Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Special Ones

Most of us tend to look at people who are mentally sick, with scorn and derision. We scoff at their actions and somehow blame them for their condition. I think our outlooks, as a society, toward gays and mentally ill people bear certain similarities. Both classes elicit little respect from us, but instead disgust and repulsion.

I think this situation is despicable and we need to improve it without wasting any time.

There are many forms of mental sickness and I am no expert on them. Some are present in the patient from the time of birth itself, while others develop due to certain external as well as internal conditions that the patient is subjected to. But in all cases, it is imperative for us to realize, that the patient is not responsible for being that way. Quite like a physical illness, mental sickness is something that descends on a person without them having any control over it. They do not choose to bring it upon themselves. It isn't something that anyone would want anyways.

So one of the most important things for us to realize is that we cannot blame someone for being mentally ill any more than we can blame someone for catching a cold.

For many of us, mental illness is an alien phenomenon. We view it with a cold, detached sense of apathy. Things change drastically when someone we know and love comes down with some form of mental sickness. Suddenly the matter takes on a whole new hue. It has a personal feel to it now.

What would you do in such a situation? Would you continue to be apathetic? I should think not.

Human beings are social animals. We all feel the need to be loved and cared for by someone. Someone with a mental illness feels this need even more urgently. For him it is crucial. Indeed, it is not unheard of, for the lack of this very affection to have been one of the factors leading to the onset of the illness in the first place. And it is often the best remedy that can be prescribed in such a situation.

Not all mental illnesses are curable. Some are temporarily curable, but one is never quite certain that the patient will not suffer a relapse into insanity again in the future. Of course, there are some mental illnesses for which science and medicine can, at present at least, do nothing. These are mostly congenital disorders of the brain, although they may only noticeable when the child is a few years old. Autism would be an example of such an illness.

Diseases which develop later on in life, like schizophrenia, paranoia or manic depression, are mostly curable, but only to a certain degree. Psychiatric treatment is normally prescribed in such cases and the patient is committed to an asylum or sanatorium for a period of a few months to a couple of years. Such patients normally never completely recover and end up living the rest of their lives as hollow shells of the individuals that they were before the illness struck.

Mental illness is often associated with genius. There is a certain amount of truth in this association. Genius, I feel, is by definition, flawed. And the brighter the genius, the deeper the flaw. Many great minds from the recent past have suffered from some sort of mental illness or the other. I say 'recent' past, because prior to the last couple of centuries mental illness was not understood properly and cases were consequently not well recorded. Two good examples from the last century would be the mathematician John Nash and the logician Kurt Gödel.

The story of Nash, as beautifully described in the novel A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar, is of special interest. He suffered from a serious attack of schizophrenia sometime in his late 20's or early 30's. Although plagued by the disease for the next three decades or so, he recovered after that and today resides in Princeton, New Jersey, almost [but not quite] normal as far as his mental condition is concerned.

I digress.

The point that I was trying to make earlier, was that our outlook toward the mentally ill is skewed. We are heavily biased against them. It is only when [or if] someone we care about falls prey to such an illness, that we start to understand the true nature of the situation.

I wish we could all be a little more sympathetic towards such people. Whether we know them or not. Even the court has not failed to recognize the helplessness of a mentally sick person to control his or her actions. Most criminal cases can be fought on the defense that the defendant is mentally ill. Such defendants, if successful in proving their claim, are committed to mental treatment rather than the slammer.

I guess the situation is best summed up by the following aphorism -

The Paradox of Love -

"A person needs your love the most,
When he or she deserves it the least."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Why Your Parents Will Never Get Embarrassed

I'm starting to believe that parents don't have that particular gene that makes us feel embarrassed.

It's a strange gene, actually. Let's call it the E-Gene. Babies don't have it. Nothing will embarrass them. You can say anything, you can make them do anything - it's all okay! The gene isn't there yet. So they don't get embarrassed.

As you grow a little older, the E-Gene begins to kick in and take effect. The age at which this happens varies for each one of us. For some it may be as early as 4-5, for others it may be as late as 8-9. But sooner or later, it sets in. Suddenly, you're too shy to do a lot of things in public. Things that wouldn't have seemed like a big deal a few years earlier are very embarrassing now.

