Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bibliomania in action

The word "Sale" is apparently like catnip to a cat for shopaholics. Me, I am a shopaphobic and, thus, all I would do if you said "Sale" was murmur "Ho!Hum", roll over and continue sleeping. Unless you mentioned a sale of books, though. THAT lights a bonfire under my fundament (and, if you, like Blogspot, do not know that this word exists, check out what 'A' means in ROFLMAO), and I quite forget that I am too lazy to get out of my house, forget how much I hate shopping, and realize that I have forgotten all that only after hitting the shop.

Book sales, though, have normally promised more than they delivered, in the past. I hit the shop, with what little is left of my hair in a braid, carrying a huge bag to cart all the books I intend buying, only to find that the shop is full of those Harlequin Romances. I have nothing against the people who love them, but I am sure they understand that reading books about women falling in love with tall, dark and handsome men is not my favorite pastime - when I am myself short, bald, pudgy and homely (THAT, by the way, was a euphemism for 'ugly' in my times and not someone who is good at cooking, cleaning and all that, as most matrimonial ads will have you believe).

Bibliomania, though, is unreasoning and, every time someone says 'Book Sales', I find myself on the streets rushing breathlessly towards the shop before you can say "Harlequin Romance". Thus it was, again, when a friend posted a message about a book-fair in Jayanagar, 4th Block, Bangalore.

It is all very well for her to say 'Opposite Krispy Kreme Doughnuts' but I wouldn't know a doughnut if it bit me - or if I bit into it. I check up the all-knowing 'Googlemaps' and it says that 'KKD' is somewhere on Aurobindo Marg, Jayanagar 4th Block. The fact that THAT road was known as 'Aurobindo Marg' ONLY to BBMP and Googlemaps was borne on me later when six distinct people swore on the graves of their ancestors that no such place existed in Jayanagar. (Their ancestors must be doing sixty revolutions a minute in their graves. I can vouch for a street-sign that calls this road 'Aurobindo Marg', though you would be better advised to seek the 11th Main if you want directions.)

This Tippu's was both a pleasant and an unpleasant surprise. Pleasant because there were SO many books and I did not sight a single Harlequin Romance (unless they were tucked away inconspicuously, which suited me fine). Unpleasant because the books were all stacked haphazardly. As a book-buyer, you know that if the books are organized genre-wise, you would head right for the shelves of your choice and start looking. When it is haphazard, you blink like an owl at the sea of books and wonder where to start. Also, as a human being, you know that the pleasantness is soon forgotten and you embrace the unpleasantness with all the fervor of meeting a long-lost lover.

Thanks to the fact that I need to keep doing this in Daryaganj, Delhi, anyway, I was not as fazed as I would have been otherwise. I was soon into the stacks of books, though I must admit that my body did not take too kindly to bending for looking at the lower stacks. (WHAT?? So, why did I not just skip them? Are you mad? Does a man digging for gold skip the difficult parts even if all he has found so far is only gravel?)

Then I find that books have been stacked under the tables as well. Oof! What would the world think of a dignified fifty year old scrabbling on all fours under the table? I had made up my mind to skip them at least (Yeah! Don't start sneering, yet!) when I caught sight of a Colin Dexter peeping coyly from one of the stacks under the table.

The hell with dignity. Anyway, what a person would get to see from behind, when I am on all fours, is probably going to look better than the face that he normally gets to see. Before you could say 'Dexter', I had scuttled under the table and was eyeing the books greedily.

Over the next couple of hours, I knew that I was still able to do a lot of things. I could do a half-squat, a full squat, move around on all fours, sit in the padmasan, kneel down, and pose like Botticelli's Venus too. (AND, if you have seen Botticelli's Venus, you will know that my belly is NOT a point of contrast. For that, you would need to look elsewhere, and in places where your attention will cause your effigies to be burnt). The world lost a great comedy show today because there was no-one to take a video of my sterling performance. Why, there was no-one there to even see it.

Needless to say, all those calisthenics did yield a harvest of books. The problem, though, is it was too much like getting a harvest of roses - it comes with a harvest of thorns or, as in this case, aches and pains in muscles, which I did not even know that God had furnished in my body.

