Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Question of Perspective

"I am unhappy," my friend keeps bemoaning.

Happiness is a state of mind just as unhappiness is.

One can be in Tibet savouring the beauty of Manas Sarovar, one can be surrounded by the beauty of the lakes and flowers of Kashmir, one can be amidst the beauty of the Alps or the lakes of Scotland, or one can be vacationing on the beaches of Hawaii with one's love. Yet one may not be anywhere close to happiness - except the transient euphoria we often mistake for happiness.

One must have seen a beggar or a rikshaw-puller breaking into a hearty song at the dead of night while trying to sleep on the roadside amidst the stench of drains, swarms of mosquitoes, and clouds of dust all around him. And the carefree attitude in the voice is unmistakable. What makes this beggar or rikshaw-puller happy? Don't they really have enough difficulties to distract them?

No matter where one is, what one is doing there, or who one is with, happiness is not guaranteed except very transiently. One is happy just as long as there is a pleasant stimulus (unless the stimulus itself is there for too long - in which case one's mind would start asking for something else by way of a stimulus!) and once the stimulus is removed, one is back to the usual state.

If you have fallen down and sprained an ankle, u can be upset that u have sprained an ankle. Or u can be happy that u have not fractured the ankle - a mighty serious problem compared to the fracture of a femur or tibia.

I had a fairly serious accident riding my motorcycle a few weeks ago. I escaped with relatively minor injuries: just two fractured fingers and three fractured ribs. Well, I could have fractured my jaw, arm, forearm, hip, thigh, legs or skull (and the consequent medicare could have cost me a fortune) or even the vehicles behind me could have run over me. The man who ran across the road and caused this accident in the first place got away with a minor concussion. The man could have died on the spot (had I not been alert enough or had I been riding very fast) - and I would have ended up with a serious criminal case on hand.

Well, I was not all that unhappy about the injuries suffered. I was rather happy - and thankful to God - that things didn't turn out to be all that bad, after all.

I guess it was this sense of relief or happiness and the consequent absence of negative emotions that helped me handle the post-accident scenario very efficiently and effectively.

Perspective makes a lot of difference.

If we learn to see the bright side of a situation and be happy for the small mercies strewn in our way, we learn to be happy. The thought "Gosh! It could have been far worse!" is often enough to make us see sunshine where we could once see nothing but the darkest of clouds.

I don't for a moment suggest that there is nothing painful in life. The issue is how we react to a stimulus, the cause of what we perceive to be pain or pleasure.

The key is in how one reacts to an experience, a situation, a stimulus.

Responding pleasantly to a 'pleasant' stimulus is nothing unusual; responding pleasantly to an 'unpleasant' stimulus is.

The pleasant response leads to a happy frame of mind; the unpleasant response leads to an unhappy frame of mind.

Unless one attains that capacity to condition the way the mind reacts to a situation, one cannot conquer unhappiness because, no matter where one goes, one is accompanied by one's mind and, hence, the state associated with the mind : happiness or unhappiness.

The ancient rishis of this land had no fancy labels for their timeless wisdom. But their prescription for Man's woes was simple. The problem is not with the stimulus but with one's reaction to it; by controlling the reaction, one can control the effect of the stimulus.

Yes, training the mind is a tough job, a very tough job.

It is a slow process and one experiences tremendous despair along the way. Often, one marches ten steps ahead but goes back twenty in the face of some severe problem. And again struggles to regain the lost composure.

But that is the only way to go. And master one's reactions to any stimulus.

Nothing else yields happiness - happiness that lasts.

I Am So Lonely!

"I am so lonely!"

One often complains that one is lonely because one does not have a girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband (or even some 'friend' to while away time talking inanities) and that one is, therefore, unhappy.

It's a complaint that I don't see much sense or substance in.

I firmly believe that if one knows how to live with oneself, one is never alone.

We are born alone; we live alone - though we all erroneously believe that we have friends, relations, and companions; and we all die alone. When we ultimately reach His Abode, we reach it alone never to return to the Cycle of Births and Deaths and remain alone there.

This is not something to grieve; this is in the nature of Creation.

Call it Divine Comedy, call it Divine Tragedy, it is all woven around this and a few other simple 'realities'.

"Kaa te kantha? Kaste putrah? Samsaroyamatheeva vichitrah ('Who is your wife? Who is your son? Life is indeed ludicrous.)," averred Adi Sankara in the famous "Bhaja Govindam".

I believe that the theme of Bhaja Govindam is the place where one starts one's philosophic inquiry. One may not have read Bhaja Govindam and yet the mental state leading to one's initiation into spiritual inquiry would correspond to the theme of Bhaja Govindam.

Then there is the complaint that one feels a lot of pain or that one is unhappy because some given event has happened or not happened or because one doesn't possess a certain object of pleasure.

Does any event or possession have the capacity to make one happy for a lifetime?

"Pain is my only companion," a friend of mine insists.

Is that indeed so?

Pain is no more real and no more one's companion than Happiness is.

One is miserable today? It shall pass. One is happy today? That too shall pass.

