Saturday, February 17, 2018

Prayer - A waste of time.

I vividly recall the morning routine of mine as a child.

After the morning ablutions, get dressed, have your forehead smeared with holy ash and stand in front of a wall covered with a cornucopia of gods and goddesses.

And recite the prayer – “Hey God! (this casualness to someone apparently so omnipotent was an aberration that I never solved) Give me intelligence! I should study well, pass with good marks and get a good job”

Over!

The single prayer captures the ambitions and dreams of middle class aspirations.

Looking back, now I feel ……….. Damn it! 

If the prayers were really going to be answered, was this the best I could have come with?

Frankly speaking I was just reciting what was taught to me by a well-intended mother and grandmother, the former a timid soul who was almost a slave to the family she married into and the latter an illiterate, wise nevertheless (or because of it, in all probability 🤣)

Today 3 members of my family are atheists and my wife more than makes up for the rest of us.

Without getting into the religion part of it, let us just address the prayer part.

Prayers make you lazy, incompetent and lack in confidence.

If the original act of prayer was to send you in a meditative state, where you calm down, take a step back and think about the problem at hand dispassionately, then I am all right with such a prayer.

But the normal kind I had encountered, still encounter, is stuffs nightmares are made of.

When faced with a problem, the common sense makes a quick exit through the nearest door, panic sets in, rationale is conspicuously absent and hands are wrung, at times the necks of a hapless soul and instead of calmly, analytically addressing ways to solve the problem, we turn to irrational and chaotic prayers.

And most prayers are of a deal making kind, reducing, the almighty, should he exist (I say He, because of my complete agreement with George Carlin; If things are this bad and someone up there is responsible, it has to be a HE – only a man is capable of such screw-ups) to a broker on wall street. 

Oh God! Please let this come through and I offer you …. (Fill in the blanks, the bribe varies according to the size of the problem)

Once prayer becomes the natural reaction to any distress, the prayer starts losing its importance too; the prayer is invoked from the most trivial to the extreme grave.

On the assumption that there indeed is a God, listening to your prayers and taking time out to address each of them, imagine his mental makeup when the list from you is something like this, over a period of time.

Please let me clear “Strength of materials”
Let her look at me and respond to my proposals
May he break his leg
Let Ronaldo score the goal!
May Sabatini defeat Graff
Let me win this lottery
Get me this job!
Let the delivery not be a caesarian
Let my visa be processed
Get my children’s college admission
Please make this taxi reach airport on time
Let this not be a fracture please

Already tired?

This is just the tip of the prayerberg!

If he has to address all these (and it is just one from 7+ billion people and counting) then he must be a

Kind examiner
Extraordinary matchmaker
A thug on hire
Match fixer or a poor goalkeeper
A tainted referee or a cook who will poison Graff
Organizer of the state lottery
HR director of a firm
An honest obstetrician
First counsel in an embassy
Principal of the said college
A skilled cab driver
A magical orthopedic

Phew!!

He will probably do this!



Instead of rolling up your sleeves and getting to work, here we are wasting our time on an absolutely meaningless exercise addressed to a person whose existence has so far been proven only in negation.

And when a prayer is answered, certainly because someone had worked instead of you, or a chance threw things your way, what is simply known as probability, the lazy gets lazier.

The next time around the prayer is offered at the first sight of the troubles.

No efforts at all!

If I am designing a steel structure, I calculate the load, wind, height, soil quality and trust my calculations. I do not sit and pray asking Jesus to send me a solution via “we transfer”

If my unit is making losses, I study my cost sheet, analyze the purchasing strategy and study the market before I decide on the strategy. I do not wail and pray to Allah to send me the business model excel sheet with market demography.

If my son is seeking admission to a college of his choice, I am supposed to research, apply to the college, apply for his visa, help him prepare for the interview.

For his visa, I am supposed to make an application and submit the required papers not visit one of these places

It is real, do not laugh!

Prayer is the dumbest thing we have been taught.

We have been hoodwinked to believe that this is real.

It is easy to embrace this, becaus

it is voluntary (in most case it is a reflex)

it is free(the bribe that you offer is of your own volition)

it is an easy way out, you do not have to sweat and toil 

and over a period of time this is converted into a standard barter system – like going to the supermarket and looking for the price list of products that are out of stock.

