For most of us, pens serve as the markers of our growing up years. The memory of that moment in your life when you were first allowed to write with a pen is special. It is a graduation without the ceremony – from being allowed to write only with pencils to being considered responsible enough to use a pen. The pen is also associated with our first attempts at philosophy – countless students have written an essay on “The pen is mightier than the sword!” Ink pens have also marked the frustration of our teenage years with leaky nibs, blotting paper, spoilt school uniforms and the constant fear of the inkpot going dry. Then came the ball points and felt tips and that felt like another graduation – welcome to a world of convenience!
But it isn’t until you start working in a corporate environment that you realize the true importance of a pen! Sure, we have a variety of paperless options for organizing our day, taking notes, making lists, etc. Why, these new tools even sync across devices and organize themselves into neat, color-coded folders, so you never have to miss a thing. But for a large number of people the old paper-and-pen route is still the best. After working in a corporate set-up for nearly a decade, I can vouch for the immense satisfaction derived from writing down a to-do list at the beginning of the day and then scratching things off it.
During meetings, my pen and diary are my best friends – I can look attentive by simply making notes and when it gets boring beyond all belief I can save myself from the embarrassment of falling asleep by doodling on the top right hand corner of the page.
And that brings me to a peculiar, behavioral economics question – a question of pens!
Let us try to describe this commodity in economic terms:
Price – A pen can cost as less as Rs. 2 and can be as expensive as $ 1.3 million (I am not even going to convert that).
Functionality – All pens are able to write and the wide range of prices is not reflective of any substantial additional functionality. If you take a standard ballpoint and simply start drawing a continuous line, you will be able to go for a little over 2 kilometers before you run out of ink. For the average user, that means a month’s worth of writing. The really cheap varieties might run out of ink around the 1.5-kilometer mark; while the really expensive ones are unlikely to last beyond 3 kilometers. There is, of course, the matter of smooth flow of ink in the more expensive pens. But does the smooth flow of ink warrant the crazy price tags? I wouldn’t know.
Supply – In terms of availability in the market, pens are in abundance. In terms of availability at the exact moment when you need it, pens can be remarkably scarce. We have all been to a bank branch / a government office / airport check-in counters and at the exact moment when you need to sign your name, your pen will insist on crawling into the darkest, most unreachable corner of your purse. The situation only gets worse in offices, especially during meetings.
And that, my dear friends, is my problem! How do I save my pens from the preying eyes of my colleagues who need a pen but couldn’t be bothered to carry one around?
I have been, unfortunately, assigned a seat very close to a meeting room and that has inadvertently made me the victim of a purely unintentional and vastly irritating crime – a petty theft of pens. To those who have caused me so much mental agony I only wish to ask this – when you know you are going to attend a meeting and have carried a diary to take notes, is it so difficult to remember to carry a pen? Over the last few years, I have spent more on replacing borrowed (stolen) pens than any other piece of office stationery.
I believe in sharing and am usually generous with my possessions, but I have learnt the hard way that sharing is not a virtue when it comes to pens. Numerous colleagues have borrowed pens for “just a moment” with promises to return them “as soon as the meeting is over” but very few have actually followed through on that! When a colleague borrowed a pen costing a hundred bucks and did not bother to return it, I knew the time had come to take protective measures.
And thus started a series of self-designed and entirely unscientific experiments to save my pens!
I purchased a pack of 20 pens that cost Rs. 5 each and left ten of them in the pen stand on my desk in plain sight. Colleagues rushing into meetings usually request to borrow a pen as merely a polite thing to do – nobody thinks you could be cheap enough to refuse. I figured that by leaving pens on the desk I wasn’t really going to make any difference. It turns out that I lost every single one of them in less than a week! My experience suggested that since I had left a bunch of pens in plain sight, people did not really think that returning pens was necessary because “there were more where this one came from”.
Having learnt a lesson from Experiment 1, I decided to keep out only one pen at a time. I ended up losing all pens again; however this happened over a two-week period.
