Monday, May 22, 2023

Intermittent Fasting

You know how it goes. You have never heard of a thing and are quite blissful not knowing about it. Someone mentions it once in your vicinity and, suddenly, it seems as though the world is obsessed with it going by how often you hear of that dratted thing over the next few days.

This is exactly how it went with me and intermittent fasting. Over the past few days I could hardly spend a minute without 'intermittent fasting' poking me in the nose from somewhere or the other. I go to a function and there it pops up in a feverish discussion among people who have just taken it up. I go on Youtube and there it appears again making it seem like half the world is trying to make a living teaching the other half about intermittent fasting. I go on Facebook and...ah, well, don't yawn, I can take a hint.

So, apparently, there are ways and ways of doing it. You can opt for the so-called 5:2 method where you eat normally for five days of the week and fast for 2 days i.e. consume about only 500 calories. You can opt to fast for a longish period of time every day. The 14:10, 16:8 or 12:12 methods where, unfortunately, the bigger number denotes the consecutive hours of fasting every day. (Yeah, yeah, in 12:12 it is all the same, so?) So, you fast for 16 hours and eat only in the other 8 hours if you opt for 16:8. You have alternative days, the 24 hour fast where you eat only once a day, the warrior diet...

So, when this feverish discussion was happening in that function, I piped up saying that I has been doing it all my life. I mean, like, it was not like I was shovelling food into my mouth every minute of the day. Between breakfast and my midmorning snack, I fasted; between my midmorning snack and lunch, I fasted...I mean I WAS fasting intermittently all day for all my life, so what was the big deal. There was such a concerted set of sneers in my direction that I shrivelled to a tenth my size (now if THAT does not show you how intermittent fasting helps reduce weight...). There was such an outpouring of how the long fast periods reduced insulin resistance and improved insulin sensitivity, about something called the Human growth hormone, about improved metabolism, yada yada, that I fled the battlefield in utter defeat.

But, you know what, the thing is all these great health changes was not why people wanted to go in for intermittent fasting. The primary...and, I daresay, sole...purpose was to lose weight. All the rest of it were only talking points. If the rest existed and weight loss did not happen, or was not needed, Intermittent fasting would only be as popular as a dose of castor oil in the morning.

Me, I fast intermittently. When my body threatens to outgrow my current wardrobe (Which, by the way, I keep as flexible as possible to circumference by using tracks for all purposes), I go on a crash diet and bring it down. Then it is business as usual till the next time the stitches on my tracks threaten to give way.

What was that? Yo-Yo dieting? Keep that for the kids. At my age, I cannot associate myself with marbles, tops and yo-yos. I need a more...dignified...name for what I do, so it shall be called fasting intermittently.

What's in a name? Really? When this self same 5:2 was being called a Vrat by my Mom, it was silly superstitious nonsense which I would not be caught dead talking about. But Intermittent Fasting? THAT I can write blog posts about. THAT is the importance of names. After all, we live in times when the product is less important than the label!

Monday, May 15, 2023

Delegation

You think you have been granted some rare esoteric and cutting edge knowledge and then discover that it has been common know-how for hundreds of years. It is especially painful, when you have just boasted about how modern your ideas are, to find out that they are about as traditional as it can get.

Take this idea of delegation, for example. There you go, studying in top management institutions and discovering how key an ability it is in managing people. You come back home boasting about all these cutting edge things that you are learning and your grandma pulls out a Tirukkural. This Tiru, I tell you...

Idhanai idhanaal ivan mudikkum endraaindhu adhanai avankan vidal - Tirukkural

Analyse who is capable of doing what job by what means and then delegate it to him - Loose translation

If you have ever had to delegate something urgent and important ('Important' generally means that you will get chewed up by your boss if something goes wrong, not necessarily something that has grave consequences for humanity) and, as you watch the back of your subordinate heading back to his seat, your heart is in your mouth and your fingers so tightly crossed that you require pliers to unravel them...if you are, as I was saying, hoping against hope that what you asked him to do and what he understood are, at least, on the same page if not identical; that what he actually produces bears some resemblance to what you want...

There you go. I am of those who are reduced to incoherence the moment I have to delegate things to people. You see, there are too many issues involved. First, your own judgment of people's abilities. Then, your own ability to communicate what you need in the manner in which the other chap can understand. Then, your ability to also clearly communicate the urgency...

In short, delegation involves the gamut of interpersonal abilities that a manager is supposed to have. If, indeed, you do have it THEN Tiru has the wisdom to offer on how to apply it. A good manager assesses the nature and abilities of his people, right up to knowing what tools the chap is capable of applying in doing his work. And, thus, when a job turns up, he knows to whom he can delegate it.

Well, so much for cutting edge knowledge. I could have learned this much management in my language class at school, if only I had taken Tiru seriously.

But, then, it would be no use to me anyway. All knowledge is useful only to he who applies it. Did I say that for the first time...or did Tiru beat me to it centuries ago?

Monday, May 8, 2023

Smelling roses

"Roses stink!" said my friend.

There was a gasp of surprise from the assembled lot of friends at this blasphemy. Me, I nodded knowingly.

You see, you get this advice in life about taking time to smell the roses. You understand, you pine for the time to be able to smell the roses, but with your nose so firmly to the grindstone that it cannot even smell shit. On those brief times when you can actually smell the roses, they smell divine.

And one day you retire, quit or get chucked out. Then...

You see, smelling roses is fine when you hurriedly draw in a noseful of the fragrance before the grindstone reclaims your nose. But when ALL you can do is smell the roses, when there is nothing else for you to do...

"ROSES STINK!" yelled my friend again.

