Thursday, April 17, 2014

Contradictory proverbs

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Proverbial Lessons?

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Much Ado about 'Nothing'

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND what does the male of the species do?

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

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

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

The BIG Picture

"I am afraid you are not seeing the big picture here. Your suggestion is all right from your standpoint but does not fit into the big picture."

There was a time in childhood when you graduated from seeing pictures and moved on to reading. THAT change, I thought, was permanent but was soon disabused of the notion once I joined office. Apparently, reading is an exercise that is enforced by the teaching profession and, the moment you got free of their hegemony, you reverted back to pictures. What else can explain the fact that you cannot explain that your profits have doubled, in words, but, the moment you put up a bar chart with one bar twice the size of the other, the bulbs in the heads of your top brass light up with realization as they exclaim, "Ah! The profits have doubled" with all the enthusiasm of a Buddha who has realized the path to Nirvana?

Be that as it may, I do not think that this was precisely what my boss meant when he said the first sentence to me - simply because what I HAD suggested was not a means to color the bar chart nor would it have lent itself to pictorial depiction. Of course, it is the bane of the boss that not everything can be readily put in as pictures in a slide presentation, though Power-point is probably working to solve that issue.

If my boss did not mean that the suggestion was worthless merely because it could not be put in a picture - BIG or otherwise - what exactly did he mean? Maybe what he meant was that in a Creation probably full of millions of universes; in a Universe full of millions of galaxies; in a galaxy full of millions of stars; in a planet full of millions of beings, a suggestion that would add a few lakhs to the bottom-line of a company was not really fitting? Unlikely, because this is the man who, just yesterday, harangued me for half an hour because my computations had a error of .01 in a figure, that we would have rounded off to the nearest rupee anyway, AND it would round off to the same amount with or without the error. That does not argue for a person seeing the insignificance of human endeavor in the big picture.

Maybe, he was taking the point of view that the ultimate purpose of being born human was to purify one's soul and all these attempts at corporate achievement were mere vanity? That one, too, did not seem to fit, considering that his secretary was still in tears after the shellacking she got over the fact that she had failed to print his designation in bold in a letter. 

Waiting for him to explain the big picture was a waste of time. I have invariably found that the boss who throws the big picture at you to trash your suggestion seldom bothers to elucidate exactly what it was and why your suggestion does not fit. The ones, who give reasons for why your suggestion does not fit, seldom invoke any picture - big or otherwise. Seemed to me that the usage of 'Big Picture' normally meant, "I am BIG (bigger than you at least). Better get THAT picture clear in your mind and behave accordingly". I worked with this as a first step approximation to the meaning of that phrase and it never let me down.

I came back home and my nephew had his complaints.

"Just because I have exams does not mean that I should not see TV at all."

"You need to see the big picture here"

"Uncle! I would love to. The problem is that my dad will just not turn in this piddly little 22" TV for something 40+ or 50+"

Now THAT was the sort of big picture that made sense to me!