which his client - Priya - is held captive. Trying to locate exactly which flat she is in, he disguises himself as a beggar and breaks out into song, calling for her to give some sign of where she was held so that he could rescue her.

Now, singing so the song can reach some 15 stories above and penetrate through soundproofing is something every movie hero can do. Expecting Priya (Sridevi, if you are THAT interested), who he had seen - about an hour ago - trussed up like a chicken and gagged to boot, to somehow signal him AND to expect that he would looking in the right direction to see that signal is all in a day's work. These things do not need a Rajinikanth. There is no special Rajini swag in all this, any common or garden-variety hero could do the same.

The thing is that the kidnap gang sends a couple of members to find who was caterwauling Priya's name on the streets. AND they look at Rajini and pass him by as a non-entity. Whereupon, he smirks and swirls his cane victoriously and the entire theater erupts in whistles and applause. Thereafter, he takes up singing again for a sign from the heroine.

You smirk, showing that you KNOW that these guys are the gang members but it does not cross your mind that following them will lead you more certainly to Priya than to sing for the poor woman to show you the sign? But, then, had he done that, do you think that these whistles and applause would have happened? Rajini swag beats commonsense and the director knows it!

It is not just with Rajinikanth. Swag invariably not only beats sense, it totally obscures commonsense. Take the way you vote, for example. I mean, if a guy says he will make the corrupt destitute and put lakhs into each of your accounts and another says he will work to eradicate poverty, who gets your vote? YOU want swag, no matter how irrational it is, and THEN you complain that people make wild promises which they never intend to keep. If you let swag beats sense, what do you expect? People WILL try to outdo each other in swag...if they can.

Now, we management guys are a lot more savvy. I mean, we do not let swag get in the way of commonsense. We rename it things like 'Executive Presence', 'Leadership' etc and let THAT get in the way of commonsense. Catch us letting a lowly thing like swag get in the way!

But get this one thing very clear...NEVER let Sense get in the way of Swag if you want to get ahead in life!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Tenacious beliefs?

Beliefs are inevitable. You can KNOW things only if you know all the facts and have the ability as well as the knowledge to derive the right conclusions from the facts. Humanity itself does not yet have complete knowledge and you, yourself, do not even have all the facts which humanity has accumulated. And when you consider things as true, you are only believing them or believing those who say such things are true - scientists, economists, whoever. (Belief in the physical sciences was a lot more dependable in the past, when false facts and scientists who work to prove the point of their paymasters were a lot less prevalent. The social sciences, though...Show me a social scientist - economist, sociologist, whoever - who claims that his view is the incontrovertible truth and I will know where to go when I want an idiot OR a barefaced liar or both.)

Beliefs come in all flavors. Some are proven wrong with near-certainty. Some are not yet conclusively proven wrong but the preponderance of available evidence suggests that they may possibly be wrong. Some are the sort where you could pick any side and have an almost equal probability of being wrong.

It is the tenacity of beliefs, though, that is astounding. I mean, you could possibly overturn a lot of FACTS and not elicit more than 'Ho, Hum' from most people. But touch upon a social belief...

You see, the first thing about social beliefs is that they provide an instruction manual for your life. If you want to be seen as good - dress like this, talk like this, act like this. And by the same token, you know what sort of people others are by taking one look at their dress, the way they speak or act. It is even easier when they come from elsewhere - if he is from that region, he is false, if he is from that region, he is rude...Avoids all this messy business of having to understand them and assessing their character. Who does not understand the importance of an Instruction manual? Now to change beliefs is to junk that oh-so-useful manual and open myself to the idea of assessing each person all by my lonesome. Have a heart!

Like it or lump it, Society works on a pecking order. Equality is for dummies. (Right-wing fascist? Me? Yeah, Right! Even liberals only want equal OPPORTUNITIES, you know. Opportunities to do what? To rise to any level in that pecking order. So, there!) Hierarchical organisations have a defined pecking order and a defined mechanism for rising up that pecking order.

The problem is, as usual, in informal situations which means home and society at large. Social beliefs define that for you rather conveniently. It does not matter what sort of person you are - you are above some and below some. It gives you a nice feeling of stability about life. Touch upon those beliefs and you mess up the stability in my life. Even those who are at the bottom - if you leave it to individual ability to stay there or move up...well, how many are confident of moving up and how many are afraid that the others will leave them behind? It is better if you are fighting to move up as a whole and push some other group of people below you. Otherwise...Change, you see, is always welcome ONLY when it is others who need to change OR when YOUR situation will only change for the better.

Beliefs are also an all-important crutch. Especially religious beliefs. Let us say that someone has a parent with an incurable disease. It is likely that he keeps his hope up believing that prayers to a deity will set things right for him. When rationality ceases to offer hope, people WILL lean on beliefs. Would you, then, find them open to have their beliefs questioned? (Well, IF it is possibly curable and they are refusing to take the rational option what do you think will work best? To tell them that this is nonsense and they should go to a doctor OR to tell them to pray but also go to a doctor?)

So, comes to those who have no reason for rational hope that their lives will become better in the future - due to poverty or lack of options or lack of options due to poverty - belief in a god who will set things right for them is all that would keep them going. And that belief is so tenacious that it will be vigorously defended.

Uprooting social beliefs or modifying them is what all change is about. You need to pick your battles, though, and pick your arguments so that it seeks to change only what needs to change in the better interest of society and not to try to remake the entire world in your image.

To dash around like a bull in a china shop, regardless of consequences, trying to destroy beliefs that you consider irrational is like...

Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Making people laugh

You know how much I have lamented the fact that people seem disinclined to laughing, going by how little they care for humor books. (Mine? Yeah, sure, of course that is why I am lamenting. When is the last that YOU lamented about something that did not affect you directly? There!) I mean, there is hardly any argument that a humorist to beat PG Wodehouse was never born but let us have you tell me about all the literary awards that he won. The indisputable GOAT (Ah, how this thing has changed. Greatest of ALL times? In my day, if I made a goat of someone...leave it!) in this genre and...

Anyway, that's not what I intend talking about now. I mean, yeah, I do wish that people cared a bit more about those who make them laugh but I can hardly say that any way of making people laugh is welcome and utterly harmless. I mean, there was a time when making fun of 'challenged' people was not a thing and, if you hark back to the movies of those times, nine out of ten movies 'made people laugh' by making fun of the aurally challenged or people who stuttered or people who were keratin-challenged. (Yeah, why should I not find a politically correct way of referring to people like me whose scalp is exposed to the elements?) Well, they were all making people laugh but the question is whether opposing their 'fun' is bad.

What was that? All ways of making people laugh are not necessarily good? Especially if you are laughing AT other people? Well, go back to your favorite jokes and list out the jokes that are NOT making fun of other people. From where I stand, those are the ONLY sort of jokes that make people laugh. I mean, I sit around trying to write what is called 'dry humor' and the most I can evoke is a smile that seems more like a grimace. If only I found it comfortable to make fun of other people instead of making fun of circumstances and the ironies of life...The problem with making fun of people is that you can make all people laugh, perhaps, with the exception of the chap who is being made fun of. Except, of course, if the joke is seen as being complimentary to him by that person. Like the ones about the vocabulary of Tharoor or the all-powerful nature of Rajinikant...

And when it comes to making fun of groups of about that? Nice way to make people laugh? All those Sardarji jokes, jokes about are really taken by that sense of humor, right? If you are not, you must be in a minority OR a Sardar OR a Woman as the case may be. Trawl for the most popular jokes and what do you find? Exactly!

You know, the funniest thing in the world is other people's beliefs. Beliefs, by definition, are things that are not facts. You do not just believe that if you jump off a building, you will fall down; you KNOW it. Now, yes, there are beliefs which are outright disproved by facts and making fun of someone who continues to hold to that belief is probably a favor to the world. Taking him seriously is to validate an incorrect belief. There are those, though, which have not been conclusively disproved. So, why not make fun of those?

Yeah, why not? I mean, what with this being politically incorrect and that being hurtful and all, it is rather tough to find what you CAN joke about. So, I was rather glad to find that there were some people, at least, who thought that even the icons of other people's faiths - gods, more often than not - should not be above humor. I had always thought of my own god as someone who would have a wonderful sense of humor and can take a joke on himself. The problem is that followers of icons tend to be humorless when it comes to the icons they follow. THAT was proved to me when I made a harmless joke about the coiffure of one of the atheistic icons and found a staunch supporter of 'making people laugh' jumping on me with spiked boots. Ye Gods!

