Saturday, December 14, 2019

Of my mothers chit funds and my first world problems - Life lessons in a nutshell

For a change, I was home. I was glancing my personal task planner cum diary to see the pending story edits and proof reading to be completed for the day when the phone rang. Sudha aunty, a well-wisher and a relative (potential oxymoron) had called me to remind me about the pending payment for the chit fund. I never keep track of this fund, purely because it is managed by Sudha aunty. There is that element of trust on which this chit fund operates. Other than the pending payment reminder, she also said that this month’s payment is the end of this chit fund and that she was about to start a new chit fund from Jan. I agreed to be part of the new chit fund also and disconnected the call. My mom heard the conversation and inquired about the chit fund. The word "chit fund" took her back to her professional days as a teacher. We spoke about it for more than an hour. When we were done, I wanted to get back to work, but my mind was roaming around the realms of how my mom spearheaded an entire family’s offbeat expenses with the chit funds for years together. And in general, those chit funds’ with a purpose and its role in chasing the dreams of Indian middle class.

If you are wondering what a chit fund, a.k.a Cheeti as it is called in vernacular language is, it is a simple rotating savings and credit system practiced since times immemorial. There is no defined legal framework. An organizer is usually a trusted relative, a neighbor, friend or someone who you know at least as an acquaintance, so that there is an element of trust for the money you invest. People who invest in the chit funds often have specific goals/dreams that they realize using the returns from it. The fund starts at an announced date and continues for the number of months predefined by the organizer. Word of mouth is the only means of marketing and getting people to invest. When it starts, every month, a fixed amount is collected from all the subscribers. An open auction is conducted every month to determine the lowest sum one of the subscribers is willing to withdraw that month. It is also a credit system because subscribers are allowed to take the entire sum via the auction even before making full payment. Again, trust is paramount here.

Unlike the post liberalization and digital era, banking was not accessible to the lower income group as their savings was not distinct and continuous. If you are an early or mid 80s kids, you’ll know this. But savings was still required for obvious reasons. Cheeti was a boon for all those who had this situation. And unlike today, middle class dealt with currencies in mere tens, hundreds and thousands. Lakhs and crores were not part of even their wildest dreams.

My mom, being a school teacher, like any other middle-class Indian woman, was a “penny in pocket, dreams worth million” woman. With whatever she earned, she managed her finances and savings so meticulously that it puzzles me on how our era's middle class parents managed our upbringing. I personally know two of her affinities she chased for long, never gave up and succeeded. Thanks to Cheeti. One was her collection of sarees and the other was her collection of tools/equipment/apparatus that reduced her efforts in the kitchen.

Both her affinities were something that my father neither supported nor cared because of two reasons: One: that they were very feminine in nature and he did not understand much of it. And secondly, because they were not one-time investments. In her own words with utensils and sarees, when the usual “WHY DO YOU NEED SO MANY” paradigm come up by husbands for discussion, women do not have answers. So, mom had to somehow manage them on her own, even financially.

This is exactly where the chit fund, a.k.a. Cheeti helped my mother. In the early-80s she earned 800 Rs a month. Since she was a teacher, it was sort of necessary for to have her wardrobe full of sarees. It so happened that a seller from Surat used to visit her school and all the teachers collectively insisted him to start a Cheeti, exclusively for sarees. The monthly amount for the Cheeti was 70 INR which they paid for 12 months and got a new saree worth 800 Rs. Remaining 40 Rs was a commission of sorts for the saree seller. She always tells me that back in 80s, 800 Rs had a lot of value. It is true. I just did some math to prorate the inflation rate of 7.2% at 1985 for 34 years; it turns out, 800 Rs in 1985 is worth 9330 Rs as on today.

I keep chiding my mother for having so many sarees that we can sell and pre-close a part of India’s world bank loan. But she laughs it off. More than the prized possession, she is proud of how she succeeded in filling her wardrobe with sarees on her own, without a single penny from my father. She is all thanks to this wonder investment scheme called Cheeti.

