Monday, November 28, 2016

102. Awesome is what awesome is not

Some words make you sick, not because these are virus-infected but for their sheer overuse or misuse to the point of being irritating. 'Awesome' is one among them, having grown like a wild creeper in our lives. Dictionary may define it as something extraordinary or stunning, like an amazing waterfall or a beautiful sunset, but its usage extends to anything from a pair of shoes to a tasty lunch, and goes on endlessly. The irritating aspect is that 'awesome' is used to describe things that are, in fact, not awesome at all. 

I am not being snooty but my concern must merit consideration. After all, how can a word mean both 'great' and 'terrible' at the same time? Youngsters may love it, as it eases them into striking multiple expressions with just one word. But the trouble is that I have friends of all ages who use it as regularly as youngsters half their age. Why should it appeal as much to the seniors? I would imagine that it's charm lies in its versatility, even if its use is half-ironic. That is awesome!

Already voted as one of the ten most overused words, 'awesome' has come under gaze of those who are aiming to push the word to its rightful slot in the spoken language. For last few years an anti-awesome move has been aiming to beseech people from employing its overuse, suggesting instead that we deserve something better. Easier said, having degraded 'awesome' as banal it will be quite a task to locate something that is truly, really, deeply awesome. Will someone be able to come up with the next 'awesome'?

It isn't if overuse makes some words and their meaning redundant, it denies us the chance to feel a wider range of emotions. The worst is that we have, by sheer oversight, etymologically demoted 'awesome' as a way of foreclosing conversation rather than having it. It's usage has been reduced to shut down any debate or discussion, as a definitive statement. Having wasted 'awesome' to describe a goddamn ebay discount, one would be bereft of appropriate word to describe, for instance, one's own wedding. Sadly, we have wasted the shit out of some words. 

By the way, that reminds me that my domestic help is upbeat these days about using 'shit' to express in equal measure her pleasure and displeasure over anything. Like awesome, the overuse of 'shit' means everything but the real stuff. With the stink having long escaped into the greenhouse, it makes her feel connected to the slang-generation. A coming of age feeling, perhaps! And, my hunch is that she is unlikely to give up on her new-found enlightenment anytime soon.

This reminds me of an incident about how overuse of words leads us to the point of losing all its meanings. Here it goes! Having been interrupted many times during a hearing by a judge, who kept saying 'shit' on each occasion, the lawyer could not hold himself back from saying: 'Nothing but 'shit' has passed from your lordship's mouth through the day.' You might wonder what may have happened thereafter. The court was adjourned! 

This jalebi was first published in Deccan Herald on Jan13, 2017. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

101. The unmaking of human emotions!

Festive season reminds me about the transformation the world of sharing seasons' greetings has gone through. From those days when as teenagers we were made to ferry plateful of sweets across neighboring households to later years when we often poured emotions in hand-drawn greeting cards, the subtlety of sharing emotions were to become outright blatant in the following years.Telephonic greetings and printed cards arrived much later, by which time greetings had started bearing a crass reflection of social and economic status. Emotions were tagged to a price, and the trend is in vogue till this day! 

In parallel, there is a new trend that has caught on. The present-day gadget-friendly generation has gone a step ahead, for them emotions are a product of digital technology. The manner in which they use bland text, passive status and predictive smiley makes one believe as if the youngsters, and even some of their senior followers, have run out of emotions. It seems conscious expression of thoughts have given space to copied text and downloaded visuals. Need it be said that the realm of digital communication has unleashed a world of electronic emotions around us. Digitized emotions have become virtual products for real consumption.    

I am as disturbed as novelist Ayn Rand would have been, who considered 'emotions as a product of man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly'. Since lot goes into making of human emotions, I have difficulty with the digital emotions. Consequently, I try not to acknowledge text messages, bulk greetings and electronic cards. For me, the cut and paste emotions that are re-invented and re-send are worthy of quick deletion, as these are but a reflection of the general drift of our culture. I like conventions. I like personal touch to greeting family and friends. May be, digital greetings don't assure me of the attention that I think I deserve! 

But much to my discomfort, passive electronic emotions continue to fill-up the virtual space.    

As touch-screen technology moves center stage as a mode of communication, the business of saying things face-to-face is seemingly on its way out. Mediated by communication technologies, emotions too have become packaged products which can be clicked and picked online. As these are produced so are these consumed, a perfect reminder that we live in a 'read and delete' society. That electronic emotions lack the ability to communicate the essence of an emotional response isn't a majority concern, and yet it has the power of unstoppable proliferation. Pity that no one considers the value of the glorious personal greetings the sun showers on the mountains!      