In reality it is a tool designed to make you lazy and lose your self-confidence.

Stop this meaningless and inherently corrupt act of “the prayer”

Stop praying. Start working.



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Stay Grounded


Humility when riding high
Honesty in the face of temptation
Servility to the one you love
Temerity in the face of adversary and
Open minded to opinions

Maturity in tumult
Thoughtful in deliberation
Considerate when it is easy to be arrogant
Earnest in the spoken word and
Reasonable in discussions

Courteous to a fault
Tactful in difficult situations
Respectful to all
Helpful expecting no returns and
Ethics that are non-negotiable

Tolerant to stupidity
Attentive to the speaker
Diligent in follow up
Proficient in your chosen skill and
Gracious in defeat

Curious about life
Passion for the written word
Discreet in the secret shared
Consistent in morals and
Precise in communication

Serious about relationships
Quick to accept your mistake and
Subtle in criticism

Extravagant in praise
Dissatisfied with mediocrity and
Loyalty to your friend

Follow these and
I promise you no
Fortune or Fame.

But peace of mind is yours

For eternity

And beyond.









Saturday, February 10, 2018

Take care of ordinary things


Is there a greater pleasure than
Eating sweets when you have diabetes
Consuming food that your doctor had forbidden
Getting the last ticket to a show
Being the first to arrive in a cinema hall
Tricking your daughter into watching “The Shining”
Smelling the pages of a new book
Discussing books you had read with another person of similar interest
Discovering new authors
Watching episodes of Just for laughs gags
Watching people huffing and puffing on their way up when you are getting down from a peak
Watching drunk people while they think they are sober 
Catching the expression of people when they receive your surprise
Watching The Life Is Beautiful
Installing a gadget and starting it for the first time
And when it works the first time around !!
A simple meal at home after weeks of travel
Watching this ad
  • I have been one of those three friends on many occasions 😊

Having your face licked by your dog.
Striking out an item from your bucket list
Listening to the baritone of Morgan Freeman
Listening to Harry Belafonte live at Carnegie Hall on a long drive 
Enjoying a song in a language that you don’t understand 
Attending a concert where your friend plays
A beer after your lawn is mowed
“Across the universe” playing on your system before you go to sleep.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Advice

Tempted to offer someone advice?

What I say will sound paradoxical; but let there be one exception.

DO NOT.

There is nothing riskier than this futile exercise of giving advice.

Firstly, no one wants one. Do not be misled by the earnestness displayed while seeking one. If they hear what they wanted to hear, they would go ahead and do it and then blame you when things go wrong. If they do not hear what they wanted to hear, they would ignore what you advise, will go ahead and seek a second opinion, a third and so on till they come across one who will tell them what they want to hear and proceed with the same results.

So, you see, it’s all just a waste of time.


No, am NOT a cynic.

I do exactly the same.

Children obey orders. They are the first ones who allow this mirage to take root that we are capable of giving advice. We say something, they follow and we come to a wrong conclusion, that we offered a sane advice and they could benefit.

The wise plays the fool.

Thus it comes to pass, in the later years, a wise one with a vested interest plays the cards, well, wisely. They lull you into a make believe scenario, where you wallow under the mirage that you have made a contribution, whereas you just played the script that someone made for you, without your knowledge of course.

There is this wonderful scene from the film Life is Beautiful describing such a scenario,

Guido serves the doctor a light meal of Salmon, salad and wine. But the doctor is not interested as he gets busy solving a riddle Guido puts to him.

The kitchen is closed, and in walks a school inspector from the ministry.

Guido serves him what the doctor refused.

But, how?

Inspector: I know the kitchen is closed. Maybe a cold dish.

Guido:  It's all delicious. Take your pick.

Ins - Something light.

Gui - Well, we've got meat, a nice heavy steak...lamb, kidneys, some greasy breaded liver. Otherwise, there's fish.

Ins - Fish.

Gui - We have... a nice fatty turbot...eel stuffed with fatty sausage and greased with Grand Marnier...      or some lean salmon

Ins -The salmon, thank you.

Gui - Side dish?

Ins - There's a side dish too?

