Friday, June 16, 2017

WHO OWNS 'FARRAGO'?

There are expressions like 'blood, sweat and tears' ascribed to Sir Winston Churchill, 'terminological inexactitude' (meaning bluff) - again a Churchill coinage - used by Richard Nixon and 'wardrobe malfunction' used by singer Janet Jackson to explain away her (deliberate) indecent exposure as accidental or 'We knocked the bastard off' exclaimed by Sir Edmund Hillary on conquering the Everest. The expression 'farrago of distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies' has been catapulted into the big league.

I first came across the word 'farrago' in 'Lucknow Boy', the autobiography of the inimitable Vinod Mehta who, in his illustrious career, has edited several publications ranging from Debonair to Outlook. The word suddenly became popular all over the country when Shashi Tharoor used it a couple of days back while referring to the audio tapes released by Arnab Goswami of Republic TV. (Frankly, Tharoor often does send me scurrying to my Oxford Dictionary!)

Tharoor's detractors lost no time in ensuring that he did not score any brownie points for his vocabulary. They researched and came to the earth-shaking conclusion that Tharoor is not the first to use the word. (It was as though Tharoor had made such a claim!) It had been, they claimed, used by journalist Mehdi Hasan (implying, indirectly, but incorrectly, that he was the first to use it.)

Why don't we just to learn to accept that 'farrago' is an English word which neither Mehdi Hasan nor Shashi Tharoor coined and that neither has a copyright over it? You want to put a man down ; so you use all tricks in your bag to run him down!

THE NEGOTIABLE COW

No, gentle reader, this is not about what you think it is. I do not know whether the ban on sale of cattle for slaughter is a negotiable issue or not. In any case, that topic is not on my mind as I write this.
This is about one of the sixty-six stories in the anthology 'Uncommon Law' by A P Herbert. Titled 'Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock', this hilarious story was originally written in the late 1920's for 'Punch' by the humorist as part of his series of Misleading Cases in the Common Law. The fictitious case has evolved, over time, into an urban legend.
The hero of the story is Mr Albert Haddock assessed to income tax by the government office. Haddock considers the sum excessive, particularly in view of the limited range of services taxpayers get from the government. Eventually, the Collector demands £57.
Haddock appears at the offices of the Collector of Taxes and delivers a white cow "of malevolent aspect". On the cow is stencilled in red ink: "To the London and Literary Bank Limited. Pay the Collector of Taxes, who is no gentleman, or Order, the sum of fifty seven pounds £57 (and may he rot!)" and his signature is affixed below it.
Haddock tenders the cow in payment of the tax dues and demands a receipt. The collector refuses to accept the cow, objecting that it would be impossible to pay it into a bank account. Haddock suggests that he may endorse the cow to a third party to whom he might owe money, adding that "there must be many persons in that position". The collector tries to endorse the cheque on the bovine back, in this case on the abdomen. However, the cow does not co-operate.
The collector abandons the attempt. Declining to take the 'cheque', he demands payment in cash. Haddock leads the cow away and causes an obstruction in Trafalgar Square. He gets arrested, leading to the co-joined criminal case, R. v Haddock.

During the hearing, Haddock testifies that he had tendered a 'cheque' in payment of income tax. A cheque is only an order to a bank to pay money to the person named on the cheque or having a legal title to the cheque. There is nothing in law to say it must be on paper of specified dimensions. A cheque, he argues, can be written on notepaper. He says he had "drawn cheques on the backs of menus, on napkins, on handkerchiefs, on the labels of wine bottles; all these cheques had been duly honoured by his bank and passed through the Bankers’ Clearing House". He argues that there is no distinction in law between a cheque on a napkin and a cheque on a cow.

The judge, Sir Basil String, enquires whether stamp duty had been paid. (In English law, as it existed then, negotiable instruments attracted stamp duty.) The prosecutor, Sir Joshua Hoot KC confirms that a two-penny stamp had been affixed to the dexter horn of the cow.

