Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hello Bro / Sis!

Since my college days, I have come across a peculiar thought process that students have when they are studying and some continue thinking in the same vein even when they are professionals. It is a concept that I could neither understand, nor could I bow to this thought flow. I always questioned it in my mind and this is the first time that I have got down to analyze it in some depth. The point of discussion is: why do peers of the opposite sex prefer to be either lovers or tone it down to a sibling equation instead of being just friends?

I’m sure all of you at some point of time felt how it’s easier to explain to your lover that your best friend of the opposite sex is like a brother or sister to you. That’s convenient and lays a lot of matters to rest, which includes doubts about your ‘actual’ equation with your opposite-sex friend. But this convenience is something that I would like to question. Why can’t you say that you are friends and still put matters to rest? Why does it have to be coated with the garb of an idea of being siblings? Haven’t these people heard of the word ‘incest’?

Children from their adolescent age are taught to be brothers and sisters, rather than friends. The next-door boy, who was your playmate since you can remember, is suddenly referred to as a brother by your parents. They don’t want a ‘friend’ to visit you anymore, and certainly not inside your bedroom. Only a member of the ‘family’ can do that, and you have to comply to it. If you question it, you are only convincing them that you have mischief on your mind!

I think that it is a by-product of the taboo that exists (yes, still) between a girl and a boy being friends. To call your best friend your sibling is including that person in a sort of family construct, thereby settling matters once and for all that you are not lovers and will never be. I observed that it is not only for others, the two people involved also find a lot of security and comfort in this slotting. Then they can open their minds to other fishes in the pond, because they have got the most nagging of all worries, do-you-love-your friend, sorted out.

In office, colleagues like to get in the comfort zone of being siblings to avoid gossip. Before tongues start wagging about your behind-the-cooler chats with that pretty front office girl, slip it to a jealous colleague that you and she are like brother-sister. That effectively pulls you out from the look-at-me scampering. It might also make you popular with the guys who want access to your (well, sounds awful but that is what you have labeled yourself) ‘sister’. Not a very envious position, right?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Are You Rude?

This is a question that I have asked myself a number of times. I can recall various instances in my own life when I had been rude to people and then felt bad about it. There have been times when I had to be rude in an effort to be honest. There were times when an extra straw piled on me caved my restraint in and I flared up at unsuspecting and apparently innocent people. This afternoon all these instances suddenly consumed the space in my scheme of things and I have no choice but to ponder over the question: what it is that makes people rude?

I believe the basic reason why you become rude is when you are upset with yourself. It could be a sense of helplessness about a cause that you strongly feel about, it could be about unsatisfied or thwarted ambition and dreams, it could be the inability to switch points of view, or it could also be a lack of patience on your part. Very rarely, and I strongly believe this, is the person at the receiving end a cause of your rudeness. I second that old saying, “You can’t be offended unless you want to take offense.”

There is also a fine line between rude and brutally honest. Honesty is always a positive aspect, while rudeness is not. If a person is wrong or dumb, telling it to him is not being rude but being honest. But saying it in a mode that is derogatory is not being honest. It’s like satire and criticism: it could be positive and constructive or negative and destructive.

Rudeness can be expressed by non-verbal gestures too. Sometimes elders condition the young ones to be rude. Yelling at a servant in front of the children ‘teaches’ them to do the same. Rudeness has a very consistent habit of coming back to you. It is one of those aspects that people remember for years and wait to give back in a suitable way. So if you have been rude lately, take the excuse of the New Year and set things correct!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Survivor’s Guide on a Packed Bus

At my place, the only way you can commute to a city office from the suburbs is by fighting your way on a packed bus. While traveling to office this way, I have observed a lot of peculiar things, some of which have seeped into me as well. People who do this daily fight know the survival techniques to live through the experience and tell the tale. Let us consider this post as a guide to breathing on a packed bus till you get to your destination.

