The allegorical tale of Ants and Grasshoppers is often used to drive home the inevitable connection between handwork and success, as well as laziness and hardship. Or between talent and riches, indolence and penury. Here is another story that may run contrary to this message.
In connection with my recent retirement, my wife sent me an article (a speech given by someone on how to retire happily) which made several interesting points. But even more interestingly, it started with a funny story. Here it is:
In a small village in Kerala, a devout christian passed away. The local priest was out of station, and a priest from an adjoining village was called upon to deliver the eulogy. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” began the venerable pastor with the coffin before him. “Here lies dead before me a rare human being of this village with outstanding qualities. He was a gentleman, a scholar, sweet of tongue, gentle of temper and very catholic in outlook. He was generous to a fault and ever smiling.” The widow of the deceased sprang up and screamed, “Oh my God! They are burying the wrong man!”
True to form, this gentleman concluded his speech with another story.
First God created the cow and said, “You must go with the farmer everyday to the field, and suffer under the sun all day long, have calves, give milk and help the farmer. I give you a span of sixty years.” The cow said, “That’s surely tough. Give me only twenty years. I give back forty years.”
On Day Two, God created the dog and said, “Sit by the door of your house and bark at strangers. I give you a span of twenty years.” The dog said, “Too long a life for barking. I give up ten years.”
On the third day, God created the monkey and said to him, “Entertain people. Make them laugh. I give you twenty years.” The monkey said to God, “How boring! Monkey tricks for twenty years? Give me only ten years.” The Lord agreed.
On the fourth day, God created Man. He said to him, “Eat, sleep, play, enjoy and do nothing. I will give you twenty years.”
Man said, “Only twenty years? No way! I will take my twenty, but give me the forty the cow gave back, the ten that the monkey returned, and the ten the dog surrendered. That makes it eighty. Okay?” God agreed.
That is why for the first twenty years we sleep, play, enjoy and do nothing.
For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family.
For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain our grandchildren.
And for the last ten years we sit in front of the house and bark at everybody.
Well, I managed to cut down my forty cow-years to a mere twenty. Here’s hoping that I will get similar discounts on my monkey and dog years!
Before leaving India in the late eighties, I could speak a bit of Hindi as my third language. English was the second language, and Malayalam my mother tongue. I wasn’t fluent in Hindi by any stretch of imagination, but I could speak it well enough to get rid of a door-to-door salesman, for instance.
This is exactly what my father (a confirmed Hindi-phobe) asked me to do during one of my visits home when a persistent, Hindi-speaking sari salesman was hovering over our front porch. By that time, I had spent over six years in the US (and considered my English very good) and a couple of years in France (enough to know that “very good English” was no big deal). So to get rid of the sari-wala, I started to talk to him in Hindi, and the strangest thing happened — it was all French that was coming out. Not my mother tongue, not my second or third language, but French! In short, there was very confused sari salesman roaming the streets that day.
True, there is some similarity between Hindi and French, for instance, in the sounds of interrogative words, and the silly masculine-feminine genders of neutral objects. But I don’t think that was what was causing the outpouring of Frenchness. It felt as though French had replaced Hindi in my brain. Whatever brain cells of mine that were wired up to speak Hindi (badly, I might add) were being rewired a la franciaise! Some strange resource allocation mechanism was recycling my brain cells without my knowledge or consent. I think this French invasion in my brain continued unabated and assimilated a chunk of my English cells as well. The end result was that my English got all messed up, and my French never got good enough. I do feel a bit sorry for my confused brain cells. Karma, I guess — I shouldn’t have confused the sari salesman.
Though spoken in jest, I think what I said is true — the languages that you speak occupy distinct sections of your brain. A friend of mine is a French-American girl from the graduate years. She has no discernable accent in her Americanese. Once she visited me in France, and I found that whenever she used an English word while speaking French, she had a distinct French accent. It was as though the English words came out of the French section of her brain.