Despite my personal disliking for digitized emotions, I am still convinced that it has given a convenient vent to positive emotions for a large majority who may not be able to afford the economics of sharing greetings (printed cards, expensive gifts etc) the traditional way. Consequently, sharing of feelings through a variety of 'emoticons' have worked ever since digital form of emotions were uploaded on the Internet on Sept 19, 1982. Since then, human emotions have got a non-human face to them. These environment-friendly emoticons have been downloaded and shared several billion times. Not sure if these make the recipients happy, though. Isn't expressing emotions through written words getting obsolete?

But what worries me is the accumulation of 'negative emotions' in the process, because humans are a mix of both positive and negative emotions. While 'positive emotions' exit through the electronic route, 'negative emotions' fail to escape human psyche. No wonder, pent-up emotions and hidden aggression increasingly confront us as a society. Be it unprovoked violence in social life or increasing incidences of road rage, the 'negative emotions' are finding a variety of violent escape routes. This is a subject that has yet to be researched to any appreciable degree, though we do read about the flip side of our over-dependence on the digital technologies. The trouble is that unlike electronic emoticons these (negative emotions) cannot be easily deleted from our lives! 

This piece was first published in Deccan Herald on Nov 26, 2016

Friday, October 7, 2016

100. You do yours, and mine too!

Times may have changed but not for today's parents whose collective frustration spills out in the open when it comes to discussing their offspring. Unceremonious adages like 'highly irresponsible', 'grossly careless', 'poorly empathetic' and 'increasingly narcissistic' are pressed into service to reflect their unending ire. 

Age has forced me to switch sides now, but it wasn't too long when I was one among many of my generation who had braved parental verbal tirade. My mother would often compare me with my father for being 'half as diligent in discharging my duties towards the household'. Like all parents, she was repetitive enough to trigger my immune response.      

Neither was the problem diagnosed then nor is it being analysed now. Across the world, I have learnt, a generation is growing up expecting more from their parents. A narcissistic generation afflicted by the 'selfie epidemic' is growing in numbers. Need it be said that the otherness of others has become mostly irrelevant to this generation.            

If you ask me, we are the problem we are trying to solve. Haven't many of us been hollering our children not to forget things they must carry before leaving home? Aren't most of us doing the household work ourselves because getting kids to do the same will suck more energy out of us? If that be so, then blame it on our style of parenting.   

We have allowed children’s sense of entitlement to be inflated alongside decline in their responsibilities towards the household. Gone are the days when children were perceived as a generation which was raised to gain practical tips for survival from their parents, and to lend supportive financial hand for the household to thrive. 

In present times we want our child to be child  - to play, to laugh, to have fun, and to enjoy the carefree state for as long as s/he can. Perceived as an emotional asset whose primary purpose is being loved, most parents today want their kids to spend time on things that can bring them success. Rarely it is realized that the pursuit of success comes at a price.    

It is our attitude plus the change in living conditions that has prompted children to be what they are today. Why should children spend hours doing chores when the technology - mixers, microwave ovens, washing machines, handsets - has improved living conditions in favor of individual emancipation around the house? You do yours and mine too, they seem to be saying as technology has eased the task of doing work!

I would be surprised if there are parents not wanting their children to be tech savvy, and not ape modernity to stay in the race for endless material acquisitions. Comes packaged with it are the terms and conditions that discourage children to do household chores. Knowing it well, as many as 30% of American parents no longer ask their children to do household chores.

So much for our side of the story. Have you ever tried asking the young generation about their side of the story? I have heard many say that they were labelled 'little emperors' and 'little princesses' on their birthdays by their parents. And they are behaving like what they were labelled as. Where do you see emperors and princesses do household chores, they ask!! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

99. Use the abuse, if you may!

Whatever be the reason for Philippine President Duterte to use angry expletives in addressing the US President Obama recently, one thing is clear that 'abuse' is trans-national and could be used as a potent weapon at any level. Without getting into the details of it, every human carries this innate skill to use the abuse on cognitive demand.      

Unlike any other human expression, echo of a verbal abuse lingers longer than the resonance of few good words. It hurts longer than any physical injury, piercing through the calm confines of one's inner self days on end. The trouble is that unless it is rebuffed there and then, its tone and tenor disturbingly persists. Since it cuts across all cultures and each social strata, it is surely an evolutionary trait that we have no option but to live with. For me, each abusive dual that I witness offers fresh insights on the subject. And there is no end to it in our daily lives, be it in our offices or on the street.  