Gui - Of course. We have very, very fried mushrooms... buttered potatoes in Nancry butter with a flaky sauce—

Ins - Is there a small, light salad? If not, nothing.

Gui - A light salad? What a pity. The very, very fried mushrooms...were out of this world. So, a light salad...a lean salmon and a glass of white wine.

Ins - Perfect. As soon as possible.

Gui - I'll do my best.

At this moment, Guido walks to the next table, picks up the tray and places it on the table of the inspector who is left speechless at how fast the meal, that he personally selected, had arrived on the table.

There are enough instances in our lives, to make it absolutely clear that advice is a meaningless act. To the best of my knowledge, am yet to see an advice accepted. But we are too vain to notice them and at times think we have been able to advise someone.

The spouse who asks the other half (am being gender neutral here, in the current situation where the kitchen jobs are shared by both, though in the earlier days it was always the wife hoodwinking the husband) "what would one like to have for dinner", usually ends up making what had been decided hours before, by taking the same conversation like the one between Guido and the inspector.

It does not matter who the person is, what age group; none matters. They uniformly (mentally) click the recycle bin option even before the advice is finished.

Despite a 100% hit rate of spurned advice, the amount of advice that is dispensed is stunning.

Funnier still is the agony aunt column in the newspapers.

“My husband is not interested in sex anymore. Am having an affair. I feel guilty. What should I do? Should I tell him? What do you suggest?”

Seriously!

You expect a meagerly paid, under-qualified, non-employable nobody, making ends meet by writing agony aunt columns, to tell you if you should open your mouth or legs?

As if the question itself is not inane enough, the said columnist goes on to offer some advice. The advice runs along the lines of “If you ride a motor powered two wheeled vehicle, chances are it is a scooter; or if it is raining, and you are out in the open without an umbrella and no shelters in the vicinity, chances are you will get wet”.

Advice of such nature are not to be followed, and I have no qualms when those are turned away.

A son asking his parents if he should pursue data mining, cloud computing or data warehousing is fairly simple and straightforward. The parents have no clue and they would need about three days of Google search to understand what it is all about. Anyway the son asks for this advice to win a wager that he had had with his friend “I bet that my folks won’t have a clue about what I am talking about”

The opinion that a spouse asks about the weekend plans are in the same category of “what would you like to have for dinner?”. It is already decided, and the entire conversation is engineered to reach an already agreed proposal.

The discussions at the workplace are no different.

Your bosses do not want to hear anything different from what they had already decided. They know for certain that they know better. They are bosses for a reason, right? If you are smart, you play along, pretending to engage into a discussion knowing the endgame. If you enter with a misplaced notion that the whole thing is actually an open discussion where options are going to be evaluated and a decision is indeed pending to be made, well……….

Your peers do not want your advice. By conceding that, they would concede that you are better than them. Heavens forbid!

And the juniors, well, they are young, more techno savvy, and believe that solutions are available just a click away. They are also confused with the amount of information dump that is available to them. 

They are surprised that information, knowledge and wisdom are three different things. 

And let’s face it. In quite a few cases they are reasonably more intelligent than you were when you were their age. And let us grudgingly accept that some of them are more intelligent that what you are today.

They don’t need you, most of the times. And the only times you can really help them, they are too vain to approach you.

One often confuses experience with knowledge.

And information with wisdom.

Out of this misconception rises all the proffering of unsolicited, hence not entertained, advice.

The following, fictitious, conversation nails it.



My advice.

Don’t advise.

I just did, didn’t I ? One never learns.











Monday, January 15, 2018

HOWL 2018


I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

Every writer must be, at one stage of his life, forced to reflect on the timeless truth of this opening line of HOWL.

In the 52nd winter of my short sojourn through earth, to be preserved on records as my life, I look back and look around and can’t stop wondering at the simplicity of this fact.

Haven’t I seen enough of how the best minds of my generation, too, withered away to waste, not just in madness but in various other forms of self-destruction.

The first was a cousin of mine; a brilliant mind with no parallel. Am yet to come across another person of such sharp intelligence and an equally wide range of knowledge on disparate subjects. Even after discounting the inflation of childhood fascination, what remains is still good enough to make you stand in awe. He managed to waste himself to alcohol. What started as a weekly indulgence, slowly became a daily requirement, then a compulsion and at the terminal stages, a continuous affair. The lucidity that still shone through all those layers of drugged stupor made you squirm at a life wasted. If this mind had not succumbed to the destructive force of alcohol………

Then came a period of lull, more due to my books-school-exams-grades-next exams… routine.

