Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Day From My Childhood

Looking back at days past is man's way of coping with a variety of things. It is our way of reminiscing about happy moments of the past, memorable incidents and accidents that shaped us to be what we are today, mistakes we made and learned from, and events we cherish and miss.

Often when a day is stressful, the mind is exhausted, or the heat is unbearable like it is today, my brain meanders off into my past and finds solace and refuge in my childhood. Recalling some tiny, insignificant detail from my formative years reminds me that I was lucky to have had a childhood that I could fondly look back upon, and also assures me that I am still some ways away from suffering from Alzheimer's.

Today, out of the blue, I suddenly remembered how much I loved reading fiction as a kid. Well, I sort of lied there. The memory didn't pop out of the blue. I was in the library and my kids were reading. On a whim, I picked up a book and joined them. The book I picked - Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie, one of the greatest storytellers to have ever graced this earth - spurred the memory, supplemented by the extreme heat of this summer day. Another grueling hot day like this flashed through my mind.

It was a hot June day in the summer of 1987 that I went back to. I was moving to 6th grade in the ensuing Fall. Now that I was bigger, I had graduated from Enid Blyton and abridged classics to more mature content, and my current favorite was mysteries. I had started dreaming of growing up to become Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot - although I was leaning more towards Poirot, because like him, I would be a foreigner living in England, solving complex crimes around the globe, sometimes on the behest of aristocrats and royalty. Apart from this, I was also more attracted to Poirot's idiosyncrasies than to Sherlock's aggression and eccentricities.

I can clearly see the younger me lying on the bed, mid-afternoon, both feet dangling out between the vertical iron bars of the bedroom window of our second floor rented apartment. Only we called it first floor, the floor below being the ground floor. The rickety ceiling fan semi-successfully tried to cool my body, but the pleasant summer breeze outside definitely did wonders for my lower extremities. I was reading the same book - Murder On The Orient Express. I was completely lost in the intricacies of the world designed by Christie, where the crime was baffling, the characters involved both amusing and misleading, and the clues mind-boggling.

Reading a Hercule Poirot novel is an experience in itself. Page after page, I would puzzle about the goings-on, completely clueless about where the unfolding events were leading to. I would feel just like the characters in the book tagging along with Poirot assisting him in his quest for answers, hapless and helpless and completely unable to contribute. And like a magician, Poirot would assimilate everything thrown at him, piece clues and events together, and with a flourish, present a comprehensive and plausible explanation in the end that would blow my mind. The conclusion to a Poirot novel was like an addiction that I would crave for, and when it arrived, I would put the book away and lie there on my pillow, satiated, mesmerized, and wanting more.

Today, life is messier, more complicated, and way more demanding than that summer day of 1987. There are appointments to be kept, deadlines to be met, jobs to be completed, and mores to be observed. I cannot ask for a lazy afternoon devoid of any errands and chores where I would lie on my bed and read a book. But today, the few hours I stole from life to read Dame Agatha Christie's masterclass were as satisfying and joyful as that summer day three decades ago.

Friday, June 10, 2016

So you want a better job?

So you want a new job? Because it is more lucrative? Better benefits? Better work-life balance? Well, a choice between continuing to live your life as it is now, and dying to move on to a new place and the possibility of a new, better (after)life is not much different from choosing to continue in your current job and moving on to a new one. They are, in fact, eerily similar.

You don't believe me, do you? I understand. Even thinking about death can be scary. But in the interest of keeping this though-exercise as non-morbid as possible, let's assume that death is painless, easy, and instantaneous. Let's also say that you possess the ability to glimpse into the new life and see how it is expected to be. And by this I mean something like a YouTube recruitment video from Google, and not a pastor's interpretation of a religious book. These two assumptions take away the uncertainty and pain out of dying. Now you know where you are going, and you also know it doesn't have to hurt. What do you think now?

