Friday, August 15, 2008

The Bureaucracy of Today's Engagement Board

Sometimes when life comes to a standstill and everything around you moves at an extraordinarily slow pace, you begin to lose your bearings. Everything around you becomes this crazy mess of slow-loving ideas and slower-moving people. Every task that you undertake becomes cumbersome. Every conversation you attempt proves tiresome. Everything you read becomes a matter of commentary and stark academia. Not the unusual quirky thing you occasionally come across. Not the exciting things you discover in the things that you enjoy reading about. People configure themselves into zones and groups and try almost desperately to stave off the heat. Then, almost immediately, it begins to rain and you are left stranded in between two stations. It is the worst time to try and write, mainly because everything you write smacks of resentment.

But it the best time to come up with and present the harsh facts of your daily existence.

There is something incredibly wrong with the way people react to official matters. It isn't something that can be pinned down to any one incident. Nor can any one person be held responsible for it. It cannot even be described properly enough. All that strikes you about the situation is that most of those who have been placed in these official positions are not prepared to listen to you. You might have some application form you want filled up, you might have some notice you require to put up on the main notice board, you might even have some pink slips to fill in. Anything from the most mundane to the most urgent gets sidetracked by the taciturn, discourteous persons on the other side of the fence. Of course, there are cases where they do in fact listen to you, albeit impatiently, and feebly hear what you have to ask of them, in the most obstreperous of rooms and offices. But these are the concessions they make, as against the innumerable other times they simply stare at you blankly, turn around to the person sitting at the next desk, and mumble something like, "What is the banda saying?"

A slew of such incidents catch the unfortunate observer's attention. And unfortunately for him, nothing can be done about it. Bad manners and dismissive behaviour are, for all practical purposes, the automated responses they are programmed to. Can I have a pink slip? Go away. Can I use this A4 sheet of paper that has not even been stashed into your printer, so you might not possibly need it immediately? Go away. Can I collect some of the mark-sheets of Third Year English? Go away. May I submit my ECA forms? Go away. May I know when that lovely, interminable thing we call lunch presumably end? Go away. Can I have the keys to the Engagement Board? Go away.

It feels like Hell. Except, of course, for the air-conditioning.

Now, the other day I had to put up a notice for a society. The staff-advisor was missing, and as I had been asked to do in such cases, I thought I could walk over to some other teacher and request their signature. The teacher was more than happy to oblige and just let things move on at their relevant pace. He signed it quite happily, even though he did ask for the announcement to be re-worded and written on a different sheet of paper. Which is acceptable. The next time such a situation arose, I did not hesitate to attempt the same thing again. I walked over to another teacher and, like the last time, informed him that the notice required attention, the staff advisor was away elsewhere, and asked if he could sign instead. No, he said. Fair enough. So I further went on to supplicate in the most egregious way I could (I admit, my fault) and also casually mentioned that he could in fact do something like it. It would not be a revolutionary accomplishment (unspoken thought). He turned around, looked at me most suspiciously, and through clenched teeth he said, "You are not allowed to tell me what I can and cannot do!" Clearly, the question of the legality of my statement is not something I would like to contend here. I'd prefer the esteemed High Court to decide on such matters. But the response itself was so grating, and more than that, so unnecessary, that it took me completely by surprise. In the aftermath of my shock, I simply whimpered away from him like a chidden stray and dashed out of the staff room to avoid any further embarrassment.

The one thing I will never come to accept, and refuse to understand, is the high-handedness of bureaucracy. It is the most useless form of human interaction. The most depressing behaviour visible to the human eye.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What Women Want

When you walk around the city, don’t you see many ‘couples’ walking about as well, holding hands, talking to each other and whispering quietly under their breath to each other? You walk in a park, you’ll find them comfortably promenading. You walk to your place of work, you’ll find them leaving cars and rickshaws and auto-rickshaws together. You walk to college, you’ll find them chattily skipping along, maybe holding hands, or not. Not many of these would be really very old. By old, I don’t mean octogenarian old, but slightly older among the younger lot. Just slightly older than the average young person on the street, whom I would hazard to peg at presumably 21. The practice of holding hands is more prevalent among the young. For the older it’s just a customary gesture. They hardly ever attach any importance to it. Most older people would counter this by saying that they do, in fact, indulge in a spot of intimate hand-holding occasionally, and do not look at it merely as a gesture. They are not so dispassionate about it. But, still, any observant person will tell you that for the old, the act is not something they deliberately seek out to do; au contraire, it’s something they do purely out of either necessity or habit.

But the real question is, what kind of demography do these couples constitute? Not just age-wise, or racially even, but what sort of people are they. What is their (to use something pretty convenient) psycho-social demography?