Having lost 20 pens in less than a month, I decided to buy 5 of the cheapest pens available. These 2-buck pens wrote fairly well but looked every bit their down-market price. In fact, a couple of colleagues walked up to my desk to borrow a pen, saw the cheap wares I had laid out and promptly asked my neighbor if they could borrow his pen! However, when the pens were borrowed, not a single one was returned! I suppose people worked it out that since I hadn’t bothered to spend even a slightly respectable amount on the pens I wasn’t expecting them back in any case.
There is no experiment 4 since I cannot afford any more experiments.
Across my 5-week long experiment, I learnt some truths about human nature:
- The higher up in the corporate hierarchy you are, the less likely you are to carry a pen. And you most definitely could not be bothered to return the ones that you borrow.
- The lower down the pecking order you are, the less likely you are to go around borrowing pens. On the rare occasion that the need arises, you will scrupulously return the pen.
- If you borrow a pen, forget to return it and the owner walks up to you to politely demand the said pen, you will look at him/her like he/she is the world’s rudest, most ungrateful person.
- If the borrowed pen is expensive, you will keep it because you really enjoyed the smooth ink flow.
- If the borrowed pen is cheap, you will keep it because the lender is too cheap to stock decently priced pens.
- The lender’s designation is critical to the return of pens. I suppose not too many people want to get on the wrong side of the department head’s personal assistant.
I request you to suggest solutions to my peculiar problem. The money I spend on pens is not so high that I can refuse to lend them altogether. But having to constantly replenish stocks is really annoying and is an entirely avoidable inconvenience. Also, refusing to lend makes me look cheap, as does demanding their return. (I am, in fact, dreading that my colleagues will read this blog and that will lead to my reputation being tarnished beyond repair.)
Does anybody have an answer to my question of pens?
P.S.: A few days ago I came across research on another peculiar, behavioral economics question – that of reclining airplane seats. Do you automatically gain the rights to recline your seat or does the person being reclined upon have a say in the matter? While I have not been involved in any fist-fights (yet) with regards to lending/borrowing pens, I do strongly believe that we must find a solution to this problem. I urge economists, psychologists, management gurus and other experts to please pay attention to this simmering issue. In case you are interested in finding out more about reclining airplane seats, do read: How to resolve fights over reclining airplane seats
(Spolier Alert: You have been warned!)
The HBO miniseries Big Little Lies caught my attention because Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman were producing and starring in it and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. (Confession: I haven’t read Liane Moriarty’s eponymous book.)
The opening scenes had my attention – the insanely beautiful Bixby Creek Bridge in Monterey, California and panoramic views of the Pacific Coast. The title track shows all the moms in the story driving their kids to school. That, in itself, is an unremarkable, routine act. And yet, like everything else on the show, it hides so much – primarily, the physical and emotional effort required to keep up the façade of normalcy.
The first few scenes of the series lead you to believe that this is yet another show about beautiful, confident women living in multi-million dollar mansions, wearing expensive clothes, and bitching about each other. Except for Jane (Shailene Woodley), none of them need to worry about money and even Jane seems to have managed after Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) puts in a word or two for her.
The show is supposed to be about a murder mystery but until the very last scenes of the last episode we know little about the murder itself- who was killed, who killed and the motive. Rest assured the answers to all three questions are stunning in their simplicity. All we know is that it happened on the Audrey Hepburn-Elvis Presley themed Trivia Night.
It is the show’s rambling build-up to the night in question (told through a series of police interviews of fringe characters discussing the events leading to the murder) that furthers the belief that the main characters lead perfect lives and this is just another out-of-touch-with-reality, bordering-on-voyeurism TV series that isn’t really going anywhere. The director (Jean-Marc Vallée) has used this style of narration excellently to hit home a reality – the ugly truth often hides in plain sight and even masquerades as perfection.
Domestic abuse and sexual abuse are uncomfortable topics and we more often than not sweep things under the carpet. We find it easier to maintain the pretense of happiness than have the courage to face the truth. The series’ title doesn’t just refer to the big little lie (or a minor alteration of truth) all the main characters tell to protect the killer; the title also refers to the big little lie that we tell ourselves everyday – that this doesn’t happen to “us”, it only happens to “them”.
Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) have a marriage (and sex life) that is the envy of the town and even of their closest friends – Madeleine and her second husband Ed (Adam Scott). But the veneer of perfect happiness hides a great deal of hitting, kicking, choking and even rape. The cycle of abuse that is the Wright marriage is all about violence followed by romantic wooing, expensive gifts, a trip to the marriage counselor, a promise to change, only to be followed by another fit of rage. By her own admission, Celeste also hits back but is never really able to stop the abuse. As an intelligent, successful (albeit retired) lawyer with obvious financial resources of her own, Celeste is the very opposite of what you would expect a victim of abuse to be like. And yet, there she is, applying concealer on her cheeks and her wrist before she goes out to enjoy a cup of coffee with her best friends at an idyllic café on the wharf.
Jane Chapman, as a single mom with limited means, is struggling to bring up her son Ziggy who is the result of a date rape. And the struggle isn’t just financial; it is more acutely emotional. That she is single and yet not wanting a man in her life is the least of the emotional scars of her rape. Her constant fear that her rapist might somehow find her and hurt her again and her rising panic that those violent genes may have been passed on to her son are the real long term effects of abuse. Tellingly, her recurring dreams are not of the actual rape itself but of confronting her rapist. She doesn’t just dream of shooting him, she also has nightmares of jumping / falling off the cliff.
The only way that she is able to keep it all together is by running. For me, Jane running is a heart-rending portrayal of how we deal with events that change our life forever. That is Jane’s “me” time – when she allows herself to be scared and to actually deal with the psychological aftermath of the rape. After the run, it is back to the business of packing lunch boxes and following up with clients for payments.
Big Little Lies deals with both, the progression of abuse and what happens after the incident. The rising crescendo of violence in Celeste’s life, the impact on children around abuse, and Jane’s long and arduous journey towards healing have all been beautifully portrayed by using silence. Silence is the way abuse functions. The perpetrator manages to shut out the rest of the world and with no fear of punishment (legal or otherwise) continues to abuse. What else can explain how a father manages to kick the mother of his children while those children play in the adjoining room? Not only that, the perpetrator threatens more abuse to extract silence from the victim. The victim suffers in silence not because she can’t scream for help but because she feels lonely. She feels lonely to an extent where she is not able to confide in her best friend. She feels fear but the silence has paralyzed her to inaction. And the children, the collateral damage of abuse, use silence too. One of the best scenes is when one of the boys hears Perry beating Celeste. He looks at his brother, who has his headphones on, and then simply proceeds to put on his own pair of headphones. What better way of silencing abuse than turning up the volume of something else and distracting yourself? As far as Big Little Lies is concerned, silence is deafening.
The absolutely stunning shooting locations provide the perfect backdrop for highlighting the underlying theme of Big Little Lies. They are a gentle but constant reminder that domestic & physical abuse exists everywhere. Socio-economic status, level of education and the GDP of a country are no guarantee either of or against abuse. And perhaps the only way to stop it (or at least reduce it) is to stop lying to ourselves and to others – it doesn’t just happen to “them”, it also happens to “us”.
There is nothing that I have written here that other, far more influential writers haven’t already written. And my blog is read by only a handful of friends – but I am still writing it and publishing it because we need more conversations on abuse. Let’s face it; the perpetrators are rarely going to talk about it. But the victims might and the spectators certainly should. The unfortunate, scary reality of abuse (domestic / physical / sexual) is that it is so widespread that none of us can ever claim that we do not know a single victim or perpetrator. (Why, we might be either of them ourselves!) You could claim that you do not know anybody “like that” because none of “them” ever confided in you. But before you dismiss the question, do ask yourself this: did you ever notice the concealer but chose to believe it was covering a pimple? Did you ever use those headphones so that you didn’t have to listen to something?
This blog is the first in a series on Big Little Lies – the show simply refuses to go away quietly.
Sure, as a child I enjoyed Cinderella’s story as much as the next girl. But over the years, I have had a feeling that the tale needs to be re-written. Not because it is not entertaining in its current form. But because we really need to teach our kids slightly different lessons. Times are changing and our fairy tales need to change too.
Change # 1
In the original, Cinderella suffers in silence when her step-mother and step-sisters ill-treat her. She would pray each night for strength to put up with the abuse. Perhaps for the times when the tale was originally written, women didn’t really have a way out. But in today’s day and age, we need to teach our girls (and boys) the value of speaking up. Or at the very least knowing that they can work their way out of an unfavourable situation.
