Monday, August 25, 2014

I, the orator

I was, probably, born as good an Orator as Cicero but for one small failing. I had a starting problem, like I invariably do with most things in life. Where, for most things, I would probably have succeeded but for the fact that I never started on them, in the case of oratory my failing lay in the beginning of the speech.

"L.l.ladies and G.g.gentlemen..uh..sorry...I suppose I should start with Respected Chairman, Ladies....oh...just noticed, there is only one and gentle...I am wrong again..nobody who boos is a gentleman..."

After that fantastic start, I found myself booming out the rest of my speech into an empty auditorium. Stymied by the start.

Then, of course, I got a lot of unsolicited advice. All well-meant, of course. One of those grand ideas is to start the speech by telling a joke. The idea, I suppose, is that the audience would be so breathless with laughter that they would be unable to walk away.

"Let me tell you a joke about Pat and...that name is on the tip of my sec...starts with 'M'...ah, yes, Mike. They were walking down a street in...what was the name of the place...somewhere in Ireland I think...hmm...well...D..Du..DUBLIN! Yes, Pat and Mike were...hey why are you laughing...I have not even told the joke...stop...oh may as well have made me forget the joke"

THAT for the idea of joking an audience into staying around! The audience did stay around, doubled up with laughter. It was the speaker who made a hasty exit this time.

Then there was this suggestion from someone who said that I should forget that there was an audience and focus on one person and talk as though I was talking to him. Seemed like a fair idea...after all, when I had pigeon-holed someone, the difficulty for me was not in talking but in stopping.

The next time, I started off making eye-contact. The first person I focused my eyes on looked at me with such a grimace of pain, as though he had swallowed a porcupine whole and was dealing with the after-effects, that he put me off my stride. I switched my eyes around to a lovely lady and thought my task was done - till she glared at me and made an unmistakable gesture at her foot-wear. High-heeled slippers in the face is not quite an inducement for great oratory, so I switched again hurriedly to meet a couple of eyes like the guns of a firing squad and a granite face that dared me to speak any longer than the recipient could bear.

Wodehouse talks of an orator preparing for a speech by saying "Mi Mi Mi Mi" in front of a mirror in order to ensure that he was in good voice. Now you know why my career as an orator has not gone beyond screaming "Mi Mi Mi Mi" to the mirror.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Strange encounters of the pleasant kind

Just as you find a certain level of confidence about people, someone comes in and totally upsets all your convictions. I mean, here I was feeling quite wonderful about the fact that I was a good person after all, despite the fact that I hardly ever even thought of doing a thing for anyone else, since everyone in the world was quite like me and, then, these people pop into my life and mess up all my confidence.

You hardly expect to find goodness shoved into your face on a train journey and that too from among a bunch of youngsters full of sound and laughter. Yet, there was this pesky girl who pushed my face into the idea that there was more to goodness than I thought of as existing in the world. So what if there was an old woman in the compartment, with a daughter-in-law traveling in another? What if the morning came and the lady was squirming with no-one to help take her to the bathroom. Did this girl HAVE to notice it, ask the old woman if she needed help, insist on overriding her feeble demurrer about waiting for her daughter-in-law and help her? Did she have to so diligently check up on the old lady and help her in all things all through the 42 hours of the journey, while still engaged in repartee with her friends and newly-wed husband? I mean, I enter the train feeling confident that, if you extended help ONLY to people close to you and ONLY when requested, you were good enough to be going on with, and this girl comes around and messes it all up. (Thank God for the daughter-in-law who redeemed all my expectations. She made one appearance and learnt that the girl was being helpful. THAT was the last we saw of her till the journey ended.)

There was the day when I was in a train on a RAC ticket, morosely brooding over the fact that someone had nicked all my currency from my wallet at the hotel and thanking my lucky stars that I had had some money left in my pocket (in the days before ATMs. Yes! There were such days). The other person sharing my berth asked me if we could pool together and manage another berth by 'managing the TTE'. I, perforce, had to admit that any managing had to be done by him, all by himself, since all I could do was just about manage to scrape enough to travel home by bus from Old Delhi Railway Station. He must have, since I ended up having the berth all to myself. Imagine how taken aback I was when, while disembarking on the next day, this kid accosts me, checks out whether I could manage to get back home and insists on dropping me home by his auto before going onward to his home. Huh! I am still not sure that the help he extended to me was worth the blow he dealt to my own idea of my goodness.

One would have thought oneself safe in foreign environments and, more particularly, in the West. It was all the more easy to feel that way after a fortnight in Manhattan where, if you accosted a person for directions, you would get that how-dare-you-disturb-me-when-I-am-rushing-to-save-the-world glare. And then you land in Paris and, while trying in vain to communicate your need for a day pass on the metro - using loud English, Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi and semaphoring - you find the next man in the queue taking it on himself and even arguing with the counter-clerk to get you the cheaper option. You reach the station with the vague idea that you need to board a train headed for 'Nation' and, after a few tries, you find one man who understands that your 'Nation' is his 'Naashiaan' and takes you along all the way to the train and sees you safely aboard before going about his business. At that time, the plastic smile that had your cheeks aching, while he talked non-stop in totally incomprehensible (to you) French, seemed the least you could do for the warm friendliness. It was only later that resentment started burning in your veins - why should he have been so good and make you feel so small. It was not even like it was Japan where, apparently, people HAD to do such things to keep in with Society.

