Posts Tagged ‘love’

Love is about hate

Five days ago, when a friend called to say that a couple we know very well were separating after 11 years of marriage, my wife said, “How could that be true? They were so much in love! Why did this have to happen, that too on Valentine’s Day!”

I responded with three loud, shocked OhMyGods.

The first one was because I realized it was Valentine’s Day, and I had forgotten it yet again.

The second one was because I realized it was going to be a year since I wrote a post. The last one was about forgetting last year’s Valentine’s Day.

The third and the least shocked one was for the news.

Surprised by my over-the-top anguish, my wife said, “Terrible, na? What to do! Unbelievable, they were such a lovey-dovey couple.”

“I’m calling off all my surprise Valentine’s Day plans. Really not feeling like it,” I said, shamelessly using a friend’s plight to my advantage.

“Yes, of course. Can’t think of a celebration right now. But I’m so glad you remembered!” she said and went out of the room to let me mourn in peace.

Not that I was heartless. Just that I had been expecting this a long time now. Here was another couple that made the crucial mistake of evaluating love with love. Wishes, gifts, surprises, occasions, cuddles, kisses are all great, but are no barometer of reality. The gushing answer you get to the well-timed “So honey, how much do you love me?” asked on a Valentine’s Day candle-lit dinner, can be so self-gratifying that it hides all the lurking dangers under the table.

“Love is not about the million things that you like about me, but about the really few that you dislike about me,” I had once told my wife. “They are like those small insignificant worms on some of those flowers in paradise. They are often missed in the beauty and magnificence of romance. But trust me, they have the potential to grow into anacondas and swallow the whole relationship.”

“You know what I dislike about you? Your idea of a conversation about worms and anacondas on a Valentine’s Day dinner,” she had said.

I never brought this up with her ever again. There are things that one can’t talk to one’s spouse, but can talk to the rest of the world. This is one such.

Honestly, even if I were to keep the creepy analogies aside, the fact remains this-

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Love isn’t about celebrating all that you love about each other, but about overcoming the dislikes, the uncomfortable zones, the irritants, the disagreements. Those are the weak links that snap at the wrong time.

It will do us good to remember that relationships are built by love, but always- always- broken by hate.

What’s true for love and relationships is also true for everything else in life.

Peace doesn’t depend on those who practise it, but on those who break it.

Goodness is never about how good a person is, but about how bad the person is capable of being.

Spirituality is not about how you live in the belief that there’s God, but about how you would live if there was no God.

Happiness is determined not by how you react to the good times, but by how you overcome the bad ones.

Power is not the influence you have on others, but on yourself.

Respect is not about how people treat you when you succeed, but about how they treat you when you fail.

I put down these thoughts and read them out aloud.

I let out three surprised OhMyGods, again.

This time, the first one was because I realized I now have a post! Finally!

The second one was because I realized how far I am from imbibing all the above.

The third and the most important one was because I realized my wife was standing behind me, hands on her hips, listening to the whole thing.

I grinned sheepishly.

She said, “You know what I dislike about you? You are so profound when romancing and so silly when philosophizing.”

This. Is. Silly?

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In love? With love or loved one?

Here’s the thing about my wife and me.

After 22 years of our marriage, we might not know when to say what, but we know very well when not to say what.

So, five days ago when my wife asked, “Shall we go out for coffee?” I instantly said, “Yes, why not.” It should logically have been, “But why?” because both of us hate the coffee at coffee shops. We believe we make the world’s best coffee at home. She, hers. I, mine.

But that’s the way it is with us.

It’s never about what’s said, always about what’s unsaid.

So, for no said reason, but for a very big unsaid one, there we were, last Friday evening, walking up to the coffee shop down our road.

Sorry sir, you need to have something red on you. There’s a dress code for today.”

I was stopped at the door rudely, like an immigrant without a passport.

With a WTF expression, I turned around to look at my wife beside me, as if she owed me an explanation to this nonsense.

She wasn’t there. She was already in. A red stole that I had never noticed before, now prominently draped around her neck. She rolled her eyes that left the “I have given up on you!” unsaid. She took out a red handkerchief from her handbag with a flourish that one only sees in magic shows, and I was in.

Ah, so you knew the code?” I asked sheepishly.