I lament about it to another person and he tells me 'punching down' is in bad taste. Hmmm! By punching down, I thought he meant that that the more powerful should not misuse their power to make fun of the less powerful. Somewhat like a boss making fun of your English, the entire crowd laughing and you having to act as though you find it funny. But, 'punching down' is a strange beast. If a crowd of those who belong to historically under-privileged classes gang up to make fun of a lone member of the historically privileged class, it is 'punching up' and, therefore, not bullying. Me, I am myopic and can only see that in THOSE specific circumstances, THAT person is the one who is powerless. What is true in societal terms is not the same in individual terms. And, thus, when I make fun of someone else for his beliefs, I may perhaps BE punching down. Simply because HE may not have the privilege of the education that I have had.

That essentially leaves me with very few choices to make people laugh. I mean, I find MOST of the options to make people laugh are either odious to others or to me. So, the only safe subject to make fun of seems to!

That shall probably always be the case. A joke is funny only as long as YOU are not the butt of it. Alas! Humor, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder!

Monday, November 29, 2021

The route to success?

A friend had shared a piece with me which talked about how reading classics was needed to acquire a patina of sophistication - especially knowing Greek and Latin to read the then classics in their original language. Also that the sophistication was required to move in the circles of the high and mighty, thereby leading to your own success. Oh, yes, the piece WAS talking about practically prehistoric times when there was this quaint idea that how cultured you are depended on what you knew and how you behaved.

As we all know, it is a stupid definition of culture. Culture is all about the car you own, the locality you live in and the way you dress. As for what you KNOW, all that matters is that what you know enables you to earn the money needed to own that car, live in that locality, buy those dresses etc etc. And, when we talk about behavior, it is not these namby-pamby ideas about how courteously you treat people, especially those less well-off than you, or how considerate you are of others and such. It is about knowing to use the right forks, knowing what wine to drink with what food, knowing what music to appreciate and what to ridicule, things like that. (Music you LIKE? Like really? Don't you know that, if you are to be seen as cultured, you are not ALLOWED to like or dislike anything unless it checks with 'cultured behavior'?)

One thing has not changed, though. I mean if, say, Mukesh Ambani chooses to lick his plate clean, do you really think that HE will be called uncultured? Or that the definition of culture will change to look down upon people who do NOT lick their plates clean? And have people giving etiquette lessons on the proper way to lick a plate clean? (Alright, that's an exaggeration. But, yeah, think of him wearing pajama-kurtas as the normal wear, driving an Alto, living in Bandra...will any of that make mango people call him uncultured?) After all, the whole PURPOSE of appearing cultured is to curry favor with the 'high and mighty', is it not? So, yes, there are the people who 'jahan kade hote hain, vahinse line shuru hota hai' - or, in English, the queue starts from wherever they stand; and there are those who then have to stand behind them to form that queue. Thus it was even in those prehistoric times when people read classics to get ahead in life (according to that piece). The 'high and mighty' had scant idea of the classics, it is just that they liked being SEEN as appreciating them. So, those who sought to curry favor HAD to read what those who were already 'successful' only paid lip service to.

The most heartening thing in this whole thing is that you have ONE standard route to success, spanning generations and geographical boundaries. Particularly pleasing to us guys who have immense respect for those who can say, 'Jaanta nahin ki main koun hoon' which, for the 'Hindi is not even my second language' guys means 'You do not know who I am'. Which, inevitably, leads to subsequent sentences, not about WHO he is but WHO his parents, siblings, uncles, friends or neighbors are.

And so, you ask? Well, the point is simple. Success is ALL about who you KNOW. Curry favor how you will, what you are aiming at is knowing people whose names you can throw around in order to ascend a social ladder. All you need to do is pick whose favor you want and how to curry favor with them. Voila!

What?? Easier said than done? Now, come on, whoever said success comes easy? And you, who spend good money on all those books on success, pay up for training which teaches you to succeed and never once think to tell THEM that it is 'easier said than done' will complain about that when I am giving it for free?

You just don't know who I am!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Crucified by the truth?

By now you must be wondering why I persist in calling people 'friends' when the only reason they come to me at all seems to be to pull me down. It is not exactly masochism, it's just that it is easier to type 'friends' than 'acquaintances', even with spellcheck helping you with the spelling. (You have guessed that this post is again about a friend who has popped in of a purpose to point out another of my idiocies? I never realized that people, with IQs qualifying them for Mensa, land up on my blog.)

You know, the truth can pretty much be crucifying if you are me. I mean, there are such a lot of things that a man is supposed to be, which I am not, so it is a rare truth that actually ends up not being detrimental to what little reputation I have managed to cling on to. But you know what burns me up? When people actually LIE using the truth and I am unable to refute it.

You think that the Truth is the Truth and the Lie is a Lie and the twain will never meet? Or, in other words, it is impossible to lie using the truth? Just shows how little you know about abilities of the friends that I have.

Take this one for example.

"From the time he joined my section, we have had nothing but problems."

Yup, your Mensa IQ must have told you that the 'he' there is me. AND what does that statement tell you? Especially when I cannot deny that I did join the section on day x and from day x+1 there had been a spate of problems? That I was RESPONSIBLE for those problems, right? Wrong! The problems related to work done BEFORE I ever knew that this was the section that would have the honor of being graced by my presence. I can say THAT and refute the implied accusation, right? Yeah, right, and end up being labeled a jinx for ever, instead of merely as an incompetent idiot. Did my dear friend say the truth or used the truth to lie and imply that I was responsible for the problems? Depends on whether you get the jitters if a cat crosses your path or not.

Or consider this one.

"Well, this is the guy who adds up 2 and 2 and gets 5." Of course in the days when people actually knew how to do addition instead of leaving it all to computers. AND, yes, the 'guy' there is you know who.

Truth? Yup it did happen ONCE. OKAY! Once! In about a 100 odd statements with some twenty computations each in the period we knew each other. So, truth, really? But does it say anything of the fact that I made an error ONCE in 2000 computations? Nope. So, what is it you get from that statement? That I am a mathematical nincompoop. You still believe that the truth cannot be used to establish a lie? Why do you think that courts have people swearing that they will tell the 'Truth, the WHOLE truth, and NOTHING but the truth' but for the fact the people are quite capable of telling partial truths and mixing truths and lies in order to establish a lie by way of implication?

What's worse is that he said to my subordinate. And I cannot even vent about it to any other friend without that chappie getting on my case with 'If it was the truth how does it matter where he said it?' I mean, in the days when body shaming was still considered humorous, did anyone ever make fun of the height of a short guy to another short guy? Exactly! By the very fact that he made that joke with that chap, he indirectly indicates that he thought that guy as the Ramanujam of mathematicians compared to me. (That implicit comparison with the other guy does not exist if the other guy merely happens to overhear it.) And I am supposed to see it as the same as if he had just told it to me alone? Especially when that other chap mucks up his computations three times out of ten? What if he had said it to my clients, would it still not matter who the truth was told to? Really!

You know these logical fallacies that I keep going on about? 'Post Hoc ergo propter hoc' is the fallacy which he depends on people to make when he said that thing in the first example. 'After I came in, problems occurred, SO problems occurred BECAUSE of me'. The second is the common one of generalizing. You have seen worse uses of the latter. Like "He cannot even speak good English" which seeks to establish that lack of knowledge of 'good English' somehow makes the person bad at everything. AND it DOES establish that in the minds of a lot of people. Truth can lie because people are prone to logical fallacies. Which is how it is popularly used by rhetoricians, politicians being the best known of them. The problem, though, is that there ARE those who are themselves prone to logical fallacies and genuinely believe the conclusions that arise out of faulty logic and quite innocently indulge in what is a rhetorician's tool to manipulate the gullible.

When you do it too often, though, YOU get generalized as well. If people see what you say as a lie, even if they are unable to see exactly WHY it is a lie, YOU get the reputation of being undependable. And THAT gets generalized, so even the truths that you say will be taken for lies. No matter how innocent and well-meaning your intent, no matter that you did not even realize that you WERE lying by implication on a few things, or because you genuinely believed them to be true.

