Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vertiginous Stuff


Things, dear readers, have been mildly interesting the last couple of months. Stuff’s been happening. For starters, our very own favourite uber-cool auto-AC city has decided to turn itself off just to spite us. I knew we’d jinx it eventually, what with our continual boasts and preening and strutting about how you have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be living in the best city in the world. But I was kinda hoping it’d happen after my time. Apparently, when Bangalore gets spiteful, she does a proper job of it, with a real venom-spewing, acid-regurgitating malice that I didn’t know demure little Bangalore had in her, because I’m back to my favourite Pilani pastime. Flying.

Yes, flying. I’m sure every one of you that’s not living in Scandinavia has experienced the masochistic joy of making existence a non-contact sport. No comprendo? Well, I’m talking about that uniquely miserable sensation of knowing that if any part of your body is to make any sort of contact with anything at all for any amount of time, you’ll find that particular part dripping in sweat before you can blink and say ‘Bloody heat’. Or something stronger.

Sleeping’s when the surface area of contact is maximum, so that’s out. You don’t sleep anymore. Sitting is OK to a point, but you really don’t want to be sweating in the places you’ll end up sweating. Standing’s better, but feet love to stink and if you push it you’ll find yourself sorely tempted to amputate yourself at the ankles. Flying, it is then. Well, I’ll not lie here. You have a few other options. You could, for example, do a Kate Winslet and spend your days walking around on your toe tips. (Scratch that; walking’s sweaty business. Spend your days standing motionless on your toe tips then.) Or you could find a big enough fridge and crawl into it and die, hopefully to be awakened when the first rains hit. I’m not a ballerina, and I don’t do fridges so I’m sticking to flying.

Anyway, flying’s one part of what’s been interesting lately. The other part involves climbing. Recently, I found myself, against my will – I fought tooth and nail, honest – shoved a rung up the corporate ladder. No biggie? It shouldn’t have been, but I’d been strongly advised by sane people not to - never to - look up when that happened. That’s just what I did, of course. Apparently, corporate ladders have so many rungs, you’ll suffer from a sort of inverse vertigo trying to catch a glimpse of the top. Invertigo’s ten times worse than vertigo because it not only turns your legs to jelly and reduces your body to a shivering wreck, but fries your brain. There’s this part of you that’s trying to tell you that you’re being irrational. You’re only a foot off the ground - you cannot possibly be dizzy! Then there’s the other part of you that’s seductively whispering in your ear that everything you know about everything is false. Gravity is a lie. You’re going to fall off the bottom rung into an endless nothingness while the ones at the top – the ones you can’t see because they’re so shrouded in a dazzling whiteness – they’re safe as houses. That’s when your brain decides to ooze out of your ear.

I have to admit though, that euphoria trumped sanity for a little while. That’s when the company decided to entertain itself by chopping off rungs in the ladder randomly, hoping for a giggle or two when the whole endlessly snaky contraption shudders and shakes and dances and ultimately collapses in a senseless heap far, far below. There must have been other reasons – written on the rungs up top, I’ve been told – but the dazzling whiteness makes it hard to read. Anyway, sanity was restored soon, as you can see from the articulate and sensible things I’ve had to say in this blog post.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Dear Most People I Know, here’s a friendly bit of advice,
There is such a thing as having lots and lots of things around, and yet being neat, orderly and not cluttered at all.

There is such a thing as a nearly bare room that’s messy as hell.

To borrow a phraseology from MySQL (you know – the thing to do with databases - those fictitious objects that are jam packed with stuff, and are yet orderly and all that), Quantity <> Clutter.

You know what’s worse than getting stabbed in the guts and bleeding to a slow, inevitable death? It’s having your room (or your cubicle, since I’m corporatized now) called ‘dirty’ after you’ve just spent a week locked in without food and water and air, sorting your monstrous collection of novels alphabetically.

First time I heard such a reaction, being the naturally humble person I am, I assumed I’d missed something cleaning up, and so made a very humble mental note to strive to do things better next time.

Well, humility only gets you so far when you hear the same things over and over again; there eventually comes a point where you stop blaming yourself, and start blaming the other guy.

‘OK, so what exactly do you think is dirty about my room?’ you ask, all bluster and a not a little defensiveness. But before your enemy speaks:

‘By the way, those perfectly sorted piles books in the corner are arranged by genre, and within each pile alphabetically by title. You’re welcome to borrow a couple. Those bedsheets that I’ve neatly folded in ascending order of the hexadecimal representations of their dominant colours, however, please don’t borrow any. I’m running short.’
‘Sorry, you were going to explain why you think my room’s dirty.’

The response will invariably go along these lines:
‘Oh, I don’t know. Just look at all the stuff you have lying around.’

You bristle of course. Understandably.
‘That stuff’s not lying around. Those there are all the writing instruments I’ve got, arranged in increasing order of cost. Those, on the other hand…’

‘Alright, alright. But so much stuff? It looks so cluttered.’

That word, he used that word! That’s the point where you, like all normal people, turn your BeastFace on and bash the other guy’s skull in.

After much deliberation as to the origin of this widespread affliction, I can only conclude that some people’s brains are just wired differently, and I’m being polite here. These people are different in the way three-headed people, two-nosed people and people that have hair growing out of their fingernails are. All hope is not lost, though. I have reason to believe that pictorially augmented repetitive subliminal impartment of corrective information can cure the problem a wee bit. For starters,

Repeat after me slowly: 'This is neat, orderly and not cluttered at all!'

