Illusions – (Part-2)

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(Image taken from Politickle, by Manjul)

The instant he began to speak, I felt like throwing up. He spoke in English. He was no schmuck – most of the suckers gathered there were white-skinned.

His Holiness, Sathya Sai Baba’s voice had a gravelly texture, his south Indian  accent laughably cringe-worthy. “Gaaad laoows you. He laoows yeevarybaaddy,” he proclaimed, to ecstatic cheers. The blondes in the audience didn’t care if they understood a word or they didn’t.

The lecture itself was a simple one. Aside from stressing on strict vegetarianism, Sai Baba didn’t appear to subscribe to any specific ideology. His words seemed flowery and vague, combining the symbolism of Hindu mythology with a dash of the Buddhist belief about all that transcending-worldly-desire crap. He added to that a table spoonful of charity that the Abrahamic faiths espouse and he had a winning brew.

Most of all, the Bhagwan sounded so corny. Here are some of his quotes that I’m definite he spouted that day….

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God is the Seed, The Universe is the Tree, Impulses and passions are the branches, Intelligence is the flower, Pure Consciousness is the fruit, Love is the sweetness in the fruit. 

Man’s many desires are like the small metal coins he carries about in his pocket. The more he has the more they weight him down. 

Love all. Serve all. Help ever. Hurt never. 

Every experience is a lesson. Every loss is a gain. 

Without God, life is like a school without a teacher. It is a wire with no current passing through it; it is a body with no soul.

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No kidding. That is supposed to be profound? Frankly, His Holiness needed a better quote writer.

In fact, a brochure we had been handed confirmed my impressions of the lack of an ideology. It stated that, ‘there is no new path that His Holiness is preaching, no new order that He has created. There is no new religion that He has come to add or a particular philosophy that He recommends. His message is unique and simple – that of love and compassion’. (Love – in very broad terms, I presume).

I admit that I found the vagueness of his message rather refreshing. His chatty tone seemed like he didn’t aspire to be anything but being like just one of us, warts and all. Judging by the prosperity that the Sathya Sai Organization has seen, that style has obviously worked. Today, followers of the Bhagwan are one of the most fanatical anywhere. They see his hidden hand in everything that happens on earth.

Behind me, a woman wailed and I turned – she was white, maybe around 30. Her eyes had a maniacal shine and her whole torso rocked back and forth ecstatically. Spittle dribbled from the corner of her lips. She was pretty but she looked as if she had stopped taking care of her physical appearance. Man, the woman really was out of it. Disgusted, I tuned out and waited gamely by Runadi’s side while she stared at the charlatan, mesmerized. She didn’t look much different from that woman, except for the rocking and the spittle dribble part. Ugh, I couldn’t wait to be some place else.

Such zombie-like followers in that ashram were in plenty that day. Stories of brainwashed believers of Sathya Sai Baba are legion if you care to check the internet – an American schmuck named Leland says that His Holiness came to him in the guise of a Tijuana (Mexico) traffic cop and then later on as a Japanese airline stewardess. An Argentinian woman gave up her Buenos Aires apartment and her medical practice after ‘Baba’ summoned her in her dreams. A wheelchair-bound cancer patient from Amsterdam – abandoned by her husband and living with friends who were Sai Baba devotees – saw a vision of the guru beckoning her. One day her friends surprised her with a ticket to India and she took off and remained in Puttaparthi till she ultimately succumbed to her illness. They say she died with a smile on her face.

Ultimately they all (barring a few hundred disgruntled, sexually molested ex-devotees) got what they were looking for. Maybe I am the sucker here, but if I wanted a blow job, a pot-bellied guy in an afro-cut and an atrocious accent is the last person on earth I’d go to.

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I don’t remember exactly how long the lecture went but when I came to, Runadi was shaking me. Our muscles creaking, we rose from the cramped cross-legged position by the door. Folks were crowding around the main aisle that led down from the podium, watching rapt, as His Holiness slowly made his way toward the exit. Runadi and I just happened to be standing right by it. Great!

Then as the Sathya Sai Baba neared us, something amazing happened.  He came to a halt right in front of Runadi and waved his arm around to signal to everyone to pipe down. He brought his gaze down and gestured toward Runadi’s tummy and told her, “Don’t worry, it’ll all go away in a few weeks and you will feel like new once again….”

Funny, even I found the voice strangely clear and reassuring, like he knew what he was talking about. The words were carefully vague – you could look at anyone who obviously looked stressed out and say those words, but Runadi was clearly moved. There she stood, shaking, tears streaming down her face. I didn’t know in what context he was saying she would be fine. Fine from what?

I didn’t know anything was wrong with Runadi, but that’s because I came to know of it only later that evening –

Runadi, though just 27 then, had very severe ulcers that had all but eaten away at her innards, thanks to years of eating very spicy food laced with hot chillies. I mean, she couldn’t eat if you didn’t put a bowl filled with those lethal red chillies right next to her thali. She said she had given it up and sought treatment but the damage to her stomach wall had been too extensive. This trip was a desperate last ditch effort to try and seek help from the supernatural.

A month after that visit to Puttaparthi, I got a postcard from Runadi and in it she was ecstatic. After nearly a decade of pain and suffering and blood oozing out of her bowels, her tests now showed perfectly healthy tissue, instead of bleeding ulcers. Her doc was amazed that recovery had been so complete and swift.

I am a man of science and I dismiss anything that cannot be explained by science. Runadi’s recovery was nothing short of a miracle and I am convinced that Sathya Sai Baba had something to do with it, though I have no idea how.

So, there you go – child molester to some and savior to others. Take your pick. But if he could heel just by a glance, isn’t building a superspeciality hospital an oxymoron?

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Runadi’s ulcers had undergone what medical science calls remission, a phenomenon that is described as the spontaneous disappearance of the symptoms of an ailment that is not fully understood by medical science. Through history, medically documented cases of remission are legion. Cancers have been known to have set in and then mysteriously disappear.

The first known cases of remission were recorded by the disciples of a certain carpenter named Jesus H. Christ. Of course, in Greek and Hindu mythology almost nothing can be explained through science. Gods and Goddesses routinely went a step further than just making ailments disappear – they made their surrogates immortal. But I am done with all that nonsensical mumbo jumbo.

