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.

Monday, July 19, 2021


I once had a credit card sold to me on a 'lifetime free' basis. A year down the line, the bill for annual charges for the card came in. Indignantly, I mail the chaps about why I was getting a bill when the card was supposed to be free for a lifetime. Promptly came the reply that the card was free for the lifetime...of the card, which was one year. Since then, anyone who mentions lifetime, guarantee, whatever...gets grilled by me on whose lifetime...his, mine, the product's, his grandmother's, my pet's and so on!

I keep getting reminded of that, these days. Every other day, there is a hue and cry about someone having become the GOAT - Greatest of All Times. Surprisingly, within a couple of days or so, someone else is hailed the GOAT for the SAME reason. 'All Times' seems to mean anywhere between 2 days to 2 months or so, nowadays. Somewhat like No.1 bestsellers on Amazon which can change every two hours or so!

The strange thing is that these GOATs are almost invariably contemporary people. Makes you wonder whether people really think that nobody all through the past till right now did anything worthwhile and only those inhabiting the current world and their achievements are the greatest. (Somewhat like that 'Nothing good happened since Independence till now' thing.)

Being contemporary alone is not enough unless you are on the top RIGHT NOW. Sachin may have been God of Cricket, the GOAT is Virat. So, it is 'move over Sachin, Virat is here' time! As for Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Gary Sobers, Don Bradman...well, who are they?

Looks to me like people think that GOAT is like calling someone a 'Player of the Match' or 'Wimbledon Champion'...something that can readily change match to match, tournament to tournament, year to year. The idea that calling someone the 'Greatest' and tagging on 'All times' to it means that you think he is not only the best now, not only the best of all till the current moment, but that he will be unequaled in future also...Ah, well, what am I saying? In an era where people live from tweet to tweet, a few nanoseconds probably counts as eternity!

The easiest way, as you can see, to get my goat...err, all in small to start talking about GOATs.

Psst! Can you call me a GOAT in ranting, at least?

Monday, July 12, 2021

What you want to hear

The one truth about conversing with people is that you very seldom hear what you want to hear. Not only when you are eavesdropping (Eavesdroppers never hear anything good of themselves is true but it is mainly the powerful who hear anything bad that people have not already told to their face). That's probably because people feel uncomfortable about saying anything complimentary to others but find themselves feeling wonderful when they are being critical. Even to people who they profess to love!

You say something like, "I do not think I do this well," generally, of course, expecting the others to say, "No. This is excellent," or some such. How often does that happen? Mostly, what you get is either, "Yup! Why do you do things in which you are incompetent," or, if they are feeling particularly generous, "Fishing! Fishing." As though you will find it funny to be told that you are fishing for compliments OR that they are informing you about what they are sure you do not know. (WHAT was that? Fragile male ego? Hmmm! So, when you say something like "I look fat in this dress," you are thrilled to hear either a "Oh yeah, you do," or "Stop fishing"?)

But, you know, people trying to tell you what you want to hear can also be very...err...trying. There ARE times when you want to hear the truth and, presto, THAT is when people decide that they will tell you want they think you want to hear.

Like, say, you invite a friend for a party at your home and he cannot come for whatever reason. Haven't you come across the friend who decides that telling you that he cannot come will be too troublesome. (In order to avoid THOSE ding-dong conversations between one who does not even want the other to come and the other who does not want to come but..."I am afraid I have another engagement." "What engagement? We have been friends for so long and..." "A relative's marriage is on the same day." "You can come to my function and then go to the reception..."!) You get a 'Yes' from him at first, PLAN on his coming. Then, the day before, he calls you and says he has to go to another function but will certainly come, though he may be late. And so on...till you get a late night call telling you about the traffic situation in Bangalore and precisely which place he was supposedly stuck for three hours. There is a difference between planning a party knowing someone is NOT coming and planning a party assuming someone IS. You, who would have been happy if you knew he was not coming, get stuck with preparing for his advent just because he wanted to tell you what he thought you wanted to hear and feel absolutely pissed when he does not make it.

Call a workman home - an electrician, plumber, whoever - and you get treated to the same. He goes out to 'buy some material' and solemnly promises to be back in five minutes. You ask him whether it will take two hours; he assures you it won't even when you tell him you have work outside the house which you could do in that period; and eventually comes back after four hours. You have people coming in for the evening; you ask the plumber if the job will be done before then; he tells you it will be done so far in advance that you can probably fit in an aerobics class in addition; so you decide not to cancel your evening program; and, when your guests land, you have the unenviable task of telling them that any bathroom visits will have to wait till they go back to their homes. And so on...all because people want to tell you what they assume that you want to hear.

But, yes, it is true that people try to tell you what you want to hear because THEY do not want to hear what they do not want to hear! Recriminations, arguments etc etc.

But, why ME, Lord! I tell people that it is perfectly OK to tell me the other thing, that I would in fact welcome it and still...

Monday, July 5, 2021

Old Fables New Morals - Hercules and the Wagoner (revisited)

You know, you can hardly say anything these days without a bunch of people eagerly waiting to scream about how you got it all wrong, even before you finish saying it. And me, I am cursed with a set of friends whose sole purpose in life seems to be to tell me the worst about myself. (Yeah, yeah, I know all that guff about a good friend being critical so that you better yourself. But, pray tell me, does anyone really expect me to 'improve' in my late fifties when I have not managed that feat till now?)

Of course, my friends belong in my age group, by and large, which accounts for the fact that they dig out a very old post of mine to point out what is wrong in it. As any youngster knows, any post more than a day old is as good as a fossil and who, except, archaeologists are interested in fossils anyway? Old fossils, that is who, which explains the issue.

So, yeah, there was this post of mine about 'Hercules and the Wagoner' where the Wagoner's cart gets stuck in the mud and he prays to Hercules to help him. Whereupon, Hercules comes and tells him to do it himself. I had written that the tale would have ended differently had the Wagoner known better people management. And now...

"You know, you did not give enough credit to that Wagoner. Too busy showing off what you fondly think is your superiority, I suppose." of my 'friends'. (WHAT was that? You want to know what I said in that post? Well, if you want to study a fossil, better dig it out from here.)

"Credit for what? For whining for a god to help him, instead of doing it himself?"

"Yeah, if you want to look down on a guy, you can choose the viewpoint to do it, right? You do not see that he was only ahead of his times."

"Ahead of his times? How so? All through pre-history and history, people have prayed to gods."

"Something specific like getting a cart out of the mud? That's not just praying, that's outsourcing!"

I burst out laughing. Outsourcing! Really!

"Since when is asking for a more powerful entity for help called outsourcing?"

"If you choose to see it in terms of who is powerful and who is not...Business works on which is the cheapest way to get a thing done. Now, which involves lesser effort, praying for help or trying to push the cart out of the hole?"

Put THAT way...

Seeing the look on my face, he nodded.

"I see you get it. THAT chap was a precursor to this outsourcing thing. Who knows, all those guys from way back have been trying their best to outsource their work to God/gods. To be alive is to deal with problems, sometimes heartbreaking ones; to deal even with problems that our own actions create. And we have tried with all our might to outsource it."

"Well, it did not work, did it?"

"Of course, it did not! One important component for making outsourcing work is missing. How do you impose a penalty for non-performance?"


"We did try saying that we would stop believing in Him/them as a penalty for not accepting our outsourcing requests. Did not work as a sufficient penalty."

Hmmm! So, threatening to stop believing in them did not work as an incentive, then?

Maybe I really should revisit the lessons I posited in my previous version, after all!