Friday, December 12, 2008

mind gym

Anyone who's reached a turning point in life will almost always tell you how it was triggered by a drastic incident.

One such incident occurred to me three months ago, and I decided to turn my life by sinking the cost of a small island into the services of a personal trainer.

To put things in perspective, drastic isn’t a word I use easily, especially in the context of fitness. When once, someone once congratulated me on my pregnancy (I wasn’t even close), I laughed with genuine mirth. For weeks afterwords, I used the statement as a legitimate excuse to pig out, because I believe even a perceived phantom pregnancy deserves a good round of cravings. Another time, when I was mistaken for a friend who hadn’t exercised since she swam around as an embryo, I explained (and believed) that the mix up was caused by the style of our exclusive shared hairdresser.

So when I say drastic, believe me, I do mean drastic. Since it’s too painful to get into details, I’ll just say that it had to do with a trial room lined with mirrors that reflect you from angles that should be outlawed in civilized society, and a scream that emanated from me because I thought I was being attacked by a mob of aliens from bulge-planet.

Realizing the futility of pawning my ad portfolio, I saved money for a fortnight by hooch mooching, and then hired a sadist who was to be my gym trainer.

Two and a half months later, I am a changed woman.

I have become a masochist. I feel that if something hurts, it's a good sign. There's furious fat burning going on there. When I meet people who have sprained their ankles or are recovering from a surgery, I struggle to keep the envy out of my eyes.

I have also become one of those squares I’ve always laughed at. When friends invite me out for a drink, I mumble silly cliches like early to bed, early to rise, and mean them. When I do go out, I embarrass my companions by conducting a mini Spanish inquisition with waiters about protein levels and carrot sticks.

Speaking of protein, I now possess spare tyres of useless knowledge, like how much protein a large egg has (6 grams). I cut chicken till it looks like a starfish with 6 amputations, because sites tell you that a palm sized piece is just right. I also twitch with excitement at the ingredient labels of cans, till salespeople rush in with onions, dirty socks and other well intentioned first aid for epileptic fits.

I no longer measure things in kilograms, but in inches. It’s logical, because muscle weighs more than fat, but try explaining that to a butcher or a veggie vendor…

Then, there’s my reaction to mirrors. From someone who would forget to notice her face during the toothbrush routine, I have become a monster who seeks out reflective surfaces. I scratch my chin while passing tinted car windows to see if my triceps are still there. When with people who wear sunglasses, I laugh with my head thrown back slightly to see if my double chin has reduced. I seriously regret having bought an LCD instead of a plasma, because I can’t see myself doing crunches.

The person I have turned into is drastic enough for me to consider an about-turning point. Sack the trainer, says the right brain impulsively. The left brain agrees with the logic of the suggestion.

Once I do that, I should be able to get back to who I was. I have a feeling it won't be too hard, because some things about me haven’t changed in spite of the 10 week detour.

My old clothes fit just as snugly, and while I love the inches vs kilograms theory, I haven’t lost either.

I still huff and puff up the stairs after step 7.

And I still hold my breath to hide my muffin top, when talking to a colleague who thinks the term belongs to bakeries.

I'll just have to work on my mind now...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

face value - part 5

Where there's a part 5, there are usually parts 1-4 squealing for attention. If you'd like to save yourself some serious scrolling and math, click here to read face value - part 1.

If you’re one of those people who believe that life is never unfair, explain this.

When people put their careers on the line, they become the heroes of corporate legends. But when people put their careers in a line, they get nothing but sniggers and exasperated sighs.

Those who put their jobs on the line are rewarded with fables that, with time, grow as complex as a ‘let’s defrost the fridge today sambaar’. Every narrator of the tale insidiously incorporates himself or herself into the story as an influencer, a supporter or at least a drinking buddy.

On the other hand, those who put their potential in a line become the butt of funny stories, where their best friends describe them, at best, as third cousins of unpopular colleagues they’ve spoken to once.

This post is an attempt to pay a tribute to these unsung heroes. There are people who have tried to dissuade me, with the argument that these people are considered unsung because no one can hear singing above the blowing of trumpets. I believe that's just another example of the unfairness these hidden heroes have to endure. I will try to neutralise some of the injustice today.

The-CV-in-a-nutshell type

People of this personality type have never read books on how to write the perfect CV. They wrote the books you see, that too on grains of rice and Facebook updates.

To get a fair perspective on the people of this group, let’s look at some of the qualities a good resume is supposed to have, along with proof that this personality type is the master of each parameter.

Highlight your strengths: Easier said than done. It’s hard to do justice to multiple strengths, unless you have a spare hard disk handy. Or unless of course, you’re a CV-in-a-nutshell type person. Here’s an example of how this personality type packs all his/her strengths into a few snack sized bytes.