As we grow older, the E-Gene's presence becomes more and more pronounced. It peaks sometime in our late teens. At this point, almost anything that anyone you know does is a source of embarrassment to you. You don't want to take your younger siblings out with you, because they embarrass you. You don't want to go out with your parents either, because they too embarrass you. The only other people you don't mind associating with in public is people your age. Because their E-Genes are at their peak too, so they are careful enough to do only what's 'cool'!

After a few years though, the potency of the E-Gene begins to wane. This process commences sometime in your mid-20's and takes full effect around the time you get married. When you begin to have kids, your E-Gene is on its last legs. Too weak to do anything, its presence is more in name than in effect. And by the time your children enter their teens, your poor, old E-Gene is history!

The biggest trouble with this cycle is that the waning of one's E-Gene in parenthood matches almost precisely with the waxing of one's children's E-Gene during their childhood.

As you can expect, this causes nothing but trouble! Bottom line - all kids are embarrassed by their parents' actions. Whether it's their Mom's slower-than-hell driving, or their Pop's old trousers that clearly belonged to a century that is well and truly in the past, the kids are embarrassed. I am willing to bet that there isn't a teenager alive who hasn't been a situation where something that his or her parent did made them want to crawl into the ground. Don't blame them. Just blame an E-Gene misbalance!

The parents never get the powers of their E-Genes back again for as long as they live. The only saving grace is that their kids start to lose theirs too after a little while. And then everyone can settle down peacefully.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Just Tell Him!

A woman is strangely averse to telling a man, to his face, that she likes him. Don't ask me why - I don't know! But the fact remains - women do not like making the first move.

Men are much less loth to professing their love for someone. In fact, most times they are too eager to do so - even when they don't really mean it!

Now if there's one thing that women are quite adept at, it's dropping hints. So when they like someone, they start dropping hints. Little hints, big hints, even gift-wrapped hints and hints with marshmallows on them.

The woman hopes that the man catches the hints and makes a move. But she doesn't want him to mention the fact that he caught on to her hints. She wants him to pretend that it was his intention to woo her all along, and that she had nothing to do with spurring him on. Basically, not only does she not want to make the first direct move, she also wants everything to seem like she didn't even make an indirect move!

Seems like the perfect scenario, doesn't it?

1. Woman drops hint.
2. Man catches hint.
3. Man asks woman out.
4. Everyone lives happily ever after blah blah blah...


There's a slight catch in our rosy fairy tale. A big catch actually! Step [2] just doesn't ever happen! Men are absolutely hopeless at catching hints. Let's just say a man wouldn't recognize a hint if it came up to him and slapped him in the face wearing a bright, yellow T-shirt that said, "I AM A HINT!"

Maybe it's because men aren't good at reading 'into' things. Maybe it's because they don't understand body language. Maybe it's because men and women speak different tongues. Whatever the reason, there's no getting around this stubborn fact.

I think it's because men are simple creatures. A man just can't understand why a woman who likes him would be scared to tell him that. The same brain that has little trouble understanding how the turbo-charged engine of a racecar works, struggles to comprehend this tiny, but oh-so-true fact of life.

The fact about women hinting isn't restricted just to their love lives either. Women are always hinting at things, instead of getting straight to the point. A man eavesdropping [Adamsdropping?] on a conversation between a handful of women wouldn't get half of what they're trying to convey. It would all be in the subtle innuendoes. All the women would understand each other, but our poor guy wouldn't have a clue!

But you know what the worst thing is? After everything is over, women say that men are bad listeners! I mean, the audacity of it all! How do they ever expect us to understand anything, if they don't spit it out straight? It's not as if we aren't paying attention. It's just that no matter how much attention we do pay, we cannot understand what they are trying to get at. Is that our fault?

Bad listeners? Yeah, right!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Random Reminiscing

I was listening to John Denver on my discman today. I like listening to artists like John Denver, Don McLean, Kenny Rogers and the lot because they make me feel like I'm living in the America of the 1970's.

If I were given a choice of living anywhere, anytime in this century, I would definitely choose some small rural town in Southern USA as the place and the late 60's or the early 70's as the time.

