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, no...you 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? Or...you 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 friends...now 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 so...no? 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.

But...in these days when people start yawning midway through a tweet because Twitter has made it possible to have tweets all of 240 characters long...in 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 divisiveness...no 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?"

"Yes!"

"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.

"Yes!"

"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?

"Yes!"

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

Intent

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 lines...to 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 really...you 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!)

Monday, June 6, 2022

Changing your mind

"If you cannot change your mind, you cannot change anything." I read this somewhere on Social Media and was surprised. I mean, the people who changed the world had, hitherto, seemed to me the sort who were convinced that only they were right and, if the entire world disagreed with them, it is the world that was insane.

But, yes, there was a grain of truth in that, certainly. If you cannot see the world in any manner other than your own, you can be as certain as you please that the world is insane but it is most likely that it is YOU who will be in the straitjacket. To APPEAR sane to the world, it is necessary that you see the world from other points of view, if only to know how to convince the rest of the world that you are right. (AND, make no mistake, you will have to CONVINCE even where it is a matter of saving THEIR lives. The essential rightness of anyone's position does not shine out with the same luster in other people'e eyes.)

Of course, to start with you had to have changed your mind. After all, if you are currently not a mental clone of your parents, if you have radically different beliefs from the people around you, it MUST have been because you changed your mind about the world from what you originally had been taught to believe. So, yes, unless you CAN change your mind, you cannot change anything.

Changing your mind about beliefs that are based on some facts are relatively easy to change. Once you are exposed to new information. (Yeah, yeah, I know that nowadays the new information that floats around can confirm ANY belief since facts are as easily manufactured as opinions.) Which is why, when it comes to scientific hypotheses, modifying them in the light of new facts is relatively easy. (Stop carping, will ya? I said RELATIVELY. I know that even scientists can hug their beliefs and cherry-pick their facts to suit.)

It is the beliefs that have very little or no factual basis which are difficult to dislodge. Given that the belief exists only because we have always believed in it, the tenacity of the belief is astounding. Like, hey, I shall get innumerable houris in Paradise if I do this. Like, eat this and you are condemned to everlasting damnation. I mean, hardly anyone can come back and confirm or deny them, so no facts CAN emerge to change the belief. (Though, I am reasonably sure that, comes the Metaverse, we will have even THAT happening in what passes for facts these days.)

The problem, also, is when the belief ceases to be just an opinion and becomes an identity. I am a Theist, I am a Capitalist, I am a Liberal, I am a Socialist, what have you. Because, now, to change your mind about ANYTHING that belongs as part of your pet canon ceases to be merely a question of modifying your point of view about one facet of Society and becomes tantamount to a loss of identity. You form a circle of friends based on your identity and to lose the identity loses you friends. So, there you are, frozen in mind about what you believe in and incapable of changing your mind about any facet of it.

The funny thing about beliefs which turn into identities is that you CAN have your mind changed but YOU cannot change your mind. Because, when you develop an identity around a belief system and develop your circle of friends around that identity, peer pressure pushes you into believing whatever your circle believes in. And the 'thought-leaders' of those circles will be following a leader or a set of leaders. Presto, your mind can be changed by what those leaders decide. Of course, if their decision run radically counter to what went on before, you may seize control of your mind. Which is why, like I said before in a post, real leaders slowly turn you by stages to the way they want you to go. They do not make abrupt U-turns.

Essentially, therefore, for you to be a leader, YOU have to be able to change your mind...not one of those who have their minds changed for them.

And thus it was that I was proud when I had occasion to say, "I have changed my mind."

Pat came a reply, straight from some book I think, "Good! The one you were using was pretty pathetic."

Uhoh!

Monday, May 30, 2022

Failure

I think I have said this before. The problem with digitization of the world is the people seem to have also decided to go digital. I mean, like, we used to sort of think of things in an 'analog' fashion before. It was not like 'Success' or 'Failure'; it was more like you got placed somewhere on the continuum between failure and success.

Like, you could be more successful than a few, less successful than most; more successful than half, less successful than the other half and so on. NOW, if you are not a 'Winner', you are a 'Loser', there ends the tale.

