slavesincorporated

Zoom In, Zone Out

In Interpersonal, Meeting, Office humor on May 25, 2020 at 19:32

Man is a social animal but the ego is highly anti-social. Most of life seems paradoxical and there never seems to be enough time to sit and ponder. Well, now there is time, lot’s of it. But it seems to drift away. And that is boredom defined: Finding each passing moment excruciating and yet not knowing where all the time went.

It is already 20 minutes into the online meeting and they still haven’t got past the pleasantries. You want to switch off your video and be free to dig your nose or just stare at the fan. But that wouldn’t be polite now would it? Things have definitely changed under lockdown but your employer is still trying to hold on to the old ways. A mixture of nostalgia and denial. But one must admit, Zoom calls are very realistic, down to people being late and nothing of substance being discussed for close to two hours.

It is a meeting that has already been rescheduled four times. In the real world colleagues would have compelling alibis for not being able to make it. Dentists appointments, in-laws visiting, son’s football practice on Wednesdays. Arun would always claim he had to go with his son for football practice but he would end up attending the meetings anyway…custody battles are tough. You would think online meetings would be easier. But people still find ways to keep themselves busy and hammered, anything but sitting still with their thoughts. Now they suddenly feel the urge to connect with their distant siblings, attend Zoomba sessions and the PTA meetings have also moved online

Since you are still being paid, while being in shorts, you can’t complain. But greater than the mockery of productivity is the horror of peeking into the lives of your colleagues. You always suspected they had a life but without all the social media filters, it looks very surreal, like a hacker movie.

The broken switchboards, mosquito lamps, kids fighting in the background, dogs peeking in, bad camera angles compounding bad hair days. Pat has a Swiss Alps background wallpaper but he was always pretentious. You finally see that the old man from accounts actually has legs! He is moving around more at his house than he ever did in office, the only image you have of him is behind a cubicle. And you are glad Arun actually has a house. You would always see him changing clothes in office, especially on Wednesdays. Actually you are sort of glad to see everyone in their humble avatars. Even Head Slave, as he tries to sound spontaneous while clearly reading from another window. You can see the reflection in his glasses.

Since everyone is being themselves you also take a break unannounced and come back towards the end of the meeting. They are still exchanging pleasantries. One of them even suggested playing Ludo, on company time! It is met with no objection but thankfully no interest either. It is clear that there is no work to be done. But man is a social animal. And thankfully, loneliness is often stronger than the ego.

  • Punit Pania

Friendless in Tokyo

In Blogging, humor, Interpersonal, Love, Wage Slaves, work life balance, work stress on May 5, 2020 at 20:02
  • As related by a friend.

The name was apt, almost sexy. And I was desperate. A management position in a multinational corporation in one of the biggest cities in the world. And yet hopelessly friendless. One would have thought the job along with a life partner who is keeper would have sealed the deal. Life is short but days are long. Very long if you have no one to talk to.

Nowhere is the paradox of alienating city life as stark as Tokyo, especially if you do not speak the local tongue. And even if you if do there so many places where it is simply considered impolite to strike up a conversation. This includes trains, elevators and lunch – that is half your life, out! Zip!

Life is like a 90s sitcom. You are not really enjoying the reruns but you also feel that the next season will be worse. So you can’t make new friends. One needs a certain amount of tolerance to have a large group of friends. As you get older, your ability to detect bullshit goes up and your ability to tolerate it goes down. But even the existing herd was dwindling, largely due to geography. There is a group of friends who you meet only at re-unions, then at weddings, then in hospitals, then at funerals. I am just about getting to the hospital stage.

Friendless in Tokyo was a meet-up of like-minded desis in a foreign land, all looking for friendship. What could go wrong? If you are me, a lot. A perpetually low phone battery and propensity to trip over and fall at will ensure a healthy supply of drama in the screenplay that passes for my life. It was like Seinfeld’s theme music was perpetually playing on in the background but I was still not finding it funny.

I wanted to change the narrative. So much that I was the first one to arrive at the community centre. The oldies who were there for the earlier origami event seemed very inviting but I wanted to make friends who…lasted.

The husband is calling me repeatedly on the phone. But not now. I have got to be my individual gregarious friendly self. I even wore the dress I was saving for our anniversary. As potential suitors started trickling in, the play-like nature of the scene made an impression on my mind. And only I could hear the laugh track. Each person introducing themselves as a one-line Tinder bio: Mother, Yoga teacher, Vacuum cleaner. I could only manage to say my name with a smile.

The Moomins help solitary diners in Japan with “anti-loneliness cafe” at Tokyo Dome City LaQua

They seemed to have so much to share. Most of them were women, with kids, some had two kids and one lady was clearly pregnant. All their kids seemed to be going to the same school. So this was like an unofficial parents-teachers meeting. They were polite but it was clear that I would have to at least adopt a puppy to remotely relate to this group. The stories of their kids sounded more like boasts than banter and everyone seemed a little too well-dressed. I still kept with the program, accompanied them to various eating joints till we found one that could accommodate everyone’s food restrictions/fetishes/superstitions. And Vegans can’t even do ice cream parlous. If you thought deciding on a place among a group is difficult, try doing it with a bunch of people you have just met.