The first myth: if you are strong physically, you survive. The truth is quite on the contrary. Surviving on a packed bus doesn’t need strength. It needs stamina. It may be that you are hanging from the door, with only one foot on the footboard. The other leg is usually left to the mercy of the pedestrians on the sides of the road. If they even touch your leg by a whisker, you’ll be hurt badly because of the velocity you are in. If you thought you can keep an eye out for obstructions and move your feet accordingly, you are grossly mistaken. There will be several elbows trying to push your eyes back into their sockets. Your hands are of no help either. They are too busy keeping you perched on the bus. And that is not all. The conductor might ask you to pay up in this condition.

Elbows remind me of yet another survivor’s strategy. Your elbows and your palms are your weapons. But this is not open war, so you have to know how to play safe, without making your intentions too obvious. If you do not get to hold the hand-rails at a suitable angle (remember that your legs are immobile), you have to wait. Wait till the person who has grabbed that part of the hand-rail to twitch his ears or tug at his nose. That’s your chance. Grab the thing before he can get back to it. When you do that, you have taught the trick to that man. Now he’s waiting to give it back to you. So, no twitching or tugging for you over the next half an hour. If it’s summer, you can well imagine! There were times when I got down from the bus feeling I’m off a pool.

Meditation gurus will have a hard time trying to keep their cool on a packed bus, but daily commuters don’t seem to mind. In fact, there are a lot of witty comments passed when the conductor tries to push in an extra person, or when you realize someone is groping you in an effort to take out his purse. Getting on a bus is no child’s play either. As soon as you see the bus, you have to take your position. If you try to move in too early, the other passengers get cautious and try to beat you at reaching the bus. Sometimes, in their eagerness to be the first one on the bus, they go too ahead to meet the bus! The bus bypasses them and stops at the stipulated zone. Then there’s a mad scampering. Mind you, this is not for the seats. Whoever got a seat in the office hours! This is to just to get on the bus and stand like a human being.

It’s all a part of the journey and everyone seems to take in that spirit. There’s hardly any quarrel or bad blood. Everyone knows that this is their lot and the sooner they accept it, the better. I have seen some of them peer at cozy cars when the bus stops at the traffic signal. The car maybe at a distance of just a couple of yards, but to traverse that, the middle class man has to live a lifetime. Sometimes, ‘life piled on life’ would not be enough.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Some Known Predictions

Astrology is a subject that brings out an opinion out of almost everyone. The views may range from indifference to fanaticism. People who believe that they have come to benefit from the remedies suggested by an astrologer can spill the blood of the skeptical, while people who have experienced astrology as nothing more than a money-draining process can hack down the nearest believer that they can lay their hands on. Let me take you through some known predictions.

Relationship, education, career, illness- these are the four main pillars on which astrology supports itself and flourishes. There is no representative of the human race who can claim to be above any of the four. So it can be safely concluded that astrology can be offered as a life-line to just about everyone. But the question is: will they take it?

Knowing the future is a knowledge that we have not been gifted with. Astrology claims to give you access to this knowledge by observing some celestial objects in nature. Astrology also claims to follow the rules of nature. It professes that with the help of natural stones and gems, you can keep any trouble at bay. This is where it becomes contradictory. If astrology is about having faith in the natural, how is it that it doesn’t respect the cardinal law of nature that the future cannot be known?

Gone are the days of Nostradamus. Nowadays you get saffron-clad bearded people sitting in the confines of a posh ‘clinic’, spelling out the ‘future’ of so many people who choose to go to them for help. They are also there on TV channels, sitting with computers and even laptops. They are quick in prescribing costly stones that translate as commissions for them. They claim no responsibility for failure but go to lengths to lap up any piece of success that come their way, which might be pure fluke.

I believe in the power of the individual. If my relationship is not working out, I need to sort it out with my partner. If my grades are tanking, I need to switch that TV or computer off and open my books. If I’m going nowhere in my career and have hit an all-time low, I need to get myself a cup of coffee and chalk my way out. If I’m down with a disease, I need a doctor, healthy food and exercise. I can’t sit and rub a stone for the genie to appear and solve my problems for me.