Change # 2
Cinderella is helped by a fairy godmother to provide her with nice clothes and a ride to the ball. In the real world there are no fairy godmothers and no glass slippers. In my rewritten version, I would rather have Cinderella saving up and buying her own dress (which does not turn back to rags at the stroke of the midnight hour). She doesn’t rely on rats and rabbits and lizards (and other figures of the animal kingdom depending on which version was read out to you). Cinderella drives around herself.
Change # 3
Actually in my fairy tale, Cinderella doesn’t go to the ball at all. The prince hosts a ball to find a suitable wife. In my story, Cinderella decides she doesn’t need a man to get out of her situation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for falling in love and settling down. But if you decide that marriage is the only way to rescue yourself from your situation, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointments. And you will probably end up making another person’s life miserable too.
Change # 4
The prince is not smitten by Cinderella’s beauty. He is smitten by her brains and her grit and gumption. Quite simply, physical beauty is temporary. You will grow old, get wrinkles and your hair will start greying (if you don’t start balding first, that is) But your attitude will remain with you forever and will pull you out of tight spots. And for the prince to fall in love with Cinderella’s personality, he will have to meet her in a situation very different from a ball…
Fairy tales were written to amuse, entertain and subtly educate on morals / ethics too. But they are also a reflection of societal attitudes. And they therefore need to keep up with the times. And who better than you and me to rewrite these tales?
When I was planning a trip to Paris, one of my dearest friends told me to visit Shakespeare and Company. In a proud French city, it is a resolutely English-only bookstore. And so, one cloudy May morning I stepped into this quaint store on rue de la Bucherie.
I switch off from the outside world when I read (and write). I can’t hear the doorbell and I can go without food for hours. Take that and multiply it by about a thousand times and you get Shakespeare and Company.
It is a place where the walls have disappeared behind Hemingway, Tolstoy and, of course, Shakespeare. Conversations are actively discouraged – even the cashiers speak in hushed tones. You are, however, welcome to play the little piano on the first floor. An imperious black cat roams around in the shop window (and there are explicit instructions to not disturb it).
Have you ever fantasized about taking off with your pen & paper and retiring to a place where you are allowed to read and write in peace and yet the arts and the culture are not too far away? Where people do not bother you with such mundane matters like how you will pay your rent? If yes, then Shakespeare and Company is the place for you. The bookstore supports aspiring writers by offering them lodging (in the heart of Paris). These people work in the store through the day and pursue their literary dreams in the night.
The bookstore houses Sylvia Beach’s collection. Readers are welcome to plonk themselves on the couches and go through her collection for as long as they like, but these books are not on sale. Beach, an American expatriate, ran the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris. That one closed down during the Second World War and never reopened. The current one (established by George Whitman) was first called Le Mistral but was renamed after Beach’s death as a tribute to her. (She had handed over the rights to the name years earlier.) Whitman continued Beach’s tradition of supporting writers and both stores have been at the heart of the literary scene in Paris. Whitman’s daughter (named Sylvia Beach Whitman) continues to run the store. Shakespeare and Company also holds writers’ discussions, poetry sessions and the like.
On the footpath outside the store lies a trunk filled with second hand books. You can donate your old books to the trunk and pick up second hand ones cheap. And that is how I bought Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s My Country?
(In case you are really interested in my review of this book, here goes – Moore takes down Bush, Blair & Co. ruthlessly with transcripts of their own press conferences. Read it because it makes you think of how we have all grown accustomed to living in fear and how we meekly swallow whatever the political powers dish out to us. Read it because it will make you want to think on your own and not accept the news-channel version blindly. Bonus? Moore brandishes the sarcasm sword rather effectively.)
