Sunday, April 17, 2011

Of English, Emotions and Criticism...

Hmmm.. So I had my half yearly appraisal discussion this week.. It was on the expected lines.. Nothing great  to talk about..some things really screwed up but I knew it before hand what it is going to be like after all I know what kind of work I do :(
Anyways, during the discussion I received criticism in the form of a compliment..Seriously some people have exceptional people management skills on how to impart criticism to someone without antagonizing the one who is being critically evaluated..
Now, I am in a job that requires preparing reports with formal business language. But since we have all grown up and taught from school to be as elaborate as possible, unlearning that can be quite a difficult task (as in we have to avoid the use of 'have' as much as possible while writing). So, my manager told me, "You have a very literature style of writing probably because you are from an academic background or perhaps you were very good at English in school. But you need to change that." I felt so happy at least some praise during the not-so-good-discussion. And not because I am good at English (still make so many mistakes) but because I love the language English. My favorite subjects in school were English, Chemistry and Social Science! 
So, when I reached home I went back to my old answer sheets (have all from Class 9 -12). So I checked my pre-board Class 12 English paper and read through the paper. That reminded me of one of my favorite chapters in Class 12 English  book Machines and Emotions by Betrand Russell. Almost all my friends hated that chapter but I totally loved it, although certain points he made I clearly did not agree with but it was a beautiful essay that talked about how the mundane modem life like a machine is leading to a lack of spontaneity in our lives, leading to bottled up emotions, in which the thought of war appears to be an outlet for our emotions. And seeing the events of the past few years/days, especially after 26/11 in which there was talk of carpet bombing Pakistan, and now the Anna Hazare movement in which we want everything to be done immediately as Barkha Dutt writes "Maggi noodles type of justice", I believe in some of his points. Although some say that machines like playing consoles provide us an outlet for our violent side, I somehow have to agree with what Russell says that machines do starve our emotions. And when he talks about the role of press, it is as if almost his prophecy is coming true for India. The media wants us to have a war with Pakistan without understanding the huge consequences of a war! He says

The impulse to war has always existed since men took to living in societies, but it did not, in the past, have the same intensity or virulence as it has in our day. The greater ferocity of modern war is attributable to machines, which operate in three different ways. First, they make it possible to have larger armies. Secondly, they facilitate a cheap press, which flourishes by appealing to men’s baser passions. Thirdly, and this is the point that concerns us, they starve the anarchic, spontaneous side of human nature, which works underground, producing an obscure discontent, to which the thought of war appeals as affording possible relief.

Another interesting/controversial point that Russell makes is that instead of being rich, it is perhaps the desire to be respected that makes the people want to become rich. He says

In every big city, whether of Europe or of America, houses in some districts are more expensive than equally good houses in other districts, merely because they are more fashionable. One of the most powerful of all our passions is the desire to be admired and respected. As things stand, admiration and respect are given to the man who seems to be rich. This is the chief reason why people wish to be rich. The actual goods purchased by their money play quite a secondary part. Take, for example, a millionaire who cannot tell one picture from another, but has acquired a gallery of old masters by the help of experts. The only pleasure he derives from his pictures is the thought that others know how much they have cost; he would derive more direct enjoyment from Christmas cards, but he would not obtain the same satisfaction for his vanity.

In case, you want to read the full essay, go back to Class 12 book :) or read it as this link.

I mean what he wrote in early 1930-40s is coming true for us!! So true!

See here the following pic from the answer I wrote in Class 12 Pre-Board Exam. And don't miss the V Good at the end. My handwriting is childish, though everyone says it is very nice :) I can write better than this now, it is funny how our handwriting changes with time, although my ma'am loved my handwriting. She even to the extent of saying that it like a string of pearls :) Love you Ma'am :)
P.S- This is not a post about praising myself. I am not the kind of person who shows off.  I know how behind I have been left, this just reminds me of the good old days :(


  1. I remember this chapter very well. Even I used to hate it in school. But, reading some of the paragraphs of it in your post makes me realize how farsighted Russell was to write on a subject which is so relevant in today's times.

    Once again a very well written and interesting post :)

  2. Very beautifully expressed and well connected with Bertrand Russel's essay.

  3. Thanks Aastha and is good company with people like you to inspire us all :)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Wow that is an excellent correlation you´ve found between the current times and an 80-yr old essay!

    And I must say it brought back some great memories - more so with the second answer - about the Hour of Truth. Frauds are also a big part of our life these days. It is difficult to imagine a big politico accepting being corrupt like Mr Gresham or a Mr Baldwin (a small govt employee) declining a bribe. Sigh, school was a simple time.

    PS> Your handwriting really was amazing :)

  6. Shit man, how could you love this chapter at school...I mean probably this was one of the chapters during which I slept right under my teacher's nose (and she was fully aware that I am sleeping:-P)

    As far as I remember, I just made some points for this chapter and then wrote answers according to my whims and fancies :)

  7. Btw, Jaspreet what did you write earlier that has been removed by the author? :-P

  8. I made a couple of typos - which looked badly out of place in a blog post on Eng Literature :)

  9. Hehe..thanks Jaspreet..ya school was a simple time..and was one of my fav chapters..I don't know why I loved it..perhaps not as fast as "Face on the Wall' but still very interesting!


Post a comment