Saturday, December 31, 2022

All mine?

There was this interesting thing that I read in the science fiction novels by Larry Niven. He writes of a galaxy of multiple species, including humans, interacting with each other. One of those species finds English funny - specifically the word 'My' - for a reason that seemed rather interesting to me.

The strange thing about English, in the view of that species, was the use of the word 'My'. And, come to think of it, it IS indeed strange...not just in English but in most human languages.

You use the word 'My' to indicate a part of you. Like, My hand, My foot, My heart, whatever. But, strangely, you also use the word 'My' to indicate that which YOU are a part of - My company, My club, My town, yada yada.

You also use the word 'My' to indicate your possessions - My house, My car, My phone...And you use the word 'My' to indicate your relationships - My father, My brother, My wife and so on.

AND you use the word 'My' for what you create - My thoughts, My opinions, My books, My paintings...

And, according to that alien, this is the cause of a lot of problems for humans. The hurt that you take when you have to part with a dearly held opinion is as much as amputating a part of your body! You mistake a relationship for a possession - the marital relationship and, sometimes, even the offspring - and either get into hot water yourself or create trouble for the others or both. You mistake your possessions for your personality and break apart when you lose them. And so on and so on.

How words mold thoughts is a thing that we seldom seem to realize. If a clear idea existed of what is integral to you and what is merely accumulated dross; what is controllable by you in toto and what is yours only by others' choice and so on, life probably would be a lot simpler...and a lot better.

But to KNOW all that, you end up having to answer that basic question - 'Who am I?' And THAT has been the conundrum for all eternity!

Monday, December 26, 2022

Above the gods?

Here we are, fighting like crabs to be considered above the next guy - whether by climbing up or by pulling the other guy down (easier to do the latter, no?) - and here is this chap who talks in terms of aiming to be above the gods. (Yeah, yeah, the demi-gods of Hinduism, not Yahweh or such). Talk about overweening ambition!

Yes, it is our man Tiru and here is what he has to say

Yaan Yenadhu ennum serukku aruppaan vaanorkku uyarndha ulagam pugum - Tirukkural

He who rids himself of the pride of 'I' and 'Mine' shall achieve realms higher than the gods - Loose Translation.

And so...there you have the solution. If you want to be superior even to the gods, all you have to do is rid yourself of your pride.

But, wait! Exactly what do you achieve in the process? I mean, here you are, all agog to want to be seen as superior to the chaps around you. So what IS the point of ridding yourself of your ego? I mean, if I rid myself of the pride of my self and my possessions and I get to belong to this superior place, what would be the freaking point? I cannot feel proud of it and preen about it now, can I, considering that I get to that place ONLY because I have got rid of all these inclinations to look down the nose at other people? 

It is like getting a membership into an exclusive club once you have lost all interest in being seen as exclusive! Sort of like being crowned King after you join the Communist party, you know.

I suppose Tiru is stuck in trying to explain joys that human beings have never experienced in the metaphors that they can understand. Sort of like trying to explain the beauty of the sights that can be seen only if you can see microwave radiation. Which, by the way, IS the problem with anyone trying to explain spiritual joys...always assuming that such exist and the person explaining HAS experienced it.

So, anyway, from what I understand, Tiru says that once you get rid of the idea of seeing the world purely in terms of your place in it; and rid yourself of the pride of what you possess of the things of the world and what you intend to possess...IF you can rid yourself of all that, then you'll lead a life that will transport you into realms beyond the gods.

I do not know if that is really gonna happen. What I do know is that stopping to measure myself and my possessions against the rest of the world has sufficed to keep me happy enough not to bother about the realms that other people may or may not occupy!

If THAT is what Tiru meant, I'm in agreement with it. If not, you guys can figure it out. Me, I'm content. 

Monday, December 19, 2022


We hunt for happiness all over the world when the wise say that it lies within you. Maybe it does but what is also true is that we carry a lot of things that can effectively poison whatever happiness we do find within ourselves...thereby proving that we are our own worst enemies.

And Tiru says that the worst of the enemies we carry within ourselves is anger.

Nagaiyum Uvagaiyum kollum sinatthin pagaiyum ulavo pira? - Tirukkural

Is there a worse enemy than anger which kills your smiles and your joy? - Loose Translation

Hmmm! Come to think of it, there is some truth in it. I mean, I can remember the times when I have had a tiff with someone and was fuming with anger. Forget enjoying myself, I used to be so pissed when someone in my vicinity dared to smile or laugh. I mean, here I was, absolutely incandescent with anger so how could anyone find anything to be happy about around me? Bloody self-centered of him, really!

Yeah, anger and its first cousin - hate - are not really the gregarious sort. They find it difficult sharing the same space with others and prefer to be the sole occupants of the mind that they are lodged in. They could, perhaps, permit vengeance and such others to be room-mates No effing way. If the one comes in, the other HAS to go out. And, so, when anger is in, joy IS out. And TILL anger is out, joy will not step in, cos joy seldom walks in where it is not wanted.

But, no worse enemy than anger? THERE I think Tiru goes too far. How about hopelessness, for example, the leading companion of depression? But, then, I suppose that it is poetic hyperbole. I bet Tiru says that to all negative emotions!

But...but...without anger, hatred-spewing and trolling, where is the joy of having your social media posts going viral? Hmmm...

Monday, December 12, 2022

Needless Coiffure?

Having been practically brought up on the philosophy that 'It is more important to be seen to be busy than to be busy' and having been told that you 'don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle', it is sort of odd to be told that what is important IS the steak...or to actually BE busy...after all!

But, then, Tiru did belong to a different millenium, so it is natural that he held such old-fashioned ideas. Like in this Kural of his...

Mazhitthalum Neettalum Vendaa; Ulagam pazhitthadhu ozhitthu vidin - Tirukkural.

It's needless to shave your head or grow long tresses if only you abstain from all condemn-able deeds - Loose Translation

All those coiffure related advice was probably a metaphorical indication of the practice of sages to either completely denude themselves of hair (deliberately, not like losing the dratted things despite every effort to retain them, as in my case) OR growing long tresses tied up in a top knot, long beard, mustache and all. This playing around with hair was intended, I suppose, to indicate the renunciation of all vanity. Though, modern sages...the successful ones...probably have a hair-stylist at their beck and call to take care of all that keratin. Not really a sign of renounced vanity.

Anyway, to get back to the topic, our man Tiru says that all this sort of hair-styling is needless, if you only renounced all those actions which you are supposed to renounce. In other words, if you truly renounced greed, envy, hatred, yada yada, it is unnecessary to also renounce hair. If you do not, renouncing hair is useless.

Now THAT is quite possibly true as far as any spiritual growth is concerned. I mean, really, you do not become a realized soul because you shaved your hair is not as though your hair was blocking realization from entering your head. And if you do have realization, it is not like it is going to be incomplete till you appropriately style your hair.

The problem, though, is that Tiru makes a sweeping assumption. He assumes that what you are keen on is in actually BEING a realized soul; he does not understand that what you want is to be SEEN as a realized soul (or good employee or wise mentor or whatever). He is too naive to understand that you are in it for what you can GET and not what you can BECOME.

And therein lies the tale. IF you want to BECOME, you take Tiru seriously. Like, if you want to cease to be bigoted, you concentrate on changing your thoughts; if you only want to be SEEN as not bigoted, you address only what passes for coiffure in the circumstances viz. you only learn how to SPEAK politically correct terms. And, likewise, for being a great employee (being busy vs being seen to be busy) and so on.

What am I saying? What's the effing point in becoming? What could you get that you'll not get in spades by just being SEEN the way you want to be seen?

Alas! I seem to be becoming as old-fashioned as dear old Tiru!

Monday, December 5, 2022

Abandoning hope?

Talk to anyone who is spiritual and he'll preach the virtue of being free from desires. The strange thing, though, is that there IS a type of person who has stopped chasing his desires...and he is considered far from virtuous.

In fact, our man Tiru goes so far as to say that such a man has stopped trying to be virtuous as much as he has stopped chasing his desires.