But this 'either this or that' seems to span almost every topic discussed. Take Failure for example. There is a difference between 'I failed at something' and 'I am a failure'. Failing at something can happen because of a variety of reasons; to be a failure would mean that YOU are doomed to fail at EVERYTHING. And, to the extent that you ASSUME that you are a failure when you merely have failed at something, you WILL be a failure. There is such a thing called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This, though, sort of seems to reduce itself to 'It's not my fault that I failed' and 'It's only my fault that I failed' when people consider it. Cos, they assume, that to think it is their fault is to dub themselves a failure. And, so, IF you only failed at something and do not consider yourself a failure, it seems to automatically mean that the failure happened NOT because of you...it rained at the wrong time, the VC was in a bad mood that day, yada yada.

THAT is the problem with a digital view of the world. See, 'I am a failure' may not be correct because THAT says you are no good at ANYTHING. But that does not automatically mean that any failure happened despite you doing everything right.

To not let repeated failures to cause you to define yourself as a failure, we always hark back to Edison and his repeated attempts at creating the electric lamp...till he succeeded. But was his second attempt the exact same as his first, hoping that the universe would grace him with success this time? Or did he try to see WHAT could have gone wrong in what he had done the first time, try to change things around...over and over till he got it right?

THAT is the point more easily seen when it is an technology thing, but not as easily visible when it comes to your own attitudes, aptitudes and character. You may fail because you lack sufficient talent to rise above the crowd in THAT area; you may fail because your approach was wrong; you may fail because you failed to carry your people along...the point is that every failure needs to be evaluated for what you need to change in the way you work - is it the wrong area, do you need expertise which you currently lack, do you need to do things differently, what?

Failures are stepping stones to success, yes, provided you use them as learning experiences. Otherwise failures would only be the treadmill on which you keep running till you drop...out!

The gap between 'I have failed' and 'I am a failure' exists ONLY when you (a) refuse to see YOURSELF as a failure because you failed at something and (b) Understand what your own specific failings were that contributed to that failure and correct them.

Fail to do that and that gap vanishes. And you could be the person, who cannot carry a tune in a bucket, trying to become the next S.P. Balasubramaniam or Mohd. Rafi!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Last I checked...

The way language changes can get pretty much dizzying. No, no, no, this is not that usual diatribe on how 'hv' is standing in for 'have' and the rest of that drama about the ways of social media. (Though, yes, THAT is another of my pet peeves but I'm not harping on it this time)

Like, there was a time when 'gay' stood for being happy. Now, of course, if I said 'I am gay', hardly anyone is likely to think that I'm talking about how I'm jumping up in the morning and singing like a lark out of sheer joie-de-vivre. (What was that? THAT would make a lot of people around me unhappy? Was I talking about MY happiness or theirs?)

Of late, I find that 'huge' is out of favor. I can understand. I mean, like, 'huge' is such a small word to indicate something massive. So, quite naturally, everyone loves to say 'humongous'. Now THAT seems like something really large, does it not? Though, yeah, in time, I suppose, people will accuse me of using difficult words in my writing, making them rush to the dictionary, if I used 'huge' instead of 'humongous'. But then that is nothing new to me.

But this usage of 'inhale' for eating has me worried. Maybe it is just that I'm coming across it just now, but I see a lot of 'He inhaled a couple of burgers' and 'After inhaling a pizza...' and so on, these days. I'm apprehensive nowadays especially about eating out. I mean, how do I know that, post-Covid, it is not considered unhealthy to take off your mask totally, even for eating? And, therefore, people have developed a way to keep the mask over the mouth and push food through their nose? I have nightmares of being ejected by bouncers from a restaurant for committing the unpardonable crime of eating with my mouth instead of inhaling my food.

Though, perhaps, I am over-thinking things here. After all, these days people also devour their books, not being content with merely reading them. To think that, nowadays, people prefer chomping on their books...even what passes for my mind boggles. So, perhaps, it is just that people use nasal words for what they do with their mouths, oral words for what they do with their eyes and so on...I wish someone will let me know what people do with music these days.

