Archive for the Trivia Category

‘Men’tally Challenged

Posted in humour, Trivia with tags , , on March 16, 2012 by salaamreaders

We always knew it, but it’s official now. A recent study has proved that men cannot think straight when there are pretty women around! It seems one of the researchers forgot his address after a few minutes of conversation with an attractive women he had just met. That set him thinking if it was a general phenomenon and subsequent experiments revealed that men indeed performed less well in mental tasks after being in company of beautiful women, than they normally did otherwise. I now know why I always came back with that feeling of having made a fool of myself, after, trying to impress that pretty girl in the office!

Have you observed how women are in control in such situations while the men are, well, generally salivating over them? The reason it seems is, that, men are ‘evolutionally programmed’ to go into a ‘mental decline’ at such times. They are thinking more of mating opportunities than anything interesting to say to the women. To put it scientifically, men ‘temporarily absorb most of their cognitive resources’ in being ‘reproductively focused’ at such times. No wonder that women should think that men always talk to their breasts. Methinks, the thinking organs of the male of the species are located in their nether regions!



Happy New Year

Posted in Trivia with tags , on December 30, 2009 by salaamreaders

The time for the annual stock taking and making plans for the future is upon us. The curtain is down on 2009 and 2010 is beckoning us. What did this year mean to us and how will the new year turn out -this is the question which is now uppermost in our minds. Looking back we would notice that the year was of mixed blessings for most of us. There were the good times and there were the bad times. This is always the case no matter what we might have wished for. The next year would also bring a mixed bag. This is the law of nature. Change is the only constant in life. Both good times and bad times would not continue indefinitely. It is another story that we always wish that our run of good luck should never end. It is also our nature that adverse times always appear inordinately long and never ending. But in truth, we will always be confronted with both pleasant and  unpleasnt periods in our lives. So, methinks that we should welcome the new year with open arms, knowing well that it too will bring us our share of happiness and grief, no matter what we may wish for.

Are you superstitious?

Posted in Trivia with tags , on November 26, 2009 by salaamreaders

My left eye was twitching  a few days ago and I was afraid, that, something was going to go amiss. That’s what I had been brought up to believe, you know. Much as I would have liked to believe, that, it was all nonsense, I could not get that persistent feeling of impending doom to go away. However, once I got busy in the tedium of the daily routine, I promptly forgot about the whole thing. It was later in the evening when someone scraped my car, in an area without much traffic, that I remembered the twitching eye again.

When I think about it, with my rational thinking cap on, I come to the conclusion, that, it was only an accident. One that could have happened, and had happened earlier also, on any given day irrespective of the twitch in the left eye. It had happened because the other driver was not driving carefully and it had nothing to do with my eye. I berate myself for falling prey to such superstitions, not befitting a rational and educated person. But somehow despite all the rationalization, there is that nagging feeling that maybe there is some truth in these matters. Maybe, it’s the way we have been brought up. It is difficult to wish away a life time’s training which inculcates these beliefs.

It is not that only Indians are superstitious. It is a world-wide phenomenon. The forms may vary but their essence is the same. How did superstitions grow in the first place? I think they may have evolved because of our collective experiences. Man-kind must have observed a pattern of events over a very long period of  time and may have come to associate certain effects to specific causes. That is why it is cultural. All societies have their peculiar experiences leading to typical forms of superstitions. Indians would like to believe that if a cat were to cross your path, the work you were going for would not be successfully accomplished. The cure, it seems, is to either return or take another route or even wait till someone else goes ahead of you. Another one is that if there is itching in the left palm, one is going to have to spend some money. If the itching is in the right palm, you are likely to get some money. In fact, anything to do with the left side is usually considered inauspicious.

One also likely to believe more in these things if one is feeling low or if things are not going his way generally. Maybe at such times, one feels more vulnerable and fears the worst. He would, therefore, not want to take any risk and try to resort to a remedy to overcome the bad effects of such omens. It is interesting to note that most ill omens have a remedy to overcome their ill effects. They were prescribed by the shaman or the medicine men and have continued since then.

If these are just superstitions without any rational basis, the only way to overcome them is not to teach them to our children and hopefully, they would go away in a generation or two. But it seems unlikely to happen, keeping in view how widespread they are.





November Musings

Posted in Books, India, Trivia with tags , , , , on November 25, 2009 by salaamreaders

When I started this blog, a friend said that statistics proved that most people gave up writing after a few posts. The reason was that they were discouraged by the luke warm response to their blogs and were, therefore, discouraged. I told him, that, I intended to write regularly and was not going to give up even if I did not receive any response. But it seems that my friend was right afterall! This post comes after a long hiatus. Actually, for some time after my last post, I was caught up in various professional matters. Later, when I  was relatively free, ennui and the sheer tedium of writing had overcome the desire to write. But, here I am again, after casting all self doubts aside. Hope I would not give up again.

