Monday, March 29, 2021

This Celebrity thing

I have never understood this thing about celebrity. ("It would only be a wonder if you understood anything", you say? If you spent less time making snide remarks and more time explaining things then, maybe, I'd understand more). I mean, yeah, these are people who are popular for some reason or the other but...

I mean, there is this fable about a queen looking for a bride for her son, but adamant on getting a 'true princess'. A princess lands up at her palace. The prince is all for marrying her on the spot (no doubt desperate because of how his mom was rejecting every possible woman) but the queen insists on a test to identify her 'princessliness', so to speak. So, that night, the queen arranges for her to sleep on a stack of twenty mattresses, beneath which there is a single solitary pea. The next day the queen asks the princess about whether her sleep was comfortable and the princess moans, "I could not sleep a wink. There was something hard which was poking me all night." THAT convinces the queen that this is a true princess and the prince, at last, gets a bride.

I always wondered about whether this test was one of whether the princess could feel the pea or whether the rudeness to complain to the host is what decides on the fact that she was royal. Whatever it be, the idea seems to be that princesses are made of a different clay and inconveniences, which you and I would not even know of, would bother them indescribably.

Which, sort of, seems to be our attitude to celebrities. Their problems, their acumen, their views on anything and everything (totally unrelated to what they ARE celebrities for) have an exaggerated importance, much as though they descend on earth from some different, much superior planet.

If you are at all on Social media, your timeline too should have been flooded by reams of prose about that celebrity interview, like mine, so you know what set this post off.

I mean, yeah, so they had another wedding...or not, so? I mean, really, if my neighbor told me that, about three years back, they had a private wedding before their public one, all I'd probably say is, "Ah!" and follow it with,"What are the onion prices today?", which is more important to me. I really cannot see why it is of such earth-shaking importance that I should be bombarded with all sorts of views on it. They could have married each other every day of the week and twice on Sundays from the time they met and it would make no iota of difference to me or the world. (Except, perhaps, the Guinness Book of World Records may show interest if they did that. THAT shows how important most of those world records are.)

And as for who made who cry about how the bridesmaids were dressed, three years back? Really? Even the most avid watcher of mega-serials would not be that keen on a rehash, years down the line, in any 'Kyunki jettaani bhi kabhi nayi bahu thi'. Yet, apparently, the world wants to know! Goes to show that the rules ARE different for celebrities.

I can really sympathize with the fact that the heartless father cut his son off without a penny, leaving him to lead a poverty-stricken life off the measly few million dollars that his mother had left him. Not, though, to the extent of getting upset about it for days on end. Why, even the billionaire chat show host did not feel too much sympathy. Else she would have been moved to help out the poor abandoned couple by giving them a fee for an interview which should net her a hefty sum.

Nor, indeed, am I able to understand why she should want her little child to be trapped into being a prince when she had, with great difficulty, just extricated her husband from that same web. Maybe it is just to give a purpose for her old age, to pass her idle moments extricating her son. I'll never understand celebrities, I tell you, or the way we see them.

Now, that racism thing IS serious. I mean, whether in small ways or large ways, if an act is committed based on a thought process of racism, it is to be denounced. But what makes me wonder is not her anguish, which is quite understandable given that it happened, but the persistent outrage about it. As in, the outrage about an act of racism, which takes lives in your own country, and is committed NOW by duly appointed officers of your government draws a couple of days of outrage from a few. And this one remark, purportedly made by one member of the figurehead royalty of another country, a couple of years ago, is worth a month or more of outrage by so many people?

I mean if, in your friends circle, a woman of color, in a mixed marriage, were to say, "You know, two years back, when I was pregnant with my son, one member of my husband's family made this one remark to my husband, 'What color do you think your son will be?'", do you really think all of you can sustain the outrage for even the length of the meeting? Sexist, Racist, Communalist remarks are ALWAYS reprehensible but, unfortunately, all too common in daily life. In the best of families, the best of communities, the best of offices, there is always someone who is either insensitive or racist/sexist/communalist or both. To the person to whom it happens, it can rankle and hurt for long. The rest of us, and even the affected party most of the time, have had to learn to brush them aside (some have more need than others, obviously and unfortunately), else we would be outraging 24x7. Much worse happens because of racism/sexism/communalism, lives are damaged or lost because of them, so there are bigger battles to fight. So, this issue of racist remarks does not seem worthy of prolonged outrage to the audience. Comes to celebrities, though...

