Sage Sagan’s Sagacious Saga

Today, November 9, is Carl Sagan’s birth anniversary. Had he lived, Dr Sagan would have celebrated his 79th birthday today.

His extraordinary Pale Blue Dot speech, which accompanies the now-famous photograph of the Earth taken by Voyager 1 from the edge of the Solar System, 6 billion kilometers away, is posted all over Facebook around a thousand times a day. That’s still not enough.

Note: This is the first time I’m publishing a blog post from my phone. Sorry about the absence of the usual bells and whistles that accompany my infrequent blog posts. And the numerous editing oversights that are bound to happen because I hate copy-editing or proofreading on a phone.

I’m in Hyderabad with my family, who while not being particularly conservative, are still pretty religious. There’s a Hindu religious function taking place at our house early tomorrow morning. I helped around as much as I could in the preparations, which were pretty substantial, nevertheless tempers are frayed, the scene is hectic, and everyone (your humble narrator included) is rather severely stressed out. Religion, I am told, is supposed to provide inner peace and solace. From my vantage point, I don’t see it.

As an atheist, I am supposedly incapable of experiencing a sense of belonging with the universe or appreciating the uniqueness of my own existence. These sentiments have been so thoroughly co-opted by the religious that even calling it spirituality is to plant one’s flag firmly in their territory. Yet, what spiritual benefit is my family to obtain from the performance of this silly ritual? It that has led to some nasty words being exchanged amongst members, a not-insubstantial drain on already limited financial resources, and will leave emotional wounds that will remain long after the last whiff of incense leaves the house.

I derive more spiritual peace from listening to one Carl Sagan quote than from all your pujas, namaazes, and sermons. I have committed to my rather inconsistent memory, the opening mandalas of the Rig Veda, the Gayatri mantra, the Takbir, the Shahada, and many verses of the Bible (KJV). Yet the spiritual fulfillment they give me isn’t even a fraction of a percent of what I get from reading Douglas Adams (“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be“), Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, or Terry Pratchett, to give you four names at random.

Whether you follow an orthodox religion like Christianity and Islam, or an orthopraxic one like Hinduism, Jainism, and other “Oriental” cults, knowledge is the truest path to spiritual enlightenment. Knowledge acquired not for any particular purpose other than itself. “The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom” says Psalm 111:10. I think love for wisdom is the beginning of wisdom. Dr Sagan loved learning for learning’s sake. Art, in its truest form, is said to be something we make or do for no other purpose other than itself. In that sense the act of learning science is an art.

P.S.: I call dibs on ‘The Art of Learning Science’ as the title for a book, article, essay, blog, website, film, play, painting, or interpretive dance performance.

Posted in Gloom and Doom While Things Go Boom, Ideas, Philosophy, Rant, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Navroze Spec Series: The Ahura Mazda RX7

My introduction to Zoroastrianism came via a very large Parsi mansion that was located right behind the apartment building I lived in for two years in Prenderghast Road, Secunderabad. We’d occasionally have to jump the wall that separated our two complexes in order to retrieve tennis balls that made their way there thanks to fits of very un-Hyderabadi aggressive batsmanship. Sometimes there would be a ceremony of some sort happening in the Parsi bungalow, as it was called, and I’d be transfixed trying to decode the mysterious rituals from the vantage point of our flat’s balcony, which overlooked their large backyard.

Disclaimer: I spilled coffee on my keyboard and have been reduced to using the on-screen keyboard instead. Typing anything out by furiously clicking on a mouse is a painful and irritating process and is not conducive to producing your best work. The only reason I persevered is because I really wanted to write this very badly. And in that attempt I have succeeded, for this has been written very badly.

A Navroze message to the followers of Ahura Mazda

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Source: farhadasl.deviantart.com

It took us 4,000 years, but it looks like we’ve won. I hate to bring this up on your New Year guys, but the fact is we won. Of course no-one remembers what the fight was about in the first place. Hell, many followers of the Devas (or Daevas, as you call them) now refuse to acknowledge that we were ever one people. But we were. And they were good times, too. We were there, together, at the invention of the greatest military marvel the world had ever seen until that point in history; the horse-drawn chariot, or ratha. After a hard day of training chariot horses (asvas/assuas) we sat together under the night sky of the Central Asian steppe, drank soma (haoma), and composed poems about Vayu, Agni, and other gods, the Devas and Asuras (or Daevas or Ahuras, as you came to call them). When did the fight start? Was it during the 4.2 KY event, which turned or verdant and lush grassland into deserts? Did the climate change? Did the streams run dry, did the soil lose it’s richness, emptying our once-mighty citadels? Did this lead to conflict, strife, and eventually civil war? 