Well, unfortunately, my friend does it only to me. It is easier by far to say something is factually incorrect rather than establish that the implication is incorrect. So...

"What? Actually, the problems started from the time YOU joined. My misfortune is that I joined six months later in the same section."

"No way! It's actually YOU who did that and I had to tell you that 2 and 2 add up to 4. It took me half an hour to convince you!"

Well, if the chap WILL be clever and lie by implication and I am not as clever, the only thing to do is to give the lie to his facts!

Monday, November 15, 2021


This purpose of life idea, as you all know by now, has always defeated me. I mean, like, from a very young age, I have been screamed at for not having any ambition. And ambition, as far as I understand, is to set and work towards a goal. And how the heck do you even set a goal without purpose? It's not like you can say eating idlis is your goal without making a purpose out of it - like saying I want to get into the Guinness Book for eating the most idlis at one sitting. (Though I have seriously felt that something must be wrong in the wiring of the brains of people who actually want to record these things, it's an opinion that seems to be more unpopular than otherwise.)

When the world was young (well, younger than now drat it. Asking me for the exact birth date of the world!), people had all sorts of questions in their minds. How do I know I exist, what is life, what is its purpose yada, yada. I mean, there are those who are content to chew the cud and there are those who HAVE to know why you chew the cud, where is the cud coming from and so on and so on. The rest of those questions is the reason why you have to suffer through subjects like Physics at school.

This 'purpose' thing, though. THERE was the root of philosophy (Though philosophy, originally, was what they called this inquiry into ALL those questions. There is a reason why you get a PhD - Doctor of PHILOSOPHY - in all subjects). AND, dare I say, Religion! So, you had a whole array of possible purposes - from heading towards Heaven or Hell to achieving oneness with the Creator and so on. Those were the days when you were up close and personal with natural forces AND were at their mercy. So, the ideas of 'purpose' tended to be as vast as the universe both in space and in time. The infinite and the eternal figured in the ideas. (Even these Heavens and Hells had infinite pleasures or agonies for an eternity, see.)

But, then, after we shut out the world by enclosing ourselves, Philosophy tended to shut out the rest of the universe and concentrate on humanity alone. In other words,  it tended to restrict itself to sociology. As in, what is the best Society to have - democratic, autocratic, capitalistic, communistic, whatever. So, the purpose of human life is to create an ideal Society and the purpose of an ideal Society is to foster human life. So, by perfect circular reasoning, we had found the Purpose! 

Why do we live? To create an ideal society. Why do we want an ideal Society? So that we can live. QED!

Anyway, that's for people who love to only talk about things with no intention of doing anything OR for people who are not content with managing their own lives and want to manage everyone's life. For the rest of us mango people, though...

"You need to have a purpose in life. What do you want to become - a doctor, engineer...what?"

Now THAT was what I was faced with. It was always what I wanted to BECOME when all I wanted them to do was to let me BE. (I have said that before? So? I mean, you are the guys who troll people for contradicting what they said before and you have a beef even when I say exactly what I said before? There's no pleasing some people, really!)

But Society has progressed a long way since the time when I was at school. All those ancient philosophers will be extremely gratified to know that humanity has at last found a universally acceptable answer to the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to...

...get the maximum Likes on Social media!

Monday, November 8, 2021

Acquiring a taste

You know, I never have understood this 'acquiring a taste' business. I know that these Amazons and Flipkarts seem to be selling anything and, in festive times, selling at a discount so enthusiastically that they deluge you with messages all day long. But can you place on order for, say, 'a taste for Sushi', say? How does one go about acquiring a taste for something which the cognoscenti choose to call 'an acquired taste'?

What was that? I have already written about 'Acquiring Taste' and you are in no mood for my repetitive senile maundering? That's the problem with the world, full of arrogant know-it-alls who will rush in with comments even before they learn the 'A' of a subject. There is a frigging difference between someone wanting to be seen as a 'person of taste' and someone acquiring a taste, say, for ballet dancing or aquavit or some such thing. THAT one was about the former, this is about the latter.

I seem to have got the cart before the horse, really. Like, I started wondering about WHERE to acquire a taste for, say, raw fish before even considering WHY I should acquire one. I mean, you try something, you like it, you do it. You dislike it, you avoid it. Why at all should you dislike something and bother to put in the effort to get to liking it?

And, no, don't give me that guff about 'having to do it'. Yeah, I had to worry myself senseless about 'balancing balance-sheets', finding that elusive Rs. 1347.69/= by which the left hand side exceeded the right hand side, but I did not 'acquire a taste' for balancing balance-sheets. I couldn't care less if they never did balance and became unbalanced sheets, not as long as my job was not at stake. And, when they came in with programs that would do it automatically, I did not bemoan the fact that I could never spend sleepless nights chasing that elusive Rs. 1347.69/= in the morass of ledger entries. THAT is the sort of thing you call 'have to do it' - meaning WORK.

These acquired tastes, they are about things that you choose to call FUN. Now, exactly HOW is it fun to go around doing things that you dislike in the process of acquiring a taste for it? Catch me plowing through the prose of Rushdie, going dizzy wondering what was happening really in the here and now, what was happening in the long gone past and what was happening merely in the mind of the character. There are those who like him, more power to them, but why on Earth should I work my way through his books when I stoutly refused to do the same with my text books even though the promise of a glittering future by getting into IIT was at stake?

So, yeah, forget about WHERE to acquire a taste for, say, roasted bugs. Tell me one good reason WHY I should acquire a taste for anything I do not like.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Honestly Real?

You know, some words are really strange. Like, take this word 'honestly' for example. Or its first cousin, 'really'. Nice words that you expect to be oozing with genuineness. But, unfortunately, when it comes to real life usage, you seldom come across any other words which are so surrounded by the fog of disbelief as these two.

No? Tell me, when you hear someone say, "I honestly wanted to come to your party, you know. Unfortunately, at the last moment, someone landed up home...", you believe him implicitly? Or does that word 'honestly', right at the beginning, trigger off the feeling: 'Here comes the lie - white or otherwise?'

Even if, indeed, the chap is telling the truth, the words reek of disbelief. Or, more to the point, the fear of disbelief. I mean, when is the last time you used 'honestly' or 'really' when you said something truthful? Do you say, "I really had my breakfast". Never. UNLESS, of course, you are declining someone's hospitality when you are saying so. AND, in that case, you feel pressed to add that 'really' or 'honestly' because you fear that they may disbelieve you and take offense, otherwise.

Thanks to the fact that everyone does it, and more often than not to cover a lie, saying that is EXACTLY what causes people to disbelieve you. All that saying it does for you is to portray you as a sort of wuss. Either because you are going through life expecting people to be disbelieving you OR because you are seen as a coward who tries to weasel out of any possible conflict by lying OR both.

Take it from me. Use 'honestly' and 'really' too often and, with nary a lie uttered in all your life, you will acquire the reputation of being undependable.

You honestly do not believe me? Really?

Monday, October 25, 2021

Logic is fallacy

"Here he comes! This is the guy I was talking about."

I don't know how you guys feel if, when you walk in to join a group, someone says this. Me, I feel that I should have stayed back home curled with a book. Daniel walking into that den of lions would probably have been less scared.

"The guy who has a problem with every way decisions get made?"

"Hey, wait! That's not true," I bleated.

"Tell me guys," said the chap who announced my august presence, "If everyone in your group said something is right, what do you say?"

"That it is right, of course."

People really did say things in chorus, even when not in school!

I said, "But that is a logical fallacy - argumentum ad populum. Just because something is believed by everyone..."

I stopped, the knowing grins on everyone's face and the 'Was I not right?' gesture from the main lead stopping me.

"Ok! If, on whether to trust a person from a certain community, your dad says 'No'?"

"Of course, they cannot be trusted!" There is always a best student in any class, pushing to answer the way the teacher wanted him to!

Drat him. Otherwise, this would have been a huge mistake and I'd have escaped. I mean, really, setting up people's dads as authority figures that they would necessarily follow? Really?

