Monday, December 19, 2011

63. Enriching or diminishing....

As the year draws to a close, lexicographers (those who work on words) search for frequently used 'words' through the year. Once accepted, quite a few of such words make it to the next edition of a dictionary. Mountainology, the study of mountains, is one among several such words that had slipped into the dictionary some years ago. That is how 'dictionary' continues to swell in size.

Blending of words too has led to emergence of new words as well. 'Jeggings', a blend between 'jeans' and 'leggings', has gained acceptance and is now a commonly used word. In similar tone, apparent reference to widespread obesity has led to coinage of the word 'globesity'. In certain instances, new words have replaced the existing expressions. Hasn't 'item number' replaced 'cabaret' in Bollywood movies?

Words are known to enrich our lives, giving fresh expressions to human emotions and thoughts. Thanks to Jarnail Singh, 'Shoe' has attained a distinct status this year - it can henceforth be conveniently called 'a weapon of mass attraction'. The equivalent of 'Arab spring' in our part of the world is 'Slap', the thunder from Harvinder Singh will continue to echo for certain politicians. Finally, use 'Sibal' as a generic replacement for 'censor'.

Whether or not 'new words of 2011' are enriching or diminishing is anybody's guess!

Monday, December 5, 2011

62. Is there a choice?

Not many would disagree that life is filled with more choices than ever before. Be it food, beverages, goods or services, there are plenty to choose from. Whether big or small, simple or complex, choice has created a world of immense possibilities around us. Seemingly we are not done yet, aspiring for more to choose from. Isn't it? Because the aggregate result (from your choices) creates momentum and perpetuates life.

You go to a restaurant and choose for yourself; you go to a shopping mall and choose soap, sandal and shirt for yourself; you go to car garage and pick car of your choicest color; and most youngsters choose their brides. Life is on a roller coaster ride, you would imagine, with variety of choices spread all across. Yet, as you watch closely you'd get to see that the choices are indeed 'limited' and it is no more than Hobson's choice you end up making - either you have 'this' or 'none'.

Haven't leading brands proliferated because choices have been smartly restricted? Aren't corporations expanding their global reach on account of limiting consumer's choice? Haven't democracies enforced choice between 'better of the worst' at the ballot box? The most celebrated application of Hobson's choice in the 20th century was Henry Ford's offer of the Model-T Ford in 'any colour you like, as long as it is black.'

The idea of 'choice' is what you make of it. Neither can you choose your parents, nor can children be of your choice. And as you go to your doctor, the idea of 'choice' takes a beating. 'Doctor, we will go by your advice' is what lays the idea of choice to 'rest'. How often have you gone against your doctor's prescription? Yet, you think you can make informed choice in a world that is largely driven by Hobson's choice.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

61. Argumentative, no more!

Parents of teenage children unequivocally confirm that 'today's children may be poor communicators but are smart negotiators'. Gone are the days when a kid will take his father's 'no' for going to a 'movie' on its face value. The teenager today will negotiate hard and have his/her say nine-out-of-ten times. So be it, as the power of negotiation gives teenager that extra edge for building a future in a highly competitive market-driven world.

Negotiation is different from being 'argumentative', which most Indians always have been. Arguments are essential for a (un)healthy conversation; for getting across divergent viewpoints and for making one's presence felt. Amartya Sen would have more on it but for convenience sake let it be clear that 'argument' often doesn't lead us anywhere but for satisfying bloated egos of those embroiled in an argument. Good or bad, it is a cultural trait that we have come to live with, perhaps for generations!

Clearly, negotiation is an American trait that we Indians have conveniently adapted or copied. Without doubt, Americans are not only born negotiators but born salesmen too. But the question is: how did they 'sell' the idea of 'negotiation' to us? A social-anthropologist turned psychologist tells me that it comes packaged with fast food and aerated drinks. Art of negotiation gets into you with each bite of a burger and a gulp of coke cements it further.

Try it out if my argument is getting better of you!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

60. Owl, by another name

It is said that if you think of them in the evening you are sure to locate a few on your scalp the following morning. The more you pluck them the more these grow till the time comes for them to fall apart like civilizations. Holding them in place is part of the challenge, other being to ensure that the crowning glory is not stacked with 'grey'. Who would want to look old, whatever be the cost of hiding the truth?