I decided to be done with book selection for the day and went to the counter. By way of making small-talk I asked the guy where I could find books from yester-years and he indicated another room and a couple of stacks in the main hall. You know what, after a few minutes of standing around in a non-contortionist posture, I felt up to another bout of scrabbling around. The guy, though, had gone for a leak and I stood around checking out the books near the counter when a lady walked in and took me for the storekeeper.

This always happens to me, though I much preferred being taken for a bookshop owner than an auto-driver, as did happen to me once in Delhi when I was sitting at the back waiting for the auto-driver to finish his tea. Such is the dignity of my demeanor, the elegance of my looks and my sartorial splendor that my colleagues have complained that it takes an act of will to refrain from calling out "Two cups of tea, chotu" when they espy me.

Anyway, digressions apart, the guy returned in time to rescue me from the lady - being no Ravan with the urgent need to evacuate seven rivers through his bladder - and I resumed operations only to find that my restored vigor was more a mirage than reality, though not before finding a few more books.

That, then, was the saga of buying some 23 Kg of books at Rs.200/= for the first ten Kg and Rs.150/= for all the additional weight. There would have been an additional Odyssey of carting it back home but for the fact that Tippu packed it up in a carton and snagged an auto-driver to get me back home.

NOW to deal with the aches and pains - have gloated over the books for long enough!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Yet another problem?

"You have a problem, you know"

Going by the number of times my friends have said this, I must be as full of problems as a mathematics test paper. I can even digest that aspersion but what I find difficult to take is their utter confidence that they have the solutions to all of my problems when they have found it impossible to solve their own. But then, I suppose, it works something like exams have worked for me. I always am certain about the solutions to yesterday's physics paper while I am struggling to even understand the questions in today's exam. You are always more certain of the solutions to the problems that you do not have to address.

"You never see what is wrong with you. Yesterday, when Arvind was turned off by your comment, you called him ultra-sensitive and did not even bother to check whether you had yourself been rude."

Ah! It really gets my goat when idiots presume to talk down to me. Does this chap not even realize the simple thing that, if I put the fault on Arvind, it absolves me from having to do anything to change the way I behave? I mean, what sort of fool will check for his own faults when identifying them would put the onus of correcting them on himself?

"The other day, when that wise man was giving a discourse on how the attitude of selfishness would reduce the quality of your own life, by vitiating all your relationships, you started talking of the Guptas ought to realize their problem. Did it never strike you that the discourse was meant for each person to look into himself and assess his own behavior?"

This guy is a certified lunatic. What else could one call him when he could not even see the inherent inconsistency in his own statements? Here was a discourse about not being selfish and he is blaming me for my unselfishness in wanting the Guptas to benefit from the advice, and advocating that I, instead, stuck to selfishly benefiting from it myself.

"You always blame problems on others. Never seek to see whether there was any problem with you or with your own behavior. How will you ever learn to improve? Externalizing the reasons for the problems you face will never lead you to any lasting solution"

WHAT a man! So, when he started off with 'You have a problem', he was merely externalizing the reason for the problem. No need to bother with his advice.

Maybe I need to give him advice - Physician, heal thyself!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's all in the mind - GP for Alka Narula

Every now and then, I let my beard flow down untrammeled (untrimmed?), put on my saffron robes (metaphorically), sit in a padmasan and pontificate on the thusness of things. Sometimes, I do manage to get my tongue to my cheek; at others, I am serious enough to seem like the understudy of Swami someone-or-the-other. (Not that any Swami, worth his saffron, is likely to even consider acknowledging my existence, leave alone actually knowing me.) A full list of my pontificating posts is indexed in this page.

It is not as though I wait upon encouragement to unleash my 'wisdom' on the unsuspecting populace. But, if there is someone who actually does encourage you, I must admit that it does lend a certain credence to your self-illusions. For lending me that credence, I must thank Alka Narula, who had been kind enough to publish my guest posts more than once, as witness "Does suffering negate the possibility of a compassionate God" and "In defense of Ram".