The inquiring look in my direction prompted me. "Authority Bias," I growled, not really keen to play the buffoon's role thrust upon me but not knowing how to wriggle out. "What is said by an authority figure in your life - teacher, leader, guru, whoever - is not proof that it is true."

"Do you trust this new man who has joined this office?"

"No way! He is an MBA and you know how that last guy from IIM behaved. He will try to push himself up by undermining us."

I was silent and the Master of Ceremonies took over my role.

"AND our man will call it 'Straw Man' or 'False Equivalence' or 'Non Sequitur' or some such nonsense."

I could not make out the looks that were cast in my direction. They seemed a strange amalgam of anger and pity.

"This guy...he will not even accept the most common thing that we all do since childhood. I mean, when you failed in Maths and your father started looking for a cane, did you not scream, 'My brother also failed in three subjects...why did you not beat him?'"

"Of course!" The chorus was back in action again.

"What would you call that?"

"Whataboutery," I mumbled.

There was a horrified silence. Then on chap whispered, "What do you have against people thinking for themselves?"

I was stung. "Thinking for themselves. I WANT them to do it. Why do you think..."

"Then why are you opposing all the tools of thinking?"

"Tools of thinking? These are not tools of thinking, they are all logical fallacies - how not to think."

The MC laughed. "You don't get it, do you? That's because your basic assumption IS a fallacy."

"AND what would that be?" I shouted.

"You assume that logic exists!"

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Art of Pleasing (Bosses) - Disagreeing

There you go, again! You take one look at the title about disagreeing with bosses and you say, "I know! You are going to give a one word advice - 'Don't'." Really? You think I am going to fill up a whole blog post with 'Don't' like I were back at school and my teacher had given me imposition? (Huh! Do school-kids these days still have to write things like 'I will not be late to class' hundred times?)

Now, exactly why will 'Don't' not suffice? The problem is that there can be times when your boss' decisions can land the whole lot of you neck-deep in shit. AND, when that happens, your boss is going to scream, "Why did you not tell me before that this is likely to happen?" whenever he takes a break from gagging at the smell. Not to mention that if anyone is going to go under it will be you first.

If you think that it is unlikely to happen since your boss is supposed to be better than you in judging things, you are either too stupid to live OR you have not risen high enough in the organisation. In those rarefied heights, where YOU are the expert on law, say, and your CEO has come through engineering...well, there YOU are the one to advice about the law. AND CEOs, being CEOs, are prone to say things like, "Write to them quoting this clause and break the contract." You cannot just say, "Yes, Boss" when you know that you will get screwed in the arbitration. Not disagreeing is not an option...or, well, it IS, provided you are looking forward to a premature retirement.

So, how do you disagree pleasingly, if indeed THAT is not oxymoronic. Not by saying, "That's a stupid idea" that's for sure. If you do that...forget it. If you were the sort to do that, you'd have been filtered out in your very first job interview.

What about, "That will not work, Sir"? sort of assume that, since law IS your subject, the CEO would accept that you'd know more about the subject than him and will not take it amiss if you display that you know more than him. If such were indeed the case, do you really think that he would be laying down the law TO you rather than asking about the law FROM you?

So, what is your choice, then? Simple. Obviously YOU cannot show him up which would mean that you know more than him. So..."I'll talk to our lawyers and ask them to draft a proper legal notice," would be a good first step. And THEN, "Sir, our lawyers say that, in the event of arbitration, we are likely to lose." See what I mean? Now it is the EXTERNAL expert who knows more than your CEO and, after all, if they did not why would you keep them on retainer?

If you are REALLY good then, "Sir! Our lawyers were very impressed by your logic. Unfortunately, the law is an ass, it is not always logical. So, they say that..." THERE! You have stroked the man also, in addition to refusing him!

WHAT was that? Unnecessary payment of legal consultation fees for something that you knew yourself? Are you sure you belong in the corporate world?

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Art of Pleasing (Bosses)

There is a problem with blog titles. You know, the moment you see this "Art of Pleasing Bosses", there is a crowd which sneers at 'ass-licking' advice. Idiots, who do not seem to understand that the 'Art of Pleasing' - bosses or others - is the key to what one calls man-management. Call it 'How to become a great man-manager' and they come rushing in respectfully; call it 'Art of pleasing' and they look down their noses at it.

Then there are those who DO understand the importance of it but come in assuming that I am going to give them 6 steps to become the apple of your boss' eye or 10 things to avoid if you want to become that said apple (This listicle addiction, I tell you!) Mostly chaps who have never come to my blog or known me. For, if they did, they would know that I am utterly incapable of either.

I did avoid mentioning the full title - "The Art of Pleasing (Bosses) - Agreeing". If I had, it would have been the frigging opposite of that 'click-bait' thing I keep hearing about. "Ah! Of course you agree with your boss. Every Tom, Dick and Harry tells you that. Talk about reinventing the wheel, this chap will probably reinvent walking," would about be the reaction before you scroll down to the next meme on your Timeline.

Impressing the boss by agreeing with him is not as easy as it sounds. So, every Tom, Dick and Harry KNOWS it is important so, obviously, how the heck are YOU going to impress the guy when everyone around you is falling all over himself agreeing with him? You really think, "Of course, Sir! You are right." OR "Wow! You are a genius, Sir!" is going to cut the mustard? Not unless your boss is newly minted and unused to BEING a boss. Otherwise, it is like you expecting Rajnikanth to specifically notice you in a crowd of applauding fans.

And, so, if you think you can get noticed ONLY by disagreeing with him, you are right. About the being noticed part. Happy? So, what the hell was your point - to get noticed OR to please him? I mean, really, how do you expect to climb up corporate ladders if you get so easily distracted from your own goals - from pleasing the guy to getting noticed by displeasing him?

You need to find a way to AGREE with your boss in a noticeable way. The best way is to find a UNIQUE reason for agreeing with him OR for admiring him for what he said. You know, like "Wow! Your idea will even help sell add-on products, Sir!" OR "I have only learned how to apply the concepts properly from bosses, so far. For the first time, I am learning how to apply out-of-the-box thinking while applying concepts." and so on and so forth.

See what I mean? It is easy for someone to say, as one of his 6 Dos, to agree with your boss. To actually agree AND impress him favorably...THAT is the difficulty.

What was THAT? If you have to do so much thinking and work in order to please your boss, you may as well DO your work and please him that way? Ye Gods! However did you enter the corporate world when you still hold to the illusion that WORK alone can please bosses? You sure do not know the first thing about man-management!

Monday, October 4, 2021

The truth about certainty

I came across something interesting in a book I was reading recently. In the book there was, apparently, a priestly class which could detect whether a person was lying or telling the truth. Sort of infallible human lie-detectors. The story is, among others, about one of them who realizes that what they actually detect is certainty, not necessarily truth.

At first sight, there did not seem much difference between the two, really. I mean, after all, you ARE certain that what you believe is true, after all. So, exactly what was the difference? The chap in front of you is telling the truth as he knows it, is he not?

The problem, though, arises only when your motive is NOT to assess the truthfulness of the person in front of you BUT to discover the real truth. Assuming always, in these days of 'My truth' and 'Your truth', that there IS something called 'The Truth'. THEN, you have a problem. Yes, the chap in front of you is certain of 'His Truth', to the extent that he may not think he only 'believes' it is true or that it is the truth as 'he knows it' BUT that it is the ONLY truth. it?

Though, I rather think that this is something that actually vexes no human being. We have always placed more of a premium on certainty than on truth. I mean, come on, if you are faced with two guys, one of whom is absolutely confident about what he is saying and the other is all 'On the one hand' and 'On the other hand', who do you find the better potential employee, say? Does it even cross your mind that the former could be certain because he is ignorant of the circumstances in which he could be wrong OR that the latter seems unsure because he can see situations where the 'truth' may be different? Of course not! Certainty always wins the day. (THAT is a whole different thing from being decisive, thank you very much! You CAN make decisions under uncertainty, it does not require you to be ignorant of the reasons for uncertainty!)

And, yet, Certainty, more often than not, accompanies ignorance than it does knowledge. After all, the more you know, the more reasons you find to question your previous beliefs. Just it easier to be certain that a man is untrustworthy because he has side-whiskers (Really! THAT was a thing when I was at school!) or that a woman is 'available' because she wears 'revealing' clothing (whatever strikes you as so) OR not? AND knowing more men and women and seeing that clothing or facial fuzz has not much to do with their natures...does that breed certainty?

