Monday, January 31, 2022

Silence not always golden?

Vagai arindhu vallavai vaaisoraar sollin thogaiyarindha thooimaiyavar - Thirukkural

He who knows his words and subject should not let fear muzzle him in front of the powerful - Loose Translation

You know the problem with Tiru? He writes what seems like haiku but the blessed man does not allow you any leeway to conveniently interpret his words. I mean, like, if you had 'The bird soars high in the sky;  petals floating unseen' or some such cryptic haiku, you could suit yourself in assuming the meaning. You could say, "Ah! The chap says you should rise high to be noticed; going with the current is futile" if you are the sort who is always rushing about changing the world. You could say, "The chap is saying that each one must be true to his nature, soar high or float with the current." OR you could claim, "What a wise man! He is saying that the world gets taken in by flamboyance and does not appreciate the serene." THAT sort of flexibility our Tiru does not permit.

Now, see this one. If you know your words and your subject, Tiru does not allow you to remain silent because you are afraid of the consequences of voicing them in the presence of a powerful and hostile audience. (Why am I adding in 'hostile' there? Really? Ever heard of anyone being afraid of preaching to the choir?) True, he has earlier said that you should choose your words to suit your audience but that is only related to the way you DRESS up the truth; it does not allow you to morph or hide the truth.

The blessed chap does not allow you to even remain silent, for God's sake! No, you HAVE to voice the truth or, possibly, be taken for someone who does NOT know his words and subject. By his standards, to get to be known as a wise man is a very arduous and hazardous undertaking.

You can sort of see his point, though. I mean, like, if Galileo had kept to himself his idea that the entire Universe did not actually revolve around the Earth, would he be known as a scientist? If Einstein had hugged to himself the thought that only he knew relativity, for fear of opposition by the scientific community of his day, wouldn't he be absolutely obscure?

The chap who waits till all opposition has melted away before speaking of his ideas is more likely to be a figure of fun. I mean, come on, do you really say, "Wow!" and look admiringly at a man who says, "I discovered the theory of relativity two years before Einstein"? Or do you tell him, "And it was you who banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, I'm sure"?

The fact of the matter is that, these days, it is the man who says it first who is credited with the wisdom. Even if the other guy discovered it first. There is some story about the credit for Calculus to that effect.

When it comes to knowing things, but not actually being the inventor or discoverer of the knowledge, things may get murkier about opening your mouth on it...but that is for later.

So, yeah, when it comes to new discoveries and inventions, it is more important to talk about it, to spread the information of your having done it far and wide, than to actually discover or invent it.

He who talks is considered more wise than he who actually does it, after all!

Monday, January 24, 2022

To show or not to show?

 Oliyarmun olliyar aadhal veliyarmun vaansudhai vannam kolal - Thirukkural

Display your wisdom in the company of the wise; with fools, be as blank as white plaster - Loose Translation

Aha! I think I can do that second thing rather readily. To appear as blank as white plaster - to appear ignorant, in other words - to the fools. I mean, to seem ignorant, to anyone, is child's play to me. I would not even need to put on any act. It is that other thing that's tough. Display wisdom in the company of the wise? Where do I go for wisdom?

For once, though, there is something that Tiru says which has been said by a lot of people. Though, perhaps, if one dated all these things Tiru could, possibly, claim plagiarism. Unless, of course, he chooses to imitate 'white plaster' by applying his own advice.

You know, there is this rather pithy saying, "Never argue with fools. They will drag you down to their own level and beat you because of greater experience" or some such. That's about what Tiru is also saying. Though he says something about displaying wisdom in the presence of the wise which we will ignore on the grounds that to display something you need to have it in the first place.

Though, perhaps, Tiru is going one step further with his advice. He is not merely saying that you should not engage in arguments with fools. He is saying that you should appear ignorant to them. Which essentially means that you do not even engage in any meaningful conversation with them. That way there is not even a possibility of any argument starting.

What price 'picking your words to suit your audience', you ask? Tiru apparently believes that, comes to fools, the only useful word is the hum of silences...if silence indeed hums! To be sure, he has his own definition of fools. Ignorance does not qualify someone as a fool, opinionated ignorance does. And when idiocy is coupled with certainty, it can drive the wise mad.