Aran Aakkam vendaathaan Enpaan Piranaakkam penaathu azhukkaruppaan - Tirukkural

He who envies rather than praises another's success is one who neither desires virtue nor success - Loose Translation

The peril of translation is that sometimes things do not seem as clear unless explained. Like, 'neither desires virtue nor success' is pithy but seems unlikely. Where is the man who does not 'desire' success? But, the point here is that such desire is NOT accompanied by the determination to strive for it. I mean, it is all fine to desire to be the next Tom Cruise or the Roger Federer or whatever. You do not BECOME any of those by virtue of sitting at home and calling Cruise and Federer names, do you?

To envy the successful and to think of them as ill-deserving people who have somehow been crowned with success is not merely negative, it is counter-productive. Tiru says that if you have the will to succeed, it will also express itself in honest appreciation of those who have succeeded. After all, if a successful person is not seen by you as worthy of respect, why would you want to be successful?

Envy saps your morale and robs you of your determination. The feeling that luck favors the unworthy will stop you from striving...unless, of course, you think of yourself as unworthy as well.

The easiest way to abandon hope about succeeding yourself is to start envying those who have succeeded!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Money is everything?

I have had occasion to mention that the fact that we humans have this innate ability to swear to the truth of two diametrically opposite the SAME time. And not even be conscious of being self-contradictory. Yet, you know, when it comes to money, we wish to do the same and...surprise, surprise...we find that we become all too aware of the fact that the views are contradictory. Money IS a strange beast.

I mean, on the one hand, we would all like to see the life as something that has more meaning to it than to just have a good time while you are alive. I mean, like, not everyone HAS enough money to spend on having a good time...and most have to slog all their lives to make the money which they expect will allow them a small sliver of good times near the end of their lives. So, if ALL that Life means is having a good time when you are alive, what does that leave them with? Envying those who CAN afford the good time for most of their life while slogging away in the hope of future good times? What sort of fun is there in that? If Life had a purpose beyond just the living, THEN it would be something. THEN money would not be everything, would it?

But, hey, how can one not want a good time now? I mean, how does one give up on money, give up on the good food, the good clothing, those pleasure trips, those pub visits...What stupidity to think that money does not buy happiness? Maybe it doesn't, but it is a lot better to be miserable with money than without, it is only a question of knowing where to shop for happiness, yada yada yada.

So there! We WISH that money is not everything and, at the same time, we wish FOR more money! It feels like a self-contradiction and, so, there we go getting all defensive about wanting money!

Like I have been telling (ad nauseum? I cannot be responsible for your gastric issues!), this digital view of every issue is a bleeding pain in the you-know-what. I mean, come on, if one says, 'Money isn't everything' does it automatically mean, 'Money is NOTHING'? So, why then do we think it is contradictory?

It is perfectly fine to want money to satisfy your wants and needs; perfectly fine to say that I shall restrict my wants. Because, to get the money for the rest of my wants will require so much more of my time to be spent on making the money that, overall, my life will be more stunted if I do that. (Well, to all those who prefer examples to concepts...If you'd rather take time off every year to go on long hikes and, therefore, choose a less demanding job, it's good. Everyone does not need to buy a yacht so much that they have to go in for a high pressure job which will make a yacht affordable but put the yearly hikes out of reach.)

You know, chase YOUR cheese, not someone else's. It's all good. The only rank stupidity in the world is forgetting the nature of money.

You can either be someone who wants money because you have things to do which require the money. OR you can be the sort of person who only chooses to do those things that get you money.

When money is a means to YOUR ends, it is a good servant. But when it becomes an end in itself...

Monday, November 21, 2022


You know, the one thing that I have found with people is that they all love GIVING advice. Very few actually like receiving advice, especially when they do not ask for it. AND, more often than not, someone who asks for advice is asking you to justify why what he intends doing/has done is right. They may not say it in so many words but, apparently, a lot of people believe in... 

"I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself." - Oscar Wilde.

Well, actually, a lot of advice IS like that, though I do not know whether it qualifies as good advice. I mean, like you get cancer and THEN a goodly lot of people come and tell you about how you should have given up smoking; you break a bone on a trek and hordes of people come and advice you not to take such risks at your age...things like that. I mean, really, how useful to oneself is that advice THEN?

But, yeah, even really good advice is very seldom of use to one...merely because most of such advice ends up asking you to do a wholesale character make-over which may well be beyond you. Like 'You should control your temper better' OR 'You need to be more disciplined' OR whatever that seems to run against the grain of who you are. Pass it on, guys, pass it on, you cannot use it yourself!

And, so, like those wedding gifts - the 23rd wall clock or the 37th flower vase - advice also needs passing on to the next person because it is of no use to you. OR so most of the world believes. Is it a wonder that few want to listen to it and most want to give it? I mean, like, if I am overflowing with wall clocks, am I likely to be interested in giving them away or in collecting more of them?

The modern world has made things easy. I just received some advice - dressed up nicely in graphics - talking all about living in the moment. I promptly passed it on by forwarding it to a friend. Before I could even blink, up pops a notification from another friend and....presto! I have that advice back with me again! And, without even a threat of dire happenings if it is not forwarded to ten people within seconds!

Well! Well! Well!

Monday, November 7, 2022

Identity and identifiers

I am nitpicking? There is no difference between identity and identifiers? YOU are the reason why people think that an attractive label is enough to sell a product. After all, if the identifier - the label - is good, you will assume that the identity - the product - is also good.

Ah, so YOU are not that sort of person? Too clued in to be taken in by labels? Good for you. Ever had a nickname at school or college? More often than not they tend to be derogatory, though quite rarely they may be complimentary too. Those pesky nicknames...except where they were initials or shortened forms of your own name, which is only for convenience...the nicknames, as I was saying, tend to pick on something that people consider your identifier - caste, a physical peculiarity, whatever - and, invariably, THAT identifier was picked because it could be used to make fun of you. Children, those pure souls, are that way, only. NOW, can you say that you have never assessed another person's abilities based on what the nickname made you think of him?

You see, these identifiers are not innocuous - they have identities of their own. You create a nickname that makes fun of the other guy...sooner or later, you start looking on him as a figure of fun. Identifiers are dangerous that way. You see someone as Babar Azam, then you MAY see him as a likable, friendly, talented, ambitious young man; you see him as a 'Pakistani'...oh, well! When you allow identifiers to stand in for the identity of the other person (OR for yourself)...

But, then, as I have had occasion to say before, who has the time, energy and ability to assess other people. Far easier to read those labels and assume who or what they are...

Cannot spend all day on ONE tweet, now, can we?

Monday, October 31, 2022

The virtue of remembering?

There you go again. I say 'remembering' and you can only think of that one thing. NO, NO, NO! I am not about the start on the virtues of remembering chaps who pop in thirty years after you last saw them and croak, "Remember me?" I mean, come on, how does one look at a bald, overweight, wheezing wreck of a man and recollect the svelte 16 year old who won the 100m race back at school? (Am I not a wreck too? So I am but I am not the one asking the other guy to remember me. And I will have you know that I did NOT win the 100m race either, my only success in athletics being that of applauding the loudest from the sidelines. So there!)

It so happened that I came across one of those WhatsApp videos about the design of the bullet train in Japan. Apparently, initially the sonic boom of the train exiting a tunnel used to be problem for the neighborhood and, therefore, an engineer was tasked with cutting it down/out. Being a birdwatcher, our man realised that the kingfisher dives down at such speeds to get fish and neither creates a sonic boom nor splatters upon hitting water. And, so, he based his bullet train design on the beak of the Kingfisher.

Being the sort of innocent-at-large who believes whatever he comes across, I assume that this is true. Though I'd not be surprised if someone popped out and said that it is one of the top lessons from WhatsApp University which is guaranteed false either. Any way, my point would still hold.

You see, when you KNOW you want to know something (like knowing the movie in which a song featured), you can google for it. So, it's not a big deal if you cannot remember it. The issue is that knowing AND remembering something can come in handy in a totally unrelated area where you'd otherwise not even think to check it out. As in, does a locomotive designer automatically google for questions in ornithology when faced with a problem in design? It is only when you already know AND remember facts that you can put it together creatively.

