Problem, Yours or Mine….?

June 6, 2010

After years of close observation, I have come to the firm conclusion that human-kind can be classified into two distinct groups. There are those who blame the whole world for the mess they and their lives are in. I am not to blame, the world is the culprit. I have done no wrong, the world has wronged me. Sample these:

Son to father: “Papa, I am always so quiet in the class, but for some reason, this teacher always picks on me and punishes me”. (Papa has been hearing this for many years, across classes and across teachers. The situation- and the excuses- remain the same.)

Husband to wife: “If you had only left me alone to pursue my passions I would have had a more successful career.” (The passions being golf, bridge and the frequent boozing sessions with buddies)

Wife to husband: “If you had only left me alone to pursue my passions I would have been a happier woman.” (Happiness as in unlimited use of the debit and credit cards, unending shopping, and

Subordinate to boss: “If only my subordinates did their jobs, the company’s performance would not have been this bad.” (The subordinate does not remember to mention that his job is to ensure that his subordinates do their jobs properly.)

Losing politician to the press: I did all what was good for my constituency. But the opposition gave it all a different spin in the campaign. Hence I lost. (The neta should know that along with doing his so-called good job, he also has to communicate it to his constituents- if he has done any. In this case he has probably not done anything great.)

Flop movie producer to anyone who cares to listen: We made a great film, but I suppose it was too early for its times, the audience just could not take it. (Then why the hell did you inflict it upon the public?)

This list can be endless, I will stop here now. I hope you get the picture. There is a whole army of people ready to blame everyone else when things do not go the way they think they ought to have been. These losers, who continue to indulge in games of blames whenever things go wrong. They just can’t seem to realize that they could be in the wrong too. They have been lazy, careless, insensitive, unplanned, biased etc etc. They could not think well, they could not strategize well, they could not manoeuver well, they could not communicate well. Maybe they do realize, but they think that their repeated woes of lament will cover up for their deficiencies.

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And then there is the other half of the population; they keep blaming themselves for all the ills in the world. Sample these:

Wife to husband: “I have been a bad mother, no wonder our son eloped with that girl. (Mother dearest, why don’t you admit that it was your stubborn persistence trying to prevent your son from marrying a girl of his choice just because she was from another caste. And thank yourselves for being in good mother that he chose a wonderful girl, bad mothering could have had some pretty bad consequences)

(Incidentally, Hindi movies are filled with such mothers, always accepting blames on themselves.)

Subordiante to peer: I goofed it, my boss gave me such clear instructions. (the subordinate forgets the boss gave her/him impossible timelines)

Girlfriend to boyfriend: Sorry darling, I wish I was a little bit more understanding. (Like ignoring his addiction to drugs, soccer, whoring, in that order)

There are so many others of this ilk, let me not bore you; I am sure you got the idea.

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So there are externalizers and there are internalizers. Each takes great delight in doing what they always do, externalize or internalize a problem. Rare is the individual who takes an objective view of the goings-on and adopts a rational view. For them it is a “me-versus-them”, never “me-and-them” or “neither-me-and-them”. I am no psychologist but I would love to know what dictates these personalities. Why do they behave the way they do. The psychologists talk about flight-or-fight responses to adversities. Perhaps this applies here too.

Fighters are externalizers, they want to fight with the rest of the environment to absolve them of the lapse.

Fliers are internalizers, they want to escape from the issue at hand, they do not want to confront it. The attitude is, “Ok, I am the culprit, all blames on me. Now let us do not analyze this further, your search ends here, with me; do not probe any further.”

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I do not have the answers, but I will end this piece with a classic “externalizer” story. I have known this dear friend of mine for the last twenty five years. A highly successful guy in his career and personal life. But a huge “externalizer”. Like this episode. Let us call him M.

“Hey M, why are you late for the tennis practice?”

“You know what, my shorts did not have pockets.” M deadpans.

“What does apparel have to do with your tennis game?”

M gets into a very detailed explanation of this in all earnest.

“You know what, I got into the bus even before time. I was on the bus for ten minutes and then the bus conductor asked me for money. I slipped my hand into my shorts pocket and guess what, there was no pocket!! I was wearing shorts without pockets, so no money! Now, what do I do..! I had to get off at the next bus-stop, trudge back home, get some money and then another bus. And hence, now you see, I was late.

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On Meeting Long-Lost Friends: Part 2

June 4, 2010

So after much confirmations and cancellations you meet up with that old friend of yours, probably at a conveniently located bar. You enter the bar chatting animatedly and look forward to the much looked forward to evening of pleasure. The first of the beers of the long evening is ordered.

