Monday, July 21, 2014

Singular Lessons: Guest post for Sumeetha Manikandan

Every now and then I am surprised by someone, who is kind enough to think that what I write is worth carrying on their blog. Sumeetha Manikandan went one step further. She even thought that I may have a lesson or two to communicate to her readers. She may well be ruing that misconception by now, but now is too late - at least if you are a polite person and, unfortunately for her, she is.

What she and her readers thought of my lessons from bachelorhood I know not. What you think of it you can judge after reading it.

The first time I ever openly said that I may choose to stay single, I was faced with the simple question, “Why?” You may blame me for being unnaturally obtuse, but I saw no reason why I should have a reason. My answer was, “Why should I have any reason to merely continue the same way as I am now? It is for you to explain why you want to change states and marry.” After all, it is the chap who is changing his job who needs to explain why he is doing so and not the guy who is continuing in the same job.

The issue, though, is that most people reacted as though I was a larva refusing to become a butterfly. Though, I am sure that no-one ever polled the butterflies about whether they would have preferred to remain larvae or not – the poor things just never had a choice. In more human terms, it was like I was refusing to pass out of school even after hitting my twenties.

And, if you still want the rest, you can read it here

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Of stubbornness and persistence

Someone up there really does not like me. I mean, I am a pretty harmless sort of chap and I really cannot understand why someone should concentrate on messing me up at every turn. It is sort of gratifying that I am considered worthy of specific attention but, every now and then by way of varying the monotony, I can only wish that things could go right for me.

You see, back at school, they told me this story of Robert Bruce whose school-teacher was a spider (and, mind you, that was not even a fantasy tale) which taught him that 'If at first you do not succeed, try, try, try again' or some such thing. And my school teacher, who was not a spider (more is the pity, since lessons would have been more interesting that way and, if they got too boring, you could sort of squash the teacher), called this thing persistence.

It sort of seemed like persistence was a thing that you ought to acquire. I tried. I really did. The problem, though, was that when it came to me, they invented a new word for it - they called it stubbornness and, apparently, it was absolutely uncool to be stubborn.

That, in a nutshell, has been the story of my life. When it came to the other guy keeping on at something, he was called persistent and everyone patted him on the head and held him up as an example of what you ought to be. When I kept at something, I was called stubborn and everyone glared at me and held me up as an example of what you ought not to be. If this is not conclusive proof of malice from above, I would like to know what is. Seemed to me that if you kept pegging at a thing and succeeded in the end, you were called persistent. If, like me, all your repeated efforts only ended in failure, you were called stubborn.

Of course, there were always my friends who did not agree with my diagnoses. (That is another of my grouses. Am I the only person in the world, whose friends treat him as though he was brought up by parents, whose idea of parenting a newborn babe was to bounce him on his head sixty times a minute?) On one of my persistent attempts at solving a problem, all the sympathy he offered was, "If you keep assuming that two and two add up to five every time, I can hardly laud you for your persistence." (I am NOT stubborn. I offer up as proof the fact that, on my next attempt, I assumed it was six and NOT five, and still could not solve the problem. So there).

This chap sort of gave me the impression that sticking to a goal may be persistence BUT to stick to the way you went about chasing your goal without learning from your mistakes was to be stubborn. Of course he would say such things - he was lauded for HIS persistence merely because he eventually succeeded, so he was unlikely to accept that it was only injustice that did not land me on the same pedestal.

Anyway, I have found that, whenever I chased what I thought other people would prefer me to have, and was persistent at it, it was ALWAYS stubbornness. The malice that dogs me seems to have started with producing me with a kink in the brain that refuses to understand exactly what others would want of me. SO, I ended up chasing things with little success and got labelled stubborn for my efforts.

Then there are the things that I wanted. It is not that chasing them made others call me anything other than stubborn - but I found that I just did not care what I got called. When has a person with a sweet tooth ever bothered about what people said while bowling over others in his effort to snag the last piece of sweet on a buffet table? Even if he did fail, he would only regret the failure but not the effort. Something like that.

So, after this long, my philosophy has changed to "If at first you do not succeed, just give up" for all the things about which I even felt the need to think about whether I should persist or not. When it came to the things I REALLY wanted, the thought of giving up never crosses my mind.

After all, it is sort of idiotic to learn your lessons from spiders - blindly!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Guide to becoming an effective Talk-show guest?

I NEVER watch talk shows, particularly about politics. Or mega-serials. Not by my choice, at least. (So, of course, I feel competent to talk about how to become a talk show guest, you murmur? Don't jump the gun.  It may go off in your face.) Sometimes, though, guests at home inflict these things on me.

After having had a surfeit of political talk-shows, I derived some important lessons about what qualifies you to become a talk-show guest. I must warn you at the outset that you are solely responsible for any consequences arising out of following these lessons. I also absolve myself of the blame for what you may, in your turn, inflict on the unsuspecting viewers - not that it seems likely to be any worse than what they already appear to be enduring enjoying.

