Silences and Sociability

One of the fundamental norms of human social interaction is – You must talk when around others; if you don’t, you’re either shy, taciturn or anti-social.

Instead of ranting on how idiotic this is, and how it doesn’t take into account how some people actually like to listen and how the world needs such people, I give you Douglas Adams:

One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious, as in It’s a nice day, or You’re very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright?  At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour.  If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up.  After a few months’ consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one.  If they don’t keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. 
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s not called being silent, it’s called being quiet.  Something that this too-loud world desperately needs more of.I have a spectrum of

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Not everybody is the same, and not everybody has the same level of energy to socialise, and sometimes people just need their own space.  However, refuse to go out for a couple of dinner parties or choose to sit reading an interesting book instead of gossipping, and you get termed grumpy and anti-social.  Classification fail.

If you are going to apply labels to people, please learn the Sociability Spectrum first:
Nuclear-bunker-er paranoiac in NW Mongolia
Mountain-cave Hermit
Recluse
Anti-social
Unsociable
Grumpy
Selectively sociable
Friendly
Chirpy-and-bubbly
Extrovert
Party animal
‘Celebrity’ with their own reality TV show

For the record, I’m selectively sociable (despite any rumours you may have heard to the contrary).  I will meet with friends at random hours and often go out of my way to do so, and it’s sometimes difficult to shut me up at such times.  But I also like my space and make no apologies about wanting – and enjoying – it.  After all, all those books need to be read.

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Ranting about Religion

Egads.  This topic alone could account for a month’s worth of posts.   Oh well, a distillation.

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*  Being religious is not the same as having faith or belief.

*  Institutionalised religion is the cause of more broken dreams, broken lives, broken futures, and broken societies than any other human creation.

*  The trappings of religious rituals exist primarily to benefit those who perform them.

*  Passing off extravagan places of worship as artistic and architechtural marvels?  Sure.  Saying they have been made so stupendous in order to highlight how great that religion is?  Sure.  But trying to convince people that these structures are so grand because they are meant to inspire worshippers?  Fail.  True faith can be inspired even in a tin-shed.

*  It’s hilarious that people will heatedly defend the concept of God being a super-natural entity that can shape worlds and create life – but mock readers of Sci-Fi & Fantasy books that describe various types of immensely powerful intelligences that match that same definition.

And vice-versa.

*  If you truly believe in your religion, you will not be accommodating of other ones.  You will not partake in their festivals, you will not visit their places of worship, you will not bother knowing about or understanding their rituals.  Because if you do, then you believe in the concept of a divinity, not your Divinity.  Which means you are not Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Shinto, or any other sort of religious – you’re spiritual.

True religious belief demands fundamentalism.  Or, as better put by the genius of Pratchett-

If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ’em like a father and cared for ’em like a mother … well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like “There are two sides to every question”, and “We must respect other people’s beliefs”.  You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword.  And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be.  You say you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people any more, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see?  Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it.  That’s religion.  Anything else is just … is just bein’ nice.  And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbours.
– 
Carpe Jugulum

 

(a subtle) Queening

A request post (yes, I do those too).
This isn’t exactly a rant, but more of a follow-up conversation on how the Hindi film ‘Queen‘ is full of subtleties that are mistaken for implausibilities and stereotypes.

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On first viewing, Queen appears to be a merely a slightly-different take on the stock cloistered-character-breaking-free-and-achieving-self-realisation plot – girl gets done hard by, girl takes plunge, girl unchains her true spirit, girl takes on the world.  The film is funny and uplifting and a welcome female-character-driven film from the Hindi film industry.

However, it has also received a lot of minor criticisms, most of which focus on how too many of the plot-points are just simply too far-fetched or rely on caricatures.  The first end-reaction is – yes, yes, how nice, but how have things really changed for Rani?  She only survived because she got lucky and met friendly strangers, and now that she’s back home will she be able to resist family pressure to ‘get settled’ with a nice boy they choose, and really, what independence has she gained?