That, though, is typical of a guy who thinks of smelling roses in the traditional way...as a way of living each moment without converting every activity into a competitive activity with winning as its purpose. AND lacks the mindset to do ANYTHING that does not involve making money or gaining attention or having measurable progress measures or, ideally, all of the above with fame thrown in, if possible.

Alas, I am a old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud, who believes that living in the moment does not mesh very well with setting goals or entering into invisible competitions in your own mind against the rest of the uncaring world! AND, in fact, reveling in the idea of not having to do so. So, roses smell divine to me despite having nothing else to do but smell roses.

The successful ones, who have to compete and still have nothing to do but smell the roses...they can CONVERT smelling roses to suit. 

As in,

"I have started smelling a dozen roses in a day. Within the next six months, I aim to reach a hundred roses a day."

OR

"Well, really, ANYONE can smell roses in their garden. I have smelled them in Rashtrapati Bhavan, I aim to hit the White House next and, perhaps, I shall do it in Elon Musk's space habitat after that."

OR

"I have smelled all the roses in Asia, I intend hitting Europe and USA next and, after that,..."

OR

"I intend smelling every possible breed of rose. From the old garden roses to the wild roses to the modern garden roses be they tea roses or grandiflora roses or floribunda roses or..."

AND THAT is how you smell the roses. Really!

Monday, May 1, 2023

What is reality?

Ever since the advent of social media, especially everyone's favorite alma mater - WhatsApp university, I have been forced to wonder about the nature of reality. This has built into a near obsession after the recent spate of improvements, if one may call them that, in Artificial Intelligence.

One does understand that, with the growing paucity of the natural version, there is a felt need for bringing AI into existence. I mean, yeah, it exists but, somehow, it appears that we have collectively lost the instruction manual and, therefore, most of us do not know how to use it. Once AI matures, we can heave a sigh of relief and lose ourselves completely in whatever our respective screens throw up for us.

The problem, though, is that I am increasingly feeling lost about how to identify what IS reality. (Yes, yes, I AM antediluvian that way. I still need reality, or a semblance of it). Apart from the immediate vicinity, I used to rely on news to tell me what was happening in the rest of the world. Came Social media and, suddenly, news became a doubtful source of reality. I mean, what I thought of as news had to be fact checked every time.

At least I could rely on pics and videos; on sting operations which showed me the reality of my leaders; on the devastation of a current war, on the sorrows of extreme poverty, on the wonders of Mars...whatever. Yeah, Photoshop did its best but that, too, could be found out.

And now...Alas, Now! AI apparently can make me look as though I'm doing a tap-dance on top of the Vatican and nobody can tell that it is fake! Your favorite leader can be shown to be feeding the poor multitudes of Somalia or running the gas chambers of Hitler depending on who is telling the AI what to do. Yuck! If this, then the vice versa. NOW, even if you have a video recording of an interview where the chap says something incriminating, he will not say wishy-washy things like, "They are showing it out of context". No, he will coolly say that you used AI to fake it. What price reality then?

I'm afraid that there is only one answer to that question, "What is reality?" You have to ask, "Whose reality?" and serve up what they want. There will no longer be anything accepted as universal reality any more.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Smash thine enemy?

It is sort of normal for me to see people exalting Tamil in Tamil movie posters but that exaltation very seldom carries over to actually excerpting anything from Tamil literature in the posters. So, it was a bit of a surprise to see an excerpt...but, yeah, if there would at all be an excerpt it would be from good old Tiru's work.

Uyirrpa ularallar mandra seyirppavar semmai sidhaikkalaa Thaar - Tirukkural

He who destroys not the pride of his enemy shall not exist to breathe - Loose Translation

Tiru does get blood-thirsty at times. Especially when it gets to writing about how best to treat enemies. He is clearly not of the 'turn the other cheek' school of thought. At least not till he has ensured that his enemy is properly chained up so that he can do nothing about the invitation to slap the other cheek. No wonder, his pieces do get picked up every now and then by today's movie-makers. I mean, like, they are hardly likely to find Ahimsa a fit subject for making a movie...especially considering that their heroes are more the 'bash the lessons into the other guy's heads' sort.

So, this one rather fits the bill. It does not go so far as to say that the only good enemy is a dead enemy. But Tiru may as well have said it. When he says 'destroy the pride of the enemy', it is essentially a euphemism for rendering the enemy powerless to retaliate. What he says is that, if you leave your enemy with even a smidgen of ability to act against you, you will not live long thereafter. So, you either have to completely break the will and power of your enemy or, obviously, your ENEMY must cease to breathe.

This is one of those areas of ambivalence. Talking purely pragmatically, a live enemy is always a potential source of danger even if he will not instantly cause you to 'cease to breathe', but then what is poetry without hyperbole. On the other hand, there is always the morality question including that of what it will do to your character to be perpetually unforgiving.

THAT, though, is for other people to worry about. I have hardly ever been in a position to decide what to do about any enemy. The boot has always been on the other foot!

Monday, April 17, 2023

Austerities lead to wealth?

Ilar Palar aagiya kaaranam norpaar silar palar nolaadhavar - Tirukkural

Many are poor and few rich because the few do austerities and the many do not - Loose Translation

It's a ticklish thing when it comes to translating words in Tamil (or Sanskrit, as I have had reason to bemoan when I wrote 'Maya-Is it all Illusion') into English. This word - austerities - for example. Or, even, these words 'poor' and 'rich' which I have used for 'have nots' and 'haves'. The meanings can all be misleading.

