Sunday, August 16, 2015

Homo Motoris

I must have been living in some other world all this while. A world in which I merely looked on the roads and thought that, when you put the brakes on a vehicle, it automatically started the horn blowing. True that there was this theory that blowing your horn would set the vehicle before you moving but, having seen no evidence of it, I refused to believe that the drivers of these vehicles still operated under this misapprehension. I am sure that they know that the horn button on their vehicle is not the remote control for the vehicles ahead of them.

All this confusion comes of not belonging to Homo Motoris, the species that moves on wheels and not on legs. Being retired and blessed with the sort of coordination that makes walking a miracle, I had hitherto avoided venturing out into the wilds of Bangalore roads too often. And then comes a family emergency that plunges me right into the maelstrom and strips all vestiges of my illusions of belonging in this world.

My first inkling that Homo Sapiens had been superseded by a new species came when I was riding pillion on my cousin's motorbike. We were overtaking an auto when an angry blast heralded the intention of a car to overtake us. Having crossed the auto, my cousin veered to the left only to find the car overtaking him with great speed on his left. I am afraid that I still have not been able to understand the weird and wonderful workings of a mind that first ensures that you move to the left and then squeezes itself into the narrower space available on the left to overtake you. But, then, I am an inferior species and cannot understand the giant brains of Homo Motoris. It is like that ad, maybe - nothing should be done the easy way.

That day's journey taught me a lot more about how far behind I had fallen in this race to keep up with the world. Whenever I had seen the two-wheelers on the road, I had always wondered about their penchant to zigzag through the traffic snarls at every intersection. Considering that this process had to be powered by their leg muscles, I would have thought that they would take their ease on their vehicles, wait till the traffic cleared and allowed the engines of their bikes to move them forward. How mistaken I was.

Traveling with my cousin showed me that THIS was the main means of locomotion. Almost 90% of the journey is done by pushing yourself and your bike with legs awkwardly dangling on either side and pushing at the road. Every now and then, rarely, you would see a clear stretch of some twenty meters and zoom forward as though you were in a motor race. Then, back it was on the jolly old legs to propel you along. Why pushing yourself AND a bike along is considered better than merely carrying your own weight on your own legs is a mystery I have not been able to solve. I probably never shall solve it since I probably belong to a lower order of evolution.

Be that as it may, I must admit that evolution has left me behind. My only hope is to leave this world before I get adopted as a pet by someone

Monday, August 10, 2015

Agree to disagree

Life would have been far easier for me but for that fact that, from childhood, I had developed a quaint notion that I should not say a thing unless I really meant it. Apparently, there are fine nuances to the idea and it is quite all right to say what you do not mean in what are called 'social circumstances'. Fine, or even coarse, nuances totally escape me - and, to this day, if you used the word nuance in tandem with anything, I faint away from fear - and, thus, I am socially inept enough to consider applying for a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

One of the major problems I have had is with this "Agree to Disagree" business. What exactly do people mean when they say it? Do they mean that your opinion is different from mine, and I agree that both opinions may be valid? Or do they just mean that both of us agree in considering each other fools because the other disagrees? Or is it the more neutral thing of let us go on to something else and leave this argument behind us?

People say that it is the last thing that is meant by this fine phrase. My experience, though, is that this 'moving on' hardly ever happens. If you are sitting around discussing whether the Greeks should have said "Yes" instead of "No" or the vice versa, you will find that, after reaching the point of "Agree to Disagree", the meeting promptly adjourns - unless, of course, there is a lot of vodka left in your glasses. AND, after the adjournment, each party who agreed to disagree, buttonholes someone else in the group and waxes eloquent on why the other is such a fool for holding on to his stupid opinion so mulishly. In fact, hitherto, I have found that, when anyone in my vicinity agrees to disagree, it is a red light for me and I should gulp down my drink and flee the place, lest I be buttonholed by one of the two chaps and be lectured on the absolute asininity of the other...unless I, too, choose to agree to disagree.