It is difficult to assess something like this, most people become imperturbably taciturn when questioned about their taste in the opposite sex. You can’t, first of all, ask a girl outright what she likes in a man. The use of such impudence is only available to the most ill-mannered, or the most distant of acquaintances, and then only casually. When you are serious about the question, it can only be asked by someone who has known the person long enough to warrant the intrusion. Sometimes, after several remonstrations to the contrary, even those you are relatively closer to among the questioned become suspicious about the reasons for such nit-picking and scrutinizing, as they see it. You may want to hear of it or look at it purely from a disinterested, but curious, point of view. But they won’t, and in all fairness should not, think of your probing as being facetious. Of course, on the other hand, several people will look at it merely as just another nice and easy conversation starter or conversation conjunctive, depending on the situation.

But what do women really want?

I loved that movie, mainly because it actually didn’t really answer the question at all? There are several things that women think about, that’s a given. But what do they really like in men? What makes they inclined to like someone better than someone else? What sort of preferences do they have. In the summer months, The Telegraph published a report about a study done in which women were asked to react to the presence of a moustache, or a beard, or some denomination of facial hair. Apparently, and this is slightly surprising, they preferred the bearded over the clean-shaven, the bearded over the mustached, and the clean-shaven over the mustached. So, all in all, the mustached are the irredeemable scum of the earth, the clean-shaven are all right, and the bearded are the most attractive. Predictably, and I was personally hoping for some such response, most women responded to the study by saying that attraction depended on a diverse set of factors, and certainly included more than simply the face. Besides, they said, that it is not simply the presence of facial hair that accentuates a man’s quotient of attractiveness, but the face itself, its features, and whether the hair really suits the man. Sigh. This was slightly a little partial on the technical side for me. I mean, I prefer to keep such descriptions simple. But a growing awareness of appearances and their importance necessitates such precision. It is the face’s dimensional attributes. Very nice. Of course, if I were shopping in the supermarket for salad bowls, I would also be similarly engrossed in the dimensional attributes.

But the studies that are conducted by students of psychology, on the human response to appearance, is significantly different from what you gather in your day to day encounters and conversations. Most women are not so specific about the tastes. In fact, most women don’t really have any opinion on the absence or otherwise of facial hair. Even men are slightly baffled by the reactions they receive. Some time back, I remember watching a model on television with his newly wedded wife, talking into a camera inside their car, and the model had a very prominent beard. Immediately, the girl I was watching it with remarked how much more pleasing to the eye he had become. I sort of felt the same, but I never really know how to respond to beards and all that. The fact is that consciously or unconsciously, most indicators of attraction tend to be physical.

If, like I mentioned before, you ask someone about their preferences, the first few indicators will inevitably be physical. And why not? The person’s physical being is the first thing you will take in anyway. Here, the variety is slightly exasperating. Some say they like men who are taller than they are, hefty, on the muscular side. Some prefer them skinny, maybe even skinnier than themselves. Some girls like men who have a specific length of hair. For instance, if she is not favourably disposed to long hair, she would say that she likes a guy with well cut hair. Hmm. I wonder what kind of exact dimensional attribute that would have. Some absolutely do not prefer men who are thin or lanky. It gives them the impression of being too weak, casual or clumsy, or worse, all of the aforementioned. Some girls like to look at men who have broad shoulders and slightly prominent shoulder blades. In this category, would fall the likes of obsessive body-builders. And then again, in a change of direction, some women do not appreciate the heavily-toned and muscle-induced bulky frames of men.

Even as the variety in this regard is endless, there is further hope for the questioner where the real deal, or the personality, of the man is concerned. This is because the responses are usually very exacting and clear. There is usually very little ambiguity in this department. The response could be mixed and full of mixed epithets and contradicting qualities, but even then, the girl usually has a definitely idea in mind.

For instance, the excited type is a very often vilified ‘type’. The denotations of being ‘excited’ are rather unfortunate: It means that the guy does not really have his head in the right place. He is flippant and reacts almost always exaggeratedly in every other situation. It also implies that the guy has a tendency to really blow things out of proportion. As against the ‘excited’ type, guys who are ‘considerate and extroverted’ are often more distinguished, and accordingly more compatible. These are guys who do not throw their weight about and do not under normal circumstances behave like the sky is about to fall on their heads. I do agree with most of this assessment. But on some finer points I think I differ. One is the fact that mostly people are not so easily distinguishable. What may seem considerate and extroverted may in fact only be a tendency to ‘play the part’ in all social situations. People who talk more in groups are not necessarily the people whose thoughts and feelings are more empathic. Some prefer the use of the word genuine, but it’s slightly presumptuous to designate one or the other as being genuine, and the rest as more ‘artificial’. To do that, it would require not only a very intimate knowledge of the other person, but also a profound distaste for his or her ways.

