Thursday, May 17, 2007

Poetry. Saying more, with less

I remember rather vividly, once when I was having one of my many arguments my ex-boss (one of the most brilliant people I have ever come across) he said to me:

"The biggest and the deepest thoughts can be conveyed in the simplest of words" I argued vehemently against it as at that point in time I was arguing FOR increasing the word count per article but generally, I agree with his drift.

Those of you who know me would probably be thinking "but you talk so damn much!" Well, that is simply because I want to communicate a lot more :)

But you are right, I am a words person (if I may invent a category) so much so that music for me is all about the lyrics. Poetry has always fascinated me, even when I had to study it as part of my course at school.

Having said that, I am the first one to clarify that I am not into the sort of poetry which goes through reams and reams of pages and thousands of lines to get to the point. No, I like poetry that says more with less and its incredible how the simplest lines can define ones entire life and yet not make the life seem shallow.

It is the ability of the poets, to simplify complex thoughts, emotions and events and convey them in a couple of lines which you remember for the rest of your life, that draws me to it.

Sitting here in a rather reflective mood, listening to Tequila Sunrise, my mind seems to keep repeating these 6 lines again and again. These lines have changed by life and are the most inspirational words I have ever read, save for The Alchemist which is at once inspiring and dangerous - but that is a story for another day.

For now, read these lines, go read the whole poems if you so like and if possible, post your favorites here so I can read them too.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost. The Road Not Taken

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
- Rudyard Kipling. If

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Barter works better than money.

While surfing the wibbly web, I came across this guy called Kyle. Kyle has done an interesting experiment. He has proven, in no uncertain terms what early man knew all along.

Barter works better than money.

His experiment of starting with a red paper clip and trading it to ultimately get a house in one year's time is something that flies in the face of common wisdom of "money" or "finance" if you will and as these things do, it got me thinking.

BTW, you can see what he did and how here: One Red Paper Clip

If you really think about it, paying money for objects is infact a kind of barter. Goods, in exchange of "money"

In the early days, people exchanged what they had plentiful for what they lacked or had less of. Now, we all barter with a common commodity (if I may call it that) and that is "money" so in a way, the barter system never stopped, it just evolved with us.

But since everyone now has some money (and some have loads) the barter system got a little skewed. As more and more people started getting more and more money, its value started going down and people had to pay up more money to get what they wanted.

Come to think about it, this is possibly one of the simplest explanations for how we get inflation. Granted that it isnt perfect but it does get the point across.

In theory (this is entirely my opinion) if we start bartering again, we might might end up paying a lot less for a lot more. To take an extreme example, if some one is stuck in a dessert and is thirsty, would he rather have water or a bagful of diamonds?

In barter, the value of goods traded may not be the same in monetary terms. But, in their perceived values to the parties trading, they might be equal.

Consider another example of stamps. Sweden 1855 Three Skilling Yellow is perhaps the most expensive stamp in the world, fetching over 2 million dollars (US) at an auction. The only reason the stamp is worth this much "money" is because that is the perceived value of the stamp by the collector.

Now consider a situation where there is no money and the owner of the stamp is not a collector but an auto enthusiast, while the collector is the owner of a vintage car he doesnt much care for. They will both trade and feel that they got a steal because for each, the perceived value of what they received is far far more than what they gave away.

It's amazing to speculate how we would've gone about life had money not been invented.

If you have something you want to trade for a paper clip, let me know. It should preferably be a house because I don't have the patience shown by Kyle to go around trading for a whole year!

In return, I will make my offer better than his. You are no longer limited to a red paper clip. I will get you one in any color you like!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Observing people.

Me and my girl get into frequent arguments about how ascerbic, cribby and, in her words, bitchy (girls!) I can be. Her favorite quote being, why must you comment on everything, analyse everything going around you? Why, if some fat woman has come to the movies wearing an outfit revealing more tummy than rest of the hall has, does it tick you off?

Why do you have to notice everyone in a restaurant and how they behave or act? And then why must you eat my head sitting for hours talking about why person X behaved or did what he did. Why? why? WHY?

Why dissect every nuance in a sentence spoken by someone? People blurt out things all the time?

I'll spare you the details of how I work my immense charm and get her to calm down but suffice to say, it is not something everyone can do. You have to be gifted and lucky. Mostly lucky :)

I have no answer to her questions except that observing people is my ongoing experiment. It might sound crazy but its fun and you learn a lot about people, which is important.

Observing people is like a hobby and a learning exercise. The more you watch, the more you learn and the more you learn, the more you understand and understanding people is always good. Ask people in any profession, from Investment banking to brand management, from advertising to publishing. Everything depends on understanding of people. So irrespective of the profession you are in you need to understand people.

It is said that to understand others, you must first understand yourself. This is perhaps the most misunderstood statement. It isnt a circumspect way of saying "mind your own business" But the best way to understanding people is to understand your own actions and reactions.

A branch off could be for you to say things for the heck of it and observing how people react. Some will be shocked, some amused and usually some won't care but each reaction or non reaction will teach you something about a person.

You could say this is a self learning method for manipulating people, you could be right but if you think about it, manipulating people isn't necessarily wrong in itself. It is WHY you manipulate them that defines the correctness.

Just walk into a mall and don't just hear people talking listen to them talk. Listen to the words they use, listen to the inflections in their voice, watch their body language and soon, by just looking at them, you will be able to tell whether they are genuine buyers or not.

