Sunday, August 31, 2014

Monkey on my back

Hello Self-doubt, my old friend! Your sheer constancy absolutely amazes me. Most people, within rather short acquaintance, become quite sure that they have had all that they want of me for a life-time. Why, I have even see people ducking into stinking lanes merely to avoid me. You, though, never leave my side - not even for a moment.

Of course, you are silent for more time than you used to be. I really cannot remember whether you started operations when I was a baby - you may have but, since I knew no language then and, maybe, nor did you, your presence did not register. All I remember is that you really were at your peak when I was in my teens. Not a moment passed when you were not whispering, "Ah! Really? You think you can really do something productive?", "Yeah! Right! You are some sort of Adonis, are you not? Which girl would look at you twice even if she can stand the first sight?", "Friends? You really think anyone would think of you as worth befriending?" and things like that. Nag, nag, nag all the time but I must say that you never abandoned me.

You are very pragmatic, though. The moment you see that your message gets disproved by what happens in life, you switch tracks and move on to a new thing. Of course, for your message to be disproved, I should try out the very things that you assured me to be beyond my capabilities AND succeed. If the success is known only because others praise my efforts, you have a standby of saying, "They do not really mean it. They are saying it only to please you." It is only when the issue is placed beyond all doubt that you give up. If, perchance, I do not succeed, you can continue harping on the same thing till I stop even thinking of doing it.

So, yes, the older I got, the more silent you became, since most of the things I was doing or was thinking of doing were things that I had proved myself capable of doing. It would have been nice if, like most other people, I had stuck to doing the same things over and over again. I quit my job, started thinking of trekking and back you were at the same stand harping away, "You? Trek? You can hardly walk two steps without tripping over your bootlaces." You made me sorry for having badly misjudged you by thinking that you had abandoned me.

But, jeez, I never realized how energetic you would get when I started writing. If there is one thing that you love, it is inhabiting someone doing something creative. Taking up something creative is like inviting you in, rolling out the red carpet, seating you reverently on the best arm-chair, handing you a glass of Scotch and begging you to have a go.

Unlike other things, where the doer can, by himself, judge how well he is doing (like, you do not need a certificate from someone to know that you completed a trek), creative pursuits always need the external world to say how well you are doing. The external world, being what it is, often offers valuable hints on how you can do better but is strategically silent on how good or bad you already are (OR, of course, it can overwhelm you with praise and make you feel that it likes you so much that it transfers the liking to your work). More so when, like me, you are of an age when they can assume that you already know how good you are (as you should, if you are pursuing the same thing since the age of 25, instead of taking up a new one at 50) and take their responsibilities to keep down your hubris very seriously. Boy! You, my good old friend, are really having a ball now! Now I know why most people my age just refuse to take up anything new.

I must be glad, though, that you skipped some classes when you were being trained. Every now and then, you do say things like, "You cannot even boil water without burning your fingers. You are absolutely useless. It is a wonder that your parents still suffer your presence at home" but, most of the time, you totally forget to make me feel worthless even when you make me think that I would be useless at doing something. Otherwise, you would have been drumming in the message, "Nobody cares for you", every hour on the hour. Maybe that is why I could live alone - otherwise, I might have had to surround myself with people whose chatter would drown out your voice. It is quite another thing that, some times, those very people may end up reinforcing your voice rather than drown it out.

You have a point, though. Like with most people, I concentrate only on the bad things in those who surround me and totally fail to see the good. So, I am also being unjust to you. Were it not for your nagging, I could well assume that I knew everything and, thus, stop learning and stagnate. As long as I can just let you out only on Sundays and keep you muzzled the rest of the time, I should be able to benefit from you. So, do not abandon me, just yet.

There you go again - "You putting this up? Do you really think anyone is interested in reading this muck?" To which, all I can say is, "If I do not put it up, no-one is going to read it anyway. So, what have I got to lose?"

Well - this is a Sunday, my old friend, and you have had your say. Wear that muzzle like a good chap and stay off my back till the next. Au Revoir!