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Some hack’s half-decent article on the 4.2 KY event

Were there factions, one of them led by a man, let’s call him Zarathustra, who rejected (you would say “reformed”) the black and gray morality of our old gods and instead advocated the revolutionary idea that the world is a battleground between the forces of pure good, represented according to you by the Ahuras (we call them Asuras), against the pure evil of the Daevas? Did my people see it the other way around? In the Vedas, we praised Indra, King of the Devas. In the Avesta, you list Indar as one of the arch-demons, calling him that which freezes the minds of the righteous and the opposer of Arta (divine truth). Is that why we fought? Is that the source of our great hymns and stories? The Vedas and the Avesta, written in languages so similar one cannot but come to the conclusion that they sprung from a common source? I know one thing we did do. We moved out of our old homes, away from the hills and mountains where the soma plant grows; we moved away from the steppes where our wild horses used to roam free. You moved to the west of the great mountains, we to the east. And over the next thousand years, our cultures grew apart, changing, evolving to adapt to our new realities.

And then, around the 8th to 10th centuries CE,  as you sought refuge from persecution, some part of your cultural memory remembered us. And thus, the followers of the Ahuras and the Daevas were in some small way reunited. But time, it appears has been less fortunate to you. Today, there are perhaps only a 200,000 or so followers of the Ahuras, whereas there are over 800 million followers of the Devas. That said, most of your 200 grand are extremely wealthy and powerful, while most of our 800 million live in abject poverty. So we win in quantity, you win on quality. It’s been 4,000 years, let’s just call it a tie. It’s time to bury the hatchet, brew up some soma/haoma, and listen to your greatest modern poet

P.S. That Kikkuli bastard sold us out! He wrote a book detailing all our secrets on how to rear chariot horses. If he wasn’t already dead for three and a half thousand years, I’d say we go kick his ass!

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2. Teenage Wasteland

This began as a blog post with an agenda. It ended up as a bit of stream-of-consciousness writing that has a faint hint of a unifying motif. And yes, “stream-of-consciousness writing” is code for poorly-written, rambling drivel.

The theme for today’s blog post is disappointment. That and stupidity. Now, I know you’re thinking, “Oh, no! Here he goes again, wagging away about how miserable his life is!” And while Disappointment and Stupidity: The Harish Alagappa Story would be a highly appropriate title for my autobiography, my disappointment here is directed at someone whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate; the one and only, Neil Motherfuckin’ Gaiman (FYI, “Motherfuckin’” is not Neil Gaiman’s real middle name, which apparently is… Richard. Anti-climactic, that). Nimish Batra; if he still read this blog instead of living the good life in New York, which involves taking instagram photos of Manhattan in the rain, working in an office that overlooks the WTC site, and watching a 33-year-old Thierry Henry regularly school American football players (that’s Americans who play football and not people who play American Football, a sport that if I hereafter talk about on this blog, I will refer to as “the oddly homoerotic handegg lobotomy sport”); would have at this juncture liked to point out that he’s met the Gaiman, gotten a whole bunch of his books autographed, and even managed to earn a response from him on Twitter. Speaking of Nimish, his Facebook posts are, to my immense surprise, cheerful and upbeat. It is strange to see him so happy all the time. But back to Gaiman.

My disappointment stems from his work on a recent episode of Doctor Who, which was the second time he’s written an episode for that show. His first episode, The Doctor’s Wife, was highly anticipated; I mean, when the guy who wrote this and this (and this, that, and the other) pens an episode for a show that is the ultimate in geekgasm-inducing (yes, I know I used the word geekgasm, and yes, I feel horrible) science-fiction fantasy, it is not unreasonable to expect the result to be something that will cause one’s brain to spontaneously leap 200 feet in the air and scatter itself over a wide area. Amazingly, the episode didn’t just match our insane expectations, it exceeded them by a larger margin than the one that divides Neil’s writing skill and mine. The Doctor’s Wife had everything that an episode needs to become a Who classic; brilliant writing, timey-wimey-ness, and a core idea that makes you go, “Damn! How the hell didn’t I think of that!”. Which is why his second foray into Whovian authorship was so disappointing. I’m not going to go into the details of why ‘Nightmare In Silver’ was “meh”, there are plenty of blogs that you can find for that purpose. Instead, I’m going to express my disappointment at one of my favourite writers, a man known for re-inventing genres and producing works of unsurpassed genius, for using a trope – no, a cliché, tropes can be good – that one sees all to often and isn’t just insulting and demeaning, but also highly unrealistic. In ‘Nightmare In Silver’, Neil Gaiman wrote an angry teenager who, even in an unusual and potentially life-threatening situation, is whiny, ungrateful, and obsessed with some ridiculous emotional conflict.