Today, there is even a branch of science known as neurotheology (a.k.a spiritual neuroscience) – the study into the possibility of a neurological basis for not only the role of spirituality in health, but any subjective experience that cannot be explained by objective scientific observation afforded by pure science. It says that if a disease afflicted person believes strongly enough that he’ll get better, he actually will.

In Runadi’s case, I am certain that the chance meeting she had with Sathya Sai Baba convinced her that he had appeared before her for a purpose and that she could heal and that was entirely sufficient to completely cure her.

I am thinking of doing a PhD in neurotheology. That way I can convert a date with Scarlett Johanssen from being a merely subjective fantasy to an objective negligée clad reality.

 

Illusion – (Part-1)

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When I was in engineering school in Chennai, an older cousin dropped in from Kolkata, her ultimate destination – Sathya Sai Baba’s Ashram at Puttaparthi, a small town that was a 9-hour bus ride to the west.

My cousin, Runadidi, was to Sathya Sai Baba, what rednecks are to Donald Trump – sold, lock stock and barrel on him. Runadi insisted that I accompany her and because my college was on a one-week spring break and also since I wanted to experience the sight and sounds of the weirdo first hand, I tagged along.

Back in the early 1970s, Puttaparthi was about as remote as Novaya Zemlya is, to a Muscovite. Folks visited Puttaparthi only when they had issues that they could no longer deal with – mainly health related issues that they had given up trying to fix medically and were at their wits’ end. Tales of the Sathya Sai Baba miraculously curing folks of life threatening ailments just by the wave of a hand, some holy ash, a cheap trinket that he magically materialized out of thin air and crappy mumbo-jumbo were legion in those days.

Little is known about Sathya Sai Baba’s past, except for the hagiography -mostly fable, making him into a superhero – that has sprung up around him over the decades. Wikipedia says —-‘as a child, he was unusually intelligent and charitable, though not necessarily academically inclined, as his interests were of a more spiritual nature. He was uncommonly talented in devotional music, dance and drama. From a young age, he was alleged to have been capable of materializing objects such as food and sweets, rings and watches, out of thin air.’

When we visited Puttaparthi, it was little more than a village, albeit a neat, well-organized village. The internet tells me that today Puttaparthi boasts a shiny planetarium and a sprawling ‘superspeciality’ hospital. I saw the pics of the hospital on google images – it looks like a multi-tiered wedding cake. The hospital treats patients for free, so who are we to complain. Besides that, there is a college, a music school and immaculate colorful schools and playgrounds, everything free and all financed by the Sai Baba Organization. Luxury apartment buildings are springing up on land that was covered with ramshackle mud huts just a few decades prior. A state of the art airport caters to wealthier devotees who fly in on their business jets.

Today, 10 to 50 million people worship Sathya Sai Baba as God incarnate. They stream into Puttaparthi from six continents, finding lodgings in one of the ashram’s myriads of guesthouses and hostels – some really snazzy, with jacuzzis and air-conditioning. Those are smart infrastructural investments made by the Sathya Sai Organization, that ensure a steady inflow of hard currency donations, some running into millions. The largest single donation is reported to be $20 million, from the founder of Hard Rock Café. I guess even billionaires can be schmucks. In 1975, the Sathya Sai Organization’s cash reserves were $5 billion.

Sathya Sai Baba is raising the daisies but his brainchild, the Sathya Sai Organisation, is a multi-billion dollar financial juggernaut that has 1500 branches all over the world and millions of followers, many of them whole families who have migrated from the west, with kids in tow, after cashing in every last nickel and dime they owned and bringing it with them.

While His Holiness was alive, some of his followers (usually young boys) suddenly found themselves bestowed with extra attention from the guru. Yeah, Sathya Sai Baba had a sinister secret, known only to his close associates – a wholly human craving for the bodies of pre-teen boys. The evidence is strong that Sai Baba frequently used his power to get inside their pants, fondling young penises and rendering to them what came to be his signature obsession – divine blow jobs.

I hasten to add that these are claims made by ex-devotees that have never been proven. Neither has His Holiness ever been charged with any sexual wrongdoing. But the body of testimony is so vast and instances in contemporary history of powerful godmen having their way with innocent followers are so many, I am convinced there was not just some smoke but fire too.

The reason why Sai Baba was never investigated (let along charged) is quite clearly his political connections.  Sathya Sai Baba was hobnobbing with senior politicians – including some prime ministers – all his life. At the local level, the Sai Baba Organization has always had most of the top officials of the local state and district bureaucracy in it’s deep pockets. The SSO is their ticket to rich lifestyles that their meagre government salaries could never afford.

And then of course there is all that charity – hospitals, schools, colleges, playgrounds, libraries, bore-wells for drinking water, cisterns for water storage, public toilets – Sathya Sai Baba was untouchable, the populace loved him and anyone who attempted to even think of arresting such a guy would be signing his death warrant.

But I digress.

Runadi and I rested ourselves in a guesthouse upon arrival that evening and at sunrise the next morning, we presented ourselves at the vast Prasanthi Nilayam (abode of peace) mandir and lecture hall that the brochure said could easily seat 15000. This is where the Holy Swami would deliver another one of his divine homilies.

We spent an hour waiting in a line and another hour sitting cross-legged amid thousands of other worshipers on the marble floor of the terrace outside. The hall was already packed and we would have to watch him from the terrace. Through the large doors, we could see as many foreigners in the hall, as there were Indians. Half of all the staff were white men and women, walking around barefoot, in simple white sarees and kurta-pyjamas. Dozens of chandeliers hung from the ceiling, which was garishly decorated with gold, pink and yellow.

An aisle bisected the hall, cutting right through to the stage and that’s when I noticed that it was gender segregated, with women to the right and men to the left. Runadi and I were at the door, just outside the hall, where the rule apparently didn’t apply. Behind the stage, at the far end, I noticed a door but it was only in the late 1990s that I began reading about what went on behind that door. It was His Holiness’s private ‘sexual healing’ room, probably the place where he molested those young boys.

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Runadi and I were beginning to get bored when an electric charge ran through the crowd. Immediately necks craned to catch a glimpse of the guru.