No, I knew the date,” she said as we proceeded to the counter.

Today isn’t 9th November, so it can’t be your birthday for sure!” I said and laughed at my own joke, like the smiley people insert after messages.

Even if it were, my birthday would only be tomorrow,” she said.

Oh yeah! 10th November! Slip of the tongue,” I said, biting my lip.

As we waited at the counter to get our order right, I glanced around for our seats.

The cafe was almost full. Filled with gushing, giggling youngsters- couples in love. Most of them barely as old as our children. The whole cafe was an overdose of red, hearts and mush. For a moment it seemed that the whole world had abruptly turned love-struck and young. Until, I caught my distorted reflection in the glass window. It assured me that life wasn’t a fantasy.

When done, we chose the first available seats. Usually, I choose the one facing the TV and she chooses the one facing the people. Not because I love watching TV, but because she loves watching people and I hate people watching me.

Aren’t you wondering what all this fuss is about?” she asked looking around, as soon as we settled down.

Oh, it’s just a marketing gimmick,” I said. “Youngsters are suckers for atmospheres. Create one with loud music, psychedelic lights and suffocating smoke, and everything illegal becomes a hip thing to do. Create one of love and romance, and people are more than willing to go all lovey-dovey. The occasion becomes so overwhelming that most people are overawed by it and go about like cupid zombies. It makes them do stupid things. Like proposing. Worse, accepting. Look at that,” I said pointing to a table.

A boy had just then gone down on his knees in theatrical fashion and proposed to his girl, extending a rose and then flipping a ring under her nose.

We watched the girl blush on cue and pretend to have been completely surprised by his love, this proposal and the gift. With eyes welling up- with tears of joy I presumed, and not with the disappointment of the rock turning out to be smaller than she had imagined- she uttered a yes, and it was his turn to show that this was the most unexpected answer.

They hugged and kissed. We were the only ones watching. The others were busy with their own acts of romance.

How could a grown up man- okay, grown up boy- go down on his knees and plead: Will you marry me? And how could anyone say yes to a beggar of love. Love can’t be asked for, it needs to be earned, elicited, evoked, made to feel. The problem is that people fall in love with love more than each other. In love, like most things human, people miss the soul and hold on to the frills that come with it.”

How would you know! You never proposed to me.” she said.

My dad did,” I protested.

Yes, to my dad. And after they said yes to each other, do you know where you took me out for our first date?”

There were no coffee shops around those days,” I said in my defense.

Maybe, but surely, there were beaches, gardens, malls and movies? Of all the places, you took me to the Automobile Association of India’s office. There we sat at untouchable distance from each other on a rickety old wooden bench, cobwebs dangling from the ceiling threatening to fall on our heads, in an office full of dusty files and bored clerks on the verge of retirement.”

Ah, you remember all of it, so vividly,” I said trying to bring a little glee to the proceedings.

How could any girl forget such an experience,” she said.

Did she say forget or forgive? I wasn’t going to ask for sure.

Tell me, do you also remember our marathon call that would put all these What’s Apping youngsters to shame?”

Of course, from 10 in the night to 4 in the morning. I was on the phone when my dad went to sleep and I was on the phone when he woke up in the morning. It sounds so romantic, but do you know, I was yawning away at the other end? Because all you did for those 6 hours was describe your family tree- a large one at that. Who was who, and why the whos were so special. In such detail that by the end of it, I could have written biographies of them.”

And what about my love letters to you,” I asked excitedly.

Love letters? Where was the love? I remember every word of all the letters you wrote in the four months between our engagement and wedding. The most boring ones any man could have ever written to a woman. I’ve preserved them for posterity. One day they would make a great book titled What To Expect From Life After Marriage.”

Are you serious? You still have my letters?”

Yes, all 37 of them!”

And for the next 45 minutes, all through our coffee and our trip back home, she narrated parts of those letters. Agreed, they were terribly unromantic.

But even after 22 years they made her laugh, tease, ridicule and talk for that long. And I played along, like I have all these years, in the know that I have made this Valentine’s Day, unforgettable for her, in my own unique way.

I don’t know if the boy and the girl at the cafe that day would remember that cafe or the readymade card they exchanged, or the gift he gave her, 22 years from now.

