Thursday, December 29, 2005

A year that was

Let us spare a moment for these people and many such around the world while we are getting ready to welcome 2006. Wish you all a very happy new year. (It is almost pointless / mechanical to wish thus, but what the heck.) Hoping to read good posts in 2006 as well.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Being narrow-minded

Universe is huge beyond our imagination, and mankind not even a droplet in this ocean. (Read more here.) It is a humbling feeling when we consider how insignificant we are. However in everyday life we cannot afford to have this viewpoint. Life is a struggle at each step and you have to be 'narrow-minded' in a sense. (This again is a bit of extension of previous post. My argument for not doing anything simply because I am not the one who has choices will do me no good.)

While thinking this, it struck me that it is somewhat analogous to the case of arguably two of the greatest scientists ever - Newton and Einstein. Einstein might have revolutionized our perceptions about the universe, time, dimensions et al and might have proved Newton's laws wrong (inadequate would be a better word, perhaps); but the activities that usually take place around us are still governed by Newton's laws. [Newton dealt with 'world'ly things, Einstein with universal ones. :)] Newton's laws might be outdated and 'narrow', but they are the ones which rule our lives mostly.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Chores, Illusions, Probability and some thoughts

I hate to do small chores. Usually, when a ‘to-do’ thing props up its ugly head it is not urgent. As I trust explicitly in not doing any work today which could be postponed till tomorrow, my list of to-dos keeps on growing. It might be as big as taking care of my car or as small as adding some features to my blogs, if it can wait then wait it must. But one fine day, I realize that things are getting out of my hand and everything around me is un-organized. Very diligently, I plan out my entire day (usually Saturday) as I did this time. At the end of the day, I was exhausted after driving for couple of hours, lifting heavy furniture, spending three-four hours assembling it, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry; but satisfied that at least a major part of my to-do list has been taken care of. The next day, Sudhamshu asks me why I don’t have links to my other blogs on Viprashna. Actually, this is something which was back of my mind for a long time, but for some reasons it was at this particular time when it was to materialize.

Does that mean it was never really my choice? From the moment this universe came into existence, I was supposed to do these things at a particular time in a particular manner. You were supposed to read these words precisely at this time. If someone rolls back the clock of the universe completely, then all the major or minor events that shaped the universe will take place the same way and everything that you and I did today will be repeated exactly in the same manner. We might appear to change some things, but even that is a small part we were supposed to play. This factor of inevitability reminds me of a story of a small bird, who is scared to death seeing Yama, the God of death staring at him intently. A kind Garuda (Eagle) takes pity on him and escorts him faraway to the Himalayas. After returning back he asks Yama, “Why were you bothering that poor kid?” Yama answers, “I knew his imminent death was written in the Himalayas in an accident. I was just wondering how in a matter of few minutes, this poor bird will make it there. But you solved my dilemma.”

The thought that we really do not have any choice, somehow does not scare me as much now as it did few years back when as an idle teenager, I first pondered over this. I don’t know if it is a state of resignation or convenient ignorance. Einstein famously said God does not play dice with the universe. Different people interpret it in a different manner. The view that appeals me the most is, that sub-consciously even his mind could not accept the fact that there is randomness in the world. It was his yearning to make sense out of the chaos termed as universe that appeared in that great mind’s eye. (By the way, I am not exactly sure, but I feel probability and randomness are not exactly synonyms. Probability is not random. Taking the example of dice, for a small set of plays the rolling of a die might appear random but at some point the probability of all possible options must be the same. So even playing dice is not entirely random, isn’t it?)

I do not claim that these are my original thoughts. The question of ‘Koham (Who am I?)’ echoes through most of the religious literature. The desire to know the past, the future and the purpose of our existence, not just as an individual, but as a mankind are quite old and much has been written about the quest. In fact, our cultures and civilizations are just a part of that bigger quest. Sadly, there are no answers and all religions seem to have reached the conclusion that the answers, if at all they exist, are beyond the realms of human knowledge and understanding. This realization must have hurt our ego as a mankind initially; but over the years we seemed to have either learnt to live with it or have ignored the fact – knowingly and unknowingly – and continued to have lived in an illusion. (This reminds me again of a story of Yudhishthira and the Yaksha in Mahabharata. When four of his younger brothers were dead by drinking the water against the Yaksha’s wishes; he posed four questions to Yudhishthira. One of the questions was, ‘What is the most surprising thing in the world?’ The answer was people continue to live as if they are immortal despite witnessing numerous deaths around them everyday.)