Sathya Sai Baba appeared through the door of the back room – a stocky guy with a broad smile and that ridiculous Jimi Hendrix afro cut and his customary floor-length ochre robe. He waved as he walked down the aisle, pausing first on the women’s side and then on the men’s side and back again, taking turns, readily accepting what looked like slips of paper (probably pleas and petitions) that were being feverishly stuffed into his hands which he passed on to an aide following him.

I turned to glance at Runadi and she was gone, her eyes glazed over, chest heaving as if she was short of breath, pretty face glistening with sweat….

(to be continued….)

Stoned Castings

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Last August when the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica (an Italian Jesuit journal) interviewed Pope Francis the first question he asked him was “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”

Just to refresh your memory, that’s the Pope’s given name.

The holy father – yes, Bergy is called father, meaning he’s my pappy too, even if I can categorically state that my mother never made it to Bonus Hairs and therefore never could have had unprotected sex with ‘im.

Anyways, the Pope remained silent for a while and the journalist had ta repeat the question…

“Your Holiness, who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”

“He is a sinner”, said Pope Francis hesitantly, smiling that signature disarming grin of his. Heartening response indeed. Hey, if the Pope has committed sins, I’m on a roll, man.

Perhaps what made the Pope hesitate was the famous passage from the Gospel According to John about Jesus and the adulteress. The passage describes a confrontation between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees over a woman caught in an act of adultery. The accusers quoted Mosaic Law, which stated that the anybody caught in adultery “should be stoned”.

I would like to think that being stoned meant being made to smoke weed against someone’s will, but no, it meant being battered with stones to death. Whoever says the early Abrahamic God was a ‘merciful’ God obviously lives in a world where plus is minus and minus, plus.

Anyways, Jesus’s relationship with God must have been like the one General James Mattis has with Donald Trump. Jesus nodded agreement with God in everything and then went out and did the exact opposite. In this case, he shamed the crowd into sparing the woman by saying, “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

The implication of Jesus’s words was actually pretty clear: all of us have sinned sometime in our lives and therefore we do not have the right to pass judgement on others.

Here’s where the Bible seems incomprehensible to me. As soon as Jesus’s words were out of his mouth, those who were itching to stone the woman simply melted away, looking awkwardly bashful, muttering to each other, “The guy has a point. Why, just the other day I had to be told I was only a goatherd and shouldn’t be buggering them goats.”

And that’s the ultimate jerk-off. Create human beings, gift them with the ability and the choice to commit sins, then make laws that brutally punish them if they commit sins and finally wave your divine hands and say, ‘no, no, no, you can’t punish the sinner because everyone sins.” God should be charged with entrapment.

My point is that sins vary in gravity. Adultery is a really shameful sin, but a great majority of sins are minor sins – otherwise known as misdemeanors – like making off with a stick of gum or a bar of chocolate from the corner Couche-Tard, a massive convenience store chain for whom the loss would be only a tiny pin prick. If the crowd of accusers fell into the latter category, then wouldn’t they have a right to stone a woman who has committed adultery? Fucking a married man is far worse than stealing gum, no?

So how could Jesus know whether the woman’s accusers had only minor misdemeanors in their past history or if they were adulterers themselves? Which in turn begs the question  – why isn’t there any mention in the Bible of the man who screwed the adulteress, let alone any mention of similar punishment being recommended against him? Wasn’t he an adulterer too? Looks like male chauvinism began with the Bible, doesn’t it?

What Jesus should have said to the accusers instead, should have been, “Get me the m—ther f—ker who did this with her. And anyone who has only chewed stolen gum, let him come forward and cast the first stone.” Now, that would have been apple-to-apple, though frankly I am against stoning, even if the woman and the man were serial out-of-wedlock humperdinks.

Then again, Jesus had never had sex before and therefore should have voluntarily recused himself from rendering his opinion on the case. But he was a chatterbox and felt compelled to hold forth. I understand that even his parents had never had sex. He was conceived inside Virgin Mary’s womb, by the Holy Spirit – proof that ISpermCloud services were available in those days.

And by the way, you don’t say, ‘the virgin, Mary’, like she was a woman named Mary who just happened to be a virgin. Her first name was Virgin and the actual name on her identity parchment was V. Mary. Why Mary and Joseph couldn’t have given birth to a messiah simply by adopting the missionary position and having sex the way the rest of us do, is beyond me.

Then, after the crowd went away, Jesus was finally where he had wanted to be from the very first moment he set eyes on the adulteress – alone with her. Jesus gave her a lascivious look and said, “There, I just saved yore ass. Now why don’t you meet me behind my carpentry shed for a little bit of לְהִשְׁתוֹבֵב) ?לְהִשְׁתוֹבֵב is ‘frolic’ in Yiddish, as per Google Translate).

Actually Jesus didn’t say that at all. I confused him with Bill O’Reilly. Instead he told her, “Go and sin no more.” The woman was never mentioned in the Bible thereafter, so I am reckoning she never committed adultery again.

Listen, nuclear war may break out any moment with North Korea and here I am, whiling away my time, dwelling on whether Mary’s first name was Virgin.

Hail Mary, mother of God, what will I think of next?

Collective Euphoria

A jubilant American sailor clutching a white-unifo

Collective euphoria? Or pardonable sexual assault? I say ‘pardonable’ since you can see even the other women in the image smiling. (Pic courtesy: Life Magazine)

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On the morning of Aug. 14, 1945, 21-year-old Greta Zimmer reported to work as a dental assistant and nurse on Lexington Ave, New York City.

All morning, Greta had been hearing rumors that the Japanese had surrendered after being hammered by those two atomic bombs, ending World War II. And then the announcement came over the radio and businesses across New York (and in fact all over America and the world) downed their shutters and countless men and women spilled into the streets in a giddy and chaotic release – a cathartic revelry that gave vent to the pent-up anxieties, fears, sorrows of not only the six years of brutal warfare but also the bottled up anger of the previous three decades of economic meltdown that the Great Depression had brought.

Greta Zimmer’s joy was sobered by her past – she had landed in America as a Jewish refugee who escaped Austria in the nick of time in 1938, leaving her parents behind. As of that euphoric day in the photo, she hadn’t heard from them and presumed they didn’t survive. Nevertheless she took off and for an hour, simply wandered aimlessly west toward Time Square, which was – as it is even now – the go to place for spontaneous celebrations.