But I am sure on every Valentine’s Day, they would be dressed in red, sitting at some fancy place that has hearts strewn all over and soaking in the perfect atmosphere for love.

I only hope it is with each other.

In search of a smarter God

(39 days ago on this blog, I had done an open evaluation of God’s performance thus far. The results were appalling. As a consequence, the CEO of Universe, Inc., Mr.God, had to be sacked, and as its self-appointed Chairman, I had promised you that I will find a better alternative soon. So, here I am.)

Honestly, I didn’t know it would be this tough. I had foolishly assumed that it would be easy to pick a God from the many that exists in this world already.

In the extreme case of none befitting my high standards, how long would it take to create a new one!” I had even boasted to a friend.

It would certainly be easier than creating babies, though not as pleasurable!” I had joked.

After all, I didn’t need a partner for this, and didn’t have to depend on her not having a headache!” we had laughed.

I was so so wrong.

Clearly, finding a common God has got to be the toughest job in this Universe.

Compared to this, God’s Creation of Man seems like kindergarten stuff- which he made a mess of, by outsourcing its mass production to Adam & Eve with absolutely no quality checks in place.

Ever since then, man has been trying to recreate his creator. It led to theories, stories and trouble. What started off as plain curiosity, soon became an obsession, then a business, and later a convenient excuse for the cunning.

But hopefully, we are past all that muddled religious times, and are ready for a more homogeneous and meaningful belief, starting now.

Yes, I have good news in this context.

(You may now rise, and get ready for a standing ovation as the announcement follows.)

Ladies and gentlemen, our eons-long search is over. I have found a new God; not just for me, but for you and for this Universe.

A more capable, proven and result-oriented God.

Someone you can touch, listen to and talk to.

Someone who will answer your prayers, guide you and correct you in real time.

Someone who will encourage no religious fundamentalism and terrorism, and make everyone accept the theory of One World One God.

A God who will be not mine, yours or theirs, but ours.

(Applause here.)

I am as proud of the process as I am of the result.

In keeping with the democratic traditions of a civilised world, I had asked all the people I could meet in January this year for their best choice, for the Universe’s top post.

By simple computation, I arrived at the winner.

And then, true to the traditions of the developed world, I vetoed it, to nominate a God who I think will be better than the popular choice.

Before I say who it is, let me, in classic reality show style, announce the results starting with the bottom choice first.

In the fifth position with merely 3% votes is The Saint!

Shocking, how he, who I thought would be the most obvious successor to God by virtue of being No.2 in the pecking order of divinity, has been unceremoniously relegated to the bottom of the pile. Perhaps, making the blind see, getting the lame to walk and parting the seas no longer impress the generation that has been brought up on astounding special effects.

Also, how long can people keep watching saints perform miracles on others?! The message from them is loud and clear- “Miracles are useless unless it is happening to us. Until then, it is just a magic show.”

In the fourth position with 7% votes is this never-say-die creature who has the knack of popping up in any poll- The Politician!

That he features in this list, is no surprise. That he features higher than The Saint, surely is.

It is a hint that the job of God is a political one.

God’s tact of fueling faith through hopes and promises, and keeping that belief intact even in the face of his colossal failure and pathetic performance, is an art best practised by the politician.

If that’s so, why not get the professional for the job?” a few seem to suggest.

In the third position with 10% votes is The Corporate Honcho!

Coming to think of it, he is actually a politician dressed in business suit who communicates through PowerPoint presentations.

He features higher than the politician only because he has turned greed into a virtue and made it a result-oriented business science.

Also, unlike the politician, the business head converts detractors into accomplices by sharing his loot with them, and respectfully calling that shareholding.

So, a vote for the businessman is a vote, I suspect, for a share in God’s profits.

In the second position with 12% votes is The Superhero!

He is everything you want your God to be. He’s there whenever you need him, to save you from distress and the world from annihilation. To add to it, there’s mystery around his real identity that adds to the aura.

I guess the only reason why he didn’t become the top choice is because it is difficult to imagine a batmobile traversing the narrow and overcrowded bylanes of Mumbai or Bangkok. Or the Spiderman answering an Arab’s call for help in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Where will he swing his web from?

And Superman? Well, it is kind of difficult to have faith in a God who wears his undies outside, no?

Finishing in the first position with 68% votes, ladies and gentlemen, is my poll’s winner, The Individual!

