Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I do not share the above view about life but I surely feel that way whenever I enter an autorickshaw(tuk-tuk for the uninitiated) with a suspect fare meter or worse, no meter.

This post is not about that. It is about everyday people, like the autorickshaw driver above, and the intelligence (or wisdom) they possess that is seldom recognised and appreciated. They have an uncanny knack of striking a chord with their observations about life around us.

Speaking of autorickshaw drivers, I ran into one such colourful personality in my hometown Bangalore sometime back. He was cursing the road leading to my parents place from the main road. He asked me why none us did not protest. I remember giving him some vague answer as to why it was not possible in the area my folks lived. He dismissed them with a shrug and said, “The problem is you are all educated.” He nailed it.

He went to mention that in the area he lived, there had been no water supply for a long time. When the time came for elections, he and his friends mobilized the entire area to boycott the local councilor’s visit to the area. The councilor had no choice but to fix the problem of water supply before being allowed inside the area. As a response to this gesture, they voted him out.

(BTW, he also took extra ten rupees from me as ‘hardship’ fee)

I am not alone in my encounter with such intelligence(or smarts) from the streets. I have copied below an incident narrated by the great Isaac Asimov that is at once funny and profound.

When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big fuss over me.

(It didn't mean anything. The next day I was still a buck private with KP - kitchen police - as my highest duty.)

All my life I've been registering scores like that, so that I have the complacent feeling that I'm highly intelligent, and I expect other people to think so too.

Actually, though, don't such scores simply mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the intelligence tests - people with intellectual bents similar to mine?

For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was.

Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles - and he always fixed my car.

Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an intelligence test.

Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or, indeed, almost anyone but an academician. By every one of those tests, I'd prove myself a moron, and I'd be a moron, too.

In a world where I could not use my academic training and my verbal talents but had to do something intricate or hard, working with my hands, I would do poorly.

My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of the society I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that society has managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such matters.

Consider my auto-repair man, again.

He had a habit of telling me jokes whenever he saw me.

One time he raised his head from under the automobile hood to say: "Doc, a deaf-and-mute guy went into a hardware store to ask for some nails. He put two fingers together on the counter and made hammering motions with the other hand.

"The clerk brought him a hammer. He shook his head and pointed to the two fingers he was hammering. The clerk brought him nails. He picked out the sizes he wanted, and left. Well, doc, the next guy who came in was a blind man. He wanted scissors. How do you suppose he asked for them?"

Indulgently, I lifted by right hand and made scissoring motions with my first two fingers.

Whereupon my auto-repair man laughed raucously and said, "Why, you dumb jerk, He used his voice and asked for them."

Then he said smugly, "I've been trying that on all my customers today." "Did you catch many?" I asked. "Quite a few," he said, "but I knew for sure I'd catch you."

"Why is that?" I asked. "Because you're so goddamned educated, doc, I knew you couldn't be very smart." 

And I have an uneasy feeling he had something there.