The future Dawn of Happiness is no more permanent than the present Darkness of Misery. Both shall pass - only to occur in unending cycles.

"Dhyaayatho vishayaan pumsah, sangastheshoopajaayathe ..." So go a couple of stanzas in the Gita. As one keeps thinking about something, one develops a longing, an attachment. And ultimately, the discontent of Man is rooted in that.

Have wife/husband, children, money, a plum job, a palatial house, orchards, cars, ornaments, social standing, learning, or any of the umpteen things that people covet and possess ever made a man happy? There are people who have given up huge wealth to seek a higher happiness - higher in the sense it lasts a lifetime.

One may not have a companion to live with. So what? Is every person with a companion really not alone? Or happy? Or contented? If one has a companion, one may end up complaining about the quality of the companionship!

Does one have enough means to have two square meals a day, decent clothing, and a kind shelter to live under? If one does have these, then one indeed has a cause for celebration.

All of us who have the means to live with dignity - satiate the hunger of the stomach, have something decent to wear, and have a comfortable shelter to sleep under - have a reason to be thankful to Life and God. Because by taking care of these three very primary needs for survival, God has given us a chance to live honestly and a chance to seek Him in relative peace.

Anything else beyond these is a luxury; if one has it, fine; if one doesn't, well, just as fine!

Because there is just no end to what we can wish or seek.

If one wish or desire is gratified, another steps in; a fulfilled desire gives temporary happiness till the new desire creeps in. And the unhappiness created by a frustrated desire lasts only till the next desire creeps in. In either case, the happiness or unhappiness of one moment is replaced by anxiety about another desire; that in turn leads to momentary happiness or momentary unhappiness. This is an unending cycle - as long as one is alive.

Nowhere in the history of humanity has the satiation of desires been found to ensure happiness. Actually, the contrary has been noted to be true. Because desires are a never-ending stream. Then, what is the solution?

The hoary men of the past ages have all been telling us in resonating unison that developing contentment through control of the the mind is the only key to happiness - happiness that lasts.

The happiest of the people we know have their own causes for unhappiness; either we do not know the people sufficiently to realise it or they mask it well enough - for a while, at least - to present a picture of happiness. So, there is no point in comparing our lot with what seems to be the better lot of someone else.

It could be useful, though, to compare our lot with those who are in a condition worse than ours. It would at least make us grateful to God for what he has given us.

Pain is somewhat relative too.

For the man sleeping on the road, sleeping under the hot sun on a bed of hot, dusty soil is the cause for unhappiness; for the delicately-built, pampered princess disturbed by an irritating strand of hair in her cushioned bed, that strand of hair is the cause of unhappiness.The man sleeping on the road would laugh his heart out at the princess upset by that strand of hair; it is simply unimaginable for him that one could be unhappy for such a trivial reason.

There is none who doesn't experience pain - or pleasure.

Sometimes the duration of one is longer than the other even as both Pain and Pleasure are cyclic in their occurrence.

Perhaps that is where the Law of Karma comes in. We cannot mitigate past Karma except through suffering. But we certainly can - we are told - control the accretions to Karma by controlling our present and future actions.

Pain is as real as life - though neither is real in a philosophical sense.

Coming down to the mundane, I think it makes for greater happiness (or lesser unhappiness) to find ways to modulate our reactions to pain. It is this control of the mind that ultimately ensures happiness.

This is where the spiritual path comes in; this is where the various spiritual practices and the help of Guru come in - if one is unable to find one's way along at least in the initial stages of spiritual endeavour and mitigation of misery.

A Guru can certainly help - provided one sticks to a well-chosen Guru instead of flitting from one Guru to another in expectation of an instant solution (or, what is even more ridiculously ambitious, instant salvation).

There are no instant solutions to the fundamental problems of life.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mothers never die - or so we think.

"... but one day in my 30s, I got this impossible call from Nigeria to say that my mother had gone. We never think our mothers will die. It was like suddenly an abyss opened at my feet - I was standing on nothing. It was the strangest thing. Her passing away ripped the solidity out of the world. ... ... That was a turning point for me." says Ben Okri, the great African writer who was awarded the Booker Prize of 1991 for his book 'The Famished Road'.

I was dumbstruck.

Yes, I too never suspected my mother would die. Not anytime soon, at any rate.

There was so much I wanted to learn from her. A poem. A recipe. About her friends. About our relatives. A narrative of her experience on one occasion or the other. A chronicle of her life and times.

There was so much love I still needed to keep going in the face of everything engulfing me.

There was still so much that I had to do for her. There was so much that I failed to do - and had to compensate for - in the face of my father's last words "Take care of your mother." The last words of a man who faced Death with the same nonchalance as he faced the threats, trials and tribulations of life and passed away without any fear of death or a lingering concern for anything else he was leaving behind.

I did try my best. But did I do enough? I do not think so. The posthumous accounts of how appreciative she was of me do not fill me with satisfaction; they make me feel even more ashamed of not having been what all I could have been to her but did not end up being. Only a mother could be glossing over the shortcomings while looking at the brighter side through a magnifying glass.