So, everyone lives in an illusion. But no religion seems to ask them to lose it; in stead all the religions demand complete surrender and no questions. Even Bhagavad-Geeta claims that God looks after well-being of those people who completely surrender themselves to him without thinking anything else (ananyaschintayanta mam ye janah paryupasate, tesham nityabhiyuktanam yogakshemam vahamyaham). The dominant reason behind this might be a somewhat justifiable fear that the ‘Doubting Thomases’ might take over and there will be anarchy. The other reason could be the realization that who we are to distinguish between the truth and the illusion. What we consider truth now could just be another illusion.

Friday, December 16, 2005

India: a nation or a country?

Few events occurring in India in the last month or so are enough to indicate that we still have a long way to go to have an identity as a nation, even after over 58 years of independence. It may be or may not be right to drop our ex-captain from Cricket team so unceremoniously, but the fact that the whole controversy has taken Bengali versus non-Bengali turn is very disturbing. Some of the comments published on open forums like Indiatimes blogs or Rediff are extremely caustic and parochial. This is not a single such incident. I was appalled to read in the news that contestants in various game-shows or talent hunt appealed openly to people from their respective home-states to vote for them. If I am not mistaken, even the Chief Minister of a state asked people to vote for a finalist in the Indian Idol contest.

This feeling of regional identity seems to be pan-Indian (quite ironic, isn’t it?). Interestingly, some sections of people from every community feel that they are not being as ‘provincial’ as other communities, and this is what is hampering their progress. Some of them go as far as in stating that there is a nation-wide conspiracy against their community ‘to keep them down’.

Maharashtrians feel that the so-called ‘outsiders’ have taken over Mumbai and they are left behind in all sectors. Goans feel that if they allow Marathi to be the state-language then people from Maharashtra will take away all their jobs. Bengalis resent the fact that most of the trade in their capital is controlled by the non-Bengalis, whereas ULFA or AGP in neighboring state of Assam claims the same against them. Tamils and Kannadigas fight over the water. The list is endless.

Though by and large the Indian identity is more dominant than the regional one outside India, few of the incidents still show how deeply rooted these boundaries are. To give an example, three new students arrive from India. Seniors duly pick them up from airport and arrange for their temporary accommodation at their home. Imagine their dismay, when these new kids refuse to stay with them only because they belong to ‘different half’ of India and demand to stay with seniors from their state.

It will be too naïve to expect that we will forget all our differences and will consider ourselves only as Indians (or for that matter, just human beings to take it up by one level). The only thing we can attempt is to keep the regional bias to the minimum. By nature, man tends to find someone like him (utpatsyate hi mam kopi samandharma...). Language is just one such criterion. Color of skin, religion, nationality, interests – vested or otherwise, culture, caste, class - so many other things divide us between different groups, and/or bring people sharing common things together.

It is not just a question of regional biases in India; on a bigger scale the question is whether the mankind is ready for globalization in its true sense – not just economically, but as imagined by Tagore (Yatra vishwam bhavatyekaneedam – where the whole world becomes a single nest). The leading cities of the world are not just cosmopolitan in intra-national sense – they are becoming a melting pot with people from all the nationalities. At this juncture of time, soon it will be passé to rue about the loss of regional identity of Mumbai or Bangalore (No, the name change is scheduled to take effect from Nov. 1, 2006 :-)) and the new dilemma would be to preserve their Indian identity. Perhaps, that would bring us tad closer to Indian-ness.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

When a dog bites a man...

Journalism is going to dogs, literally! Please read this article published today in Mid-Day. The so called yellow-journalism seems to be taking over not just tabloids but the reputed newspapers as well and once respected papers like Times of India are going The New York Banner way (Fountainhead) with lots of scandals, gossip and melodramatically concocted headlines.

As a kid, I have heard people advising their children to read editorials from Times of India, if they want to improve their English vocabulary. While that might be still true to some extent, the only thing they might end up learning after reading the paper is what Bipasha Basu likes for her breakfast and how Sachin Tendulkar is the savior of Indian cricket or why he should quit playing altogether (depending on the mood of the writer). The extent of playing to the gallery seems to have gone so far, that it was no wonder the news of Amrita Preetam's death was pushed to some obscure corner and the coverage it received was way less than any other "newsworthy" story like Ms. Amrita Arora spraining her ankle or denying a relationship.

Electronic media is a step or two ahead and in a rat-race of becoming "Sabse Tej" (the fastest) will leave no stone unturned, even if that means barging into I.C.U. to interview the ailing superstar of yesteryears. Thankfully, the vernacular newspapers - at least the reputed ones like Loksatta (Marathi) and Mumbai Samachar (Gujarati), are not getting carried away and are still in touch with the local problems. I hope that's a sign that mentality of our society as a whole is not as crooked as it might appear if one reads the so called leaders of the fourth column.