The problem with Tiru is that he assumes that you will always know who you are dealing with. That sort of blessed certainty comes from the more innocent times he lived in.

How on Earth am I supposed to know who is reading me on Facebook or Twitter? But, then, why am I worrying? THAT's the problem of the wise.

Ignorance IS bliss!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Wasted advice?

 Unarvadhudaiyarmun sollal valavardhul paatthiyul neer sorindhatru - Thirukkural

To impart advice to he who understands it himself is akin to watering plants that are capable of growing by themselves - Loose Translation

There are times when you feel that, perhaps, Tiru lived in times when men had a totally different idea about how to go about living. Yeah, I know, I know, they DID live a different life - no Uber, no Zomato, no Amazon - but THAT is not what I mean. You tend to assume that some things remain the same, interpersonal relationships being the predominant one. But, even there...

You see, about the greatest leadership talent that we see working most successfully is to identify which way the mob is running and run a couple of steps ahead of it. Or, if you are not inclined to too much physical exertion, you just tell them to do what they intend doing anyway and, perhaps, throw in a few more philosophical or moral reasons for why it is important for them to do what they anyway want to do. THAT, then, makes them look up to you as the wisest man they ever knew.

And Tiru says that it is a waste! That to give advice to someone, who already knows it, is akin to watering a plant that is growing nicely without your interference. 

Come on! Isn't it the whole point of advice to boost your own prestige? To tell someone to do something that he has anyway started to do -  does that not make you look like someone who has authority over the other person? To advice someone on something when he anyway intends doing it - does that not make it possible for you to claim that it was your advice which made him do it? I mean, your prestige gets boosted doing all that, does it not? So how can that be a waste?

Tiru must have lived in strange times. Instead of counting usefulness in terms of how it affects YOU, they seemed to have considered it in terms of whether it altered the other person's actions. If it did not alter anything, it was useless to give the advice apparently. Ye Gods!

Thankfully, we live in times when, even when we scream of making change happen, we are careful to check whether we are in sync with our own choir! Otherwise, nobody will consider us wise!

Monday, January 10, 2022

Suit your audience?

Avai arindhu aaraaindhu solluga sollin thogaiyarindha thooimaiyavar - Thirukkural

The pure and learned man picks his words to suit his audience - Loose Translation

Wow! I knew it! Our ancestors had all the knowledge that the world has ever seen or ever will see. And what foresight! I knew Tiru was one heck of a wise man but to see how far back he had anticipated the necessity to tailor your facts to suit your audience is truly astounding! In an era where the only tweeters flitted from tree to tree and Facebook would have meant reading those things with a couple of eyes, nose and know, just above the neck...reading the expressions on that thing to see if what the mouth is saying is what the mind is thinking...where was I? Ah! In THAT era, to anticipate the need to create facts to suit your audience!

But...WAIT a minute! We may have had nuclear weapons at the time of the Mahabharat and, at least, one prototype aircraft from the days of the Ramayan, yes, but I certainly do not think that Tiru knew, all those many centuries ago, the importance of creating FACTS to suit his audience. Or even that it was possible. Those were, you know, more...err...innocent days when they still believed that a fact was a fact, regardless of who your audience was. AND he actually talks about the 'pure and learned man', the sort we have relegated to books of fantasy. (Not even there? We now only believe in the existence of a***holes of various degrees, even in fantasy? Alas!)

So, then, exactly what could Tiru have been going on about when he says to pick the words you are saying based on your audience? Probably something much less creative than making up information as you go along.

Perhaps he was only meaning that there is more than one way of saying the same thing. AND, possibly, there is always a way to say it that will appeal to the specific audience you happen to be addressing. AND, maybe, that you can muck up even good news by the way you say it. Somewhat like that tale about the astrologer who told the king, "All your relatives and friends will die before you" and got jailed for making such a terrible prediction. Only to be saved by the request of another astrologer who got rewarded for giving the King the wonderful news that he would outlive all his friends and relatives.

Like, I have had people who believed that their devotion to God would save them from all these corona-voronas and they had no need for vaccines and all. There was this rationalist friend of mine who told them, "All that is stupid superstition. Believe in science." Of course, they all nodded assent and queued up for vaccines. NOT. How would they when the message translates to them as 'Taking a vaccine means I'm an atheist since I'd consider God to be a superstition'?