One such one-sided abusive session that I have been witness to is worth mentioning here. For the slightest of the design error, the editor would walk straight to the concerned and hurl choicest of abuses before resigning to his chamber to pen editorial for the next edition of the newspaper. Neither would bad blood spill on the floor nor would it brood insurgency in the office, the high voltage session would end soon with everyone resuming their respective duties. Rarely if ever this not-so-frequent event would get discussed during coffee breaks. It was indeed a ritual that must have carried therapeutic value for the 'abuser' and as much unpleasant respite for the 'victim'. 

Unless it spills over to being physical, I consider verbal abuse to be an ingenious human trait. Since both sides are often abusive at the same time, each serve receives a equally smart volley from the other end. If nothing, it helps soothe nerves and calm tempers. The best part is that it gives one the liberty to be the 'abuser' and the 'victim' under a given situation. Vexed by circumstances beyond our control, toss few abuses into the air and feel the difference. As verbal tirade dissipates destructive energy, the mind, body and soul return to a much-desired equilibrium. No wonder, in many cultures for the fun of it grandparents offer tutorials to kids on being abusive!

General consensus is that abuses are learnt outside of the home: from the neighbors, in the classrooms, on the streets, and now from country-heads. Rarely ever have restrictions been posed on being abusive, till it takes a violent turn. Though rarely acknowledged by law, verbal abuse remains an unwritten human right. Anyone who hasn't exercised this right is unlikely to be normal, so I would think. Not without reason do husband and wife abuse each other, to be close and cozy again. It isn't as much a psychological issue as it has been made out to be! Try asking Newton and he would say 'it conforms to my third law' - 'to every action there is equal but opposite reaction'. 

At the end of it, verbal abuse could be as much a vice as a virtue. Subject to how it gets used - though rarely people exercise control when they are embroiled in it - it could easily be tried as a tool to control acrimony between people. I often wonder if anyone would consider creating 'abuse clubs' in line with the 'laughter clubs' that we have. This is a therapy whose potential has yet to be fully exploited. I wonder what might have been the outcome had Bush and Saddam engaged in a verbal dual? Could war not have been avoided? May be!

Peace is a possible dividend that verbal abuse has on offer. Any takers!  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

98. A spouse for all seasons

Aaron exchanging ring with the smart phone
Let me be honest that I was not ready to encounter upfront what I had only read and heard in the recent past. A light tremor shook me when Peter introduced me to Paul, his 'husband', and he (Paul) had reciprocated with a smile. My conservative upbringing was in for a rude shock. exposed to the grey shade of human relationship beyond the conventional black and white. Many of you will mock at me for my naivety, knowing well that like many, I am witness-to and participant-in several transforming realities the world is tossing up every so often. 

Legal sanctions notwithstanding, same gender co-habitation is for real now. Proclaiming same gender partner as 'husband' or 'wife' in public is a brave new expression, heralding a new era in human relationships. If marriages are indeed made in heaven, as they say, then same gender marriages may also have a divine sanction! My bewilderment was no more than a fleeting emotion because the gays were cool about it! Two husbands under one roof without a wife or two wives under one roof without a husband. Bravo!  

If family means putting arms around each other, then that is what they are doing. If family means caring for each other, then that is what has brought them together. What goes behind closed doors is none of anybody's business. Chill! The world has lived through polygamy and polyandry for long, it is time to give new meaning to monogamy now. Though I doubt if there is anything new about it. Our ancient monuments stand testimony to such relationships, stone carvings on derelict structures depict that such relationships were in vogue then.  

Stone or plastic, these couples give two hoot to what the carvings are all about and what the clerics or the biologists might be thinking. They hold no obligations towards either! Darwin may have started rolling over in his coffin, however, the fittest have sought their own ways to devolve. Nurturing new-found relationship, they have left the task of procreation to the test tubes and the surrogate mothers. Why should all eggs be put in the same basket, they question? As science takes charge of procreation, relationships are beginning to go beyond the obvious. Same gender relationship is just the beginning!  

When Aaron Chervenak, a native of Los Angles, married his smartphone recently, he went beyond gender stereotypes in tying knot with a machine instead. The priest in the Little Vegas Chapel in Nevada proclaimed them 'husband and cellphone'. It is not startling, as one-third of Americans say they would rather give up sex than lose their cell phones. As people touch their smart phone more often than they touch their spouse, a new relationship is indeed evolving in every living room. 

If you have touched your cellphone few times while reading this, you know what I am driving at!

This post was first published in Deccan Herald on Aug 13, 2016