Angie, a teenager whose governess is the Doctor’s current companion (and Rose 2.0 candidate) Clara Oswald, has just discovered her baby-sitter occasionally runs off with a 1,000-year-old alien who has a blue box that can travel to anywhere in space and time. She blackmails her nanny (in an implausible but plot-propelling fashion) to take her along. The alien and governess do this. So far, so believable (by Doctor Who standards). They end up on a planet that was supposed to be an amusement park, but is a desolate wreck occupied by two groups of people; some weirdo with a mechanical turk that’s actually a Cyberman, and, importantly, a platoon of military people wearing camouflage that has no relevance to their surroundings except that it clearly identifies them as military personnel. She sees the Doctor use psychic paper to shoo the army people away, she sees the Doctor panic when he first sees the mechanical Cyber-turk, and can clearly see how visibly disturbed he is by the presence of the damn thing. The Doctor tells her to wait in a room while he investigates. Oh, and the entire time, she’s accompanied by her younger brother, who, as per another trope, is the brainy pick of the litter. Angie gets frustrated of waiting, leaves her brother alone on an alien planet, wanders off to where the military personnel are, enters their base, and loudly announces to them, “I’m bored!”.

It’s a trope you see all the time when there’s a teenage character in a plot, especially on film. I assume most of these stories are written by people who have teenage children and are probably just venting. But seriously, can they not see the flaw in the train of thought that goes, “Fucking teenagers, they’re are always wangsty, right? So why would they stop being wangsty when they’re in a strange place and/or a perilous situation! I’ll show them how their behaviour will land them in trouble! Then they’ll learn!” It presupposes that teenage wangst is a stronger sentiment than one’s basic instinct for survival, but also shows a startling lack of the writer’s ability to relate to when they were of that age. I was a teenager. Some say I still have the mental capacity of one. Before I was a teenager, I saw my elder sister as a teenager. I love my elder sister and she’s a really nice person and all, but between 1998 and 2004, she was a fucking terror. She has, I would like to clarify, mellowed down a lot since then. And I don’t think I was much better at that age, except I didn’t use my voice as much as she did and instead did all my screaming and shouting in writing, some of which was mercifully on paper and is hence lost in mists of time, but sadly on other occasions, I vented my teenage frustrations on a blog that I am tempted to delete every time I think about it.

Yes, I agree, teenagers are angry all the time, and most of the while they’re not 100% sure why they’re angry, or indeed at whom. Yes, they get bored easily and do not like listening to authority figures telling them what to do. Yes, they think they know everything about the world, but are in many ways painfully ignorant and naive. But they’re also, for the most part, not completely and entirely unaware of reality. When I was 15 years old, I had a pretty decent idea of what was happening around me. When, in 2003, I was travelling with my family in some extremely rural part of the Tamil Nadu coast, I saw a man carrying what at a glance looked like a gun. I whispered to my father, “Are we in LTTE territory?”. He nodded a yes. I didn’t shout, “Look! A guy with a gun! He’s probably an LTTE member! Fuck you Tamilians for sympathizing with a terror outfit that uses child soldiers, you piece of shit! Gawd, I’m so angry!” Nevertheless, in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 , it makes perfect sense for Jim Lovell’s teenage daughter to be so obsessed with the fact that The Beatles broke up that she doesn’t want to go to see her father’s video broadcast from outer space en route to the moon. Somehow, in every disaster movie, there has to be a scene where the noble hero is trying to tell his, usually estranged, teenage daughter, “Honey, there’s an asteroid approaching the city/ a volcano’s erupting / Cthulhu has risen! We have to get outta here!” The daughter’s response is usually along the lines of, “No! You were never there for me! I hate you! I want Mom! Beiber 4eva!” When I was 15, if I was in danger, I wouldn’t care if Saddam Hussein came to save my life, I would want my life to be saved. Also, why are these narcissistic, survival instinct-lacking teen characters almost always girls?