Once again, she invited me into her blog and once again you have the pleasure (dubious? I am not responsible for your doubts) of seeing my 'saffron-clad avatar'.

Not just happiness - even virtue and sin are all in the mind.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Singular Lessons: Guest post for Sumeetha Manikandan

Every now and then I am surprised by someone, who is kind enough to think that what I write is worth carrying on their blog. Sumeetha Manikandan went one step further. She even thought that I may have a lesson or two to communicate to her readers. She may well be ruing that misconception by now, but now is too late - at least if you are a polite person and, unfortunately for her, she is.

What she and her readers thought of my lessons from bachelorhood I know not. What you think of it you can judge after reading it.

The first time I ever openly said that I may choose to stay single, I was faced with the simple question, “Why?” You may blame me for being unnaturally obtuse, but I saw no reason why I should have a reason. My answer was, “Why should I have any reason to merely continue the same way as I am now? It is for you to explain why you want to change states and marry.” After all, it is the chap who is changing his job who needs to explain why he is doing so and not the guy who is continuing in the same job.

The issue, though, is that most people reacted as though I was a larva refusing to become a butterfly. Though, I am sure that no-one ever polled the butterflies about whether they would have preferred to remain larvae or not – the poor things just never had a choice. In more human terms, it was like I was refusing to pass out of school even after hitting my twenties.

And, if you still want the rest, you can read it here

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Of stubbornness and persistence

Someone up there really does not like me. I mean, I am a pretty harmless sort of chap and I really cannot understand why someone should concentrate on messing me up at every turn. It is sort of gratifying that I am considered worthy of specific attention but, every now and then by way of varying the monotony, I can only wish that things could go right for me.

You see, back at school, they told me this story of Robert Bruce whose school-teacher was a spider (and, mind you, that was not even a fantasy tale) which taught him that 'If at first you do not succeed, try, try, try again' or some such thing. And my school teacher, who was not a spider (more is the pity, since lessons would have been more interesting that way and, if they got too boring, you could sort of squash the teacher), called this thing persistence.

It sort of seemed like persistence was a thing that you ought to acquire. I tried. I really did. The problem, though, was that when it came to me, they invented a new word for it - they called it stubbornness and, apparently, it was absolutely uncool to be stubborn.

That, in a nutshell, has been the story of my life. When it came to the other guy keeping on at something, he was called persistent and everyone patted him on the head and held him up as an example of what you ought to be. When I kept at something, I was called stubborn and everyone glared at me and held me up as an example of what you ought not to be. If this is not conclusive proof of malice from above, I would like to know what is. Seemed to me that if you kept pegging at a thing and succeeded in the end, you were called persistent. If, like me, all your repeated efforts only ended in failure, you were called stubborn.

Of course, there were always my friends who did not agree with my diagnoses. (That is another of my grouses. Am I the only person in the world, whose friends treat him as though he was brought up by parents, whose idea of parenting a newborn babe was to bounce him on his head sixty times a minute?) On one of my persistent attempts at solving a problem, all the sympathy he offered was, "If you keep assuming that two and two add up to five every time, I can hardly laud you for your persistence." (I am NOT stubborn. I offer up as proof the fact that, on my next attempt, I assumed it was six and NOT five, and still could not solve the problem. So there).

This chap sort of gave me the impression that sticking to a goal may be persistence BUT to stick to the way you went about chasing your goal without learning from your mistakes was to be stubborn. Of course he would say such things - he was lauded for HIS persistence merely because he eventually succeeded, so he was unlikely to accept that it was only injustice that did not land me on the same pedestal.

Anyway, I have found that, whenever I chased what I thought other people would prefer me to have, and was persistent at it, it was ALWAYS stubbornness. The malice that dogs me seems to have started with producing me with a kink in the brain that refuses to understand exactly what others would want of me. SO, I ended up chasing things with little success and got labelled stubborn for my efforts.