This one was the most unexpected. But I should have guessed. After all, who is going to miss an opportunity to vote for himself as the most powerful dude in the Universe?!

But in a way, this reiterates what the world’s most ancient philosophy says: “Your search for the greatest and the most powerful will take you all over, and finally bring you back to yourself. For, there’s no one who can change you, protect you and evolve you better than yourself. You are the best God there could ever be.”

I agree.

But as its self-appointed Chairman, I can’t have 7 billion CEOs for this Universe.

I need one.

So, I vetoed the poll verdict and continued my search.

The answer of all important searches in life is always at the last place you look for.

I went looking for a common God all over the Universe, when it was actually in my hands- in our hands.

Not figuratively, literally.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, the new God is an App!

The new temple is the Smart Phone!

It is as individual as it can get and as mass as you want it to be.

It has unprecedented universal acceptance, and is today the world’s fastest growing religion.

With the youth as its evangelists, it surely is only going to grow wider and faster.

But does it play God?

Of course, it does.

It’s omnipresent, staying with you all the time. Always accessible, always responding to your requests.

Isn’t “Seek and ye shall find, ask and ye shall be provided!” truer of your app-loaded smart phone than of any God you have known?

If God’s job is to keep you away from evil, then don’t you think that the phone has done that in double good measure?

I don’t have statistics, but I am certain that since the advent of the smart phones, the youth have lesser time and interest in other things. Parents will vouch for that.

If there’s still drugs and crime in this world, it must be thanks to those who don’t have smart phones yet, or those who haven’t loaded enough apps yet.

I am not saying it is all there. But it surely has the most potential.

Imagine an app where you could feed the values you want to adhere to. Such a smart app can actually prevent you from all things evil.

So, as you talk, the app can beep your cuss words, distract you when you lose your temper or warn you when you write a nasty message.

An app that will automatically dial a number in your phone book after a pre-fixed number of days, just to keep you in touch with each other. So there’s no drifting apart in relationships ever.

An app that will have no ego in sending out a “I am sorry if I hurt you” message to someone you have had a silly fight with.

It’s a God who will make tangible changes to our lives.

It’s exciting, entertaining and very personal.

But you know what really makes it the best new God of this Universe?

It just doesn’t inspire fanaticism.

No one’s going to wage a war in the name of an app. Or blow himself up just because you criticised it.

It needs no priest, no saint, no middleman.

Across caste, colour, creed and gender, there would be one app.

One World, One App.

Nothing called children of a lesser app.

It is everything God and religion were meant to be, but weren’t.

Get converted. Go download.

My quest for the last

 

You know what the problem with life’s lessons is?

They are like Technology.

Just when you think you have mastered one, life reveals its newer versions- Truer versions of truths.

Sometimes they are just upgrades. But often they are completely new, and change your old beliefs so much that it feels stupid to have clung on to them stubbornly all along.

Happens to me all the time. So if you spot contradictions in my posts, remember, they aren’t conversations of a confused soul, but new, improved, updated versions of my beliefs.

Look at 2012, for instance. I started the year eagerly with ‘First, at last’. But grew wiser through the year, and am ending with ‘My quest for the last’.

Coming to think of it, this is a lesson life has been desperately trying to tutor me unsuccessfully for five decades.

Take First Love- a concept that the world has unnecessarily romanticised, given undue importance and immortalised. In a moment I’ll tell you how meaningless it can be.

Mine happened quite early in life. I remember it vividly. I had fallen for that dimpled, giggling, bundle of ecstasy in the cradle next to mine, at the Baby Room in a maternity home. I think I was two days old and she, one. On the third day as the head matron came to take me away, mercilessly separately us young hearts, I remember, I bawled and flapped my tiny hands around in an uneven fight. As I was taken out of the room, I threw one last glance back at my love, just for keeps. She was kicking the air in protest. It was then that her diaper fell off and I saw her stark naked.

She was a he.

Forget the First, no matter how many loves you have in life, the only one that really matters is the last, because that’s the one you get married to and live with for the rest of your life.

Life is clear about its lessons. “It’s not the first, but the last that matters.”

In cricket, it’s not the first, but the last ball that counts. It’s not the first, but the last run that becomes the winning run.

