Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Discarded proverbs

Talk of proverbs and good old Bill pops up like a bad penny, every time. This time, though, I must admit he popped up as a consequence of that '..to thine own self be true' crack that I quoted in my last post from his 'Hamlet'. Somewhere before that piece of advice, he also said, "Neither a lender nor a borrower be". (I know, two quotes within a space of a few words is a bit too much even for Bill, but then you know the guy. He seems incapable of writing, without scattering around quotes like confetti.)

Unlike most of Bill's quotes, this one about lending and borrowing has been pretty short-lived. I mean, if you started advising your kid this way, he would be on the phone calling for an ambulance from the nearest mental hospital even before you hit the 'be' in it. Just imagine putting an end to lending. Bang goes your entire banking industry and with it a few million jobs. As for putting an end to 'borrowing', what do you think the younger generation would have to live for? Currently, of course, they live to pay their EMIs.

With the 'lending/borrowing" thing dead as a dodo, another proverb also bit the dust. "A penny saved is a penny earned", indeed! That one needs to be kissed goodbye, fondly or otherwise, and replaced with "A penny borrowed is two pennies that have to be earned."

There is yet another proverb that needs discarding because it has failed to move with the times. "Don't look a gift horse in its mouth", they used to say. NOW, if you stopped looking gift horses in the mouth, you will start believing that THAT Nigerian lawyer, offering you a zillion pounds in an unclaimed bank account, deserves to get the complete details of your bank account - PIN, Internet banking passwords and all (Oh! And, by the way, I can quote a contradictory proverb here - "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". THAT gift was a horse, too, although a wooden one and called a Trojan Horse, though the Trojans would have been pleased, in retrospect, to have nothing to do with it). Well, believe in that proverb if you want, but do not ask me to. My gift horses will receive a complete dental examination - from a safe distance of course.

And, no, I am not 'throwing away the baby with the bath-water', even though I am, as yet, undecided about the desirability of babies - since they have this unfortunate and undesirable habit of growing up!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Contradictory proverbs

As though it is not enough that proverbs are difficult to understand, they also turn out to be contradictory on occasion. Then, it is up to you to choose what you believe in. Since you were anyway confused with your choices and did not know which to choose, it is no help for the proverbs to also leave the choice to you. You might as well have played 'Inky Pinky Ponky' to make the choice instead of trying to gain your wisdom from the proverbs.

Take "A rolling stone gathers no moss" for example. I mean, I know there is no real reason why the stone should be happy about gathering moss that we can understand. But, to be honest, the stone would also find it tough to understand why we would put in so much effort into gathering money (as opposed to using it), so it is only fair that we do not make value judgments about the stone's ideas of a happy life (Well! I, myself, do not understand why we collect money, but then people do say that my head is full of clay, instead of brains, so my understanding is probably more at par with the stone than with humans). Let us just assume that gathering moss is something that gives a stone ineffable pleasure and, thus, anything that stops a stone from doing so is undesirable. Which, in effect, means that it is best to stay put instead of rolling around since it is only the former that allows you to gather moss. (WHAT? You mean that it is meant to say that you need to persevere in your efforts in one area rather than flit from one area to another? Well - that may be YOUR idea but...)

So, there we are, deciding that not running around doing things is the best option. Then we run into the proverb that says, "A wandering bee gets the honey." Uhoh! So, now, the best option is to run around and do things? Well, the wandering bee may get the honey but it hardly gets to enjoy the honey or use it, does it? After all, it is us humans who seem to get to eat the honey (not to mention the drones and the Queen bee who get to eat it without troubling to gather it.) It seems like the bee gathers honey (as opposed to just consuming the nectar) like a stone gathers moss - to no purpose to itself that we can understand. (Why would you keep interrupting? I am NOT interested in your opinion that this proverb means that one should put in effort instead of idling.)

Well, the same purpose - or is it non-purpose? - is served for both stone and bee. Unfortunately, the stone has to stay put to collect things that we see as useless for the stone; and the bee has to wander to collect things that we see as useless for that bee. Should we, then, think of ourselves as the stone or the bee? In other words, should we sit at home OR should we run around the place in order to collect things? Me - I believe in 'When in doubt, do nothing."

Willy had different ideas. He says, in one of his wholly tear-filled plays - 'Hamlet', "This, above all, to thine own self be true." Now, go figure - whether you are a stone or a bee, and act accordingly. I think I shall go to sleep now and try figuring out what 'my own self' is, after I wake up - if I am in the mood.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Proverbial Lessons?