How do I get her back today - so that I can apologise for the harsh words I spoke on this occasion or that or to say those words of love and kindness that I just did not say because I was wary of sounding melodramatic? Can I ever tell her in as many words that I love her?

I was the decision-maker in the home after my father's death. Yet, when she was there, I had the feeling that there was somebody standing by me and overseeing me. I miss that presence of someone standing by me - just in case I tripped over the threshold. She is not there now and I am so wary of every threshold today.

I rarely consulted her about any decisions but merely told her what I was doing or going to do. She never said much except what boils down to "You know best. You are as balanced as your father. And as full of honesty and good faith. Go ahead." When she said that, it was reassuring. When I say that to myself, it sounds awfully egoistic and even unbelievable.

When she passed away, my best friend - who has known me from my college days - said : "You have lost the only person who understood you and was on your wavelength. Your loss is more than the loss of most other children." I never knew he observed me and my mother that well. Even more so because I and my mother never spoke much to each other; we 'd mostly just sit silently in our respective rooms, sometimes together - holding hands in some very rare emotional moment. Yet she was more than a friend - much more than a friend ... perhaps the unseen God in flesh and blood.

How I wish parents never die!

Yes, her passing away has ripped the solidity out of the world - my world.

Yes, it was a turning point alright. The beginning of a downward spiral emotionally.

The internal lampposts are not up to the task yet.

The couple of friends who promised to be everything have disappeared since then - caught in their own compulsions and travails.

Here I am all alone - with a long road ahead on my journey to proving to be a good human being, a good friend, and a worthy son of two exemplary human beings.

Will I make it?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Can we do something?

Recently I came across a photograph of an aged cobbler on a footpath, making hardly enough money to earn a single meal in a day, staring straight into the camera with a stoic, serene and dignified smile on his withered face. The kind of serenity and dignity that come from honest living. And contentment.

Honest living, his certainly is. It must be a continuous heroic battle against the temptation to live otherwise. The capacity to keep smiling and remain committed to the hard and honest way of life even as he realises that his monthly income is less than the cost of a pair of those leather shoes he polishes calls for unparalleled contentment and equanimity; the stoic smile on his wizened face should chasten the world mired in the rat race called living.

It tells another story too. The compulsion to work that hard at that age; the stark economic realities behind it all.

Our rulers and administrators tell us that the economy is flourishing and that everything is picture perfect. They have their statistics to flourish at us.

But statistics lie - and lie outrageously. After all, Statistics is a subject which makes one conclude that a man is happy on the average if one end of his is in a refrigerator and the other in a raging fire!!

The disparity between the metros and the villages is glaringly obvious to all except those who can do something substantial about it; so is the disparity between income levels across the various strata of society in a metro.

Can we do something for these hapless people who have as much a right to decent living as anybody else - a right which they are too ill-equipped to enforce but a right which can be supported by us with our thoughtfulness?

Can we do something for these hapless souls to ensure at least a reasonably comfortable life, a life that assures three square meals a day, good clothing, and good shelter - if not anything fancier?

We can. If we act in concert. The more of us join the drive, the better of course. But we need not wait for anyone to join our effort right now; we can tread the lonely path for a while. If we can swim against the tide to help ourselves, we can swim against the tide to help others too.

How about buying a couple of earthen pots for storing water from that old woman on the footpath every summer - even if we do not ever use them?

How about buying a kite from that lad staring into distant skies with dreams in his eyes, hope in his heart and hunger in his stomach - even if we do not dream to fly a kite ever?

How about buying those home-made papads from that small boy selling papads in the evening while going to school during the daytime?

Just so they continue to make an honest living and their needs are met adequately. Just so the only honest means of livelihood they know are not snuffed out along with their lives. Just so they do not turn into criminals to survive the pangs of hunger - debasing their souls and the collective conscience of society in the process.

How about refusing to frequent a fancy restaurant and going, instead, to a smaller, unimpressive one? Our custom can be the difference between life and death for the owner of that restaurant and the staff in it.

How about drinking some tea from that tea vendor operating from a makeshift stall? At least when we are not desperately looking for a comfortable place to sit and sip tea at the end of a hard day? Our custom can mean the medicines for his feverish daughter.

How about refusing to buy something from that flashy air-conditioned mall if it is available in a less impressive outlet - so that the proud owner of that small shop does not become a servile salesman in a Mall? How about buying our vegetables from a vegetable vendor on the streets rather than from one of these luxurious malls? How about the groceries?

How about buying an inexpensive perfume from the local perfumer than a ten-thousand rupee perfume imported from France? Just so our ancient art of perfumery does not die an ignoble death - and, along with it, the perfumers.

How about buying a pair of good old Bata shoes rather than a pair of Nike so that cobblers like this old man have their livelihood unaffected? Or even the leather footwear that was once handmade before the cobblers making them started giving up their profession and their livelihood?

May be the next time we are about to buy an expensive perfume or a pair of shoes shelling out ten thousand rupees, we can settle for something much less expensive and donate the difference to CRY or a home for the aged?