Then there are the things that I wanted. It is not that chasing them made others call me anything other than stubborn - but I found that I just did not care what I got called. When has a person with a sweet tooth ever bothered about what people said while bowling over others in his effort to snag the last piece of sweet on a buffet table? Even if he did fail, he would only regret the failure but not the effort. Something like that.

So, after this long, my philosophy has changed to "If at first you do not succeed, just give up" for all the things about which I even felt the need to think about whether I should persist or not. When it came to the things I REALLY wanted, the thought of giving up never crosses my mind.

After all, it is sort of idiotic to learn your lessons from spiders - blindly!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Guide to becoming an effective Talk-show guest?

I NEVER watch talk shows, particularly about politics. Or mega-serials. Not by my choice, at least. (So, of course, I feel competent to talk about how to become a talk show guest, you murmur? Don't jump the gun.  It may go off in your face.) Sometimes, though, guests at home inflict these things on me.

After having had a surfeit of political talk-shows, I derived some important lessons about what qualifies you to become a talk-show guest. I must warn you at the outset that you are solely responsible for any consequences arising out of following these lessons. I also absolve myself of the blame for what you may, in your turn, inflict on the unsuspecting viewers - not that it seems likely to be any worse than what they already appear to be enduring enjoying.

1. You must have an unswerving conviction that people holding the opposite opinion are, in your charitable moments, congenital idiots or, at all other times, black villains sent down by the Devil to Earth expressly for the purpose of tormenting normal people. It helps to have as few charitable moments as possible.

2. People holding the same opinion as you may have their hearts in the right place. You may even get to like them BUT for the unfortunate fact that they have also been given mouths AND they use them to speak. No-one can articulate your side of the tale with such perspicacity and clarity as you, and it is such a pity that they will not acknowledge that and leave the field to you. You must FEEL but nobly refrain from voicing, "With friends such as these, who needs enemies".

3. It is perfectly all right to keep talking, even if four others are also exercising their vocal chords at the same time, and you should train yourself to continue to do so till the anchor cuts in with a commercial. It helps if you have selective deafness that will only permit you to hear the anchor interrupting. Why that is important will be dealt in the next session.

4. You must always have an opinion about everything but that's unnecessary to say since, without that, you would not WANT to be a talk show guest in the first place. What is more important is that you should always say, "In my opinion..." in such a tone of voice that the others understand that what you are really saying is, "Of course this is not merely an opinion but incontrovertible fact, certified by God, but I can hardly expect people with IQ in the single digits to understand that."

5. You are not allowed to use those words that can only be written as "@#&$" - YET - but you are permitted, nay encouraged, to enunciate the names or positions of the others in a way that sounds like "You @#$&# so-and-so". You will find that 'the honorable so-and-so', rather than just the name, gives you more scope to enable you to sound quite the way you are 'encouraged' to sound.

Those are lessons that, properly imbibed, would qualify you for talk shows BUT, as you can readily understand, to get on THE premier show, you need to be something special. After all, the manners that you can get by with in an ordinary aristocrat's house would hardly suffice to be the guest of a king.

1. You must rise every day, go to the mirror and practice saying, "Arnab" in as pleading a tone as you can manage. Check your face to see if the expression looks like a starving beggar desperately seeking alms. Your only chance of getting a word in edge-ways in the middle of Arnab's monologue is if he takes pity on you and allows you a nanosecond to talk. Never mind if you cannot get the right plea in your voice. Statistics (that I gleaned out of a five minute segment, which I saw as my friend was channel-surfing) say that more than 90% of what other people say on his show consists exclusively of "Arnab", so you can be happy that you have had your say.

2. Strangely, some things are easier on the King of all shows. You really do not need to have an opinion. All you have to say is, "In my opinion..." and Arnab will fill in the rest with his "I know what you want to say..." (In that, he is different from the others. They only know what you meant and not what you intended to say. Say, "The sun rises in the East." and they will say, "So, you mean that you believe that the Earth is the center of the Universe and all Science starting from Galileo is so much hogwash?" You would never have known that you had any opinions about science at all, but for their kindly enlightening you about your own thoughts. Arnab, though, will also supply the 'Sun rises in the East' part along with the rest,.thereby easing your burden.)