By early 90s, utensils with copper bottom was a next gen thing, she tells me. When the copper bottom utensils were launched in the market, they were declared hit and received widespread fame among the Indian mothers. Not just fame, it apparently was also a measure of sophistication and even a social privilege to an extent. My mom was particularly interested in it because she believed that copper bottom kadais would help cook faster, thanks to copper’s good conductance of heat.  But it also came with a heavy price tag that she could not buy them in one go. Again, the same Cheeti came to my mother’s rescue. There was a steel vendor near the house, where she started investing 50 Rs a month and in the end, she could choose utensils worth of 600 Rs. There is this one copper bottom kadai, which is her favorite. Not because of its quality or durability, but because she simply succeeded in buying it on her own. It was the same practical scheme of Cheeti that enabled her to buy a “RAMA” water filter, a hot box and a few other utensils made of copper.

Her proud possessions after nearly three decades of her professional career are her Surat Saris, a copper bottom kadai, a RAMA water filter and a few other kitchen paraphernalia, procured through chit funds. If I look at it today, it does not seem like a big deal at all! I can buy her all of them at one go! I cannot help but see her goals mostly revolved around maintaining normalcy and ensuring the family chores run smooth. Nothing beyond! I think only mothers are the creatures on this planet who can do such insurmountable sacrifices for the well-being of their families and yet find solace in those sacrifices.

Here I am, totally delved in the first world problems and not being able to manage my finances even after earning a 6-digit salary. When my mom narrates such episodes to me, I can easily realize the perceived absence of any such pressing concerns that she had as an adult, as a parent or even as a professional. With real life experiences like chit funds, she beats my argument and proves that my problems are not actually problems, they are just fallacies of the relative privation.

 I too have invested in many chit-funds. But if I try to recall If I have bought anything until now, which has helped facilitate anything at home or brought about changes in running chores at home, nothing comes to my mind. This has made me realize one thing: Whatever they did, they had a purpose. And they were bold enough, courageous enough not to take solace in fallacies, like we all do.

Whoever said “The purpose of life is a life of purpose” is simply a genius who understood the essentials of life perfectly. Having a purpose can not only buy you saris, water filters and copper bottom utensils, it can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals and offer a sense of direction. Now it doesn’t surprise me that even to this day, chit funds, without a legal framework, are very instrumental in realizing the dreams of millions of people out there, because their investments have a purpose. This chit fund episode has taught me a very important lesson:

To really reap the returns of your investment, it should first have a purpose.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Opinion: Does Greta Thunberg truly deserve Nobel Prize?

When Greta Thunberg first heard about global warming, she was 8 and when she started giving speeches on climate changes and protested in front of the Swedish parliament with the placard “school climate strikes” she was 15! Well, it is nothing less than phenomenal that she has stood up for a great cause like climate change from a very young age. I salute her bravery, her conviction to make this planet a better place to live. And I don’t have any problems with her age either. I am in fact proud of what she has managed to achieve at the age of 16. But with all the contrasting side effects of her fame and her defiance, her approach to tackle a global problem of such epic proportion having no tangible outcomes yet, is her deed worth a Nobel? 

SKOLSTREJK FOR KLIMATET in Swedish translates to "School strike for Climate"
Her approach

According to Ms. Thunberg, the prospect of global warming and the rising temperature across the globe has frightened her, so she is not going to school and protesting. Well, good. But giving blunt replies to global leaders in public forums and handing out leaflets with words like "I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future." is not the right approach to solve the global warming problem.

Ms. Thunberg is too young to even fathom what it takes to understand the sort of a systematic approach to solve a serious problem like climate change. She goes on to say (in her own words) "I want you to act as if the house was on fire — because it is". And "We're facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis and our leaders are all acting like children”. While this behavior of hers could be attributed to her being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, climate change is not a traffic problem to be solved by envisaging a mass rapid transit system. She needs to calm down. Global warming cannot be addressed with the urgency that she defines. She is nobody to dictate the urgency. There are capable people and governing bodies to act on. She needs to work on her approach to address real issues. Above all, she should stop her ‘How Dare You’ kind of overdramatic speeches and get in terms with the fact that speeches doesn’t change much.

