By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pep Talks To The Mind Are Like A Tonic To Tired Nerves

Taking a critical look at the many-sided articles, reviews and essays I have written in the English language newspapers in India over the past 50+ years, I am glad to see that hundreds of them have stood the test of time and still seem to be universally relevant and true.  And so few are the flaws in their logic, insights and language that I rarely find it necessary to make any specific corrections or even to touch up the published texts.

Anyway, here's a vintage essay which tempts me to add a couple of thoughts now.  One of them I have already used as the title of this blog ;  and let me tell you about the other one after you read the original text!


THE HINDU  Sunday Magazine 
               50 years ago 

Pep Talks

I fully endorse the popular view that in these hard and unsettled times there is greater need for action and less for talking ;  but all the same, I can't help feeling that 'pep' talks ought to be treated on a different footing.  I am all for pep talks.  There's nothing like a pep talk to brighten your outlook and boost your confidence, whether you're listening to one or delivering it.

A really competent pep talk can do wonders to one's morale.  It can dispel the gloom of the worst pessimist, and make him as lively as a young pup.   It can stimulate the lazybones to leap into action.  Pep talks are to the spirit what drugs are  to the flesh :  they can offer fresh hope to a heart in despair, and can bring real comfort to a soul in distress. 

Unfortunately, however, the effects of pep talks, like those of medicines, are always short-lived.  There's no such thing as a pep talk with permanent results.  No wonder there is such a sizable and recurring demand for pep talks, just as for prescriptions.


Pep talks are often aimed at individuals, but they can be administered with equal efficiency to groups.  In fact,the bigger the audience, the better the results, as there's less scope for the listeners to talk back.  For, after all, by the time a pep talk is allowed to deteriorate into a discussion, it has already lost much of its pep :  there's obviously more punch in a blustering drill-sergeant's tirade to his squad than in an affable professor's debate with his scholars.  

The most powerful and spectacular pep talks, naturally, are those addressed to the nation ;  one readily recalls the war-time speeches of the late Mr. Churchill.  Unfortunately for humanity, the world itself still happens to be too dispersed a forum to make pep talks feasible on a global scale!  But one must not imagine that the listeners' acquiescence alone invariably guarantees the fruitfulness of pep talks :  the pastor is always heard in hushed silence by his flock,  but how often can it be said truthfully that his sermons uplift the churchgoers' souls?


Pep talks are not always necessarily spoken ;  they are often transcribed as letters and despatched by mail.  If they're sufficiently long-winded, they can even be printed, like novels.  In fact, enough tomes of this kind have already been compiled by prolific pepmasters, like Mr. Dale Carnegie, to fill a respectable amount of space in any library in the world.  

But pep talks in print are not confined to books, by any means ;  they have found a permanent niche in most women's magazines the world over.  Quite intriguingly, the authors of these spiritual recipes happen mostly to be men.  I suppose the masculine mentor is expected to have a stronger appeal for the depressed female ;  but if that's really the case, it does seem rather strange that the Emancipated Eve, who obviously patronizes these publications, should so readily permit the male of the species to show her the way out of her own feminine blues!


The psychiatrist dispenses a do-it-yourself variety of pep talks.  Instead of letting his clients have an honest nail-and-hammer pep talk (which is what they really require), he persuades them to lie down on a couch and do it themselves, and gets a substantial fee afterwards for their trouble.  The physician, on the other hand, is always a willing donor of pep talks.  His services do not explicitly include oral encouragement, but he seldom fails to give it ;  and though he may charge you heavily enough for his overheads, he never does bill you for his pep talks.


PostScript,  2014

Of tonics, doctors and pepscripts

(1)  I don't know why I didn't think of tonics when I wrote about pep talks 50 years ago.  True, pep talks are like medicines and other drugs in different contexts ; but far more often they're like a tonic. I have now added the thought as the title of this blog, rather than trying to revise the text, which would need several changes. 

(2)  But the second thought can be inserted quite smoothly in the text,  simply by extending the second sentence of the last paragraph as follows:   

 The physician, on the other hand, is always a willing donor of pep talks, especially if he's your family doctor.

I have no idea why this hadn't occurred to me either, particularly because I had written a whole essay on the family doctor at about the same time as this one.  (Please see Articulations Online, 3 May 2014 -- Universal Image Of The Family Doctor, Who's Also A Family Friend).