My love for Southern America has come about largely due to a steady diet of John Grisham novels. They picturize it as a place like no other. Especially the novel A Painted House. Most people would rank it as one of the most boring books they have ever read. But for some reason I loved it. I am not a big fan of action packed thrillers. I don't relish or admire books because of the suspense or action in them. What I desire is a good story. One that has characters that remain in your memory. A story that makes you feel as if you are right there - a part of it.

I think Grisham is one of the finest writers when it comes to describing characters. I also like his style of writing. It's extremely simple. You don't have to turn back two or three chapters every now and then in order to keep track of the story. If you just want a good, old story, there's nobody like him.

I also like the works of Clive Cussler, mainly because I'm such a big fan of his main character, Dirk Pitt. The first Cussler that I read was Iceberg. [The copy that I managed to lay my hands on was, incidentally, given to my Dad as a gift by his roommates back in the 70's!] All of Cussler's books are centered around the adventures of the hero Pitt with a few other common characters playing side roles.

Another one of my favorite fictional literary characters is James Bigglesworth [Biggles, for short] from the series by Captain W. E. Johns. Biggles was in the Royal Air Force during the Wars and then in the Air Police for some time after that. For a while in high school I was so influenced by him that I prayed that a Third World War might break out, just so that I could enlist in the Air Force!

Biggles is quite similar, in many ways, to Dirk Pitt. Both were pilots, both had the same dry sense of humor, and both were no-nonsense good guys who always came out on top in the end!

During the era before I got introduced to Captain Johns and Biggles, there was always Enid Blyton to read. I liked her books, again, not for the suspense, but for the description of small town life in the England of the decades gone by. The high-teas with buttery scones would make my mouth water, and surprising every family had a cook who was plump and jolly! I would give my right hand to spend a summer in one of her adventure books!

Another high school favorite of mine was, of course, The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon [whoever that really was]. They spoke of the adventures of two teenage brothers who were amateur sleuths in Bayport. For some reason though, I didn't like this series as much as I did the books by Enid Blyton.

Even today, if by some chance I manage to lay my hands on a book by Enid Blyton or Captain Johns, I can't help but sit to read it. It doesn't normally take more than an hour or so [sometimes two hours, because you need to picture everything precisely in you mind to make the tale seem real!], but it's always well worth it. Nothing can ever bring the days of your childhood back, but these books are the closest thing to it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I Feel Sick!

I value few treasures in life more than my right to freedom. Consequently, there are few things that peeve me off more than to see that right being snatched away from any individual.

Freedom comes in many forms. One of them is the freedom of thought. Another one is the freedom of speech. Or to be more general, the freedom of expression. And one of the means of expressing one's self is through one's writing.

An finer example of a violation of this right than what has recently transpired to Gaurav [Part 1, Part 2, Part3, Part 4] would take you a long time to find. To cut a long story short, the points that he raised regarding IIPM were not taken very lightly by the guys down at the institute. They raised hell in the most obnoxious manner that one could expect - I mean what is the meaning of filing a lawsuit for Rs 125 Crores? And why get his [now former] employer IBM into the picture by threatening to burn their Lenovo laptops? How daft are these guys?

The manner in which Gaurav responded to each of their threats might on the face of it seem impulsive and rash. But I strongly disagree with anyone who would care to think so. I vociferously support him in his actions. I think he has stood up for what he believes in, and I commend him on that!

Money plays a huge role in this country. Far greater a role than it should play. An organization with money can try to arm-twist anyone it so desires. And this is wrong.

No society can progress until its common man is given his freedom. A society that denies its citizens this fundamental right is necessarily an archaic and repressive one. It would not be very unlike what the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq were. Progress in such a society would come to a complete stand still.

The methods employed by IIPM to respond to the criticism against it leave a lot to be desired. They could very well have tried to refute his claims with proof to the contrary. But that didn't happen. They decided to choose means that one would have laughed at, if only this wasn't a serious matter.

I would like to express my complete solidarity with Gaurav for both his desire to express his views and his determination to fight for what he believes in. Here's wishing him all the best!

Cheers, mate!!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Scary Story

Here is an incident that happened to my someone I know, written in her own words -

I was at home with my friend Cheryl, when the doorbell rang. I went up to the door and took a peek through the peephole. It appeared to me as if there was a man outside, along with a woman and some kids. I opened the door.