So, turning to what the Romans had long perfected - the art of dyeing hair - has been compellingly convenient. Any number of advertisements on coloring packs and conditioners have kept the age-old tradition alive. Coming in several hues, the chemical cocktails on offer have kept the hair coloring industry on an unprecedented growth curve. Currently valued at US $ 20 billion, the industry is growing at an impressive rate of between 10 to 15 per cent.

Considering that wisdom is associated with greying, I wonder why we would rather seem 'young' than 'wise'. Associated with Greek goddess of wisdom Athena, 'owl' is considered to be a symbol of 'wisdom'. So, the trade-off between looking old or being wise is whether or not one would like to be seen as an 'owl'. It is, however, another matter that those who like to see themselves 'young' make an 'ullu' (meaning owl) of themselves by enriching their scalp with undesired chemicals. If you feel offended, blame the 'owl'.

(this blogger has opted for being 'wise' since Jan 1, 2011)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

59. United Villages of India

With cities succumbing to resource chaos and countries falling to mounting debts, it is high time the focus returns to villages - where life is still celebrated in its myriad manifestations with distinct rhythm and discreet harmony. One is reminded of Mahatma Gandhi who had said: `the true India is to be found not in its few cities, but in its seven hundred thousand villages'. Without mincing his words, Gandhi had further added: `if the villages perish, India will perish too'.

Oblivious of the dramatic decline of capitalism across the world, the growth-obsessed politicians and planners of our times are pushing villages on the brink. While the draconian `land acquisition law' will drive people away from their natural habitation, scheme to provide `employment guarantee' will provide hands-to-mouth existence for those who get evicted. The notion `less the number of villagers, better the growth prospects' is taking the country on a path of self-destruction.

Capitalist model of growth has crumbled all across, taking a heavy toll on its constituent nation-states. The fate of `United Nations' is hanging in a balance for long and the future of `United States' is anything but in dark. The nation-state theory of global governance has seemingly outlived its existence. Mahatma Gandhi was averse to the theory of nation-state and had instead argued in favor of a confederation of self-governing and self-reliant village communities.

Only be restructuring and renaming the country as `United Villages of India' can the future of the country and that of mankind be assured.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

58. 2+2 is anything but 4

Even since the phrase `do aur do panch' meaning `2 and 2 can add up to become 5' came into being, there has been a question mark in my mind whether or not 2+2 is anything but 4. Many would wonder if this has anything to do with the mathematics of `addition'. Still others would argue if this is worth any serious consideration. Isn't 2+2=4 a reality?

Yet, 2+2=5 persists in popular memory. No wonder, two movies with this title have been produced during past two decades. Isn't it a verbal expression reflecting how much more can be made out of what is at hand? Using smart street tricks, the rags-to-riches stories are often of those who could imagine beyond the obvious to turn things around in their favour.

One may not agree but it is said that 2+2 could be 0 in the rather abstract world of poetry and music. But let's address the fundamental question: does 2+2 equal 4? My answer is: 2+2 is not 4! If you don't believe me, add 2 drops of water to 2 drops of water. Does 2+2 not become 1? So, 2+2 could be 1. But two cats plus two pieces of sausages add up to remain 2 only.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

57. Goodbye `good', welcome `new good'

Celebrities have blurred the distinction between the good and the evil. With the gun-wielding actors, scam-tainted ministers, rape-charged politicians and killer police officers languishing in jails, the so-called `public good' of the recent past has quickly transformed into present-day `social evil'. Not for long, though! Out from jail, they return to hog the limelight through reality shows. One wonders if the evil is not the new good?

It may sound shocking but `goodness' in social life is seriously on the decline, having been replaced by what is conveniently termed as `lesser evil'. One marvels at the ingenuity of Hilary Clinton who set a trend by searching for a rare streak of goodness in Taliban, carving out `good taliban' from within the ranks and files of what till the other day was considered world's greatest enemy.