3. Now comes the reason why you should have an ear out for the anchor's interruption. You may get away with talking on despite the anchor's interruption on other shows but it is an unpardonable transgression on Arnab's show. Fail in this and you will be put through the horrendous experience of Arnab looking at you like a stern headmaster, wagging an admonitory finger and lecturing you on manners - all on Prime time TV. (Oh! And, by the way, you are NOT supposed to learn your manners from Arnab's own behavior. Manners are for the hoi polloi and they ought not to ape the king.) Unsubstantiated rumors also claim that transgressing guests have to write, "I will never interrupt Arnab again" a thousand times before they are allowed to leave - and no copy-paste allowed either.

4. If, for some unaccountable reason like needing a sip of water, Arnab is silent for a second, the one thing you NEVER do is contradict him. The grapevine says that this act of lese majeste counts as one of the 'rarest of the rare' cases, which are eligible for the death penalty, and what substantiates the rumor is the fact that no-one can deny that it happens VERY rarely indeed and, thus, will certainly qualify as the 'rarest of the rare' - the 'rare' being where other anchors are contradicted.

5. The most difficult thing to master is the tightrope walk that you need to manage. You must retain sufficient of your childhood memories to not mind someone treating you like a truant schoolkid but, at the same time, be adult enough not to respond with a "Sorry, Teacher! I promise not to do it again". Arnab may well like the latter but the problem is that it is all being telecast and he would like the viewers to have at least the impression that you are free to express your own opinion.

But, then, why would you ever have an opinion that contradicts the man who knows what the Nation wants - on an everyday basis? It only shows that you are an idiot to end all idiots and do not deserve to be even an ordinary guest, leave alone achieving the exalted position of a talk-show guest and on Arnab's show.

"Arnab! Arnaaab! Arnaaaaaaaab!"

Don't tell me you are in front of the mirror, already.

"Arnab! Arnaaab! Arnaaaaaaaab!"

Omigod! What on Earth have I unleashed!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


One of my standout characteristics is a certain (un?)appealing social gaucherie. I may not have risen to the height of being pointed out by parents with the commentary, "Do exactly the opposite of what he does and you cannot go wrong", but that is about the only height that I have not conquered in this area.

Rest assured that I am not about to talk about how my dress puts to shame a vagabond greeting the morning from the gutter; or about how that 'Srrrr' noise heralds that fact that I have not merely put the cup of tea to my lips without imbibing the fluid; or the fact that I think of the forks and knives as being put in place by the restaurant merely to provide obstacles to resting my elbows on the table and getting to work with my hands, and finishing off by licking my fingers clean; or...well, you get the picture. Oh! No! No! No! I do not mean that I do not DO all these things. I only mean that I do not intend talking about them now.

Gaucherie is apparently 'unsophisticated', 'awkward' or 'tactless'. To me, it has always meant that the way I do things is not the accepted way of doing things. I mean, once upon a time, it was quite all right to eat with your hands and lick them clean right up to the elbows. No-one would have considered it any of those three words above. Then!

Of all the ways in which I deviate from 'accepted' behavior, I think that the most injurious to my reputation is the fact that I never really learnt the right way to give praise OR negative criticism. The problem is, as usual, because I failed to understand that some lessons are just meant to be preached but never practiced. So, I took 'Reprimand in private; Praise in public' too literally.

What? You say that THAT is correct? That the chap who tells you in the middle of all your guests that your roti is underdone, follows you to the kitchen, gets his mouth as close to your ear-wax as he can, and whispers in dulcet tones, "The aloo-mutter was lip-smackingly good" is NOT your favorite guest? Really? As I have had occasion to mention before in this blog, who is the guy for whom you will take the most pains the next time - the guy who praised your food in public OR the one who criticized? (Ah! Do not tell me that the latter guy will never get an invitation again. You do not keep and discard people only on the basis of how they act as guests.)