I mean, like, when in Tamil we talk of a 'have' or 'have not', it can be wealth OR knowledge OR ability depending on context. Likewise, though austerities normally mean the disciplined rigor (AND the frugal life, too, yes)  as applied to the pursuit of the divine, it can (and in the current case possibly does) mean that sort of disciplined and unwavering pursuit of your goals, keeping aside the pursuit of your pleasures. In that, a man who is keen on achieving his goals should be as much the yogi as any saint is.

Thus, while Tiru may seem to be saying that Wealth comes to he who is devout, it is more likely that he says that success crowns unwavering effort. And the reason why few are successful and many are not is because very few pursue their goals with the requisite rigor.

Now THAT can open a can of worms these days. "What price privilege?" some scream! "Nepotism rules" cry out others. Quite true of the way the world is. But, the point is that you can either use the lack of privilege as an excuse or you can strive to win. And, among people with the same level of privilege, those who succeed are more likely to be those who strive than those who complain.

Does that then mean that fighting Nepotism is useless? Come on, IF THAT is what you are out to do, do it with the same rigor as Tiru suggests. His point is that you should concentrate on what you do and do it with unwavering devotion. So fight Nepotism with vigor alright when you are doing that, but do not just sit back and complain that you never made a go of coding or banking or whatever because of lack of privilege.

Though it appears like Tiru is saying that all failure is due to lack of effort, it is not true. You should note that he is attributing the low PROPORTION of successful people to the fact that few really strive with all their heart. If everyone did so strive, then the PROPORTION of successful people would be higher, which does not mean that EVERYONE who strives will succeed.

So, yes, lack of privilege may prove a barrier to success. Whether the barrier seems like an obstacle to be overcome or a wall that stops you will depend on you. And, yet, your lack of privilege or your misfortune could keep you from succeeding. The difference is whether you failed despite your best efforts or you failed because you did not even start trying.

Unless, of course, you are like me. Pursuing idling with all the vigor at your disposal and giving reasons for not doing better just to keep the rest of the world off your back! In which case, you ARE succeeding in what you chose to do.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The sharpest weapon?

When anyone talks of ancient wisdom, you automatically assume that the chap is going to spout off about how 'Love conquers all' and how money is the root cause of all evil and so on. The said man could well be on a lecture tour, being paid a hefty sum of money so that he can tell you about how money is the enemy of happiness, but still...

It's a pleasant surprise, therefore, to see Tiru actually egging you on to earn wealth. True, the chap wrote one-third of his Thirukkural about Money, Wealth or what we may call the Economy, if we are inclined to sounding particularly erudite. But still...

Seyka Porulaich Cherunar serukkarukkum eqkadhanir kooriya thil - Tirukkural

Accumulate wealth for there is no sharper weapon than that to lop off the arrogance of foes - Loose Translation

Tiru, has, in the past also said that 'Knowledge is the most supreme of all types of wealth' etc. BUT...in the context of foes I suppose, Knowledge is not all that great a weapon. I mean, you prate of how much knowledge you have and your foe is only likely to scoff at it and ask you why, if you are so wise, you are so poor. Tiru does know to pick his weapons to suit the battle, one must admit.

It is difficult to argue against success or scoff at it without sounding like a loser. And 'success' is largely defined by how wealthy you are. All the more so, one supposes, in Tiru's times when you could not stand for an election and become the king. Acquire wealth and you need hardly bother to fight your foe. If he scoffs, he will get laughed off as a sore loser by Society.

Which sort of proves one of my pet theories. That people tend to shape their lives because of their foes and not because of those dear to them. They strive harder to show up a foe than they would to benefit those close to them. If their family wishes them to give up a course of action but their foe will celebrate it as a victory then...

And, thus, it is more likely that the need to show up your foes is the reason for why the world keeps going around than Love!

Monday, April 3, 2023

Who needs reality?

There is this scene in one of the Matrix movies where a character bites into a hamburger and says something like "I know this is not real. But who cares? It tastes damned good." Just the way I would feel, I suppose, and I think most of the world would feel like that.

I mean, come on, what you experience of the world is mostly through your five senses. It is all fine to be telling me that machines are exploiting humanity. But it is not like they are running labor camps or concentration camps. I am not being whipped to work 18 hour days, am I? I mean, like my life seems cool enough to me, so what if it is all virtual? After all, I am not experiencing that so-called reality, am I?

So why this sudden digging into ancient history now? Well, people seem to be telling that technology is moving with breakneck speed these days. AND I have heard about this 'Meta' thing and Virtual Reality and all such. AND THAT lead me to wonder about whether the Matrix is round the corner after all.

Ah, No, No! I am not wondering about being used by machines as a biological battery. Not yet. What I AM wondering about is the possibility of this VR thingy actually being able to give a complete sensory experience - sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. So much so that it seems completely real, just as it is supposed to be in Matrix.

Then, would I even need reality? Would anyone? Yeah, I know, someone has to be out there in 'reality' to keep the IV running to keep you alive, keep all the infrastructure going, yada yada - you know all those mundane things of life which seldom hit Page 3. But, given that THAT is taken care of - by humans or by machines - would I bother about not experiencing reality? 

I mean, reality is so...messy...full of unpredictable things, especially people. You do someone a good turn and he throws a tantrum because his cook put in too much sugar in his coffee in the morning. You greet your colleague with a smile and he snaps, "No need to smirk at me just because you got a bigger raise." So, there you go. VR is probably much more predictable and more fun all around.

What was that? A sense of achievement? You get that ONLY in reality when you do real things on the ground? I mean, really, if I manage to get the Wand of Death from the Cave of Thetis; or carry succor to my stranded colleagues braving the sulfur pools of the Death Planet; or rescue a small girl from the ravening hordes of nomadic warriors; or whatever counts as achievement in the virtual world I am in, do you think I will feel any less a sense of achievement than you do when you capture an additional 3% market share for your company's soap? Come on!