Setting a detrimental example

Greta Thunberg’s success story, on one front has gained greater momentum and the world is grateful for the awareness she has managed to create about climate change. But on the other, a lot of youngsters all over, Sweden in particular, are fascinated by the idea of “Why go to school. Let’s protest in the name of climate change”. And why not; At 16, Greta has a colossal fame with a whooping 5.5 million Instagram followers, a Wikipedia page, invitations to give TED talks and get to travel across the world, and now Nobel prize nomination. What exactly has she done? Inventions? Discoveries? Humanity service? Nope! She just symbolized a global problem and BOOM! She is a messiah to save mother earth. 
Greta Thunberg's lunch en route Denmark - With paper cup, Plastic Vegan salad box and polythene bread cover
At 16, the idea of getting to limelight looks very lucrative and it is too fancy to not think and dream of such colossal fame for teens. it cannot be denied that she has set a detrimental example to others of her age group. This is a very dangerous state for the teens to be in. This has to be addressed by helping kids understand that the world out there isn’t an equal opportunity employer. Encourage them to deal with failures in life.

Nobel standards

Since childhood, I have always known the Nobel prize being awarded to the deserved candidates in recognition of academic, cultural or breakthrough scientific advances (except for peace prize). Perhaps the committee wants to set right expectations about climate changes. But IMHO, the nomination committee should have also considered the tangible achievements of Greta Thunberg and her contribution about the climate issue.

Hands with Vested interests(?)

Just Yesterday, climate activist Greta Thunberg along with 15 other children from around the world submitted a complaint to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. They targeted Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey. In the complaint, she alleges that these countries are “recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change [and] have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights.

Sounds something fishy? There you are! China, the highest emitter of Co2 is not even there in the list. This just adds to my suspicion that there could be political hands behind Greta’s motivation.

Malala symbolizing the girl’s education or Kashmir issues and Greta Thunberg getting nominated this year by symbolizing climate change has not just diminished the chances of identifying the really outstanding contributors of humanity, but a fundamentally wrong message is being sent across that it is cool to symbolize a social or economic problem and get elevated to the state of being known or talked about by millions, especially on account of notable achievements, when in real, you haven’t any.

I just hope that future for all of us is not as frightening as Greta Thunberg or Malala is trying to portray.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

An open letter to the regional party enthusiasts of Karnataka

Congratulations! Namma Karnataka has scored yet another constitutional low in the Indian political diaspora. Karnataka is the center stage of a political crisis which is witnessed never before in an Indian state. We can perhaps tell our grandchildren that we were the mute espies of a shoddy drama that the nation can never forget. This entire event is so appalling that even constitution experts and political whizzes are not able to fathom your party’s conduct. I wouldn’t be wrong if I say that the resolute displayed by your beloved regional party and its members is the heights of contempt that anyone has shown to Indian constitution till date. I would directly accredit this achievement to you, the regional party enthusiast of Karnataka. Well done! Congratulations to you for nurturing a regional party whose family business has successfully ruined the fortune of a vibrant state 

You knew the family business
Just rewind a year and recall the pre-poll state of Karnataka Assembly elections of 2018. You, I and almost everyone; even the state, in itself was in tatters; thanks to an arrogant former CM’s monarchy vibe. For the foreseeable future, it was unimaginable even for you to think that this regional party could win majority and form the government. And yet, you supported the family business blindly. How did you even arrive at the conclusion that your regional party with 30+ seats would acquire greater political space and do good for the state? How tactless could you get?

