Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Not So Simple After All...


It’s not almonds, its ‘aamonds’. The L is silent, said I.
'Look, I am a simple guy. I don’t understand all that', came the defense.
‘Simplicity has nothing to do with mispronouncing words’, I had to assert, almost indignantly.

‘Me and my friend went shopping.’
“Its ‘I and my friend went shopping’”.
‘Look. I am a simple man and don’t get into such minute details’.
‘Simplicity has nothing to do with deviating from correct grammar’, I was pleading this time.

The excuses people use to justify their shortcomings!
Imagine sacrificing simplicity at the altar of all your flaws - slovenliness, purposelessness, inferiority, existentialism, hypocrisy, clumsiness...and what not!

I have this bunch of relatives(15 -20 years senior) who have been used to barging in to our home whenever they feel like, becoming too comfortable, behaving like family members, giving unsolicited, unwelcome and outdated advice, throwing their weight around, complaining to our father about us and watching our humiliation with hungry eyes. Hate them.

Even when it is absolutely uncalled for, they compare themselves with us and try to prove that they are better.
This one happens to be a rough uncouth woman. Blue sari, pink petticoat, yellow blouse, lot of hair that she never tires of boasting about but combs once in a week...
We don’t ask for an explanation. No one grimaces or says anything.
But when she sees us neatly dressed, she HAS to say, 'We are simple people, not stylish like you. We don’t do fashion.’
The dumbass doesn’t even know that one does not 'do' fashion, one 'follows' fashion or one does not.

The more important point here is, simplicity does not mean shabby dressing!

Some more. She talks with her mouth full of curd rice. Or chapatti. Or whatever food.
She eats noisily.
I suggested to her that she should finish what was in her mouth and then talk, talk in between morsels never through the morsels.
Food in her mouth, she says. 'We are simple people. Not sophisticated like you. We don’t like sophistication.’
Dumbass! It’s only DECENT not to talk when you are chewing. There is no sophistication in it.

I don't have great table manners. What do I do? I simply admit it. I don’t laugh and say 'I am a simple girl'.
I just admit it and don’t justify it.

Soon as I turned 25, my parents started groom hunting for me. I met a motley mix of suitors.
‘So tell me about yourself. What do you do?’, he asked over some pizza we were having in this pizza hut next to my house.
‘Well... I read...I write... I am a member of the Toastmasters Club...I travel…I used to paint...once in a way, I write poems, when inspired you know...
He raised his brows, ‘Hmmmm....interesting…well, I am a simple guy...I don’t have hobbies...I go out with friends... watch movies...I am a very simple guy'

It’s perfectly OK not to have interesting sounding hobbies. I have met some very interesting men who do not really have hobbies to boast of. But using simplicity to justify it? Where is the need to even justify it in the first place?
And what has simplicity to do with having no hobbies?
So you mean, people who do have hobbies are complex and complicated?

Boy rejected. For having stupid notions about simplicity. (Among other reasons)

Simplicity also comes handy to those in the field of writing and speaking who aren’t willing to work hard, who have no talent, have no sincerity, but want rewards and recognition nevertheless.
I used to be a member of this forum for public speaking where people delivered speeches.
Most of these speeches were without substance.
They were neither interesting, nor well researched, nor deep, mostly cliche, not to mention bad grammar and poor vocabulary.
Some high sounding well selling subject, not necessarily close to the heart would be chosen. An acronym, a few jokes mostly irrelevant to the subject, material from the ocean that is the world wide web, would be thrown in to draft a speech in badly formed sentences.
And delivered before an audience that had braved Bangalore traffic on a weekday to get to the forum from faraway corners of the city.

And what was the justification?
'Simple message in simple words, you know. You need not be verbose, use big big words, talk about issues of national significance only, even a simple topic...’
Very convenient. Very clever.

Simple or otherwise, the speeches delivered were extremely poor and not worth anyone’s time.

I don’t have any problem with simplicity. A simple message can be significant. But a message, any message has to have certain qualities.

It has to be sincere. You have to say what you mean and the subject has to be close to your heart and not merely a subject that’s hot in the market - like Motivation. God! Everywhere you go, you find motivational speakers, courses, books, life transforming programs!

Originality. This world is such an old place that there are no new subjects. But the same old subject can be discussed with newer examples and anecdotes from the current time and context. If it is a subject close to your heart, even if it is a hoary old topic, like honesty, like love, like environment, you will sound original since you will have 'your' viewpoints, 'your' examples, 'your' anecdotes to tell that have not been told before.

Language matters. There is a difference between complexity and complication. While complication should be avoided, complexity has its own beauty. You should read the classics, the beautifully formed sentences to appreciate complexity.
Further, there is difference between brevity and economy. While brevity requires short sentences, economy does not. Economy simply means avoidance of redundancy. Somerset Maugham’s writings, characterized by long sentences, some of which make up one paragraph, even one whole page, are known to be economical. Such long sentences can be simple too.
Simplicity does not imply brevity.