Beer 1:

The beer arrives and your chat takes off from the last meeting:

Arey, I could not recognize you that day!”

“I know, I know, even I had difficulty till I recognized your familiar gait.”

“And tell me, how is your family, baal-bachhey theek?”

“Wonderful, how about your family?”

“I forgot, just jog me memory, what did you say their names were?” (the names have already been discussed in the earlier meeting)

“Monu and Sonu”

“Of course, of course, how silly of me to forget!

“Never mind, we are all getting old.

Then follows chat on similar lines, here is a sample. Never mind who is asking whom, they spend the next fifteen minutes revisiting what was discussed earlier.

“So you wife works for a bank” (No. She is a paediatric surgeon)

“You are with an MNC construction company, right?” (no the concerned is employed with a public sector bank)

“So your mother stays with you ever since your father passed away?” (No. They are both alive and well, thank you. And they live by themselves in the house they built decades ago.)

You get the drift now, right? Each has forgotten the details of the other. And the first part of the chat is dedicated to fact-finding.

Beer no 2:

“It was wonderful to have met you, I thought I had lost track of you forever.”

“You telling me! I have been mentioning to my children for the past several years about you, how close we were and all the badmashi we used to do together in our schooldays. I had promised my kids that one day they will surely meet you.”

“Great feeling, I tell you.”

“Indeed!”

“Remember the time Sanjay got into trouble with the Hindi teacher when we were in the ninth standard?”

“Of course, what an ass he made of himself”

They both start laughing.

“And that princi. of ours, what was his name, Father Richard something…”

“Oh, Dicky boy! That stupid fellow..”

“I tell you…”

More laughter at the common memories of a bumbling Fr Richard much prone to showing-off his prowess in giving Hindi “gaalis” despite his Irish-American roots.

“And you remember that girl in the pink dress?”

“I know, I know, the poor thing is married now to an insurance agent. But, saaley, you forgot that neighbourhood aunty of yours, how you would drool over her?”

Nudge- nudge, wink-wink.

They are both probably rolling on the floor at the mere recollection of these old memories.

“That calls for another beer.”

“Of course it does!”

Beer no 3:

The arrival of Beer no 3 sees both the long-lost friends in utter silence. Ok, I am being a bit dramatic here, they are exchanging notes, but in mono-syllables. All the topics which have bound them together are over, what do they talk about now?

Nothing.

They both spend the next twenty minutes gazing at their respective beer mugs as if reminiscing about the past. Beer is sipped slowly, though each is carefully trying to keep pace with the other. Once in a while one of them discreetly looks at his cellphone as if to check for an important message. Chances are that he is checking on the time. The other, perhaps out of politeness, goes to the loo. There are several reasons for this. He actually does need to go to the loo, he is probably trying to kill time but more importantly he knows that on the way to the loo there is a wall-clock where he can check the time. He does not want want to be caught checking the time on his mobile/ wrist watch.

Then one turns to the other, “What else?”

“All well. And you?”

“All well here too.”

“Good!”

“Good!!”

A few moments later after each of the two has neared the dregs in their beer mugs:

Aur bataa?”

“Tu bataa?”

“Sab theek?”

“Badhiya hai?

There would be a few repeats of the above exchange in both Hindi and English till one of them blinks. And says, “Alas, time to get home”. The other regretfully agrees, “Yes, what a cruel world, it is indeed time to get home.”

The steward is summoned and the check asked for with alacrity. There is a bit of an argument as to who would pay and with some wild gesticulations it is settled. Probably the guy who is the more desperate of the two pays and both leave the bar swearing to meet in the very near future.

The cars reverse, hand are waved, and they are both gone in the darkness.

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Cars reverse, but unfortunately for us, life does not. And the environments we have built around ourselves don’t. You can bet that the two protagonists in this little story above do not meet, at least for the following few years.

Be honest; ask yourself, hands on your hearts, of the old friends you have met in the last eight years how many have you met more than twice till date. Chances are, very few, if any at all.

It is not that you do not like them anymore, it is just the effect of time and distance. The individual you knew from your childhood days or college days is more than a human being, he is a person enveloped in an environment; an environment of other friends, of movies from those times, of the headlines of the day, your own mental make-up in the days you knew him, etc. etc. In short, bereft of this envelope the person is just one quasi-strange person, that’s all. And when you meet up after a lapse of time, you try to seek that environment along with your friend. And this, of course, you will not find. Impossible, as the times have changed. You spend the first few hours of your meeting trying to re-establish the environment. You always talk about the past. About all those things you shared in common in the past. The present is perfunctorily dismissed. As if it was an impediment in the environment the two of you were trying to recreate.

