Monday, December 8, 2008

Ethical Or Not?

Last week, I had written about the system of interviewing people, in whatever form that may be. I was thinking more of formal interviews, and particularly those that smack of a lack of transparency. Those that are predicated on whimsical clashes of 'I like it' and 'I like it not'. It wasn't actually about interviews where you have no idea who the person is and know nothing about the politics of your fellow interviewers. I need to make this clarification because there is a crucial difference. I say this from my own experience, which, as it were, I don't offer as a source of legitimacy. There is a tendency for interviews to be based on some very twisted and mostly incomprehensible system of subterranean knowledge. Whether everyone on the panel is complicit in the pilfering and peddling of under-hand opinions is variable – in some interviews, all the blokes who conduct it are already of a similar disposition. In some, they are not, and have no idea who you are. In the first, there is a slightly illicit twist in the tail. The entire process is more or less ritualized in a way that will enable these pre-conceptions to determine the outcome. This doesn't imply that the process is 'rigged'. It may not be. It might be entirely scrupulous and completed in earnest, but this doesn't detract from the fact of its being shaped, or mislead as the case may be, by certain vicissitudes of the little game of 'gossip'. Gossip, here, is not necessarily a bad thing. It might be useful, very often verifiable, and informative. It might comprise the very essential details of a person's background. Even then, it should not constitute the basis for the outcome.

A serious problem in this argument is its corollary, which is, if the outcome is based entirely on the interview and nothing else, would that make it legitimate? It's a question too riddled for anyone to answer. I have always been apprehensive of saying anything about it. Would it make it more legitimate? What if the person in question is in fact someone who deserves to be part of the thing/group in question, but performs miserably? What if the person has the pre-requisites, but is unable to articulate his positions? What if the person has a perfectly coherent stance on a particular issue, anything, but is reticent and reluctant to speak? Does it then make it all right for someone to use a priori information to influence the outcome?

Perhaps it does. In which case, we arrive once again, tautologically, at the beginning of the argument. If an interview is not essentially the only criterion of something, does it not make it more of a redundancy? What is to say, then, that the interview is necessary at all? One can argue that since it is a recognizable and rational means of selection, it should be invested with the importance and primacy due to it. All these other interfering factors – forged opinions, second-hand details about others – should be relegated to its deserving place, the privacy of one's own judgment, not in the open for others to misuse.

In the case of the other kind of process, they don't know who you are. That helps in two ways – they have no pre-formed notions about you, anything they know or learn about you is not from hearsay but from the concrete presentation of facts. Now whether these 'facts' are authentic or not is the domain of another moral dilemma; for this one, let's assume that they are. The people conducting it essentially have only one thing in mind – the completion of a 'job', the job of procuring some information, the job of hiring some worker, the job of allocating a position, anything. It doesn't constitute anything apart from the clinical selection of someone systematically. It doesn't affect them socially. They don't need to think about it in terms of who their particular 'favourites' are. The difference in this case is that there is an enormous possibility in the system of (relatively unknown people) being selected on the basis of being an affiliate of one of the people on the panel, without the others being aware of it. Or otherwise, there is also the issue of 'unaccounted-for vendetta'. I use the term not from some general lexicon, but from my own understanding of it. It refers to the kind of vendetta certain people suddenly and unaccountably have about someone else. It is really very formless and sub-intelligent. It cannot be understood rationally, but is ever-gnawing all the same: something about the other person simply, inexplicably 'pisses them off'. In all such instances, the said other person is confronted with a grave situation of hopelessness. He is put, without being conscious of it, in a dangerous place, and is left without a chance to rationally defend himself. It is a kind of psychological rape. Only more perverse, more wrong and more botched.

This is somehow linked to the question of the power of asking questions. The pre-ordained Next Prime Minister of the country was here to speak of it. I don't quite know what he was referring to, but sometimes the whole questions-debate is riddled with too many fatuities. It's much simpler put this way: very often, in class or outside, wherever, people are too dumbfounded to ask any questions because there is no legitimate reason to ask questions. It often is the case that the questions that are asked of us are also equally incongruous and rhetorical. Questions like, 'What is the man saying to the woman?', 'What is the meaning of this word?', 'Why have you chosen to study the subject?', sometimes warrant silence and nothing else. It is annoying to have a deadpan moment after questions like these, but they can't be helped.

Also, nowadays, the interaction we have with those who ask these questions, i.e. our teachers, is perfunctory. We walk into class, we walk out of it, nothing else matters. We are simply cogs in a machine. It hardly counts if any one piece of the gargantuan system simply sputters and dies out. There is always a replacement. Who cares?