Lastly, grammar is what separates wheat from the chaff.

The bottom line is that, a simple speech does not mean broken ungrammatical sentences, cliché, badly formed sentences and lines that people have heard a thousand times.

The same applies to the literary world as well. Most of these self help books are badly written - subjects that are hot in the market, a few mantras thrown in, easy to remember acronyms, no depth, content gathered after combing all the SMS’s and email forwards (about a man busy making money repenting after his mother’s death – therefore live your life! And all that…) that have done a few rounds in the 8 years or so, aggressive propaganda through facebook and twitter,…

And those who like such books defend it using simplicity, the poor thing. ‘A book need not be like those classics having a high standard. It can be a simple book…’

Like I said, there is no end to the altars at which simplicity has been sacrificed. Slovenliness, purposelessness, inferiority, existentialism, hypocrisy, clumsiness, lack of talent, ignorance...

I will share with you one last example.

'I will marry any boy you find for me ma'. That wasn’t me. Oh no! Not at all.
That was a friend from the Marwadi community - educated in a top university, good looking and placed in Infosys...
‘I am so evil’, thought I who definitely had 'expectations'.

'I am a simple girl yaar, main kisi se bhi shaadi kar loongi. I am a simple girl. It’s all about making it work. It’s not about finding the right guy. You need to be more mature and practical yaar’, she advised me 'Say yes to someone. Don’t reject all boys like that'.

A few months later, she told me she was in love with this guy, a colleague from another team. They were about to be engaged. She had begun her shopping too.
And then she called off the relationship.

‘His family is more orthodox than ours. You know how Marwadis are...’
‘But you will have a separate home in a distant city... you will not live with them’, said I, feeling sad that lovers were parting.
‘Yes. But we will have to visit our in laws and stay with them at least once in a year.’
‘That’s just for 10 days.’
‘But those 10 days will be my vacation too, not just his. He will sit before the TV, remote in his hand. I will be with his mother in the kitchen doing seva, my head covered in a pallu’.

I simply sat there listening, not sure what to say. She shouldn’t have called it off... she was in love with him...this was a small sacrifice...though easier said than done.

And then, tumbling came other reasons too...
‘His salary is another thing yaar. I am getting 6 lakhs per annum he is getting 8 lakhs; it’s just a difference of 2 lakhs.
‘How does salary matter?’ I asked.
‘It matters yaar, it matters. Guys have an ego. And then it’s also about my position in the family.
My bhaiyya is getting 18 lakhs per annum, and my bhabhi knows it and is proud of it. If my husband earns less than my brother, then what will be my position in the house, in front of my bhabhi?
‘Why do you care? You will not live with your bhabhi.’
‘But I will visit them once in a year. Tab mera position kya hoga?’

What had she said earlier? 'I am a simple girl yaar'. 'I will marry any boy my mother finds me'?
Very simple indeed! I thought!
And I was relieved to realize that I was not all that evil after all. I had not asked a single suitor how much he earned!

So that was about the use, overuse, abuse and misuse of simplicity.
What true simplicity is, is a subject for another discussion, another day.
What I know for sure today, is that, simplicity is none of what it is made out to be by people. Simplicity has become a fashion, a fad. People go for an image makeover so they will ‘look’ simple!
And then, it is a handy instrument for all those who want to justify their ineptness in one way or another.

Leave alone practicing simplicity, even understanding simplicity, is not so simple after all.
Isn’t it?

7 comments:

notgogol said...

You're brave. You vent, and very well at that, about family, friends, opinions etc. and you don't even have the veil of anonymity. Very brave.

P.S. What is the Toastmaster's Club?

Ravi 拉维 said...

While I was reading this.. I remembered Sweets.. Yes.. sweets... The Gold Foil or Silver Foil which we see on top of sweets.... and in Hyderabad typically old city.. I was once walking with my Dad in the old city.. and there were lots of shops.. and people were beating a book kind of thing..(leather/rubber book or something like that).. .and all were doing the same.. I asked my dad... They beat that till they get a silver foil which you eat on the sweets.... when we go and buy in the Balaji Rathanwala sweets.. and I was able to relate to that.. "Thanks for making me remind that...." ;)

Ranj said...

Your writing is impeccable to the extent I almost want to agree to everything you have to say...

Sowmya said...

Notgogol,
Look who's talking about bravery! You vent so much. In face every post in a vent. Games in Canada, Chandigarh...Punjabi aunty...

And you have more courage than any I know... writing about your whole punjabi community, friends and what not...

You are my inspiration as far as venting and bravery go...

Ravi,
I dont understand why this post should remind you of sweets!

Ranj,
Is that really you? Ranjana Nair??? Agreeing with me? difficult to believe...

Ranj said...

the stress is on the word "almost" want to agree :)

Sowmya said...

Oh! Disappointing. I thought "at last, she is toeing the line"... :)

Vishal said...

Brilliant as always! Unmasking the veil of 'simplicity', well articulated and well done!