I have had to face a great deal of issues, though, because of doing it. As in, people do not even think school algebra is worth remembering. So, on a matter of policy, where the procedure looked right on the face of it but my school algebra proved that it would be wrong in application...ah, I was initially looked on as a trouble-maker trying to create problems where none existed in order to push myself into prominence. AND, later, when the problems did surface, I was suddenly the genius. GENIUS? For remembering school algebra, I ask you.

But, yeah, in a day when the job of remembering has been shelved off to Google, the chap who can actually remember IS a genius. AND only he can be a real genius.

For, after all, most of genius IS thinking out of the box. AND, normally, you will only google for in-the-box (as in what you know you ought to know but don't know) facts! How then will you be creative?

Monday, October 24, 2022

Guessing Games

People seem to be going gaga about technology and all the benefits it gives the common man. Maybe it does but t0he dratted thing has also stolen some of the simple pleasures of life. Things that perhaps will become legends which will be disbelieved by the generations to come.

We used to have such fun playing guessing games. Ah, no, no, not that sort of guessing game where someone accosts you in a wedding with that question, "Remember me?" and expects you to guess it right in one. THAT is no fun, to be frank. If you know the person, it does not last long enough to be fun; if you cannot recollect him, it is no fun squirming and saying things like, "I remember the face, the name is at the tip of my tongue but..." and other such white lies which stand in as socially acceptable versions of "I do not know you from Adam (or Eve, lest I be called out for being a chauvinist) and couldn't care less."

I mean the fun we used to have were guessing games of another sort. You know, someone hums a song and you try to recollect the movie in which it featured and cannot remember it offhand. You ask the crowd if anyone remembers the movie and, if nobody does,...voila! Each one tries to make a guess; someone remembers the hero or the heroine; another remembers the singer; a third remembers the music director; then you try to put it all together and start off guessing the movie. The conversation, most times, digresses into other good songs by THAT hero/heroine/ music director. And, whether or not you guess the right movie at the end of it, you'd have had a fun conversation lasting hours. All set off by a guessing game.

And now...NOW, if I ask the same question, some idiot whips out his smartphone, types in the question and pops the answer. Now WHAT's the fun in that? I mean, just imagine that there is a quiz show, a question is asked about the capital of Sierra Leone or some such, and your competitors just google the answer and give it to you, would you be keen on watching it? Gives a whole new meaning to that 'fastest finger first'...he who googles fastest wins! (By the way, do quiz shows still exist? I am the antediluvian fossil who has not kept up to what's on TV these days, ever since Arnab Goswami and his clones caused me to take sanyas from the idiot box.)

Anyway, Google and the Smartphone have spelled the death of guessing games of this sort. Well, I suppose they are dead anyway cos who converses these days? You cannot play these guessing games on WhatsApp, especially not the way it used to digress and traverse the length and breadth of moviedom.

My only hope is that they will soon find a way to kill off the other guessing game as well. Like, the chap pops into your ken, asking you, "Guess who?" and you whip your smartphone, take a pic and google him.

Meanwhile, on that, I still have to squirm and mutter, "Your name is stuck in my throat like a recalcitrant bit of phlegm but I am unable to spit it out."

Monday, October 17, 2022

Of discussions and arguments

 I never did like arguing. I mean, really, what's ever been the point in arguing with just keep on spouting beliefs, he keeps nattering about his and, at the end, both walk away completely convinced that they are right. About the only thing that possibly changes is that both end up being convinced that the other chap is too stupid to be considered human. (IF, of course, you did not start out with that conviction in the first place.)

Discussions, though...they are a different cup of tea. THERE you keep an open mind, try to learn something about the other guy's point of view, convey the logic of your own position and, perhaps, both of you could end up modifying the way you saw an issue. So, yeah, I did like discussing things although my contribution to any discussion where multiple people were involved was to pathetically bleat, "Say, listen..." only to have the whole lot treat it as background noise.

The thing is that discussions end up becoming arguments very often indeed. And, almost all the time, it is because instead of discussing an issue, you start calling the other guy names. THAT, generally, is the resort of the chap who wants the last word. Which essentially means that there is ALWAYS someone in any discussion who is there only to establish the rightness of his position and not to see why the other person holds the point of view that he does.

The funny thing is that the very chap who sets off the furor blames the others for converting a fruitful discussion into an argument. Like, he would say, "Only a fool will think that way" OR "THAT is the sort of opinion that arises from out of unthinking ignorance" or some such mild criticism of the issue under discussion. AND will be upset and aghast that the others seem to think that he was calling THEM fools or ignoramuses when he was only discussing the issue at hand. He laments that people cannot take criticism of their ideas and take it all personally. 'Alas! Where are those who understand that the rejection of their ideas is not a rejection of them as people," he cries after having set off a maelstrom which converts a discussion into an argument.

Of course, there were also the thin-skinned for whom that held true. You could hardly say a thing against whatever opinion they held without their assuming that you were calling them names. Just say, "You know that was how I thought till yesterday. Today, there is this news..." and they will start screaming, "So, you are telling me that I do not care to read the news? Just because I think differently from you, you start calling me names." And, there, that USED to be a discussion but is now an argument.

But, then, those were kindlier times.  We sort of thought that, perhaps, he is human but mistaken and can be brought around to thinking the right way. (Yeah, there is this theory that there ARE people who actually hold opinions but think that, maybe, the other guy has a point. Those mythical beings...maybe Rowling would write a book about them some day.) I mean, we did not START assuming that, if a guy holds an opinion different from ours, he is de facto someone who is too stupid to be human.

NOW that seem to be the norm. And, so, discussions...what ARE they? We know only arguments!

Monday, October 10, 2022

Play by the rules?

I have always been one with a great respect for rules. Respect? I actually effing depended on them so that I knew what to do under any given circumstances. Otherwise, I would only blink blankly like your smartphone would if there were no operating system in it to tell it what to do.

Now, these digital monsters have it easy. I mean, they have their rules written in code and, as long as they do what the code said, things were hunky-dory. I mean, yeah, their users could get frustrated and pull their hair out because the digi-monster was not doing what THEY wanted it to do but what does the digi-monster care anyway about that.

But, when you are a human...I mean, yeah, there are rules, alright but the thing is you are not always supposed to work as per the rule. I mean, there are times when the rule says you can do something but you are really not supposed to do it without getting the skin ripped off you. Like, say, your office hours may end at 6 PM as per rule, you may have nothing to do but if you promptly leave at 6 PM, your boss will tear a strip off you the next day for lack of dedication or some such shit. (Well, for you lucky non-working guys, it's like that run out for backing up. It's there in the rules but you are not supposed to do it. See?)

And then there are those things which are specifically prohibited in the rules but...I mean, like we guys were not supposed to indulge in bribery of Govt Officials and it's not like you have an expenditure head 'Bribes to Govt Officials' like you have, say, 'Salaries'. Try getting anywhere by sticking to the prohibition laid out in that rule, though. (Again, for the lucky drones, it's like sledging, you see. NOT allowed but...)

So, yes, there are these rules and there are these unwritten rules. You need to first learn the rules, then learn which of them are against the 'spirit of the game', which are prohibited by the rules but are IN the 'spirit of the game' and...

Around there, I get so dizzy that I do not know whether I am coming or going. And THEN they start talking about unwritten limits to unwritten rules...I really had lost it as far as office went, so let me give you the non-working can call a man any names when you sledge, except...and the exceptions will be based on who is doing the 'excepting'. On one occasion, 'Maaki' was considered more acceptable than 'monkey'. In South India, at least, one would probably see the former as more insulting than the latter.

Broadly, one may say, people fall between the extremes of 'Do nothing that is not explicitly permitted' and 'Do anything that is not explicitly prohibited'. But the leaders are those who believe in 'Do anything that does not invite instant punishment'...thereby proving that a law is only as good as its implementation. And, then, what they do and do not do becomes the unwritten rules of behavior!

What with rules, unwritten rules, unwritten exemptions and limits to unwritten rules yada yada...Life would be simpler as a Smartphone!

Monday, October 3, 2022

Words Matter!