(Given that I am on this subject why am I not talking of the tabloids? There you go, thinking that the whole issue is about the whys and wherefores of the concerned celebrities. My point, here, is about how we view what happens to celebrities with an exaggerated importance compared to how we would react if the same thing happened to everyday people. AND, comes to tabloid journalism, you really do not expect ordinary people to be the subject matter of that, do you? So, that's not germane to this post, except to underscore the fact that this exaggerated view of celebrities can work to their detriment as much as it can work in their favor.)

While on this same subject, there was this furor some time back about Rihanna and Greta tweeting support to farmers' protest in India. Now, from what I understand, the one is a singer and the second a teenage climate activist. I do not suppose that Rihanna has any knowledge of the agricultural economics in USA, leave alone India; nor do I think Greta is a well-known Swedish agriculturist. AND, comes to farmers' protest in INDIA, I cannot see why so much importance should have been given to their support. I mean, the affected parties here are the farmers themselves and THEY are protesting, so how does Rihanna's or Greta's support strengthen their point of view? The only people whose view ought to strengthen the protest, other than the affected parties themselves, are the views of subject matter experts. Which I do not suppose either of them claim to be.

Par for the course for we do seek opinions on such from our own stars and starlets and use those opinions as though THAT conclusively proves the validity of the point of view which they support. Really? Unless they ARE also subject matter experts OR they have some specific point to say, why should it? Any more than the support of any person who has access to Twitter?

Of course they can have an opinion and, of course, they have the right to voice them. I repeat, THIS post is not about THEM. It is about US. Why do we give exaggerated credence to their views as compared to the views of the man on the street? On some issues, the man on the street actually may have MORE credence. I mean, it is unlikely that a Shahrukh Khan's pocket is seriously pinched because of a petrol price hike. (AND why do we also deny celebrities the right to say that they have NO opinion because they do not have knowledge of the issue? A celebrity cannot even remain silent on an issue without being damned for it.)

There was a time when royalty was considered 'divine right'. So, kings and queens were considered divine, in a way. Which, of course, meant that they were to be treated as something apart from the general run of humanity. As in being able to be disturbed by a pea buried under twenty mattresses.

Now that we have, largely, done away with royalty, we seem to have substituted celebrities in their place. To misquote the immortal Bard, "Some are born divine, some achieve divinity and some have divinity thrust upon them."

And once we thrust divinity upon you, beware! For the very next thing we do is scrutinize your feet for the presence of clay. For as long as we fail to find your feet of clay, your every word will be gospel. Thereafter, it will be mud.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Random ranting

I believe that it is customary to look back on life on some special dates. Birthdays, anniversaries of other sorts, on your death bed...dates like that. Me, I suddenly feel the need to look back on my blogging and writing on some arbitrary day. One would think that April 10th, which was the date in 2009 when I started this blog, or 14th Feb, which is the day in 2012 when I revived my blog, may be better dates for such retrospectives. ('Better that it never happens', you say? Whose blog is it anyway?) But, hey, I am the guy whose eyes, with a fine disdain for clocks and calendars, started demanding reading glasses well before 40 years of age, which is supposed to be the customary age for such things. So why expect any calendar-dictated logic for anything I do?

So there I started, in 2009, writing nineteen to a dozen and expecting the brightness of my writing genius to draw readers in like flies. (Bad analogy, I know. I mean who really wants to be considered a fly. Could not think of a better one this time. Apologies. Though, considering that most of the 'readers' are bots...) And discover that the page-views I was seeing on the blog stats were all mine, eagerly visiting and revisiting the blog to see if anyone had condescended to land up. (Yeah, yeah, I know I should have set up the blog for not counting my own visits. I was new, wasn't I?) So, I summarily abandoned the blog for a longish while.

Then in 2012, I revived it upon hearing about blog aggregators - Blogadda and Indiblogger at that time - wherein one could attempt to get unknown people to actually read your blogs. (Now THAT is one of those business models that get created and destroyed within a tenth of your lifetime in this day of the internet. Those were the guys who saw value in being intermediaries between companies and 'blog influencers' on social media. Little did they realize what the advent of Facebook, Instagram etc would do to their business model.)