The world must have certainly fallen apart in that period too, while I was grinding away my school days and getting ready for the college.

In my college days the tragedy started to unfold again, and I was in a better position to start recording them.

A batch mate of mine, a state topper no less, let him remain unnamed, was bitten by Ayn Rand.

One day he was the usual fresher in college, targeting his grades, planning his masters four years down the line and WHAM! Rand hit him.

Hard.

A tryst with “The Fountainhead” and the man was not the same anymore.

I read the same book too. Admired the same, picked up few lessons, memorized few quotes (to impress young girls) and moved on.

Not he.

He was spending more time on the beach near my college campus, started to write his own version of the Fountainhead. He even named it; but years down the line the title eludes me but the opening line that he read out to me, eyes squinted against the smoke from his joint, bathed in a sick yellow light cast by the overhead interrogation room type naked bulb, still rings in my ears.

“There I stand, like a solid rock, like Scylla, while the endless waves lapped at my feet and often crashed against me, but never succeeded in toppling me”

He lost two years!

He was still in his third year with few subjects in arrears, when I, at a fraction of his intelligence and capacity, graduated and even landed a job before graduating.

He promised to me that he is now committed, and would be on the right course.

Sadly, we never kept in touch. It was before internet, emails, whatsapps, facebook and smartphone time.

I hope he is all right today. Probably yes. But, madness is a lifelong malady, might lie dormant for a while and suddenly erupt when least expected.

And in his case, it probably never went to sleep in the first place.

There were other instances, many in public life too; but they were all too familiar to everyone for me to pen down here.

The suicide of Robin Williams still unsettles me. If someone like Robin Williams can kill himself, I shudder to think what lies beneath the façade that we see.

The end of my college days heralded my work life.

Most of my observations belong in this phase (and counting…). In the 31 years since I started to work, how many have I been a witness to.

And how many variations?

Insecurity:

This alone must have accounted for a major part. How many competent people have fallen by the wayside due to this? It must be in the genes. Where this stemmed from is open for debate. A competitive school, insensitive parents/teachers, being the butt of the school bully or simply the eternal fear of the middle class morality.

What if I lose my job?

What if my idea fails?

What if A does not support my proposal?

What if B is undermining me?

Is my boss really happy with my show?

Most questions have answers on which one’s influence is almost zero. With the fear of the possible negative outcome of an act of commission, one often resorts to an even dangerous situation, an irreversible act of omission.

Acknowledgement craver:

An off-shoot of the insecurity gene. As much as money is important, the satisfaction of a non-monetary acknowledgement is paramount to almost everyone. The only difference here is how one reacts in its absence. Some brushes it aside as a representation of lack of maturity in the other and moves on. The other, wallows in self-pity, goes through the poor me syndrome and in the continued absence of the acknowledgement starts developing insecurity and doubts on self-worth and slowly but steadily disintegrates.

Arrogant and complex:

This person is a riddle, often to himself. This one develops an aura, builds a shield around self, that is impermeable. No one ever gets close. The moment someone gets really close, this person turns on the undeserved wrath full on the hapless well-wisher who doesn’t know what he did wrong. This well-wisher ends up in the first two categories and gets destroyed too. The arrogant and the complex one later sits and wonder why there are no friends around, how the world had become full of ingrates. The tell-tale signs of this person, on the way to sure destruction, are cynicism, sarcasm, lack of capacity to smile, suspicious, micro-management, unwillingness to delegate. While the destruction of the first two categories are probable, as it is possible for them to, at a specific point, to say “to hell with you”, and move on seeking inner peace, the degeneration of this category is certain. It is just a matter of time.