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Trekking in Kothagiri

So, okay, I kept calling myself a trekker and the only evidence I have provided for my being a trekker is getting caught in the Uttaranchal disaster last year. When I cite a foot injury or a broken hand as reasons for my not trekking recently, a lot of you said,"So, next time, will it be the death of a great grandmother?" I needed to grin (NO - it was NOT a grimace) and bear it, so far. Just so you guys know how wrong you were all along about me, I have just completed a two day trek in Kothagiri. So there!

And then there were those who thought I had no pics in my posts only because I knew not how to put them in. So, here is a pic - put that in your pipe and smoke it. If you had thought that I did not know how to TAKE pics you would have been right - this one was sent to me by a co-trekker, Ramesh, of whom you shall hear more later.

To be absolutely truthful, this trek, too, almost did not take place. The bus that Ramesh and I took to Coimbatore decided that it had worked enough for the day and stopped somewhere after Erode. It had taken due care to stop on the bye-pass road so that buses towards Coimbatore did not cross our path and allow us alternative transport. The only problem, though, was that there are always those maverick buses that take the untrodden trails and we managed to snag one, went to Avinashi and from there to Mettuplayam where our friend, Chandru, picked us up and took us onwards to his summer home at Kothagiri (near Ooty for those who know it not).

The next day, we were joined by Jayendra and Shrikant, as well as Riddhi and Pooja who had unexpectedly decided to join unknown strangers on the trek based on a mutual friend's say-so. The day's trek was to Rangaswami peak and, though there is a perfectly motorable road up to the steps that take us up to the temple, we trekked through the forest to reach there. (Trekkers ARE like that. We just do not like the easy way out).

The path, by trekking standards should count as relatively easy - or so Ramesh said. Maybe there was a time in life when I would have said so as well but THIS was not that time. But then, I was in no position to say anything considering that both nose and mouth were too busy dragging air in to satisfy lungs that kept screaming for more. The fact that it had rained all day before and that it was intermittently raining even as we trekked was no help either since it takes more effort to walk through wet ground and since I was notoriously capable of slipping even where the ground offered no excuse for doing so.

Up and up and up through all that lovely greenery and we came to a sharp right turn in a relatively open area when we spotted a herd of elephants on the terrace below us, grazing peacefully. Our guide was advising us about how to escape charging elephants - run uphill, apparently. Me, I had decided that the easiest way to escape an elephant was to yield to it. Once you are a smear on the landscape, you need have no fear of any elephants. (One look at the steps that had to climbed from there on and I was vexed that the elephants had not seen fit to charge. It would have put me out of my misery.)

Onwards we went and the most irritating part was the fact that Ramesh was always a couple of kilometers ahead of us. It is one thing to be made to feel like an escapee from the geriatric ward by youngsters but to be shown up as an arthritic zombie by a chap older than you was beyond bearing. As though that were not enough, Ramesh HAD to keep telling us about how it was not a picnic and how much faster we would need to walk. He compounded our misery by insisting on taking a further trek on the way back when there was a perfectly serviceable road that could take us back to our cars in no time at all.

As we were wheezing along in his wake, we solemnly promised ourselves that we would take him apart in the evening to see if he worked on muscle and bone like the rest of us ordinary mortals or on gears and lube oil. The only fly in the ointment was the fact that, by day's end, there was only one person who had the energy to do anything at all - Ramesh! I could not have lifted a finger to save my life.

Later that evening, at Shrikant's place in Coonoor, I did find that I could not only lift a finger but could hoist a glass with my hands. Single Malt has that effect on me - though, of course, since modern medicine does not consider whisky as a life-saver, I can still claim that I could not lift a finger to save my life.

The next day, we trekked to Tipu's fort (the view in the pic is from there), a walk in the park according to Chandru. About the trek itself, all I can say is that people do have different ideas about what constitutes a walk and what constitutes a park.