And, yet, we love leaders who have an aura of infallibility; of certainty. We prefer to adopt their opinions, follow the path they lay out for you...all because THEY seem sure that they are leading you into paradise and you want someone who seems confident that he can take you there.

And, so...the truth IS that Certainty is ALL the Truth that we want in the world!

Monday, September 27, 2021

The great robber - Age

I know what you think I am going to talk about. About how I look at stairs and groan at the thought of climbing them, when I used to run blithely up in the past. (Not that you'll think that if you are young, nowadays. The idea of even the young running DOWN stairs, leave alone running UP, is passe; they groan at the thought as much as the old though, I bet, their knees do not make weird clicking noises as they climb up the stairs). About how the list of tablets I have to eat grows in tandem with the list of foods I am not allowed to eat. About how I used to be listened to with respect while, now, people switch off even before I say the first word of "In the good old days..."

But that is not what I intend pontificating about now. It's more about how Age keeps robbing you in bits and pieces all through your life. Like, the time was when you used to be a rebel out to change the world into a sparkling idealistic paradise. The first step of it all being to rid the world of the tyrannical ideas imposed on you by your parents and elders. Surprise, surprise, you never even realized when it happened but you find that, now, YOU are the tyrant against which the youth are rebelling today. However were you robbed of your rebellious tendencies? Is it just the fact that, as a teen, you saw nothing to lose in changing what was there currently, no responsibility for the well-being of anyone, perhaps excepting yourself and sometimes not even that? And now you find yourself responsible for your children and are afraid of rocking the boat lest they get affected? Or is it that the world has changed a bit, you have changed a bit, and, now, you fit in comfortably with the way the world is and do not want to lose that comfort? Whatever it be, Age has sneakily robbed you of any tendency to rebel. (Not really my issue, you know, since I have stoutly refused to take on the responsibility for anybody else - spouse or children.)

When you first pop into office, freshly equipped with knowledge and concepts from college, you are all agog to change, modernize, improve the functioning of those creaky old sots there who are doing things the hidebound way with sage advice about how that is the way things have always been done there. Not for you these inefficient methods; you want to chuck them all out and make things work more efficiently and effectively. When, then, did you start looking indulgently (or with irritation, depending upon your nature) upon these eager-beaver snot-nosed kids who think they know better than you? Is it just the fact that, when you entered in at the bottom of the ladder, it was not you who had to sell the new-fangled ideas OR carry the can for the teething problems that made you so eager then? Or is it that routine has lulled you into a comfort zone which you do not want to get out of? Whatever it is, Age robs you of the enthusiasm to MAKE changes and leaves you with the dull resentment of having to DEAL with changes. (Again, not really my issue. I just wanted to do enough to ensure that I had a salary to live on. Born old, that's me.)

Which, essentially, is also true of what you think about the rest of the world. You start off in your youth wanting to change the world (of course for the better and you really do not think that what is 'better' for you may not be the same for others). Age robs you of that ambition as well and, without your actually realizing when it happened, you have become the person whose only thought is to ensure that the WORLD does not adversely change the way you wish to live. (Yeah, yeah, you got that right! Not my issue, I always just wanted the world to leave me alone.)

So, exactly why am I whinging about how Age is a robber? Because I just hit the age which used to be the retirement age for employees. And Age has, at last, something to rob me of. (Apart from those creaking knees, exchanging scrumptious food for tablets etc etc)

Up to now, new acquaintances used to ask me, "What ARE you?" and, when I say that I am just relaxing, I used to become the center of attention for the time being thanks to their curiosity about how and why I quit so early. NOW, Age has robbed me of even that minor spotlight that used to briefly shine on me.

Because, now, the question is more likely to be, "What WERE you?"

Monday, September 20, 2021

To lead

"What do you think makes a good leader?"

Oh! Shit! Another of those conversations! You know, the meme type of things which seem very illuminating when you first come across it but is so difficult, if not impossible, to put into practice. You know, somewhat like saying that the easiest way to reduce weight is to say 'No' to food. True but trite because what did that idiot think GOT you to become overweight in the first place if not the inability to do exactly that? Even when you are not exactly feeling starved.

"Buttering up your bosses?"

"I am not talking of getting to positions where the corporate world fondly imagines that you will lead, you moron. I am talking about actually being a leader."

"Know where the crowd is anyway going and walk two steps ahead of it?"

"There you go again," he said in exasperation. "I am not talking of being SEEN as a leader but actually BEING a leader."

There was a difference? I mean, come on, I know people hold these illusions about leaders and academic books prate a lot about leadership qualities and all. But, in reality...isn't every leader a guy who primarily seeks to be SEEN as one?

"You are not too far wrong with your second attempt, though. The main thing is for the leader to be only a couple of steps ahead of the rest. If he goes too far ahead, enough so that he cannot be seen, how do the rest know his way so that they can follow him?"

I stifled a yawn and, in a bid to stifle this Niagara of words, said, "Somewhat like what Arthur Clarke said, huh? When Science is too far ahead of its audience, it is indistinguishable from magic or some such."

"Nonsense! I only meant that what you preach should still be something people can understand even if they cannot think of it themselves. But...hey wait a minute, perhaps you have a point after all. Just like that thing about Science, ideas too far ahead of the rest of the crowd is indistinguishable from madness."

Ah! So I COULD be right, every now and then, even if by mistake.

The chap had taken the bit between his teeth by then. There was no stopping him and I adopted my time honored way of listening to lectures. Closed my eyes and tried not to snore while getting a snooze in.

"You cannot lead people where they do not want to go.  You certainly cannot make them take a U-turn. You know, like trying to get the miser to become an overnight philanthropist and things like that. The trick is to divert them from their own path incrementally so that they see it only as a minor deviation from their own beliefs. And keep doing it till you get them going where you want them to go. Unless, of course, you want to make them change by violent means. Are you listening?"

"Uh! Hmmm! No violence," I said, having just caught the tail-end of his lecture.

"If you want people to follow you, you cannot just charge ahead and expect them to run after you."

"No, No, you cannot. I mean, not everyone is a marathoner," I said.

"Be serious, you idiot."

I was stung. "These leaders who oh so carefully divert people to their path? They exist where? In Narnia?"

He turned pensive, of a sudden.

"No, you are right! And when leaders with the right ideas go too far ahead as to seem like madmen to the populace, you end up getting the wrong sort leading the world."

"What, pray, would count as the wrong sort in your sage opinion?"

"Civilizational values are all about curbing your natural selfishness, curbing your reptile brain's opposition to anyone looking or acting different, for the benefit of Society. Curbs that most people work within but do not necessarily understand or agree with."

"The point of this sociology lecture being?"

"The wrong sort of leaders are the sort who would egg people on to do what their basal instincts dictate. Giving the go-by to the morals that make social equilibrium possible. Then greed is good, mistreating outsiders is patriotic, killing innocent people to make your point is a virtue and so on."

Hmmm! Sort of sounds familiar, does it not?

Monday, September 13, 2021

Most hated speech

"I'll never understand people," shouted a friend as he walked in.

You know, in the sort of company I had been in, had it been I who said it, you could expect a chorus of "At last! He realizes it!" and such other statements complimenting my acumen. Others, though, get away without getting the sarcasm and, even, get sympathy. I'll never understand...oh, forget it.

"Why, what happened?"

"Or, maybe, it is just social media, not people" he said.

Putting two and two together (as you often need to do with most people, since people generally seem to follow some will-o-the-wisp in their own minds with scant regard for how difficult it makes it for the people they are talking to), the chappie seems to have had some problem on social media. Which, by the way, is astonishing only of it does not happen every day.

"Will you get around to saying what the dratted problem is?" 

THAT was more like it. Made me feel all warm and fuzzy to hear that exasperated tone addressed to someone else other than me.

"Logic is dead, I tell you."

By now, all the rest of us were feeling dizzy even without the help of alcohol. This jumping from crag to crag like a billy-goat is something that the great Plum (aka PG Wodehouse for those who have only a distant nodding acquaintance with the man) has had occasion to criticize and, if he had happened to wander in, I would have taken him to my bosom like a brother. (Though, these days, it's best to ask him for permission before doing so. People are so...err...touchy about being touched.)