You knew the party Supremo
“A cat has nine lives, but he has ten” is a famous proverb of sorts opined about your beloved party chief. Time and again, he has proven himself  nothing more than an elite opportunist who has always played his cards wisely to gain political sympathy and use it just to his family’s advantage. You are a fool, if you really believed that he had a vision for the goodwill of Kannadigas. Right from his ministerial days to this day being the chief of your beloved regional party, he has always been an influence peddler and a political graft. His vision is nothing more than just to baptize his family members into ministry. For the records, he betrayed Janatadala and BJP each twice and now Congress too. And you still believed that your chief is a messiah? Whoa! What a shallow thought process you have.

You knew the contestants
Apart from one or two contestants, all the members of your beloved political party are involved in Nepotism, crony capitalism, kickbacks, goondaism, kleptocracy etc. Beyond the party president and family members, there is hardly any second-tier leadership. This makes all the difference in bringing about a change in society. You very well knew it.
And more importantly, you knew precisely well that it was a pre-poll alliance with Congress, whose administration was at its worst for the last five years. And you believed that people with such track record will bring about changes in administration! Whoa! Your idea is dope!

You knew the fate of regional parties
You knew that regional parties of neighboring states have terribly failed at national level and there are ample examples from the other side of the country to back this sentiment. You were precisely aware of the fact that the only regional party of Karnataka which you supported was never capable of polarizing the votes of the regional masses unlike our neighboring states.  How stupid are you to accredit a family business as secular? In what way are they secular?

You knew the myths and facts
There was a time when regional parties fueled the national parties to come to power and a lion’s share of the central funds were also diverted to the regional parties who supported. But this has considerably reduced. The trend now is that one regional party is eating up the vote share of the other regional party, creating rivals within. The result of this is that they are caught in the web which they themselves knit.

The regional parties are indirectly polarizing the votes against themselves and are increasing the vote shares of the national party. The same applies for your beloved party. Even more so because they are the only regional party in Karnataka. If my understanding is right, 20+ states are ruled by national parties. Among them, the major revenue generating states are currently ruled by BJP, again a national party and they all have fared better under the national party rule. So even with numbers, your part does not fare well. You very well know what happened to a regional party's fate whose founder was poised to be the greatest anti-corruption crusader this country has seen after Gandhi and was later reduced to a mere film critic and a wannabe PM candidate. 

In the last few weeks, there is more evidence than ever about the true intentions of your beloved political party. The political drama that has unfolded in the last week has put our state (and of course the nation) to utter shame. On a positive note, it has also strengthened people’s views that your political party is crooked and power hungry. And why not! If they had an ounce of respect for the constitution or the public apathy and had they come together like this to solve public problems instead of saving their seats, Karnataka and Bangalore would be in better position today.

Political inclination is good, as long as they are willing to do good (Like Orissa). But inspite of knowing most of the above facts and of course, the party’s vested interests, you, supporting them is not reasonable. I believe that, in a democratic system like ours, supporting the right political party is aam aadmi’s contribution to the purification of the nation. This purification is a continuous process and when does rightly, it is highly infectious because it necessarily leads to the purification of your own surroundings. Don’t impure your political inclination by means of caste, religion, hate, for self-gain, to conquer your subtle passions. In the longer run, the purer your political inclination is, the more benefits you and your society will reap. It is time you realize in your mind, word and deed that your beloved political party is nothing more than family business. PERIOD! 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Of Lungis, Patapati cheddis and the visionary fashionistas of the 60s

I am not a fashionista myself. And I have always been hauled away from the Indian fashion of the 70s and 80s, thanks to the Raymond tailor stitched shirts and pants which my mom wanted me to wear for all occasions. Interestingly, one of the very few things that we, the Gen X and the millennials have in common is that we have collectively made fun of our forefathers’ fashion statements. Today, out of the blues, while spending a several thousand rupees on apparels to take on Summers, I realized, we were totally off beam about our forefathers’ fashion statements. They were essentially the trend setters and proponents of various vogue wears without even realizing that their dressing would become chic fashion 50 years later. It is pretty convincing that every trendy wear of contemporary India is just a revamped and tweaked reappearance of what our forefathers wore for their entire life. And we, instead of thanking them for life, continue to copy their fashion on one hand and make fun of it on the other.