A restaurant will teach you more about peer pressure than school. Look around and you will find people picking at their food and desperate to make small talk so they can forget about it for a while. Why? Its not because they are upset and didn't want to eat. If they were, they could've simply not ordered. Its because they ordered what they don't like. Maybe because what they like is the wrong thing to order with the crowd they are with.

Its intriguing to observe and sometimes even chat up people. It expands ones views and understanding of people as a whole. It can even make you more patient with them.

If you think about it, it isnt as creepy as it sounds. It is the most natural thing, to notice those around you. It is our "mind your own business" mindset which has created these silos and erected the barriers most of us live within. But we don't have to and we shouldn't.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Money gets you to god. Faster!

It's wedding season. Or so they say. I frankly cannot imagine how someone can get married in this..excuse the expression.. heat!! It's way too hot to dress up and play bride and groom. It's way too hot to attend a wedding in your best suit and eat all the oily food.

But common sense, isn't, and people end up tying the knot in just such times.

Note: If you are reading this and planning on inviting me to YOUR wedding, please make sure its in cooler climes if not downright winters!

I recently took 3 days off from work and went to attend a wedding reception of a not so near cousin. That being in Indore, I absolutely had to visit the Ujjain temple (more on the why part later).

So off I went, in a nice looking car with the sun glaring down and doing its best to roast me with the 43 degree C temperature. Inside ofcourse, thanks to Willis H. Carrier, I was sipping on a coke in a very comfortable 19 degrees (the minimum the in-car a/c could do)

The comfort however, was rather short lived as I was about to find out.

On arriving at the Mahakaleshwar temple, I was greeted with a deceptively friendly sight. There were no queues. I was about to find out why.

Stepping out of the car instantly brought me to the harsh reality of heat. It was hot. So hot, that I was dehydrated in less than a minute. And then it really got worse.

The idea is, being a place of worship, you cannot wear any footwear inside the temple. So while common sense would entail that you take your slippers out right at the entrance to the temple, here, you have to do it at a road side stall. This means, you have to walk, barefoot, across a road so hot, you would be forgiven for thinking the tar had only just been laid.

I ofcourse found out how hot the road was the hard way. I stepped on it barefoot. A few explitives from me confirmed to everyone that I wasn't a veteran at this and wasn't too good at coping up with walking barefeet on near molten roads.

Things didnt improve once we reached inside the temple. Only the gate had any kind of shade. The rest of the way to the Jyotirling (more on this later as well) was a giant exercise in crowd control with those rows created like you normally see at immigration points at airports.

Finally, reaching the designated place, I found out, it wasn't "it". This was where one hires a pundit and he gets all your puja done.

Now there are two ways of doing the Puja. One is, to stand in the "queue" (and there was a long one inside the temple) and wait for your turn to go in. And yes, you wait under the sun with your feet getting blistered on the burning hot floor. You have to shell out $4 per person for this "experience"

The other alternative is to pay around $30 to hire the Pundit who then takes you through the "V.I.P" route. No points for guessing what we paid, $30 it was!

Our misery didn't end here though. It turned out the V.I.P entrance was really just that and for convenience was built right at the main entrance of the temple. This meant we had to troop all the way back on the super hot floor (no feet hadn't become used to it yet. I don't think they ever would've)

From there it was mostly ok, except one mad dash across a large verandah which was again bathed in sunlight and was hot as hell. Our Pundit chap then shoved all the other non VIPs out of the way and got us an exclusive spot we could stand on, while he directed the hoardes of human traffic around us. We performed the puja to our satisfaction (I was distracted though, more on this follows below) All this, from taking our slippers off to putting them back on, took us 45 minutes. The time that an average $4 payer spends just standing in the queue!

Money apparently, gets you to god, faster and you also get more time to explain precisely what you want him to give you.

The story ofcourse, doesn't end there. Once we did come out, we realised one of us had lost our wallets inside! It had been flicked! The wallet had little money but 2 dozen credit cards inside!! Then began a frantic dash to get them cancelled and we finally returned to the hotel.

But all through this, the one thing I was thinking was how wrong the whole thing felt. I mean, sure I felt elated to not have to stand in the line, but just because I can pay more money, why should I be allowed to stay longer than other, needier people?

By definition, any place I go and worship, I would expect it to bring me peace. A sense of security and calm. The experience at the temple was none of the above. It was uncomfortable, taxing and with the massive crowds elbowing everyone out, including themselves, it certainly didn't bring me any peace. It was more like a race of who can pray the longest in the minimum time that the operators were allowing people to stand for. Unless ofcourse, you paid VIP money then you could take as long as you wanted.

Oh and it definitely wasn't reassuring on the security front either. We had a wallet flicked.

I am more agnostic than an atheist but even I can tell this is the wrong way to go about instilling faith in today's youth. A generation that is more object oriented than any other before it. A generation that texts and chats and knows more people online by class 10 than its elders ever met in their entire lives. But still, a generation that understands religion and rituals for what they were really meant to signify and achieve and not just blindly follow them. A generation that respects tradition and culture more than before and follows it willingly where it makes sense.

For a generation already as mature as this, our institutions are depressinglyand hopelessly out of synch and frankly, I don't really see anything changing this in the near future.

This temple, for example, is supposed to be one of the holiest places for Hindus, but if you ask me to go back, I wouldn't and I suggest you don't try it either. It just isn't worth it.