None of these choices may be adequate, even in the short run, to tackle a problem so huge. But it is our little contribution to the solution. A contribution that does not rule out more effective contribution from anyone.

None of these choices is all that difficult - certainly not any more difficult than the hardship the millions around us face every minute as they struggle to survive. We do not have to do anything but give up some of our fancy desires - desires which do not threaten our existence if they are not fulfilled.

Yes, in case you are wondering, I do make these choices consciously. I do indulge myself at times; but I do try to cater to the glaring but unspoken needs of the hapless around me in small and subtle ways. In a way that is charitable in spirit but does not look like charity and offend their proud spirit.

In the process, we help ourselves too. We turn humbler. And more honest too. We become more contented like that old man out there in that picture despite the coarse choices we make while foregoing the expensive pleasures. Contentment leads to happiness, doesn't it?

Monday, June 7, 2010

I'm What I Think!

I'm What I Think! My signature here. And my id on one of the social networking sites.

"I'm What I Think!", it is. Not "I'm What I Think I'm!". Nor "I'm What I 'm!".

"I'm What I think I'm!" is preposterous and presumptuous. Nobody is what he thinks he is.

(I am not sexist. But I have no fascination for Feminist preferences in respect of language; I love English far too much to be a mute accomplice in its mutilation. So, if the context so warrants it, as it does in this instance, 'he' means 'she' as well.)

One may think one is the epitome of virtue but one may not actually be. One may think one is very intelligent, sophisticated, and so on. And one may be - and usually is - off the mark in each case. Not a big deal really. Everyone has a certain amount of narcissistic, flattering estimate of oneself. Some manage to keep it minimal; some cannot. But it is there, this flattering estimate of oneself. When it exceeds all reasonable limits, one is far off the mark and that spells trouble for the person.

Again, one may think one is the President of United States. Or that he is God. Well, you know very well where he should be sent!

"I'm What I'm!" is different too. Its mildest implication suggests resignation : "I'm what I'm and I cannot change it." and its most virulent implication suggests "I'm what I'm and I don't care a damn to change no matter what one thinks of me."

"I'm What I Think!" is something different - way different.

Nobody is his name; nobody is his age; nobody is his gender, academic qualifications, vocation, profession, earnings, bank balance, and so on.

Nobody is what we usually seek to know about a person when we are acquainted with the person.

I am the same - even when I change my name. Shakespeare was right on the dot when he said "What is in a name?", wasn't he? Some of what I am may have a bearing on some of the various tags I have mentioned - tags like profession - but (usually) not the other way round.

None of these - my name, age, gender, etc - really define me.

What define me are my thoughts - what I think. My thoughts alone characterise me. A different set of thoughts - at any given point of time - define a different person.

So, if you want to know me, you need not know my name, age, gender, occupation etc. and you do not need my photograph. They may be necessary to identify me at some point (if a very valid need arises) but not at all necessary - or even useful - to know me. Instead, you should try to know what I think.

This is the thinking behind my id on that social networking site. This is the thinking behind my refusal to identify myself online.

OK, I do tell people my name and gender. Just to make life a tad easy and make communication a tad more comfortable. As elementary parameters for minimal identification. Not as a means to know me. That is just about the concession I give to the curiosity of people online.

Sometimes, people are very insistent that I upload a picture of myself. Not necessary, I tell them.

Pictures as well as physical presence or physical acquaintance can have an unduly subjective influence on one's evaluation of a person.

A handsome man or a pretty woman usually creates a favourable first impression. But the person may prove to be far different later on. Someone may have a captivating smile. And someone else may have a fabulous dress sense - cultivated or otherwise. These are all subjective influences causing a prejudice or bias - either favourable or unfavourable. Both types of prejudices affect one's objectivity. I don't want to be either the beneficiary or the victim of a prejudice.

Subjective influences are best avoided if you want to have a strong relationship with someone. That is what we aim at (or should aim at), isn't it?

But strong relationships are possible only if you know a person well.

Know your person well by talking to him over a length of time; keep yourself alert as you gather what he is saying; over a sufficiently long period of time you can paint a fairly accurate picture of the person. The longish time helps you identify inconsistencies in the image created across time and decide whether he is phony.

You may not agree with me in this. I understand that perfectly.

But you know now what I think in this particular matter. And you know that it is me so thinking. This thought pattern identifies me. It does not identify me uniquely by itself, I agree. But, coupled with a good enough number of my thoughts, it does identify me uniquely.

Because I'm What I Think!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Regret of a Lifetime

There is a wonderful book titled "The Pursuit of Excellence" by M.V.Kamath, a former editor - perhaps the last editor - of the now defunct Illustrated Weekly of India.

It's a short book - running into less than a hundred pages in all. But some book it is.

Mr.Kamath recounts an incident from the life of President Jimmy Carter of the United States. ("Why Not the Best?" by Jimmy Carter.)

It seems the young Carter had applied for a job in the nuclear submarine programme and one Admiral Rickover interviewed him for over two hours. Carter was allowed to choose the subjects he wished to discuss. In Carter's own words, "in each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen." Admiral Rickover asked him "How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?". Carter swelled his chest with pride and replied : "Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 320." Instead of the congratulations he had expected, he was greeted with the question "Did you do your best?" Carter was about to say "Yes, sir" but checked himself in time because he "remembered who this was", gulped and said "No, sir, I didn't always do my best."