To be sure, a bit of what has changed has changed because of social media. Or so I think. (Oh, NOT about the spelling, really, though that is always there.) Like, there was a time when someone puts up 'learned' arguments for why the Earth is flat and I said, "You have convinced me. Now I'm afraid of falling off the edge", almost everyone would understand that I am being ironical. Nowadays, though, you'd find a battalion of guys calling you names for being a flat-earther. So, you add a 'Not' at the end, thus: 'I am afraid of falling off the edge. Not.' Just to ensure that your irony is understood as irony and not as your scientific conclusion about the nature of the Earth.

But there is one thing, though, worthy of appreciation these days. People keep checking up things. Like, if you countered someone's opinions, they'd come across with 'Last I checked, India is a democracy and I have Freedom of Expression.' Alas, I'm so lazy that I do not periodically check on such important things like they do. (Though, yes, when YOU express an opinion that THEY do not like, they would shut you up. Those must be the times when there was a time delay in their checking process and they must have assumed that FoE was suspended for the nonce.)

Things like this 'Last I checked..'; like saying 'Sue me' when someone complains about your being late to a party...I think of them as jokes gone stale. The first guy must have used it humorously and raised a laugh. But they have been SO overused that you cannot even raise the energy to groan now about their usage.

What was that? You are getting bored with my old man diatribes? I shall stop them. Not. Last I checked, India is still a democracy and I have FoE. I'm putting you to sleep? Sue me!

Monday, May 16, 2022

Do what you enjoy?

The world of memes beats me really. Including, of course, the wonder and appreciation they seem to invariably invoke despite the fact that the things they say are banal AND that, even when they are true, they are not the whole truth!

That's the reason why the 'wisdom' of the memes very seldom seem to be useful to people in real life. The surge of energy and enthusiasm which pushes you on day 1, peters out almost before the sun sets on that day. Because wisdom is not readily acquired in convenient bite-sized (or is it byte-sized these days?) mouthfuls of chocolate-coated words.

I mean, take this 'Do what you enjoy and you will never work a day in your life'. Seems apparent, does it not? If you love what you are doing, then doing it does not seem like work, does it? Nice, easy, simple and so stupid that people do not adopt such a easy route to happiness!

You LOVE cricket? Nice! And you are going to do it and not work a day of your life? Great! Love the idea of getting up almost before the sun and practicing in the nets? Fielding practice - does that seem like work or play? A couple of hours at the gym every goddamn day - your idea of joy? Cannot gorge on your favorite biryani when you please, that's just what you were looking forward to in life? Going out of form, bowlers finding a  way of exploiting your weaknesses, reengineering yourself by diligent practice to iron them out...that has you singing and dancing all day? And...

Love being an actor? How about starving yourself and working out to get those six-packs? About dancing in summer clothing when the weather is freezing? How about having to act joyous and bubbly when you have a fever?

And, please note, I have not even talked about all that you may need to do otherwise to GET to be a cricketer or an actor...and STAY one! Like having to stay polite to trolls, for example!

Nothing, but nothing, in life is FULLY enjoyable! Success in ANY area comes only when you are as willing to do those portions which you do not like - with the same dedication - as those portions which you DO like! This STUPID idea that you will 'not have to work a single day in your life' is the biggest stumbling block to success. Unless you can make yourself LIKE what you originally did not!

For every successful man in any area there are a hundred who, with the same or more talent, failed. Misfortune may well be the reason why the others failed...including the misfortune of having believed that they 'ought to' enjoy every day of their life. And, therefore, refusing to do what they did not like, but which was necessary to do, in pursuit of success in what they did love to do!

Yup, it's a joy to work in an area which excites you. To expect EVERYTHING, which you need to do in the process, to be fun...THAT is stupidity.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Good, Better, Best

This business of praising people, I thought, was a certain way of only giving pleasure to others. Till, of course, I actually started practicing it. Ye Gods! The amount of ill-will you can actually create, the raging battles that you can set off merely by the act of praising someone!

You know, way back in school, I was taught this thing about the positive, the comparative and the superlative.(What was that? Drat it, I do so remember what I was taught in school - so what if it is one lesson in a hundred?) So, yes, you can call someone good, you can call someone better and you can call someone the best in order to praise them. And you know...you sort of get the impression that 'better' is...err...better than 'good' and 'best' is, of course, the best of all!