1. You must have an unswerving conviction that people holding the opposite opinion are, in your charitable moments, congenital idiots or, at all other times, black villains sent down by the Devil to Earth expressly for the purpose of tormenting normal people. It helps to have as few charitable moments as possible.

2. People holding the same opinion as you may have their hearts in the right place. You may even get to like them BUT for the unfortunate fact that they have also been given mouths AND they use them to speak. No-one can articulate your side of the tale with such perspicacity and clarity as you, and it is such a pity that they will not acknowledge that and leave the field to you. You must FEEL but nobly refrain from voicing, "With friends such as these, who needs enemies".

3. It is perfectly all right to keep talking, even if four others are also exercising their vocal chords at the same time, and you should train yourself to continue to do so till the anchor cuts in with a commercial. It helps if you have selective deafness that will only permit you to hear the anchor interrupting. Why that is important will be dealt in the next session.

4. You must always have an opinion about everything but that's unnecessary to say since, without that, you would not WANT to be a talk show guest in the first place. What is more important is that you should always say, "In my opinion..." in such a tone of voice that the others understand that what you are really saying is, "Of course this is not merely an opinion but incontrovertible fact, certified by God, but I can hardly expect people with IQ in the single digits to understand that."

5. You are not allowed to use those words that can only be written as "@#&$" - YET - but you are permitted, nay encouraged, to enunciate the names or positions of the others in a way that sounds like "You @#$&# so-and-so". You will find that 'the honorable so-and-so', rather than just the name, gives you more scope to enable you to sound quite the way you are 'encouraged' to sound.

Those are lessons that, properly imbibed, would qualify you for talk shows BUT, as you can readily understand, to get on THE premier show, you need to be something special. After all, the manners that you can get by with in an ordinary aristocrat's house would hardly suffice to be the guest of a king.

1. You must rise every day, go to the mirror and practice saying, "Arnab" in as pleading a tone as you can manage. Check your face to see if the expression looks like a starving beggar desperately seeking alms. Your only chance of getting a word in edge-ways in the middle of Arnab's monologue is if he takes pity on you and allows you a nanosecond to talk. Never mind if you cannot get the right plea in your voice. Statistics (that I gleaned out of a five minute segment, which I saw as my friend was channel-surfing) say that more than 90% of what other people say on his show consists exclusively of "Arnab", so you can be happy that you have had your say.

2. Strangely, some things are easier on the King of all shows. You really do not need to have an opinion. All you have to say is, "In my opinion..." and Arnab will fill in the rest with his "I know what you want to say..." (In that, he is different from the others. They only know what you meant and not what you intended to say. Say, "The sun rises in the East." and they will say, "So, you mean that you believe that the Earth is the center of the Universe and all Science starting from Galileo is so much hogwash?" You would never have known that you had any opinions about science at all, but for their kindly enlightening you about your own thoughts. Arnab, though, will also supply the 'Sun rises in the East' part along with the rest,.thereby easing your burden.)

3. Now comes the reason why you should have an ear out for the anchor's interruption. You may get away with talking on despite the anchor's interruption on other shows but it is an unpardonable transgression on Arnab's show. Fail in this and you will be put through the horrendous experience of Arnab looking at you like a stern headmaster, wagging an admonitory finger and lecturing you on manners - all on Prime time TV. (Oh! And, by the way, you are NOT supposed to learn your manners from Arnab's own behavior. Manners are for the hoi polloi and they ought not to ape the king.) Unsubstantiated rumors also claim that transgressing guests have to write, "I will never interrupt Arnab again" a thousand times before they are allowed to leave - and no copy-paste allowed either.

4. If, for some unaccountable reason like needing a sip of water, Arnab is silent for a second, the one thing you NEVER do is contradict him. The grapevine says that this act of lese majeste counts as one of the 'rarest of the rare' cases, which are eligible for the death penalty, and what substantiates the rumor is the fact that no-one can deny that it happens VERY rarely indeed and, thus, will certainly qualify as the 'rarest of the rare' - the 'rare' being where other anchors are contradicted.

5. The most difficult thing to master is the tightrope walk that you need to manage. You must retain sufficient of your childhood memories to not mind someone treating you like a truant schoolkid but, at the same time, be adult enough not to respond with a "Sorry, Teacher! I promise not to do it again". Arnab may well like the latter but the problem is that it is all being telecast and he would like the viewers to have at least the impression that you are free to express your own opinion.

But, then, why would you ever have an opinion that contradicts the man who knows what the Nation wants - on an everyday basis? It only shows that you are an idiot to end all idiots and do not deserve to be even an ordinary guest, leave alone achieving the exalted position of a talk-show guest and on Arnab's show.

"Arnab! Arnaaab! Arnaaaaaaaab!"