As I sat down to write a review of the book, I realized that the book was special to me not because of its content but because of how I came to own it. Every time I look at Moore and Bush on the cover, I am reminded of one lovely Parisian morning when I soaked in the smell of ink and paper… Of a morning spent in absolute calm and peace with a hundred other book-loving souls; each one a complete stranger and yet each one so comfortingly familiar… Of a place where time has no meaning; because the past and the future really do meet here – one looks benignly at you from the lovingly crammed shelves, the other swipes your card and wraps your buys in little brown paper bags…
After all, isn’t that what reading is all about? Isn’t it more of an experience rather than an activity to gather information and entertain yourself? Isn’t reading all about enriching the journey rather than arriving at the destination? And don’t we all have some books that are more special than others? And while each book tells you a story, don’t you also write a story with the book? I invite you, my dear friends, to share the stories you have written with your books… #MyBookStory
I need to be honest here… While I love reading, I am also extremely lazy. Reading requires efforts. And after a long day at work, it is tempting to just hit the pillow and forget about books. Sometimes, just to satisfy the bookworm in me, I climb into bed with my Kindle and start reading John Grisham’s The Partner. I have read it so many times that I know the story page by page, word by word.
A dear friend tagged me for the HT Brunch Book Challenge and the only way I can keep up is by actually putting out a list in the virtual world so that my real friends can keep me going.
So here goes my list of 14 books (out of the 24 I am supposed to be reading for the challenge) for 2016 – some I have already started reading, some are lying on the bookshelf
Tim Harford’s Adapt
I loved The Undercover Economist and am looking forward to Adapt. The idea that we can’t succeed without risking failure is not a new one. But Harford approaches the subject with examples that are far more real and relatable than the ant trying to climb the wall.
Raghuram Rajan’s Fault Lines
This comes from the man who predicted the 2008 economic crisis at a time when the world was gung-ho about where we were headed. Need I say more?
Shivaji Sawant’s Mrutyunjaya
Karna always makes us uneasy. He fought on the wrong side of the war. But nothing takes away from his valour and his generosity. He lived a life that was cursed. Mrutyunjaya is this year’s Mahabharata related book I intend to read and is also the lone non-English book on my list.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India
I bought this book some time in my early 20s – when to say that you were reading Nehru made you sound fascinatingly brilliant (also known as nerdy). Needless to add, I didn’t read even a single page. All that changes this year – in my early 30s.
Lapierre and Collins’ Freedom at Midnight
How India gained independence and how Pakistan was formed shall always make for fascinating reading. In today’s day and age of religious intolerance and terrorism, reading about those days makes more sense than ever. We can ignore history at our own peril.
Ram Guha’s India After Gandhi
No bit of history is more fascinating than the recent one. Guha’s book starts just after India gained independence. I have always enjoyed his articles (even those on cricket) and while this book is scarily huge, I am sure it will be a great read.
Nanadan Nilekani & Viral Shah’s Rebooting India
Aadhaar is touted to be the world’s largest social identity program. The debate rages on whether the program will be useful or not (the way the government passed the bill has only given more fodder to critics.) But the fact remains that the digital revolution is sweeping us off our feet and the only way to survive is to adapt!
William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal
I discovered Dalrymple only a few years ago and every book so far has been a treat. Bahadur Shah Zafar is depicted as nothing more than a weak king in most history textbooks and is generally spoken about for all of 5 sentences. I look forward to some revelations in this book.
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In
One TED talk by Sandberg was all it took for me to download this book. While my generation has had it much easier than the ones before us, we still can’t claim that we have figured out women and workplaces.
Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo
This is one of the best known stories on revenge. I suppose there is something comforting about wrongs being righted. And when it involves scheming, craft and deception… Revenge is, after all, a dish best served cold!
Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey
I received this gift from my Secret Santa a couple of Decembers ago. I have read the book halfway and I am not sure why I left it there. No time like the present to finish stuff, right?
Stephen Rhodes’ The Velocity of Money
This one is a recommendation. The book tells the story of Wall Street. Money + Conspiracy + Murder = A Good Read!
Anuradha Goyal’s The Mouse Charmers
With digital being the flavour of the decade, how can I not read a book on digital entrepreneurs? It speaks of ideas, innovations, business models, the works…
In continuing with the spirit of the reading challenge, I intend to post book reviews for each book I read this year. I could cheat and start with books I’ve already read in the first three months of 2016 (The Partner not included) or I could just start off with books on this list…
At any rate, I invite you on my journey to read more… Please feel free to share recommendations and reviews since I need to add ten more books to the list. And keep me honest! Let the reading begin…
It’s the New Year!!! The time to take stock of the last 365 days and the time to plan for the next 365…
So here is what I would like to wish everyone for 2016 (apart from world peace)…
There is perhaps nothing more critical to our happiness than good health. May you and your family stay (or get) fit… I don’t know if you desire 6-pack abs or a size zero. But I do hope that you have the health (both physical and mental) to enjoy what life has to offer.