In any case, it is not ONLY the cook's reaction that determines the social respect. All those admiring guests around will be only too impressed with the guy's discerning tongue. "He is a man who knows his food", they probably say, as they wend their way home. Or "A man who knows his music" or "A man who knows his movies" or whatever he has been critical about. And the chap who praised your aloo-mutter in public and told you in the kitchen that the roti was underdone? Is he the acknowledged guru of cooking? Fat chance.

So, one lesson wrongly learnt and I lost my chance of social respect. Of course, I compounded the error further by the WAY in which I gave praise and negative criticism, as well.

"Wow! That was a wonderful aloo-mutter." is the way I used to communicate my praise. Quite the wrong thing to do. Even the hostess only simpers and takes it for her due and you for a fan. If you want social respect, the last thing you need is to be counted a fan. If you HAVE to give praise in public, the better way to put it would be, "Hmm! All things considered, the aloo and..hmm...the mutter too were well-cooked. The sauteing too was, perhaps, quite acceptable. Overall, a very decent aloo-mutter." There you go, you are the discerning critic. In short, it does not do to be too enthusiastic when you hand out praise.

Comes to criticism, I again make a mistake. "Maybe if you had cooked the roti a couple of seconds more...just a teeny bit would have been perfect. At least, so it seemed to me." is the way I tend to put it, if I have to be critical in public. Quite wimpy and not at all the picture of a man who knows what he is talking about. The best way to do it is, "This roti is totally inedible. It is very much under-cooked." There is the man who knows what he is talking about.

In short, Praise should be grudgingly given and in private. Criticism should be unstintingly given and in public. You doubt my lessons? Let me ask you one question. If there is a person who says, "That was a good movie" what is the probability that someone says, "You liked THAT?" AND what is the probability that the first one will defensively explain, "No actually...the hero did a decent job...the story, of course, could have been better..." etc.? On the other hand, if someone said, "That was ONE shitty movie", how many would dare say,"WHAT? I loved it." and, if you found one such brave soul, what are the odds that the first one will retort, "Well! If you choose to watch such shit, be my guest"? You see, it takes less courage to blame than to praise. After all, you WANT to be looked up to as a person of taste and you can hardly get there unless you dislike far more than you like - in public, at least.

There is this difference between knowledge and wisdom, in my opinion. You dredge knowledge up and check up its applicability, getting confused about it all the while, and use it rarely. When you are wise, you act instinctively on what you have learnt. Unfortunately for me, what I have outlined above is only knowledge for me. Maybe because I also never learnt that "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was another of those preach-but-not-practice lessons.

I put this out in the hope that some of you will convert this to wisdom.

P.S: I would prefer, of course, that someone changed the mores of acceptable behavior so that I can become 'sophisticated' without any effort on my part but that is too much to ask, I suppose!

Monday, July 7, 2014

What makes me tick

(My 300th post. Why is it that when you hit a milestone, you suddenly feel that you have to share some wisdom? Though, my wisdom is a sort of oxymoron)

"What makes me tick?" is a question that most of us do not really find an answer for, possibly because we are too busy trying to find out what makes other people tick. When I tried for myself, I find that I do have a few answers but whether they are correct - and, more to the point, lasting - remains to be seen.

Let me first get one thing out of the way. Why I am single is a question easily answered and has no deep insights embedded in it. The most common answer I have heard from other singles is that, "The ones I wanted would not have me and the ones who would have me I did not want". Not true of me. I would have wanted any woman who would have me and, maybe, I would have remained single anyway since, possibly, none of them would have me. I never put it to the test, though, since I never wanted anyone badly enough to have to work for it - and, not being the son of a rich man, I would have had to work for it.

I tried for the answers to my attitude to money, to being a productive member of Society and to my purpose in life. Deep questions, people say, but since I am not a deep person myself, I dredged in pretty shallow waters.


Back in school, we kids used to cluster around the local sweet-shop to buy in the toffees of our choice. We all ended up buying what we liked eating and we would have found the idea ridiculous that we ought to like something else, either because more people were buying it or because it was more expensive. The problem with me is that I never grew up and, thus, I still am immature enough to find the idea ridiculous that I ought to like the food at a 5-Star hotel and not the local eatery. Effectively, therefore, my need for money was seriously lesser than most.