In a race, it’s not how well you start, but how well you finish.

In life, it’s not who you were born as, but who you die as.

In a chocolate box, it’s not the first, but the lone last slab that’s the sweetest.

In your wallet, it’s not the first, but the last coin that’s most precious.

In school, it’s not the first, but the last day of exams that is most memorable.

Dumb me, life was so blatant about its clues and yet I didn’t catch them.

I used to come home from school and say that I was the 35th ranker in class or finished 8th in the 1500-meter heats. But I would never admit I was the last.

This, in spite of the obvious rewards that life doles out to those who finish last.

The last ranker enjoys every day of his school, and has just one bad day in a year- the day of the results. Whereas the first ranker slogs the whole year for that one good day.

But the world continues to equate finishing last to losing.

Which is why 31st December isn’t the last day of the year, but the new year’s eve.

It is never about bidding a fond farewell to the last, but always about ushering in the first.

As I write this, even the precious last seconds of the year have been reduced to just a countdown to 2013.

Not for me. At least, not this year.

I am dwelling in this last moments of 2012, slowing it down, stretching it to an eternity and delaying the year’s last tock after its last tick, as much as I can.

So much, that I have all the time in the world to publish this post.

Whoever thinks that finishing last is easy, should try finishing last in Slow Cycling.

Or, refuse to budge from the end of a bungee jumping queue.

Or, get the last word with his wife, boss or news anchor- that’s like trying to win a shouting match with your echo.

Or simply do what I have just done- become the world’s last blogger of 2012 by publishing the last post of the year in the whole World Wide Web at 11:59:59 on 31st December.

Happier, Merrier, Funnier

 

I am done with the Olympics.

As I watched the opening ceremony on TV, the truth exploded in the grey of my head, like Boyle’s fireworks in the London sky.

The seed for this sudden thought was perhaps sown a few hours earlier, while having dinner with my family that night.

The image of the four of us seated around our circular dining table had an uncanny resemblance to the tall light-towers overlooking the Olympic stadium- perhaps ominous of the revelation that was to strike me later.

The dinner itself was no different from the countless ones we’ve had through the years- as predictable. The conversations, as expected.

My younger son, always the first off the block, spoke about how his teacher threw an impossible question to the class that day. Her question seemed to have sped like a rogue train through the rows of benches, mauling 39 out of the 40 students in class, to reach you-know-who.

If that sounds like a Hollywood thriller, then the end was typical, too.

The last boy sitting, stands up in slow motion and utters the answer with echoing effect.

The teacher exalts him. The students clap non-stop.

I stifled a yawn. My wife shed copious tears of joy. My first son hastened the end-credits in a hurry to begin his show.

His show was cricket.

Six runs to win, one ball to go, last batsman in.

Obviously, the guess-who did the guess-what.

My wife shed more tears. I threw some well-rehearsed pats on son’s back. And my younger son sulked his loss of limelight, before my wife began her story.

It was about the new original recipe that she had come up with that evening. She cooked and send the dish to her friends in the building, and every husband and every wife had called back to say she is truly the Masterchef, God’s gift to cooking and much more.

“God’s own cook,” I was tempted to joke, but feared being chopped, cooked and served next.

Instead, “Can you pass some more of the…er…whatever that is?” I requested, bringing into play my years of training in corporate sycophancy.

I served myself whatever-it-was, a lot more than necessary. I saw her wipe a few tears off her eyes. Not sure if they were old ones or new ones.

I proceeded to struggle and finish her experiment, pretending to have been blown over by its taste. A little later, I suddenly realised that all had stopped talking. There had been an unusual silence for a while. I looked up only to see all of them staring at me. How could I forget, the last turn is always mine! They were expecting my success story of the day.

I hemmed and hawed, did a bum-shuffle on the seat, took another serving of the disaster, coughed, drank water, pretended my phone had beeped, re-read some old messages, and basically bought more time.

Time heals, they say.

But doesn’t prevent, I discovered.

So finally, when there was no Emergency Exit visible, I spoke.

I narrated another one of those stories that I’ve been so deftly cooking up at the table all these years. Basically, a blatant lie.

Like junk food, it is delicious, sumptuous, but terribly unhealthy. But people relish it. Three happy faces are any day greater than one guilty heart. The story of my failings would have never created such a happy, contended, hopeful family moment. Never.