Sir Joshua informs the court that the collector did try to endorse the cheque on its back, in this case on the abdomen. However, Sir Joshua explains: "the cow ... appeared to resent endorsement and adopted a menacing posture."

When asked as to motive, Haddock says he had not a piece of paper to hand. Horses and other animals used to be seen frequently in the streets of London. He admits on cross-examination that he may have had in his mind an idea to ridicule the taxman. "But why not? There is no law against ridiculing the income tax."

In relation to the criminal prosecution, Haddock says it was a nice thing if in the heart of the commercial capital of the world a man could not convey a negotiable instrument down the street without being arrested. If a disturbance was caused by a crowd, the policeman should arrest the crowd, not him.

The judge, sympathetic to Haddock, rules in his favour on the tax payment and against the prosecution for causing a disturbance. By tendering the cow and refusing it, the other parties were estopped from demanding it later.

WHAT'S YOUR BEEF?

Do I eat beef? Yes.

Do I enjoy eating beef? Not particularly. In fact, I prefer vegetarian food to any non-vegetarian recipe.

Do I mind others eating beef? Not at all.

Do I approve of killing animals for food? Yes, because there is no other way non-vegetarians can get meat.

Do I approve of killing animals in public and/or hanging raw flesh in butchers' shops and/or displaying the meat in public view? No to all three.

Do I believe that sale of beef should be banned? No.

Is the status of beef different from that of, say, mutton, pork, venison, fowl or fish? No, all of them are derived from animal life. And therefore they all merit equal treatment.

Does the government have any role in prescribing what its people should eat and drink? No.

Do people have the right to protest when the government prescribes what they should eat and drink? Yes.

Is holding of beef festivals and butchering animals in public an acceptable form of protest? No, it is as reprehensible as the act of proscribing beef.

Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the food that its people consume (And that includes alcohol, eggs, mutton, fish, wheat, tomatoes and salads, not just beef) is hygienic and safe? The government's.

Are the present arrangements to ensure this adequate? No, they are woefully meagre.

So, what is my beef?

That instead of enforcing the laws that ensure that rotting meat, artificially ripened fruits and pesticide-ridden vegetables - and gut-scalding hooch - do not reach the market, the government is barking up the wrong tree.

That the protest against the inaction of the government in this area and the move to proscribe beef has been reduced to a farce of holding of beef festivals and butchering animals in public.

BEEFEATERS OF A DIFFERENT KIND

At a time when the nation seems have been vertically split into two - beef-eaters and the rest - let us digress a bit and talk of another set of beefeaters. Bacchus-worshippers would, of course, be reminded of the renowned Beefeater Gin, and foodies of the Beefeater Steak Restaurants of the UK.
The beefeaters that I refer to are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. Formally called the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, they are Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary. They are responsible for safeguarding the jewels of the British Crown and looking after the prisoners in the Tower. They also conduct guided tours as they have been doing since the Victorian era.

All warders are former warrant officers retired after at least 22 years' service from the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth. They are distinct from the Yeomen of the Guard, which is actually a distinct corps of Royal Bodyguards of the British monarch.

The name Beefeater is of uncertain origin, with various proposed derivations. The most-cited origin says that a very large ration of beef is given to them daily at the court, which is why they are called Beef-eaters.

While the Corps themselves believe this source, some etymologists have noted the similarity of the term beefeater to hláf-æta, the Old English term for a menial servant, literally 'loaf-eater', the counterpart of hláford (loaf-warden) and hlaefdige, which became 'lord' and 'lady' and respectively. Conjectures that the name derives from buffetier (an Old French term meaning 'a waiter or servant') too exist.

One of the Yeomen Warders has the responsibility to maintain the welfare of the ravens of the Tower of London. He is known as the Ravenmaster. It is not known how long the ravens have been living in the Tower of London, but legend has it that should the ravens ever leave the Tower, disaster will befall the kingdom. In order to prevent the ravens from flying away, their flight feathers are trimmed so that they cannot fly in a straight line for any appreciable distance. The ravens are free, however, to roam the Tower grounds.

