Word of the Week #129:

Supernumerary

You know what I truly dislike about this country? The labour laws… Or perhaps the seeming lack thereof.

How many hours is an average person expected to work in a week? In most reasonable parts of the world, the answer is 40. 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. As I said, reasonable.

In India, however, the answer can jump up to 60. The law actually states 9 hours a day, 6 days a week, but who cares about that, right?

In most parts of the world, every employee gets around 35 days of paid leave every year. Plus weekends, which gives us roughly 140 days a year. In India? 25… So adding a lone Sunday each week, we get around 80.

Add to that the geographical size, lack of affordable and reliable transportation, and the high concentration of jobs in urban centres, odds are you would not get to visit your home more than twice or thrice every year.

And, as I probably do not even need to mention, the pay is far from stellar.

Growing up, I was always led to believe that we work in order to live, but I do not see much evidence of life around here.

Knowing all this, one might wonder just how this can continue, right? Why do we, in India, tolerate such treatment for so little compensation?

Well, the answer is simple. If you don’t, someone else will.

We are a nation of many people. Too many people. Way too many people.

And as the workforce keeps growing, the employment opportunities struggle to keep up. It does not take a genius to realise this system is built to implode.

I just hope I do not get caught in the aftershocks.

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Word of the Week #128:

Exemplar

Even though I am a writer, this was never meant to be a literary blog, per se. However, tonight, let us talk about writing.

One thing I strongly dislike about far too many people in the literary world is the lack of width in their understanding and appreciation of books.

Each one of them would seem to only enjoy a particular way of writing, and any choosing not to employ the same is considered a folly.

Now, nobody appreciates one’s right to personal preference, but when it seeks to lay down a framework that every writer is expected to follow, we have a problem.

Among many other things, there is one edict every writer has always heard: Show, don’t tell.

There is some logic to it, of course.

As the website of a popular editor summarises it:

“Showing makes the writing vivid and more descriptive. Showing also helps readers experience the story by allowing them to interpret the descriptions of places, actions, and scenes.

Telling, on the other hand, is flat and boring and limits the experience for the reader. It also tells editors and agents you’re an amateur. After all, if the very first rule of writing is show, don’t tell, then telling says you don’t know the first thing about writing.”

Sure, that is, in general, pretty sound advice. Setting a scene, letting the readers draw conclusions for themselves, it all makes sense right? Of course, it only works when the perspective is of a proverbial fly-on-the-wall.

The rule is applicable only if you are employing a Third Person Objective narrative. Surprisingly narrow scope for such an important rule, right?

Now, I do not use this style of narrative very often. I have a strong preference for Character Voice. I like my characters to drive the narrative, and telling what the character thinks or feels can often be a part of it. It adds meat to the character, and also adds uncertainty into the narrative.

Think of this scenario. You are writing a novel that talks about a case of sexual harassment in an office.

Which approach would you prefer:

  1. Every chapter written objectively, documenting the actions and words of the characters.
  2. Different chapters written from the perspectives of different characters. Maybe the harasser’s male colleagues describe him as a wonderful guy who always gets the job done, and his female colleagues describe him as a creep who never lets them feel comfortable in the workplace.

Is either approach better than the other? No, they are just two different ways to turn one story into two distinct books. And there is no reason why both cannot be good.

At the end of the day, it is your story, and you get to decide how you write it.

As long as you are smart about it, you can show and tell.

Word of the Week #127:

Gastronomy

I like cheesecakes and I cannot lie
You other brothers can’t deny
That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty plate
And a cheesecake in your face
You get sprung!

I love good food.

Maybe you’ve had a long, dreary week. Maybe your spouse is being especially annoying. Maybe you didn’t get any sleep because your cat peed in your bed.

Whatever may go wrong in the world, the moment you put that first spoonful of cheesecake in your mouth, all your pain and sorrow just melts along with its soft, creamy love…

Unless you are lactose intolerant, perhaps. Or diabetic.

Still, you know what I mean, right? Food does have the power to change the world, your world, from the inside.

It is not surprising that I love good food. Who doesn’t, right?

Well, at least that is what I used to think, till I really went out in the world and met more people.

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”

— Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I often notice that people who have no appreciation for good food are rather bland individuals.

I mean, look at this:

Or this:

Or this:

How can I ever trust someone who does not love these, right? Sounds reasonable to me.

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

— George Bernard Shaw

So give me some cheesecake, and you will see how much I can love you.

Word of the Week #125:

Amour

Ah, love.

Everyone loves love, right?

Isn’t this what we grew up watching in our movies? A young couple, hopelessly in love, who battle against all odds and either end up living happily ever after or die trying.

The formula is quite old. Romeo and Juliet was written over 400 years ago. Considering this, it is quite surprising that the story is not considered outdated.

Why?

Because our society still does not seem to understand that personal relationship should be just that: Personal.