Life and the Olympics are about triumphs. Only about triumphs.

This parallel struck me as I sat watching the opening ceremony later that night.

There have been 12 Olympics in my lifetime. This is the 13th. (See the reason?)

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the ones that I’ve seen. That night too, I had begun enjoying myself.

The world was celebrating together. Cultures were melting into each other as one performance gave way to another seamlessly.

And yet, at the back of my mind was this lurking demon of a thought.

Wouldn’t all this bonhomie soon give way to rivalry, competition and hatred when the Games actually begin?

For the first time in my life I found the great Olympic mantra, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ rather silly.

I wanted to scream back, “Than whom?” “For what?”, “To go where?”

That night, the slogan sounded so much like an energy beverage ad.

Images of desperate moms pushing their kids to outperform and defeat their friends came to my mind. Moms desperately trying to achieve through their children what they themselves couldn’t do in their lives. As for the dads, they are always busy getting faster, higher, stronger at work.

Don’t the overgrown, muscle-enhanced Olympic champions crouching at starting lines, remind you of those made-to-perform kids? Aren’t the failed athletes masquerading as trainers, behaving like disgruntled moms?

At the sound of a whistle or a gun shot, these athletes, like circus animals, walk, run, jump, leap, throw, swim, gyrate, fight, pass batons and play ball. Not for the love of sport. But to help their nations exert power, dominate, humiliate, and win a World War without the fear of a nuclear holocaust.

Look at boxing. One has to punch the opponent to a bloody, instant kayo, and condemn him to a life affected by Parkinson’s later, just to claim Gold medal for his nation.

Sweaty flesh wrestles sweaty flesh through postures straight out of the Kamasutra, until the victor pins down the victim like a merciless rapist, so that he can do his nation proud at the victory stand.

My heart goes out to the marathoners. Some of them come from countries where water is more precious than Gold, and would rather snatch the water bottle offered on the way, and run back home. And yet they are forced to run endless miles to upset a superpower.

Why can’t people and nations stop competing? Why can’t the world just get together more often and have simple fun? The Olympics can become a celebration of cultures, where Iranians dance with Americans, Palestinians with Israelis, Indians with Pakistanis, Sinhalese with Tamils, Koreans with…well, Koreans, Chinese with the Dalai Lama, Coke with Pepsi, Apple with Microsoft and I with Angelina Jolie.

I am telling you, there will be an instant impact on all things around the globe. Even around my dining table.

My younger son’s dinner time story would change to how wonderful it would be to fast with his friend Shamsuddin for 40 days during Ramadan. (No mom’s veggies, would be the real reason, though.)

My first son’s would be about how they are planning to go to school the next day with one leg tied up, just to know how their classmate Rishab deals with it all his life.

Mine would be true stories of my failings, fearlessly said and laughed about.

The Olympics can be the change that the world is unable to be- Happier, Merrier, Funnier.

The five rings that now seem like stress nooses would then turn into smilies.

I have already seen hope at this Olympics. Look at the empty seats at all venues. People are fed up. In contrast, look at the huge crowds for beach volleyball. The only sport where no one is bothered which nation wins or which loses. It is not about Faster, Stronger, Higher, but about Lesser. It’s not about Gold, Silver or Bronze, but about the Tan.

Therein lies the secret of bringing the world and its people closer.

May contests end. Let fun begin.

God lies in specifications

Come festivals, and it’s sweets.

I like them.

You give, I eat and it immediately shows up as extra tyres around me.

So gratifying.

There’s also bargain shopping.

He shows, I like. He says 300, I say 100. He says 299, I say 200. He says 298, I say 290. I buy for 297. I win, I wear.

So satisfying.

In fact, I like anything that’s eatable, wearable, usable. What I get confused about are those vague wishes.

What does “Wishing you all the prosperity” mean? That I will have a windfall? How? I haven’t even bought a lottery ticket.

How can I accept “May you succeed” seriously, especially from the one who rejected my script two days ago?

There’s also plenty of “Wishing you much happiness” floating around. Everyone wants everyone to be happy. And yet, have you ever wondered how there’s so much of unhappiness still around?

Simple. Blame it on the world’s oldest warning. “If it ain’t objective, it gonna be subjective. And if it’s subjective, then get ready for bloody hell.”