The final part of this incident as quoted by Mr.Kamath remains etched in my memory. I shall once again quote Mr.Kamath's quote from Carter's book.

"He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget - or to answer. He said "Why not?"

Nor am I able to forget the question or answer it.

Yes, I did a pretty good job at my studies. I am remembered with awe wherever I have studied or worked. I am fairly well read - my reading spreading across several disciplines - and I am heard with respect when I say something. In short, I have always done a pretty good job of whatever I have chosen to do anytime.

Yet, I could have done a lot better. I am certain that I have not always done my best. I am just as unable as Carter to answer that stunning question "Why not?"

I remember all the time wasted in one frivolous pursuit or the other. I remember the various occasions when I failed to probe something deeper to gain a perfect understanding - the familiar refrain on each occasion being "Oh, that is not all that important for the exams." or the equally familiar excuse "I don't have the time to go into that now."

It is partly true that I was trying to bite more than what I could comfortably chew - given my varied interests. But, looking back, I wonder why on earth I had to do that. I have certainly done better than the proverbial "Jack of all trades" since I did acquire a robust understanding of the subjects of my academic courses but fell way short of the mastery I would have liked.

Perhaps I should have spent much less time on less important things like an evening of fun and frolic - particularly because I always enjoyed reading my lessons just as much as I enjoyed playing a game or watching a movie and did not need those for relaxation or entertainment.

I wish I could undo all that now. I wish I could recapture the lost time and the wasted opportunities to do better. I wish I had better sense back then. Perhaps this book by Mr.Kamath would have done me a world of good way back then had I stumbled upon it in those days.

Excellence does not come easy, as Mr.Kamath goes on to say. I wish I were more conscious of the need to excel then - much beyond what I have managed to do.

That remains a regret - the regret of a lifetime.


Is silence golden anymore?

It has been some four days since I posted last in my blog. I know it is not mandatory that there be a daily post. I am quite aware that unless you find something to write and have the mood to write, there is no point in writing something just for the heck of it. (Why do I, all the same, feel rather apologetic about this inactivity of the last few days?)

The problem is not so much that I don't have anything to write about. It is just that I do not consider quite a lot of things suitable to write about for public consumption. I am not one of those who wear their hearts on their sleeves - or on their blogs or social networking profiles or on this ultra-latest micro-blogging mania : Twitter.

There are things we talk about to a second person, a third person, or the world at large. Then there are things that we do not. A good rule of thumb used to be that what need not be said shall not be said.

Do we really have to talk as much as we do? My grandfather used to say “Maunam panditaanaam”. The learned man shall be silent. So that he does not ignite jealousy in others because of his scholarship. He used to chuckle and, with a twinkle in his eyes, add immediately: “Maunamapanditaanaam”. The ignorant shall be silent. So that he does not make an ass of himself because of his ignorance. The long and short of it is that silence is golden, as the saying goes. Do we heed it any longer?

There was a time when people were very particular about what to talk about, where to talk, when to talk, who to talk with, and how much to talk. Circumspection. Discretion. Discreetness. Dignity. Decorum. Reticence. These used to be the watchwords of educated and sophisticated people. Parents and teachers used to play an active role in ensuring adherence to certain stringent norms of behaviour. Gossip was frowned upon. So was babbling - and the kind of babbling we notice today would have made many a mentor in the finishing schools of yesteryears wince in ill-concealed disgust.

We see people discussing their boyfriends, girlfriends, personal problems, problems at work and so on on public online forums - quite unmindful of the need for caution and privacy. We see people posting their phone numbers, mail ids, and addresses on their profiles with various social networking sites - and facing avoidable problems. Yet, they do not just seem to learn. They seem to talk just too much about themselves and about others ... throwing caution to the winds.

We see cabinet ministers talking to the press and TV about things which ought not to be discussed in public. We see ministers using media like Twitter to pass comments which, to say the least, are indiscreet. The row and furor created on at least a couple of occasions by an otherwise suave and urbane (Indian) minister with his 'tweets' is still fresh in the minds of most people.

Why is this cricketer tweeting to the public at large about the match he is going to play that day or sometime soon or about his daily workout or the outing he is planning with his family? What is this actor doing out there talking about his day’s programme? What is this CEO of that multinational company doing out there – tweeting about his company’s latest financial results or the latest product unveiled? What is this gal doing there blabbering about her boyfriend? Why is this fellow making a blatant pass at some gal thru a tweet? Why is this lady having an intimate conversation with her husband thru public tweets? What is this husband doing out there – cribbing to his friends about the quarrel he had that morning with his wife over a burnt toast?

(All the references here to tweets can be properly replaced with a reference to the Scrapbook of an Orkut profile or the Wall of a Facebook profile.)

Are these people simply out of their minds?