No, it is not the fault of either individual that the much longed-for chat peters out so quickly.

That is how life is!

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I wonder how many of you have returned to your campuses to which most of us had sworn undying loyalty. For those who did return, did you relish the experience? Did you have the same feelings about the campus as you had when you left it? I have some experience, I have been to all the four campuses I have been to and I have not liked any of the experiences. Particularly bad was my trip to my engineering college at IT-BHU. I kept wondering, the civil structure looks the same, but these trees; where did those come from? The hostels look fine, but what about the unique arrangement of underwear and socks on the clothes-lines in the corridors.

Alas, the underwear-owners have moved, the trees have changed. It is just the hostel buildings remain the same. All else has changed.

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I check with my wife on her US friend, and she informs me she has not got in touch with her over the last few months after the initial euphoric contact. She does have a plethora of excuses though:

“You never told me you have downloaded Skype”.

“I tried calling her on phone, her line was busy.”

“I was hoping you would be around when I called her, so that you could say hello to her.”

“The home PC internet has not been working, I have been wanting to send an email to her.”

As you can guess, each of these is an excuse.

It is just that my wife is not-so-enthusiastic anymore to re-establish contact.

It is just that her environment has changed, just like for all of us.

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PS: Here is the first post on the topic.


On Meeting Long-Lost Friends: Part 1

May 28, 2010

How many times have you met a good friend from childhood or schooldays and rejoiced at this lucky meeting? You could meet at an airport, a railway station, and if the friend stays in the same city at the mall or at the vegetable market. It does not matter where you meet. Here is how a typical chat goes:

“Oh, is that Santosh?”

“Yes! I can sort of recall your face, I am sorry I do not remember your name”, I indeed am rather poor with old names.

Abey, saaley! Bhool gaya?” These Hindi terms of endearment immediately alert me to the possibility that this chap could be from the depths of time, my schooldays. Not that I studied in a school where Hindi terms of endearments were commonly bandied about. Over time I have learnt that these are used by folks to establish a very old relationship.

I still do not hear the penny drop.

Arey nahin yaar, zara aur hint do na. I am sure you are my school-mate, just give me a clue, please”. I take the cue from the other person’s Hindi.

“Remember when we had gone to see “Amar, Akbar, Anthony” together, your had a flat tyre and I had to ferry you double ride.?”

“Pradeep? Arey, Pradeep!!!” I exclaim in delirium.

Haan! Wohi Pradeep, how could you forget my name, you bugger!!”

A tentative handshake and then a bear hug if the other was from the North of India.

Then follows a variation of the following:

“Look at your paunch, fatso”.

“Look at yours buddy, you look seven months pregnant.”

Terey bal poorey pak gaye!!”

Terey baal to hain hi nahin, ganjey, saaley!!”

“What a moustache!”

Once the physical attributes are closely inspected and pithy comments made, it is now the time to go back in time:  “Where have you been all these years?” “And where have you been?” An exchange of notes on jobs and locations over the last few decades and then it is time to focus on the family.

You married? Have kids? What are their names? What do they do? How are parents? (the parent question is common only in former schoolmates’ meetings.)

Naughtier ones would threaten- with a sly wink of course- to tell “bhabhiji” all about that girl in a pink dress which one used to ogle. The more constructive ones would even offer in marriage his offspring if the latter have one of the opposite sex. And both laugh at this suggestion as if this marriage thing was a bit too silly to start with in any case.

The above was an illustrative chat with an old schoolmate. There would be slight variations when you meet someone from college or from your early working days.

Sample dialogues from college-mates:

Arey, where did you go after our engineering? I lost all track of you!”

“Remember how we used to play corridor-cricket, and how the chap at the end of the corridor whose door we used we used to serve as stumps would get so horribly hassled?”

“We both started smoking together, taking fags on credit from Jhanna’s shop”.

“Remember our first drink together when you were celebrating that campus job?”

“What happened to your MBA aspirations?”

“How come you never attempted an M.Tech?”

Sample dialogues from ex old-colleagues, or ex-neighbours:

“So where all have you been since I last met you at Vizag railway station that day after Christmas”. (I reached Vijayawada station after that)

“And where is that smart friend of ours, the one who had figured out his life?” (He filed for a divorce six weeks after our meeting)

“And what are your kids doing? The elder one was just about reaching the TV remote when I last saw him.” (He is now robotics?