Seeing one of us reaching for the nearest table-weight while measuring the distance to his head, he added hurriedly, "I mean, there was this thing someone said. I refuted his point logically and he started calling me names. I mean, the dude was cool as a cucumber, making jokes about the other guys who were calling him an idiot, illogical nut and whatnot and me he screams at. How can someone hate logical arguments more than hate speech?"

"What were you discussing?" I bleated, but it got drowned out in a loud shout of laughter.

"Since when did your brain turn to mush, like Suresh's? Of course, he got angry with you. When someone fights your opinions with abuse, it is easy for you to feel superior to them, isn't it? So, of course, you can be cool about it."

"So, you mean...logic is really useless?"

"Oh, not at all! It is very long as it supports the chap's opinion.  It is downright hateful, much more than anything else, if it refutes it."

"I...I cannot believe it."

"Let me ask you. Who do you hate more, the chap who CALLS you a fool or the chap who PROVES you are a fool?"

Put that way, of course...

Monday, September 6, 2021

Opinionated excellence

I must have said this before that I very seldom like having opinions about anything unless I need to have one to decide on a course of action. Like, say, vote for someone or some such. Opinions are things that you form when you have insufficient facts to conclusively prove what is right. Who wants to go through the pain of muddling through a misty dark and come to a conclusion when you have no need to do so? Well, everybody apparently...going by how the world in general acts these days.

Before the advent of Social Media, though, I had assumed that there were the opinionated and there were the non-opinionated. I had no clue how many strata of excellence existed among the opinionated.

You first have the common garden variety of opinionated chaps. The guys who will offer an opinion on any subject first up when there are no contradictory opinions floating around. The meekest of this lot will just remain silent if there exists comments already which contradict his own position till he finds others who support his view expressing themselves. His opinions ARE written in stone but he doesn't want to expose them to the harsh glare of criticism.

The guys one step up WILL offer their opinion even when contradictory views are already expressed. They, of course, do take care to see that inconvenient facts will not pop up to show them up. Which, essentially, means that they rush in where the opinions are primarily emotion-driven and not logic-driven. You know, like 'The Indian Cricket team is the best in the world', 'Amitabh was a better actor than Dilip Kumar' and the likes, where both sides can argue till the cows come home without being able to conclusively prove their point.

Then you get to the elite. They care two hoots about who they are contradicting and what they are contradicting. The hoi polloi version of the opinionated, before contradicting a statement of fact, will at least bother to google for the facts OR check out the person who is stating them but the elite...that is infra dig. They can tell off Stephen Hawking for his lack of knowledge of Physics and teach batting to Sachin Tendulkar. Not for nothing are they the elite among the opinionated.

But there is greater still. The GOATs. People who can MANUFACTURE the facts to underpin their opinions. Now THAT is the pinnacle of being opinionated, to discard and tailor the facts to suit your opinions!

Alas, I can only look on and wonder from the foot of this ladder. What is the point in aspiring to such excellence when I refuse to even form an opinion, leave alone stick to it?

Monday, August 30, 2021

Young at Heart?

This thing about being young at heart has always surprised me. I mean, you hardly ever hear the young wanting to be 'old at heart', so why is it the old who hanker to not be what they are? I can understand, yes, to want to be 'young in body'; who really likes arthritic knees, dimming eyes, slack muscles, laboring lungs and all that? Who likes having to take tablets before meals, after meals and, sometimes, instead of meals? So, yeah, 'young in body' is to wish for but 'young at heart'? What is it, some sort of consolation prize for the body giving way?

Such is the pressure, though, from peers that I was hypnotized into thinking that it was a good thing to try and see if I was 'young at heart'. So there I went, starting off to read Young Adult fantasy in a bid to see whether my heart was not as ossified as the rest of my body.

I knew there were some things that would, now, seem weird to me. All those hearts fluttering at the sight of a slight smile from the significant other; the flush of jealousy when you find someone else seeming close to him/her/them; the depths of despair when you find coldness or anger...yup, all that did seem silly. But, then, I have replaced that silliness with the silliness of allowing my emotions to ride a roller-coaster in tandem with the movements of the stock-market, so what do I have to feel superior about?

Anyway, THAT was not what made me wonder about whether I could qualify for this 'young at heart' thingy which seems such a desirable thing to be for most people. Nope, there were too many other things to worry about.

For one, there is this peculiar behavior of the heroes when they first meet up with a being powerful enough to swat them like a mosquito. And with far more accuracy than you or I can swat a mosquito. It is, perhaps, the fact that I am old at heart that makes me feel that any half-way sensible person would adopt a diplomatic attitude till such time as it is clear that the relationship will be inimical. But, no, what appears stupid to me probably counts as heroic for the young. Our hero will start off snarking the being with snappy lines like "Is black some sort of uniform which all evil beings have to wear?" It is age that makes me feel that this guy should be sent to bed without supper, I suppose. Alas, young at heart seems a distant dream for me.

A friend suggests that, perhaps, it is not all about being young or old. That a culture whose leaders adopt the 'Look before you leap' philosophy would have young adults lauding heroes of a more sensible bent of mind. Where the leaders adopt the 'Leap first. Look after, if you at all want to' philosophy, though...Perhaps there is a modicum of truth in that. I mean, Harry Potter did not give the urge to spank him every time he opened his mouth but a lot of YA fiction from across that ocean kept my hands twitching. But, yeah, perhaps it is all wishful thinking on my part to keep myself in contention for membership in the 'young at heart' brigade.

But, no, there are too many other things. Like, when the house is on fire and someone finds a way to get the hell out and screams, "Follow me! Run", I feel that one should do it. But, no, the Young Adults of the fantasy pick that time to argue about how a person of that age/gender/race/color always assumes that he has the right to give orders. Yeah, I know that's an issue worth the debate but am not young enough to think that THAT was the right time to start debating it.

But debating is something that the Young Adult assumes is worth it at ANY time. Going by these YA fantasies, that is. I mean, there they are in the middle of a battle, surrounded by enemies and about to be slaughtered, when one of them suggests a course of action to escape. Again, being the old fogy, I assume that you either have a better alternative or you act on that suggestion because to linger on there would be certain suicide. But, no, to be young at heart means that you will start asking, "But what if this happens...or that happens..." There are times when you HAVE to leap, there are times when you can have cozy fireside chats about the pros and cons of an action and, I am afraid, that the way I tend to choose those times conclusively prove that I have no claims on being 'young at heart'.

Or, perhaps, it is just that I am not 'Young Adult at heart'. Must try my hand at reading children's fiction from now on!

Monday, August 23, 2021

The problem with mathematics

(I had sneaked in a post hosted on a friend's blog in-between. You can check it out here - The magic of retirement)

The problem with mathematics is that mathematics is all about problems. (I'm sorry, I could not resist it.) At least that is the way it seems to almost everyone through school. "Solve this problem", "Solve that problem"...all through school and you scream, "Why me? I did not create the problem so why should I be responsible for solving it? Let the chap who created the problem solve it."

Why am I singling out mathematics? Because it is the only subject where it is ALL about solving problems. At school, at least. True, other subjects like Physics also had problems...and how I hated them...but there were know...questions to be answered than problems to be solved.

The difference, you ask me? See, these problems...they had ONE right solution (Or, perhaps two or so, like Square root of four could be +2 or -2). You had to KNOW in order to solve and you KNEW when you had got it wrong. Not like those answers where you can feel that you got somewhat close to the right thing OR could claim to have done so. (Especially me. With my handwriting, the teacher could only make out one word in six or so and if that word seemed germane to the question, I got the benefit of the doubt for having answered it right.) With these problems, though...I mean, you could get asked the square root of 4 and if you answered 3, you could not claim to have been more nearly right than the chap who answered 8 and seek to be graded accordingly.

See, the point is that questions allow you leeway to claim some room for opinions about what is the right answer. Some subjects more than others, like most of the Humanities. Yes, you could not define Capitalism as the theory that lead to a welfare state but such absolutes are fewer and farther between in the Humanities. Problems, especially mathematical problems, have this pesky issue of having ONE right answer that will brook no argument.