   Both moves involve breaking existing ties. 
                  Once you move to a new job, you never meet up with your ex-colleagues.  Once you die, obviously (and hopefully) you don't come back to visit them either. 
                  You might bump into some of your ex-colleagues at your new job, when they also decide to make the transition. Or you might meet them in heaven or hell when they make the transition.
   Both are permanent. 
                  Coming back to an old job is almost as rare and miraculous as coming back from the dead. 
                  Returning back to your old job in a relatively small time frame after leaving is more frequent, just like the possibility of reviving someone whose heart just stopped is a little bit higher than someone who died a while ago.
   Both can mean making adjustments to your current lifestyle, and learning new tricks and skills. Or not. It completely depends on where you go, in both cases, and what you need to survive and thrive there.
   You don't exactly know what you are getting into, sometimes in spite of lots of research. Your new job might turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you, or the worst. You might be in heaven, or you might be in hell - well, in one case, literally and in the other, figuratively.
   How well you do at the new place depends a lot on your actions in the previous place. If you worked hard in your previous job, displayed great work ethics, and leaned a lot of skills and new tricks, you will be able to get a good job at a big company and will do very well. All the hard work you put in at your previous (not so great) job will now reap dividends. If you have lived a noble, righteous, virtuous life, most religions promise you a great after-life. And the opposite is true too. It is called Karma.

Do you agree now? I hope so. If you still harbor some doubts, let me remind you gently that people do get laid off and fired from their jobs too, mostly against their wishes, and sometimes even unfairly when they have done nothing to deserve it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pink is a gender neutral color

The color pink is associated with girls.  This is a universal concept. Men don't wear pink, and are generally reluctant to have any accouterments that are even remotely pinkish in color. Girls, on the other hand, from a very tender age, are drawn to this color. My five year old daughter is literally living a pink life - pink clothes, pink room, pink bed, pink bedcover, pink pillow, pink comforter ... you get the idea. She started playing soccer today, and it is not hard to guess the color of her cleats, socks, and shin guards. Yes, they are all pink. 

The question is - Why is pink associated with girls? The association of pink with femininity is a rather recent concept, and an Occidental one at that. It only became noticeable in the 1940s, and there are no definite or documented origins for this association. It is one of those things that just happened slowly. It has been said that it was brought about in the USA by President Eisenhower's wife's pink inaugural gown. It has also been claimed that Barbie might have played a significant role. When I was growing up in India a lifetime ago, before television and Internet had invaded our lives, pink was not a girl's color at all. Many males, including yours truly, comfortably sported pink shirts at the very least. In fact, traditional male Indian garbs and headgear from several parts of the country still have pink hues.  

So do Occidental men hate the color? Is that why this association happened? I think I can categorically say - NO. If they did, girls would have stopped wearing pink once they got to an age where they discovered boys and quickly realized that wearing pink is a definite deterrent to attracting male attention. The very fact that girls and women of all ages don copious amounts of pink indicates very clearly that men actually love the color, at least on the fairer sex. So, is the reason then that pink suits girls much better than they suit boys? This is not even a point worth arguing. The color has nothing to do with anatomical differences between sexes, since the color is not limited to garments. It is everywhere, from shoes to cellphone colors to cars. It cannot be based on looks because pretty and ugly are purely subjective concepts. Babies look pretty in any color, regardless of sex. 

So, what is it then? I believe, at this point, it is simply peer pressure and a demonstration of the control exerted by society over man. Men don't wear pink simply because other men laugh at them if they do. Their wives and girlfriends refuse to go with them, and their children innocently state, "Dad, you are weird!" We are social animals, and for the most part our lives are governed and dictated by social trends. And this association of pink with femininity is simple a very strong demonstration of that. We have seen many brave men, men who have dared to defy the social norms of their times. Men Like King, Gandhi, and Mandela fought and emerged victorious against racial discrimination, caste system, and apartheid respectively. They were able to move huge masses with their words and actions, and convince them to support their cause and fight and die for it. 