Well, go watch it for the second time.  And you will realise that the film is a lot more technically sound than you gave it credit for, due to a lot of subtlety in the scenes and conversations. And all of this adds up to create a film that showcases how life really unfolds for the most part – in gradual stages, and with a lot of effort.

A few examples –

1)  The one-second shot in the coffee shop when Rani breaks down and leaves crying, and Vijay is seen crisply dusting away some specks with the back of his hand.

Those are flakes of mehendi from her hands.  Rani, her marriage, the untidyness of having her in his life – all swept away decisively.

 

2) The three-second shot of her being scared of the traffic in Paris (during the song ‘Badra Bahar’).  The instant reaction of the audience is – ok, too much na? A girl from Dilli doesn’t know how to cross the road? Not believable.

Except it is.  Because Paris, unlike India, has right-hand traffic. And in that shot you clearly see her looking to her right, where she has always expected oncoming traffic from (having lived her whole life in Dilli), before being startled by a car coming (unexpectedly for her) from the left.  The classic mistake of a first-time visitor to a country where the traffic rule is opposite to that of their home nation.

The shot highlights just how foreign the city is to her, a theme underlined in another quick shot later on where she’s hesitant to cross at a signal.

 

3)  All the dialogues where she says something in Hindi, then repeats it in English.  Such a seemingly clumsy way of avoiding sub-titles, and creating a cross-lingual film.

Or, a subtle way of showing that English is not really her first language, and that she needs to speak a sentence first in her native tongue to clarify her thoughts, before switching over.

 

4)  Taka.

Several critics have called his character a lazy caricature of the ‘over-hyper Japanese tourist’.

But is it not really simply the over-compensating behaviour of a person who we’re told has suddenly lost his entire family and belongings, and who is on a trip in a deliberate attempt to try and ease that pain? Is it not simply the behaviour of someone who knows they have a lifetime of grief to face, but  are determined for now to live life to its fullest for a few moments, moments that will help sustain them in the future?

Why else would Taka be the one who’s most physically affectionate to, and with, Rani?  Why else would he be the only to go back for one last hug at the concert?

Because like her, he has been hurt deeply and is trying to move on.  Two characters who try to find a new meaning to their lives in a strange country far away, and who discover that the world is full of others like them, a fact that offers them hope and strength to carry on.

 

5)  The sex-toy shop scene.  Typical scene of guys being typical jerks, laughing at a naive girl, you say.

Rather, the scene reinforces the message that they see her as a friend, and that her genuine decency makes people want to protect her from her unworldliness, rather than take advantage of it.

That’s why they don’t mock her directly, but try to hide their laughter (although they fail).  That’s why when Oleksander confronts her with the belt, he doesn’t reveal what it’s really used for (even though he’s holding a DVD of the same behind his back for that very purpose).

And yes, it does also show that however nice guys are, we are sometimes just juveniles who can’t help mocking and ribbing friends.

6) The second ending.  So unnecessary, you say.  Ending the film at the shot of her dancing alone at the rock concert would be perfect, you say.

Except it wouldn’t.

Because leaving him when and how she did in Amsterdam would simply be a mirror image of the way he rejected her – in a cafe, in public, heartbroken.  And how would that make her any different from him? But choosing to go to his own home, his domain, she shows the courage and courtesy he (and his family) denied her.

And by doing it in India, it highlights that the changes seen in her while abroad continue to hold true even on her return, where it could be expected she would revert to her old persona.  The character has changed, the narrative is complete, and the future beckons.

7)  But is she really emancipated, you ask.  After all, she’ll just return home to a big family where girls are ‘not allowed to do anything’, and where she has always followed directions and orders.  Won’t she just be told who to marry next, and what to do, and go with the flow?

Maybe not.  Snippets of conversation – with Vijay when they first meet, with Taka before the cooking challenge – show that she’s been actively involved in her father’s business, and has plans for them.  The only thing she lacked was confidence, of doing new things and of doing things on her own.  But now she’s faced success in alien conditions, and may make more of a push to have her voice heard.