At the very moment when Greta Zimmer was wandering into Time Square, 21-year old US Navy Ensign, George Mendosa was inside a cinema with his date, Rita, watching a war movie with Robert Mitchum in it. All of a sudden the show was halted and the lights came on and over the theater’s PA system came the announcement that the war had ended. Those inside the theater, George and Rita included, sprang up and rushed out into the street.

They couldn’t find a bar that wasn’t jam-packed, so the couple decided to simply mingle into the crowds that meandered around Time Square and just soak up the historic moment. George had been enjoying the last few days of his shore leave and now he was overjoyed that he wouldn’t be redeployed in the Pacific.

If you were a woman on Broadway or Times Square that day, chances were good that you too would be scooped up and kissed by random strangers and most likely you wouldn’t mind it even a bit. Still, Greta Zimmer was shocked when she suddenly found herself jostled and then before she could gather her wits, grabbed and kissed by a brawny young man in a sailor’s uniform, George Mendosa.

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Every man was kissing every woman, so George’s date, Rita, wasn’t even a bit ruffled when he scooped Greta up and gave her a huge sloppy kiss. In fact if you check out the photo closely, that’s Rita, visible over George’s right arm, with a grin on her face.

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I am sure the feeling among most women in America that day must have been one of gratitude, like they owed the men in uniform a debt. Letting themselves be grabbed and kissed (aka sexually assaulted) was seen by them as a gesture of that appreciation perhaps.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the two kissers, noted Life Magazine photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, had captured the moment. The photo was published a few weeks later but both, Zimmer and Mendonsa, would go decades without knowing about “the photo that ended the Second World War” and of their newfound status as icons.

The sailor kissing nurse photo has since spread around the world, as an iconic representation of the power of collective euphoria. I recall feeling that feeling once, in 1983, when India won the cricket World Cup. The whole city of Pune had gathered on the Lakdi Pul and girls were letting themselves be  squeezed and cuddled openly, by total strangers. Of course, straight-laced as I am, I found all that open rub-a-dub very very gross.

Historic moments seem to bring out the basest bacchanalian instincts in us humans. I am sure that would hold for even impending events of historic proportions. Like for instance, just suppose an asteroid, the size of ten city blocks, was a week away from wiping out all life on earth and any hope that it would pass us by had evaporated. I am certain you would be able to walk out into the streets and make love to just about anybody right then and there, wouldn’t you?

Rita and George later married and stayed that way until 2012, when George passed on, at 90. Greta meanwhile lived to be 92, passing away in September 2016. Folks who knew both are unanimous that they lived happy and healthy lives.

But don’t get carried away thinking the moral of the story is – ‘grab and kiss any random woman and you’ll live a happy and healthy life’. It works only if there’s been a World War and your side won or the world is coming to an end. Other times you’ll end up with a slap across your cheek and a knee in the nuts.

The Everlasting Etiquette

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When Saddam Hussein was finally caught cowering inside an underground bunker in 2003 and later sentenced to die, many nations in the EU opposed the decision to execute him. India too suggested that there were other non-violent ways to mete out justice and that violent vengeance wasn’t moral, specially since the invasion of Iraq was itself based upon a lie.

But India’s stance was ironic, since it has an opposing ethical precedent…..

In the great epic, Mahabharata, when a defenceless Karna’s chariot wheel get’s mired in the mud in the middle of the battle of Kurukshtra, he tries desperately to extricate it, but fails. Noting that the Pandava hero, Arjuna, is getting ready to slay him, Karna asks him to hold his fire and give him a hand.

Coming to an adversary’s assistance in those days was a component of what was known as battlefield etiquette, which required that when a fighter had been placed unwittingly in a position of disadvantage, his antagonist had to hold further fire until he had recovered and the playing field was levelled. Something similar plays out in boxing today, I understand – punching a fallen opponent is against the rules.

But back in 5561BC (the date that vedic scholars think the Battle of Kurukshetra happened), battle etiquette was a very important component of the Indian ethos. In fact it was common all over the ancient world. In Homer’s epic, The Iliad, the Athenian fighter, Ajax the Greater, chucks a huge stone at the Trojan hero, Hector, with such force that it dislodges Hector’s helmet and crushes his horse. Since he is still on his own steed and has his helmet on, Ajax deems it unfair to continue. He dismounts and pauses to let Hector gather himself together and they fight hand to hand, until he is killed by Hector. In today’s world, Ajax would be a stupid sucker, but not in 850BC.

But I digress… getting back to the Mahabharata, on hearing Karna’s plea for help, Arjuna immediately pauses and begins to dismount from his chariot to go give Karna a hand – when all of a sudden Arjuna’s charioteer, the revered Lord Krishna – instead of commending his sense of chivalry – reminds him of Karna’s own lack of etiquette when he killed Abhimanyu and participated in Duryodhana’s insulting of Draupadi. Krishna convinces Arjuna that it is not against battlefield etiquette to kill a man who has supported evil all his life. Arjuna immediately turns back, takes aim and kills Karna.

What do y’know. Under his beatific smile, Krishna was a calculating, Machiavellian God.

And no thanks to Krishna, battlefield etiquette still makes its presence felt – albeit sporadically – in the unlikeliest of places…….

Spring, 2009

A hamlet, 20 miles south of Spin Boldak

Afghanistan

The night had been so brilliantly moonlit, it was almost like day. They would have waited for the next new moon but there was no time.

Abu Salam was leading a TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban) squad that had bivouacked for the night in the bushes surrounding the hamlet, just north of the border with Pakistan. The hamlet was nestled inside a cleared circle on a vast terrain covered by a dense thicket of waist-high shrubs that seemed ideal for concealment from a ground-based adversary, but completely exposed to an aerial attack by fixed-wing ground attack aircraft like the AC-130 and Warthogs or choppers like the Apache or Black Hawk.

There was big game tonight and the Emir, Baitullah Mehsud, himself was by his side, toting a Stinger missile launcher to deter aerial support interference. The Stinger’s dull black mat finish hadn’t been scratched yet. Although it was an older version that Raytheon had stopped making a long time back, it was still brand new. It had been stowed away unused, in an Islamabad warehouse operated by Satan’s own rep on earth, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI.