Expect trouble with anything that’s vague. Much of the angst in this world can be attributed to things that are not tangible, measurable, weighable, countable.

Take Love, Happiness, Pride, Respect, Success. No two persons in the world have the same interpretations of those, or have the same expectations from those. Which is why it is difficult to please anyone for too long, with those.

In all my years in Advertising, there wasn’t one instance when I had been happily surprised with the annual increment. It had always been less that what I had expected. That’s because I interpreted every pat on my back as a zero added to my salary, while my bosses thought one is a substitute for the other.

Same thing with birthday and anniversary gifts of love. One year’s expectations go phoos when I impatiently tear open the gift wrappers and find an armpit roll-on deodorant, a ‘How to improve your writing’ book, a hair dye bottle and an anti-wrinkle cream.

I have the same issue with people who play the Guess Who game on phone.

My expectations scale down from an ambitious “Pixar?” and “Universal Studios?” to a hopeful “Yash Raj?” and “Balaji Telefilms?” until I give up after “Gopal Marriage Videos?”

It always turns out to be an anti climax. Last week, at the end of my long wish list, the voice at the other end asked, “Isn’t that Suresh Badrinath?”

No this is Ramesh Rabindranath.”

Sorry, wrong number. Happy Diwali, though.”

That’s the problem with this barrel called expectations. It comes with no lid, but has a porous bottom.

L.I.F.E might be the best management School one can graduate from, and Experience might be a better faculty than those at Harvard, but surely Expectations Management is not part of its syllabus.

How else to explain the failure of some of L.I.F.E’s brightest students?

Take the example of whom we call Karanor in Malayalam. Or his equivalent, the head of any large Indian joint family. I find him a much more efficient manager than any IIM-trained head of a multi-billion Joint Venture company.

But no matter how well he steers the big old ship through the fiercest storms and roughest seas, eventually there does come a time when he too fails. With the arrival of the second and third generation members in the joint family, expectations get messed up. Black Sheep labels will be pinned on many, but truth is, in a sinking ship there are never any villains, only scapegoats. The real reason is another unlearnt lesson in Expectations Management.

Or take the Mother, the world’s greatest General Manager.

She’s better than the best in Finance, Labour, Human Resources, Relationships, Events, Hospitality and much else. And yet, the moment daughters-in-law come into her family, she turns into this monster full of unrealistic expectations, that begins to consume the peace in the family.

Most problems in life boil down to poor management of expectations.

And one of the first lessons in Expectations Management is what Readers’ Digest dishes out as: “God lies in specifications. Devil in vagueness.”

Put down the parameters. Define it. Make it definitive,” they scream.

But who listens to the Good? After all, their theories are pristine and untested.

So hear it from the Evil, if you believe their theories are tried, tested, wrung from experience, and so more practical:

Anything left to the mercy of interpretations is up for debates, heartburns and chaos. Put down an unambiguous Yes-No checklist, and you can remove confusion and bring clarity into anything. Everything can be and should be quantified in life.”

Those are the words of Ramalinga Raju, the czar of Indian IT then, now in jail for financial fraud.

That was part of his brief for a corporate film spelling out his culture for Satyam. I remember asking him, “What about Creativity? Can it be quantified?”

Of course, it can.” he had said. “So can Happiness, Love, Pride, Respect, Success.”

I guess how well we do it will depend on how unambiguous the parameters are. I have seen it work in some cases, not work in some.

Take the example of Love in Marriage. Most husbands flounder to define it. But not this happily married friend of mine.

“Love should remain a feeling between two hearts. Not become a demonstration,” he used to say.

He had never gifted his wife a thing in all the six years of their marriage. When asked how he managed, he had given me the best quote on this:

Say it in words, and she will be happy for a day.

Show it as a gift, and she’ll be happy for a year.

Do it as a deed, and she’ll be happy forever.”

He and his wife separated exactly a year after I had heard that.

How could it fail?” I had asked. “That’s the best philosophy I’ve heard about demonstrating love in marriage.”

Because it was different from her philosophy,” he had replied.

Which is what?” I had asked, really curious.

Say it, show it and do it.”

Life’s three romances

 

When I close my eyes to visualise romance, you know what I see?

