Mercifully, weekly columns like the one in your hand are not like electronic consumer durables. Or else, every week you will have to encounter something like this along with the column: ‘Dear Reader, Thank you for placing your confidence in Crank’s Corner. You have chosen the best-written best-laidout column. As a reader of Crank’s Corner you can now enjoy several unique minutes of being a laughing stock. As a privileged reader, you also get the benefit of savouring the humour of several top-class humorists whom Crank’s Corner has tied up with for exclusive rights of plagiarism.
WARNING: The general warranty for jokes does not cover those reading the column after watching a TV serial.
WARNING: This column should not be read while being administered anaesthesia on an operation table’.
If you read such disclaimers, would you ever care to read the actual column? You wouldn’t. I know. But why don’t the companies that sell complicated contraptions understand this?
Handling complex instruments is difficult enough, but understanding the manuals and then understanding the machines is beyond the ken of normal human intelligence. Along with newspaper editorials and law journals, manual books constitute a big part of human writing that no one ever cares to read. Just consider this gem from a camera manual, presumably describing a shutter switch: ‘Set this ON when using the electronic shutter. When it is pressed to SEL side, the shutter speed and mode displays change in the ranges preset on the setting menu. If the setting of this switch is changed when the menu display mode has been set to ‘2’ or ‘3’, the new settings will appear for about 3 seconds at the shutter display position on the viewfinder.screen (Example: 1/250, 1/61.7)’.
These are actually sentences that can make even a diehard photo enthusiast throw his camera into the Cooum and join the PMK. My feeling is P C Sriram set up his camera after reading a similar manual and has been able to shoot only darkness ever since.
It is a fair guess to say that manuals are written by out-of-work lawyers. By general consensus, only editorial writers and lawyers write sentences which are allergic to fullstops. But why lawyers maybe preferred to pen product manuals is that they have the unique talent to include numericals, italicised expressions and bulging brackets even amidst perfectly normal prose.
It is fair to assume that the Constitution and the CrPc have in them more numbers than actual words. And even these words are set in such a manner that they resort to cranky behaviour in any given sentence. In the hands of a trained lawyer normal, every-day verbs get extraordinary meaning that no linguist could ever have imagined.
For instance, when a person gets a bail in a case, you and I will say that the person has got bail. But no advocate would commit such a cardinal mistake. In lawyerspeak, when someone gets bail, he or she is actually enlarged on bail. And the bailed person is said to be ‘out on bail’, sounding as if he has taken his beloved bail for a walk on the Marina. Anyway, such a strategy straightaway ensures that nobody ever messes with the law.
When you come down to it, it is no coincidence that the place where you consume alcohol and the place where lawyers meet share the same word.
Coming back to the manuals, the actual machines, most of which are digital, throw up even more indecipherable messages, again alluding to the fact that technology and normal language can never have a peaceful co-existence.
My mobile has a feature under the head ‘Synchronisation’. Obviously trying to make sense out of the manual for that was of no use. So I tried to figure it out myself, and every time I press the button, it shows out the enigmatic line: ‘Contact service provider for Sync settings’. There is also another option called Push to Talk. I think most mobiles have this function (?). But believe me, I am still to come across anyone who has ever used this. What’s more, no one knows what it is all about. There are such myriad features in myriad appliances that we use daily.
Most of them, I think, have been put up with the explicit idea that no one will ever use them. For example, my DVD has a feature that will allow me to set it ready to record a programme six months later. Who in his normal sense would need this facility? But the technicians have had the brainwave to fit this into my DVD.
What next? Perhaps a car that will automatically start itself for a trip on every 31 February morning?
DISCLAIMER: All jokes here are intended to make you laugh. If you don’t, the columnist, as per contractual obligations as cited in annexure 7 vide BCA (iii), cannot be held responsible.
(This is a reprise of one of my old columns)