The warders comment that the real beefeaters at the Tower are the ravens, as they are fed raw beef by the Ravenmaster who lets the birds out of their cages and prepares breakfast for them at dawn each day.

(This post is based on information culled out from different sources.)

TANSTAAFL

The open air café in the IIM Ahmedabad opened in 2004 has a funky and intriguing name: TANSTAAFL. It was christened so by Prof Deodhar, who was inspired by the aphorism 'There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch' and used the acronym formed by its initial letters. (Does it serve as a warning to students that spending too much leisurely time at the 24-hour café may come at the cost of poor grades in classes?)

Till recently, I was under the impression that this famous line was coined by the the Nobel-laureate and economist Milton Friedman, for, that is the title of his 1975 best-seller. It transpires that he was impressed by the veracity of a statement which appeared in a 1966 sci-fi work by Robert Heinlein that he enshrined it as its title.

In the novel 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress', Manuel, a computer engineer and protagonist of the story, tells fellow Loonies (people on the Moon, a colony of the earth, who are exploited by the people on the Earth) that unless they sacrifice something, they cannot achieve freedom. In this context, he utters his now-popular expression that TANSTAAFL is derived from.

It is said that the expression 'free lunches' originated in the 19th century in the US bars which laid out lunches free of cost to regulars. These lunches are now a thing of the past, but the package of most hotels these days includes a free breakfast buffet that guests hardly pass up. I know many who, on their way out after a sumptuous repast, snaffle an apple or a muffin. Their logic is simple: the cost of the breakfast is anyway built into the room tariff. Which means TANSTAAFB!

Coming to think of it, is there anything in this world that comes free?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

HAPPENSTANCE? OR VENGEANCE?

Having worked in a public sector bank for over three decades, half of which was in the area of corporate credit in a fairly senior position, I have come across companies and companies. Based on this experience, I can say with conviction that no businessman is in business for public weal or philanthropy.

If a pharmaceutical company procures a molecule and manufactures and markets a drug for a dreaded disease, it is not the intense desire to bring relief to the ailing millions that is the only (or the principal) force that drives them. Equally, they are inspired by Mammon.

In their relentless pursuit of profits and pelf, most, if not all, businesses go overboard. It is only a question of degree: some break break the rules, some bend the rules, some exploit the loopholes in the rules. They evade taxes, they bribe those who grant permissions and funds and gratify those who allow concessions and compromises. They propitiate those who are in a position to influence decisions and those who look the other way.

Over the time-span from the licence-raj of the 1950's to the LPG regime of the 1990's, the scourge spread to all spheres - ministries, customs, excise, ESI, PF, taxes, banks, politicos, judiciary, watchdogs and regulators, anything and anyone you can think of. Not that exceptions were not there in small pockets in these domains.

The new millennium brought in its wake the all-pervasive spread of the malaise: petty businessmen committed petty crimes and the not-so-small ones committed not-so-small crimes. The biggies were into real big rackets - over-invoicing of imports, under-invoicing of exports, setting up trading outfits abroad, establishing shell companies in tax havens and stashing away their ill-gotten wealth in numbered accounts in Switzerland. And corruption among businessmen and bureaucrats thrived.

In the rare instances when the long arm of law was long enough to catch the offenders, regulatory authorities did step in, but the influence the accused wielded saw to it that the process was delayed and action thwarted. I recall that when banks sought the help of CBI to recover the loans involving frauds on the part of borrowers, they would decline: 'Our brief is investigation of the misfeasance on the part of public servants.'

Media is also business. When Samir Jain brought down the cover price of the Times of India daily to Rs 1.50 (or was it just Re 1?), he triggered a price-war all right, but he also signalled that the Times House is as much a business house as the Bombay House of the Tatas. What is true of Times of India is true of Times Now and Zee and Jaya and Asianet and NDTV.

Which is why I would not consider NDTV to be pure as driven snow. I would not put it past NDTV to have committed the offences that Madhu Kishwar, Subramaniam Swamy and S Gurumurthy allege they have. These are all tricks in the bag of any businessman.