There was indeed a man, woman and three young children, the youngest of whom was just a couple of months old. He asked for my Mom by her name. He said he had a parcel to give her. He said his name was Jonathan. I told him that Mom wasn't at home but that I would call her up at her office and let her know. Now, the mistake that I made was not closing the door on them so that they would have to remain outside. As I walked to the telephone, these people entered the apartment.

The two older kids went over to the couch and sat themselves down on it. The man approached me as I was speaking on the phone. Cheryl was shocked but didn't say anything. I told Mom that there was someone named Jonathan here with a parcel for her. She was immediately suspicious.

She told me to ask him to give me the parcel and leave. He said he didn't have it with him at that moment. [Why was he here then?] Mom told me to ask him for a phone number and tell him that Dad would pick up the parcel from him. He gave me a cell phone number. [When my Mom tried that number later, she was told that the cell phone was turn off.]

Meanwhile, the lady had entered my parents' room and closed the door behind her. I was really scared. I handed the phone to the man and while Cheryl kept an eye on him, I went over to my parents' room and banged on the door. After a few seconds, the lady opened it. She seemed to be adjusting her top. She claimed that she was breast feeding the baby, and hence she had locked the door from inside.

By now my Mom had told the man on the phone to leave immediately and that she would call up Dad and ask him to contact this guy later. He hung up the phone.

The man looked at Cheryl and me and asked us not to be afraid of them since they weren't going to do anything to us. I asked them to leave immediately.

They left. Perhaps they were afraid that Mom would call up the neighbors and ask them to come and check on us.

My heart rate was about 150 and Cheryl too was extremely scared. We collasped onto the couch. I went into Mom's room and looked around. Her wardrobe door was slightly open. I knew the lady must have opened it because Mom never leaves it unshut. Luckily, there wasn't much in there other than clothes, and certainly nothing valuable enough for her to steal. However, if I had given her more time I'm sure she would have opened other closets and found something.

I called up Mom again and told her that they had left and that I was ok. She seemed scared and also relieved.

When I thought about it later, I was sure that I had seen these same people outside the church last Sunday. I told Dad about this when he got home that evening. He rang up the parish priest and told him about the incident. The parish priest told him that a woman with three kids of around the same ages as the ones who had come in the afternoon had been spotted hanging around the church and the neighboring school for the past few days. He also said that a man who introduced himself as Jonathan had approached him a few days back and inquired about any work that he may have been able to offer him.

I am sure these were the same people who came to my house today. I can't believe I was stupid enough to open the door for them. I'm just glad everything is ok.

Well, that's the story.

Con men have been around for longer than the devil. But the con game seems to have become particularly rife in today's world. Everyone is out to try and cheat you out off something. From the attendant at the filling station to your very own driver. You can't trust anyone. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and no one gives half a damn about anyone else. You could be lying bleeding on the road, and the only person who stops would be only to filch your wallet!

Why is man so inherently inhuman? I have always had great faith in human nature. I believe everyone is inherently good. What is it then that drives man toward crime?

A empty stomach is obviously one compelling reason. When you don't have anything to satisfy that hunger in your belly, you don't really care about how that next meal comes. The theory is, if one of us is going to suffer then I'm going to do as much as I can to ensure that it isn't me. I don't really care about too much else.

But then all crime isn't committed by people who are desperately below the poverty line. A lot of small crime is committed by people who are relatively well off. They don't cheat someone because they have to. Why do they do it? I don't know. But that faith of mine in humanity is decreasing with each passing day.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Stand-up Humor!

Have you ever been in public with someone who says something that makes really you cringe? I mean like a really, really stupid statement. Or something that's just plain embarrassing. Because it happens to me all the time.

Say you're walking down the road with a friend and you bump into another friend who's quite obviously pregnant. And the friend with you says, "What happened to you? Did you swallow a goat?"

And you're going - "What are you thinking? Is that a hole in the ground I can crawl into?"

Or maybe you're sitting with a female friend who's chatting with another female friend of hers whom you don't really know. You're minding your own business and trying to be polite while they ramble on and on about cosmetic adventures that went wrong or boyfriends who they have broken up with. And then your friend's friend laments about how she's never going to find true love again. And the next thing you hear is your dear friend's voice extolling your pleasant virtues and dropping a not so subtle hint that you're single at the moment! I mean, is there anything worse than that?