I read somewhere that history was a nightmare from which people were constantly trying to awaken. How true! The way history is taught in our schools, it is one of the most boring subjects for many students. Frankly, I hardly remember what little history I was taught in the school. And I think I am not alone. Jawahar Lal Nehru, who wrote the most interesting books on history-Discovery of India and Glimpses of World History-  said that he “came late to history” as he did not learn much of it while at school. The same is true for most of us as we find history an endless succession of dates and dynasties only. It was perhaps this realization that made Nehru take up the writing of his books on history which became so popular the world over. The other books on Indian history that I have enjoyed reading are “The Wonder That Was India” by Basham and Rizvi. Actually, these are two books-Part I by Basham and II by Rizvi.

Thinking of Nehru, much as many people would like to debunk his politics, it has to be said that no other Indian politician, then or since then, except Gandhi, had written so extensively on such a variety of subjects. His felicity with the English language was wonderful and he had such a simple and lucid style which touched the hearts of his readers. How many politicians can you think of who had such breadth of vision and who expressed themselves so copiously and expressively?

November 14th was his birthday which is celebrated as children’s day in India. But gradually, it seems to be out of favour for when we were children, it was celebrated on a much wider and grander scale in schools. Apart from some token events, it seems to have been forgotten entirely. And it is no wonder because we have other more important issues to debate than infant mortality, malnutrition, female foeticide,illiteracy, problems of street children and the like! In fact, these and other children related issues hardly ever become the focus of our attention, even at election times, when all political parties are at their best in inculding as many issues as possible in their manifestoes.

It is late November and winter seems to have set in the North. The days have become shorter and it gets dark by 6 pm. Migratory birds have started arriving for their winter sojourn in the ponds and lakes of North India. We have roses blooming and the winter annuals are eagerly awaited. It is the season of weddings too. Marriage halls and other venues are bedecked like the brides themselves and marriage processions can be encountered on roads with the groom astride the white mare. Now a days these processions or baraats as they are called do not evoke the same interest as in earlier days. A baraat used to be an event calculated to show off. The more the merrier used to be the mantra then. Brass bands, shehnai, chariots, elephants, fireworks-all were employed to impress the bride’s people in particular and every one else in general. In fact, a baraat coming down the street with the band playing popular bollywood tunes used to be an occasion for the neighbourhood to come out on their balconies to watch the extragavanza. Now many grooms refuse to sit astride mares and lead a procession of drunk relatives jiving uncontrollably through the streets. But times are changing and we must change with them.

Soon we will be in the grip of cold wave and await Santa with his sackful of goodies. So long then.

It is no laughing matter

Posted in Trivia with tags , , , on July 31, 2009 by salaamreaders

The other day, a friend forwarded this joke – a machine was invented for catching thieves. In America, 9 persons were caught in a day. In China, 30 were caught in a day. In England, 50 were caught. And in India- well, the machine was stolen in an hour!

I could not help but laugh at reading it. I am sure, that, many other Indians would also find it funny despite its insinuation that our national past-time was thievery. I am also sure, that, somewhere deep down in our hearts, we may just believe in what the joke alludes to. But if it were so, why would we laugh at something which should be acutely discomfiting?  Is it fashionable to have  a sense of humour?

James Beattie, an 18th century Scottish poet and philosopher, suggested that laughter distinguished ‘Man from the inferior animals’.  An ability to laugh is apparently considered a desirable quality in  human beings these days. Some surveys have identified, that, a sense of humour is considered an attractive attribute in selecting a sexual partner. We have turned a full circle from  Hobbes’s fear of the power of  laughter to Osho’s description of seriousness as a deadly disease. Laughter and humour are now considered good and a person who enjoys a good laugh, at himself, is thought of as liberal and progressive. It is also believed, that, humour may actually help us brave challenges thrown by life and keep our sanity in the face of adversities.

But there is a cruel side to humour too. Satire and sarcasm are often directed at people considered inferior. These may be individuals or groups sharing some common characteristics which distinguish them from the perpetrator of humour. Ethnic, national, linguistic, professional, sexist or other prejudices lead to stereotyping of people who become the butt of jokes. Humour, thus, becomes the means to inflict some sort of punishment.

Freud may well have been right in saying that we deceived ourselves about the true nature of our laughter!


Posted in India, Trivia with tags , , , , , on July 29, 2009 by salaamreaders

The American television serial-Friends- is quite popular these days among young people in India. It depicts the escapades of a group of young friends. Though these American youngsters inhabit a different world from our own, the show is still a hit here. It may be because concerns of the youth the world over remain the same and they all value friendship highly.