They did queue up though, later. Not all of them, that would be expecting too much. But most of them, thanks to another, less idiotic friend. (Or, perhaps, the first person only wanted to talk down to them without caring a hoot about whether they got vaccinated or not. Who knows? People, these days, do not waste any opportunity to preen and nothing helps you feel so superior as to be on the side of 'science'.)

Anyway, the other friend, who was more keen on getting them to vaccinate themselves than to abolish their beliefs, said, "Don't you see that God HAS helped? Helped by making humans produce vaccines. Now it is up to you to make use of His help."

THAT, apparently, is the sort of thing Tiru means when he says that you should pick your words to suit your audience. Tell it to them in a manner that they find palatable rather than trying to change them into clones of yourself so that they will automatically adopt all your own beliefs and attitudes.

Alas! And I thought that we had found out all about social media, and the way to make use of it to create facts to suit your audience, way back in history!

Monday, January 3, 2022


 A Humor Tale, this time

When Ritesh jumped to grab his cheque in flight, and went flying up to the ceiling instead, it was good fortune that it happened in the air-conditioned room of a hotel. There was no fan to crash into when he gave his inadvertent imitation of a bird. Good fortune for the fan that is, as later events proved.

Ritesh had certainly had no thoughts of defying gravity. He did hail from the capital of India where, to most, any given hour is wasted if they have not defied some law or the other. So defying the law of gravitation should have been all in a day’s work for him. Ritesh, though, was unused, as yet, to breaking even man-made laws and had certainly never set his sights as high as to defy the laws of physics. And, yet, here he was opening his account grandly by defying the law of gravity.

Stunned by what had happened, not least because he had banged his head on the ceiling in the course of his aerial maneuvers, Ritesh sat down to think. As usual, confronted by the seemingly impossible, the first solution was ‘It is a dream.’

Pinching himself proved that, if it was a dream, it was a damn painful one.  Ritesh tentatively tried to fly again…and flew. Braking himself by banging his head on the ceiling proved as painful a process as the previous time.

Was he…could he…really be a super-hero? He had always assumed that those blokes went through walls and smashed up buildings with not even a coating of plaster marring their costumes. The headache he was developing did not gel with that image. But then, which heroic image - in the movies especially - was not a product of literal and metaphorical photo-shopping?

Feeling his head gingerly, he could see no signs of bleeding or contusions. So, maybe…

By the time he returned to Delhi, he had already found that he could outrun a car, even without the benefit of a traffic jam; could really smash through a wall, even if he needed cold compresses all night after that; and could toss around weights like he was the android version of one of those Transformer machines.

It must have been the thought that he was in Mumbai, where ‘Do you know who I am?’ does not have the same visceral impact that it does in Delhi, which made him choose deserted roads and parking lots for his experiments.

There was one question that needed sorting first. Who were his real parents?

* * *

“Where is the space-craft that brought me to Earth?”

Ritesh would have been the first to admit that this was probably not the best way to have broached the topic with his parents and he deserved everything he got after that.

“So you are no longer the fairy prince left here in exchange for our real son?” said his dad.

“THAT was when he was six. The last one was that he was an amnesiac God.”

“Ten years back was it not? I had thought that he had resigned himself to being the scion of this ordinary Kukrety family and now this…”

“You have to grant it to him. Whatever his grades show, he has learned something from school and college. Now his theories are more scientific.”

“I suppose it is a saving grace that he does not think that we abducted him and deprived him of his exalted heritage.”

“Thank God for small mercies.”

As it usually happens, the only people who were enjoying this Pat and Mike show were Pat and Mike…err…his mom and dad. Ritesh was fuming but anger had not made him lose what passed for his mind, yet. After all, he had not ALWAYS had these particular superpowers and, thus, had had time and the necessity to develop a bit of thinking ability.

It would have been too easy to demonstrate his powers but…It is only in the movies that parents would leave their children free to go around saving the world. In the more mundane here and now, though…

“Ritesh! Shift that bed over to the other room, beta! The living room looks better that way. You can move it back at night. It will be no problem for you to do it every day.”