‘B.Rags hopes The Newsweak’s million readers like his cover story tomorrow’. There, you’ve got journalistic skills, people skills, a talent for numbers, democratic disposition, time management skills and modesty, all comprehensively covered in a mere 11 words. And of course, you can’t but help notice that wonderfully elusive quality – brevity.

Be honest: For those of us who are wary of admitting weaknesses on our resumes, there’s a valuable lesson to be learnt from CV-in-a-nutshell people. Just say it like it is, their updates demonstrate to us, time and again. Undaunted by fears of creating a negative bias, these personalities bravely call a spate a spate.

‘HooHa can’t seem to upload her best employee award pictures.’ Notice how courageously HooHa shows a lack of IT skills?

A lack of career planning skills is not swept under the carpet in this update - ‘Peter S. Principle is pondering… after CEO, what?’

Attach a list of references: This bit is usually relegated to page 2 in the crispest of resumes, but in a flash of brilliance, this personality type brings it to line 1.

Notice the sheer genius with which this one tells you ‘Chickenfeed is cooped up with the fortune 500 gang. Again. If you’re thinking of hiring Chickenfeed, you know immediately who to contact for reference checks. A whole list of referees, in a matter of words.

Keep it short: By now, you already know that the CV-in-a-nutshell type of personality excels in fat-free statements. But like all groups, this lot too has some individuals who outshine others with their breathtaking brevity. How much shorter can a list of achievements get than ‘'? One simple URL, and a click - and you have access to the potential of Seema.

Note: In recognition of the innate shyness that characterizes people of the CV-in-a-nutshell personality type, all names and contexts have been changed.

Next: Plato-on-a-plate type

Friday, December 5, 2008

face value part 4

Research shows that scrolling causes the index finger to build unnecessary muscle. If you'd like to start reading this post from 'face value part 1' and still not look silly while pointing, just click here.

Do you sometimes feel that you have many more friends than your Facebook friend list shows? Do you attribute this feeling to an inflated sense of your own popularity?

Before you pat yourself on the back like a trainee contortionist, listen carefully to a little voice saying ‘It’s not you, it’s us’. You are hearing the voice of the Sharelock-Holmes-type person on your friend list.

The-Sharelock-Holmes-type personality
This personality type contains the split personalities of Facebook. No, not like Jekyll and Hyde, because at least they surfaced in turns. The dual personalities of the Sharelock-Holmes type speak at the same time in the same sentence on each Facebook status update. One half of the split wants to be discrete and secretive, while the other wants to tell all. And they both get their way.

Classification: The story goes that for years after the birth of Facebook, eminent psychologists struggled to analyze these complex characters, and finally threw up their Freud texts in defeat. No one else wanted this daunting task, until a team that sold advertising space in newspapers volunteered to complete the classification process (there’s a school of thought that feels that the team heard split purse instead of split personality, but there’s no concrete evidence to support this view).

Applying their skills of splitting newspaper pages into any shape and size under the guise of innovation, the advertising space sellers created this classification of the Sharelock-Holmes-type personality.

Horizontal split: To understand this subtype, imagine a person whose head is covered with a secretive deerstalker detective type hat, while the body wears a flamboyantly unbuttoned trench coat. This subtype wants to be discrete and flashy at the same time.
This Sharelock-Holmes sub-type creates status updates like: Miss Cama has finally done it sutra style, but can't talk about it.

Vertical split: In this sub-type, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. But the right hand not only knows what the left hand is doing, it makes it a point to broadcast it to the world (ok, only left-handed people will truly understand the unfairness of this situation).
A typical status update might read like this: Godot is waiting for a waiter. And only God knows why. (notice how poor Godot or the left hand is clearly at a disadvantage).

Front page solus split: Both these personalities clamour equally for action, since both want to be at the centre of attention.
They typically have status updates like: Gemini wonders if she should or she shouldn’t.
Or Namedropper can’t choose between Obama and Paris Hilton.

Statutory warning
Whichever sub-type of the Sharelock-Holmes-personality type you have as a friend, you need to be careful about one thing.

They're all hugely infectious.

As you read the status updates of this personality type,
one half of you feels disgusted and wants to ignore these desperate attention seekers. The other half feels sorry for their dull lives and forces you to sound interested. Sometimes, one half of you gets irritable, while the other half is curious. OR, one half of you wants to put on a poker face, while the other half wants to poke out these cheap gimmicks.

See, you’re already on your way to becoming a Sharelock-Holmes type person yourself.

Watch out for: The-CV-in-a-nutshell type

Thursday, December 4, 2008

let's not turn into the people we despise

It's not splayed in the media, but the terror attacks in Mumbai have claimed casualties way beyond the wildest expectations of the people who planned them.

Callousness, apathy and a mere baap ka kya jaata hai attitude are definite victims. You can see it in the mails and text messages people are forwarding. You can measure it in the rage you can sense all around you.

I have no evidence to support this on a larger scale, but computer games, page 3 anecdotes and shallow witticisms seem to be seriously injured too. The intellectually endowed among us are turning away from these activities and aiming their considerable resources at topics like the political system, national security and ummm the country. You can see that shift in the changed focus of newspapers and blogs.