So, yeah, your spouse whips up a damn good sambar and do you just say, "Wow! This is good?" Come on, what sort of praise is THAT? So, of course, you have to say, "This is better than my mother's sambar" and...well...your SPOUSE may be pleased but your mother...! AND, if you are really really messed up (Or, as they say, if Saturn is controlling your tongue) you'd say, "This is the BEST sambar I have ever tasted," and invite the wrath of the entire lot of cooks in your family!

And so it goes! Virat Kohli cannot just be a great batsman; he HAS to be either a better batsman than Sachin OR the best batsman ever. (What's that technical term? Ah! Greatest of all times - GOAT! Though, when a different person is a GOAT depending almost on the day of the week...) Dhoni cannot just be a great captain, he has got to be a better captain than Ganguly if not the best ever! And the battle rages all over social media thereafter!

It seems like some sort of curse that people cannot praise someone without pulling down someone else. If not pulling down EVERYONE else! Reminds me of what they say about the gunfighters of the West. Apparently, people used to talk of who was the best, who would kill who if they fought each other, and so on and so on...till they created the situation where the twain met and one died. It's not that they are bloodthirsty, it's just that they HAVE to argue and it never crosses their pea-sized brains that a man has to die to prove them right...or wrong!

Comes to praise, 'good' is good, 'better' can get bad and 'best' can get downright ugly!

Monday, May 2, 2022

Small Talk

I never really ever like what people call small talk, perhaps because I never was good at it. Small talk seemed mostly to involve the weather when first I had it used on me. 'Kya garmi hai' was where it used to start when I first hit Delhi in the month of May.

On the first day, of course, I joined in vigorously, having never before encountered the furnace heat that Delhi specialized in. True that Chennai, from where I had set out, is nobody's idea of a hill-station but it did provide some relief in the mornings and evenings with the sea-breeze. Delhi's breezes were, if anything, hotter than the Sun itself and, on their more enthusiastic days, laden with sand. So, yes, the first few days, it was all new and interesting to talk about.

But, you know what, after the tenth day of entering the office and responding to 'Kya Garmi hai' from some twenty people, it started palling on me. I mean, if the dratted place was going to KEEP being hot for most of the year, it does get monotonous to keep talking about the same thing every day. And, then, comes winter and you exchange 'Kya garmi hai' to 'Kya tand hai' and keep doing it for the next two-to-three months.

See what I mean? You need a special gene to say the same thing day after day and also FEEL like you are imparting some new and interesting information to the rest of the world. Not to mention the fact that EVERYONE is in the same city and is expected to be experiencing the same weather but you should say it with all the enthusiasm of a TV reporter telling his audience the 'Breaking News' that not only he, but every cohort of his, have been blathering about for the past 6 hours. THAT is an ability that must have been distributed when I was taking a loo break for it never was given to me.

Anyway, I never did take to small talk and used to be impatient with it. Conversation, I had always felt, should have more substance, something informative, something of relevance to Society.

Till I ran into people talking such things. And I find that, these days at least, people seldom CONVERSE about things of relevance. As in, they do not DISCUSS such things. They merely use those things to judge others, to troll them, to wish them ill, to fight them and, generally, to convert what should be a social drama into a full-fledged Arnold Schwarzenegger mayhem movie. Now THAT is a shade too...bloody...for me.

So, now, I have come to pine for the good old Small Talk. When people just talked about how hot it was and agreed companionably. Now I realize the virtues of small talk.

But...

'Kya garmi hai'

'Haan! Jabse Modi PM bane, it is getting hotter by the day.'

'Nonsense! When Nehru was PM, the country suffered from drought for consecutive years. Since 2014...'

Ye Gods! NOTHING is safe these days! Nothing!

Monday, April 25, 2022

Offensive uncertainty

The thing about social media is that you get to know mainly of what offends people, what outrages them. After a few hours on it, you get a certain impression about human beings as being compressed cans of outrage in search of a reason to vent; as frowns of displeasure trawling the world for reasons to be displeased.

It is a given, of course, that people assume offense in anything that others do if those others belong to a different belief system from their own. Also, of course, if you dislike a person he can scarcely draw a breath without offending you. Now these are areas where the offense arises because you are certain about the other person...the blackest of villains who God, in an off moment, inflicted on Earth.