True friendship is celebrated in folk lore and mythology of all cultures. The story about the friendship between Lord Krishna and Sudama is a legend in India. They became friends while studying in Guru Sandipana’s ashrama. After completing their studies they went their own ways. While Krishana became the king of Dwarika, Sudama remained a poor Brahmin. His wife knew of their friendship and often implored him to ask Krishna for help. The Brahmin was contented with his friendship and did not desire anything else from Krishna. But her repeated entreaties eventually moved him to go to Dwarika to meet him. While leaving he asked his wife for a gift for Krishna. There being nothing of value in their home, she collected a handful of chivada from her neighbours and tied it in his handkerchief as a present for Krishna.

When Sudama reached Dwarika, he was overwhelmed by its magnificence and the opulence of its people. He hesitated in meeting his friend due to the obvious difference in their stations.  But Krishna was overjoyed to find his old friend at his gate. Despite being the king, he embraced Sudama and welcomed him. He seated him on his own seat, washed his feet with his own hands and offered him fruits and drinks. Everyone in his palace was astonished at the reception that the poor priest was receiving at the hands of their king. Sudama tried to hide his handkerchief thinking that his gift was worthless but Krishana soon found it and ate the chivda with great relish.

Sudama stayed with his friend for sometime but could never bring himself to ask him for any material help. After sometime he bade his friend goodbye and started back home pondering what he would tell his wife about asking Krishna for help. When he reached his village, he was shocked to find a palace with all the riches in place of his humble hut. He understood that his friend was the cause of all this. Krishana had known, without Sudama ever telling him, that he required help. And help him he did, with an open heart and without expecting anything in return. Such is the essence of friendship.

This story is very old yet so popular that it is told and retold in all languages. It is also adapted to contemporary circumstances from time to time. Shades of the same were seen recently in a Hindi movie- Billu- in which the lead role was played by Shahrukh Khan. In this movie also, two childhood friends meet after a very long time during which their circumstances had changed. While one had become a famous movie star, the other had remained poor. The poor friend hesitated in meeting the rich person thinking that perhaps he might have forgotten their friendship. But the rich person still remembered his friend. In the end, they renewed their friendship with much tear shedding and melodrama as always happens in Hindi movies.

Kural, an ancient Tamil scripture, says that friendship is shared sensibilities and not constant companionship. How true!

Squeamish about Squalor

Posted in India, Trivia with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2009 by salaamreaders

I have been ‘lurking’ around-as the site administrators are wont to tell me-a travel site these past few days. The site is frequented by many foreigners who have either already travelled or are planning to travel to India . Those who have been here are invariably struck by the terrible filth and squalor that they see all around. They deal with it differently. One couple in Ajmer, when confronted with a smelly toilet, burnt a hundred boxes of incense sticks to overcome the stench. Others adopt less rigourous stratagems. Off course, after they overcome their initial shock, some of them do  enjoy their sojourn here. But the question which puzzles me is why  Indians are indifferent to the all  pervading squalor around them?

It is not that we do not know the virtues of cleanliness. Our scriptures extoll it as next only to Godliness. Hindus are, perhaps, one of the most ritually clean people in the world; having once taken the notions of ritual purity to  such absurd lengths as having an obligation to wash themselves  even if an unclean shadow were to fall on them. There are innumerable occasions for ritual bathing at rivers, ponds and the like in our religious calendar. Even the poorest take bath regularly. It is the same when it comes to our homes. Indian housewives are extremely house proud. The humblest of the huts are kept scrupulously clean, even if only by an application of a layer of cow dung. Take a look down from the ramparts of the Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur and you will see most houses neatly painted in blue. But walk down to the same area and you would find it littered-literally.

I found an interesting explanation for this in a book-“The Heart of India” -by Nirad C. Chaudhary. He writes that it has to do with the inability of the early Aryans to deal with the climate of the Indo- Gangetic plains. It developed three mental attitudes in them; firstly an abnormal sensitivity which led to an anxiety or compulsive obsession for physical cleanliness, secondly philosophical and mystical indifference  and thirdly, neutrality or even an happy co-existence with material squalor.

But this does not explain why, while individually Indians are concerned about personal cleanliness, they are indifferent to the filth around them. Pavan K. Varma provides a clue in his book- “Being Indian”. Hindus, he says, being self -centred do not take note of any thing which does not have any direct bearing on their self-interest. This makes him insular, callous, indifferent and impervious to his environment.

Nirad Chaudhary said that squeamishness was out of place in India and he, personally, had put up with almost anything. He went so far to suggest that the necessity to be psychologically proof against filth was the first condition of understanding our life. Nevertheless, there is nothing virtuous in being indifferent to dirt, stench and ugliness. On the contrary, it is good to be squeamish about the degrading conditions of our civic life, if we are ever to change them. We must understand that it is in our self-interest to improve upon our surroundings.

Whether we will be able to climb out of the mounds of rubbish that we live on, may depend  on our ability to overcome the general indifference of our citizens to matters of public good-as opposed to narrow self-interest only.

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