The thing probably works when it is one of the guys who has to take action and the other guy is merely poking his nose into the affair - either because he loves poking his nose into other people's affairs or because he has been invited to do so (Yeah! There are people who SEEK advice and then argue with the advice) or because he is paid to do so (What do you think happens in Companies?). In all these cases, the 'agree to disagree' puts an end to the talk-talk, leaving the guy who is to take action firmly confident about what to do - the exact opposite of what was being advised (REALLY? You think not? Then why do you suppose there was an argument, if this guy was in agreement with the other? AND, if he did not WIN the argument by words, he is obviously going to win it by discarding the advice).

The funniest episodes happen when a third party tries to conciliate the warring duo with this "Agree to Disagree" thing. Yes, most times, it works much like the normal version where one of the two springs this magic phrase. (Except that, when the two victims, who got buttonholed by the warring parties, exchange notes they will find a surprising unanimity in the fact that both parties are convinced that, but for the idiotic intervention by the 'conciliator', they would have comprehensively defeated the other person's arguments.) In some cases, though, conciliators can be quite hilarious.

As it happened once, when I was in the back-seat of a car with the 'conciliator' when we hit a T junction. The driver and the guy sitting beside him were vehemently arguing about the way forward. The driver was sure we had to turn left; the other guy equally as convinced that right was the way to go. When the argument got too heated, up pops our conciliator - "Guys! Why don't you just agree to disagree?" Exactly where would that take us?

Anyway, the one thing I have gleaned is that agreeing to disagree can happen only in arguments that are of no import to at least one, if not both, of the participants. When it happens in any other circumstance, you are stranded on a road to nowhere.

P.S: Yes! I know! Been there, done this once before in Phrases and Meanings but, sometimes, I find that even my verbosity has not covered all that I want to say!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Dangerous Charity

I still remember that day in Haridwar when my friend made the mistake of giving alms to one beggar. Within seconds, so many beggars had materialized from thin air, around us, that we could hardly move. Why they do it will always be a mystery - I am sure that, thanks to the fact that anyone giving alms is bound to be pestered by everyone seeking alms in the town, people are being warned not to give alms in the place. If the pester level were lower they could well be getting more alms overall. But, then, I suppose that hunger is a thing that focuses you exclusively on short term goals. And, in any case, it is not like they can do a study on which option would yield the most alms in the long run.

What is less understandable is the behavior of NGOs dealing with the needy. In the past, I had given a donation to one of them, with the intention of doing it annually. Six months down the line, I get a call about a special program that they were running and a requirement for some additional donation. Being a shade flush with funds on that occasion, I made the mistake of acceding to that request. That opened the floodgates of the deluge. I get a call again the next month and I said I was unable to help them. For the next week, I ended up getting calls two to three times a day telling me, not in so many words though, about how cruel I was to deny the benefits to the poor children by not sparing my cash.

My heart can bleed as much as the next guy for the plight of poor children but that does not mean that I feel like I have snatched food from their starving mouths. The one thing I hate is being guilt-tripped by anyone. If I give donations, it is because I want to do it and not because I feel guilty. The nobility in giving, according to what I have learnt, lies in feeling grateful for the opportunity to help someone and not in feeling guilt. Someone trying to guilt trip me into doing something arouses my ire. I forthwith told him that I shall never donate a penny to them again and, thereafter, anyone who called citing the name of that NGO was met with so rude a response that they stopped calling me. Persistent blokes, though! It took me a year of incessant rudeness before I got them off my back.

The damage was done, though. I seem to have, apparently, been included in the list of likely donors in some master database used by all NGOs. Calls kept coming in from others and, scarred by that experience, I kept refusing. They may not have got a donation from me but they ensured that I donated liberally to Airtel, since I travel out of town very frequently and they never stopped calling even when I was 'roaming'. (There is another mystery. How is it that promotional SMSes from Service providers turn to promotional phone calls when you are 'roaming', but that is another issue.)