The Stinger was a remnant of American largesse of the 80s and today it would be used to kill Americans. Salam smiled grimly at the irony. Raytheon didn’t know – Raytheon didn’t care.

The group lay there, forming a neat circle round the hamlet, a battle-hardened TTP fighter every five yards or so. The fight with the Russians and the training from the ISI had taught them discipline. The Americans inside that outhouse might have drawn some consolation from the fact that they were about to be annihilated by a fighting force that paralleled their own professionalism. What this bunch didn’t have, in terms of equipment and technology, they made up for – in commitment to a cause.

Inside the hamlet were two dwellings – one a large mud and brick home with a courtyard in the middle and the other a small outhouse which had three Delta Force operatives and an Afghan interpreter inside it. The owner of the compound, a grizzled Pashtun who had fought the Soviets with Salam, had been a notoriously fickle-minded guy who had first decided to side with the Americans on receipt of a bagful of $100 bills and then, after taking the money, he had changed his mind. The Delta Force had been dispatched along with an interpreter with orders to either get him back on their side or finish him off.

As Abu Salam felt the discomfort of the ground – still hard and cold from the winter, two of the Americans came out of the outhouse and started walking toward the bushes, possibly to take a leak. That’s when all hell broke loose. The landscape around the unsuspecting Americans got peppered by 7.62mm rounds from the fanatics’ AK47s. The two Americans slumped, lifeless.

That was the moment that Abu Salam recognized why the Emir deserved to be called – the Emir.

The two fallen Americans had momentarily stopped moving and a lull set in, followed by a sudden deafening silence.

As Salam stared at the scene below, suddenly another American emerged from the outhouse. He walked resolutely toward his fallen comrades, his steps unhurried – as if he was on an evening stroll. He reached one of the prone Americans, the one closest to him. He calmly slung him over his shoulders, hefted him with a huge shrug and started back toward the lee side of the outhouse. He was a target that begged to be taken down.

For a moment, Abu Salam’s Talib colleagues, including the Emir, were dumbfounded by the bravado. By the time they could gather their wits, the American had disappeared behind the adobe wall of the outhouse.

The Talib weren’t even done releasing the breaths they had been holding, when the shape appeared once again.

This time, the American walked in an even more measured pace, covering ground the way only someone who believed completely in himself would. He stopped in front of the other fallen comrade and the process repeated itself – the Talib staring, their faces aghast and their mouths gaping open.

One fighter – no one knows for sure who – let out a burst. The American stumbled and fell. He still had a few yards to cover, before he got to his fallen comrade. That was when the Emir let out one single shout – wadrega! (stop!)

As the firing fell silent, the Talib gunmen watched astounded as the American, mortally wounded, started crawling toward his buddy. Their eyes unbelieving, they watched him reach his pal and come to rest right next, his one good arm now engulfing his friend in a hug.

Abu Salam raised his AK – just to finish the infidel off, but suddenly he felt the muzzle shoved aside.

It was the Emir. ‘Enough,’ said Baitullah Mehsud, ‘Don’t ever forget. We are all fighters and this is a brave one. Let him die – in peace.’

After some time, when the American hadn’t moved for a while, the Talib cautiously climbed down from their perch and approached the two fallen Delta Force men, lying there in a macabre embrace.

The Emir reached down and held his finger under the American’s nose and felt his breath, coming out in short ragged bursts. Given the extent of his wounds, the Emir estimated he had seconds, to die. The American looked almost serene – like as if this was how he had always hoped he would die. In a flash, the Emir realized that maybe the total victory that he had dreamed of wouldn’t happen so easily.

“Leave them alone,” Mehsud called, “Leave the infidel the chance to take him away. He has earned the right. We shall return, for another fight, another day…”

Then, as he turned to rise, the Emir’s eyes fell on the dog tag. He stared it a while and then gently removed it from the American’s neck. It said –

David F. Dornberger

697-012-8326

RH Negative

Catholic

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Today that dog tag rests inside a beautifully hand crafted teak and glass jewelry box on top of a TV cabinet in a small town called Lawrence, mid-way between Topeka and Kansas City in the United States. Somehow it had found its way from a dusty hamlet 12 time zones to the east, via an Islamabad army installation and then finally to America on a C130 Hercules transport aircraft.

I just found out what a gig is.

IMG_0665 (Edited)

I am in the bowels of the Lucien L’Allier metro and commuter train hub.

Musicians who play in Montreal’s metro stations are usually students at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music or from any one of the other schools in the city’s downtown core, like the L’Academie or the Lambda.

If they have graduated, they could be aspirants to the Montreal Symphony – out of work musicians, doing what they love ta do and earning some pocket change at the same time (note the little black basket that the girl has laid out in front of her).

Montreal’s mass transport system, the STM, has earmarked over 50 locations in its metro system (usually at the bigger junction stations), available free of charge to musicians. These locations are identified by wall signs depicting a lyre. Musicians divide performance times among themselves by mutual consent.

If you’re interested in performing in a metro station, you just go over to one of the designated locations and if there’s someone already there playing, you fix it with him so you can come back when he’s done and take his place. It’s all peaceful and friendly like. Stoned folks are generally friendly folks. Get stoned on weed and you’ll go straight ta heaven, no sweat.

When I came upon her, Cecilia was replicating Mark Knopfler’s guitar work in ‘Once upon a time in the west’ from the Dire Straits 1982 album ‘Communique’, one of my favorites. So, I paused. She is Jamaican and has that typically Jamaican wicked grin. Bob Marley too is in her repertoire, she says.

Currently Cecilia is doing a ‘gig’ with two other Jamaicans at a downtown night club, three days a week. A gig is a stint – a short engagement, to perform a certain number of nights a week at an establishment such as a bar, night club, restaurant, strip joint, casino, festival or wedding. Waiting to be discovered performers are always looking for gigs. If you’re a pole dancer, you are doing a gig a Club Wanda.