Don't you just hate strangers who come up to you and wish to borrow your cell phone? Why don't they make cell phones that always display a "Battery Low" warning? So then when someone came up to you and asked for your phone, you could always go - "You know what? I would have loved to have let you use the phone, but I'm afraid the battery's almost run out and I'm expecting an urgent call in ten minutes!"

Eventually though, once they start incorporating this feature into cell phones, everyone will know about it. So you won't be able to pull the trick off on anybody because they'll know that you're fooling them. But before that the cell phone companies will have started coming out with new models which instead of always flashing "Battery Low", will always give you a "Network Busy" message unless you pre-dial a special code! So you'll always be one-up on those irritating strangers trying to use your phone!

Have you ever noticed how parents employ their children upto the age of around 4 for entertaining their guests?

If the child is really small then you can expect something like - "Darling, show Mama how you can clap! Clap, clap, clap..."

From there it progresses to - "Now dear, why don't you sing that song you learnt last week in school, for Mrs. Goodacre?"

Or maybe - "Honey, show these good folks you're stamp collection. They'd really like to see it!"

Happens all the time doesn't it? The parents have got nothing better to entertain the guests with, so why not extract some use out of their poor kid? There should be a law against it!

Or least the kids should have some chance to get back some. How about little Junior taking his parents along with him to his Kindergarten class - "Hey Ma, hey Pa! Show them how you were fighting last night, why don't ya?"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Art of Flirting

We all know that flirting is an art. Not all of us are sufficiently blessed to be good flirters. [Well, there are exceptions like moi, but I try to be modest!] I think flirting's like cooking - women are, on the whole, better at it; but the best ones are men!

Flirting's also like a bad Christmas gift - it's of little use unless it's returned! It's not a very pleasant feeling to be flirting with a girl while she's pretending to study the fleck of dirt that's gotten under her nail, all the while racking her brain for an excuse to get away from you!

Flirting's quite harmless. If it's from a guy, at least. When a guy flirts, the girl either responds or walks away. When a girl flirts, the guy is thinking, "Ah! Here's someone I can get into bed with!"

Guys love girls who flirt. Especially older men. Few things can excite a middle-aged man more than a girl in her twenties flirting with him. I guess when you are on the wrong side of 40, you require some sort of reassurance that you've still got what it takes to attract the ladies! Girls know this too. And they make good use of it. If a girl requires some work from a professor you can be sure that she will turn on her charm and flirt it out of him. Same story if she wants some work down at the bank and the person at the window is a guy. Especially an older one.

So how do you become a successful flirt? If you're a girl then it's easy. It doesn't take much to flirt with a guy. If you're a guy, then things are a wee bit tougher. There is no sacred mantra to becoming a top-notch flirter. You're either born with it or you're not. [However, for a decent fee I might consider giving lessons!]

Today, flirting via text messages on your cell phone has become quite commonplace. I think it's pretty sad. It doesn't come close to matching the fun of actually flirting with someone face-to-face. That's the true art. And it always will be.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Birthday Woes

I don't like birthdays. I mean, what's the point in celebrating them? It's not as if you don't age at all during the entire year and then on just one day you suddenly become a whole year older! So why all the extra fuss on your birthday? Is it just because you want at least one day in the year when you can feel special?

I hate telling people my birthday. When asked, I normally reply, "29th February." Of course, no one ever believes me when I say that and they ask me again.

I don't envy the people who are actually born on the 29th of February. I can just imagine -

Mr Cynic: So when's your birthday?
Mr Unfortunate: February 29th.
Mr Cynic: Get out of here!
Mr Unfortunate: No, I'm serious. I was born on the 29th of February 1980. It's a leap year.
Mr Cynic: Yeah. And I'm the Queen of England!

You know what else I don't get? The practice of treating your friends on your birthday!

Ok. Let's look at this objectively.

- It's my birthday.
- I'm a whole year closer to kicking the bucket.
- Another entire year has gone by in my life without me achieving anything.

Bottom line - if anybody needs some cheering up with a treat, it's ME!