I mean, like, for ages people have been telling in India that there is a reality beyond the world of your senses and it is the purpose of life to pierce through the veil of your senses and appreciate the true reality. Does anyone take that seriously? AND, now, of a sudden, you tell me that what my senses tell me is 'virtual' and there is a reality behind that, why should I heed you, now? OR, even if I believe you, why should I bother to perceive that reality instead of wallowing in the world of my senses?

So, yeah, if at some future date we CAN achieve a Matrix like VR WITH a social infrastructure that can keep you inside it...

Will we still need to be in touch with reality?

OR, will we be like the kid in a Keanu Reeves interaction? He is supposed to have asked Keanu why he was fighting in the Matrix; Keanu is supposed to have said something like 'To show and change the reality' and the kid is supposed to have said the equivalent of "F@#K Reality".

Who needs reality, really?

Monday, March 27, 2023

Replaced by bots?

There was this sudden flurry of people putting up poetry (mostly what poets would dismissively call 'rhymes') and essays and whatnot, leading me to wonder about whether there was a new virus infecting people with the urge to write. Reading the fine print, I realized that there was this experimental bot sort of thing called ChatGPT which was actually doing all this writing with my FB friends egging it on to do so.

Before too long, all this poetry was accompanied by laments about how this AI-powered bot would cost jobs in the millions. The dratted thing could apparently write code, essays and, possibly, stand on its head (if it had one) if asked to do so. IF the said lament was in rhymes, one had a sneaking suspicion that that chap had used ChatGPT to write the lament about how ChatGPT would steal his job!

And then there were others who said, "Not at all! Yes, it will take away some jobs but it will create new ones. Every time when new technology comes in, we fear loss of jobs but, eventually, we find that more jobs get created." Makes one wonder, though. I mean, like, we all talk of technology as improving efficiency which, essentially, would mean that we have to work lesser, right? If we needed to work less, then either number of jobs should go down or the number of working hours should go down, no? And, yet, throughout the history of technology we have, apparently, only increased our total working. Then why are we still chasing this efficiency which only seems to create more work for us instead of reducing it? (Yeah, yeah, it is all because we keep increasing our needs to suit. The point is, no increased efficiency, no having to pursue new needs, no?)

Anyway, that's for other people with brains in their head to bother about. I was sort of happy that ChatGPT was around so that I could offload my blog writing to it and relax. And then...

There is this IIT chap's lecture which I happened upon. He says that it can actually give wrong results. Like, put it to create a tour itinerary and it can give you hotels that do not exist. Ask it to write an essay on economics and it is known to have cited a paper written by authors who exist, in a journal that exists...the only problem being that THAT paper does not exist. So, he says, the thing about ChatGPT is

1. Do you need accuracy? NO? You can use ChatGPT.

2. Do you need accuracy? YES? Do you have domain knowledge to verify its results? YES? Then you may use ChatGPT.

3. Do you need accuracy? NO? Do you have domain knowledge to verify its results? NO? Are you willing to take on the consequences of putting out erroneous information? YES? Then you may use ChatGPT.

4. Do you need accuracy? NO? Do you have domain knowledge to verify its results? NO? Are you willing to take on the liability of putting out erroneous information? NO? Then you should not use ChatGPT.

So, the net result for me is that, apart from poetry and fiction, ChatGPT will be MOST useful for what is known as WhatsApp university. Citing non-existent papers by well-known sources, proving anything you want to prove? RIGHT up their alley!

Accuracy, not needed. But, yes, they still need 'domain' knowledge...as to whether what ChatGPT has put out supports their POV or opposes it...which they probably have. And liability of putting out wrong information? What is that?

So, there! Going by this, the first jobs that it is going to cost is most of those meme-creators. Great!

Great? Not really! Ye gods, the floods of such info a bot can produce...

Monday, March 20, 2023

Squeeze the juice

My earliest memories of this juice-squeezing were of home made lemon juice. Back then (oh, yeah, were you not expecting this phrase to pop up sooner or later?), almost all the cool drinks available to us were either home made or the fresh made ones (though of questionable hygiene) by the pushcart vendors. And sugar being a relatively expensive commodity back then, juices were a treat.

The only fly in the ointment was that my mom used to try to extract the last bit of juice from the lemon. Which meant that the rind got squeezed, too, adding that tinge of bitterness to the juice which is so yucky to the tongues of kids. You hardly dared complain, though, lest you be totally deprived of juices.

This, though, looks like the normal practice of adults...in Tamil Nadu at least. I mean, like, when I grew up, I found that the idiom for a hard task-master was one who would squeeze the last drop of effort out of you. ('Kasakki pizhivaan', if you want to know) Though, yes, I have also been told that it is more of a laundry metaphor than a culinary metaphor, indicating the removal of moisture (and, incidentally, dirt) from clothing. I, somehow, preferred the culinary version, perhaps because of my aversion to laundering.

The ways of management always seem to find expression in a humble homely metaphor. And, yet, simultaneously try to also be seriously high-brow as well. You know how it is. You have to be seen as acting like 'one of the boys' but ONLY acting; not actually BEING one of the boys.

And, so, I was not surprised to hear this said while describing a management situation: 'The juice is not worth the squeeze'. In other words, the benefits of a course of action were not worth the cost of that course of action in terms of time, effort or money. Voila! If only they had used this in my time at IIM, maybe I would have been reminded of my mother and have been sentimentally attracted to the course.