Astrology makes you impotent. It takes away the desire to fight. It does more harm to the psychological balance than failure can ever do. It makes you feel like a piece of dry twig, blowing at the mercy of whimsical celestial bodies and conniving ‘gurus’. Yes, I want to know the future too, but more than that, I want to shape it the way I want. If things don’t go my way, as they generally don’t, I’d rather side with stoicism than astrology.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Therein Falls the Shadow

A friend called up this afternoon to tell me that she has decided to set up a business of her own. She plans to have a boutique, which will showcase and merchandize clothes that will be designed and put together by her. Before you ask me if she’s a fashion designer, let me tell you, she’s not. But she has a dream and she has been nurturing it for some time now. Here’s wishing her the best.

On hindsight, I have not been able to cover up some guffaws that escaped involuntarily when I was talking to her. She took it that I am being sarcastic, but I was not. It was plain cynicism, if I am being honest to myself on this: cynicism at the way dreams have dashed around me since childhood, left, right and center. There were many peers in our neighborhood and in my family who were tipped to be great ‘success stories’. My parents told me to take inspiration from them and put in more effort.

I was always so laid-back and was always a firm believer in the idea that I can always outdo myself, but not be someone else. I didn’t like competition. I quietly smiled at them and did my thing. Wonder where I got that wisdom from, maybe some wise ancestor! But as it were, these prospective ‘success stories’ vanished into oblivion by the time I reached college. And suddenly I had my entire extended family telling my parents what an intelligent fellow I am! I was so sadistically pleased.

I am happy with what I have done so far, except for that one nagging desire to be involved with a newspaper. Maybe I would realize that in the recent future. Ambition, if kept under achievable means, provides impetus. If not checked, it plucks out one emotion after another and leaves you dry. The important part is not to let the chasm between your means and destination be too wide, you might trip over and plunge into the abyss. 

It is very difficult for people who are gifted by ability and shunned by luck to find peace within. Talent and bad luck makes an ugly combination and is sure to go haywire. You’d hardly find an average person being haunted by failure or jubilated with success. But if you are someone special in terms of skill and expertise, it is doubly important that you keep things reined in. Try not to let the shadow be too long or too dark. There is no light at the end of that tunnel.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Suburban Election

Yesterday I had the privilege of putting out my vote. It is a privilege that I should have taken for granted because of being lucky enough to be a part of the world’s largest democracy. But I have not been able to take it for granted. Don’t think it is because of some graver-than-a-grave reason, it is only because each time there is an election, I’m scared that somebody will masquerade as me and cast my vote! Surprised? Welcome to a typical suburban election process in West Bengal, and probably in many other parts of India as well.

The process starts with representatives of the two main political parties in West Bengal, the Communists and the Trinamool Congress, turning up at your door with paper slips that contain your voting details like the booth number, polling center address, etc. You cannot miss the party logo and the candidate’s name printed on the paper even if you were blind. So you end up with two paper slips containing the same details! It’s propaganda, you know, and one has to outdo the other.

On your way to the polling booth, you will come across party booths manned by faithful cadres who can make things ‘easy’ for you if you happen to be without any identity proof. They have ‘inside’ assistance. This ‘inside’ assistance can backfire on you if you are not a regular voter or if you are known to vote for the opposition party. They know everyone and are more or less sure about everyone’s political leanings. How they do this is a secret better kept than the Coca-Cola mixture. So if you don’t owe your allegiance to them, it might be that you may not get to cast your vote at all.

They have sharp eyes, these cadres. They know how many people are walking down to the polling booth at which hour. If they spot a family of four voters being represented by only three of them, they make sure that the absence of one voter is not reflected on the turnout percentage. What are the party cadres for if they do not vote more than once? As for the blue ink that the polling officer puts on the left hand index finger as a giveaway mark of people who have already cast their vote, the ink is so watered down in most cases that it can be taken off with just a well-timed swipe of the handkerchief.

I have heard instances of Bengalis claiming themselves to be South Indians and casting “proxy votes”, as they are proudly referred to. There are occasions when you turn up at the polling booth and find that your vote has already been cast! Don’t be expecting assistance from the polling officers appointed by the government. How could you forget that the government is also formed by a political party? Whoever won a fair and free election in these parts?