Perhaps the very word ‘tweet’ tells us something about these tweets and ‘tweeple’ (people who tweet). ‘Tweet’ means the note of a small bird. When were birds famous for brains? Don’t we have phrases like ‘bird-brained’?

If extremely well-educated people, highly intelligent people, highly sophisticated people, and people in responsible positions find the need to indulge in this flippancy, unmindful of well-established and perfectly sensible norms, do we have a future as a sane, civilized, and responsible society?

Somewhere along the way, the preferences of people seem to have changed radically. One is surprised to seen a sudden upsurge in loquacity, frivolousness, indiscretion, and an utter disregard for propriety of various sorts resulting in the well-entrenched habits of even the most sedate being changed dramatically.

People seem to invite all and sundry to peep into their personal lives. Do we no longer cherish and value privacy? Why do we want to lead our lives on public roads and in market places? Do we no longer remember the dictum ‘A time and place for everything and everything in its time and place’?

Why are people trivializing themselves and their lives?

Is it the influence of the junk programmes on TV where people seem to babble on to fill the available airtime?

Is it the influence of the gushing anchors on TV and the garrulous hosts on FM Radio?

Is it the influence of the myriad cheap magazines - expensive and glossy but absolutely devoid of finesse and refinement - where the various articles are an exercise in insufferable banality?

Is it the tempting scope provided by the various social networking websites to talk without inhibitions - secure in the knowledge that most of the 'friends' one has out there do not really know one in person (and, perhaps, that in any case, they are all birds of the same feathers) - responsible for this deplorable state of affairs?

Is it a sign of the superficiality of our lives and lifestyles and the shallowness of our times?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Bee

I am a ‘Book Bee'.

Have I caught you nodding wisely but, after a couple of those wise nods, pausing suddenly and looking perplexed - and looking around furtively to check whether anyone has noticed your discomfiture?

Don’t worry. You aren’t the only one to nod vigorously and looking wise in the face of something that one has not quite understood. You are actually better than the lot.

Think of the zillions of people who look at a work of modern art (and even some not so modern art) in an art gallery looking very thoughtful, engrossed, appreciative, and letting out a faint whistle or two followed by a ‘Wowwww!’ under their breath as they peer at a painting which, in their honest opinion, doesn’t actually look anything more than a pail of paint spilled all over the place.

Think of those thousands of people who go to a classical music concert, look all so immersed in music, clap occasionally and applaud thunderously with a beatific smile plastered all over their faces though they know nothing about Raga, Tala etc and can't actually care less about the stuff.

Or those millions of users on FB who click on 'Like' against something though they hardly know what it is all about or why they 'like' it. In fact the less they understand something or the less there is a reason to like something, the more they seem likely to say that they like it. Prompted by a need to pass off as wise and learned, perhaps.

You are not alone in it and never shall be. If they don't look around self-consciously, you have far less reason to. As I have said, you are better than that lot. You have been genuinely confused - having been caught unawares by a not so clever play with words.

I don’t claim ‘Book Bee’ is quite in the Ivy League of a work of art or a music concert. Yet, for an analogy, I had to say something – something I do not quite understand myself, I guess!

Well, ‘Book Bee’ sounds familiar but there is an odd ring to it, right? Not surprisingly.

(I have this knack of getting back to where I had started – no matter how much I digress. You have to concede that!)

You have heard of bookworms. And you have heard of honey bees too. But book bees?!! Now you know why you have that feeling of uneasiness coupled with familiarity.

Just like honey bees which collect honey painstakingly, I have been collecting my books painstakingly. But that is just about where I want the similarity to end.

Honeybees are smoked out of their beehives by cunning mortals who are after the honey. (I wonder whether the roots of Communism lay in the exploited world of honeybees!) Crooked, selfish, exploitative chaps these cunning mortals are; I agree with the honeybees.

I refuse to be relieved of my books - my most precious possessions. I am a tougher nut to crack or a tougher bee to ward off. I have no intention to let my painstaking collection pass into greedy but indolent hands - hands that receive generously but give parsimoniously.

“Vanitaa, vittam, pustakam parahastam gatam gatah”, so goes the saying. Once a woman, money, or a book passes into the hands of another, it is gone for good.

I haven’t had a first hand experience – touch wood, I‘d hasten to say – with the first two in the list; but I have had a faint brush with the third because my brother – a tad younger than me but a lot less circumspect than me - took it upon himself long long ago to give away a few of my precious books to a convincing cousin – ‘A Bridge Too Far’ by Cornelius Ryan, ‘French Revolution’ by Thomas Carlyle, and a few rare text books of Physics and Mathematics. Fortunately, I woke up before the damage could spread and took preventive measures (which I shall speak about later).

There is this problem about books. If you do not lend them, you are considered to be mean and thoroughly unsociable. If you lend them, they never come back – and if they do come back, they do in such a thoroughly disgusting and deplorable condition that you feel like throwing them out or gifting them back to the person returning them. If you complain to anyone (other than the borrower), an all-knowing crooked smile is flashed at you and you end up being bestowed with that oft quoted piece of ancient wisdom: “Vanitaa, vittam, pustakam parahastam gatam gatah”.