(3)  As must be obvious to my regular readers,  I do have a flair (or call it an obsession, if you like!) for bending and twisting actual words and names into amusingly imaginary ones.  The expression  pepmasters  in paragraph 5 of this essay is one of the oldest samples I can produce from my published works. 

In the original series of essays in THE HINDU in the 1960s, I hadn't used any sub-titles ; but when presenting them in this blog, I have sometimes found it useful to divide the texts with sub-titles.  On this occasion, it has given me an opportunity to a brand-new expression  --  pepscripts.  Naturally, I find it reassuring that I still haven't lost my skills as a wordsmith!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Keys Do Have A Way Of Growing On Rings!

As I have mentioned before, the series of English essays in THE HINDU, India's finest newspaper, with which I made my debut as an amateur journalist in the 1960s, had a classic literary quality, whether they were psychologically insightful character studies  (like The Marker, The Liftman, The Railwayman, The Old Boys, The Family Doctor) or just purely humorous sketches (like Hankies Galore!).  

So here are my reflections on keys, published in Madras 50 years ago, which are likely to ring true anywhere in the world today:

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Sunday Magazine, 1965

Causerie On Keys

Keys have a way of growing on rings.  Time and again you suddenly discover that you are carrying a surplus of keys, and you simply can't imagine what they're all wanted for.  The locks they could have opened have long been left behind, though the keys have remained faithfully with you.  However, you never can prune your key-ring without a lot of misgivings;  so you just put the extra keys in a drawer while you're thinking it over, and they accumulate rust for the rest of your life.

The prudent man seldom loses his keys;  but when he does, he finds himself in no less tight a corner than the sloppiest Bohemian.  I don't know where exactly all one's duplicate keys go, but I'm certain that they can never be found when they're most desperately needed.  Not infrequently, they would be inside some box whose key is among the ones you've just lost.  There's often nothing you can do about it except smash things up a bit.  Of course, when there's a car or a safe to be considered, the situation is a pretty grim one  ;  but there is never any sense in panicking.  In some respects keys are like pigeons:  and when they're misplaced they have a powerful urge to find their way back to you.  The important thing is to keep a cool head, and await developments confidently.  It does turn out almost always that the wretched things were only in the other pocket, after all  --  unless, of course, they had been under a cushion in somebody's drawing room or in your own car.

Keys signify many significant things.  They may no longer be a reliable index of one's property, as they must have been in the distant past;  but they still are a tangible measure of your authority and responsibility, and of the trust placed in you by your family and friends, your employer, or even the public.  The latch-key of your little apartment could be a yardstick of your happiness  (or, of course, your misery).  A turn of the jailer's key deprives the prisoner of his freedom, yet it has only to turn again to set him free once more.  Certain keys, moreover, are symbolic per se, like the ones presented by hospitable city fathers to visiting dignitaries.  Naturally, keys make an impact on their custodian's emotions.  But they're as varied in appeal as they are different in design:  some keys could make you quite sentimental, while others are capable of remaining so coldly impersonal.

I think collecting keys ought to be a fascinating hobby, and I am surprised that it doesn't seem to be a popular one, even in these original days when everything from pen-knives to picture postcards is grist to the collector's mill.  I dare say it's a pity, for keys do come in such interesting shapes, and they have a way of suggesting such intriguing associations.  You could often wonder what part in history or romance each key in your collection had played;  you could stroll about, so to say, near a treasure-house of imagination, and patiently wait for some magic key to reach your hands and throw its doors open for you.  But unfortunately, although everyone does pile up his or her share of them in their cup-board, keys by and large seem destined to elude the true collector's fancy.

Locks are a challenge to mankind's ingenuity, as well as a verdict on its character.  Millions of them lie scattered all over the world, each made in its own unique way, protecting not only the fabulous wealth of the rich but also the pathetic possessions of the poor.  Keys reflect, above all else, a glaring inadequacy of goodwill among civilized men.  Perhaps what society awaits is a daring innovator  --   you might say a philosopher endowed with a burglar's genius and a Henry Ford's enterprise  --  who would mass-produce a master key to open all the world's locks;  but is such an unusual keysmith likely to succeed any more than the poor alchemists who groped so uselessly for the mysteries of metal and the elixir of life?