It’s paradoxical how on one hand adults have the notion that teenagers are somehow so obliviously self-absorbed that they can’t perform basic acts of logical reasoning in dangerous situations, while at the same time teenagers are expected to show discipline, focus, and dedication while taking some of the most important decisions of their lives, viz. what career do they want to pursue, which college do they want to go to. Additionally, even though my teenage sister was a terror whose favourite pastime was to annoy me, I can assure you that she would never leave me alone on a dangerous alien planet just to go wandering off because she was bored. Fifteen-year-old elder sisters have at least that much of a sense of responsibility. And no matter how much teenagers hate authority figures, when they are in an alien situation (literally in the case of Gaiman’s episode), they listen to those authority figures. It’s not a culture gap or anything, it’s plain fucking common sense. I’m sure that during 9/11, teenage girls didn’t walk up to random police officers or firemen and announce loudly that they’re bored.

This is, of course, symptomatic of a larger trend of poor writing that tries to add emotional depth to a story by having characters bring up previous emotional conflicts in situations where sentimentality or focusing on the characters’ relationship with each other is just daft. Based on what I’ve noticed, during a time of crisis, people tend to forget previous relationship issues and work together. It’s not just a general statement about human behaviour, it’s a survival trait. 70,000 years ago, if a hunter you didn’t get along with shouted “There’s a lion behind you!” (I’m presupposing language had reached a sufficient level of complexity by this point), you didn’t say, “I’m not listening to you, okay!” You ran for your effing life and, if you impossibly survived, potentially even thanked the chap. Emotional conflict for the sake of it, making people bring up relationship issues in situations where no sane person would bring up relationship issues is in many works a bigger plot-hole than any bending of the laws of physics or egregious bit of historical inaccuracy. But oddly, no one calls bullshit on writers who frequently indulge in this, and some critics even praise this as “highlighting the difficult relationship between the two characters”. Not sure what else there is to say, really. I’m aware of the irony of making an argument against emotion while discussing a Doctor Who episode about the Cybermen, and just to make it worse, I’m going to end on a note from a different franchise. When human beings, of any age, are in a life-threatening situation, their reactions are more Vulcan than we give them credit for.

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Age Of The Geek? Not Really…

Like a cancer, the blog is back from remission to slowly sap your will to live.

And I’ll begin with the wise words/demented ramblings of noted conservative American radio host, actor, and filmmaker, Alex Jones. He is infamous for accusing the US Government (or “gub’ment”, as he calls it) of being responsible for the Oklahoma bombings, 9/11, 7/7, and Sandy Hook (oh, yes! He’s using the violent death of elementary school children to put forth his pro-gun, anti-thinking political agenda). He also believes US Presidents are puppets for the “New World Order” and the Illuminati, who dominate the world using Carbon Taxes (no, seriously!) and are intent on creating a single world gub’ment to hasten the coming of the Anti-Christ. Anyway, this guy made a colossal ass of himself on Piers Morgan’s CNN show last week after starting an online petition to have Morgan deported from the US for saying negative things about American gun laws. Jones-y let loose his drool-filled fury on Morgan, shouting at the camera about how Piers Morgan’s REAL reasons behind speaking ill of American gun laws is that he was trying to ensure that the average American will be left defenceless against a global conspiracy lead by the media, the banks, Hollywood, the Jews, and even England. “1776 WILL COMMENCE AGAIN!” Jones shouted mid-way through his hilarious interview adding that, “THE REPUBLIC WILL RISE AGAIN!”. (I wasn’t aware it had fallen. What was that thing that happened in November last year, then?)

Anyway, the reason I’m mentioning this so-called person is that his new targets are a social group that includes me. In a radio show on Friday, he finally identified the people who are destroying America and trying to take over the world. This sinister group of evil fiends are, drum-roll maestro… Nerds! Yes, those nerds, the people who are known for obsessing with intellectual minutiae, random trivia, and lacking or, struggling with, basic social skills. The fact that this man has a significant number of assault-rifle owning followers of course makes this statement slightly more dangerous. Alex Jones’ statements were characterized by his usual penchant for clear logical thinking, and his style of building rational arguments that are tested by repeatedly conducting experiments and observing how well the results of those experiments match the ones he predicted, saying:

I’m telling you folks, nerds are one of the most dangerous groups in this country, because they end up running things. But they still hate everybody because they weren’t the jocks in high school. So they play little dirty games on everybody. They use their brains to hurt people, and I’m aware of them. Okay, I see you, you little rats.

Makes You Laugh, Makes You Think…

Yes, Alex, I know it hurts you when nerds use their brains, especially when they use their brains to come up with those hurtful things called facts, which they use to create painful things called arguments. And those nerd arguments can be used to prove you a gibbering Cro-Magnon, possessing a mind that’s more Palaeolithic than Palaeoconservative. Damn those nerd brains, Alex! Brain make Alex head hurt! Alex no happy when head hurt! Alex smash brain!