The charges against them include creating twenty 'letter-pad' companies - seven of them in Mauritius - and raising $ 417 million from undisclosed investors, making fictitious exports to Star TV, Hong Kong and claiming benefits under section 80HHF of Income Tax Act, thus defrauding the government of Rs 300 crore, employing Abhisar Sharma, husband of Sumana Sharma IRS who was the Assessing Officer for the income tax returns of NDTV and its promoters, paying for the expensive foreign junket and shopping of the Sharmas and accounting it as a perquisite of Abhisar Sharma (NDTV had paid for such trips of no other employee) and a host others. Only detailed investigations by an independent body can bring out the truth.

These are times when there is no grey. In a world that swears by the famous 2001 statement of US President George Bush 'If you are not with us, you are against us,' anything that is not black is white and vice versa. Which is why the reaction to the CBI raid on NDTV was predictable, with those who see NDTV as partisan (Read anti-establishment) perceiving the CBI action as 'Just desserts' while those think of NDTV as a fierce defender of freedom of speech consider it a witch hunt.

What is, however, inescapable, is the timing of the action and the alacrity with which CBI has pounced on the channel. This is even more pronounced when viewed in the backdrop of the fact that CBI had always complained of being overburdened and declined to help even public sector banks in recovering the loans obtained by clients through fraudulent means, pleading that their role was confined to investigating misfeasance of public servants. Note that here both the lender and the borrower are private entities.

Is not there no correlation between the over-zealousness of the CBI and the editorial stance of NDTV? The jury is still out on this, but, as a layman, my take is that NDTV may have committed serious financial improprieties which call for investigation but the timing - that it comes close on the heels of the vociferous Dr Sambit Patra who speaks for the ruling party being shown the door by the NDTV anchor Nidhi Razdan - makes it look sinister. It does not quite look like 'law taking its own course'.

An afterthought: My post 'What's Your Beef?' proved to be the proverbial the curate's egg: good in parts to a group of readers who believe in the freedom to eat what one likes and to their protagonists who do not favour protests in the form of beef festivals and public slaughter of animals. This post too might meet with the same fate and I might fall between two stools!

ALL THOSE CUTLERISMS

Most of those who read this piece would know what a spoonerism is. This eponym is commonly understood to refer to a switch of the first syllables of two adjacent words, often resulting in a hilarious expression. Like 'a blushing crow' instead of 'a crushing blow'.
Spoonerisms are named after Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this mistake. (My scrapbook says it is also called 'marrowsky' after a Polish gentleman whose tongue used to get twisted, resulting in a similar speech impediment.)
Spooner himself admits to only one such lapse: 'The Kinquering Congs Their Titles Take' (in reference to a hymn). This would imply that the other scores of spoonerisms that we hear (our queer dean, hissed the mystery lectures, tasted the whole worm, leave town drain, etc) are all fabricated. That, however, seems very unlikely, for, just one slip of the tongue (or tip of the slung, if you will) cannot result in the christening of a genre of lapses.
One of the more popular spoonerisms believed to have genuinely been mouthed by the ordained minister is 'The Lord is a shoving leopard' instead of 'The Lord is a loving shepherd'. As a practitioner of religion and a preacher, this is most certainly his.
That said, just one substantiated spoonerism has been listed in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: 'The weight of rages (instead of 'rate of wages') will press hard upon the employer.'
Human ingenuity, however did one better than the Oxford don could, and soon enough, colleagues and students 'constructed' spoonerisms as a pastime. Thus contrived expressions were passed off as spoonerisms, apocryphal though they are. 'Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?' for instance.
Thus, today a spoonerism signifies an error in speech or a deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels or morphemes of two words in a phrase are swapped.
But then ingenuity hath no boundaries. If spoonerisms strike roots, can forkerisms and kniferisms be far behind? It was Donald Hoefstadter, the patron-saint of 'perverted' thinkers, who introduced these complements to spoonerisms, to complete the cutlery, as it were. In kniferisms, the vowels or the final consonants of two syllables would be interchanged, giving them a new meaning as in 'the Duck and Doochess of Windsor'; or, more often, two meaningless words, as in 'hypodeemic nerdle'. I have read somewhere that Sir Stafford Cripps was once referred to by a BBC newscaster as Sir Stifford Crapps. Some other instances are 'Self-constricted ruddles', 'terrific striggles' and 'deloberately rib me'.
Usage of these new terms has been limited, perhaps because it is quite difficult even to 'construct' good forkerisms and kniferisms.