Bandanas vs Hegl Mel Towel (HMT)
Hegl Mel Towel (ಹೆಗಲ್  ಮೇಲ್ ಟವಲ್) is a Kannada phrase which literally means Towel on shoulders. In urban dictionary, it has gotten its own meaning: “An uneducated adult” just because our ancestors were not concerned with chic fashion and used towels instead. Of late, the bandana, which was just a cowboy couture,has penetrated men’s wardrobes as well. The classic patterned kerchiefs which only girls wore a decade ago are being used today by the male fraternity too. Today’s metro-sexual man uses the bandana as Scarfs, with sleeveless shirts, as strolls, hair tie, helmet cap etc. The fashion gurus claim that it even plays a role in human health and survival. 

Now, what is a bandana? It is nothing but a multipurpose, patterned handkerchief which is bigger in size. In other words, it is that same piece of cloth called towel which our grandfathers carried on their shoulders, all the time! Today, we welcome people wearing bandanas on red carpet; but we synonymize our forefathers with towels on their shoulders as a country dweller and brand the entire union of men from 60s as HMT? How rude are we!

The truth is that we have shamelessly copied Hegl Mel Towel a.k.a. HMT, a foresighted fashion statement by our forefathers, without giving the due credits to them and just renamed it.
Hegl Mel Towel and Bandana

Flowing skirt with draped detail vs Lungi
My recent visit to Zara outlet took me by surprise. I was flabbergasted to see a lungi priced at 5000 rupees. While I was trying to digest the price, a saleswoman came to me and politely said “Men’s section on the other side sir...”. I was hardly able to comprehend for a moment. Out of conscience, I asked her “since when is lungi a woman’s fashion”? The saleswoman perhaps assumed me to be from the HMT squad and informed me that it was not a lungi. It was apparently called “flowing skirt with draped detail”. She explained in detail, its versatility, why it is worth five grand and how their designers thought of the airy feel that it offers. And she suggested that it is a great idea to gift my wife a flowing skirt with draped detail. I just imagined my wife donning a lungi and at that very moment I got an uncontrollable urge to pull my lungi up with my legs, fold it and say “Enda MoLe…”. Unfortunately, I was wearing jeans.

I still get forwards on Whats App on all the weird lungi ads. We are such resentful generation who make fun of lungi in and out; but have no issues in paying five grand for a flowing skirt with draped detail. 
Traditional Lungi vs Skirt with draped detail
Checked boxer vs Patapati cheddi
Of all the disrespect to our ancestors’ fashion statements, ridiculing the patapati cheddi is brutal AF. From movies to memes, social media to sycophantic behavior of millennials towards someone who is wearing the patapati cheddi, people have tried to sabotage the image of this wonder garment in all possible ways. But luckily, it has stood the testing times. Have you ever wondered what is the secret of a patapati cheddi’s mass success? To know it, you need to try it. Even I didn’t; until my character in one of the plays demanded it. When I tried it, it was apparent that the comfort of checked boxers that male fraternity across the world is falling for, is actually a fashion idea stolen from ancestors of our countryside. Checked boxer is nothing but a patapati cheddi with elastic waist instead of a string knot. Period. 

Again, here is another fashionista from the 60s which is shamelessly copied by our generation.Yet we make fun of patapati cheddi, but never mind shelling extra bucks for checked boxers. It is like copying an answer from your friend in exam and making fun of what he has written. Please stop making fun of this wonder garment.