The people who borrow books and do not return them or return them in a thoroughly mutilated condition do not seem to understand something. It is not just a book. There is a lot of you associated with the book. You may have bought that book with the pocket money of one year or with your first salary; you may have bought it when you were on that memorable trip to Paradise with ur girlfriend (or boyfriend); you may have bought it when you had that famous tiff with your girlfriend (or boyfriend) and that book was your only solace for the few hours that the tiff continued. It may be a signed copy or a limited edition copy; it may be a book which had been long out of print when you picked it up in the crowded stalls of College Square braving the withering glares and vicious, wilting glances of that bewitchingly pretty damsel coveting the same book (and you gave up coveting her – proving to be a tad above Sage Viswamitra), off the dusty pavements on Abids Road after a long search for the book with your book-loving dad (who is no more now) when the temperature was soaring at 45C or in the charmingly dilapidated Moore Market. The memories associated with a book are often more precious than the book itself. One can borrow my books, perhaps. Can one borrow my memories or, what is worse, destroy my memories?

If you have books and if you have some friends, the friends are bound to covet your books sooner than later. But my vision is not clouded and my priorities are pretty clear. I value my books just as well as I value my gal. And I am as devious as I am determined to keep both my gal and my books out of harm’s way! That may bother my friends; but that does not bother me. Just as I would throw out a friend who covets my gal, I would throw out a friend who covets my books. Ruthless I can be.

If the person seeking to borrow a book is a gal who makes my heart flutter whenever she smiles, I brace myself firmly to say a charming but firm ‘No’ – consoling myself that acquiescing to her does not ensure anyway that I would win her over and that gals are often believed to like men who are charming and firm at the same time! If you are a guy whose heart flutters because of every other gal that passes by … aaaah, life can be difficult and I can only commiserate with you if you were in my shoes.

If you lend some insignificant book in the hope that the borrower would not return it any way and so would not dare seek to borrow another book, well you are in for a nasty surprise. The familiar trick that works with money just does not seem to work with books.

So what do I do to preserve my books, my memories, my life, my lifelines?

When I talk about myself (which is most of the time), I do make it a point to veer the conversation round to my love for books and add in all seeming innocence that I do not lend books. Neither a borrower nor a lender be, I tell them, because the loan loses both the friend and the book. (I do take care to add that I am a worthy exception to the usual lot of people who borrow books!) Most take the hint. If they don’t, well, God save them from a more pointed refusal.

Yet, I am not satisfied. I think stronger preventive measures are called for.

Barring the most impossibly dull books (going by popular preferences) which I am almost certain that nobody would bother to read or borrow (except perhaps to adorn their bookshelves with and pass off as well-read), I hide them all in cardboard cartons – taking care to take them out once in a way to dust them and replace the naphthalene balls in the cartons. Some books I do hide in my cupboard with wooden shutters and keep the cupboard firmly shut and securely locked, the key always on my person - something like the proverbial key on the person of an ogre whose life depended on the life of a parrot held captive in a golden cage in an impossible island beyond the seven seas.

The deviousness and camouflage work – most often. Sometimes they do not. In those cases, I might lie that the key is lost. Truthfulness sacrificed for a worthy cause.

All because I am a book bee – a bee which does not sting so much as a honeybee but is far craftier.

When all is said and done, an average day in the life of a book bee is tough. Tougher than that of a honeybee. Believe me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Equality Re-visited

Having said what I have said about 'equality', I find it necessary to address another issue - a very pertinent issue capable of causing a lot of heartburn.

When we say that two things or two men are unequal, we usually rush to conclude that one is inherently superior or inferior to another.

Equal and unequal are one pair of words; superior and inferior are a different pair. I see no reason to link inequality with either inferiority or superiority. This is avoidable confusion.

Perhaps the confusion is because if something is superior to something else, the two are obviously not equal. But if two things are not equal, can we say that one is inherently superior to the other? The converse is simply not necessarily true here.

The superiority or inferiority of any thing or person depends on the context. It has only a fleeting value and transient relevance. What is superior in one situation may be inferior in another or even irrelevant.

A steel rope and a hemp rope are definitely not equal - in terms of strength, cost etc. But, the superiority or inferiority of either is a different cup of tea altogether. Neither is inherently superior or inferior to the other.

In terms of strength, the steel rope is decidedly superior. So, if one is looking for a rope to build a suspension bridge, the steel rope is the rope of choice. It is superior – in that context.

In terms of cost, the hemp rope is decidedly superior if all that one wants is to use the rope to tie a pile of old clothes into a bundle. In that context, the hemp rope is superior in terms of cost and suitability as well!

The learning of a scholar may be (considered) superior when peace and prosperity are prevailing in society. But is it superior to the battle skills of a warrior if there is a battle raging? Is it superior to the swimming skill of another when the two are faced with drowning?

As I have said, ‘equal’ and ‘unequal’ are one pair of words and ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ a different pair. If we must link them, we should remember that ‘unequal’ does not necessarily imply either inferiority or superiority.


I have a favourite theme – a pet theory.