I Feel Therefore I Suck?: Hey, You, What The Heck Are You Passionate About!

So you're at an interview and they all want to know what you are passionate about. It takes a while for someone to size up the interviewee. There are several things that they want to find out; if you are interested, if you are interesting, if you have the right qualifications, and if, essentially, you fit the bill. It takes a while to seize the moment – to say the right things, to make the right choices. While you sit there, they stare at you relentlessly. They think up questions, you think up answers, and everyone is always trying to think of things to say. The only thing that makes sense to anyone is the idea that both of you are there for a purpose, and until that is decided, you're both going to be stuck in your respective positions.

Sometimes, the most interesting moments are those when no one has anything to say. It takes a while for the moment to sink in. But when it does, it is incredibly interesting; the most fascinating interplay of mutual silences, when no one can come up with a filler to kill the deadpan silence. It is the best moment; people look away. They twirl their pens and pencils and doodle on the scraps of paper in front of them. They make notes sometimes, but you keep wondering what they could possibly infer from the silence; notes like, The subject is currently staring into nothing-ness, awaiting further inquisition. You think, They are currently looking at my face and searching it for possible hints of awkwardness. No, I am not awkward, but they do look eager and desperate to find some evidence of it. Why? Why are they so desperate to discover my awkwardness? Why are they so eager to want me to leave?

At other times, the questioning gets intense and very convivial. They have a lot to ask you. They have a lot that they want to know about you. What have you done, my man? What have you completed? What have I completed? Let's see. I have looked at people and stared at them inside metro trains. I have scribbled on the doors of public toilets and left expletives for unknown people to read. I have washed my undergarments in the river outside. I have waited for people to feed me, to clothe me, to make me drink. I have waited for their affection and recognition. I have done several things. Which of these are you most excited about? Oh, I should like to know more about the dirty words left on toilet doors. Alright. I'll tell you about them. Once, on the door of a very expensive hotel in the city, I accused a very senior government guy of something that could qualify him for immediate arrest under Section 377 of the IPC. I also left certain sage words of advice for his wife and children. I asked them to restrain his use of the internet, where he voraciously expends a lot of his already diminished store of energy. I asked them to hire a whole platoon of female secretaries and officers, instead of the other more vulnerable sex.

I also always make it a point to celebrate my friend's birthday. We eat, we drink, we make merry and then we fall off to sleep. Could I hear some more on that? Yes, sir, but I should prefer not to repulse your genteel sentiments. I should also not like to discuss such matters in public.

So essentially, what we have is a whole sequence of happy interchanges and witty bantering, some serious inquisitiveness, and a lot of earnest face-making. You make your earnest face and you wait for them to make their earnest faces; they inevitably do. But it shocks you how different your imitation is from theirs. Yours looks like a dog masquerading as a puppy. Theirs looks like a hog masquerading as a sheep. The analogy is difficult to understand unless you know that dogs bark and puppies whimper, pigs store fat and sheep generally shear their wool in abundance.

That brings us to the ultimate question: Hey, you, what the heck are you passionate about? Who me? I don't know: I feel sometimes that the world needs to change. I feel that people refuse to think rationally and misinterpret what is meant by others when they vent themselves and express themselves in angry words and deeds, misuse what is given to them. I feel that it needs to be a better place for people to live in, so that we all get to drink from the taps that line the end of off-track settlements and we all get to defecate in places where walls protect you from the humiliation of public spectacle. We all get to eat off plates that are made of metal; not some from porcelain and some off the pavement. We all get to travel to the airport in peace, not some in cars that travel like aeroplanes whose windows shun the world like bastions against the filth just an inch outside the existence of metallic doors, or others packed in truckloads hauled up for the shouting of welcome cheers upon the arrival of Very Important Persons. I'm passionate about the fact the everybody needs land, everybody feels the need to own what is his. I like the man who spoke the other evening and said that the 700 battalions in Kashmir need 100 acres of land each. That each battalion approximately has 1,000 soldiers, totaling 700,000 soldiers in all, all of whom have been deployed to fight 750 Terrorists. I feel for those 57 who died in the Amarnath protests, and those other 2,000 who sustained bullet injuries in their upper body, marking them out as fortuitous targets. I feel for them all. But that's not all. I feel for many other things.

None of them, however, will make you smile and say, it's alright, you can bugger off now.