Getting the attention of thousands of consciences is a great start. Now that running the country is no longer beneath our dignity or status, we are now free to go beyond indifferent shrugs towards positive steps.

With the collective might of all those grey cells, we could even hope for real robust solutions.

Through the haze of shock and anger, solutions do seem to be sprouting up. Perhaps because it is early days, or because I have no expertise in the areas of governance, security and politics, here’s what I am taking out of the solutions I’ve seen in the last week (yes, I did say apathy was a victim, I’ve read more blogs and articles on the nation in the last week than I have in my life before that).

To fight outlaws, let’s turn into outlaws too. Let’s teach those terrorists and corrupt politicians who break laws a lesson by breaking a few laws ourselves.

Let’s put our pleasures above the legal system: Let’s drink beyond closing hours, let’s smoke in no smoking zones, let’s spend our tax money on presents for ourselves. Now all those people who bump up their personal incomes by taking bribes will have competition.

Let’s show ‘em by lighting candles and going for long walks: Let’s indulge in actions that make us feel as though we're doing something. It doesn't matter if our actions don't really achieve anything or if they underline how small and helpless we are against a system. Politicians and bureaucrats have done that for years with their lip service and tree planting drives, why not us?

But I’m not discouraged by this, as this feels like the beginning of a giant brainstorm. To complicate things, most of the participants have no prior experience in the topics they’re addressing.

In spite of some of the false starts, well intentioned non-ideas and idealistic bubbles, it’s just a matter of time before practical and unique ideas start glimmering through.

I ran across one that sparkled for me this morning. Civil Obedience has practical steps that I can take, without feeling like a pygmy fly against a giant swatter. Or without becoming one of the people I want to fight.

Thanks Rahul, for a great post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

face value - part 3

Here's an easy way out for those of you who weren't born or paying attention when Maria in The Sound of Music said 'let's start at the very beginning'. Just click here to get to face value - part 1.

Before we talk about this type, let’s talk about you.

You’re probably thinking – easy weasy, I know the type, it’s all those people who abuse double meanings and make people go aargh!

Then, like people who automatically adopt a pseudo BBC accent while talking about the channel, you will get into pun mode. Hehehe, you’ll go, people who belong to this group believe the pun is mightier than the sword. Hahaha, if Facebook were a Hindu community, these people would all be pun-dits. If they were to be given a state of their own, they would choose Punjab. Hohoho.

And so on and so forth till I rapped you on the knuckles and said ‘Sorry. You couldn’t be more off the mark if you were blindfolded’.

Ok here's the most effective way to spot this personality type from your friend list.

The life-at-punpoint type

Whatever your instincts may say, don't think of words.

Think instead of pictures on a colourful wall calendar at a tea shop. Imagine a mythical hero with a rhyming dictionary in one hand and a thesaurus in the other. Those of you who have cut your teeth on Amar Chitra Katha comics can go ahead and imagine two extra hands – one holding the url of an anagram finder, and the other, an oxygen mask for victims.

Now, here’s the real clue.

Vanquished under the feet of this mythological character is not a demon, but another identical hero armed with the same weapons!

Get it now? This personality type constitutes the warriors of Facebook, and its greatest motivation is to establish supremacy over others of the same personality type. Everyone else is, well, just a part of the audience. This insight may help explain how life-at-punpoint people manage to remain undaunted by all the yucks they get regularly from the rest of us.

While the rest of us are fooled into thinking that the punsters in our friend list are just being funny or plain silly, what we miss is the determined war in progress. It’s a war to verbal death as far as the people fighting are concerned.The fact that the war is public and watched by all makes it even more critical for all parties to try harder.

I’ll give you an example of how it goes.

If, reacting to the recent Mumbai ordeal, one of the warriors says:

Mart is shaken and stirred. Without an olive in sight.

Mart’s competitor will be forced to come up with a rejoinder: James’ bond with Mumbai grows stronger with every bomb.

Mart will then be stung into changing his status update to: Mart gets a quantum of solace from knowing his friends are safe.

To which, James will have no option but to say: James is da-nieling at church and praying for the victims and their families.

Mart will shoot back with how he is craiging at the insensitive reactions of politicians in Mumbai.

The updates will retract in time and wit, till they start to look like typos and signs of drunkenness to the rest of us.

Status messages will deteriorate to ‘Our politicians seemed to be moored in fiction’ and ‘It’s a fleming shame’

Then the day will come when one of them, let’s say James (because he started with a punny advantage) says something like James’ chitty chatty media friends say the bang bang is over’, and Mart is forced to change the topic.

The score card will read 1-0 in favour of James, and Mart will be the one underfoot in the calendar.

This will continue till the next topic comes along and Mart gets a chance to be the one on top.

Waiting in the wings: The-Sharelock-Holmes-type