At school, again, there was this great admiration for winning a cup and in one of the competitions. THAT was what we used to think of as success. In a choice of the following options for having a 100m race cup, only the first was considered Success.

1. Win a cup by winning the race.
2. Bet on the results of the Long Jump with the winner of the 100m race and win the cup by winning the bet.
3. Find a couple of lost cups on the road and pick them up.
4. Inherit six cups from your dad.

When I grew up, I found that all of them were considered SUCCESS and the more cups you had, the bigger a success you were, regardless of HOW you ended up with the cups. Of course, you substituted 'money' instead of 'cups' and 'work' instead of 'race'.

Lacking in maturity as I was, I could see that I needed money for my needs but was unable to correlate money with success BECAUSE I was unable to see all these options as being equal measures of success.


Being a member of society and using the products that someone in Society was producing, it seemed to me that I should also be producing something of value to Society. My stint at work as well as my observations killed this notion also. Given that the money one earns ought to be a measure of how valuable Society thinks your contributions are, I came to the following conclusions:

1. Growing wheat is less valuable than betting on future prices of wheat.
2. Teaching children is less valuable than selling cosmetics.
3. Teaching students at IIT is less valuable than teaching people how to get into IIT.
4. Producing goods and services is less valuable than trading in stocks of companies that produced goods and services.

The problem for me was that Society valued the least what I valued the most and vice versa. In short, I FELT unproductive when Society thought me productive and Society felt I was unproductive when I thought myself productive. The net result was that I decided to enjoy myself without regard to 'productivity'. Who knows, one fine day, Society may decide to pay me humongous sums for lying around in bed and, then, the world would laud me for my immense productivity.


A lot has been said of the quest for a purpose to life. I am one of those gifted with a complete disregard to having a reason to live. 'I exist, therefore I deserve to exist' sums up my philosophy. Having no pressing desire to DO something with life AND no angst about the purposelessness of life, I am quite content to please myself. AND, since I have escaped all the thickets of thinking that pleasing myself inter alia involved pleasing others, there is little problem involved.

In short, the only person who you can be sure of pleasing is your own self. Provided you really know what pleases you!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

On Editing

(Khoty Mathur was saying that I ought to write a piece on editing to communicate how important it can be for an author - on the strength of my having 'edited' Sirens Spell Danger. Do not know how well this piece serves that purpose)

I have felt like saying, "That looks like no tree I have ever seen" when I looked on a painting. I have had the wisdom keep my mouth shut because I have realized someone would say something like, "That is a Cubist painting not a #@$% landscape". I have felt like saying, "No-one has a nose that long" but have known someone would say, "That is a freaking cartoon not a damned portrait." That element of wisdom was there because, like most arts, painting is something that is not a part of your normal routine unless you make it so and, thus, it was easier to 'know that you do not know'.

Writing and reading, though, ARE a part of my regular routine. That, in effect, means that I feel competent to be an author because I know writing, and to be a reviewer because I know reading (Reviewing as in saying something more than 'I did not like this book'). I do not feel lonely any longer, though, because I have discovered I have a bit of company in the first illusion and a lot in the second. The supreme folly - of considering an experience of reading as sufficient to edit a book - I reserved for myself.

The problem with editing is that you cannot, like a reviewer, taste rum, spit it out and call it bad quality only because it does not taste like wine, and you like only wine. Even if you knew enough to restrict yourself to wines, you cannot disparage a sherry for not tasting like champagne. You have to see whether the rum (or the sherry) is good AS a rum (or a sherry) and, if not, tell the author what is missing and, ideally, what needs to be done to make it good. To revert to the painting example, one needs to tell the Cubist something like, "I think that bough actually looks like a bough, which is spoiling the effect. Maybe you should try to make it look like an octopus tentacle shooting flames" and the cartoonist, "This will look better if you make the ears pointed and add a couple of horns."