Whether you like it or not, evil has become a subjective term in the media-driven market economy of our times. The distinction between evil and good is no longer a moral or ethical question. Economics decides what is good and what is not. If an evil can sell better or can help upturn the economy, let it be the new good. Hasn't modern society endorsed good as euphemism for lesser evil?

Monday, June 20, 2011

56. It is worth a fall

Have you ever missed out on being a victim of a `chair prank'? Undoubtedly humiliating, the experience is nonetheless virtuous. Simply put, it is the hapless squatter who has the last laugh as the cheering onlookers get their share of momentary but perverted fun. Rarely if ever is such humiliation revenged!

As the butt lands hard on the floor, many windows open with a whimper to the victim. The downside-up view of the world reveals that deceit is friendly, insult is infectious and intimidation is collective. Net response is a sheepish smile as one is helped on one's feet.

The decade-old shocking fall at the Lake Palace had evoked a hearty laughter by the victim herself. The exquisite location had propped up the young doctor for a quick picture when a trainee staff, out of sheer courtesy, had pulled the chair off. The collective laughter had saved the intern the day, and his job too.

Being at the receiving end of a `chair prank' involves a capacity of civility, for restraint, which is an extreme complicated human social achievement. It demolishes bloated ego in a flash, replacing it with patience and humility. Let someone play `chair prank' with ministers, bureaucrats and executives, their bloated egos need a quick `fall'.

(the author was victim of a `chinese chair prank' recently, the base of the China-made chair had broken away)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

55. No if, only butt

Isn't every bit of our conscious and sub-conscious trapped in a paradox? Else, Socrates wouldn't have said: `I know that I know nothing at all'. Paradoxically, it is said that people make decisions based not on what they actually want to do, but on what they think that other people want to do, with the result that everybody decides to do something that nobody really wants to do, but only what they thought that everybody else wanted to do.

Paradox is indeed a daily reality! Watchmen protecting millions stacked in bank lockers are paid in pennies; the best of cars on the roads are often in the hands of lowly paid drivers with dubious licenses; the maid who cooks nutritious food for her clients in often malnourished herself; and the chowkidars who guard residential apartments are rarely in the best of their health to defend themselves. The list doesn't end here!

Millions across the world go unnoticed for exposing their unshapely butt to address the nature's call. On the Cannes red carpet, however, every butt engages hundred of shutter bugs and occupies thousand inches of print space, as if there is no but, but only butt...

Monday, April 11, 2011

54. Lok Pal, need one for each neighbourhood

So goes the adage, one is honest as long as not proven corrupt. Isn't it a fact that each one in a billion-plus country knows who the corrupt are: in the neighbourhood, at their respective workplaces, amongst the public servants and amidst the high and the mighty? Then why is it that the system, made up of these people, remains oblivious to the devil within?

Not only is it insipid and innocuous, corruption remains a faceless reference in most drawing room conversations. A traffic constable, a ticket collector, a tax officer, a municipal staff and a local legislature are part of a middle class script on corruption in public life, which conveniently misses out on the disproportionate assets amassed by a neighbour or the nefarious deeds of a close relation. Why should we, let someone catch them first!

Notwithstanding the legacy of failed public institutions to root out corruption in this country, hope has been pinned yet again on another institution to catch them. The child within us is ecstatic with the promise of a new toy, a Lok Pal. Curiously, neither does one know how the toy may look like nor is there any clue on how it may work! Till the toy arrives, corruption around us flourishes with impunity.

Unbelievable though it may sound, a forest range officer minced no words recently to tell the wife of his senior colleague that `the shopping bags she was carrying were the outcome of her husband's illicit income'. Courageous and fearless, this young hero has evoked the `lok pal' in him to expose and isolate the enemy within. After all, public knows more than what a Lok Pal might know - yeh to public hai ye sab janti hai!

(the picture above is from a popular Bollywood film of the 70's Roti starring Rajesh Khanna (right) and Jeevan (left)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

53. Pay them to stay home

Brazen display of unaccounted wealth notwithstanding, the social sanction to getting-fatter-by-the-day Indian wedding has established moral decline of a recalcitrant society. Far from being questioned, the big fat weddings instead tweak middle-class aspirations to emulate it.