The single most important reason why I am not a Jeff Bezos or a Elon Musk is the fact that I never really understood the fact that words matter. (Other than minor things like lack of talent, drive and the unshakable belief that anything is better done tomorrow than today? Yeah! So?) If only I had realized it early in life...hmm, what's the point moaning about that now?

You see, take the least little thing that you discuss in your office. I mean, like you got a sales target and you call your team to discuss it. So, I walk in saying, "Come on, guys! Let us discuss how to sell more potato chips." Is that the sort of thing that gets people to bust their asses working sixteen hour days so that they can get called into meetings like that? There is this thing...ah, importance, that's what I was looking want to grow into roles where you feel important. And it's rather tough to think of it as a worthwhile ambition to reach a position where you get called to meetings where you plan to sell more chips.

On the other hand, there is this colleague of mine who beat me hollow in the ladder-climbing game. He'd walk in and say, "Let's head to the war-room asap! We need to strategize about how to improve our market share." Now THERE is a worthwhile ambition. You'd sell your grandmother so that you can rise to these stratospheric levels where you are called in to help develop strategies for the whole company, improve its market planning how to sell more chips!

Words...MATTER! Therein lies the thing. You see, people need to feel way or the other. You do, I do, everyone does. From the guy who says, "If I am not there for one day, the entire department looks for me"...because work doesn't start unless the morning cuppa is downed and HE delivers the morning cuppa TO the guy who HAS to have a phone call a minute to keep reminding him that he is the CEO...everyone needs to feel important. THAT's why retirement is such a bane for people. The idea that nobody cares whether you exist or not, THAT's anathema! And words is how you make people feel that they are important and, more to the point, what they do is important.

You see, by and large, what you do could well be of no great importance and you, yourself, may be a replaceable cog even in what you do. IF, however, you are brought face to face with either or both facts, you'll rage. Words...yeah, you know by now!

It's when you actually do something important...if only by YOUR definition, if not in the general it working in socially relevant areas a la NGOs or in an area of work that you feel is important, be it pure scientific research or making documentaries, that you cease to be worried about whether others see you as important or not. If you are there, words may not matter to you.

For everyone else...words matter!

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Real Action movie

I blame the staid media of my days for my burying myself in fiction to the exclusion of current affairs. I mean, it was so dull and boring to be reading of the foreign minister mouthing platitudes in USA and making genial remarks in China; or the Home minister talking about Aman and Shanthi in the country. Think of James Bond gunning for Blofeld or Veeru taking on Gabbar Singh...I mean, where's the competition?

But, then, all of that was really because of the totally clueless media of those times. I mean, really, the way they used to report...totally no idea of the intrigues going on in the background. Or, perhaps, they were not being transparent about what was really happening.

Like, if India was giving disaster relief funds to a neighboring country, they used to report it like my mom lending sugar to her neighbor, as used to happen frequently in those days. Really? When what was really happening was that THAT action was to give a resounding slap to China's attempts to woo that country, as witness any of the reporting in the webzines of today. The news reads, nowadays, like a geopolitical thriller that Jean LeCarre cannot match.

Now, when I have the oil heating for a tadka and run out of sarson, I rush out to get it from the neighboring shop, never thinking that it is a resounding blow to the elitist capitalism of Amazon et al. (Maybe I should see it that way but...) And THAT is the way the old media would have reported India buying crude from Russia, even with that Ukraine war going on. But what is the reality? India is giving a befitting response to the hypocrisy of Europe buying gas from Russia, and screaming about our oil purchases, as though THEIR money would only go to put bread on the tables of the poor in Russia whereas only ours would fund the war effort. NOW...ah, now...THAT truth of India stomping around the world giving befitting responses to all and sundry is getting duly reported, no matter that the External Affairs minister states otherwise.

I think, perhaps, the way I see my own life is in line with the media of yesterday. When I walk around in a lungi all day, I see it as because it is what I feel most comfortable in...the 'fact' that it is a slap in the face of the colonial mindset of wearing pajamas or shorts completely escapes me. That I still prefer cooking to buying food from outside...that's not because the food I buy is not exactly to my taste as compared to the food I make like I thought (I mean, I used to think, I CAN buy a thali, but if I am inclined to aalu roast for a subzi, I can never get it when I want it); it's a blow to the consumerist attitudes to life. I mean, my own life is so colorful and I see it as so staid. (Yeah, yeah! Google 'staid').

But, yes, I think some things have irrevocably changed in my attitudes. The next time I hear of, say, the Prime Minister visiting China, I will probably see the way it truly is behind the scenes...the PM roaring, "Xi Jinping! Main Aaa Raha Hoon!"

Monday, September 19, 2022

The 'Expert' trap?

I have always wanted to be looked up to as an expert...on something or the other. You want to be a famous cricketer like a Tendulkar or a Kohli but all this waking up early, putting in hours at the gym and the Nets etc etc...that's a bit too much, no? Even assuming the talent. That's the way I felt about this Expert thing. I loved the idea of BEING respected as an expert but this process of BECOMING one...that was really off-putting.

But, then, one day I realized that it was not even necessary to become an expert in order to be SEEN as one. (Ah, no, do not get to be seen as the new Don Bradman without even knowing which end of the bat to hold. But, under some circumstances and for some audiences, you could get to be seen as the man who knows what's wrong with Kohli's batting.) And...that there were pitfalls in being seen thus. Alas, nothing in life seems to be all pleasure.

It happened this way. There I was, sitting in a corner in a wedding function, musing about the thusness of things and this group of guys lands up.

"There he is! He is the expert on fertilizers. Let him tell you about the Farm Bills."

Uh! I mean, I sit in my company filling in data into forms to claim fertilizer subsidies, wondering how I end up making computational errors even when I use spread-sheets, and now I am the expert on fertilizers who can discuss the pros and cons of the Farm Bills? How can I admit I know zilch, though? People are such wholesale characters that, the moment I say my expertise is limited, I'll immediately become the useless chap who knows nothing and has been set to counting pins in his office! I mean, it's not like I'll only lose my reputation for knowing things about the Farm Bills; I'll get the reputation of a useless know-nothing. Who wants that?

I did manage to say something without doing lasting damage to my social respect. And, then, a couple of hours down the line, there was this chap talking on the phone to someone, "I tell you. THIS is the way it is with Farm Bills. I just talked to the foremost expert on the matter."

Ahem! There it goes, expert to foremost expert and my impromptu blabbering now the expert opinion on the subject...for some, at least. Come on, yeah, some people probably are going to propagate an erroneous impression on that matter but what would you have me do? Lose all social respect in my circles? Have people tell me, "What the hell would you know about anything?" whenever I open my mouth on any subject? Before casting stones at me, check if you have acted any different in similar circumstances.

I mean, if you are a Orthopedic surgeon, and someone in the family comes to you with a MRI of the brain and asks for your opinion, do you say that, since there are no bones in the brain, you can say nothing about it? Do you not look wisely at it, trying to dig out what you studied in your MBBS, throw in a few Latin words and cap it with 'Better check with your neurosurgeon' and recommend a few names? If, however, the question is of some medical policy of the Government, where a life is not directly involved, do you not offer an 'expert' opinion, though you know yourself that your opinion is no more expert on THAT issue than the ordinary Joe mouthing off in the tea-stall? Why blame me then?

You know, come to think of it, I can get off lightly. If I were a University Prof...Ye Gods! Now those are the guys who are supposed to know everything. I mean, yeah, you may be teaching mechanical engineering but you mingle with people who are the experts on sociology or philosophy or whatever. That, essentially, means that for the rest of us you shine by their reflected glory. In other words, for us YOU are the expert on anything under the Sun. Fail to answer confidently and it is either, "I pity the students who learn from this ignorant guy. Academic standards have fallen" or "Too high and mighty to talk to the likes of us" - take your pick.

Maybe, just maybe, the trick to navigate this expert trap is to convince yourself that you are the expert. After all, it is easy to be confident when the others around you think of you as the expert, so you can spout your opinions as though they are solid fact. Don't know, really, if many people are capable of doing that, though, even if, over the years, they accustom themselves to thinking of themselves as always right.