Editing involves a lot more than merely copy-editing - to check grammar, redundancies and monotonous repetition of words - and Proof-reading - to rectify typos and punctuation errors. A good editor actually should identify, if not suggest means to rectify, plot logic errors; suggest modifications in narrative structure to enhance the effect; check for narrative consistency; verify whether the book gets boring in parts and suggest corrective measures; and check if what the author intended telling will be clear to the readers. All of this needs to be done and modifications suggested while maintaining the style, tone and basic story idea of the author intact. If, as an author, the emendations required in your book are more than the size of the book, you may either get the book thrown in your face or blood all over the book when the editor shoots himself in the head.

The basic genesis of the story is a story idea. To illustrate from the 'best' story in the book I edited, the story idea would be "A molested young girl - forced into it for money by her father - takes revenge on her molesters". You can conceive of multiple plots for the story, involving why her father forces her into this situation, the way she takes revenge, what happens to her at the end etc. The exact set of incidents dreamed up by the author would be the plot. You could have a good plot with an unoriginal story idea OR a great story idea can be messed up by a bad plot AND, as an editor, you need to know which of the two has happened or if everything is fine/messed up.

You can conceive of a further change by the manner in which you stress different things. For example, you could write of what is going on in her mind in great detail and the murders as a way in which she is trying to find closure. You could make it a revenge drama, with the police closing in on her and write in enough of her mental trauma to make the reader want her to succeed before she gets caught. Or, you could go at it from the investigative point of view, and make her identity and motives the twist in the story. So, with the same plot, you have various stories that can be written.

Even given the plot and the sort of story you intend to tell, the story can read differently depending upon the order of the incidents. You could write everything from the beginning to end. You could write the story with her starting her murders and, for each murder, go back to what happened with that victim and, then, the way she kills them. Change the order in which you tell things and you change the story that is getting told. If a tale is boring, it could well be merely because the narrative structure does not make it interesting, while an alternative could. So, an astute editor can, sometimes, rescue a story without junking the plot by suggesting changes in narrative structure.

The rest depends on technique - choosing the right point-of-view characters, making the characters believable, the narrative flow smooth etc. The thing to note, though, is that if you conceive a plot that requires characters to do some things at various times, the characters ought to be such that they can believably do those things OR believably change over the course of the story to be able to do them. You cannot have a rank amateur at espionage change over two days into a Dead-eye Dick who can storm a citadel of terrorists shooting down a man with each shot. Movies seem to have the liberty, novels do not.

So, what has all this to do with editing? A good editor needs to see exactly what sort of story the author is trying to tell, and see if the way the author is saying it makes the story credible and interesting. The author may just write without conscious cognizance of the elements of his writing. The editor has not only to read the story to see if it appeals but has also to see what changes are needed to make it appealing OR enhance its appeal. This means that the editor HAS to be able to parse the story to check out the appeal of the story idea, the appeal of the plot and narrative structure, the believability and appeal of the characters, and the efficacy of the narrative. The great difficulty is in setting aside your own personal tastes in stories, types of characters and narrative styles.

This, then, means that the editor should point out whether and why a story is not working and, ideally, the suggest changes in the WAY the author writes to make the story workable; if THAT is not possible, then change around the narrative structure to make it a more workable and interesting story; if EVEN that is not possible, then see what portions of the plot needs to be modified.

The process actually involves getting INTO the author's world; see how the author WANTS to tell it AND help him do it. An editor is not good if he edits a tale of 'literary fiction' and suggests changes that will modify it to 'pulp fiction' OR the vice versa. The result MAY be a better story but it would NOT be the author's story.

Of course, at the end of it all, the copy-editing and proof-reading HAS to be done.

THAT, in short was the job I took on when I chose to edit "Sirens spell danger" - instead of merely putting my name as editor and leaving it at that. The result WAS a lot of heartburn from my co-authors, I suppose, because of the rewrites I was forcing on them BUT I sure hope that the stories still remained the respective authors' stories and were no worse for my intervention.

One thing the process taught me, though. A good editor (not me :) ) can make a great difference to a story - and not merely by way of clean copy. It, incidentally, also taught me that the editor's job, in addition to being thankless, is a lot more painful that I thought it would be.