“And what about your wife’s aspirations of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro?” (She aspires, period!)

“You still drive that red Maruti 800?” (Sure, in my dreams. I now have a Hero bicycle)

Then one of the two needs to catch his flight, the last boarding call is announced. Mobile number, email IDs and business cards are exchanged. This is a moment which few but only the most perceptive notice. This is the moment when relative differences in socio-economic status is analyzed and stored away in memory. The more affluent pulls out his Blackberry- or equivalent- to store the email ID, the other may scribble it on the back of the business card. The business card itself is studied carefully to discern any noticeable features denoting one’s rise in the corporate hierarchy. And some probing questions may be asked too. “Aah, I see you are based in Bangalore. And you are responsible for sales for your company. Now tell me, do you look after Bangalore City, Karnataka, South India or entire India?”

“We must meet again soon.”

“Of course, with our families”

“What fun it will be!”

“Boy, that will be fun!!”

Each of the two flies home thinking of all the joint experiences they have had. Each dreaming of the time when they would get back together again.

How lovely!

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Discovering a friend has become easy in the modern era. There is the internet which not only enables quick searches but also powers myriad groups of batch-mates like the popular Yahoo groups, and social networking groups like Facebook. What an easy way to rediscover old friends. And what joy!

When I joined my engineering batch-mates’ Yahoo group, it was sheer bliss each day to find mails from long-lost friends. Most addressed to the whole group and some to me directly. As and when each member joined the group he was asked to post details about his progress in life as well as some recent photographs of self and family. Needless to say, this evoked comments from the others on the lines of the ones mentioned above regarding physical features etc.! What joy the whole thing was!

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My wife was hunting desperately for a classmate of hers. She knew her name, profession (doctor) and the fact that she was in the US. No Google search would help us to track her down. I was the “searcher” given my relative proficiency in computing (I can log-on to the internet and use Google) and I was quite astonished myself that this woman was not traceable.

“You are banging away at your laptop even when you are at home, how can you not do this simplest of things?” Queried my wife.

I am flummoxed too, this search should have been a song, I could not figure out what was going wrong. I tried multiple variations of the spellings of her name. No avail. I checked on her maiden name and the surname after marriage. No luck!

“This is too much, you can’t even do this much for me?” She fully well knew how I was burning the midnight oil for nearly a week and doing an honest search. But the wife is a wife and her problems are the most critical ones.

I racked my brains hard, and this caused a wave to emanate therefrom. (Aka a brain wave). “So what if I can’t locate her, I can trace her family. And through them the much-wanted woman!”, I exulted at the thought!

I got her younger sister’s name, Googled it, and got her immediately on Facebook. There were many individuals with the name, I clicked each one’s page and pulled up the pic and profile.

“Is she the one?”

“No way, she is way too fat”

Click two: “This one?

“She is too dark in the pic., she used to be so fair and pretty.”

Multiple clicks later, we reached a pic which was to my wife’s satisfaction. “Of course this is the one!” And then it required a mail from me to the sister seeking her indulgence in sharing her older sister’s email ID and seeking pardon if I had intruded upon her privacy.

Overnight we received her response which was copied to her older sister (my wife’s friend) as well. And that establishes the long-lost contact. The friend calls my wife soon after.

And they chat and chat and chat for hours. Mercifully she calls when it is night in the US (and morning in India when I am away at office). Many personal details filled up and secrets are exchanged. I get to know of this when I return home in the evening. Surely I am curious to know the details of her friend- she is my wife’s friend after all- but I am even more curious to know why I could not trace her on Google. It transpires that her name has changed. She married and then divorced. She even changed her first name somewhere in between. Not only that, she even moved across her field of medical specialization. No wonder I could not trace her.

Phone numbers are exchanged, and the friend even introduces us to the new (to me) concept of Skype. Will enable hours and hours of free chat, she says. This I download on the home PC rejoicing in the vicarious delight of the endless hours of joy the chats will give to me wife.

I am sure a lot of the above would find resonance with most of you. Long-lost friends pop-up on Facebook, LinkedIn and a myriad other net-working sites every other day. You accept and get connected. You stay a while longer and the sites suggest more names. More clicks of acceptance, more happiness.

That joy of discovering long-lost friends!

But it is even more interesting to see what happens next.

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PS: Here is the link to the concluding post.

(To be concluded)