For the life of me, though, I cannot understand why people seem to attribute expertise on a variety of subjects to celebrities. I mean, like, why should the opinion of, say, a Tapsee Pannu OR a Kangana Ranaut on Farm Bills be of relevance? Why do they get asked their opinions about such things. Come to think of it, my own 'expert' opinion on that issue was more expert than they can offer. And yet...

Anyway, after that limited limelight of being the 'expert', I'm happy that I'm a nonentity. With my character oriented towards not offering ignorant opinions, as far as possible, I'm afraid that, even if I did BECOME an expert on anything, I will not STAY an expert, in other people's eyes, for any length of time!

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Confidence hack

I never really understood how to speak confidently in any gathering. (Yeah, yeah, the litany of what I never understood is long. So? You, of course, understand everything from the Big Bang to the String theory, from Nanotech to drones...good for you.) More often than not, I start bleating, "But..." and get drowned out by others who hardly seem to have noticed that I even opened my mouth. (Halitosis may have been a help, perhaps, in getting people to notice when you open your mouth. What is Halitosis? Well, you know everything, don't you? Why ask me?)

And then some chap pops up saying, "Well, simple! All it takes is to become an expert in the subject you want to speak about. Then it is easy to be confident." Umm! That is too much work. And, you know, it is not quite as easy as it sounds. I mean, I speak to other finance people about a project appraisal and...well, what if I am wrong? Or have forgotten something? see, it is all fine to talk of being an expert and, thus, confident but the issue is that I need to first be confident that I AM an expert. Now that...

But, then, when it comes to talking about the same project with other there I am confident. Interesting, come to think of it. I actually get even more confident talking about what's wrong with the management of the country's economy, especially when a lot of the people around me share similar views. (As in, come on, if you think high income taxes are counter-productive, are you really going to find much opposition in any given group of people, except if they all happen to be members of the ruling party?)

Perhaps I am on to something here. I mean this 'Know your subject' is all very well for confidence, though it is sort of tougher on you, since expertise is not something that you can instantly order on Amazon even if you have an Amazon Prime membership. But it is not really necessary, you know.

What is important is not that YOU know your subject; what is important is that others do NOT know that subject any more than you do or, ideally, far less. It is not YOUR knowledge that will give you confidence but your audience's ignorance. When you choose to speak to an audience, speak not of what they are likely to know but of what they are likely to not know.

So, the mantra for confidence is 'Know your audience'.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Now I realize

I keep reflecting on that one answer that Yudhishtra was supposed to have given the Yaksha in reply to the question, "What is the greatest miracle?" The eldest Pandava is supposed to have said, "Despite seeing human beings dying all around them, no-one expects to die himself." As usual, I am giving my own loose understanding here. (So what's new you ask? Well, as though you do not come here to get only the expected. I mean, if something you read is an unexpected view of anything you know, you would dismiss it as insane drivel, wouldn't you?)

Ah, no, age has not made me morbid. You are not about to read a lament about the ephemeral uncertainty of life here. What made me remember that thing was the fact that, when you see people of a certain age do some things, you laugh at them never expecting that the day may come when you would be that person. And then...

I mean, the stock figure of fun is the old man who goes, "In 1972 when I..." with all the people around him groaning and saying,"That is the sixth time I am hearing that story" with all the pathos of someone being water-boarded. I have laughed heartily in my time, yawned and groaned with the best of them when it was my turn to play audience and relieved the boredom by prompting the man with the next phrase in his story when he paused for breath. Alas, Karma is a hard taskmaster.

You know, apart from the weather, and your valuable opinions about how the country's economy can be better run than by the politicians of the day, the bulk of the ordinary person's conversations centers around himself. Every person's favorite topic of conversation is his own self. Mostly about what he will do, what he IS doing and what he has done.

When you are young and studying still, all you can talk about is what you WILL do for, after all, except to the most self-deluded, you are not really doing anything or have done anything. Later, you have the complete mix going for you. You'd have probably done something worth talking about - if only in how you pissed off a boss. You probably are doing things of interest, if it's only to undermine your colleague. And you certainly are intending to do something going forth.

When you are old...ah, well, you may be intending to do things but you really think anyone is interested? They take one look at your grey/bald head and...write off. You are in the so-called sunset years and they cannot be bothered with your dreams...what can you dream about except BP medication? Unless you want to be labeled mad, there's hardly a thing you can say about what you intend to do. And, in most cases, you really do intend to do nothing...except walk to the park and talk with other grey-beards about how much better the good old days were.

You aren't doing much either. So, about the only thing you have to talk about is what you HAVE done. Leaves you really with scant little to talk about. You'd put them all to sleep if you started describing the people you knew and the atmosphere of your office yada yada and, without that sort of background, most of your stories will lack any interest. Only a scant few can translate to an audience who do not know the people and the background. And, once you are done with all of them...well, what then?

Things are even worse for someone like me who quit at around 40. Much lesser years of DOING and, having started as early as that in conversations of what I had done...

Into my 27th retelling...and counting...

Before you laugh at me, just remember that first para. Your time will come too. Karma!

Monday, August 29, 2022

Creating content

I thought that this creating a portfolio thing was exclusive to models and actors. You know, sort of showcasing that you can leer, grimace, grin, laugh, whatever without causing the viewer to retch uncontrollably. Apparently, even in this writing content, you need to show a 'portfolio'...sample pieces so that people can look them up and see if you suit them.

Not that I was really keen on starting to write content. I mean, it's not as though you can become a millionaire by churning out posts for people who cannot even afford full-time writers. If I wanted the money, I'd have stuck to balancing the books in my old job...THAT paid more and more certainly.

And yet...well, I really did not want to write content but there's that itch to know whether people would consider you good enough to do Just as every bathroom singer has a secret urge to try his hand out on singing in public. I mean, you cannot be spawning things like TikTok, Instagram, Smule and what-have-you but for this urge in people to try out, in public, things that they would not be confident of earning a living from. (Like this blog? Quite...but 'content writing' adds a layer of 'filtering', no?)

Anyway, I checked out a few sites to see 'content' and then tried my hand at putting together a 'portfolio' that could possibly appeal to them. So, first, I try writing a news item about a boy who manage to scrape through an exam but one who belonged to the 'side' of the webzine.

Schoolboy defeats nefarious agenda

A schoolboy from a small village defeats nefarious agenda by a corrupt school system. In the guise of asking students to answer questions in an exam, the school tried to get the students to leak secret formulae for summing arithmetic progressions and adding matrices. The clever schoolboy gave them the wrong answers in order to mislead them. In order to confuse them he mixed up 40% right answers, so that they would assume that the other 60% were also right. As long as such patriotism exists in school-children, we can never be defeated.

Hmmm! This would suit some of the webzines but others needed me to be more...learned. So, maybe, I should try something different for them.

Under-privileged Schoolboy wins against the odds

In an ideal society, education would be common to all classes of people. Unfortunately, in ours, it has become the province of the elite. The questions in examinations may be the same to all students but a student with the benefit of educated parents and after-school tuition cannot be considered equal to a poor student who has no such privileges. Not to mention that quite a few of the questions may be too far away from the lived experience of the under-privileged. (How do you divide 3 pies for 5 people, for example, to someone who has no idea of what a pie is.) Under the circumstances, the achievement of passing an examination, by a schoolboy from a village, is nothing short of a resounding blow against privileged elitism.

Would these suffice? Maybe not. Putting a positive spin on things is all good but the world runs on pulling down things, no? So, if I am good only for propping up people, I'd probably not even get a look in.

So, then, how about a schoolboy of the 'other side' getting 95%?

Examination system exposed

A schoolboy from a village scored 95% thereby exposing the corrupt examination system. A comparison between the answers across students exposed that every student who got the answer right to any question gave the exact same answer which is statistically impossible. When questioned about it, the academia gave the unbelievable answer that, in multiple-choice questions, that was the only way it would happen. Really? Of course that was the only way it would happen if the question paper and the right answers had been leaked in advance or if the answer papers had been substituted afterwards. There is urgent need to investigate the deep-rooted corruption in the conduct of examinations.

That should suit those people but how about the 'erudite' ones?