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Humour Me Back!

It’s funny how being funny has become so hard.

Humour’s easy when you don’t have a conscience. A homophobic comment here, a racist remark there, a sexist jibe here and you’re done. The odd anecdotes about fat people and too-narrow aeroplane seats won’t ever go amiss either. There’ll be people judging you, certainly, and people hating you if you take this route, but there won’t be people not sniggering.

Humour’s easy when you’re not prudish because like in everything else, sex sells. You don’t even have to try, really. Why, I distinctly recall chuckling away at my class ten biology teacher’s totally dry description of the human reproductive process. Make that small mental step up to American Pie, and you’ll see the nearly limitless comedic potential here. Pity prudishness is hereditary and contagious.

And then there’re toilet jokes. Everybody disparages them, but it’s astounding how the most tasteless joke about methane-induced global warming can lead to uncontrollable laughter. In a room full of suits. Sigh.

It’s OK if you can’t do any of the above, or even if you’re about as witty as a rock, really, if you’ve got a mouth dirty enough to corrode one. Write up the most unimaginative rant ever, but pepper it with the choicest collection of profanities you can think of, and you’ll have got yourself an audience, and one in splits. I’ll concede a point here. Well, two actually – you can get creative at insulting somebody’s mother, improbable as that sounds, and if you can get creative at something it may even qualify as a legitimate art form. Second, it’s possible that your audience is not laughing at what you said, but at you.

I never could do all of that, but I don’t recall ever feeling witless. Surely you can’t run out of things to joke about? I mean, aren’t there an endless supply of Bong jokes to feed on, for example? There are, and I still regretfully recall the good old days when I could churn twenty stereotype jokes a minute, but I’m cut off now because Kant happened. Yes, Immanuel Kant.

(Did you laugh? Perhaps unintended humour is an area I can work on, because that wasn’t a joke. Wait no, the contradictions are obvious. I can’t work on improving something that can only be mastered by being perfectly awful at it. On the other hand, I can still master just the appearance of unintendedness right? I’d have to hide this from my brain because of course it’s my brain that the ‘unintended’ bit applies to, so I’ll have to wrap my awareness of the fraud in a cloak of subliminality. That’d still… Right, back to Kant.)

Kant said anything you do must be universalizable: before you do something, imagine how the world would look if everyone did what you’re thinking of doing, and if you like that world, do it. You can see the appeal of this idea as a moral guide. You’d never murder and jump red lights, for example.

Anyway, the moment I started putting myself in the shoes of the people I was making fun of, the jokes died. They didn’t struggle and writhe, kicking and lashing for hours before finally going limp. One fine day something switched off, and they were just… gone. Half the light of my world was taken away from me.

The deaths didn’t end there though. At about approximately the same time – or perhaps earlier, too many catastrophes have fuzzed my memories – my ability to crack what I call ‘ignorance’ jokes was flushed down the toilet. The name’s sort of self-explanatory, but if you’re dumb, these are the jokes you tell other dumb people about things you don’t understand, but – here’s the trick – they don’t either.

‘You know – apparently we were all fish once. Then, just like this – cue wild gesticulation that’s halfway between flapping and clapping but ends with a snapping of the fingers – we transformed into us.
‘Har har.’

You could laugh at this joke and still not be dumb if - it's the Jedi nous trick again - you’re laughing at them rather than the joke itself. (Lots of people don’t dig evolution. They probably dig their noses though, snotty lot that they are.)

Even this doesn’t work for me because of er.. compassion. If you want to joke about other people, you cannot be a nice guy. Especially so if you’re laughing at their perceived stupidity. You want an offence-free show? Sorry, that joke’s out.

Wait, wait. What about in jokes? You know, those about memes, xkcd, and that DSA lab on a cold December’s evening. Ah, good old in jokes. Half the stuff I laugh at, I laugh at because I think most other people don’t get it. Don’t ask me to explain. All I know is that this works.

The caveat is obvious: you need an in group for in jokes. If your in-group goes away and you’re stuck with an out-group that only talks Biggg Boss, the best joke about Python swallowing your heart will at best draw blank looks. (At worst: solicitous looks. You know they think you’re a retard.) Naturally, you’ll withdraw gracefully from the conversation and focus on the food, maintaining a sombre dignity all the while.

Alright, here's my last attempt: nonsense jokes. People generally don’t understand the funny in random gibberish but laugh anyway. In fact, I firmly believe nonsense jokes are the perfect jokes. You laugh because you don't get the joke!
Nonsense jokes are like highly specific in jokes that appear ‘in’ to everyone who hears them. It’s hard to spout nonsense all the time and appear sane though, and that's not good for - let me sort out your priorities - your love life.

You see where I’m going here, don’t you? Falling off a steep cliff that’s where. Falling into an endless, humourless dark that’s darker than pitch. It only gets darker when I run into happy, grinning people paragliding who console me with this:

‘You only have to speak a four letter word, son, and you'll get all your powers back. Since you appear mentally challenged I’ll give you a clue. It doesn’t start with an L.’

(Self-deprecation always works.)