Therein lies the problem...err...the problem with mathematics that I was intending to talk about. Nobody likes a subject matter where he can be proved conclusively wrong. I mean, come on, you CAN discuss the merits and demerits of democracy and a benevolent dictatorship through a whole evening of drunken debauchery but can you do the same about the right answer to X and Y in a pair of simultaneous equations? Some idiot will solve it in a jiffy and PROVE it is right; OR prove your own ingenious solution is wrong by plugging it in to the equations and showing that the equations do not...err...equate. HOW is mathematics going to get popular if it has to be kept away from popular conversation?

Not to mention that the bleeding thing just does not allow you to hold opinions. I mean, you can hold opinions of your choice only when the opinions can, theoretically be true. IF the falsity can be clearly established, what price opinions? What is the point in a subject matter on which you cannot hold any opinions? Holding opinions, without the need to either ascertain or analyze facts, is the lifeblood of civilization. A subject where your freedom of expression is ruthlessly curtailed by someone pushing uncomfortable and incontrovertible facts in your is a wonder that we have not banished it yet. Perhaps, just as governments face a problem in repealing the law of gravitation, mathematics has become a necessary evil.

Is it a wonder then that mathematics is the least popular of all subjects? You cannot readily speak of anything related to it without the fear of being proven wrong, unlike, say, economic systems or social ideas where you can readily discuss even based on pristine ignorance. You cannot hold and discuss various opinions, form cliques based on those who share your opinion vs others, troll those who oppose your ideas...I mean, it is just no FUN!

Though there is light at the end of the tunnel; a hope that mathematics, too, can aspire to become popular. As I recently discovered on a Facebook thread where this problem was posed for people to solve : 5+10x20. You had those who said it was 205, based on BODMAS - first multiplication and then addition. And you had those who said it was 300, because ORDER was everything and so you were supposed to keep solving it from left to right. So, for the first lot 5+10x20 = 10x20+5 = 205; for the second lot 10x20+5 would be 205 but 5+10x20 would be 300.

Aha! At last! Difference of opinion in Mathematics and THAT thread had hundreds of comments passionately arguing both sides with each side trolling the other!

I look forward to the day when, like Creationism vs Darwinism, we will have two or more versions of mathematics and this much neglected subject takes center stage on social media!

Monday, August 16, 2021

Cry Wolf

I am sure everyone is familiar with the fact that to 'cry wolf' means that one is raising a false alarm; and that the phrase originates from one of Aesop's fables about the boy who cried wolf. In these times, one is so unsure about exactly how many widely variant versions of any given story - even fables - are floating around. So, before starting on my usual learned dissertation, I will first give the version that I shall base it upon.

A Shepherd boy, who was bored of monotonously watching over a flock of sheep near a village, brought out the villagers three or four times by crying out, "Wolf! Wolf!" When his neighbors came rushing to help him, he laughed at them for their pains. Then, a wolf really came. Alarmed and terrified, the boy, shouted, "Help! The wolf is really here, killing the sheep" but no one paid any heed to his screams for help. The wolf leisurely destroyed the flock of sheep.

The moral of the story was that a liar would not be believed even when he spoke the truth. Those were days when things all seemed black and white, apparently, so it suited the people of that day to leave it at that.

The problem, these days, is that what is truth is, itself, a subject of debate. I mean, like if that boy screamed, 'Wolf!', you rushed out to help him and found a puppy mewling in front of the flock, how do you react the next time he screams? HE may be sure that it IS a wolf, YOU are just as sure that it is a puppy, so do you truly think that the next time he screams, you will be sure that it is a wolf this time? The third time? The fourth time?

You see, these are the days of 'my truth' and 'your truth' and we do not restrict that application ONLY to the interpretation of the facts (which is what I thought it was supposed to mean) but to the facts themselves. Einstein himself would be surprised by how much we have taken his relativity to heart, seeing how we seem to consider all facts as relative.

As for interpretations...well, in the days I used to work (AND I DID, you miserable heckler) there was this time when the interest rates on bonds shot up to 16-18% (Cross my heart! I am NOT fantasizing) and I applied a lower interest rate for my projections for a 15 year project. The flak I ran into was unbelievable with the conclusive argument from the other side being 'When have the interest rates ever gone down?'. People use the past as a guideline for the future in their own way and THAT becomes their truth. (You think I can tell those chaps 'I told you so', now? Well, IF they are relatively fair, all they would say is 'I didn't tell you they would not fall, then'. If they are not inclined to any fairness, I'd find that it was I, after all, who was obdurately arguing that the interest rates would not fall while they were desperately trying to convince me that they would.)

Or take the time when I went to a senior IAS officer trying to convince him about our point of view with regard to an Industry policy. The man says, 'You guys are sharp and, whatever you propose, has some hidden benefit to you to the detriment of the government. So...' There! Argue against that if you will. The lesser he finds in the proposal which unfairly favors the Industry, the more he is convinced that there is some deep skulduggery going on. Truth, then, can move diametrically opposite to the facts when processed by humans! (The interesting sidelight on human nature is that they can be absolutely convinced about their negative judgment of your character, while they are never sure about their own analysis of your proposals. Gut feeling trumps brains, almost always, even if it is only indigestion that gives you that pain in the gut.)

Where was I? Ah! Between facts and interpretation of the facts, what is 'truth' differs from person to person. So, when you repeatedly cry 'wolf', and the rest of the crowd sees either nothing or a puppy or whatever, it does you no good to hug to yourself the conviction that they are all fools and there is a wolf there really. Not if you want them to help you drive away the wolf when it attacks the flock. Of course, if all you want is to be convinced of your own superiority...Do not, then, be surprised to be clubbed together with conspiracy theorists for they, too, are convinced that they know truths to which the rest of the populace are blind.

And it does not help if you cry wolf even when you yourself see only a puppy. Exaggerate the danger a few times and it works just the same as crying wolf when no wolf is there.

And I have not even started on whether everyone sees 'danger' the same way. (Don't worry, I do not intend to

Crying Wolf is something that needs more careful handling, especially when you are dealing with metaphorical wolves. If, indeed, you truly wish to safeguard the flock from the wolf.

Else, of course, you can surround yourself with people who see a wolf where you do and cry in chorus with you!

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Olympian discussions

"Our hockey team has done us proud. Bronze medal at last. Hopefully we will get to win the gold soon. Even the women's hockey team missed the bronze only by a whisker," I said, flush with pride.

"Ah! So you have heard of this game called hockey now? What do you know of it?"

Huh! Why is it that I cannot even talk the topic of the day, in exactly the same manner as millions across the country do, without someone getting on my case?

"Umm...I think...yes, like cricket, it is played with bats and ball, but the score is in goals, like football."

"With this much interest in the sport, you have a right to be proud of the Indian team's performance."

You know, somehow it did not sound like he was being complimentary to me. Sort of like he was sneering at me for rushing in to shine with reflected glory when I had not ever bothered to support them otherwise but...anyway, if it is not an open insult it is not an insult in my dictionary. Otherwise, the color of my face will be perpetually red.

But best to get off the subject of hockey.

"Sindhu has won another medal. Only a bronze, though. Last time it was a silver."

"Yeah! By the way, how did she do in other tournaments between the last Olympics and now?"

Huh! There ARE other tournaments for badminton? Oh, well...

The chap was a face reader if not a mind-reader.

"What? Did you think that they kept her on a shelf after the last Olympics, dusted her off and sent her to participate this time?"

"No...but..." I said as I desperately sought to change the subject. "Hey, we won a gold this time. This Neeraj Chopra in Javelin...he showed up that German who claimed he would win comfortably."

"Ah! Yes! By the way, why did the German say that? I mean, what did Neeraj do before, that the German would specifically say that about him?"

Huh? And I thought I was done with all these general knowledge questions ever since I finished with the last of my job interviews. And, these days, I cannot make the simplest of remarks without one friend or the other making snide remarks about me.

They say offense is the best form of defense. Not that it has worked well for me in the past but what did I have to lose? The chap was walloping me anyway.

"What do you mean by all these comments? That I only pay attention to these guys when they win and ignore them otherwise?"