Why do I trek then? Not because I like to keep my muscles screaming for surcease. The entire experience - the views, the birdsong, the unexpected sighting of wildlife in its natural habitat, the changing sensual experiences depending on weather - is a pleasure that can be enjoyed best only when you do it. Even the physical exertion is a weird form of pleasure - water tastes like ambrosia when you drink it when you are thirsty; taking the weight off your legs for a few minutes is heavenly and, of course, splashing in a stream or bathing in a waterfall (did not happen this trek, though) when you are hot and sweaty is a sensual experience that no Jacuzzi can match.

At the end of it all, my enforced absence from trekking did not seem to have marred my endurance very significantly. So, Mustang trek in Nepal - here I come!

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.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Greet back, our way

There are those communication phrases, which merely represent social niceties, and where you expect a standard response. It normally puts you off your stride when the response deviates from expectations. Like a curmudgeon getting wished 'Good Morning' and snapping, "What's good about the morning?"

It is not only the irritable that can put you off your stride with an odd response, even to as simple a phrase as 'Good Morning'. Just so you get prepared for the variety in possible responses, I give you some possibilities. All out of the goodness of my heart.

Client: "Good Morning"
Lawyer: "Good Morning, with the caveat that I shall not be held culpable if it turns out to be neither good nor morning nor both - by you, your agents, your heirs or assigns, or any such person who may, in any manner, be given the authority to act in the matter on your behalf."

Patient: "Good Morning"
Doctor: "It is for me to determine. Am I the doctor or are you?"

Client: "Good Morning"
Auditor : "In the absence of valid supporting documentation, I cannot endorse the statement."

Client : "Good Morning"
Consultant: "That it is. You will receive my bill by tomorrow's mail for this consultation."

Subordinate: "Good Morning"
(There are varieties of responses for this depending on the relationship and the situation."
Boss (to undesired subordinate): "Why? Are you putting in your papers today?"
Boss (to procrastinating subordinate) : "You mean you finally finished the project today?"
Boss (to hopeful subordinate): "Not for you. You are not getting a raise."
Boss (to dithering subordinate): "Are you asking me if it is or telling me?"

Citizen : "Good Morning"
Politician: "See! After our party came to power, the citizens are having good mornings."

Husband: "Good Morning"
Wife : "That's what YOU think"
(When the situation is reversed, the husband merely grunts or sulks - hardly worth writing about)

Father: "Good Morning"
Son : "Double my pocket money and make my day"

Friend: "Good Morning"
Scientist : "Since it is just 7:02:26 AM, it is indubitably morning, at least in this part of the world. The ambient temperature is 23.6 degrees Celsius, relative humidity is 42.34% and there are very few clouds in the sky. These conditions are customarily considered good and, therefore, one may venture to conclude that it may be quite acceptable to say that it is a good morning."

Friend: "Good Morning"

Philosopher : "There you have two concepts that are, in and of themselves, ill-defined. Let us dispense with 'morning' first. If one is bound by the circadian rhythms - without considering wide variations in the behavior of body-clocks - and, further, if one restricts himself to the accident of current geographical location, it could well be possible to concede that it is, indeed, morning. Those, as you note, are seriously restrictive assumptions but let that be. That is a far less ambiguous word than that other one, you used - 'good'. What is good to you....."

(No longer) Friend : "Got to see a man about a dog."

Colleague: "Good Morning"
Call-center employee (US-customers): "Yippeee! Time to go home"

You: "Good Morning"
Me: "No! It isn't!"

It could well be 'good' but it can hardly be 'morning', if you actually saw me awake and wished me!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chalta hai

"Oh! The financial model fails if you assume Interest rates outside a range."

You can fool some people all the time and I had managed to fool my organization into thinking that I was an expert on financial modeling. Now that I had quit, they had retained me as consultant, and here I was checking on the validity of a financial model by one of the people in the Projects department.

By the way, in case you are wondering whether a financial model is a size zero woman, sashaying down the ramp clad in currency notes, let me disabuse you of the notion. There are spreadsheets and then there are spreadsheets. The latter are the ones which you develop to project the financial position of a proposed project to assess whether it was worth investing in. When banks get into the act, these spreadsheets get elevated from the general population of mango spreadsheets and enter the exalted realm of financial models.