But, there is a scary thought that raised its ugly head in my mind. What with this AI bots like ChatGPT doing the rounds, and considering that what I used to do for a living was mainly writing notes, maybe squeezing employees is not worth the juice these days and thus...

Maybe I was born at the right time after all!

Monday, March 13, 2023

Post-Opinion Psyche

"Remember you wrote something about the various uses of 'My'? You know - My hand, My house, My city, yada yada?"

...

"Why are you looking like a moronic sheep? You do not remember?"

Uh! I mean, yeah, OF COURSE I remember. I wasn't trying to imitate a moronic sheep, I was just wonder-struck that someone even knew that I had written something like that, leave alone remembering the contents himself!

"Yeah! I do!"

"You know what's the 'My' that people cling to more than, probably, even their lives?"

Ugh! I hate these quiz questions popping up in what should be just a fun conversation. Not that I have had many of the latter with my 'friends'.

"What?" I snapped at him.

"Opinions!"

"No way!"

"Really? Tell me, would you wish me to have a serious accident in order to save your life?"

Right now, I'd wish it just to get rid of his quiz master act! Or...perhaps not...irritating though he was. And...I don't know...I mean if really it was a matter of life and death who knows how I'd behave but I'd like to think that I'd not wish to save my life at the cost of someone else's. I said as much.

"Hmm! Well, then, remember that time you told Sailesh not to drive home when he polished off a half of rum at your place?"

"Yeah! And the bugger laughed at me. And what happened? He went and smashed his car against a lamp-post, was in the hospital for a year and will limp all his life," I said.

"There! See, you still cannot help feeling a tinge of satisfaction at being proved right, can you?"

"I...uh..."

Drat it! I AM cursed with an honesty which has made me useless at managing people.

"THAT's what I mean! Once you express an opinion...anyone, not just you...and especially if it is made fun of by someone, you WANT to be proved right at ANY cost."

"ANY cost? Are you sure?"

"Of course! If you have said that a course of action by your CEO is not correct, and others disagree then you feel triumphant when that course of action screws up your company...even if it costs you your job."

"Hmmm!"

"THAT's why, when someone says if 'X' party wins, the country will go to the dogs AND 'X' party actually DOES win...why then, they actually can end up rejoicing if they see the country going to the dogs after that."

"Ah!"

"There's  no cost that seems too high if it will only allow you to say those magic words."

"What magic words?"

"I TOLD YOU SO"

Monday, March 6, 2023

Becoming a groupie

I recently came across someone using what amounts to an archaeological artifact. What, for want of a better word, is called a dumb phone. Surprised as I was to see a phone that can only be used for raising or receiving calls and messages, I could not help a twinge of nostalgia.

I, too, belonged to the recalcitrant few who refused to switch to the smarter versions of the phone. Yes, yes, it WAS because I did not want dumber than even my own phone, no matter how used I was to being dumber than the rest of the world. But then...?

"Why didn't you come to our batch get together on Saturday?"

"What get-together?"

AND it transpires that one was organised right next to my home and I had no clue because it was all done on this strange thing called WhatsApp. Which I could access ONLY if my phone got smarter.

It's not like I gave in immediately. The problem, though, was that I explained that I was still dumb as far as phones went (ALSO dumb is how my friends put it) and expected that they would not assume that I know whatever is being discussed on WhatsApp. Well, as it happened, THEY assumed that I would get a Smartphone. Over time, I realized that I was getting the reputation of being antisocial (Oh! I AM but I'd rather be accused when the accusation is warranted, not when it is unjust!). And, if I wanted to still retain some friends, there was no help for it. I HAD to get a Smartphone.

And then I realized what groups on WhatsApp were! Within days, I was a member of school groups, college groups, trekking groups and whatnot. Thankfully, I had quit working else I daresay work would have also intruded into this space and I'd have had to open WhatsApp with the same trepidation with which I used to log in to my office email in my working days, wondering what new headaches it was going to bring me and how much of the increasingly shrinking leisure time was going to vanish as a consequence of the next message. 

The first couple of days were a real horror story. Every other moment the phone would ping, I'd rush to open the dratted App to find a fresh message, open it to find...

What I found depended on the group it came on. Surprisingly, I realized that groups had their specific flavors. I mean, yeah, you expect trekking groups to have details of trekking and tours and so on...hobby and enthusiasm groups ARE interests-based groups and, thus, are expected to cater to those interests. But...school groups, college groups...

I mean, is there some specific reason why it is in school groups that every other member feels the need to wish 'Good Morning' every day whereas the same chaps are no feeling the need to spread the cheer on college groups or work groups? I have a theory on that, of course. I think that, once you get together in the exclusive company of your schoolmates, you feel free to revert back to childhood. So, along with the carefree friendship and the innocence, you probably revert back to the habits as well. And one of the ingrained habits of childhood is saying 'Good Morning' every 'period' as the next class' teacher walks in. And so... (I do not know if that habit still exists in today's schools).

I hear from other chappies that, the groups from boys only schools revert to other hormone-driven habits of teens as well in the 'art' that they share. But it is probably the 'boys will be boys' thingy which men persist in, especially when the company is exclusively male, even at an age when the only thing that will enlarge is their prostrate.

But, yes, I see shades of it in all groups. I mean, like, you tend to revert to the sort of behavior that you adopted in that particular place when you were there. IF you were intent on showing off your nerdiness at college, you do that in that group. IF you were the back-bencher then, you act one now as well...most especially if you 'real' life makes you have to act the serious sober businessman now! And so on...

Par for the course, I suppose. After all, we are act differently with different people...your persona varies according to the company you are in. AND these groups have a sort of group persona derived from your experiences when it was all in person...'real' so to speak!