Cecilia just got a gig, starting next week, at Club Soda, a venue for music concerts where bands that open for bigger bands or bands that are tribute bands (meaning bands who play a particular famous band’s music, eg: Elvis Tribute, Pink Floyd Tribute, etc) come ta play. Don’t get me wrong, they are awesome – they just didn’t get the breaks, that’s all. Club Soda has an adjoining bar and restaurant that is always overflowing with musicians and music aficionados.

Cecilia is excited and thrilled because Club Soda is a much sought-after gig. Notice the happy anticipation in her face. Meanwhile, the gig at the metro gives her the space and solitude to practice, she says.

I have gigs too – 128 gigs to be exact, but those are different – they are on my Iphone. Har Har Har.

Shit Scared Shinzo & Kama Sutra

abe-trump-getty

The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, shit scared Trump will pull the American security umbrella from Japan and leave it at the mercy of North Korea. (photo courtesy: The Independent)

Doesn’t Shinzo look like he just pooped in his pants? Right at that moment, if Trump had told him to get down on his knees and blow him, trust me – Shinzo would, right in front of the TV cameras.

So, l’il Shinzy Shoo is trembling, while Trump is enjoying not only Shinzy’s naked terror, but he’s actually eyeing the interpreter’s boobs. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to a demagogue’s world.

How did we get this low? Is God punishing the world with Trump, in some weird Biblical way, for our collective degeneration over the ages? Like, are we now the citizens of Sodom? or is it Gomorrah? Heck, the Bible has so much BS, I couldn’t care less which.

But if the Almighty Lord (the Christian one) is indeed disappointed, I want ta tell ‘im, ‘Big Guy, I’m a Hindu and Hindu Gods don’t punish, period’. While the Christian God floats around in heaven in flowing white chiffon, striving ta look ethereal, Hindu Gods are mostly buck naked – morning, noon and night. I know one, the chief himself (Shiva), who smokes hash and while he’s blown, his female groupies worship his engorged ‘linga’.

Hey, Hinduism legalized marijuana in 300BC. Three decades after, in 270BC, a horny guy called Vatsayana couldn’t stand it no more. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. He was a perverted shriveled old ugly introvert. No woman would give him even a first glance, let alone let him touch her even with a barge pole. So Vatsayana did the only thing that he could – he wrote. He wrote the treatise on sex called ‘Kama Sutra’, an ‘all-you-need-ta-know kinda book, a body of work that has never ever been disputed.

Indian_-_A_Sexual_Encounter_-_Walters_W871

Ahem, a Kama Sutra tip. It might save your marriage and you’ll thank me for this one.  (Photo courtesy : Vatsayana the Horny)

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Reading it…wait, one doesn’t ‘read’ the Kama Sutra……. I was informed that women liked being penetrated anally more, than the regular way. But would that leave her poop on the tip of my ding-a-long? The Kama Sutra fails ta clarify this and I hate ‘loose ends’.

If you stop ta really think of it, the Kama Sutra is to sex what Obamacare is, ta healthcare. It just won’t go away.

The Outlaw (Part-3 Final Part)

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Never worry about a wolf in sheeps’ clothing. A wolf that needs clothes is a wimpy schmuck of a wolf. Beware instead, of a wolf in wolves’ clothing….

– Spunkybong

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Remember the traps I had set around Oka Lake in the fall of 1938, right after I got the contract? I spotted blood on one of them, one frosty morning that December.

It could have been anything but I knew it was the Outlaw. Well, he got his foot caught in one of the traps but he had somehow managed to extricate his foot and flee. I hadn’t been watching that particular trap, so I didn’t know what exactly went down out there, but I found blood around the trap.

It is understandable that traps will have blood on ‘em, but these spring-loaded steel jaws are vicious, sharp and jagged. Step on one and for sure, you can kiss your ankle goodbye. I couldn’t for the love of me understand how the Outlaw had managed to get out of it, but he had, so that’s that. He had obviously been hurt, though how badly I could never know, but I knew that his being hurt didn’t bring me a better chance to get him. Wild animals have this immense capacity ta ward off infection, heal their wounds and continue on with their lives.

Don’t ask me how I knew it had been the Outlaw’s blood on that trap. I just knew. Another thing – you might not be able ta recognize any one particular wolf, since they all look pretty much alike to you, but me – I can identify ‘em. And the Outlaw was special. He was humongous, over six and a half feet in length and four, in height. He had an angel-white diamond-shape on the otherwise dark grey fur on his forehead, right between the eyes. That still could be on another wolf but one of his ears had lost a tendon, maybe in a fight when he was hot-headed young brawler. That made the ear stick out horizontally, even when he perked his ears up ta listen. That ear was the giveaway.

I finally got the Outlaw on June 12th. I remember that afternoon clearly. Days were long that time of the year. It must have been around eight in the evening and still bright as day. I was in the thickets, surrounded by some pretty tall oaks, at the edge of a large mom and pop poultry farm that also grew Mackintosh apples and strawberries – the Quinn Farm. They grew so many apples that, come fall, they opened their doors to the public to come pick as many apples as they could, for just five bucks.

I had just about given up and was preparing ta call it a day and go home, when the Outlaw came into view, having emerged into a clearing around twennie feet from where I was perched. He didn’t seem in a hurry and when I trained my Bushnells on ‘im I realized why. He had stepped into one of my traps, probably the one I had laid out by the water’s edge. This time the trap had gotten a good grip on him and held. He had obviously tried ta break free, but he had only managed ta break the swivel of the trap. Realizing he couldn’t get it off him he must have decided ta simply run on with it.

So there the Outlaw stood, his rear left foot firmly inside a trap, his fibula stripped off flesh, the skin peeled off and hanging loosely over the jaws, covered in naked muscle and tissue, frighteningly bloody, the magnificent charcoal grey mane under his chest heaving at the effort of having ta lug that 25-lb trap around. I said ta myself, Jesus, that must hurt like a bitch. But strangely his eyes were still cold, blue and scornful – just the way I had always seen them. His lips were pulled back over his jaws, his teeth bared in a snarl.

One thing became clear – there was no way that the Outlaw would get rid of the trap and there was no way he could run with it for long. Did he know this was it, the end of the road? Was he programmed ta take defeat as calmly and stoically as he would take the sensation of a kill? Do wild animals know the moment they are about ta die? What goes through their minds? Defiance? Anger? Resignation? Satisfaction – of a life well fought and lived?

