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When I was in college, a 16 year old girl promised to marry me. She wanted to name our baby “Sachin”. I believed her.

When a policeman once asked me whether I’d like to get my passport on time, I smiled with gratitude and slammed the door on his face.

When I once read, “Ron Paul is a gynecologist, and he is self-taught.”, I did not understand why this evoked laughter in an audience. I still do not.

I’ve always had a tenuous understanding of sarcasm and double-speak. I take words literally. When I was a child, it took me many years to understand hidden insults. 

I’ve never had it any other way. I was not sarcastic as a child. I was too innocent to understand the art of insinuation. When a teacher was sarcastic to me at 9, I understood her only a year later. When I fully understood her, I felt numb, as if I were struck by lightning. I stood still, staring at my coconut tree. It was too late, because I’d left that city and moved into another school. There was nothing much I could do about this. This was deeply unsettling. Continue Reading

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“Gail Wynand lived with his father in the basement of an old house in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. His father was a longshoreman, a tall, silent, illiterate man who had never gone to school. His own father and his grandfather were of the same kind, and they knew of nothing but poverty in their family. But somewhere far back in the line there had been a root of aristocracy, the glory of some noble ancestor and then some tragedy, long since forgotten, that had brought the descendants to the gutter. Something about all the Wynands–in tenement, saloon and jail–did not fit their surroundings. Gail’s father was known on the waterfront as the Duke. 

Gail’s mother had died of consumption when he was two years old. He was an only son. He knew vaguely that there had been some great drama in his father’s marriage; he had seen a picture of his mother; she did not look and she was not dressed like the women of their neighborhood; she was very beautiful. All life had gone out of his father when she died. He loved Gail; but it was the kind of devotion that did not require two sentences a week. 

Gail did not look like his mother or father. He was a throwback to something no one could quite figure out; the distance had to be reckoned, not in generations, but in centuries. He was always too tall for his age, and too thin. The boys called him Stretch Wynand. Nobody knew what he used for muscles; they knew only that he used it. 

He had worked at one job after another since early childhood. For a long while he sold newspapers on street corners. One day he walked up to the pressroom boss and stated that they should start a new service–delivering the paper to the reader’s door in the morning; he explained how and why it would boost circulation. “Yeah?” said the boss. “I know it will work,” said Wynand. “Well, you don’t run things around here,” said the boss. “You’re a fool,” said Wynand.

He lost the job.  Continue Reading

Books

Do you like coffee?

“Do you like coffee?” she asked me. When I said, “Yes”, she said, “I’ll make some coffee for you.” When I waited for her to make coffee for me, she asked, “But, we are in school now. How do I make coffee for you, here?” I turned silent, without knowing what to tell her. I did not know that I was being conned by her. I have always taken words literally. I was ten. She was 13. Once she laid her palms on the table and asked our mathematics teacher why she was supposed to study geometry when she will probably never use in her life. The teacher said that she was rationalizing, but I knew that she knew something that others did not. When she often stood near the door of our classroom, bending her right leg, I stared at her calf.

After she left the school, I once saw her in a temple with my mother-in-law. She was praying with her eyes closed, wearing a long skirt which was not too unlike the one you can see in old Malayalam movies. I looked at her folded palms and bare feet. While I stood there watching her through my eyes that were half-open, my mother held me by my arm and said that it was time for us to go. I felt vaguely uncomfortable. She did not see me. Continue Reading

Books, Uncategorized

Of all the economists, Schumpeter had the most colorful personality. From “Prophet of Innovation, Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction”:

“An English critic once wrote that Schumpeter was a bravura character whose life history could have been specially scripted for a T.V. mini-series. He liked to play the part of an aristocrat, even though his origins were middle-class and his eminence self-made. Starting as an academic boy wonder, he astonished his elders with books he wrote in his twenties. In his thirties, he had a brief public career as Austria’s finance minister. He next reinvented himself as a banker and made a fortune that he promptly lost in a stock market crash. After returning to academics, he moved to the United States to become a Harvard professor. World-famous by this time, he was also penniless. He had to make paid speeches to raise the money for his transatlantic ticket.”

 “Schumpeter had many faults, but pettiness was not one of them. He never took offense when the bold Samuelson would correct some mathematical error he was making in class. Instead, as another student recalled, “He would applaud. He admired brilliance.”  Schumpeter wrote to a Harvard dean, “I am positive that Samuelson is the most gifted graduate we have had these many years.” Schumpeter had that “rarest of all qualities in a teacher,” Sweezy wrote. “He never showed the slightest inclination to judge students or colleagues by the extent to which they agreed with him. Keynesians and Marxists were equally welcome in his circle. He didn’t care what we thought as long as we did think.” On the other hand, for those who did not think, Schumpeter could be derisive—often ridiculing the intellectual flabbiness of his fellow conservatives. “When I see those who espouse my cause, I begin to wonder about the validity of my position.” Continue Reading

Books

Sarcasm and socially unacceptable behavior has nearly ruined my life in all normal ways. It has also made it incredibly amusing and funny on a deeper and much more important level.

As every human action boils down to trade, I have to admit that overall my strategy was not at all a rip-off. In fact, it was a wonderful deal, a reasonable trade-off.  I have behaved in such a manner for various reasons which are rather complicated. I would say it is often because of my honesty, good-will, benevolence, deep love for humanity-and of course, my naïve, gullible nature!

It is often said that “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”. We also hear “A sarcastic person has a superiority complex that can be cured only by the honesty of humility.” I have always wondered whether there could be notions which are so far from the truth. How someone of normal intelligence can seriously hold any of these moralistic, “church sermon” like rationalizations is completely beyond me! Rational inquiries of moral philosophers were confined to politically correct, “mushy” virtues like unconditional love, kindness, compassion and benevolence. Even moral philosophers who took pride in their political incorrectness had confined their rigorous analysis to more worthy virtues like integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride and of course, selfishness. Very few have anything good to say on one of the most feared, despised, sickening, malevolent, humiliating form of doublespeak which makes people flee and shun the light of the day: sarcasm. When even apostles of selfishness like Nathaniel Branden say “Aside from cases of violent coercion, as when someone points a gun at you, you are responsible for your reactions. No one “makes” you become sarcastic”, we should know that the fate of sarcasm is bleak indeed. A bit of iconoclasm is therefore in order.

We might say that sarcasm is a “conversational scapegoat”, and unfairly so. The socially beneficial effects of sarcasm need to be defended hard. Sarcasm goes against the inflicting person, but it helps the truth reach him faster, in ways which are not too obvious. A man faces a painful dilemma when he faces deeply insulting sarcasm. He is compelled to prove his backbone by a tight slap-or he can listen silently, smiling like an imbecile thinking he is being smart & tactful. The sad fact is that it proves that he has neither intelligence nor a backbone, as the one who hurled the insult might know too well that it is true and didn’t expect a slap, precisely for that reason! I remember an instance when I hurled an insult which hits where it hurts the most-family, and the victim listened silently, not out of fear of a more public humiliation, but because he knew it was just another general, categorical statement intended at no one in particular- and because only truth hurts-and because he was a man of immense self esteem. Well crafted sarcasm puts such a person in the position of a mink that walks blindly into a scented trap. If it hurts so much, it can only be because it is true and such sarcasm deserves the highest praise, not condemnation. Given certain narrow assumptions, truth as such should never hurt the innocent. Like happiness, “Truth” should be considered an Aristotelian “chief good”, pursued for its own sake. As scathing sarcasm is often truth, it should be ranked higher. Continue Reading