More recently, I was at the end of my walk and had my hands on my hips - my usual posture by around that time since my Tees get all sweaty by then and become too irritating under the arms, if I do not air them. I suppose I do look like I have a severe back-pain. So, this young chap stops his car by my side and asks me if I need help. All my thoughts about self-centered youngsters, who are too wrapped up in themselves to see other people as more than vague nuisances, shot to hell. Really, there must be a law against these guys. The way they trample over all cozy convictions is just not funny.

So, apparently, there is more goodness in the world than I thought existed. I just had to get it out of my system so that I could revert to harping on all the selfish and brutal acts in Society and feel safe in the assurance that I am good, after all.

P.S: Inspired by a post by Indu Chibber Datta about interactions with strangers.

Monday, August 18, 2014


I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer - and, in fact, the only point of surprising unanimity in my friends is that I really have no competition in being the dullest knife - but I do have some ideas. You know what, I really think that I know the reason for increasing intolerance in Society.

You see, all people have certain ideals to which they expect other people to adhere (note that they are never stupid enough to try to adhere to those ideals themselves). In the past, when others fell short of these ideals, people sort of took it in their stride because they have had experience of people being less than perfect in most things.

Just as you think of life as a bed of roses, a whiff of hydrogen sulfide from someone's armpits puts paid to the notion. So, when you run your finger over someone's skin, you are willing to accept it as soft as long as it is not sand-papery enough to draw blood from your fingers. Now, you not only want the armpits to smell good but also are very particular about what sort of good smell you prefer, failing which the person just fades away. And as for skin, it just cannot fall even a wee bit short of velvet, 24x7. When your levels of tolerance as so low in these things, how do you expect them to be any higher in others - be it scores in exams or the deities you worship or whatever?

Time was when you used to see only two options in hair - present or absent. Now, so nitpicking have you become that you see five problems in them, all of which the poor cosmetic industry has to rush to address. So much more nitpicking have you become about the face that there are TEN different problems for the soap and face cream guys to solve. As for aging, it has ceased to be a problem caused by time and has become a problem that, again, the cosmetic industry (not the pharma guys, as you think) to correct, and no less than seven signs of aging to rub out. The way you guys keep at it, it seems like you consider yourself to be some sort of examiner setting various problems for the cosmetic industry to solve.

Above all else, I cannot understand your total intolerance of anything less than fair skin everywhere over the body. First you just wanted it on the face, next you wanted it on all exposed parts of the body AND, then, you started thinking of all parts of the body that you could possibly expose in various activities and wanted every single micrometer rendered fair. NOW, you want the whole thing to not only be whitewashed but you also want the whitewash to stay on all day. You are so intolerant of the color black on your skin, that it would be a wonder if you can ever be tolerant of anything in life.

Women of my times also dreamed of tall, dark and handsome men riding white chargers and sweeping them off their feet. Men of my times also dreamed of doe-eyed damsels with hour-glass figures swooning over them. It is just that both sexes used to wake up from their dreams and realize that (a) the man was more likely to be short, balding and not particularly ugly (if you were lucky), and come riding on a second-hand Bajaj Chetak and (b) the woman was more likely to be....(In the interests of my health I will leave this blank for you to fill). NOW, it seems like people never wake up, and feel that they can complain to the Consumer Court if their dream wish-list does not get filled.

There is no harm in trying to be perfect. To expect your version of perfection in others is what breeds intolerance.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Black and White

"How wonderful it would be if we were still children?" That, indeed, has been something that almost all of us have thought or wished for, periodically. Well! Someone has waved a magic wand, somewhere, and childhood has returned to adults.

What is the most attractive about childhood is the simplicity with which we viewed the world. Things were conveniently black and white and one did not need to grapple with the various shades of grey in-between. That simplicity, indeed, is returning to us with a vengeance.

For example, the world is divided into winners and losers, now. There is no need to worry about how to classify people who want to do things that do not make them 'winners' or, even, people who have failed but still persevere - time enough to re-classify them winners when they achieve what we think is worthy of respect. We may not exactly have recovered our childhood sufficiently to clap our hands and chant, "Loser! Loser! Roger is a loser" but we are getting there. Progress is not achieved all at once after all - it takes time.

Using different criteria, the world is divided into 'good guys' and 'bad guys'. There is no real point in achieving childhood if we keep persisting in stupid things like using adult lingo. A 'good guy' is one who agrees with us and a 'bad guy' is one who does not - how much simpler can it get? Of course, there are some guys, who agree only to keep in with you, so some complexity still mars our childhood. We should, as a matter of course, consider as bad guys anybody, who does not dress, eat or look like us. All nonsensical thoughts about why eating fish, say, makes a man a villain, who sacrifice babies on new moon nights, is the stupid adult way of complicating matters unnecessarily.

Remember when you went to the shop near your school to get your favorite candy and found that an imp from the neighboring school had snagged the last piece? Of course, he did it specifically to spite you. It is ludicrous to think that he bought the candy because he wanted it and not because he wanted to deprive you of it. Just think - he comes to the shop just before you came, buys exactly the candy that you wanted to buy and is not even from your school. How could it be merely coincidence that he just happened to buy the last piece of candy that you particularly wanted? Had he been from your own school, maybe, it could be excused. But from another school? 'Bad Guy', of course. So what if it is a job you are talking about and not candy? Adulthood has only deprived you of clarity of thought, if you disagree.

WHAT?? When you talked of reverting to childhood, you meant something else? You meant the fact that, someone being different also stimulated curiosity and, later on, acceptance? That the fact that your long gone ancestor was cheated by his long gone ancestor seems irrelevant to your relationship with him? That a 'bad guy' of the moment can change into a 'good guy' depending on what transpires between you AND not remain frozen in the same status for the rest of your lives?

You should have made that clear. NOW it is too late. Be careful what you wish for in future.