One of the main reasons why I never learnt what people chose to call the 'lessons of life' is because people never talk straight when they are giving such advice. That is probably because they find it difficult to string together sentences all by themselves when it comes to abstract ideas. So, they dip into a pool of what people from before had said, in similar circumstances, and, apparently, in the days of yore, people believed in not saying anything unless it could be said with a metaphor, however obscure the metaphor made the meaning.

The first time I ran into these proverbs was when a friend said, "The early bird catches the worm." Considering that we were talking of how I had missed the school bus by a whisker AND that I had made no query about the breakfast habits of birds, I could not understand why he thought that this bit of ornithological information would brighten my day. Upon stringent cross-examination, he revealed that THAT was a proverb meaning that if you needed to get something, you ought to be early. I really did not get the point, still. I mean, if I were a bird it is all right since I would get the worm to eat. BUT, the worm was early too and I could not see that it benefited greatly by being early. If it had lazily yawned its head off, stretched its body and crawled out, well after the birds had done with breakfast, it would have been the better for it. When I questioned my friend on the applicability of the proverb, on these grounds, he glared at me and departed in a huff.

There is this other proverb, also meant to push the message of timeliness. "A stitch in time saves nine", is what it says apparently. Of course, with my 'acute' intelligence, my first confusion about it was the fact that it seemed incomplete. It is all very well saying, "..saves nine" but it left me asking 'Nine what?' Apparently, it means '...saves nine stitches later' and whoever wrote the proverb decided to save a couple of words, even if it left the meaning a shade ambiguous to people of 'acute' intelligence like me. What with this confusion and all, the proverb left me feeling that I should be perpetually moving around with a threaded needle in hand, an eye to the clock in order to be in time, and an ear keyed to the sound of tearing. The very thought was so fatiguing that I gave up any idea of taking up stitching. (WHAT? You mean it was meant to say that action should be timely in any endeavor and not only in stitching? I don't believe you. If that was what was meant, why not say so in so many words instead of giving tailoring lessons?)

Anyway, I found myself unable to understand most of what people tried to teach me. I bemoaned the fact to another friend and he says, "You can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink." Huh! What the hell sort of reaction is that? Who wanted to know anything about the drinking habits of horses anyway?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Much Ado about 'Nothing'

When you have nothing to say, say nothing! Easy to say, but whoever said it was not a blogger. I mean, if I started remaining silent only because I have nothing to say, pretty soon this blog would be full of cobwebs and dust with no-one offering to mop and clean the place and make it habitable. It is good then that when I have nothing to say, I can say a lot about 'nothing'.

I do not know how much I make people laugh when I write but I sure made a lot of people laugh for no reason I could discern. There was this friend of mine who would suddenly start chuckling when the two of us were tete-a-tete. If I asked him "What makes you laugh?", he would reply, "Nothing" and continue chuckling. Inevitably, this response sets me to check to see whether my fly was open OR if there was a smut on my nose OR if there was food sticking on my teeth OR...well, you get the picture. That is one 'Nothing' which starts you doubting everything. These chaps, apparently, do not want to tell you why they were laughing since the reason could offend you - and anything more offensive than someone laughing at you (well - if he says "Nothing", it is always assumed that he is laughing at you) and refusing to give a reason, I have not come across, even if the idiot did not keep cackling at discrete intervals after the event.

And, then there is the man, suffused with anxiety, and who replies, "Nothing" when you ask him what was worrying him. Of course, it is MUCH more than nothing - he would hardly want to avoid talking about it, if it were only a matter of having spilled some milk on the dining table, unless his wife were suing for divorce on that account.

Ever heard an angry man scream, "NOTHING" when asked what was making him so angry? Does it seem like it is a piddly little thing OR does it seem like he would reduce YOU to nothing if you persisted in badgering him?

It is one of the mysteries of life, for me, how people will develop words for one purpose and, then, use it when they mean exactly the opposite. Must create one hell of a problem of communication if we ever encounter an alien species. If you get really furious and say, "Nothing" to queries about what was making you furious, they may end up saying, "All Right, then" and go on blithely, thereby causing an inter-galactic incident.

Closer home, though, there are problems enough. All these "Nothing"s are normally the problem of the male of the species which has been conditioned to suppress its emotions. Comes to the more expressive distaff side, a question about what was worrying them would invoke a detailed response.

AND what does the male of the species do?

"You should not have said that, then."
"I think you are reading too much into the situation"
"Why did you not tackle it this way?"
"You should act like this in future"

Instead of assuming that the lady was assuming you to be the Oracle of Delphi, if you could only listen and say nothing, that would suffice.

BUT then we are trained to say, "Nothing" but not to say nothing, if you know what I mean! AND, thanks to that, there is much ado about your not just saying nothing!