Post script: There is this friend of mine who wrote to me that he loves my posts. I hope he is not being spooneric when the smart alec that he is exlaimed what a shining wit I was in his opinion. Shining wit ot whining ....?

ADDICTED FOR LIFE

In what an amazing manner the way I read newspapers has changed!
At first, I used to read the news, the editorial, letters to the editor and articles, that order. In my scheme of things, sports pages were worth a mere glance, if at all. And I’d ignore the crossword. Nowadays I barely glance at the headlines before I fold the paper to the crossword page and charge at it! News can wait.
It is all due to a person called Madhusoodan Rao. He introduced me to the charming world of crosswords which I was always apprehensive of.
Rao and I were inmates of the YMCA Hostel on Chowringhee Road, Calcutta in the early 1970’s. He used to work in shifts for a multinational and I for a bank. The only time we’d meet each other was at when dining bell chimed on Sundays.
Sundays were meant for lazing around. One such forenoon, after a late breakfast, I ambled into Rao’s room and found him engrossed in an instalment of The Times crossword in The Statesman. I thought I’d let him be and explore other rooms. That was when he asked me: ‘You’d know: St Francis of … … what? Six letters.’
This is one question I had the answer to. The exercise books I used in my school used to be made at the Francis of Assisi Press. I supplied the answer. Mumbling a quick ‘Thanks’, Rao went back to his puzzle.
I looked at the corresponding clue: ‘St Francis confesses to stupidity (6)’ How do you link Assisi to ‘confession of stupidity’? I asked.
Eyeing me with a hint of disdain, but grateful that I had supplied him the answer, he condescended to explain, ‘Ass is I. Got it?’
It now clicked. And I was intrigued.
He showed me the next clue: ‘Vehicle races to pink flowers (10)’ and confidently, he put down: carnations.
How did you get that? I was curious.
‘A car is a vehicle; nations are races; and carnations are pink flowers.’
I was floored. Sensing that he had ignited my interest, Rao said, ‘Here is another clue with a flower in it: Ash met a flower (6)’ I was lost.
Help was at hand. ‘Look beyond the obvious,’ Rao advised. ‘It is not always a bloom that is a flower; it can be something that flows … like a river... like the Rhine or the Ganges… or like Thames which is an anagram of ‘ASH MET’.
Now I was hooked. Hooked for life.
Rao taught me the nuances – cryptic clues, anagrams, codes, run-ons, envelopes, kangaroo words, abbreviations, the works.
When I first tried to make sense of cryptic clues, it used to take me a whole forenoon of grappling with synonyms to solve about half the grid. Even that was an accomplishment worth a minor celebration: a bottle of chilled beer at Rallis.
In my infancy as a solver, anagram tries would be scrawled around the crossword grid and all over the white space in large advertisements. Armed with a pencil, an eraser and an enormous amount of determination, I’d sit there, dictionary and thesaurus at hand, wrestling with the compiler’s intellect, as it were.
After three decades of dedicated puzzling, anagrams jump out at you, and it becomes easier to figure out the definition, sort out the elements of the clue, and you learn the indicators: as in algebra, k is the constant, x and y are unknowns. The possibilities of some are endless. Fir instance, C can be carbon, Celsius, Centigrade, century, a musical note or 100! The capital of England is not London, but E which may also be 2.7182818284 …..!
When I started cutting out puzzles to keep me supplied while waiting for the bus or my turn at the ophthalmologist, I realised that I had become an addict. I needed my daily fix of crosswords. A healthy addiction.