Timid and shy:

Not to be confused with the insecure and acknowledgement seekers. Some are brave. Some are scared. These people are eternally scared. Of everyone. They are certain that whatever they do, they would displease someone. As a result they remain below the radar and do as little as possible other than the job description. These are the ambition less, goalless, directionless cogs in the corporate wheel. They remain rather deep below the tumultuous surface and no shake up ever troubles them. They are never discussed, never disturbed and their job is never threatened. Mediocrity is their forte. They, by nature of their attitude, will never have a sense of any achievement, nor do they taste the bitterness of a failure. They marvel at people capable of doing something and achieving something and usually live with a low self-esteem. Do they destruct themselves? It is an impossibility as there is nothing worth destructing. They shrink in shame and wish to be swallowed by the earth in embarrassment in the company of able people.

Yes men:

This one is a product of all the above categories. Belongs to few of them and serves one of them. Essentially the most despicable person in any organization. Used by the superiors. Never trusted by the peers. And ridiculed by the subordinates. Often leads a comfortable life, on the outside, as this one ends up being the lackey to the ambitious and the arrogant by betraying the trust of the peers and subordinates. A secure job, so long as the usefulness to the boss is secured, and never a need to perform any worthwhile tasks combines together to keep the job aspect undisturbed. The realization of the worthlessness and lack of any value addition starts eating into the conscience of even the most abhorring specimen. Lack of respect and a complete absence of ethics result in the most deplorable state of being.

So, is life condemned to be lived this way making the anguished cry of Ginsberg prophetic?

Most obviously not.

Let us look at two examples.

The child asks “how do I not sink?” and you answer “keep afloat, practice your strokes”

You do not tell them “make sure you swim in red sea, wear life vests, ensure the pool or the body of water is so shallow that you can stand”

The child asks “How do I ride my cycle?” and you answer “keep the balance, keep pedalling, do not lean one way or the other”

You do not tell them “Convince the cycle not to topple, let there be a person running along with you for eternity holding on to the seat, make sure the road is self-balancing with deep ridges and there is not another soul on the road”

Basics, right?

So is my recommendation too, to not let the best minds of our generation be destroyed by madness…

What follows may sound like a text book advice, not practical in actual world.

It appears so, because we have contrived to make the obvious look like the most improbable, if not altogether impossible.

You have a conscience. You are answerable to that. Act in such a way that you are never ashamed of yourself. Get up in the morning and look at the mirror and the reflection does not make you cringe with shame. Go to sleep in the night, you sleep well, knowing you hurt nobody.

You are smiling, right?

Why?

Sit back and think again. What is impractical or unfollowable in this. 

Most basic things in life are simple. We are masters in complicating.

Uncomplicate. Now.




Saturday, December 16, 2017

Games People Played

I am 52 years old. And I am from India.

Both these information are relevant to this blog.

My generation has probably witnessed the greatest transformation in how we as individuals and a family, spent our leisure time.

Today, on those rare weekends when the family is together, the following are how we are engaged.

I explore the possibility of going to some mountains or for a bike ride with my friend.

On the rarest of the rare occasions, the family goes to the mountains together.

If it is biking, I am on my own.

Usually however,

My wife spends her time in the kitchen, or the garden or connecting up with friends through whatsapp and facebook. 

My son, would use the excuse of holidays to sleep when the others are awake
and stay up all night while we sleep.

My daughter would be tuned into her laptop, watching some unwatchable shows and listening to elevator music.

Me, I will be moving about, getting on everyone’s nerves with my misplaced wisecracks, and end up reading or watching comedy clips on YouTube.

When the family ends up something together, it is one of the following three.

Watch a movie.

Go on a holiday – visit new places.

Play Scrabble.

When I was young, the choices of what to do in our leisure time were multitude. 
Surprisingly, even the leisure time was plenty. 

The distractions were less.

We had no TV, no internet, no malls, no multiplexes.

The TV entered the homes in the early 80s and stole the leisure time.

It reduced the conversations at home. 

The only time the members of the family spoke to each other was when they had to fight for changing the channels.

In the beginning, even this was not happening, as there were no channels to change and most TVs did not come with a remote.

Subsequent home invasions like internet, connection of internet at home, first through dial in connection, then with modem and finally with wifi, smartphones and cable TVs totally obliterated any family time possible.

Nostalgia is addictive, as strong as opium, and I take a trip down the memory lane.

When I was young (remember I am 52 today)

Every day, after the school, we played.

When I say, we played, I mean we the kids, went to the playground and played physical games.

Cuts, bruises, dirt, dust, torn garments, broken nails and damaged equipment were the norms.