I wish each one of you professional success… Considering we spend nearly half our day at work, professional satisfaction is critical to our overall happiness. I don’t know if you will get the promotion you want or the raise you desire. But I do wish that you go to bed each night proud of what you have accomplished through the day and you get up every morning raring to go. And if you don’t, then I hope you get the strength to search for something that is more fulfilling than what you have.
It is often said that our friends are the family we choose. So I do hope and pray that you are always surrounded by true friends. May you always have friends who will laugh with you and wipe away your tears, who will soothe your fears and encourage you to dream big, who will be your biggest cheerleaders and also your partners-in-crime…
When I say true love I don’t mean the type where you go weak in the knees and where your heart flutters even at the mere mention of that special someone (although of course, these things are great too…) What I pray for you is true love… The kind that is unconditional and non-judgmental… The kind that inspires you… The kind that sees (and brings out) the best in you even when you can only see the worst yourself…
The new (with the old)
I wish you many new things this new year… A new job, a new house, a new love, a new hobby, new friends… But I also want to wish you some of the old. We live in a fast-paced world where things get outdated pretty quickly. We are so driven in our desire to find the “next big thing” that we seem to have completely forgotten the “good old thing”. So this year I wish you discover (or rather rediscover) something old and precious to you… Get back in touch with an old friend, go back to the trees you climbed as a child, listen to that old melody again…
Happy 2016!!! May the New Year bring you some that you want, some that you don’t want but everything that you need…
- The Happiness Equation – Happiness = Reality ÷ Expectations ÷ Comparison
- You don’t need things to be happy, you need people.
- You need a break from everything in life – your work, your family, your friends, even yourself.
- To be truly happy, you must be able to forgive. You must be able to forgive others, but you must also be able to forgive yourself. Make amends. And once that is done, move on. Don’t let past mistakes ruin the present.
- Help people, even in the smallest of ways. And remember, others don’t always need to know about it.
- Connect with nature – go on a trek, take a dip in the river, put a flower on your desk.
- The sincere efforts you put in and the selfless relationships you cultivate will eventually come back to help you. It may not always be when you ask for it, but it will happen.
- Happiness isn’t a corner office or some fancy mansion or a Facebook picture with a thousand likes. It is not a fat bank balance or a thin figure. It is a journey within us and we travel this path for as long as we live.
- Happiness isn’t the absence of grief. Sorrow is very much a part of joy. Happiness is a smile that manages to shine through the tears.
- Bear with me, for this point is a bit long… I first wrote this list nearly 6 months ago, when a website invited entries under the topic “10 Forgotten Truths about Happiness” to recruit freelance bloggers. So I took it up. I thought about my happiest moments. I spoke to people. I read psychology articles. But I didn’t submit my entry. Reason? I could only find 9 points. The 10th one was elusive. I started thinking I wasn’t good enough to be a freelance blogger and I blamed myself for not doing enough research and for not spending enough time honing my skills. I quit the article. Every time I would visit the Blogs folder on my laptop, I would see this blog, sitting stubbornly in the “Incomplete” section. I would read the 9 points and then fret about the last point before moving on to a completely different blog. It wasn’t until a recent conversation with a dear friend that I discovered the 10th rule – you don’t always need a number 10. It is not like the 9 rules above would be useless without the last one. Sure, the list wouldn’t look perfect. But who cares? Sometimes it’s good to not have all the answers to all the questions. There is pleasure to be found in something that is Work-in-Progress too. And while you may seek perfection, do try not to overlook the good in the imperfect. You must of course try to finish what you have started. But every once in a while, look around you. You may not have reached the summit yet, but you are still higher than where you were when you started climbing.
P.S.: This blog is dedicated to my near and dear ones who have brought in so much happiness in my life… You know who you are and I am blessed to have you around…