One of the other things I found is the persistence of groups. Like, you could create a group with the intention of coordinating one particular event like, say, a get-together. And, three years down the line you'll find a message on that group leaving you scratching your head about what that group was and how on earth you happened to be a member of it. Groups get created but never destroyed!

Oh! Ah! I forgot to tell you that I did find a way to mute the notifications on these messages. Otherwise... Well, it is sort of nice to know to wish people on their birthdays but to get a notification every time one of a hundred odd people wish the chap a 'Happy birthday', every time that chap replies 'Thank you' AND, possibly, every time the original wisher replies to that 'Thank you' (Being taught in school that it is polite to say 'Do not mention it' or some such when someone thanks you)...well, I mean notification pings three hundred times in the morning...possibly every morning...!

It would drive me crazy!

Monday, February 27, 2023

Propriety and Success

The strange thing about Success is that it has many fathers. In more than one way. Yup, once you succeed there will be a lot of people who will claim their contribution to your success. Even if their contribution was only one of deducing that you would become great from the way in which you sucked on your all-day sucker as a babe in the cradle. But that is not all.

There are so many characteristics that also clamor for the role of being the parent of Success. Talent, hard work, persistence, self-belief yada yada. Now there is one more adding on to the list - Propriety of conduct. Or so Tiru would have you believe.

Ozhukkatthin eidhuvar menmai; izhukkatthin eidhuvar eidhaa pazhi - Tirukkural

Propriety of conduct leads to greatness; improper conduct leads to disgrace - Loose Translation

So, there, if your conduct is not proper, success is unlikely. This proper conduct in this context seems to be not just the usual thing of 'moral conduct'. As in, it probably DOES cover conduct that may be considered 'immoral' but is probably not restricted to it. Because that word 'ozhukkam' can also mean decorous and not just moral.

After all, almost every language has something about how you dress making a difference to your success. 'Clothes make a man' proclaims English. "Aal paadhi Aadai paadhi' declaims Tamil. (The meaning of that is that the impression a man makes is half-determined by his personality and the rest by his clothes.) And so on. And clothes ARE the first thing that are looked upon for 'decorous conduct'. (YES, clothes ARE used by most people to assess a person...of ANY gender and not JUST by the culture police. If you do not believe that, just ask yourself which stranger you are more likely to admit inside your home - someone dressed in rags or someone dressed in a suit.)

So, the way you dress, the way you speak to others and of others, the way you comport yourself in Society and Office - all of that has to be 'proper', which translates to appropriate to the circumstances. What is appropriate in various circumstances can vary. What IS invariable is that you need to stick to propriety as defined in the place you are in. Otherwise, you will not be able to succeed.

THIS failure to adhere to propriety of conduct is what will get you the ultimate kiss of death in organisations - 'He is not a team player'!

So, yes, there are occasions where Tiru is absolutely right even in the context of the modern world.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Love is life?

That must be about the most cliched of cliches in the world, this statement that 'Love is Life'. I mean, literature is rife with romances where people feel unable to live if they lose their love, so one does get a surfeit of this idea in books.

But is that what Tiru means when he says this?

Anbin vazhiyadhu uyirnilai; Aqdhilaarkku enbuthol portha udambu - Tirukkural

The soul exists because of love; those without love are but skeletons clothed in skin - Loose Translation.

It is a strange thing that, when we talk of love, all that we instantly think of is romantic love. That, though, is not what Tiru means here. Or, rather, that's not the ONLY love that the Tamil word 'Anbu' means. What Tiru means is all sorts of love - parental love, filial love, sibling love - and affection and friendship...in short the entire gamut of positive relationships that make up the tapestry of your life.

What you call the 'soul' has its being in the love that you have and can express in all these myriad ways. If there be such a person who feels no love, Tiru says that he lacks a soul and is merely bones clothed in flesh and not to be considered human.

Which, in another way is true. There IS a difference between merely existing and living. And living, as opposed to existing, IS to dive into the experience of some or all of these multiple forms of love.

What price renunciation then? Does Tiru then say that the ascetics are but bones clothed in flesh? No, that's a misunderstanding of what asceticism means. Asceticism is not the renunciation of love, it is to expand that love to encompass everything in the universe equally. And it is to renounce the ATTACHMENT to the objects of your love as much as to the objects of pleasure. So, Tiru does not mean this as a trolling of ascetics.

Love may or may not make the world go around. But it is certainly what makes the difference between you being merely a passive spectator of life or being really ALIVE!

Monday, February 13, 2023

Done unto you

You get advised to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The presumption is, I suppose, that the way you behave with others is the way they shall behave with you. It very seldom works that way because, if you are polite, generous and kind to others, they take it as their due; very very seldom do they think that any reciprocating is warranted.

Yet, there IS a thing where you can expect to be reciprocated. Yeah, yeah, it is true that most of the evil that you do unto others can get returned to you in spades sooner or later PROVIDED that the others are capable of doing those things. THIS, though, everyone is capable of doing and so...

Piranpazhi kooruvaan thanpazhi ullum tiran therindhu koorappadum - Tirukkural

He who speaks ill of others will find his defects discovered and publicized - Loose Translation

Ah! Well! One will have to be prim and proper, invariably refusing to talk ill of any facet of anybody's character unless he is among those present, I suppose. Become an almost insufferable prig, then. I mean, come on, take any average half an hour's conversation and I'll change my name if at least half of that was not disparaging of someone - your boss, the actors in the latest movie you saw, the troll on your social media post...

But, then, Tiru is not such an ass, really. What he means is that if you are the sort of person whose conversation is constantly about disparaging the people around you, then you shall yourself be the target of ridicule in absentia by all those around you.