Top row: patapati cheddis.
Botton row: Checked boxers
From“bell bottom pants” by our 70s cinema stars which has metamorphosed as “Palazzos/flares” to the practical and utilitarian thread “girdles” (ಉಡಿದಾರ) which have up-scaled as  “ornamental belts” and “cummerbunds” - there are plenty of such examples out there to prove that there is nothing new about today’s haute couture. It is purely evident that today’s chic fashion statements are just ramifications of the yesteryear’s no-frills fashion and they are just modified to look modern and stylish in an unconventional way. And of course, they come with an exorbitant price tag which we are okay with. *frowns*

Our forefathers did not have a sense of style. But their fashion was very practical, without unnecessary extras and above all, they were totally comfortable. Our generation should be deeply indebted to what they have given us to build on. Imagine the scene if our ancestors had patented patapati cheddis and HMTs. Our satisfaction should come from the fact that we are paying so less for an upmarket fashion derived from a century old style. Not by making fun of them.

So next time you see an old man with a towel on his shoulders and/or with patapati cheddi, take a selfie with him, thank him and post it on social media proudly with hashtags:

#Forefathers #FashionGurus #TrendSetters #PracticalFashion #PataPatiCheddis #CoolHMT

Image courtesy: Google
Patapati cheddi courtesy: Aravind Iyer

Friday, April 26, 2019

You Fatso – The story of my paunch

I have finally realized that my no longer tacit reserves of cholesterol and its self-disclosing revelations by degrees, articulating themselves to thrust all the time and often deftly, cannot be hidden anymore. After the pretty lady doctor in namma metro seated and facing right at my torso for an entire minute and gave me that “how can there be so much disparity between your rumen and reticulum.. You fatso” look, I have accepted that my paunch has overdone all my efforts to keep it under control. Today, I have lost hopes that somehow someday, my tummy will be back to normal shape. Its time I came to terms with it. My wife chiding me of late by asking “yesht tingalu” (how many months) is actually the purest intended sarcasm which I could not even figure it out. Goddammit! **sobs uncontrollably**

Early warning signs:

Your stomach - before it metamorphoses to belly and eventually a potbelly; will actually send early warning signals. You should actually be smart enough to take notice and act on it, which I totally failed at. For e.g. while bathing I accidentally ran my hand on the precipice underneath my navel and could not recall of its whereabouts just a year ago.  While it was totally serious, the element of surprise died as soon as I walked out of the bathroom and looked at the full length mirror in the room. I just did not even realize how whataybaby rested so easily even with my weak grip around his waist.  Why would I automatically become conscious of breathing while posing for a picture? Oh dude! It all falls in place now! How I wish I could go back and change it now! But my dear friend, time is something that you can’t own and revisit.

Ga-Ga over Yoga

Of all the attempts to get rid of my paunch, the first one was joining Yoga at workplace. The way I took off doing 108 Suryanamaskars at one go was the epitome of happiness. I thought, at this rate, my belly fat will just melt away. But later I learnt that it was just one time gimmick to celebrate international Yoga day and next sessions were full of asanas which I could barely do in right way because of my potbelly coming in between. Even after 4 weeks, I did not see any noticeable changes. Heartbroken on how Yoga did not help me shed even a few kilos around my waist; I blamed Baba Ramdev wholeheartedly, my mind started exaggerating my C5-C6 disk herniation to hyperbolic degrees. To aid my decision, god sent a thief to office who stole my Yoga Mat. Yoga ended with a perpetual loss of 300 bucks without burning an ounce of fat around my waist.  

Desperate attempts:

The next attempt was so infallible that it just couldn’t go wrong at all! No prizes for guessing! It was buying a fit-bit band. IT IS NOT FUNNY how I convinced myself that the better results you see with your eyes, the more you’ll be motivated to exercise. I also vaguely recalled one of my friends telling me about the bio feedback bullshit which compelled me to buy it. The first couple of weeks were so good that with completing 10,000 steps, I already started imagining that my jeans pants had loosened up a little. That night I dreamt of a six-pack abs just by wearing a fit-bit band and walking around. But even this fascination didn’t last long. Just a week after that, I realized that when I was asleep during my entire 14 hour journey from Dubai to Chicago, the step count had reached 8500. WTF man! With sheer disappointment, I waved my hands at air hostess only to realize that the step counter again jumped another 3 steps. The dejection I experienced at 35000 feet was just unfathomable. Fit-bit was pure shit-bit!