“No two people are equal - not even the so-called identical twins. People are born unequal, have unequal intelligence, unequal capabilities, unequal opportunities, unequal value systems and so on.

I have, of late, found a need to re-visit it.

I shall make a few observations before I dig deeper into it all.

Every person, undoubtedly, contributes differently to society, to his family and to his fellow beings. The difference itself means they are not equal. Moreover, some contributions are more significant than the others - and that further implies unequal contributions.

Each has his own space carved out in society. But not necessarily equal space or space of equal importance or significance.

All this reinforces my averment that "No two people are equal ...". I would go so far as to say that nothing in the universe is equal to - or identical to - any other. Is this moment the same as the last? Certainly not - if one realises that this moment is X moments away from some fixed reference point in the past and the next is X+1 moments removed from the same reference point.

Now, what do we mean by equality when we talk about the equality of people?

What I mean is obvious. A literal interpretation. Given that, there remains the need to examine what people mean - which is not quite the same as what they think they mean.

Despite the inherent inequality of any two things or any two instances of the same thing (eg. two mangoes), there is this issue of equality that has attracted philosophers - political philosophers in particular.

What they mean essentially is that all persons shall be treated the same way and shall be subject to the same laws, same privileges, same punishments, same opportunities etc because they are, broadly speaking, the same or equal. (Perhaps, 'similar' fits the bill better than 'equal' here; but who cares for semantics when 'equal' sounds more impressive and emotionally compelling?)

Fair enough.

But this is where hypocrisy begins.

Do we accord a boil on the person of a Bill Gates the same disdain as we accord the boil on the person of a beggar near India Gate or the Gateway of India? Don't we make so much fuss over Bill (if we have a chance of being noticed by Bill or his cronies, that is!) while we simply ignore the lowly beggar?

Do we treat the problems faced by a less important friend of ours with the same concern as we treat those of a socially better-placed or more influential friend - assuming for a moment that the problems are similar in character?

Is a case relating to the property of an ordinary citizen heard by law courts with the same urgency as that of a case involving the fortunes of an Ambani, a Birla or a Modi?

Is the government as keen on acquiring land to help a poor man build a house as it is to help a large industrial house build a factory (even if it adversely affects the lives of several ordinary citizens)?

Apparently not.

Because some are more equal than the others!!!

So much for equality.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Am I addicted?

Here I am, less than twenty-four hours after creating my blog and making the first post. Why have I returned to it so quickly?

Do I have something more - something substantial - to say? I don't think so.


Is it curiosity that has brought me here? I don't think so. After all, nothing can be happening here to make me feel curious. My blog is not publicised yet and there is none following it yet. The friend who inspired me to take up blogging is not, as far as I know, particularly passionate about blogging now and is unlikely to be reading my blog or following it. So I have no reason to expect some comments of one sort or the other from anyone to read, re-read, and ponder over.


Is it the attachment - an attachment akin to that of a mother to her child - to what I have written that brings me back so that I can look fondly at my first post and smile a smug, contented smile? I don't think so. Because what I have written there is nothing extraordinary in any way. Moreover, I did write some pretty spiffy stuff - logically brilliant, passionately eloquent, and nonchalantly controversial but scrupulously fair - when I was part of an online community way back in time and, so, this is not all that new an experience to me. By my own standards, I have no reason to preen or gloat over my first post here to give it a fond glance now.


Is it possibly some kind of an addiction that brings me back here so soon? Possibly. An addiction founded in the need to say something to someone, to be heard by someone - even by some imaginary persons out there in the digital skies. (Remember that almost none knows about my blog yet.)

But, is it possible to be addicted to something so quickly? Not impossible, I guess. Particularly if one realises that the conditions right for an addiction may have been present in a person long before he gets to know about the addiction itself. As in my case. I am quite used to saying things and being heard. Not that I ever thought there had been a need to say or be heard. But it must have been present there; a presence strong enough to keep me saying things; heard I have been invariably (though I don't think most of those who heard me have either understood my point of view or accepted it despite some compelling logic). But, not having said much of late, I must have reached a point where something like a blog could shape into an addiction quite quickly.

An addiction to writing in a blog may not be a big problem.

But, addictions to more pernicious things can take root in quite the same way. That is a disturbing thought.

I just hope I do not have in me the conditions necessary or suitable for a more pernicious addiction to take root in me. If I have some, I hope to eliminate them all consciously so that I am free from the potential problem of an addiction to things pernicious.

Having said so much, I wonder how I could write so much about nothing!!! Am I (getting) addicted to the sound of my own words?!!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A first step ... a timid first step.

This is my very first foray into the world of blogs and blog posts. A world that somehow looked pretty intimidating till I decided to take the plunge. At long last.

My friend - the gal I hold extremely dear to my heart and mind - asked me first a few years ago to start blogging but gave up goading me after a while. She must have given me up as an incurable procrastinator.

Yet, here I am - scripting my introduction to the world of blogs, and hoping to give her a delightful surprise when she clicks on the link to my blog I 'd soon be mailing her.

It is simply fitting that I dedicate this first post of mine to this wonderful gal. And so it stands dedicated to her.