Stands to reason, does it not? I mean, if someone points out a flaw in you, no matter how kindly, is your reaction not one of 'As though he is a paragon of perfection' and going on to thinking up all the times when the other person erred? Of course, our man is not disparaging you to your face but, after he has pulled down the third person to you, you'd be the ultimate idiot not to understand that he'd be pulling you down in someone else's company. Once THAT point is reached you'd then start looking up all the reasons why that chap is a bigger idiot/cheat/whatever than the rest of you.

So, yeah, if you want to eventually get a comprehensive listing of all your flaws - real and imaginary - make a career out of criticizing people in their absence. You'll be astonished at the number of defects one person can have and still remain functional!

Monday, February 6, 2023

Unworthy people?

The easiest thing in the world is to identify unworthy people, isn't it? If someone holds opinions different from yours, he is obviously unworthy. On THAT, most people have no difference of opinion - that he who is not with me in my beliefs, is unworthy of respect. That, though, was apparently not always held as self-evident truth.

Tiru has other ideas about that as may be expected.

Nayanilan enbadhu sollum payanila paariththuraikkum urai - Tirukkural

He, who is worthless, displays his lack of worth by elaborating on useless things - Loose Translation

Alas! What the heck do we do for conversation, then? I mean, come on, you cannot sit over drinks of an evening discussing String theory and M-Theory OR Existentialism and Nihilism OR...! Though, perhaps, Tiru would consider these as 'useless things' too considering that it would be only talk-talk since we would not be doing anything about any of these unless we are physicists or philosophers respectively. Maybe, we should be discussing coding or, in my case, accounting entries even as we sip on the Single Malt. Yuck!

But, no, I do not think that Tiru can be that heartless. I think that when he speaks of 'useless things' what he means is gossip. Nor, indeed, is he totally against gossip, he is only against someone who spends all his time elaborating on gossip.

But what is it about all these hoary old sages and their opposition to that harmless pastime of gossip, pray? Because, I suppose, gossip is seldom all that harmless. I mean, really, when you think of something as 'juicy gossip' does it ever turn out to be complimentary to the person about whom it is? Nonsense! What is juicy is only what is uncomplimentary OR, at least, what that person has done which Society may not completely approve of. AND one who elaborates on that...and does nothing else...I mean, really, if you meet some such person in a party, do you think that he is a worthy member of Society during the day OR a useless piece of gossipy junk?

THAT, then is what Tiru was saying. That someone who keeps elaborating on useless things is worthless and is seen as worthless.

Though, yes, Tiru did not live in these days. THAT person could well be growing into becoming a Social media influencer, because of his following. After all, nothing goes as viral as juicy gossip!

Monday, January 30, 2023

Expectations and morals

There are rules, there are laws and then there are these unwritten mores of conduct. You sort of expect that the laws and rules exist to ensure that everyone behaves in a manner that is considered acceptable behavior by Society but that is not exactly the case.

Sometimes law-makers set ideals for society to live by, even if what is considered acceptable behavior by Society is different. Take for example the system of dowry...it was in practice much after the law of the land declared it illegal.

Sometimes what Society considers unacceptable is not proscribed by the law. Expectations of how women should dress, for example, has, rightly, been a minefield that the law refused to enter definitively. Of course, sometimes it is difficult to legislate for all possibilities leaving a lot of room for interpretation. And, thus, the rules and laws can and will vary from the expectations of Society about the behavior of people.

Therein comes about the peculiar behavior whereby breaking a rule or a law is seen as excusable. Break the law, it may be condoned but bely the expectations of Society and it evokes tremendous outrage. Take for example the reaction to inter-caste marriages in rural India, the so-called honor killings. To marry inter-caste runs counter to expected behavior; the law against murder is a mere inconvenience which the State has erected as a hindrance against the legitimate quest of Society to enforce its behavioral norms. THAT is the attitude, THAT is the power of Social expectations. Social expectations are seen to be 'moral imperatives' and the laws are merely nuisances set up by the Government which have to be adhered to, if possible.

Lest we all look down our superior noses on all these people who will not abide by the 'rule of law', let me give you an example closer to home. In most offices, there are these reimbursements given on certification - vehicle allowance, lunch allowance yada yada. (Or, they used to be, since I'm out of touch with current practice). These were 'reimbursements' because reimbursements were not taxable as income. Well, the LAW says that they have to be spent by the employee for that purpose and in the course of carrying out the job for it to count as legitimate reimbursement. Society, as represented by the employer, cares two hoots. So what do you think - does the rule of law obtain here?

Or take the case of this 'Mankading' in Cricket. The law says the bowler can run out the batsman if he is out of the crease before the time when he can legitimately expect the ball to be bowled. Yet, expectations so far have been that the worst he will face is a warning for backing up too far. And guess what happens? A storm of outrage falls on the head of the bowler who so runs out a batsman. As for the batsman who is actually in breach of the law, the poor chap either was not warned  or was tricked by the wily bowler or should not have been run out come what may. Rule of law or expectations?

Social expectations, no matter what the issue, rises to the level of moral imperative whether you can it 'spirit of the game' or 'anti-cultural' or whatever. The sort of outrage that a breach provokes will never be provoked by a mere breach of the law.

It is THAT which needs to be changed by anyone who wishes to change Society for the better. It is not just legislating to make dowry illegal which eradicates the practice. It is also needful to make society change its expectations.

To think that outraging on Social media and screaming for new laws will bring about a Utopian society is to assume that Social reform can be brought about by moving a petition on Change.org!

