Monday, September 26, 2022

The Real Action movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 19, 2022

The 'Expert' trap?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Confidence hack

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 5, 2022

Now I realize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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