Besides, she’s seen struggling painters and musicians, and realises that it’s ok to struggle if you believe in what you want to do.  And she appears to be prepared for that struggle.

Tips for a stress-free life #7

Whatever you do, or say, or believe, somebody, somewhere is bound to criticise it.
Or dislike it.
Or be offended by it.

‘Tis but the law of averages.

So when somebody tells you off for something you’ve done, or said, or believe in – simply because it doesn’t match with their world-view – just smile at them and tell them to go tickle a donkey’s ear.

Because the same law of averages means that somebody, somewhere, approves of your action/speech/belief.  And likes it. And is doing the same.

This tactic is particularly handy when dealing with holier-than-thou, I-know-better, smug neighbours and colleagues.

Interlude

(For those who’ve been complaining about having to visit the site all the time to check for updates)

There’s a little follow button to the side, which will allow you to receive notifications when a new post has been put up.  Alternatively, you can also add the name of this blog to a feedreader.

I thought I was done with the commenting bit

… but obviously I’m not.

I’ve realised that there were deeper-rooted reasons for not opening up the blog to comments, and they needed explaining.  And stop shouting navel gazing! navel gazing!, because there IS a rant here.  Also, blogs = navel gazing. So hush.

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1.  My biggest problem is with the sheer vacuity of most comments on any online article, post, video, status update, blah blah.

Research shows that 40% of all comments are by those who like the item, in which case they have to inform everyone else how much they just Loooooooooooooooveeeeeee it!  Another 40% are by those who do not like the item, which means an abundance of OMG this is such lulz, u obviously don’t know anything n00b. 10% are by people who have nothing to say, but just want to be out there, because yo, Internet 2.5 man!  5% are trolls, and will disagree with the original item, the comments, the comments on the comments, the whole interwebz and the wallpaper it is stuck on.  And just 5% are interesting comments which add to the discussion, highlight additional details, and posit alternate plausible theories.

These numbers are always valid, with a 2% margin either way.  Solid fact. I’m telling you baba.

Now, RantingBawa is genius blog (What? You know it is).  Which means if we throw it open to comments, there will be a flood of them, and since we already know what the vast majority of comments will be like – well, I have enough to rant about already. So, no thanks.

2.  Comments from people who know you.  Embarassing, very embarassing. Not as much as having to perform part of the navar ceremony nekkid with people watching, but still pretty embarassing.  Particularly the ones from family and good friends, which will be all fawning because that’s what one does to a loved one who’s genius.

Or worse, they won’t comment because you’ve told them not to be fawning and then you get upset about why they’re not commenting and call them and do naatak. So they comment, and express happiness at your writing and then you tell them off for fawning.  No-win.  Or worse worse, if they’re of a generation that first saw computers the size of a room, they will use the commentspace to remind you to call Soli uncle on Thursday because he’s going to Dahanu and he wanted to know if any of your friends want chikoos from his farm.

3.  People have an innate desire to meddle, mostly to prove they know better, and on the Internet, they have an innatier* desire to do so.  Which means people who actually do any writing are constantly being told by people who read the stuff about what the writers should really be writing about.

Now, sometimes this is helpful, because there’s always something you don’t know about, but can learn of and then write about it.  But, given the conditions of the walls close by me, I could do without people directing me to more infuriating, frustrating and downright idiotic things that would necessitate a rant. I mean, there’s enough in two square miles of where I sit to keep me ranting daily for the next two years.

4.  Responding to comments is a distraction. I would say chore, but I like to chat, and it’s interesting to meet new people, explore their world, discuss things and learn more.  But opening up the commentspace is the equivalent of walking into a party and rushing straight into all the huddles going hello hello hello, what’s happening, give me the goss instead of making a circuit of the place and listening in from the edges.

Comments cause conversations, conversations lead to new reading matter, new reading matter leads to less typing time, less typing time means fewer rants.  You want rant no? You no get comment then.