Instead, it becomes a referendum for the entire country. Not just your close family and friends, everyone from your teachers to priests to gynaecologists feels the need to weigh in.

Of course, none of this concerns you when your parents have your back. But when they don’t? When they cannot accept the fact that their children are capable to making decisions for themselves?

That is how we end up with 251 reported cases of honour killings in one year. The key word here being ‘reported‘. Who knows how many of them slip under the radar because, well, dead men tell no tales.

I would generally go on to elaborate the widespread chilling effect this has on women in general but Kavita Krishnan already did a great job at it, in her article for Al Jazeera.

For now, let us look at something interesting.

Our Constitution gives us the right to freedom of speech and expression, which should enable us to express our feelings for whoever we happen to love, and any person who tries to stop us will face the wrath of our legal system, right? Right?

Actually, quite wrong…

You see, there is a catch. Just half a dozen lines later, the Constitution also states that the State can “impose reasonable restrictions” in the interest of “decency or morality“.

34% of our Members of Parliament had pending criminal cases when they last got elected, 21% being charged with serious crimes.

These are the people who get to “impose reasonable restrictions” on us in the interest of “decency or morality“.

After all, nothing says freedom like having your voices muffled by thugs.

Romeo and Juliet must be rolling in their graves.

Word of the Week #124:

Secession

Earlier today, on the eve of our 72nd Independence Day, the President addressed the nation.

Did you watch it?

Of course, I did not watch it live. I did not even know it was happening tonight. For some reason, I thought the speech happens on the Independence Day…

But, for the very first time in my life, I actually watched the entire thing.

Among his 21 minutes of remarks, one statement stood out in particular to me. I must warn you that the following is not a precise translation, but I believe I do his sentiments justice.

At the very least, I did a better job than the folks over at NDTV. Come on, guys. You are supposed to be the professionals, around here…

Expanding the extent of freedom is an unabating endeavour.

— President Ram Nath Kovind

Such alliteration… Wow…

Of course, it is news to nobody that we, as a nation, have a long way to go.

On 15th of August, 1947, we did successfully secede from the British Empire. I wonder if any country can truly be called independent, in this day and age, but we have maintained our sovereignty, which is commendable.

However, when it comes to freedom, we have a particularly long way to go.

Just a couple of years have passed since the JNU incident, wherein the government decided to arrest students protesting in the campus and charge them with sedition. Talk about overkill…

While the matter is still sub judice, the court asked the university to take no coercive action against the students, including Umar Khalid.

Naturally, the university responded by refusing to accept his PhD thesis. This was, once again, followed by much hullaballoo.

Now, Khalid was allegedly shot at just three days before the next hearing. Coincidence?

Maybe it was all unrelated… Maybe he is just unlucky… Who can say, am I right?

Of course, according to the National Crime Report Bureau, over 142 unrelated cases of violence against journalists have been registered in the past 3 years. One wonders how many passed not registered.

Interestingly enough, not a single murder of a journalist has been solved in the country over the past decade.

So much coincidence. It makes my nerves tingle.

Clearly, we have a long way to go. And a particularly difficult one at that.

But for now, we fly these colours. Let us talk more about it next week.

Word of the Week #123:

Apocalypse

This post culminates the discussion we have been having for the past few weeks, and let me just begin by saying this: DON’T PANIC.

Now, anybody who has not been living under a rock for the past few years must have noticed a few subtle changes in our socio-political landscape over the past decade or so, in our country and across the world. Certain elements that have existed on the fringe of modern society suddenly find themselves a part of the mainstream..

Of course, the eldest among us would argue that the fringe has always existed and it is only the media that now highlights it more than ever before, but there is more to it. One cannot deny that the extremists among us have been emboldened by certain individuals.

One might be tempted to ask, “Really, just what does it matter if certain dogs continue to bark? It is what they do, after all. Why should we bother?”

The answer is actually simple, and lies in the Middle East.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 overthrew the Persian monarchy and replaced it with an Islamic theocracy. There may be some who would argue this was a step in the right direction but the members of the Jewish community in Iran, which essentially halved overnight, might want to disagree.

There are always certain people who will ask, “What is wrong in seeking religious, ethnic, or ideological, homogeneity in your country?”

Well, if every citizen chooses to believe the same thing, nothing is wrong, is there? It is the opportunity to make that free and informed choice that matters.

Of course, you cannot choose your ethnicity, so if the regime suddenly decides it does not want you around, you better get ready to run, am I right?

The question we now have to ask is this. How does this lead to the end of the world? The answer is, once again, quite simple.

The world is always ending.

It is the rule of entropy.

It is why your clothes are constantly getting dirtier, and your body is growing wearier every day that passed. Both avoid complete degradation because you put some effort in making them last just a little bit longer.

The same is true for the world at large. It is always ending. It survives when the best and the brightest of the entire human race come together to make it last a little longer.

However, that may not continue forever, and from the recent evidence of our self-destructive nature, I wonder how much longer we might have.