In the bygone days, when interactions between people involved swords and maces and such as often as they involved words, showing open hands in one form or the other was an indication that, this time, the intention was to interact using words. Thus, empty hand = no weapon = peaceful intent. Manners, you see, started off like that. When you are uncertain about the other person, you had these prescribed ritual actions which indicated his intentions.

And, thus, starts the taking of offense because of uncertainty. You are the boss, you walk in to the office and some people do not wish you. "How dare they disrespect me?" comes from the uncertainty of whether you are truly respected or not. True, humanity being the perverse creation that it is (God must have created the whole damn lot of us in an off moment, it seems to me at times), people DO try to push their boundaries all the time but if YOU walk around in a perpetual haze of outrage at that chap not noticing you walk behind his desk and this chap peering into his laptop instead of looking reverently at you and so on...well, THAT outrage comes from your own uncertainty. Impostor syndrome or some such learned label, I think, applies.

Where then does this come from, you think? "You do not even care to remember our anniversary," and so on? The uncertainty about whether the other person really cares for you or not, right? It is not that date, it is how important she thinks you are in her life which is the issue there.

The outrage about a friend not coming over to your wedding, about a colleague not inviting you to a party which you could not have gone to anyway, about your child not opting for the choice of course that you suggest...how much of it is outrage because you are uncertain about your importance in their life?

And so, after years of diligent practice, you now get offended and outraged by the form of things with scant regard to the substance. Like a spouse caring two hoots about being really loved as long as the anniversary gift arrives!

But, then, what's the use of substance? It's the form that can be shared on Instagram!

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Righteous and the Self-righteous

"Too many people are getting righteous these days. That's the problem with the world," I declaimed.

You know how it is. One of those days where you feel that only you have the insight into how to make the world a cleaner, better place. Like it happens with all of us every now and then. Of course, if that's the way you feel all the time, you become a social reformer or a politician or, at least, a social media pest...err...influencer.

"Who screamed at you for smoking in a public place today?"

There you go! This is the problem with people...you can hardly discuss anything at a conceptual level without someone making personal remarks.

"That's not what I mean, drat it. What I'm talking of is this thing about getting righteous about the way you dress, what you eat, yada yada."

"Are you talking about being righteous or being self-righteous?"

"What's the big difference?"

I mean, really! This thing about nit-picking on words is getting to be too much.

"Well, being righteous is trying to control what YOU do in accordance to your own morality. Being self-righteous starts where you try to control what OTHERS do in accordance to YOUR morality."

"So, you mean that I'm not allowed to propagate my own morals?"

"I suppose there is no point in having morals if you cannot flaunt them."

You know, somehow, that did not seem complimentary...or even supportive.

"No, that's not what..."

"Or, perhaps, you think that righteousness is when YOU are enforcing YOUR morals. And self-righteousness is when the other guy is."

THIS happens every time. How is it that I cannot even wish a guy 'Good morning' without the conversation ending in a listing of my own inadequacies?

"So, what IS self-righteousness? Is it righteous ONLY when I silently practice my morals and becomes self-righteous if I try to convince another guy to do so?"

"Convince! THAT's the operative word," he said.

I was absurdly pleased. To think that I could contribute as important a thing as an operative word!

He immediately set about taking the wind out of my sails.

"Of course you do not realize what 'convince' means. The idea of 'convincing' STARTS with the conception that the other person may have SOME legitimacy to his view-point, if only that of custom. AND, so, you need him to be convinced to see things a different way. Self-righteousness does not operate that way."

"And HOW does it operate?"

"A self-righteous ass ASSUMES that the other guy is either a fool OR a villain! More often than not, the latter. Self-righteousness does not believe in convincing people, only in judging them."

"In my opinion, that's also righteousness. It's only a play on semantics to call it by a different name."

"Opinions are like arseholes, as someone said. Everyone has them"

"Well, if everyone has them, why can't I?" I said triumphantly. 

He was silent for a second. Aha! Maybe this was going to be one of those rare times when I got the last word!

Then, he said, "The problem with opinions is not where they are the same as arseholes. It is in where they are different."

"In what way?" I asked, incautiously.

"Comes to arseholes, everyone has them but almost noone is eager to flaunt them in public."

Uhoh!