That was the golden period of my blogging. I always THOUGHT I wrote humor but, you know, there is always a niggling doubt. And fear of rejection, especially with humor. You can get away with being somewhat tragic, somewhat know, halfway measures are fine. either hit the bulls-eye or you do not. Is a joke that does not make you laugh 'somewhat a joke'? So, it was very gratifying when my blog got listed among the 'Top 5 humor blogs' by BlogAdda; top 13 humor blogs by Baggout; when it was in the top 40 humor blogs by some Philippines website (Philippines? Now, how the hell...but why look a gift horse in the mouth? Especially when you do not know whether it is just about to barf). The icing on the cake was when a RSS aggregator, Feedspot, listed my blog in the Top 100 funny blogs in the WORLD! Considering that the list included 9GAG and all, that was when I really felt that, perhaps, I was not deluding myself when I thought I wrote humor.

Not that I thought that, of all the billions of people in the world, I counted among the top 100. I mean, come on, not even one post of mine had gone 'viral'. (A blessing, that, come to think of it. Viral posts ARE like Covid. Only happens when it is controversial and then...well, the aftermath is not particularly humorous generally, unless you are thick-skinned. Me, my skin is like tissue-paper.) The thing was that SOMEONE not only thought I was a top humorist but actually told the world so!

I must have allowed it to go to my head I suppose. True, I had a few stories out in three anthologies. True also that I was actually asked for a novella by a small publisher, without my having gone around submitting my work for consideration. But, without all this blogging 'success', I may not have ventured into writing a humor novella.

This thing about writing a book was a revelation, I tell you. In fact, if you have been reading my blog fairly regularly, I HAVE told you in great detail in another rant here. When I had my book - A dog eat dog-food world - published, I had no idea of all that I had to do to sell the damn thing. I ended up feeling that a good author is someone with the writing ability of a Shakespeare, the charm of a George Clooney, the salesmanship of a P.T. Barnum and the serenity of a Buddha. Now me, I'm none of the above, so...

And, yet, the book managed to sell out its first print run. (All 100 copies of it, thank you for the applause. I did say small publisher, did I not?) There was no second run, the publisher having gone out of business. (NOT thanks to me, damn you. I did say that she sold all that she printed, didn't I?) The ebook, which I still hold the copyright for, keeps sporadically selling a copy here and a copy there. Apparently not everyone believes that books rot with age, like food, and cannot be consumed unless fresh.

You know, the funny thing was that I got reviews comparing me with PG Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Jerome K Jerome and what have you. Well, that's par for the course. If you write horror, you are the Indian Stephen King; write thrillers, you are the Indian Robert Ludlum and so on. And if you happen to be an American writing horror, it is likely to be 'Move over Stephen King; so-and-so is here'. So, it is but natural that a humorist almost automatically becomes the 'Indian PGW'. What astonished me was that, in a world that really knows only PGW as a humorist (other than stand-up comedians), everyone pulled out a different humorist for comparison. I was a bit peeved that they missed out Oscar Wilde (somewhat like Jerome K Jerome reading a list of diseases, finding himself afflicted by all of them, and miffed that housemaid's knee had somehow left him alone). But, then, if the only Wilde book they had read was 'Picture of Dorian Gray'...well, morbid was not what I wanted to be known for, anyway.

Where was I? Ah, being compared to great humorists and even having the book called 'the entire Philip Kotler dipped in gooey chocolate'. (Going by the size of the ONE Kotler book prescribed for Marketing Management, that would require MOUNDS of gooey chocolate!) The problem was that almost all of this was from relatively unknown media friends and quite a few strangers; even Business Standard carried a review of the book.

Friends and family? Apart from the rare few (other than those I managed to badger into doing it), there was marked silence. Whether they felt it was a guilty pleasure (you know, like loving James Patterson but being ashamed of admitting to such low-brow interests and, thus, speaking only of Rushdie and Roy in public) or were diplomatic ('Why tell the poor guy that his book made me barf?') or would rather forget even my existence, leave alone my book's, I do not know. Considering that, with Whatsapp groups and all, your 'marketing' probably starts off with friends and family, I cannot help feeling that they possibly go "Ewww" like I am shoving a rotten fish into their face. Feeling like that, I am, quite naturally, a genius at marketing my books. ('IIM grad, writing spoofs of marketing management and a dud at it?' you ask? Why, pray, did you think that I chose to major in finance?)