Unable to match the unenviable trend, many acquaintances with marriageable progeny have been shocked to learn that feeding each guest at the wedding could cost them upwards of Rs 2,000. Coupled with the often unreasonable price of the venue, thousand-odd guests can turn the one-night ceremony into a nightmare for the rest of the parents’ lives! As the couple exchange wedding vows on the auspicious day, traffic congestion triggered by additional number of cars hitting the road adds to the city woes. Adding insult to injury for the host, the expanded cuisine of predictable taste gets conveniently trashed at such weddings as well.

Can the growing carbon footprints of the big fat Indian wedding be checked? An ingenious solution is on offer! Let the marriage invitation remind the guests to celebrate the day with their respective families in the neighbourhood restaurant of their choice. To cover the dining expenses, the invitation will have a reasonable amount* tagged to it. Neither will food be wasted nor will guests tread extra miles. The decentralised carbon-friendly wedding will nevertheless get celebrated across the city at the same time as the bride and the groom solemnise their marriage in the company of their close families.

(*it could well be 5 times less than what one may pay for food for a family of 5 at the wedding)

Monday, February 21, 2011

52. Vice is virtuous!

The institution of `vice chancellor' is one amongst multitudes of failed institutions in the public domain. Weakened on account of inept leadership, the office of vice chancellor in most universities has become a `big head' of opportunism, wickedness, corruption and politics! With a prefix `vice' attached to it, what better could have been expected? If nothing, it stands true to its prefix.

Appearing in English in the 13th century, `vice' is a habit considered immoral, depraved and/or degrading. Derived from the Latin word vitium, synonyms for vice include fault, sin, iniquity and infirmity. In more minor usage, vice can refer to a fault, a defect or merely a bad habit. No qualms therefore if the vice chancellors of the present genre fail to deliver. That is what they have been chosen for!

During a recent dinner hosted by the vice chancellor of a central university, guests were treated to cocktails by the generous host. Down to few pegs, the host wondered why one guest was without his share of a drink. `So, you don't have such vices,' quipped the vice chancellor. Much before the guest could react, the host went further, `no wonder, you are not a vice chancellor!'.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

51. The other green house gas

Does double-digit economic growth translate into multi-digit jobs? It doesn't seem so as there exists a glaring disconnect between higher growth and lower employment. No wonder, growth engine in India (as well as China) is puffing out more scams than jobs. Given the economic upheaval the world has been going through, losing a job is lot easier than gaining one.

Not for maid servants though! As there are often `two jobs' on offer before they lose `one', making a mockery of growth-employment disconnect. Instead, there is a demand-supply gulf which has been smartly exploited by these unassuming women. Rarely do maids get fired for being `absent', they are instead sweet-talked over mobile for timely appearance the following day. Maids force housewives to write a new chapter in behavioural science everyday.

The enigma of maid servants continues to remain convoluted. Neither do economic sanctions work on them nor can the affected employers get an easy `bail out'. Maids are like green house gases that can swing housewives mood either way - that is often worse than the cumulative impact of all the green house gases in the atmosphere.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

50. Read what you don't hear

Drawing new year resolutions out from the year full of loud scams and shamed silence has been challenging to both the intellect as well as the instinct. Intutively, however, a list of eleven resolutions emerge from the super-conscious state of the mind for the disturbed state of the country. Here's the list:

To enhance innocent forgetfulness, researchers will come up with a new drug `scam-o-cin'; To make `corruption' one of the fundamental rights, the constitution will be urgently amended; To develop next breed of `pimp journalists', suitable media courses will be designed; To expand network of elevated roads and express highways, pedestrian and cyclists will be made to pay road tax; To achieve instant name and fame, parents will introduce TRP rankings for their kids.

To wipe onion tears, cooking-without-onions will be subsidised by the government; To enhance the role of black economy, the currency notes will be coloured black; To compensate for forest destruction due to mining, all telecom towers will be painted green; To sustain stinted image of the judiciary, the blind goddess of justice will remain blindfolded; To add glamour quotient to everyday lives, bollywood stars will stoop down to cleaning cars and washing linens for a price; and To add insult to injury, micro-finance will be the next big killer across the countryside.

And to stay away from it, I will dig into the sands.