Monday, April 11, 2022

Success and Happiness - Concluded

If you indeed have been going through this series on 'Success and Happiness', it would seem to you that Serotinin-the mood stabilizer; Endorphins - the painkiller/pleasure chemicals; Dopamine - the Reward chemical; and Oxytocin - the Love chemical exist in watertight compartments. It was convenient to discuss them that way but, in reality, they tend to coexist. AND more than one get produced by the same activity.

When you go running, for example, the sunshine improves your serotonin levels and the exertion kicks off the endorphins. If you also have target timings to achieve, the achievement of the targets will give you a dopamine high. AND, if you are doing it as a part of a group practicing for a Marathon, the camaraderie kicks off the Oxytocin as well.

That is not only an example, it is also to tell you that you can tailor an activity to increase your happiness levels. Even in the pursuit of success. You'd have heard about the highs of a small group involved in a start-up. The 'we are in it together' feel that sets off oxytocin, the joy of doing what you want to do which comes from dopamine and serotonin - that's the sort of joy which is hard to replicate in a established organisation unless the organisation itself provides the environment for it.

The pursuit of success in an area which you love to work in, in conducive company, in a healthy, non-obsessive manner, and where you can still spare the time to round off your life with non-work related relationships and activities IS a pursuit which can actually enhance happiness.

Too often, people think of blindly pursuing success and, having achieved it, devoting the rest of life to the pursuit of happiness. THAT's the sort of plan that works successfully as often as an aspiring actor in Bollywood becoming a Shah Rukh Khan.

More often than not, what happens is that either success eludes you or you have lost your relationships by then or you have lost your life before then.

Life is short and uncertain. It is not wrong to aspire to the fruits on top of the mountain. What is abysmally stupid is to keep your eyes so focused on those fruits that you ignore all the berries on the way.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Success and Happiness - V

The one thing that gets everyone interested is this word 'Love'. I should have titled this post the 'Love Chemical', perhaps, because that is what Oxytocin is - the chemical that causes the happiness related to love.

It is not just romantic love which sets off the Oxytocin. All human relations - parental, sibling, friendships, camaraderie - and even your relationship with your pets gives you a Oxytocin rush. That 'Jaadu ki jappi' - the high of hugging - is a Oxytocin high.

Forming lasting relationships, relationships which you can lean back on IS the one source of happiness which can be said to raise your mean level of happiness. All the others are happiness of the moment - there for that time and then gone unless you repeat the experience.

Relationships though come with attendant risk. GOOD relationships give you joy but purely good relationships exist only in your fantasies. All relationships also carry an element of stress - where the mutual expectations mismatch and, thus, come with a proportion of unhappiness. To nurture the happiness and to, over a period of time, reduce the friction is the hallmark of good relations. Toxic relationships tend to end up maximizing anxiety and stress for at least one of the parties to the relationship.

Success - the achievement of goals in the broadest sense and commonly understood to be the achievement of career goals - can and does, as it seems to more often than not, get in the way of Oxytocin. 

You can neither develop or sustain a healthy relationship without spending time continuously on it. AND people tend to take away time from relationships to give to the pursuit of success. After all, the time needed by relationships is seldom 'URGENT' - as in needed at exactly THAT moment - whereas urgency is the middle name of a career pursuit.

And, so, while piously intoning 'Never let the urgent overwhelm the important', you miss your kid's birthday for that urgent presentation; send your family on a vacation while you attend the eighteenth important meeting on cost control in the last 2 months; religiously 'like' your boss' post on balancing work and life from his golfing holiday while he has ensured you slave in your office on your wedding anniversary on the urgent report he requires the moment he comes back to office...and, at the end of it all, scream about how ungrateful your children are for all the sacrifices you made for their well-being.

Your nature can make things even worse. If you start seeing people around you as rivals who are to be overcome; casual acquaintances and friends in terms of whether they are less or more 'successful' than you; every setback as the Universe's conspiracy to ensure that you do not succeed...in short, if you make 'success' an obsession, rest assured that happiness of any sort can never stay with you for any length of time.

Happiness CAN coexist with a pursuit of success. If you pick the right way, happiness can be a result of the pursuit of success.

What Happiness cannot exist with IS an obsession for success.