"Fails?" I asked her.

"Yes! It breaks down with those assumptions."

She might have been talking of a pet poodle and wondering why I could not just accept the fact that poodles WILL lift their legs near lamp-posts and water them. After all, it was in the nature of poodles to do it and, to her, it seemed that it was in the nature of financial models to break down every now and then.

"You made this model, right?"


She looked puzzled. She had no clue - or so it seemed to me - that I could be so stupid as to assume that, just because she had made the model, she was responsible for any breakdowns it suffered OR for rectifying them.

When I was doing this modeling, if someone had pointed out an error in the model, I would go crimson all over my body, rectify it, and periodically kick myself in the butt for the next month for having made the error. One of the various immaturities in my mental make-up that prevent me from being an adult Indian. The idea of merely assuming that  'Work WOULD have errors, so what?' never occurred to me and still does not.

(By the way, it just so happened that the other person was a woman. It could well have been a man.)

The next interview was with the head of the Projects department.

"I think the model needs rectification. It fails when certain assumptions are made."

The man looked at me in astonishment. As though I were a fireman, who had been called to put out a serious fire in an apartment block, and was refusing to take the vehicle out because the axle was noisy and I insisted on greasing it before I took the it out. I, on the other hand, could see no emergency and was not mature enough to understand that, when there was no fire, there was no need to grease the axles and keep the vehicle ready.

"Chalta hai (It's Ok), yaar! We can manage with this one." he said. Then, seeing me still unconvinced, he provided me with the blood-brother of 'Chalta hai'. "Kya farak padtha hai (What difference does it make)? We will just keep the assumptions within limits."

Ye Gods! I do not belong in the Indian corporate world. I still have the senseless assumption that the shirt should be cut to fit the body, when everyone knew that the body can be cut to fit the shirt. In other words, the model need not be made to adopt any necessary assumptions, we could just tailor the assumptions to fit the model.

THAT, to me, is the major cause of most of what ails India. What if you cannot maintain service standards - chalta hai, you cannot be good all the time. What if your roads are littered - chalta hai, you cannot be clean all the time. What if your products break down - chalta hai, you cannot maintain quality all the time.

The problem is not that I expect 100% quality every time. The idea that nothing less is acceptable is what ensures replacements, penalties for deficient service etc. In other words, when 100% quality is guaranteed to the recipient, then quality standards improve and, even where there are inevitable failures, the recipient is guaranteed a replacement/compensation.

If, however, you start accepting lack of quality as the norm - the 'chalta hai' attitude - then everything goes down the drain. The moment you start thinking of yourself as a rat in a sewer, you only think of becoming a bigger rat, not a lion. For example, I see Indian companies touting 'German technology' or 'Japanese Technology' in their products as a selling proposition, and there is no vestige of shame in either the seller or the buyer that the implicit message is that imported technology is bound to be better than indigenous technology. I cringe when I see those advertisements and when I accept the inherent truth of the message - with a 'chalta hai' attitude, you are never going to get 'Indian technology' to mean something to take pride in.

I prefer not to exert myself at all but, when I take on a job, I can never do less than my best and can never digest an error in my work as being natural. There is a certain pride in doing a great job and becoming the best at what you do - a pride that entirely obviates the need to have the esteem of other people to bolster your own self-esteem. The fact that other people have become only a source of pleasure and not points of stress is entirely due to the fact that I do not need them in order to have a sense of self-worth. So, yes, abandoning the 'chalta hai' attitude and striving for personal excellence is a great help personally, as well, in addition to the difference it makes to Society.

But then, I am the immature maverick Indian. Who knows how the mature Indian will feel and react. For all I know, the reaction will be the other sibling of 'Chalta Hai' - "Sab log aise hi hain (Everyone is like this)". Leaves me with no option but to say, "Kya farak padtha hai. These people will be like this. Chalta hai."