“Ritesh! Get the vegetables, beta! With your X-Ray vision, you can pick the best ones, without worms or rot.”

“Ritesh! Use your infrared vision to cook this gravy. That way we will never need to buy extra cylinders at full price.”

“THAT’s a neat idea! Ritesh beta, can you heat up the water for the bath after this? Saves electricity.”

“Think beta! You MUST have some powers to cool the house. Find out before summer. These A/Cs just gobble up power.”

“Ritesh! I am late for office. Can you just fly me to office?”

“Drop me also, beta! Err…not literally, of course.”

Ritesh shuddered. No way was he letting them know about his powers. Unless he wanted to become a sort of combination mobile heating device, magic broomstick, vegetable picker and general handyman. AND if the matter leaked to more of his family and friends…

But…he had not tested his vision. Did he have that X-ray vision? Could he focus a heat ray? After all, it looked like there really had been no space-craft, so how could he assume he had all the powers that the superhero of the movies did? Even assuming that the movies had got it right.

When he tried his X-ray vision on the streets, he was a shade disappointed. Or, maybe there was really no need for the disappointment. Considering the people who were around, the bones probably looked a lot better than what he would have seen if X-ray vision had worked as he thought it would.

The heat ray experiment taught him another lesson. It might have been better, after all, to not look at your new Samsung smartphone when you tried it…and found out that it worked.

With the advent of all these powers, Ritesh was conscious that he did not possess the right costume. He had thought that these superheroes also got their costumes along with their superpowers but, apparently, that was not the way it worked…not for him, at least. It seemed silly to have to deal with tailors for this purpose but it was necessary. A man is only as good as his dress, after all, and THAT applied to superheroes as much as men, if not more so.

Having placed the order and getting the assurance that he would get it tomorrow (“Fancy dress competition, required urgently”), he was feeling so full with his own news that he thought he would burst.

Oh! To have all these powers and not be able to share with anyone…

There was always Simran.

* * *

There is something about this strange emotion called love which drastically interferes with the workings of what people call intelligence. It is almost as if they are mutually exclusive. If the former enters the door, the latter jumps out of the window.

Which is what accounts for the fact that Ritesh decided to confide in his girlfriend Simran about this sudden transformation in him. One can only wonder about the power of love, considering that no qualms crossed his mind about being forced on jaunts to Switzerland overnight or even being held to impossibly high standards in the matter of noticing nanometric changes in attire or make-up.

The quality of trust can be strained too far, though. So, it was no surprise that Simran showed no inclination to swoon in his arms, screaming, “My Hero!” and, instead, started sniffing suspiciously.

“No! I am not drunk.”

“Dry day in Delhi?”

“Let us not get into that, Simran! I really HAVE those powers.”

“Are you well?”

“If being able to fly, lifting ten tonne trucks and boring holes through mobiles by looking at them counts as being well, I am.”

Snorting can be very expressive, as Ritesh found out. Especially from women, who seemed to have taken special training courses in the art of the snort.

“You do not believe me? Let me show you”, said Ritesh, after cautiously assessing that there was no-one else to watch him at it.

Up he flew to the top of the nearest tree. Standing poised on a branch he waved at Simran, looking at him incredulously, and flew back to her side.

“Now do you believe me?” he asked, triumphantly.

Simran blinked twice and peered at the tree.

“Where are the ropes and all?”

Ritesh was infuriated.

“Pick your own spot. I will show you there.”

Simran looked at him uncertainly. Then there was a seeming glimmer of comprehension.

“You are hypnotising me, are you not?”

Ritesh goggled at her. He could not help it, though he knew it would make him look like the village idiot trying to understand the theory of relativity.

“NOW I understand”, Simran said and a chill shiver went down Ritesh’s spine. THAT was the tone of voice which said that the corpses of past misdemeanours were about to be dug out and hung up on display in all their gory splendour.

“I used to wonder…every time I went back home and looked at your pic on my mobile, I could hardly believe myself. That of all the boys in my life, THIS was my choice of boyfriend! Yet, when I am with you, I never have doubts. You were always hypnotising me…”

Ritesh was aghast. He had been bracing himself to apologise for all the wrongs of the past; take responsibility for everything ranging from the traffic situation in Delhi to the ISIS massacres but this…this…words failed him.