Of course, languages can be a tool in the hands of the creative. My officemate in France was a smart English chap who steadfastly refused to learn any French at all, and actively resisted any signs of French assimilation. He never uttered a French word if he could help it. But then, one summer, two English interns showed up. My officemate was asked to mentor them. When these two girls came to our office to meet him, this guy suddenly turned bilingual and started saying something like, “Ce qu’on fait ici.. Oh, sorry, I forgot that you didn’t speak French!”
Once a favorite uncle of mine gave me a pen. This uncle was a soldier in the Indian Army at that time. Soldiers used to come home for a couple of months every year or so, and give gifts to everybody in the extended family. There was a sense of entitlement about the whole thing, and it never occurred to the gift takers that they could perhaps give something back as well. During the past couple of decades, things changed. The gift takers would flock around the rich “Gulf Malayalees” (Keralite migrant workers in the Middle-East) thereby severely diminishing the social standing of the poor soldiers.
Anyway, this pen that I got from my uncle was a handsome matte-gold specimen of a brand called Crest, possibly smuggled over the Chinese border at the foothills of the Himalayas and procured by my uncle. I was pretty proud of this prized possession of mine, as I guess I have been of all my possessions in later years. But the pen didn’t last that long — it got stolen by an older boy with whom I had to share a desk during a test in the summer of 1977.
I was devastated by the loss. More than that, I was terrified of letting my mother know for I knew that she wasn’t going to take kindly to it. I guess I should have been more careful and kept the pen on my person at all times. Sure enough, my mom was livid with anger at the loss of this gift from her brother. A proponent of tough love, she told me to go find the pen, and not to return without it. Now, that was a dangerous move. What my mom didn’t appreciate was that I took most directives literally. I still do. It was already late in the evening when I set out on my hopeless errant, and it was unlikely that I would have returned at all since I wasn’t supposed to, not without the pen.
My dad got home a couple of hours later, and was shocked at the turn of events. He certainly didn’t believe in tough love, far from it. Or perhaps he had a sense of my literal disposition, having been a victim of it earlier. Anyway, he came looking for me and found me wandering aimlessly around my locked up school some ten kilometer from home.
Parenting is a balancing act. You have to exercise tough love, lest your child should not be prepared for the harsh world later on in life. You have to show love and affection as well so that your child may feel emotionally secure. You have to provide for your your child without being overindulgent, or you would end up spoiling them. You have to give them freedom and space to grow, but you shouldn’t become detached and uncaring. Tuning your behavior to the right pitch on so many dimensions is what makes parenting a difficult art to master. What makes it really scary is the fact that you get only one shot at it. If you get it wrong, the ripples of your errors may last a lot longer than you can imagine. Once when I got upset with him, my son (far wiser than his six years then) told me that I had to be careful, for he would be treating his children the way I treated him. But then, we already know this, don’t we?
My mother did prepare me for an unforgiving real world, and my father nurtured enough kindness in me. The combination is perhaps not too bad. But we all would like to do better than our parents. In my case, I use a simple trick to modulate my behavior to and treatment of my children. I try to picture myself at the receiving end of the said treatment. If I should feel uncared for or unfairly treated, the behavior needs fine-tuning.
This trick does not work all the time because it usually comes after the fact. We first act in response to a situation, before we have time to do a rational cost benefit analysis. There must be another way of doing it right. May be it is just a question of developing a lot of patience and kindness. You know, there are times when I wish I could ask my father.
During the early part of the last century, there was significant migration of Chinese and Indians to Singapore. Most of the migrants of Indian origin were ethnic Tamils, which is why Tamil is an official language here. But some came from my Malayalam-speaking native land of Kerala. Among them was Natarajan who, fifty years later, would share with me his impressions of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army of the forties. Natarajan would, by then, be called the Singapore Grandpa (Singapore Appuppa), and teach me yoga, explaining the mystical aspects of it a bit, saying things like, “A practitioner of yoga, even when he is in a crowd, is not quite a part of it.” I remembered this statement when a friend of mine at work commented that I walked untouched (kind of like Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption) by the corporate hustle and bustle, which, of course, may have been a polite way of calling me lazy.