I suppose we may as well resign ourselves to talking about our glorious history, instead of making history.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sorry apologies

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 48; the forty-eighth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.
"Say 'Sorry' to Vicky"

I had just about finished yelling at Vicky, and was mentally prepared to stop seeing him as an imp of Satan and start seeing as a normal boy like myself when my dad, who was passing by, had to poke his nose into our affairs. On the instant, the normal boy vanished from my vision and the imp of Satan returned. After all, there was no point in getting angry with your dad. You could hardly express it to him - well, I suppose you could but the repercussions were likely to be VERY unpleasant.

"Didn't you hear me? Say Sorry"

"Sorry", I spat at Vicky.

The word MAY mean an apology but I ensured that it sounded like one of those swear words that adults so love to use when angry. I glared at Vicky and, if looks could kill, he would have been toast.

THAT is the funny thing. Just as you are really feeling sorry, an adult pokes his nose in and, by making you say 'Sorry', makes you stop feeling sorry. It took about a week more to normalize relationships with Vicky, no thanks to the fact that he spent three of those days gloating about my saying 'Sorry' to him. But, eventually, I stopped seeing those horns on his head, that forked tongue and sharp canines, the tail with an arrow-head at the end and a pitchfork in his hands.

THAT was my first step in 'maturing'. For adults, form is more important than substance. In other words, it is more important to apologize than to really feel apologetic. In fact, going forth in life, I realized that it was absolutely unnecessary to actually feel apologetic about anything as long as you can apologize gracefully. Not that realizing it helped me. Since I can do nothing gracefully, I could not merrily do whatever I wanted and just apologize my way through life.

(Incidentally, the other thing about adulthood, I realized is that, if a person once appears like an imp of Satan, he NEVER reverts to becoming a normal person in their vision - whereas an angel can, quite readily, exchange his wings and harp for the horns etc and a pitchfork. Even if that person saves your life, it would only be to prove that he was superior to you, of course, and not because of any good intent. If anything, anyone belonging to his community, race or whatever also acquire nebulous horns, canines and tail, thanks to him. And they are more likely to change from 'nebulous' to 'concrete' than the other way around.)

That got me thinking about whether we say 'Sorry' when we mean to tender an apology. (No! No! Not when I was a boy. Now!) As far  as I remember, I have said 'Sorry' easily when I did not really mean it and got tongue-tied when I did. You know what I mean - you brush the shoulder of a stranger by accident on the road and 'Sorry' comes tripping off your tongue by conditioned reflex. It is not that shame at the transgression burns your soul. If anything, anger may burn if the other guy also does not say, 'Sorry' or, at least, 'It's alright' or some such thing.

Take the time when I gestured magnificently (I ALWAYS gesture magnificently!) and knocked an expensive bottle of French wine on the costly carpet in a friend's house. Do you think I was really sorry about the spreading wine stains on that carpet. You bet I was. Do you think I said 'Sorry'?

I wanted to, alright, but there was this strangling sensation in the throat and someone had lit a fire inside the skin of my face, with specific attention to the area around my ears. I cleared my throat, giggled inanely and said, "Oh! I am always like this. Totally butter-fingered", by way of apology. So, my friend and his wife gathered that I was blaming them for not knowing enough to keep the carpet out of harm's way, and for not settling for cheap plonk when they invited me home. THAT, apparently, did not seem like much of an apology to them.

I know! To say 'Sorry' when you feel sorry is necessary, considering that people are, unfortunately, deficient in telepathy and are unable to see HOW sorry you feel. To feel sorry, when there is reason to be, should be a part of your character, else you belong somewhere below the animals. THEY have no motives, other than feeding and procreating, so they tend to do nothing that needs feeling apologetic. To think that saying 'Sorry' is a sufficient substitute for feeling sorry - even where you are not merely saying it as a matter of good manners - is the peculiar attribute of 'civilized' humanity.

They say knowing what needs to be done is half the battle won. THAT does not really console me, since I despair of winning the other half. I would probably end up in the position of the guy, who jumps across a deep well and succeeds in making a jump that takes him halfway!

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