Student fails despite privilege

Examinations, as we all know, do not really provide a level playing field. Privilege makes a difference, especially when those who create the exam papers also belong to the privileged classes. Yet, despite all the advantages granted by privilege, success is not guaranteed. A student from a village failed to get all his answers right and could only score 95%. This proves that the idea that ability goes hand in hand with Class is only a myth.

So, there, I have my portfolio. But...

I mean, I cannot send it out to those guys now, can I? Since I do not want to be writing content. Who will handle all those spam SMSes and emails offering me content-writing jobs...not to mention that I'll have to field ten times the messages about content-writing trainings and workshops?

Hmmm! I'd best leave it to you guys to tell me if I am good enough! As usual!

Monday, August 22, 2022

The 'Viral' Virus

There is apparently a serious virus - more contagious than Covid - which afflicts humanity. The virus manifests itself in the insatiable desire for your social media outpourings to go 'viral'. When it affects someone severely, the patient will do anything - absolutely anything - for their posts to have a huge number of 'Likes', 'Shares' and comments.

The problem with viruses, in general, is that they cause damage to the host organism. This virus, though, is peculiar that way. It routes through the host organism but afflicts others who come in contact with those posts.

This 'Viral' phenomenon is not new. Ever since news became Infotainment, the idea prevailed that it is more important for it to be sensational than for it to be news. If it is sensational, more people watch it...more 'Likes' in Social Media terms. What is new is the NUMBER of people that are now afflicted by it.

The consequences of this affliction is what they call 'Click-bait' headlines, where someone writes a post in a online blog or mag. "X (Famous Actor) blasts Y (Some political or policy action)"; "A (Former Cricketer) trashes B's (Coach of the team) strategy" and so on. If you actually bothered to read the post, the famous actor would have said something bland like "This policy may cause distress to the poor". The former cricketer would have been asked whether he agreed with the batting order and he would have replied that he would have done it differently. these days when people start yawning midway through a tweet because Twitter has made it possible to have tweets all of 240 characters these days, who really clicks on those headlines and bothers to read the piece? Outrage, rage and hate gets spawned just by reading the headline, people take sides and start sniping at each other and, in no time, there is a full-fledged war on in the comments. Those unnatural people, too arthritic to jump to conclusions and with the time to actually read the post, pathetically bleat that the concerned people actually did not either 'blast' or 'trash'. That bleating, though, goes largely unheard.

And then the same blog or online mag will also carry a headline, "Facebook propagates hate speech" and out come the swords with some saying 'Of course it does' and others saying, 'Irony that you discuss all this on Facebook' , yada yada. The true irony is that the fact that this blind seeking of virality, and the sensationalism which is the tried and tested measure to achieve it, is exactly what waters the seeds of hatred. AND those who seek it are the first to blame the hate as well!

All of that is probably a storm in a teacup. But...when your world is IN that teacup...

Monday, August 15, 2022

Segmentation Experts?

We, management guys, take a lot of credit for a lot of concepts. A lot of those concepts are those for which all we contributed was a catchy name. Others we defined and practiced, and assumed that we were the best practitioners of those concepts. The problem, though, is that most management concepts have been in practice for ages and the best we have done is refine them and make it possible for people to consciously apply them when appropriate.

Which essentially means that those concepts may well be practiced, and more expertly, by others even though they may not be able to lay down the rules for applying them. Which brings me to the topic of this post - Segmentation.

When you want to sell your product, one of the things that you seek to do is to target your product to the customers most likely to buy them. For that, you take the whole lot of your customers and divide them into segments based on varying criteria - income, gender, nature of the person (conservative, adventurous, value for money, seeking uniqueness...), what have you. Then you target your product to the appropriate segment - middle income women, upper class adventurous men, whatever.

Companies have it easy. I mean, you manage a sizable proportion of your target segment, you have a profitable product. What if you had to do this sort of segmentation, in a winner-take-all scenario, AND based on selling to your target segments you have to cover a majority of ALL customers...what then? And, if there is a profession which operate entirely on that basis, who are the better experts - management experts or...politicians?

Democracy is a nice thing and, ideally, you think of people voting for the best person to serve the nation. When political parties try to market themselves as the 'best people' to voters, it is but natural that they try to offer them what they want. It is no real use to say you will give honest and efficient governance...everyone says that. What is your Unique Selling Proposition?

You try to find what voters want and, as usual, you find that they all want different things. There you go, starting on segmenting your voters. When it is management guys who do it, it is Market Segmentation; when politicians do it, it is called Vote Bank politics.

There you went, people segmenting voters on caste; regional parties invoking regional pride and so on and so forth. AND doing it successfully for so long. Till along came a party which succeeded on using religion successfully as a segmenting tool. And succeeding massively with that.

How do you fight a party which has positioned itself as the champion of a majority religion? Having divided and sub-divided people for so long into differing camps, the idea of NOT being divisive rings hollow from ANY of the existing parties. Still, some fight the divisiveness and the hatred. Some try to climb aboard the same bandwagon and try to position themselves as being equally good for the same market segment.

But, then, you have the others. If you cannot gain a foothold in that market segment, the only way to win is to split that market segment. So, apparently, they have started delving way back into history and finding a way to say that large swathes of the majority religion have actually been gulled into thinking that they belong to it when, in reality, they have been tricked into believing that their real religion is a part of the majority religion.

Hmmm! THAT is a turn for the ages for even the atheistic parties to be seriously worried about the 'real' religion of their voters. I mean, really, it was not too far back when the same lot was arguing, "How far back will you go in history and where will you draw the line about who were the invaders and who is indigenous to India?" Divisiveness is terrible for Society, yes, but the answer to divisive politics cannot be even more matter what the imperatives of segmentation may be!

The time will come, I'm sure, when you and I will be at loggerheads because we descended from different tribes of prehistoric monkeys. THAT will be the day when we celebrate the acme of social segmentation.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Natural Intelligence?

There used to be this joke about a chap who went out for data collection. He goes into this house and asks the lady, "Are you married?" The lady says, "No!" He goes on to the next question in his list and asks, "How many children?" And gets roundly abused for insulting her. Assuming that he had got the order of questions wrong, he goes to the next house and asks the lady, 'How many children?" She says, "Three." He follows up with, "Are you married?"

Computers, in my younger days, were supposed to be like this man. They could never understand context and modify their processes but would mindlessly follow the procedure. Unless, of course, the context itself is built into the procedure. (Ah, by the way, the joke itself is in the context of a time when an unmarried man or woman was EXPECTED to be a virgin in the society of the day, which is why talking of children without marriage was insulting. Even if you did have them, you'd bash up anyone telling you that you did! Context, you see, is needed even to get a joke. Today, with live-in relationships gaining acceptance, the questions are completely valid and, possibly, safer for the questioner to ask.)

As I was saying, this gathering things by context and reading between the lines was the unique human reasoning ability which we used to assume that computers could never manage to do. Artificial Intelligence may or may not have breached that last frontier but...

There is this recent interaction I had with the service people of a water filter. Having had a new unit installed and running, I found that the water tap on the filter was leaking. I called them up to complain.

"Sir, let me verify the details. You have bought product X and it has been installed today?"


"Are you still at the same address?"

Of course not! I am the idiot who installs a water filter in the house that I was about to vacate so that I could move into a new one within two hours.


"Your product is within warranty period and the service will be free. Do you want to schedule the service?"

Tch Tch! I was just calling the service number because I was bored and wanted to shoot the breeze with someone. And, just to make the conversation flow, I happened to mention a leaky tap on my water purifier. Why would I need anyone to repair that leaky tap?


I mean, I can understand why those questions exist in their list. Like, it could have been 9 months down the line after purchase and I may have changed houses. And, of course, if the product is post-warranty, and there is a charge for the servicing, I may opt out of getting them to do the servicing. But, as it stands...

It is gonna be a breeze for AI to overtake humans, this way. You really do not need to put in too much effort on AI. Now, human intelligence is incapable of reacting to context. (Sort of reminds me of how to make a line bigger without touching it. Draw a smaller line by the side. So, how to make AI better than human intelligence? Reduce human intelligence! And, thus, we seem to teach people to work as mindlessly as the computers of my day worked.)