The best and the worst thing a girl can say about a man is that he is, indefinitely, a ‘quiet type’. I would be qualified to elaborate on this one. A quiet type is either preferable as a potential boyfriend, or more suitable as a friend. It’s either of the two. I say ‘potential’ boyfriend because the potential eventually sometimes never really materializes, because they do not move forward. As a friend on the other hand, he is companionable and worthy of your deepest affection. But even the latter is sometimes not realized, because the ‘quiet type’ somehow manages to drift away and detach himself from the proceedings of your life. All in all, this one is fraught with ifs and buts, but the outcome is usually the same.

When you actually think about all these responses, you will be stuck by a remarkable thing about the present. People do not usually mention, even if they think it, the archetypal job profile of the man they would love. So, as some kind of a redemption from the past, when people often stuck to their matrimonial ambitions of marrying either a company man or a doctor or an government babu or whatever when asked about their preferences, people today need real human beings. All the other peripheral things suffice.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Thoughts On The Day Before The Motion Of Confidence

The nuclear deal will sometime now be passed. Or on the contrary, it won’t be passed. Tomorrow in parliament the confidence motion will be tabled. It will decide the continuation of the incumbent government. The present government is headed by a prime minister who is very clear about the ramifications of the deal. It is an agreement that he has to see through. That is the beginning and the end of what he sees as his side of the bargain. The government is supported by a coalition of parties that came together post-elections, and decided on a Common Minimum Programme. The programme has to a large extent been fulfilled. At that time, when the elections had concluded, and when I was writing my board exams, the government looked completely renewed and enthusiastic. It seemed the perfect coalition. In fact, the government even appeared to befit coming into perpetual incumbency, because at the time, sentiment burgeoned daily and rapidly against a largely aggressive BJP. The other parties that formed the government, or occupied some sort of position in it, regardless of how peripheral or meager, were parties that were immensely glad to set off the BJP on its outward route, leveling recriminations and making resolved statements that clearly let everybody know that they would never like to associate with the party again. It was a slightly murky choice of words. Unclear as to whether they did not intend to associate with the party’s more ‘fascist’ credentials, or were simply aggravated by the anti-incumbency affectation that most others were more than willing to indulge in, the people simply took them at word and recorded all their commitments literatim in the CMP. After all, it was a wave of triumphalism. They seemed eager to say and do anything. They even announced their reclamation of the ‘secular forces’, much beaten and abused at the hands of the now vilified former opponent.

The former opponent really did not play a significant part in the polity for a long time subsequently. They simply languished in their homes, waiting for something substantial to come up. In the states, they reasserted themselves ably, winning a number of state elections. In Uttarakhand, in Andhra Pradesh, in Karnataka, they managed to make an incipient re-entry into the general flow of national politics. Of course, several people noticed, including the Congress party, now fuming and frothing at the seams for want of electoral victories. That however did really nothing to vindicate the BJP. To me it seemed like people were choosing the candidates floated by the party because of the tendencies of local organization. The Congress in these states fared poorly because their leadership lacked a strong element of cohesiveness. They continued to make do with fractions and denominations. The people of the states also perhaps reacted to their feelings about the undemocratic politics of the new central government, now fully released from the rosiness of its inception. Its fascist impositions of communal ‘quotas’ destructively brought about the break-down of the middle-class. By this I mean that the people who sought to achieve faced the bitterest opposition from the government. They aided and abetted communal tendencies to strike for petty deals that served a corrupt and recalcitrant mindset of mediocrity.

The people in the states reacted to that.

But now the nuclear deal has reaffirmed the existence of these parties and these shadowy members of parliament who otherwise do not visibly affect the polity. They have finally emerged from their imposed retirement and fallen back into their wonted ways of creating a nuisance in all places of public policy.

In the early days of the deal’s conception, the BJP met and agreed to support the government on it. Later, after an ‘interaction’ with some of their chief ministers in the states, they willy-nilly began to dither on their commitment. Advani, who had initially voiced his support in the media, later chose to tell the government, no less via the media, that his party men were not prepared to endorse the deal. In all humility, he asseverated his obligation to the verdict of his party. The trouble with such a statement is clear. Perhaps the chief ministers did in fact voice their opposition to the deal. But the question here is, why? None of them are either smart enough to comprehend the technicalities of it, nor are they in any peculiar or any substantial position of power vis-à-vis the state of foreign policy. Why then should their interest be represented in this matter of national concern? Given that they have, as members of a party, a right to express among themselves the need for a common political opinion on the matter, certainly the weightage given to their concerns should not be disproportionately important. Unfortunately, Advani got away with the ruse and the BJP backtracked on their initial, expectedly fraught and retractable promise.

The Hyde Act does not ‘bind’ India. The Vienna Convention states that international treaties override domestic law.