A friend in need is a friend in deed

By now, I had zeroed in on the root cause. The actual problem was that I did not have an exercising 
partner/friend. Exercising with friends can make it more fun and increase the probability of sticking to an exercising routine. So I and Shashi meticulously worked out a plan. We decided to compromise our sleep by an hour and go to Turahalli every morning for a run. The last resort of shedding my potbelly had perfectly taken off to a head start. This time, it worked like charm. We got used to a routine. 4 km of walk/run in the forest, bitching about stupid bosses at workplace, talking about Data, Mobile, analytics, cloud and debating the Indian political Diaspora; getting to witness the ostentatious displays of peacock’s beautiful feathers to attract the peahens; Oh the bliss!  Alas, just as we started shedding few kilos, Shashi had to travel to USA for three months. And the Turahalli chapter saw a dismal ending. But the question “Kya aap paunch vi pass se tezz hain” still remained.

Within a few months, buddy maga Bali shifted to my apartment. But the damage was already done. In this two month gap, my paunch had thrived on the Bajji-Bondas, Death by Chocolate and all the possible junk which had Buy one Get One offer in D-mart. To add to it was my eternal craving for rice. With the little bit of motivation left, we decided to run 5K, only on the weekends. Our wives made fun of it so candidly. We took it as a challenge. We just took it. We couldn't do a thing about it. because of inexplicably mysterious problems. It was very evident that the entire universe was acting in unison to stop my belly fat from shedding. It was sort of anti incumbency experienced by my stomach. The more I tried to exercise, the larger it grew in size.


I was pounding down the bajji-bonda little hesitantly. Abhi read my mind and gave me a piece of advice: “Macha, don’t think too much. Don't stop eating a food just because it contains fat, and never think a food is healthy only because it does not contain fat. That was the moment my mind was waiting for. Even before he could complete, my mind raced ahead of time and convinced myself with a variety of reasons. A doctoral student from IISc saying this has to make perfect sense.

A great man once said that belly is actually a sign of happiness; And yeah! Beyond your good health nothing matters. Happiness starts in the stomach. Above all, fat reserves are important for the body.

I am driving back home and Fat Boy Slim’s “Eat sleep rave repeat” is playing aloud in my car.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Of auto correction, Cyber-slang and technology chauvinism

My recent whatsapp conversation with a college friend of mine did not go very well. I was totally baffled and was fumbling to even understand what she was talking. The jargon and the chat acronyms she used were so much that for every reply of her I had to Google to find out what it actually meant. To save myself from embarrassment, here is an edited version of the conversation:

She: Tejjjjjj! Lngtym. Hw ya doin?
Me: Heyyy Rosh! I am good! How are you? Real long time. Last time we met was in 2008 I guess
She: IKR!
Me: ** Long pause** What are you up to?
She: M gd. Settled in US for now. But its AFU life here. Hey, DYK wr Sandy s?
Me: **Long pause** He is in Singapore
She: DAFUQ? I was der for like 8Y man! DUR our coll days?
Me: **Long pause** Yeah. Good old days J
She: Hey Y u tkn so lng to rply?
Me: Frankly, I am trying to catch up with your net lingo. Google’s not helping either: P
She: Roflmao! K. GTG. Buhbyeee. XOXOZZZ

Throughout the conversation, I had this weird feeling that she is bi-lingual, speaking English and in another language called Cyber slang, unknown to me for which I was replying only in English. It felt weird and awkward. At the end of it, I was not sure if I was really happy we spoke after a long time. I kept thinking about it for a very long time. It was then I realized that I too am a victim of this text lingo to a certain extent. Oblivious to my own conscience, I found that I end up writing ‘thru’ for ‘through’; ‘n’ for ‘and’, ‘tomo’ for ‘tomorrow’ and so on.

Ideally, with all the digital communication platforms and the world of internet at our fingertips, our vocabularies should have been expanding, isn’t it? But it looks like it is not the case. Considering the exposure which my dad and grandpa had to literature and books, I definitely have an edge over them. But I can assertively say that my grandpa and my dad have better vocabularies than that of mine. I just paid a little more attention to what they did differently than us. I had my answers within days.