What's the point of all this? Come on, you really expect coherence and a point in a RANT? Really?

So, anyway, it's been a while since I wrote, simply because I am not up to doing all the rest of what goes into selling a book. So, why I should have suddenly developed an interest in raking up my dead past, I do not know.

Except that, when I did, I found that I was STILL in that list of top 100 funny blogs. Hanging on by my fingernails, likely to drop off any time soon, but yet...

And, thus, hope springs eternal. Maybe I can egg myself on to write another book soon.

And can start practicing your 'rotten fish' expressions!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Of Bucket lists and such

When first I heard of Bucket lists, I had no clue what they were, of course. ('Of course, you didn't. When have you ever known anything,' you say? Moronic of you, really. If I already knew of something, how could it be the FIRST time I heard of that thing?) As usual, some kindly friend (whenever a friend actually thinks I can understand anything, I call him 'kindly') explained what it was all about.

From what I understood, it was sort of a list of things that you wanted to do before you kicked the bucket, shuffled off the mortal coil, or some such euphemism for the day you decide that getting out of bed was too much trouble and decide to sleep undisturbed forever.

That, to me, seemed like better than those New Year resolutions. I mean, with these NYRs, you just get an year to do those things...unless you are fool enough to resolve to do things every day of that year. So, it's like you already start kicking yourself by the third month for not having made a start on it. And, if you are like me, keep kicking yourself every day till the sixth month and then give up on it.

But this bucket list thingy...why, you just want to do it before you die. So much time left, especially considering that every person sort of feels that, "Yeah! I suppose, in theory, people have to die. But, me, I'm sort of immortal, you know." Not exactly immortal perhaps but, no matter how old he or she is, death never really seems imminent. So, this bucket list seemed like a nice way of giving yourself a pat on the back for planning to do things, even to dream of doing them successfully, without actually having to do them or giving yourself a hard time for not making progress on them. (Unless you have got one of death's angels hovering over you, in the form of a fatal disease, in which case you are not really going to stress yourself about the items on your bucket list, now, are you?)

Sort of like those TBRs. The 'to be read' lists of books. I mean, I never really made them, you know. If a book interests me, it is BOUGHT. Having spent the money on the book, I WILL read it in the near future. If I do not have the money right then it is on my shopping list. Which, apparently, is not the same as this TBR, from what I understand. A TBR is sort of an Expression of Interest, as I understand, and not a firm decision to buy and read. I never did see the point in making a list of books that I may possibly be interested in. Though, to be sure, I probably miss out on making friendships on the cheap. Keeping a few social media author friends happy by telling them that their books are on my TBR and promptly forgetting the books thereafter.

Anyway, this bucket list seems more like TBR to me than NYR. Items on the list are the sort of things that people would like to be seeing themselves as doing some time in their life. Not right, now, you understand, because right now they have more important things to do. Not THIS coming vacation, either, cos this vacation they plan to chill out in Manali. Some indeterminate time in the future, when all the stars align and nothing more interesting or urgent interferes...

I discover this useful thing now. Basking in the glory of having on my bucket list interesting things like 1.Learning to play the guitar (So what if I cannot hold a tune in a bucket) 2. Ascend the Everest (Hard sell, this, I think. Nobody will give me any Brownie points for this after seeing me stop and huff every step of the way up some 7-8 stairs.) 3. Go Scuba diving...

I mean, like, I could have had people looking up to me for my interesting and adventurous nature without breaking a sweat, so to speak. Too bad that I got to know of it when my foot is a scant half-inch away from the bucket.

Ah! Well! Whatever else I may regret not doing, when I kick the bucket, I don't suppose not making a bucket list is going to be one of them.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Of self-belief and over-confidence

The biggest problem with these 'virtues' and 'vices' is that not all of them are conveniently opposites of each other. You know, like 'love' and 'hate'. You can recognize when you feel love and when you feel hate. And, if you are in the mood to be particularly virtuous, you know what you ought to do and what you ought not to do. Is it too much to ask that all things conveniently align themselves the same way? Apparently, it is.