But the world is still waiting for that brave man who will be able to come out and declare that pink is a gender neutral color, will have the guts to have a wardrobe dominated by pink, drive a pink car, have a pink cellphone cover and wear pink shoes. And, by the looks of it, this is going to be a long wait. A really, really long one.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Spasmodically Social

Being social comes easily to some people. They are the social type. They become socialites, or politicians, or start cults or revolutions. To some others, it is an extremely arduous task at the very least. These people are the unsocial type, usually recluses, and become authors, or scientists, or hackers. However, both these sections of society form a minority, even when combined together. The remaining population hovers somewhere in between these two extremities. These are the somewhat social people. They can be very social within some groups, and not social at all in another. The groups they can open up to become their friends, lovers and allies. The group they cannot associate with comprise of their enemies, and nemeses. 

However, I think that there is a fourth, hitherto formally unidentified, group when it comes to social behavior. This group comprises of people whose ability to be social is governed by the calendar. This is not entirely an unknown phenomenon. It, in current parlance, is identified by the phrase - "woke up on the wrong side of the bed". Some days we wake up and feel social. On those days, we can be social rock-stars. Some days, I surprise even myself with my ability to be social. I am the cynosure of all eyes, the beacon of a gathering. However, I should mention that those days are few and far between. But they happen, and they tell me that I know how to be social. Most of the other days, I wake up and feel like my more familiar usual self - extremely unsocial or at best socially awkward. On those days, I spend most of my time staring at my toes. I hate mankind, and even some animals if they nuzzle up to me. I brood at gatherings, and sullenly mutter curses under my breath. 

There are two factors that differentiate us from the somewhat social group. First, our ability to be social is not determined by our company. We can be completely social and completely unsocial with the same group of people on different days of the month. The other factor is that there is no middle ground between our two extremes of social behavior. There is never a day when we feel somewhat social. Ergo I believe that it is time to formally recognize us and give us the social status we deserve. We are the socially spasmodic. Or maybe we are the spasmodically social? We will be extremely happy or utterly disgusted with either coinage depending on the day of the month.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why the world needs more gay men

Let's start with a joke. A SPANISH Teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

"House" for instance, is feminine: "la casa."

"Pencil," however, is masculine: "el lapiz."

A student asked, "What gender is 'computer'?"

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether "computer" should be a masculine or a feminine noun.

Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that "computer" should definitely be of the feminine gender ("la computadora"), because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;
2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;
3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval;
4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your pay check on accessories for it.

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine ("el computador"), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;
2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves;
3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE  the problem;
4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

There can be no better example of difference of opinions. What does difference in opinions lead to? Conflicts. Arguments. Wars. But, men and women have never engaged in wars in the modern era. Not like the ones fought in 1914, 1939, 1990. Why? Because the difference in opinions is negated and nullified by something else - mutual carnal attraction. All differences and egos are overpowered by that. And results in coexistence and peace.

That's why the world needs more gay men. For world peace.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Conflict Resolution - The shoelaces fight

This past weekend I learnt a huge lesson in conflict resolution - never tell a guy he is wrong when he is mad, especially if you know that the best result of the conflict is a resolution and not justice or decision.

People close to me tell me that I am one who is always ready to pick a fight, and one who will go to a significant extent to justify that he is right. Well, maybe that is true. Maybe at some subconscious level, it is basic human nature. No one likes to admit they are wrong when they are convinced that they are not, and only the most level-headed people can see the big picture when they are in the middle of a conflict.

Well, this time, I didn't pick a fight. I was not right, nor wrong, and I did not justify my stand. However, I was in a position to resolve the conflict because that was the best possible outcome. And I failed there, because instead of appeasing the warring parties, I pointed out that one of them were wrong. All then everything went haywire. It doesn't matter, in retrospect, that one party was wrong. The ultimate victims of this conflict did not deserve to be the victims – innocent seven and eight year olds trying to play a soccer game. The whole thing seems so comical and silly now, that probably all the involved parties, as well as the spectators, are as guilt-ridden about the outcome as I am.