Mostly snow-capped mountains and a valley of flowers.

Yes, a slow-drifting mist, too. Hey, how did you know?

Sometimes, a clear, deep blue sea and a pristine beach.

The problem is I’m unable to cast myself in my fantasies anymore. It’s always someone with a sculpted body and chiselled features, romancing a flawlessly complexioned svelte someone. It somehow doesn’t seem right otherwise.

Last month, I decided to challenge this convention.

I airbrushed that six-pack someone out of my fantasy and painted myself in his place.

You know what happened?

Almost immediately the sexy siren disappeared. In her place appeared my fortybeeeep-year-old wife. I looked around, and the picturesque locales had gone too. We were in the filthy bylane behind our building in Oshiwara.

‘What’s all this?’ asked my wife. ‘Why are we standing in the middle of this lane here, staring at each other meaninglessly?’

‘Waiting for romance,’ I said. ‘Waiting for rain. Waiting for a rainbow. Waiting for a romantic background score.’ I said.

‘You are looking for clichés to bail you out, aren’t you?’ she asked. ‘Putting together clichés is not called imagination, Rum. It’s called playback. Creativity is all about finding new ingredients. Or, at its worst, coming up with a new mix of the same old ingredients. It’s definitely not reheat-and-serve stuff.’ Saying this, she walked out of my fantasy, dragging me along into our real life.

And, as another cliché goes, reality is harsher.

For the first time in two years, that dreaded possibility dropped into my mind. I dismissed it instantly. But some thoughts are like ghosts who quietly walk through our rooms. Gone in a jiffy, but there forever. No matter how bright the lights and how loud the tv, we can be sure they’ll return to haunt us.

Is it possible- just possible- remotely possible- that I’m not cutout for screenwriting? Would it be better to go back to that unattractive old hag?

(I mean advertising. It’s called the second oldest profession for good reason.)

Is it better to be a bullfrog in a small, crumbling, dry well rather than a tadpole in a mighty ocean?

I sang aloud and drowned those thoughts on that day. But yesterday they resurfaced, like in every clichéd horror flick, just after I finished watching the Tamil film Renigunta.

In the year of Enthiran and many other star-led formulaic films, Tamil film industry saw 40- yes 40! – first-time directors make their mark. Must be some kind of a world record. These guys are not from filmi families, not from film institutes, not even from Chennai. They came from interior Tamilnadu. Majority of them have no prior film experience, either. And yet they managed to convince people to put money on what they wrote and what they wanted to direct. Most of these films even made money at the box-office.

‘What’ve they got that I ain’t got?’ I screamed.

The room echoed back questions, that I suspect were replies.

‘Maybe talent? Maybe passion? Maybe both? Maybe more?’

(Huh, bloody echo, that’s a cliché too. For god’s sake, is there anything original left for me to think of?)

You say yes? You say it’s easy to walk away from clichés? Ah, ha! Okay take this test; let’s see what your cliché quotient is. Here’s a brief:

Boy and girl bump into each other at a place. They fall in love. A song happens.

Now tell me, which hero and heroine did you think of? Which location? How did they express their love? How was the song choreographed?

Pit your answers against that of this lad who speaks no English, knows no media etiquette and looks like someone you’d meet only at suburban bus stations.

I’m presenting a haunting melody from his film that meets the same brief. Blessed are those who understand Tamil. For the rest, here’s a poor attempt at subtitling two lines from that song. Just to give you an idea of the tone.

What’s the mystery that makes it rain without drenching me?

What’s the magic that keeps distances unchanged even when I walk?

All you people out there who are yet to be married, this one’s for you!

I console myself.

‘No matter what, puppy romance always looks cute. That’s the easy route even the best take. Why don’t they attempt romance between a married couple?’

I piled arguments in my favour until I chanced upon this song from Vettaiaddu Villaiaddu. Again, a couple of subtitles:

When you go about loving me, I wonder how you know so much more about me than I’ve ever known myself

In return I’m desperate to fulfill all your life’s desires without ever asking you about them

Can romance between a husband and wife be summed up any better? It’s a relationship that thrives on selfish needs and selfless deeds. Both acts being equally enjoyable.

For all ye married souls, here’s that romance coming up!

‘Nothing for the long married?’ you ask.

Of course, I say.

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