Love thy Enemy

It would be false and pretentious to say that Argon had no idea they acted the way they did. Of course he did; he spent innumerable hours walking the corridors of the Bam Bam School, sauntering in their library, listening to people as they spoke to him, doing quiet, soporific things after school, especially in dilapidated park-seats. In fact, he felt he knew almost everything there was to know about them. He knew that if one of them said that something between them would be strictly confidential, that piece of information would find itself in either of two places: as an announcement at assembly, for the consumption of a multitude of shouting, hollering Bam Bams; or as a large, declamatory poster on the bulletin board for the literary exercise of very bored Bam Bams as they promenaded the corridors instead of being in class. He knew that if they said they would be having a quiet get-together soon, it meant they would have selected for themselves one humungous building with nice loos (to be desecrated), and nice, big sofas (to be blemished), and invite by the truck-load anonymous carriers of the Substance. He knew that if they said they were 'friends' – oh, man – if they said they were friends, he knew he had only one thing to do: RUN.

Eventually, he realized that he did know enough about the Bam Bams to warrant some sort of association with them. Argon wasn't the sort of person who would keep quiet about something. If he felt he needed to tell someone about the possibility of spending time with the other person, he did exactly that. He didn't need to pretend it was a manipulated pre-cursor to being invited home, because it wasn't. How ridiculous. If the world was only made up of people who spent time together because they wanted to mutually participate in hebdomadal self-flagellation, it would indeed be a very different place. Let's just assume for a moment it isn't.

Now, Bally-sha (sex: F) and Bhaiya-rub (sex: M), two remarkable friends were walking home one day, when Bally-sha noticed that her phone was missing. Obviously, it was a very shocking realization. She had never lost her phone before. Her mom of course wouldn't mind her losing one at all. She would probably just pop another one from the first-aid kit at home and FedEx it to school from across the road.

Not that Bally-sha was a very conscientious person; she lost several things annually in the course of the year: boyfriends, girlfriends, contraceptives, many things. So it didn't really matter at all. But this time, she and Argon had planned a little meeting after school; they had decided to eat a hot-dog each at the mall nearby. It wasn't a very impressive thing to do; I mean, after all, she was supposed to be away from home as often as possible, why waste this opportunity? And even though Argon thought both Bally-sha and Bhaiya-rub looked a bit too prosperous otherwise for the number of times they simply ate off him, he didn't question their assumed indigent behaviour. He thought it made them rather revolutionary, pretending they were poor. How considerate of them to emulate the condition of the truly helpless!

So as Bally-sha and Bhaiya-rub ran back to school, not to search for the phone, but to get together with Argon, Bhaiya-rub called up Rohan Bad-annie (sex: N/A). Bad-annie was one of those people Bally-sha and Bhaiya-rub always called up when something exciting happened. It could be absolutely anything: two dogs procreating on the road, a woman wearing Chanel, someone saying into a TV camera, 'Bonjour, je suis Michel Adam', a transvestite shouting after them to pay up, anything. Occasionally, some really exciting things happened, like Bally-sha would go on a date. Then, lo and behold, they would have to devise ways to surreptitiously hang around the unsuspecting man. They never got caught.

Argon had no idea that this would be occasion for one of their little hee-hee-haw-haw operations. It seemed so wasteful; after all, he only wanted to eat hot-dogs, that's it. Where he came from, eating hot-dogs meant simply eating hot-dogs, it certainly didn't mean, 'I want to marry you,' nor did it mean, 'We shall be eating more than hot-dogs'/ 'Please be my hot-dog'. It was one of those insuperable qualities of the Bam Bams he didn't know about. This time, as he headed off to eat hot-dogs around the street-corner, he saw Bally-sha looking all flustered and heart-broken. She was the very image of distress. She narrated to him the entire saga of the lost phone, and looked so pitiful and lachrymose, that Argon offered to pay for the hot-dogs again. He felt it was the right thing to do. Behind them, Bad-annie and Bhaiya-rub sniggered close to one another, occasionally pointing to where they were standing. Bally-sha, once in a while, gave them a clandestine wave and smile, as if everything was going just fine. The two never said a word to each other the whole time. They just sat there and giggled. How lovely together they must have looked to passers-by.

But suddenly Bally-sha, in a manner most unbecoming of Bam Bams, decided to desert the operation. She suddenly felt that this wasn't right. She swiftly whisked Argon away from the spot, so they couldn't see them anymore, and walked briskly to another place with benches. Argon was too busy trying to evaluate if the New York or Chicago was preferable, so he didn't notice that he had been taken away. He sat, never really saying a word to Bally-sha, eating quietly. On the other side, Bhaiya-rub and Bad-annie were becoming frantic. This was the penultimate turn of events.

The two had disappeared. Immediately, in a swooping gesture, they both drew out their phones and violently sent out messages to the Bam Bam fraternity. (Dedicated to Baddy.)