Don't tell me you are in front of the mirror, already.

"Arnab! Arnaaab! Arnaaaaaaaab!"

Omigod! What on Earth have I unleashed!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


One of my standout characteristics is a certain (un?)appealing social gaucherie. I may not have risen to the height of being pointed out by parents with the commentary, "Do exactly the opposite of what he does and you cannot go wrong", but that is about the only height that I have not conquered in this area.

Rest assured that I am not about to talk about how my dress puts to shame a vagabond greeting the morning from the gutter; or about how that 'Srrrr' noise heralds that fact that I have not merely put the cup of tea to my lips without imbibing the fluid; or the fact that I think of the forks and knives as being put in place by the restaurant merely to provide obstacles to resting my elbows on the table and getting to work with my hands, and finishing off by licking my fingers clean; or...well, you get the picture. Oh! No! No! No! I do not mean that I do not DO all these things. I only mean that I do not intend talking about them now.

Gaucherie is apparently 'unsophisticated', 'awkward' or 'tactless'. To me, it has always meant that the way I do things is not the accepted way of doing things. I mean, once upon a time, it was quite all right to eat with your hands and lick them clean right up to the elbows. No-one would have considered it any of those three words above. Then!

Of all the ways in which I deviate from 'accepted' behavior, I think that the most injurious to my reputation is the fact that I never really learnt the right way to give praise OR negative criticism. The problem is, as usual, because I failed to understand that some lessons are just meant to be preached but never practiced. So, I took 'Reprimand in private; Praise in public' too literally.

What? You say that THAT is correct? That the chap who tells you in the middle of all your guests that your roti is underdone, follows you to the kitchen, gets his mouth as close to your ear-wax as he can, and whispers in dulcet tones, "The aloo-mutter was lip-smackingly good" is NOT your favorite guest? Really? As I have had occasion to mention before in this blog, who is the guy for whom you will take the most pains the next time - the guy who praised your food in public OR the one who criticized? (Ah! Do not tell me that the latter guy will never get an invitation again. You do not keep and discard people only on the basis of how they act as guests.)

In any case, it is not ONLY the cook's reaction that determines the social respect. All those admiring guests around will be only too impressed with the guy's discerning tongue. "He is a man who knows his food", they probably say, as they wend their way home. Or "A man who knows his music" or "A man who knows his movies" or whatever he has been critical about. And the chap who praised your aloo-mutter in public and told you in the kitchen that the roti was underdone? Is he the acknowledged guru of cooking? Fat chance.

So, one lesson wrongly learnt and I lost my chance of social respect. Of course, I compounded the error further by the WAY in which I gave praise and negative criticism, as well.

"Wow! That was a wonderful aloo-mutter." is the way I used to communicate my praise. Quite the wrong thing to do. Even the hostess only simpers and takes it for her due and you for a fan. If you want social respect, the last thing you need is to be counted a fan. If you HAVE to give praise in public, the better way to put it would be, "Hmm! All things considered, the aloo and..hmm...the mutter too were well-cooked. The sauteing too was, perhaps, quite acceptable. Overall, a very decent aloo-mutter." There you go, you are the discerning critic. In short, it does not do to be too enthusiastic when you hand out praise.

Comes to criticism, I again make a mistake. "Maybe if you had cooked the roti a couple of seconds more...just a teeny bit would have been perfect. At least, so it seemed to me." is the way I tend to put it, if I have to be critical in public. Quite wimpy and not at all the picture of a man who knows what he is talking about. The best way to do it is, "This roti is totally inedible. It is very much under-cooked." There is the man who knows what he is talking about.

In short, Praise should be grudgingly given and in private. Criticism should be unstintingly given and in public. You doubt my lessons? Let me ask you one question. If there is a person who says, "That was a good movie" what is the probability that someone says, "You liked THAT?" AND what is the probability that the first one will defensively explain, "No actually...the hero did a decent job...the story, of course, could have been better..." etc.? On the other hand, if someone said, "That was ONE shitty movie", how many would dare say,"WHAT? I loved it." and, if you found one such brave soul, what are the odds that the first one will retort, "Well! If you choose to watch such shit, be my guest"? You see, it takes less courage to blame than to praise. After all, you WANT to be looked up to as a person of taste and you can hardly get there unless you dislike far more than you like - in public, at least.

There is this difference between knowledge and wisdom, in my opinion. You dredge knowledge up and check up its applicability, getting confused about it all the while, and use it rarely. When you are wise, you act instinctively on what you have learnt. Unfortunately for me, what I have outlined above is only knowledge for me. Maybe because I also never learnt that "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was another of those preach-but-not-practice lessons.

I put this out in the hope that some of you will convert this to wisdom.

P.S: I would prefer, of course, that someone changed the mores of acceptable behavior so that I can become 'sophisticated' without any effort on my part but that is too much to ask, I suppose!