Here is how the drama unfolded. It was the 3rd quarter of a U-8 boys soccer game, middle of third quarter, my son's team - The Terminators - trailing by 4 goals to The Scorpions, one more quarter to go after this. I was the referee for this quarter, and was trying my best to be neutral. We got a goal kick, and one of the kids kicked off. Just before that goal kick, when the ball was still out of bounds, I noticed that one of the Scorpions had their laces undone. I walked up to him and told him to do his laces. I didn't look back to see if he did or not. As it turned out later, he didn't. The goal kick was taken and the play was on, the kids scrapping for the ball. About 30 seconds into the play, I hear the coaches of the two teams yelling at each other, from the opposite sidelines across the field, the Terminators' coach telling the Scorpions' to relax and enjoy the game and not make it a battle, or something to that effect. And then the Scorpions' coach blew a whistle from the sidelines and the game stopped. The kids on the ground are coached to respond to the whistle (Pavlovian as it may sound) but they are not rule-savvy enough to know whose whistle they should respond to. So everyone stopped playing. The Terminators coach was pointing out heatedly that the Scorpion's coach should wait for the play to be over, and should not interrupt the game or yell at the referee, which apparently they were doing. The Scorpions, in turn, explained to me that they were trying to get my attention so that the Scorpions player could do his laces, hence the yelling, and then the whistle.

I was focused on getting the game going as quickly as possible. So I let the Scorpions' player do his laces, with the help of a helpful parent, and then asked for the play to be started at the goal kick. With that out of the way, I asked the players to restart the play at the goal kick. I still cannot fathom what the problem with that decision was, since I was sacrificing at least 15 yards advantage for the Terminators and restarting the play at their goal, but my decision provoked the Scorpions' coach enough to out to the Terminators' coach saying that the referee's decision was a clear sign of frustration and that he should tell the referee to relax a bit. The Terminator's coach responded with something I did not hear clearly and cannot reconstruct now.

This is where I committed by first mistake. I should have realized that the guy was clearly agitated, and was just trying to get into a verbal volley to justify his disruptive move and save face, or he just believed that he did the right thing by stopping the game for his player to do his laces. I should have ignored his jibe and concentrated on the game. What I did however was I told the Scorpions' coach that he was wrong in interrupting the game and that he should have either done it before the play started, or after that play was over and the ball was out of bounds. I did not get mad, I did not yell. I just did what I thought a referee should be explaining to coaches on the sidelines that disrupted the game. I did it in a clear, authoritative voice, like I have seen referees in international games do in such a situation. It felt right at that time, and was clearly proved wrong by the outcome. This was neither an international game, nor was I a qualified international referee. Nor was the coach an international coach, and neither he nor the team was required to adhere to any FIFA rules. So he called his team off, and decided not to play anymore.

This is where I committed by second mistake. I should have, in retrospect, walked to the Scorpions' coach and requested him to not withdraw from the game, because it was not about the ego of the grown-ups, it was about the kids who deserved the game, and the parents who adjust their busy schedules to bring the kids to the games. However, what I did was - nothing. I did nothing at all. Having seen my first interference in the conflict resulting in a disaster, I stayed quiet and let the events take their course. Everybody walked off, the parents and coach in our team telling their kids that it was not their fault, and they will have a great game next Saturday. I did not see what was going on in the Scorpions' camp, but I imagine it would have been a very similar scene.

Who suffered? The people involved in the verbal battle, for sure, are feeling guilty now, or will feel guilty as soon as their anger subsides. I am feeling and acting all guilty, at having been part of a charade that robbed small kids of a soccer game. The kids suffered the most, having seen their parents act like pouting toddlers and having to go home unsatisfied and unfulfilled and confused.

And so, the lesson I learned - if you want a quick resolution to a conflict, do not tell a guy he is wrong when he is mad, even if he is wrong. Let his anger play out, humor him, and he will see things more clearly when his anger subsides. I will try to keep this in mind for all conflict situations going forward, and maybe I will get to write another story where I succeed in resolving a conflict using this approach.