slavesincorporated

Archive for 2020|Yearly archive page

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

The Age of Irreverence

In art, Love, true enlightenment on March 15, 2020 at 18:43

When I tweeted, “Looking at all the World War memes I am pretty sure the last trace of humanity will be selfies with Mushroom clouds,” someone replied with a meme precisely matching it within 5 minutes. There is a meme for every conceivable kink and emotion. Yet all the memes put together are not enough to fill the void you feel in your heart.

Rebellion has always been celebrated by pop culture. But the irreverence of today is without rhyme or reason or even without any real rage. Nietzsche declared ‘God is dead’ over a hundred years ago. God may not be dead but He is definitely on life support. And there are no worthy successors. Science has proven to be a cold comfort at best. And commerce an auto-immune disease of pandemic proportions.

The result is corona virus memes and suicide jokes. The kind of dryness reserved for the stand-up stage and Monty Python movies is now part of everyone’s feed. Stand-up works because exaggeration is fun in small installments. Comics may relate to each other but seldom make for good friends. If everyone tends towards brazen Godlessness, it would taste like a sliver of sushi in a spoonful of wasabi.

And one cannot assume humor online comes from a nuanced intellect. Many memes, as layered and niche as they may appear are merely the outcome of aggregation, templates built on other templates evened out by the huge churn of social media. It is deceptive in the same way a school of fish appears to be a big creature. It is still better than political and communal content and Bollywood trash. But none of it can give solace they way art and spirituality can.

Seeing the amount of time being butchered in senseless content consumption and gaming, it seems like a miracle that there are still enough people who actually work. Work without distractions so that planes land, internet keeps working and water keeps running in your taps. And it will keep running as automation takes over more and more work freeing up more and more time for SIM and PUBG.

People can eventually find meaning in anything. But number of subscribers and record scores can’t help you sleep at night. Suicide is believed to kill more people than road accidents in the west. Cultures differ widely but human vulnerability remains the same. The extreme isolation and deathly loneliness people live with in Japan is the eventuality of every society with high technology and low social mobility.

If there was a way to calculate the percentage of pure unbridled happiness in the world, it would definitely be in single digits. And it is advertised precisely because it is so rare, not because it is a common and relatable experience. The products and services that claim to sell you happiness are not even cheap imitations. Individuality has sold enough mass-produced t-shirts to clothe the entire world in capitalism. And algorithms may have progressed enough to read your mind but happiness still comes from community, companionship and compassion, all of which are going extinct.

The vast irreverence we see today towards authority, institutions and tradition is not without reason but it is also without purpose. I would rather go down a longer route than have no direction at all. My boss used to say, “If you cannot respect the person, respect the chair.” We can start by respecting ourselves first. In the long run, time is irreverent to everyone and entropy is agnostic to every thing. In the fraction that we are alive and conscious, irreverence should be the least preferred disposition towards life.

In a world hurtling towards chaos as randomly as it emerged from it, the only antidote is prayer. If not to a higher power than to humility itself. Humility that recognizes each breath as a triumph and each unkind thought as a childish mistake.

May we have the humility to get through each day and the grace to appreciate it.

– Punit Pania

10 Years of Blogging

In art, Artist, freelancing, Blogging, creativity, Motivation, SlavesInc on January 1, 2020 at 14:46

I started this blog in January of 2011 during my first job. As a management graduate in New India I was technically living the middle-class dream. In a city 500 KMs from home and an office 30 minutes of rush hour traffic away from my apartment.

Balancing the intrigue of corporate hierarchy with the late bloom of Indian puberty was a heady mix. I fell back on my familiar coping mechanism; writing. I had started writing way back in college circa 2006 AD. Years of relatively anonymous posting never deterred me. Putting things down on paper was cathartic in itself.

With the same motivation, SlavesInc was born in a new era in my life. Initial feedback was that Slaves is too negative a name for something you are so dedicated to. But that is how I saw and still see jobs: modern day slavery. Art; in the very least, has to be unflinching. All other aspects of life are sugar-coated beyond recognition.

I kept typing away week after week based on experiences which were very personal yet a treatment that was global. And the blog did develop an audience that was across continents and numbers that were not underwhelming by the standards of those times. We even made it to the WordPress homepage a couple of times.

9th September, 2011

Quarters rolled into years and years into a decade. My writing evolved from terse prose to lucid poetry to now an easy conversation. The daily corporate grind is gone and so are the small impetuses to explain idiosyncrasies of cubicular life. But the big questions remain, they always do.

I now write for a living through stand-up. An Olympian dream at the time of starting this blog. The mind is much more at ease but the spirit is still aching to know more and topple over more whys.

But there is no ultimate resting place. The world is inherently unfair and humans are tragically unworthy of justice. A perpetual feedback loop. The artist suffers more because he sees more in every cublice and every street corner.

That he gets to address it by expression in whatever form is the only blessing that keeps him from going insane. Whatever audience she gets for it is a bonus. Everything beyond that is business and vanity.

If you dear reader have even for a moment felt connected to a piece of my writing, know that we have shared something fleetingly beautiful, even by RomCom standards.

Writing saved me and it is the only ideal I am gladly slave to.

Peace.

– Punit Pania