Come to think of it, these chaps are taking the easy way out trying to build Artificial Intelligence. THAT's a piece of cake.

Now, if they were to attempt to mimic Natural Stupidity...

Monday, August 1, 2022

The lost art - Empathy

Come to think of it, Empathy is not really a lost art. I mean, you can only lose something which you first had. And I am not too sure that most of us ever had empathy. As in being able to see the world from the point of view of another person - sort of walk in his shoes as it were. True that, like logic or honor or any such thing, empathy is one of those things which we had always been quick to identify as absent in the OTHER guy. But comes to one's own self...

But, then, it used to be the case that we missed out on being empathetic primarily when the other chap talks or acts in a manner different from what we ourselves would do. You know, like, when you are non-smoker, it comes easy to you to see the smoker as a heartless person who revels in the death by secondary smoke of others. To put yourself in his place, see how you have become accustomed to it, and see why it can be just a habit and not a conscious decision to kill people around him...that requires empathy. (Ah! No, no, no, the idea is not that you AGREE that it's OK, just that you understand that he is not necessarily a heartless villain!)

That, though, was the only sort of empathy that used to come difficult to people, this thing of understanding why others would do what you would never do. When it comes to what others do what you would do, it was relatively easy. Though, yes, even when it came to the other chap doing what YOU would do in the same circumstances, you needed to be reminded to put yourself in his shoes and see if you would act different. Empathy is one of those easily put to sleep emotions that has to be woken up in order to influence you.

Not any longer, it seems, this idea that you understand why the other chap does what he does by checking out what you would do in the same circumstances. To that extent, yes, empathy is lost. Like, when someone opposed to you complains of an action by someone belonging to your side, that chap is a hypocrite who cries foul only when it suits him; as can be readily proved by the fact that he did not complain about a similar action done by someone on 'his' side. When the vice versa happens, the other chap is indulging in 'Whataboutery' when he points out that YOU remained silent likewise. So, yeah, what is Whataboutery when the other guy does it is a legitimate counter-point to his hypocrisy when you do it.

I could possibly go on and on. When you call him names, you are merely identifying his nature; when he calls you names, he is indulging in ad hominem because he is unable to counter your arguments logically. When you disparage his religion, it is freedom of expression; when he disparages yours, it is fanning religious hatred. And so on. (There you go, getting precisely the wrong meaning. The idea is that YOU should not dismiss things airily as Whataboutery or call the other person names or disparage his religion. NOT that HE is justified in doing all that merely because you also do)

So, yeah, someone points out that, in his shoes, you would act the exact same way that he does and you'd say, "I am not such an evil person that I will BE in his shoes in the first place". And THAT is the death of empathy. For, the moment you see a different way of looking at the world as villainous why would you even WANT to empathize?

And, meanwhile, I can only remember a joke from a Tamil movie. "Un raththam rathham; en raththam thakkaali chutneyaa?" Loosely translated, it means, "When you are wounded, you shed blood; when I'm hurt, you see it as tomato sauce?"

That, roughly speaking, seems to be the state of empathy these days!

Monday, July 25, 2022


The strangest thing about humanity is that we are able to simultaneously hold two contradictory opinions and not even be aware that we are doing it. And, still, we consider ourselves a rational species.(I have said that before? So?)

When it comes to judging the actions of our fellow-men, the idea that the same action can be reprehensible or pardonable depending on the intent of the person doing it seems ridiculous. You have a clear idea about actions...whether YOU think it is good, bad or indifferent. THAT is final and the chap who does that action falls into that box, intent be damned.

And, yet, when it comes to ANY conversation, the lightest word that anyone may say, we dive right between the interpret his intent, his actual words be damned! AND intent is almost always determined based on who you think he IS and need not necessarily have any link to what he actually says.

I mean, like, let us hear someone say things in opposition, say, of a lynching. You dive right in, see who IS lynched, whether the chap who says it is seen as in the 'party' of the lyncher or the lynchee, so to speak. THEN, you start off on 'why did he not say this when that other person a couple of years back was lynched' and so on. Reacting to what you think is HIS intent...that of propagating HIS own philosophy and NOT any sympathy for the 'lynchee' or his revulsion for the barbaric practice of people feeling free to go on a rampage with scant regard for the law.

In small and big ways, every single conversation is marred with the search for Intent...whether you see the intent to put you down in the slightest criticism, or see larger things like casteism or patriarchy even in things that would pass as benevolent actions if there were no caste or gender relationships in the picture. AND, of course, these days you can hardly release a movie or write a book unless you have screened every single word and every single pixel to see what intent someone can read into it. Viva Social Media!

Reading intent is a great thing. If only people will spend more time on reading and correcting THEIR intent and not on working 24x7 trying to find fault with others' intent...But,  then, we are much more confident that we have divined other people's intent when we are totally unsure about our own.

One may as well dream of Faster-than-Light travel, I suppose, as to expect people to 'see the beam in their eye before seeing the mote in other people's eyes'. AND, who knows, FTL may come to pass sooner!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Philosophical questions?

I generally get astounded when I am accused of asking philosophical questions. I suppose I ought to feel flattered, and I would, but for an inconvenient fact. When you ask a question and someone says, "That's a philosophical question", it inevitably follows that the question is to be totally ignored. See, philosophy is all good when you are three pegs down and maundering about the thusness of things with your friends...much like most people's philanthropy know, the sort of thing that you just talk about in the abstract, not something meant to be...err...practical. Or meant to be practiced.

I mean, really, what is so automatically philosophical about asking, "What does success mean to you?" I mean, after all, whether becoming the fastest man to run the 100m sprint, or to become the CEO of a multinational or to be an entrepreneur is the meaning of success to you that will determine where you focus your efforts, right? What's philosophical about that?

Of course, the next question would get deeper. WHY do you choose that as your measure of success? Is it because you never feel more alive than when you are running at top speed or is it because you are seeking the fame and adulation that may follow? THAT's a different question...but still a practical question. Because, that'll let you know whether athletics is the only thing you want to do OR whether your skill-sets allows you other alternatives to pursue that adulation/fame/whatever.

Essentially, then, we are asking what makes you happy about success. When you choose what you want to do with life, is it not practical to follow that path which will make you the most happy? Are you never more happy than when you are partying with friends or does happiness mean curling with a book for you? Do you get your highs when you crack a difficult algorithm all by yourself or are you jumping with joy only when you succeed as a team? Are you never more alive than when you are risking life and limb doing rock-climbing or is it your idea of fun to be sipping whisky on a river cruise?

Now, if I were to follow through all those queries with a dissertation on how all mortal joys are ephemeral and the only true joy is...well, if THAT was where I was heading, you can accuse me of philosophy by all means. But, really, to ask you to know what you want...I mean, come on, don't you assess as much when you plan a effing vacation? Do you choose to travel by sea knowing you are prone to sea-sickness? OR climb mountains for a holiday when climbing a short flight of stairs leaves you panting?

The problem, I suppose, is that all of this ends up in your having to 'know yourself'. I mean, this 'Who am I?' seems to be the root of all philosophy. So, the moment someone asks you anything about yourself which is not in your CV, your knee-jerk reaction is 'Ah! Philosophy!'

AND, yes, then you think of it as something that is best left for the post-retirement period when you have nothing else to do but ponder about such 'useless' things...OR, as you may see it, things of the 'spirit' which is for the time when the body is giving way.

But, tell me, what chance do you have of knowing your place in the Cosmos when you do not even know what you like doing in your life?

Now THAT, I suppose, is going to be derided as philosophy, again!

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Unexpected Joys

With Kamalahasan's movie 'Vikram' trending all over on Social media, it was only a matter of time before something or the other about it crossed my timeline and piqued my interest. And so it did, this video interview of 'Agent Tina' aka Vasanthi, a barely noticed dance assistant so far but, suddenly, in a cameo that evoked applause and whistles in the theaters. Boy, the sheer unadulterated, and immense, joy in her face as she tried to express how it all felt.