Anyway, the Singapore Grandpa (a cousin to my paternal grandfather) was quite fond of my father, who was among the first University graduates from that part of Kerala. He got him a Parker pen from Singapore as a graduation gift. Some fifteen years later, this pen would teach me a lesson that is still not fully learned four decades on.
My father was very proud of his pen, its quality and sturdiness, and was bragging to his friends once. “I wouldn’t be able to break it, even if I wanted to!” he said, without noticing his son (yours faithfully), all of four years then with only a limited understanding of hypothetical conditionals of this kind. Next evening, when he came back from work, I was waiting for him at the door, beaming with pride, holding his precious pen thoroughly crushed. “Dad, dad, I did it! I managed to break your pen for you!”
Heart-broken as my father must have been, he didn’t even raise his voice. He asked, “What did you do that for, son?” using the overly affectionate Malayalam word for “son”. I was only too eager to explain. “You said yesterday that you had been trying to break it, but couldn’t. I did it for you!” Rather short on language skills, I was already a bit too long on physics. I had placed the pen near the hinges of a door and used the lever action by closing it to accomplish my mission of crushing it. In fact, I remembered this incident when I was trying to explain to my wife (short on physics) why the door stopper placed close to the hinges was breaking the floor tiles rather than stopping the door.
My father tried to fix his Parker pen with scotch tape (which was called cellophane tape at that time) and rubber bands. Later, he managed to replace the body of the pen although he could never quite fix the leaking ink. I still have the pen, and this enduring lesson in infinite patience.
Two and half years ago, my father passed away. During the ensuing soul-searching, this close friend of mine asked me, “Well, now that you know what it takes, how well do you think you are doing?” I don’t think I am doing that well, for some lessons, even when fully learned, are just too hard to put in practice.
Photo by dailylifeofmojo
Here is a hilarious one I got through email:
It is one of the many conspiracy theories — that the moon landing never really took place. How could the flag flutter? The pictures — were they really taken on the moon, or in a studio in Navada?
Here is a different theory. A little known fact. The photo wasn’t totally fake. It is just that NASA showed only half the picture. Check this out:
Look at the shadows below .
Have you ever noticed them before ?
Click here (or on the image) to see the whole picture!
If an average Singaporean hears of the World Malayalee Conference, the first thing they would say is, “World what now??” Malayalees are people from the tiny Indian state of Kerala. They are not to be confused with Malays, although some of the things we associate with Malay (such as pratas and biriyani) can be traced back to Kerala.
Such cross cultural exchanges point to an important trait of Malayalees. They tend to fan out and, in their own small ways, conquer the world. They also welcome external influences whole-heartedly. They are perhaps the only people (other than the Chinese, of course) who regularly use a Chinese wok for cooking or a Chinese net for catching their fish. They even practise their own version of Kung-fu, and at times insist that the Chinese actually learned it from them.
International and cosmopolitan in their unique ways for thousands of years, Malayalees are a mixture of opposites, and Kerala a minor economic and sociological enigma. Malayalees enthusiastically embraced Christianity and Muslim religions when their initial missionaries and emissaries ventured outside their places of origin. But, they also welcomed Marxism and atheism with equal fervour.
On an average, Kerala has a per-capita income among the world’s poorest, but all other economic indicators are on a par with the world’s richest. In health indicators such as life expectancy, per-capita number of doctors, and infant mortality, Kerala manages to mirror the US at about a tenth of its per capita wealth. Kerala is the first (and perhaps the only) third world province to boast of better than 90% literacy, and is just about the only place in India and China with more women than men.
Singapore has a special place in the Malayalee heart. Among their initial ventures outside Kerala during the colonial era, Malayalees targeted Singapore as a popular destination. Perhaps due to this historical fondness, Malayalees found it natural to host their World Malayalee Conference here.
Singapore also has soft spot for Malayalees and their contributions. The conference itself will be graced by the presence of the President of Singapore, Mr. S. R. Nathan and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. George Yeo. President Nathan will launch the Malayalee Heritage and Culture Exhibition, and Minister Yeo will give a key note speech at the Business Forum.
The heritage and culture, dating back to well over two thousand years, is something every Malayalee is rightfully proud of. The Exhibition will showcase everything from cave engravings to ancient ship building technology.