Of course, the phone had switched off by now. The last thing I saw on the screen was 7 missed calls. He doesn’t usually call that often but does it have to be on the one evening when I am out making friends? And I didn’t want to give up. I sat through the whole thing even though the tea was cold. We even exchanged numbers but thankfully they didn’t add me on their WhatsApp group.

I started getting worried about the missed calls. So I borrowed chargers from three different strangers on the metro on the way back. Now I know why on one else does that. But they were polite enough to lend it to me even though they were getting off at the next stop. With 2% battery and 1 block left from home, I couldn’t help myself. I called the husband and blasted him for making me worry. Needless to say I tripped on the escalator while shouting with Seinfeld’s music playing on cue. Another awkward dinner awaited. Did I tell you? – He cooks as well. Friendless and Sleepless in Tokyo.

The door was open and the lights were off. Now I was really worried. If it hadn’t turned out to be a surprise birthday party, I would have killed someone that day. I don’t remember who all he had called home that night from our limited social circle to make it happen. But I do remember hugging him tight, like at the end of any good episode of Friends.

One person who understands you completely is better than a hundred distant friends and you don’t need to watch a sitcom or RomCom to know that.

  • Punit Pania

The Cold Comfort of Conspiracy Theories

In Big Brother, conspiracy theories on March 17, 2020 at 22:53

I used to follow all conspiracy theories when I was in school and early on in college. Everything form alien landings to the pyramids to alien landings on the pyramids. I must have been the biggest X-flies fan at least in India. So much that later I even tolerated all seasons of Californication, just because ‘Mulder’ was in it. Every seeker goes through that phase of wondering if everything fits as neatly as science describes it. But it is important not to get stuck there. Most hot spots have been debunked from the Bermuda triangle to Loch Ness. But authors find new gaps to sell their paperbacks in. Till the Amazon Rain forest is completely stripped and Antarctica melts completely, this industry is going to be raking it in, then speculation will move to the moon.

I have realized such authors and ‘experts’ are not selling inquiry or intrigue. They are selling an escape. Part of why people don’t accept reality is because it involves taking responsibility for how shit your life is or has become. But…if the government is controlling our minds, if the Mayans used DMT or if aliens exist then all bets are off. It debunks society as we know it and I am suddenly absolved of all the bad decisions I have made. That is more important than whether Atlantis ever existed. People would rather chase these Unicorns than suck it up and wrestle their to-do list that has become longer than a life sentence.

Rumors are the primary form of human communication. We can call them stories to make it sound better. But it is still the primate herd behavior complicated by religion and multiplied by technology. Even within scientific communities dogma can take years to overturn. Because stories always sell more than science, even among scientists.

Some people are disappointed that after landing on the moon in the 60s we do not have flying cars yet. Some feel we are actually going backwards in time as a civilization. But in many ways it is a miracle that we are still here. In a world with multiple existential threats and a population that makes decisions entirely on emotions, any scientific progress is a huge triumph. But even if there is another Renaissance of rational thought we will still be unhappy. We will still believe in occult practices, Big Foot and that the moon landing was a hoax. Because reality is never enough. Even if space travel becomes common it will start feeling mundane in a couple of months. The only thing bigger than the universe is the ego and there is no black hole big enough to contain it.

Questioning everything is great. But most goose chases tend towards delusion. Another form of this delusion is believing in past glory, from family trees to Hindu Rashtra. Always believing that things were somehow better and more pure in the past. This is also a deflection of one’s own follies. Perhaps every Yug calls itself KalYug to pardon itself of its hypocrisy. A decent reading of history will tell you that it’s all peaks and troughs and not straight slide upwards or downwards. This also mirrors the nostalgia most people have for their childhood contrasted with the contempt they have for their corrupted adult life. Between ‘Adulting is difficult’ and ‘Stay in touch with your inner child’ most of us never actually grow up. And the comforts of modern life don’t let us.

As a person of science with a certificate to prove it, I always fall for cold hard facts over rosy stories. But the market works otherwise. Conspiracy theories about Coronavirus will reach fantasy proportions but people will not practice social distancing. It is somehow easier to swallow the horror of unbelievably evil governments working in amazingly synchronized fashion to effect genocide than to accept that we are still at the mercy of nature and life is as fragile and precarious as it has ever been. It hurts the entitlement Genesis has instilled in us. The Dictatorship theory is more acceptable because it fits in the more tried and tested Good v’s Evil format. Millions of innocent people may die but eventually ‘we win’.

The world is way more complex than a Nolan movie and life is way more random than a Tarantino flick. Finding wonder in that itself, accepting your fragility is the first step and it’s difficult. Thinking the mystery of creation will reveal itself through an acid trip or a podcast is as foolish as it is arrogant. Self-awareness is a lifelong journey of realizing your insignificance. But once you are on that path, life can seem more wonderful and opportune than any Coronavirus conspiracy.

  • Punit Pania