Probably all of the above, but the Outlaw’s emotionless eyes let on nothing. I didn’t wait to debate how he felt. I had a job I was being paid ta do. I rose from my crouch and took my time picking my way through the underbrush, making no effort ta crouch or be silent. The Outlaw wasn’t going nowhere.

He was still there, in the middle of the clearing, now sitting on his rump, his front legs straight. Like the dog on those old HMV vinyl records. The heaving had stopped, so I reckoned he had got his breath back. When I emerged out of the brush and approached him, I noticed that the snarl was gone. Somehow, at the point of death, one rids himself of hate and maybe this happens with wild animals as well.

The Outlaw regarded me silently as I came and halted five feet from him. A widening pool of blood was forming where his mangled foot rested inside the trap. As I waited, he raised his magnificent head up at the sky and let out a long moan that in the end died out in an agonized splutter.

I took that as a signal. The Outlaw wished to tell me something, maybe…‘what are you waiting for, now get it over with’. I retrieved Buster from my shoulder holster. It is illegal ta have a handgun on you when you’re out on a hunt, but I still toted one anyway. Hey, its my ass, okay? And I intend ta see it doesn’t get chewed off, that’s all.

I held the muzzle an inch from the side of the head just below the ear that wouldn’t straighten up. I didn’t want ta mess up that snow white diamond on his forehead. His eyes had dulled a bit as he stared up at me unflinchingly, looking me directly in the eye. He just sat there and waited, awareness writ large over his every sinew, every hair, that this was the end of the road. Perhaps it is the feeling a batsman in cricket has, when he has been trapped, LBW – he knows, if he is out or he isn’t.

Anyone will tell you that the cocking of a .357 Magnum is the loudest of all handguns. In the eerie silence of the woods, Buster cocked with a loud Crraack! The cocking was so close to his ear, the Outlaw visibly flinched, but he remained sitting where he was, the blood now in a pool all around his butt. For no reason, in my mind I said to him, “Pity it had ta end this way, bud…”

I pulled the trigger.

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Ps: I am an occasional hunter myself but I have never killed a wolf. I have seen many in the wild, though. Once, a big charcoal grey m—her f–ker walked right up to the SpyPoint camera I had installed on a wedge in a tree trunk and craned his neck to sniff at it. I could have had him then, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He was so magnificent. And cute.

The Outlaw (Part-2)

“Aren’t we all baying for the moon?”

Édith Piaf

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Which is correct grammatically – ‘Baying for the moon’ or ‘Baying at the moon’?

I googled this, but couldn’t find an answer. I’d go for ‘baying for the moon’

Whatever. Who gives a f—k anyway?

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Qannik

In the end it took nine years to kill the Outlaw. They began by offering a $100 reward and trappers from far and wide rode in. A hundred dollars could take you a long ways in those days.

The trappers tried everything –packs of dogs, traps baited with poisoned bait, deer distress calls – but the Outlaw was nowhere to be seen. He seemed ta lead a charmed life. Year after year, they raised the bounty higher and higher, till by the time the great war began in ‘39, the newly created Canadian Wildlife Service had pegged the bounty at $1000.

In the eighth year of the hunt they located a hunter name Darth Strickland. That’s your’s truly. I am expensive but I am the best. My instructions were simple – track and stay with the Outlaw until he is killed, no matter how long it takes. My fees were sizable, enough for me ta retire on, but I won’t tell you how much. I don’t need no computishun.

With my new contract, I set off into wolf country. Sheriff Doug Hooser of Custer County was my point man in the hunt and he told me there had been lambs missing out at the Wilson range. I went over there and nosed around a bit. I was looking for fresh tracks but didn’t find any. I buttonholed old man Lamarr Wilson as he was getting into his buggy to go over to his alfalfa spread and he told me he lost two lambs and some chickens the night before – but he hadn’t found any spoor, so he had given up.

I sensed that the Outlaw had been around and would probably shack up in those rocky dens around the Oka Hills, so I drove over in my old Chevvy and laid out a string of traps in fifty foot intervals, along the Oka Lake shoreline. Other trappers like ta lace their traps with poison but my traps are clean. Poisons seem kinda sneaky to me.

The whole time that I was busy setting traps, I had a sense that I was being watched and I knew that the Outlaw was on my trail, some place just beyond my line of vision. The next day I got my first glimpse of him, but I didn’t see the coyotes. I reckoned maybe they had fallen out and parted ways. (If you have been paying any attention, in Part-1 the Outlaw had acquired two coyotes as sidekicks, after his missus got killed).

I already had my .22 Rimfire Ruger in my hand, having unslung it a while back. Among small calibres, the Ruger is the deadliest, lightweight – just 5lbs, no kidding. You can grip it in one hand and fire, no sweat. Pull the trigger and a Nosler Partition dual-core round will leap out, it’s two lead-alloy cores separated by a couple of millimeters, encased inside a tapered copper alloy jacket.

Departing the muzzle, the round will gulp up 4225 feet every second, until it enters the target, the front tapered lead alloy core continuing forward, making a neat hole, until it exits from the other end, it’s kinetic energy barely impeded. Meanwhile the rear cylindrical core, blunt and slug-like, will blossom outward, ballooning in diameter as it slams into flesh, bone and tissue, pulverizing everything in it’s path.

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The Nosler Partition

If you want ta eat the prey after you kill it, the Nosler Partition is not the bullet I’d recommend, because the havoc it wreaks is kinda uncontrolled. The rear core might accidentally rupture a whitetail’s entrails, bladder or windpipe – tainting the meat, rendering it inedible. But if you just want ta whack a beast because he’s public enemy#1, there’s nothing even close to a Nosler Partition.

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Turns out I was wrong about the coyotes. The one behind was actually further back, maybe fifty yards. Soon as I tried ta close in on the Outlaw, the ‘rear admiral’ started yelping. The Outlaw was ambling along when the ‘rear admiral’ took off, flashing past him and he took off as well. The last thing you enjoy as a hunter is being outed by the prey. You just got ta turn around and go home then.