Take this 'self-belief' and 'over-confidence', for example. I mean, to me both feel the same. Comes to a task that I have to do, and I feel that I CAN do it, why is it some times considered 'self-belief' and, at other times, 'over-confidence'? It seems to me like if I succeed in it, they laud my 'self-belief' and if I fail they blame me for 'over-confidence'.

My friends do not agree that it is all a matter of 20:20 hindsight on the part of the people who judge me. As expected. By now you know that all my friends are the sort who swear by the idea that 'a true friend is one who tells you bitter truths about yourself'. Only, they go one step further and think that, being true friends, they are allowed to say ONLY bitter things - true or otherwise.

So, apparently, the belief that I CAN do a task when I have not truly assessed whether I have the ability to do it, or do it within the time frame prescribed, is NOT self-belief but over-confidence. To know what the job requires in terms of capabilities and to assess whether I have them or not is, apparently, a prerequisite for it to be 'self-belief'.

It's like if I have never learned to sing and agree to perform on stage, it's over-confidence. If I have learned to sing but have never sung on stage, to fear to get on stage is lack of self-belief. To have learned to sing and to approach singing on stage with the confidence that you will be good, that's self-belief. That sort of thing.

Then what about the guys who become entrepreneurs, say, just because they know how to develop apps, with no clue about finance or marketing or whatever? They do not HAVE the abilities needed and yet...

Well, they had an answer for that as well. When it is long term, the confidence that you can either LEARN whatever is needed OR can hire those who know is all that is needed for it to be self-belief, or so they said.

In short 'self-belief' is the attitude that you CAN learn to be good at whatever you need to succeed. Over-confidence is where you assume that you are already good at everything you need to know!

Monday, March 1, 2021

Living up to Images

We seem to think that it is only actors and celebrities who have to live up to the images we have of them. That the rest of us hoi polloi are, at least, free of the pressure of having to do so. That, as with a lot of things we take for granted, is far from true.

The problem is that humanity seems geared to understand things in terms of simplistic images. It is too difficult to assess anything, most especially fellow-humans, without comparing it to a set of images we have and slotting them into categories represented by those images.

Like, for example, the idea of a 'good man' or 'good woman'. Time was when this 'Sati Savitri' type of woman was considered the epitome of 'good' womanhood. The sari-clad, devotional, abjectly respectful and yada yada person, you know. AND the 'good man', bending over backwards to carry everyone along...(Always felt that the definition of 'good' included 'stupid' as one of the key ingredients, going by how the 'good' person repeatedly trusts the villainous and was able to be utterly shocked even the zillionth time they were betrayed by them.)

True that most people did not expect EVERYTHING but, broad stroke, they expected most of that. Failing which, the person was slotted into 'bad'. Most of social reform, whether one realizes it or not, is in redrafting those images. Like, say, changing the image to 'Wearing jeans CAN be added to the 'good' image of a woman' and things like that. And so on with the images related to racism or caste-ism.

That, though, is going far afield for me. In the more everyday life, you still find yourself living up to images. As in, 'You are a manager. You cannot dress like a rag-picker'. Or 'If you keep eating in street-food places and travel by buses, how do you expect people to respect you?' and so on and so on.

At every stage in life, you expect that getting to the next stage will give you freedom from the straitjacket of living up to images. And find that you have only exchanged straitjackets. The funny thing is that 'growth' actually can make you feel more uncomfortable than before. After all, the straitjacket that you grew up in was something you got used to and, so, does not feel very constraining. But the one you moved up pinches like a new shoe.

So, yeah, I thought that I would be free of all that once I quit. And quit early in order to be free earlier. Alas, it did not work for me either.

You see, people were all gaga about the fact that I had quit early; were all praise for me taking the step. And I basked and preened in all that praise.

Till I realized that they had an IMAGE of what sort of lifestyle I'd live post-retirement. If my actual lifestyle measured up to that, I'd continue to get that praise. If not...

The point is that the praise was not for having RETIRED early. It was for having made enough to live THAT lifestyle soon enough to retire early that was begetting the praise. The moment they see that it is restricting the lifestyle that made it possible...

Anyway, as long as you live with people, you end up having to live up to images. You want to change society, you have to put in the effort in changing the contours of those defining images. If, instead, you try to make people do away with images and assess each person and situation on its own merits, you are bound to fail.

Me...well, since I am no social reformer and since I am reclusive by nature, I try to do without PEOPLE as far as possible!