5.  Also, as mentioned before, comments can sometimes be sensible and helpful.  And the last thing I want after a nice long rant is for somebody to pop up with a brilliant and succint comment that totally invalidates everything I’ve just said and makes it seem like a spoilt child’s bawling.

Not that there would be any such comment, of course – because, y’know, genius and all.

But the commenter would think it was, and then I’d have to explain just why it wasn’t, and then they’d get all huffy and I’d either have to spend time pacifying them (if I knew and cared about them) or ban them (if I didn’t). Either of which means distraction, and more distraction equals less ranting, and seriously, do you want the bawa to rant or not?!

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Ok, now I’m done ranting about comments.
… I think.

* I make up words. It’s how language came to be. Get with the programme.

Chitterchatterpatternatterblatheraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh

Or; Eh dikra, I can’t find the comments area.

Because there isn’t one.

But that’s what blogging and Twitter and tumblr and lookitmyhappyface are all about! Community networking! Feedback! Cross-platform discussions!

Yeaaaaaah … pass.

There has been enough written about information overload, beginning with Toffler in the ’70s, for me to need to explain the problems with it.  There have also been enough writers who have preferred to shun publicity and book readings and interviews and just let people get on with reading their stuff. You know this, and you also know how much more distracting it keeps getting. And nothing’s made it more so than the ever-expanding commentspaceverse.

There used to be a time when you read a column in your morning newspaper, or in a magazine, and you went away to think on it or found someone to talk it over with.  It encouraged considered reflection, especially if one wanted to get into a verbal discussion with others.  Plus, it also meant that you had to make the effort to meet people, or call them up, which was a nice social-bonding thing.

But who can afford the luxury of that sort of time anymore when there’s so much more to discuss! And what about people who didn’t want to speak aloud but had valid opinions anyway? And how would we have otherwise ever had random chats with people living in strange and distant lands?

Bah.  There was always too much information – most of us just didn’t (or couldn’t afford to) access it as much.  But even if there is, how does that convert to “I have to respond to this nau nau!”?  That road has only led to the idiot-trend of ‘First!’ posts, and people typing out the word ‘Like’ on Facebook messages despite having clicked the button that shows they do. All it has done is create a world where people feel they are compelled to respond, immediately, for fear of being forgotten or sidelined.  And this is not even starting on the trolling, the deliberate hate-mongering, and the advertising spambots.

Think about it – what percentage of the comments you’ve read on news articles, opinion pieces, blogs, or social media sites are ones that you remember, learnt something from, or pointed you to undiscovered avenues? And what percentage was full of people going lol, calling each other names, or eagerly following Godwin’s Law?

Like the Internet itself, the commentspace has become a place where genuinely interesting stuff is being swamped by the effluvium of the innate desire of people to be heard.  Now.  Too many words, not near enough sense. As Charlie Brooker succintly put it: “Every day, a billion instantly conjured words on any contemporaneous subject you can think of.”

Which, well, sort of describes this blog too. But I can do my bit to reduce the chatter.

So, no comments (for now).

I’m probably going to miss out on getting to know interesting people and fellow bloggers, who I would normally only discover if they commented.  I’m probably also going to not learn about alternate theories and arcane trivia which somebody might have pointed out.  I’m also probably coming across as a bit arrogant by seemingly asking people to just read and go away and not bother me.

But this is a rant, remember? It’s me going blah blah BLAH blah blah and everybody going aveh bas kar ni.  Besides, anybody who feels strongly enough will call me, or message me, or tell me when they see me.  Which will mean that if they’re taking that much effort, they’re not just instantly reacting and saying the first thing that comes to mind, but probably have something interesting to offer.

And who knows, after we’ve had it out, we might say want to get some chai and oh by the way guess who I bumped into the other day, and an actual conversation may take place.  (And yes, I get the irony of hoping to encourage old-school social interaction via modern technology).

Besides – I’m lazy. Who’s going to moderate comments, respond to them, and weed out the trolls when I can instead pretend to be promoting profundity?

PS.  People had pen-pals once. Now there are forums. That’s how you reach out to people you don’t know living in a country you’ve never been to.