It set me to wondering. I mean, if it were Rajinikant, say, whose scene was getting all that applause, would he be as ecstatic? It is almost axiomatic for his entry in any scene to be greeted by applause, so what is one more in his universe? As far as he is concerned, it would only be cause for grave disappointment if his scene does NOT get applause whereas if he does get applause it is just business as usual.

Expectations, as I have had occasion to say before, is the key. (As usual, repeating myself? Of course, it IS sort of EXPECTED. At my age, I am SUPPOSED to keep repeating myself otherwise I may be disqualified for the senior citizen benefits I am SO looking forward to in a couple of years.) The first time when anything happens, when you are not really expecting it, the pleasure is huge. Afterwards, and if it has happened regularly...

The first time you ever bit into a chocolate; the first time you had an icecream; your first love, yada yada...THOSE where when you had the most joy. After that, when you knew what to expect, the joy is much lesser. AND if you have anything very frequently, your expectations being met is sort of ho-hum. When it is NOT met you get pissed.

The same applies in your expectations of your own success. When first you succeed at anything, even your area of expertise, the high of the success is humongous. As time goes by, your own expectations will ensure that your successes starts seeming mundane. Especially in your own area of expertise. Which is why a 500 buck payout from your article getting published in a newspaper can give you a bigger high than the 2 Lakh salary that pops in every month.

Expectations are the biggest robbers of joy. When, in all that you do in life, success leaves you cold and failures depress you...well, that is a future where all you have to look forward to is boredom or depression, isn't it?

The route to joy, then, is either to rein in the expectations in what you do; OR try doing newer things where you have little reason to hold expectations!

Monday, June 20, 2022

On the average

We take decisions most of our lives based on what we think is true 'on the average'. I mean, it is sort of impossible to know everything and everyone, even if you are a supercomputer, so we  decide issues based on what is 'likely'. And, more often than not, we do not or cannot take the time to discover what is really the truth.

This is especially true when it comes to people. Get to the psychologists and they tell you that there is that which you do not know about yourself. There is this whole rigmarole about what you know about yourself and others also know, what you know but others do not know, what other know and you do not know and what nobody knows! Given that, how is it even possible for you to know the other guy. So, yes, you ASSUME...and to hell with the guy who said that ASSUME means ASS-U-ME. It's fine being an ass, after all, if you are in the company of other asses. Who wants to stick out like a sore thumb?

So, yes, we work on this 'on the average' basis. What the jargon may call a baseline. Like, if you hear of two guys in a fight with one guy being the aggressor AND hear that one is a Tamilian and the other a Punjabi, who do you automatically conclude to be the likely aggressor? The same duo, one lavish wedding and one so-so wedding and if you had to match the man to the wedding, what is your match-up?

Yup, in the absence of any other information, we draw baselines on gender, community, race, profession, whatever. ALL of us, no matter our inclinations, perforce adopt some 'on the average' ideas when dealing with people, especially relative strangers.

Baselines are all good...for starters. Because you have no data to come to any other conclusion. Once you DO interact more with the person, the need is to alter your initial ideas about her to suit what you now know of her. Therein comes the problem. Confirmation bias IS a thing. So, yes, if you think a Tamilian is a 'kanjoos' and you find him spending generously, it is 'Pata nahin aaj kya ho gaya isko'. OR, in other words, his behavior is aberrant on that day. To selectively see and/or interpret behavior to suit your preconceived notion...THAT is more often than not the norm. Which is why most people NEVER change their baseline opinions about anyone, no matter how much evidence exists to the contrary.

Between generations, there IS a bigger problem. There is no real agreement on what IS the 'average' behavior. For example, in my times, Society had a strong taboo against women dressing up in anything other than 'feminine' attire. Middle class Society, especially. Which in effect meant that most parents ENFORCED that attire for fear of facing social opprobrium. To wear jeans, say, automatically indicated that the girl was a rebel or her parents were progressive BECAUSE they had to swim against the social tide. Given that, if you saw a girl in jeans, your 'on the average' assumption was that she was more likely to be outgoing, less likely to be hung up about matters of love and sex. THAT is no longer valid as the 'on the average' assumption today. Women wearing jeans has become so normal that it takes no rebellious nature to spur it. So, the old, who still operate on a dated baseline, tend to make judgments which are no longer in sync with the current world.

A country like India, with widely disparate social mores across states and across the rural-urban divide, has people who operate on such widely varying 'on the average' assumptions about other people that it boggles the mind. No wonder people have such strange and such varying ideas about what sort of people others are!

At the end of the day, none of us can escape having to deal with people based on our own ideas of 'on the average' behavior. The trick is to always remember that it is JUST the first-cut analysis and that you should be willing to modify it till it approximates what the other person really is like.

Otherwise, it will be like the elephant which drowned on account of choosing to cross a river because the average depth of the river made it seem safe!

Monday, June 13, 2022

The 'ist' phenomenon

Sometimes, you run into interesting things on Facebook. (Well, if I did not why would I be spending so much time on Zuckerberg's monster-child?) One of those interesting things that I ran into was this ad posted by a friend on his timeline. 

Far be it from me to wax eloquent on exactly what 'opiniated' means...I assume that it is what us baby-boomers (wrongly) think should be 'opinionated'. And, yes, the thing about 30+ woman wanting 'strictly' a 25-28 year old handsome, well-built lad only, who knows cooking and strictly avoids gas emissions from either end, with applications to be sent to that rather in-your-face email address does seem to make this ad a STATEMENT and not really intended seriously.

Still...I mean, 'works against capitalism and wants someone with a well-established business (not one of those start-ups which may or may not survive), a min. 20 acre farmhouse and bungalow'? I get it, you are trying to spoof demands by bridegrooms from brides but 'works against capitalism' isn't necessary for spoofing THAT. I mean, does it seem like a great recipe for matrimonial harmony for a bride who works against capitalism to be married to a groom with an established business and all that jazz?

To even think that someone who really 'works against capitalism' COULD consider it desirable to marry a rich businessman groom shows an understanding of capitalism, socialism and communism that will boggle Marx. Though, yes, it IS a fact that humanity IS like that. Climate activists can routinely drive SUVs; people can fight for woman's rights AND still defend the IMPOSITION of repressive dress codes in select communities; people can fight tooth and nail about freedom of expression when some books are banned and simultaneously propagate 'cancelling' others...and indignantly deny that any of their actions are in violation of their own values. The very thought that, say, FoE applies equally to those hateful books as to the books they prefer feels absurd.

I had always thought that you choose to follow an ideology...become an 'ist'...after completely understanding it. After all, unlike what you study in college, you are under no compulsion to pick and follow one. And can probably live a complete life and die in peace without ever finding an appropriate label to stick on yourself. So, I had thought that anyone who calls themselves a Socialist, say, has taken the trouble of understand the differences in economic systems and found Socialism the best option in his opinion. I am weird that way. (In every way? THAT, my dear Sir, is ad hominem and it is wrong even when you do it to another and not only when you have it done unto you.)

Apparently, you pick a label and stick it to yourself, probably based on the fact that you hate the only capitalist you know OR because your friends are all Socialists or some such. THEN, you pick up the tenets of the belief system as and when an issue crops up. And, again, probably based on what your circle thinks about it. Having labeled yourself first, you are now not at liberty to pick and choose beliefs...IF everyone believes that a government policy is, say, anti-Socialistic, why then it IS anti-socialistic and you cannot opine otherwise! (Remember what I said about things being a facet of your personality and things becoming your identity? In my previous post? THAT is the problem...if opining otherwise will cost you your identity, and the circle of friends that you built around that identity, then it's stupidly stubborn to hold on to that opinion, isn't it?)

And, so, you have all sorts of self-proclaimed 'ists' running around who probably would astound the originators of those 'isms' when they give voice to what they understand that 'ism' to stand for. Why, you probably even have the proponents of non-violence who proudly proclaim that they will bash the heads in of anyone who does not agree with non-violence!

Me? Did I not say I was a Boomer? A time when people found it quite normal to live and die without having to identify themselves as any 'ist'. Simpler times, thank God! (Yup, I am not an Atheist, either, though I'd not bother to label myself a Theist and fight Social media battles!)