Monday, January 23, 2023

Forbearance

Virtue always seems to exist in only the most difficult things to do. Anything easy to do is very seldom accepted as virtuous much like anything good to eat is automatically classified unhealthy. It automatically raises the question whether it is difficult because it is virtuous or is it considered virtuous only because it is difficult.

Akazhvaarai thaangum nilam pola thannai igazhvaarai poruththal thalai - Tirukkural

Like the Earth that bears even those who dig it, the virtuous man bears with those who revile him - Loose Translation

And THAT is Tiru's idea of virtue. And I challenge any of you to say it is easy to do that. When someone keeps trolling you, do you want to let loose on him with your choicest accumulation of abuses or do you rejoice in smiling it away?

One can sort of see that it is tough to be a virtuous man (Yeah, Yeah, PERSON! It is not always chauvinistic, you know. It is just that old age means that you have become used to writing things a certain way for too long for you to change easily. And, yes, the practice was to use 'him' and 'man' in these circumstances). If you cannot bear trolls with a grin and start raging and hating the trolls, sooner or later you will get to the point where any criticism automatically seems like trolling and evokes hatred. Which essentially means that you only become self-righteous instead of being righteous.

So, Tiru does have a point when he says that a virtuous man should be able to grin and bear it when he gets trolled. Failing which he shall, sooner or later, cease to be virtuous.

The problem is that it is just too much trouble to be a virtuous man. It is always easier to expect virtue of other people than to be virtuous yourself!

Monday, January 16, 2023

The greatest wealth?

The quest for wealth is never-ending for us humans but, you know, we depend of others to tell us what IS wealth. I mean, there would have been a time when a soldier thought that 'salt' was wealth considering that he was paid in it. Can you think of anyone hoarding salt and gloating over how much salt he has, these days? So, yeah, once others tell us what counts as wealth, we'll rush after it.

Well, our man Tiru has his own ideas about what is the best wealth.

Selvatthul selvam sevicchelvam; achchelvam selvatthul ellam thalai - Tirukkural

Of all wealth, the wealth of knowledge earned by listening is the best; it is the foremost of all wealth - Loose Translation.

There he goes again! Proving all over that he is dated. In his times, people were taught by lectures and, therefore, knowledge was acquired almost exclusively by listening. Paper, you see, did not exist in his times and, thus, books as we know them did not exist. So, when he talks of the wealth acquired by listening, we need to understand that what he means is knowledge, no matter how acquired.

But THAT is not what I mean when I call him dated. We live in times when people talk of employ-ability as soon as you talk of education. If the knowledge imparted by education cannot be parlayed into a job thereby earning wealth for you, it is considered useless. So, knowledge is ONLY a means to acquiring wealth, in other words. How, then, can it be equated to wealth itself...and the supremo among all items of wealth, no less?

Those were ideas of his times, which is why I think he is dated. I mean, in his days, they considered knowledge as making you wise in your choices. In what you chose to do with your life, in how you decided between options, in the way you judged people, even in your ability to enjoy the arts. They considered knowledge as molding your character - in the way you dealt with adversity, in the way you dealt with prosperity, in the way you dealt with people around you - both those better off than you and those worse of, and so on.

So, essentially, the problem reduces itself to what Tiru thinks is knowledge and what we understand as knowledge these days. I mean, I hardly think that he would consider that knowing to write code in Java or whatever is this 'sevicchelvam' that he prates of in this Kural. So...

We can get to a meeting point with Tiru, though. I mean, like, KNOWING not to share your OTP and the likes over phone...THAT is wealth, indeed, because you'll cease to remain wealthy if you fail to know that!

Monday, January 9, 2023

Joy and Desire

You know, these philosophers must be nuts. I mean, all of us understand that what we call joy is the satisfaction of our desires. But what these chaps say is that the absence of desire is the primary prerequisite for joy. What rubbish.

Well, Tiru belongs in the same bandwagon. Here he goes

Inbam idaiyaraa theendum avaavennum thunbatthul thunbam kedin - Tirukkural.

You will perpetually be joyous if you are rid of desire which is the worst of sorrows - Loose Translation.

Well, well, well! Far from joy being a successful achievement of your desires, desires are the worst of sorrows! According to Tiru. But, then, he is not alone in saying that. The Buddha said it for one. As did almost any Indian philosophy, I think.

That, then, accounts for why we guys keep pursuing happiness but never really seem to achieve it. Cos, the WAY we pursue happiness is by pursuing satisfaction of our desires. Like, "Once I get a seat in IIT, I'll be happy"; then "Once I get a MS with assistantship in the US, I'll be happy"; then "Once is get into Microsoft (or whatever), I'll be happy" and on and on. You can change it to suit your own paths but, roughly, the way it works is that you find a new thing to pursue in case you achieve the previous one; OR you keep moping about not achieving the previous one!

And, thus...desires are the root of all pain. Failing to achieve it leaves you moping; succeeding only leaves you dissatisfied cos you are still not happy and, thus, you search for a new pursuit. Which is why retirement is such a difficult pill to swallow. For now, your pursuit has officially ceased and happiness has not been achieved, yet!

So, maybe Tiru has it right after all. To shed desire need not mean that you cease doing things. What's that other thing we all keep spouting and nobody really bothers to understand? Ah! 'Do your duty, lay not claim to the fruits thereof!' Desires are generally related to the 'fruits' thereof, no? I mean, for me writing blog posts is, say, my 'duty'. Appreciation for what I write, posts becoming 'viral' etc are the 'fruits'. Wanting that appreciation etc IS a desire which, as per Tiru, will be the root of sorrow to me. To shed that desire and to keep writing is, per Tiru, the route to permanent joy!

Ahem! I sure hope you'll make this post go viral!