Going beyond the historical and cultural affinities, Kerala also has been a business ally to Singapore, especially in raw seafood. Singapore, in their own right, has provided a steady stream of investments and tourists to Kerala.
Eco-tourism is indeed one of the top attractions Malayalees will showcase during the conference. Nature has been overly kind to Kerala, with the undulating hills of the Western Ghat generously usurping the Monsoons and jealously guarding the Malayalees against any possible plunder of their green riches. Blessed with a temperate climate uncommon to the tropical enclave that it is, and with the hypnotic beauty of the misty green hillsides and tea plantations, Kerala is indeed a paradise waiting, perhaps unwillingly, to be discovered.
This World Malayalalee Conference, with its cultural shows and heritage exhibitions, will display what Kerala has to offer to the world, from tourism and culture to business opportunities and talent pool. It will also showcase Singapore to the Malayalee diaspora and teach them a thing or two about administrative efficiency, cleanliness and business connectivity.
If you can fit four passengers in the front seat of an Ambassador taxi, while in the back there are eight passengers and two children with their heads sticking out the window, chances are, you are a Mallu going to attend your cousin’s wedding.
If you can run, ride a 100 cc motorbike without wearing a helmet and play football all while wearing a lungi tied halfmast, Malayali status!
If your late father left you a part of an old house as your inheritance, and you turned it into “chaya kada,” yes, you’re a Malayali.
If you have more than 5 relatives working in Gulf, Big Time Malayali…
If you have the words “Chinchu Mol + Jinchu Mol” written on the rear window of your Omni car, yes, you are a Malaayli.
If you refer to your husband as “Kettiyon, ithiyan, pillerude appan,” guess what — you’re a central Travancore Syrian Christian Malayali.
If you have a Tamilian parked in front of your house every Sunday, ironing your clothes, chances are a you are a Middle Class Malayali.
If you have more than three employee trade unions at your place of work, then ask no more, you are indeed a Malayali.
If you have voted into power a Chief Minister who has not passed the 4th grade then ask no further, YOU ARE A MALAYALI.
If you have at least two relatives working in the US in the health industry , yes! Malayali!
If you religiously buy a lottery ticket every week, then you’re in the Malayali Zone!
If you describe a woman as “charrakku,” yep, Malayali!
If you constantly refer to banana as “benana” or pizza as “pissa,” you’re a Malayali..
If you use coconut oil instead of refined vegetable oil and can’t figure out why people in your family have congenital heart problems, you might be a Malayali.
If you are going out to see a movie at the local theater with your wifey wearing all the gold jewellry gifted to her by her parents, you are a newly married Malayali.
If you and your wife and three children dress up in your Sunday best and go out to have biriyani at Kayikka’s on a 100 cc Bajaj mobike, you an upwardly mobile Malayali from Cochin.
If your idea of haute cuisine is kappa and meen curry, then, yes, you are a Malayali.
If you have beef puttu for breakfast, beef olathu for lunch, and beef curry with ‘borotta’ for dinner, yeah, definitely Malalyali.
If your name is Wislon, and your wife’s name is Baby, and you name your daughter Wilby, have no doubts at all, you are a standard Malayali.
If most of the houses on your block are painted puke yellow, fluorescent green, and bright pink, definitely Malappuram Malayali.
If you tie a towel around your head and burst into a raucous rendition of the song “Kuttanadan Punjayile” after having three glasses of toddy, then you are a hardcore Malayali.
If you call appetizers served with alcoholic beverages as “touchings,” then you are one helluva Malayali.
If the local toddy shop owner knows you by your pet name and you call him “Porinju Chetta” (kekekekekek), then you are true Malayali.
If you’re sick and your wifey rubs “Bicks” into your nostrils and gives you “kurumulaku rasam” with chakkara, (grandma’s recipe) to help relieve your symptoms, damn!! You’re Malayali.
IF YOU DON’T NEED ANY EXPLANATIONS FOR ANY OF THE ABOVE, YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE THE REAL McCOY, A BLUE BLOOD MALAYALI. LAAL SALAAM.