“See you, Ritesh! Or, rather, goodbye and good riddance.”

* * *

The next day dawned no better. He woke up to the sound of his mom saying, “Rise and Shine, O Prince of the fairies! Or is it the Emperor of an Alien Civilization, this morning?”

As usual, his first act of the morning was his phone, where he discovered that Simran had vanished like the dew in the morning from every place on Social media, as far as he was concerned.

To have to travel to NOIDA to meet someone and chase that up with a visit to Mayur Vihar was not exactly his idea of the proper way to mourn his losses. It had to be done, though and, as he morosely drove his car, he was so full of self-pity that it sloshed whenever he hit a bump on the road. The sight of the package on the back-seat - his new costume - only caused the self-pity to leak through his eyes.

If anyone had asked Ritesh, as he was driving back in the evening, about what had happened during the day, all he would have received was a blank stare and, perhaps, some indeterminate noises that would resemble gargling rather than conversation. The sound of a crash roused him from his dazed state. He found himself on the Nizamuddin bridge and saw that a bus had crashed through the side supports and was contemplating a swan dive into the Yamuna. The busload of passengers were screaming, no doubt apprehensive about getting a totally unnecessary bath in the depths of winter.

The supine superhero in Ritesh woke up. Maybe it was the destiny of heroes to do their miracles and receive the praise only in their alter egos, while their day selves vanished into the anonymous masses. THAT, probably, was why the fates had destined him to be disbelieved.

Even as he was hastily changing into his costume, he could hear a chopper heading towards the bridge. For one moment, the usual urban attitude asserted itself in him – someone else would do something about it, so why bother. Ruthlessly crushing this unworthy thought, Ritesh flew below the bridge and under the bus. Passengers were screaming wildly at him, no doubt exhorting him to save them. He pushed the bus up. THAT was easy but he had some trouble finding the exact manner in which he had to exert his strength to push it sideways and back onto the undamaged portion of the road. Apparently, this superhero thing did not automatically grant dexterity in addition to strength – one of those things the movies seemed to gloss over. He somehow managed to push the bus back to safety, with the passengers providing the background music which is so necessary to make any scene tense.

Sneaking back to his car and changing back to his regular dress proved way more difficult. He managed the feat, when all the attention was focussed on the army chopper which hovered for a bit and, after finding the bus safely back on the road, flew away.

Ritesh drove back home with a much warmer feeling in his heart. Nobody may believe in his powers; his parents may think of him as an intellectually challenged kid of ten; his girlfriend may even now be cuddling her new boyfriend but, today, he had saved a lot of lives and those people must be remembering him in their prayers.

As he parked the car, and was about to enter the house, the words from the news bulletin floated out.

“In a daring rescue, the Army saved the lives of a busload of passengers. An experimental magnetic device was put to use to haul the bus back to safety…”


“While the lives of many hung in the balance, an attention-seeker clad in a strange costume was seen doing acrobatics under the endangered bus. This is what Dhivya, whose life this man put in danger with his stupidity, has to say…

‘The bus was hanging…and this man was doing acrobatics. His weight could have pulled the bus down, you know…we screamed at him to go away…he waved like a crazy man…someone said he could be a superhero trying to save us. He wasn’t. He was just a nutcase.’

‘Why do you think so?’

‘I have seen superheroes. His costume told me he was a nut…’

‘What in the costume proved it?’

Ritesh was flummoxed when he heard the answer. Instead of being a hero to them, he had only become a clown or a nut. He entered his house morosely and started walking up to the terrace, which is where he allowed his self-pity to water the plants, generally.

“Looks like someone has taken your favourite superhero”, said his dad.

He grunted and walked up the steps.

“If you are looking for Batmobile, should you not go to the basement?”

It was too much. Ritesh rushed up the stairs.

He looked up at the cold stars and bellowed, “Is it fair?” He had become a clown instead of Superman all because of one small change in the costume. He just could not bear to wear his briefs over his leggings.

So be it. He would make a small change to the best known superhero’s name and make it his own.

He screamed to the uncaring universe,