It is not like I do not want to be charitable. The problem, though, is that I do not want to turn the 3-4 calls a week from NGOs to twenty calls a day merely because I donated to one of them. (DND? I am registered but it hardly seems to help) Call me self-centered, if you will, but that is the way it is. If there is some way to ensure that I can do the one without being afflicted by the other, then I can restart charity to NGOs. Else, I shall have to restrict myself to what I do - helping those around me.

I may or may not want to be considered benevolent but I am sure that I do not want to be considered prey.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Mere 'achche din'

When I landed in Delhi, armed with some bookish knowledge of Hindi, I little realized that over the next few years my conversational lingo would be reduced to just one word. Well, actually, I was not really thinking in terms of conversations to start with. It was my first job and I was thinking more in terms of whether I could fool my employer into thinking that I was actually worth keeping.

From the moment I landed in Delhi, though, the language issue pushed everything else to the background. It was all that reading the sub-titles, when seeing Hindi movies, that had destroyed me. Considering that Hindi movies were my only chance of hearing Hindi in Tamil Nadu, I should have tried to understand by listening, I suppose. But, then, I had no clue then that my understanding of Hindi would be of any relevance in my future.

Initially, I had no clue how to deal with this. I mean, when someone spoke it was first a jumble of noise. I had to parse it first into words in Hindi; then check on my mental dictionary for the meanings; leave blanks for the words I had no entry for; then fill in those blanks based on context. Having finally got what the other person had said, I then had to frame my answer (in Tamil OR English, as it struck me at the moment) and then start translating it mentally into Hindi. By the time I got around to this level, the other person had made his choice between (a) This guy is an imbecile (the most popular choice, considering the vacant expression on my face, while I was doing all that processing) (b) This guy is deaf-and-dumb or (c) This guy is a manner-less brute.

So, by the time I got to the level of saying "Eureka" and started that long stagnant conversational ball rolling again, the other chap had taken action according to his choice. Thankfully, the last option was opted for by very few, and even those were more mild-mannered, or else I probably would not be alive to tell the tale today. So, mostly, I got those fingers twirling near the forehead act OR people making signs at me (AND, if I was worse at anything than Hindi, it was sign language).

I am normally not a quick learner but, in this case, I really outdid myself. Within days, I had realized to recognize the intonation at the end of what the other person was saying and only if it seemed like an interrogation would I set the creaking machinery in the brain working. (At what? You know noises to Hindi words; Hindi words to Tamil....and all that) If not, all I had to do was make indeterminate noises and the other chap would continue.

The acceptable indeterminate noise, I had learnt, was "Achcha". As an adjective, it normally meant 'good', but you used it when you just wanted to indicate that you were listening. In no time at all, I was scattering my "Achcha"s around with the best of them. The issue, though, was that it got to be so ingrained a habit that I found myself scattering my "Achcha"s, even when I was visited home and actually could understand and participate in the conversations, much to the amusement of my mother, relatives and friends.

This "Achcha" is really a most versatile word. If you just said "Achcha" in a neutral tone, it just meant "I am listening" - the equivalent of "Hmm", without a snore punctuating it. If you said "Achcha?" with that interrogative tone at the end, it would mean "Is that so?" and, depending on your tone of voice, it could be a surprised "Is that so?" or a derisory "Is that so?" If you sort of elongated the word, it could mean, "Ah! NOW I understand." Over time, I mastered all uses of the word and, needless to say, I needed it when I had reached the point where the translation app in my mind worked smoothly enough to convert Hindi to English in a jiffy, but stuttered and stammered when it came to doing the vice versa.

After a point, though, the machinery in my mind was greased so well that there was no perceptible interval between the end of the other guy's statement and my reply (It was NOT more an issue of the other guy trying to slip in a word edgewise, thank you). Slowly, the"Accha"s disappeared from my daily conversation.

So, that spelt the end of my 'achcha-wale din' or, in short, 'achche din'.