At workplace, very often, I am required to review the requirement specification documents as part of my job. For the records, requirement specification is a document which lists the detailed description of how a software feature is expected to work. My most preferred way of checking for grammar and spelling correctness is MS word spell checker. Is it that I cannot do it without it? Most certainly not. But this gives me a quick overview of what needs correction and lists it out for me, boom! my job is done within a short time. On the contrary, my dad, even to this day, proof reads an entire article using his brains and eyes only. No, he does not depend on spell check. His brain is processing it for him since 50 years; which is to say that his vocabulary is getting stronger and sharper every day. It does not surprise me that my dad is called ‘walking dictionary’ in his office.Whereas for me; since the computer is doing it, the computer is getting smarter. Oh, the machine learning. In other words, the machine is getting smarter everyday by making us dumb, you dumber.

Auto correction
Whatsapp has become the de-facto standard for all sorts of communication. Text, Images, audio, documents and whatsoever format that it supports, the texting which is widely used, comes with a serious issue tagged with it called Auto correction. When I have interacted with acquaintances, there were disastrous moments of me trying to say something but ended up saying something else. I strongly have a feeling that they think I am some third grade dropout who cannot even form basic sentences. Few disasters due to auto correction were beyond repair; like the ones below:
  • ·         Did you see Urine? Don’t miss.. Sorry Urine.. I mean URI.. Goddammit!
  • ·         Hi Practice… What??? Sorry. I meant Prachi.. Ugh!
  • ·         May be Dick by Hermaphrodite Melvin (While discussing about Moby-dick by Herman Melville)
  • ·         Heyy.. Finally I found my GSPOT.. errrr.. GPS (She had fainted by then I guess)
  • ·         I am yet to finish writing. I am a prostitute (I wanted to say Procrastinator.. Argghhhhh)
  • ·         I once told my wife “I really want to meet you. But you are so damn fat” (She called me even before I said FAR not fat)
ducking autocorrection
The most famous auto correction problem on iPhone

My grandpa never had all these problems because from Bhadravati to Bangalore, he used to send telegrams, wrote wonderful letters and he himself typed his messages on postcards using a typewriter. He even sent us handmade greeting cards on various occasions. On the other hand, The Roget’s Thesaurus 1941 edition and the Rev. F. Kittel’s 1894 edition of Kannada-English dictionary copies at home are almost in worn-out state with torn illustrations and title page re-joined with an adhesive tape. I can even see a few printing mistakes corrected with a pen. They are perhaps telling a lexicon tale that we are not willing to believe. 
Kannada to English dictionary
A very old Kittel's Kannada to English dictionary
With Auto correction, auto-complete and other such tools, the flexibility in the language usage is lost by a huge magnitude. It is true that words don’t get their meanings from dictionaries. They get their meanings from how they are contextually used by writers and speakers. The more speakers and writers conform to suggestions by machines, the less creative the language becomes. Do you remember elders in your family asking you to read “The Hindu” and “classic literature” to enhance your English vocab? Now you know why.

The postcard typed by my grandfather when my father was born - Year 1946

Genetics and Language
Have you ever noticed this about yourself or someone around you? If you did your schooling in Kannada Medium, there is high possibility that, even to this day, you’ll do all the basic math (addition, subtraction and multiplication) in Kannada, way faster than English. Now there are demonstrated research works that claim our linguistic capabilities are directly linked to our genetic predisposition. So inclination towards technology for everything is more serious condition than it actually is.

Over dependence on technology has already done enough damage to our daily lives. Call me old school, but I really don’t like technology invading our private lives so much that it obliterates our ability to learn and master a language. There is a dire need to limit our dependency and put a stop to chauvinism that we are showing towards Auto correction, auto complete and cyber slang. Let our linguistic capability remain intact and do not obtuse us.