"Don't you? Tell me, what is the name of that gymnast you were going gaga about in the last Olympics?"

Gymnast...last Olympics? A vague memory stirred somewhere in the recesses of my mind. She did something...Russian-sounding...missed the bronze or some such...

I said as much.

"You are trying to recollect the Produnova vault. And the gymnast is Dipa Karmakar."

"Yes, Yes! So?"

"So, nothing. Just stop talking Olympics to me."

Now, I cannot even feel proud of my countrymen's Olympic achievements without following their sports with interest? What next, if someone wins a Nobel for Chemistry, I should do a PhD in Chemistry before touting how he was born in my state?

These friends I tell you...

Monday, August 2, 2021


Relationships! Hmmm! Come to think of it, that word takes in a lot of territory. Including trolling, hating etc. What's that catch-phrase? Ah, yes, Toxic Relationships. Those are not the sort of things that I wish to dignify with the word 'relationship', so I shall only speak of those inter-personal interactions which have a modicum of positivism associated with them.

You know, when things are going well with people, when it is all fun and games, everyone seems to be a great friend or well-wisher. Your birthday pops up, bang come the good wishes; you put up a 'Hey! I got my idli perfect today' and people chime in with congratulatory messages worthy of your winning a gold medal in the Olympics; and so on. It's tough to differentiate between relationships when things go well.

But, comes the time when, say, you have been busy or stressed and unable to respond to their posts...THEN you will find a lot of them have suddenly found the need to cull their friends list on Social media and you are among the culled...unfriended, is the appropriate term, I believe.  A lot of the people you know are the 'What have you done for me lately' type of friends for whom memory of past deeds last only as long as it takes for their twitter feed to refresh.

Such relationships happen in real life as well. At any point in time, you have a group of people around you in the circumstances that you are in. At school, college, in your current job location, whatever. Most of those remain friends only as long as you are there. Once you split, the relationship totally dies with the extent that they will fail to acknowledge you if you bump noses with them later in life. Except, of course, if you have become the next Zuckerberg or Prime Minister of India or whatever, in which case 'What have you done for me lately' gets substituted by 'What can he do for me now'; and their memory makes a miraculous recovery.

With some others, you can meet up again with goodwill and a 'Hail fellow, well met' sort of relationship, where you enjoy spending a few moments, down a couple of drinks, and part happily. What we guys used to call 'Time Pass' friendship. Good for a few laughs but a relationship that is strictly to be undemanding. If, perchance, you are sick in their city, say, and need them to care for you...Ahem!!!

Then there are the others who you can meet after ages and get along like a house on fire as though the intervening years never happened. These are the people with whom you have a bond that transcends having common interests (like trashing the same boss, say) and frequency of interactions. If you are lucky, you may have a handful of such people in your life (never mind the thousands of Facebook followers who Like your every pic).

Be it family, or be it friends, there are those relationships which are almost self-effacing, but are worked into the very essence of your being. Like the tanpura or harmonium in a classical concert, they are the very back-bone of the music of your life but, like the backbone, they are generally invisible. And, yet, without them, you would not be you. If one were to ask people if they had someone who was like that to them, the most common answer is likely to be parents and, perhaps, siblings. You take them almost for granted but whenever you do spare a thought for them, it is with gratitude that they are there in your life. (Yes, there are a few who may be unfortunate enough to have bad parents. AND a lot more who realize what their parents meant to them only when they are no longer around.)

I have been lucky that, in addition to parents, there have been others who have woven themselves into the warp and weft of my being. People who I, almost unconsciously, always assumed would be there for me through all the travails of life and regardless of my own position and achievements or lack thereof. (Yeah, yeah, lack thereof IS the thing. Who realizes the selflessness of someone's affection when he is hugely successful? It IS failure that brings you face to face with true affection or...err...lack thereof!)

This year, though, has been depriving me of some of those who have been the mainstay of my being. First a cousin. The man who, when I told him that I had been a sick for a couple of days, was enraged that I did not call on him for help; who had hosted my family for months on end when my mother was being treated at Adyar Cancer Institute and I was working in Delhi; who practically commanded me to come over and stay with him when I fractured my hand. He went to sleep one night and did not wake up.

Now my aunt. She had always been a mother figure, most especially since my own mother passed away. The sort of person who, while recovering from surgery, can worry about my straining myself in coming to the hospital because I had twisted my ankle a couple of weeks back; who would, regardless of the pain of arthritic knees, would insist on cooking my favorite dishes turning a deaf ear to my pleas to not stress herself; remember my birthday, my star birthday and be the first in the morning to call me to wish me (Large families and she would call up everyone, so we are really talking about a mind-boggling database of information); small and big things which demonstrated how much she cared. It probably was a totally different model of human, those days, those few who had such large hearts that they could care for so many people with such selflessness that they took little heed of their own needs. Gone, now.

And, yet, I cannot bring myself to grieve. For, to grieve would be to admit that they are no more there for me. And I...I would prefer to hug to my heart, like the warmth of a hearth, the thought that they are still there for me...somewhere!

Monday, July 26, 2021

Old Fables New Morals : The Ant and the Grasshopper

It is normal for tales with morals to make children hate the 'moral' character of the story. Like the guy in your class who is held up as an example for you to emulate, moral characters seem to exist only to allow parents to tell you how disappointing you are. But our dear chap, Aesop, seems to have missed by a wide margin when he wrote 'The Ant and the Grasshopper' to teach morals. I mean, leave alone children, one helluva lot of adults seem to have taken against the hero of the moral here.

The tale goes like this

The Ant was busy scurrying around all Summer, collecting grains to tide over Winter. Seeing the Grasshopper singing happily, the Ant told him to spend some time storing grains for Winter.

In late autumn, as the Ant was drying out the grain it had stored up during the summer, the starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.

"What?" cried the Ant in surprise, "Haven't you stored anything away for the winter like I asked you to? What were you doing all last summer?"

"I didn't have time to store up any food," whined the Grasshopper; "I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone."

The Ant shrugged its shoulders in disgust.

"Making music, were you?" it cried. "Very well; now dance!" And it turned its back on the Grasshopper and went on with its work.

The moral, apparently, is that 'There's a time for work and a time for play' or some such noble thing. Going by a story that no less than Somerset Maugham wrote, all that the fable communicated to him was such a hatred for ants that he went stomping on every ant he saw, after reading the fable. And was pushed into writing a sort of anti-fable, where the hardworking 'ant brother' ends up poorer than the happy-go-lucky 'grasshopper brother' who becomes rich by virtue of marrying a rich woman. Now THAT is the morality tale the world wants - like teaching children to drop out of school and spend time in garages with a view to becoming a billionaire!

At that Aesop got off cheap. Thanks to having lived in a time when social media was not a thing. If he had written it now...

"So...this wuss thinks that the arts are no use? And artists should be allowed to starve?"

"This Aesop is a right-wing fanatic. To praise the virtues of hoarding and allowing poor people to starve..."

"What do you expect? Typical capitalistic behavior. The rich becoming richer and preaching elimination of poverty by killing off the poor."

And so on and so on. Maugham's character only stomped on ANTS. Had it been today, we would have stomped on AESOP!

To be sure, the Ant did have a communication issue. I mean, 'Very well, dance' sounds too much like 'If they do not have bread, let them eat cake." Not really the image that you want to project to the public. But, then, Aesop lived in times when PR was not a thing, I suppose, leave alone Social media. If you had wealth or power, you really did not need to bother with diplomacy with people less well-endowed than you. It was probably EXPECTED that you would be arrogant, failing which people would take you for a easy mark and rob you blind.

So, perhaps, Aesop's Ant, in modern times, would have said something like, "Look, I worked all Summer and just managed to store enough food to keep my family from starving through Winter. If I share with you, my children will starve later in the season. I am sorry." AND, perhaps, give the grasshopper the idea that he could, perhaps, crowd-fund his food and keep from starvation!

Essentially, the Ant would DO only what it anyway DID...refuse the grasshopper food. The difference between becoming a hero or a villain is only in what it SAYS...not in what it DOES!

The moral of the fable...more to the point, the moral of the reaction to the really this:

When you are unwilling to help, nothing gets you more widely hated than telling 'I told you so'. It seems too much like kicking a man when he is down.