I would have to shoot the coyotes if I wanted ta get the Outlaw, that was clear. Having them hanging around with him was not going ta help. I don’t have any feelings either way, about killing coyotes. They are like cockroaches. You don’t have pangs of conscience when you squish a cockroach, do you? Even though it did you no harm, you would kill a cockroach without compunction. Same thing with coyotes – they have been stereotyped in our minds as pests that need to be exterminated, period.

Killing coyotes is not exactly a cinch, but just follow some simple rules and you can get a coyote or two, easy. Trust me, I’ve killed hundreds over the years. If you are crouching in the brush, just make sure you can see at least 75 yards ahead. Chances are you won’t see a coyote easy. They are cautious m—ther f—kers, they really are. Look for movement, like a sudden swaying of undergrowth. If it’s late December to early March, that’s the coyotes’ mating season – have a good mating call handy. If it’s not, a nice injured lamb bleat will do fine. You can download calls from the Apple app store anytime, no sweat. Bring along a bluetooth enabled 50-watt speaker, stick it in a tree trunk and you got a call that will carry 80, maybe 100 yards.

And listen, have some patience. A coyote likes ta be sure before it breaks cover and steps into an open clearing. So, he may take a while before he appears in your cross-hairs. Just be still and lie low. He’s agile, so be ready.

Most importantly – and this applies ta hunting anything, not just coyotes or wolves – remember ta acquire a sense of detachment. If you stare too hard at the prey and think of letting him have it with both barrels, he somehow senses it – it’s like telepathy. Are human thoughts carried by brain waves? Do these vibes let out a silent alarm that the prey picks up? I don’t know, but trust me on this – at the point where he is in your sights or about ta come into your sights, do not think of killing him and do not stare at his eyes.

I never think, after the prey sails into my field of vision, about shooting the animal. I let my thoughts remain in a sort of levitating, neutral, idling mode and force myself ta think of something else. I try ta engage my mind on my next blog post or whether I need ta clean out my basement this weekend or something. I never look into the prey’s eyes and allow it ta feel my presence. When I pull the trigger, for me the prey is just an aiming point, like a target at a shooting range, not a living breathing animal.

Think of it this way – when you’re making love, if you allow yourself ta think of what you’re engaged in doing, you’ll come way too soon. But if you force your mind to think of something else – like maybe the sales presentation you need ta submit the next morning to your client – trust me, you’ll last way longer and your woman will take you to be fookin Don Giovanni. Try it, but don’t go overboard and think of really heavy stuff, like the Holocaust or something. You’ll end up with a wimpy limpy twiddledidum then.

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So, I killed Abbott and Costello. But alas, it didn’t make getting the Outlaw any easier. He continued the cat and mouse game. He made a kill at the Fournier farm – a lamb that had somehow managed ta step outside the barn alone in the dead of the night. He was maybe expecting ta find a ewe named Rosy or something and instead he bumped into the dreaded beast. The Outlaw sank his jaws into the lamb’s neck but it was already dead by then, from sheer fright.

The Outlaw didn’t sit there in the open ta eat. He zig-zagged his way through the brush, until he could camouflage himself completely and only then did he start chomping on the lamb. I’ll be honest with you – I wasn’t there that night and I’m simply supposing that’s what happened.

A month went by after the Fournier range attack and I didn’t set my eyes on the Outlaw all that time even once, leading me ta wonder whether he had moved to Oka or Mont St. Hillaire or some place else. Wolves are known ta move around quite a bit, sometimes over hundreds of miles. If he had in fact moved to another county, then my contract was redundant and I could just collect my fee and go home.


(to be continued…..)

ps: Hang around. Lie still. Breathe evenly. Part-3 is where it all goes down.

What if your boss was a robot?

robot

The world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, is dabbling with artificial intelligence that will go beyond the already existing financial algorithms that guide trade in the financial markets. The firm is building a piece of software to automate the day-to-day management of the firm – including hiring, firing and other strategic decision-making.

Bridgewater has a team of software engineers working on the project at the behest of it’s billionaire founder, Ray Dalio, who wants to ensure the company can run according to his vision, even when he’s not there.

The ‘manager’ algorithm is being built by identifying those managerial functions that the software aims to take over. Ray Dalio has prepared a 123-page manifesto, titled ‘The Principles’, as a guideline for building the software. The basic principles by which the algorithm shall work will be the same as those that talented managers operate by, namely…..

1. Have clear goals.
2. Identify and don’t tolerate the problems that stand in the way of achieving your goals.
3. Accurately diagnose these problems.
4. Design plans that explicitly get you around your problems and on to your goals.
5. Implement these plans

Each step is further fleshed out in elaborate detail in his manifesto. An app, dubbed ‘The Contract’, gets staff to set goals they want to achieve and then tracks how effectively they follow through.

A team of coders is building ‘PriOS’, the software that is aimed at making three quarters of all management decisions within five years. To build the logic underlying the software, vast amounts of data are being constantly collected. Meetings are recorded and people are encouraged to challenge and grade each other constantly, which shows up as their strengths and weaknesses. Dalio is investing the brute power of his financial empire to make this dream a reality. People would be rated based on a million data points. The software will make managerial decisions that the subordinates (real people) shall have to execute.

Ray Dalio believes that there is an impediment to a complete switch-over to robots in managerial decision making – human emotions. If only human emotions could be left out of the workplace, it would make it possible to run an organisation most efficiently. He further foresees that since people will resist taking orders from a machine, a human manager will have to be hired only to convey the machine’s decisions to the employees, for execution.

Over the next decade, managers could become dinosaurs (and maybe they will), but still there may remain managerial functions that require human emotions and this is why……

The role of a manager has always been part science and part art. While the algorithm will take care of the science part of the conduit manager’s tasks, the other part (the art) will still have to be performed directly by the manager – persuading employees to go above and beyond, something that no machine can imbue in a human (at least not in the near future). Two managers can convey the same performance rating to the same employee and have very different outcomes. One manager can leave the employee devastated, convinced he is a loser, while the other manager can leave the employee fired up with the motivation to excel.

At least as of now it looks as if the machine is going to take a long time to learn one simple fact – that in the end, performance is forged in the fire of emotion. Will that change and if so how soon?
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The above piece is based on source material from google as well as the following write-up :
Author : Abhijit Bhaduri / Blog : Just Like That (IndiaTimesBlogs Jan 2017)