The games that we used to play are all now part of folklore.

No one, at least not in urbanized areas, plays them anymore.

A top, marbles, balls thrown at each other, hop on elaborate patterns as complex as crop circles.

I shall not spend time on elaborating them as they were all games the kids played.

My starting point was how the family spent its leisure time.

The first that comes to my mind is a game called “Thaayakattam”


My grandmother was the champion in this game. This game could accommodate 4. So someone usually waited for their turn when one game ended. My grandmother was a constant participant. The game was almost like chess, with some chance thrown in, but once the chance part was done, it was left to the player to marshal his/her resources with cunning, strategy and deception. My grandmother was a serious player. Gone were her gentle demeanour and kind words once the play started. 

She would shout, holler, hurl expletives, plead with Gods, curse her own grandchildren with fate worse than death, accuse others of cheating, play the poor me card to perfection and in extreme situations (read as close to losing) end the whole game with her matriarchal authority and sulk for a period of a full three minutes after which a fresh game would start again.

At times, the games stretched endlessly and theoretically it is possible for the game to continue till eternity.

Shakuni  from the epic Mahabaratha was an accomplished player of this game.

In the early days, we drew the pattern on the floor with chalk, and later laminated patterns or some exotic cloth versions were also available. But nothing could equal the patterns drawn on the floor.

The second was the family favourite “ Paramapadam (literally God’s feet) aka Snake and ladders”

Unlike the previous one, this did not have any limit on players. You could play with as many as you wanted. It just needed a distinct piece that you could associate with the players. Coloured stones, chessmen, carrom coins, cowry shells , seeds…. 

This was actually a two-in-one. It was not just a game, but also a Moral Instruction class delivered at home while you play. 

The ladders that helped you climb were all virtues, like honesty, faithful, pious, generous etc. The greater the virtue, more rungs to the ladder. Honesty may help you ascend two rows while pious took you seven rows above. 

And the snakes were the sins. Jealous, greed, envy, anger, etc. The same logic again, greater the sin bigger the fall. I do not remember the exact name of the snake, or its associated sin, but this blasted snake rested on square close to 100 on a game with the final square at  132. And this brought you all the way down to square 2. 

Must be a real mean snake or a damned sin certainly. 



With its tone of piety thrown in, each square was attributed to some God form or other, the cursing of my grandmother was restrained while her pleading to Gods were exponential.

The third was a game called “Pallanguzhi”

I do not even know what to call the main part of this game. 

It was not a board, nor was it drawn on the ground. It was a compact foldable wooden plank, often shaped like a fish, and it had 14 cup like indentations, arranged 7 to a side. 


This game was also quite a complicated one. I am not sure if I remember all the rules. It was played with cowry shells or tamarind seeds if the family was less affluent. The person who started first had an advantage. There were some patterns that could be repeated to give you a winning start.

The last of the family game I recall is the one that involved cowry shells. This needed dexterity, as you did some "Matrix" like manipulations with your hands and fingers.

There was yet another game called Trade. A diluted version of monopoly. The grandmother never participated in this. We bought cities, built homes, collected rents, in short we were transformed to the heartless capitalists for the duration of the game, sucking blood out of proletariat like a leech. My father was usually the banker. Years later we learnt that he was giving money to one of my brothers on the sly. No wonder he won most of the times.


Years later when I moved to Bombay, I knew all the parts as I had bought them, built homes and collected rents when I was a kid. Thus Dadar was always cheap compared to Zaveri Bazaar, though by the time I moved in, both were out of reach, to even live in.

The death of my grandmother happened before the TV invasion and sadly most of these games died with my grandmother.

With my grandmother gone, and an ever absent father, constantly on travels and a mother who was happy to cook or sleep given a choice, the three brothers still managed to keep a tradition of games at home, played together.

Chess, Carrom and playing cards.

These games are playable today too, but the drama and fun part of the above mentioned games are gone forever.

In 2004 or about, I bought these games from a fancy shop in Madras, selling “traditional Indian games” at an obscene price, thinking I will reignite the magic of those golden years.

The wish remains a dream till date.

Readers of the blog, closer to my age, please mention some of the games that you played in your childhood, if you feel like, that is lost today. Let me compile these games. If for nothing, at least for records.