(Mild digression: The good news is homosexuality has become so acceptable in American culture that gay people; who were once blamed for earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, violence, terrorist attacks, and health scares, among other things; are now no longer the focus of hate for America’s top fascist ignoramuses! Well done, you guys!)

But what is remarkable about his rant is the fact that he is perpetuating a myth that I have so far only seen in Hollywood high-school/college movies and recently, on Facebook. It is the idea that nerds are taking over the world, that nerds are the CEOs and Presidents of major corporations, banks, international organizations, and even governments. This, of course, is not true, folks. Nerds do not, as Mr Jones said, “end up running things” simply because if there is one thing that a stereotypical nerd is morbidly averse to, it is running. Also, in the figurative sense, nerds hate having to constantly interact with people, as all social interactions in a leadership role inevitably result in conflict. Nerds hate social conflicts that have to be resolved in person, especially when sometimes the right answer lies in between two opinions. We prefer our world to be binary, with questions to which the answers are either right or wrong. The constant decision taking that leadership roles entail are also something that nerds do not appreciate, not because nerds don’t like taking decisions, rather it’s the idea that other people have to face the consequences of our potentially wrong decision, and the one thing a nerd hates more than anything else is being proven wrong. A nice way to illustrate this is using TV Tropes’ brilliant nomenclature system for the average band of heroes:

The group traditionally includes:

  • The Leader (The CEO / Lead singer / President or PM): The Hero of the group; can be a mastermind, charismatic, level-headed, headstrong, or some combination of the four.
  • The Lancer (The CFO / Lead guitar / VP): The second-in-command; is usually a contrast to The Leader. If the Leader is clean-cut and/or uptight, the Lancer is a grizzled Anti-Hero; if the Leader is driven and somewhat amoral, the Lancer is more relaxed and calm.
  • The Big Guy (Security / Drummer / Legal): The strongman of the team, he may be stupid, but is likely to be hot-headed, vindictive, and aggressive to the point of self-destruction.
  • The Chick (Communications / vocal effects / PR): Holds the peacekeeping role to balance out the other members’ aggression and brings them to a nice or at least manageable medium. The “Chick” is often considered the heart of the group, and is most fiction; this role is played by a woman or girl.

Nerds, in the real world do not occupy any of these roles. What they are, is member #5:

  • The Smart Guy (IT / keyboardist/ whatever it is I do for a living ): The physically weak, but intelligent or clever member; is often awkward and played for comic relief.

Nerds, in the real world suffer due to our inability to deal with social situations. In the corporate world, nerds are not CEOs or Presidents. Bill Gates may have been a nerd by the standards of society, but Paul Allen was a bigger nerd, and was responsible for most of the technical work behind Microsoft. Bill Gates’ real skills were as a businessperson, not as a nerd; and one sees this pattern repeat with Steve Jobs and Wozniak or Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Nerds are the blacksmiths who build the tools with which the leader conquers the world. Nerds aren’t sitting at the helm of the world; rather, the CEOs, Presidents, and Prime Ministers of the world today are the same kind of people who were once kings, emperors, or tribal chiefs. The difference is that nerds have been promoted from living in the dungeon or in a distant cave while brewing their magic, to having posh apartments and being supplied with the best toys for them to play with.

So while Alex Jones ranting and raving may be the mad drooling of someone who should be locked up safely in a large white room with soft, padded floors and walls, what is worrying is how his sentiments might catch traction. The idea that we’re living in a world ruled by geeks has somehow managed to permeate into popular consciousness, and in times of strife, those people against whom the vox populi direct their anger and hate because they cannot understand and/or fear them are usually the first targeted. Which is why I’ve written this. You see, only an idiot would try fighting fire with fire, like trying to defeat the illogical arguments of a gibbering lunatic with an idiotic, illogical argument of his own. I’m not a nerd. Don’t kill me in the Great Jock Uprising of 2025 (It’s gonna be totally awesome bro; just beer, bitches, and beatin up nerds!)

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“You fucking racist Australians pigs” and other YouTube excursions

Warning: This post was written in less than 15 mins, with no proofreading, and while trying to crack Karthikeya Ramesh’s quiz questions. Not amongst my better works.

Rob Moody aka Robelinda is an Australian. I know little else about him. He is also a bit of a legend amongst die-hard cricket fans. Rob runs a series of YouTube channels where he regularly posts some of the rarest and most well-edited cricket videos you are ever going to see. Not a day goes by where I don’t spend an hour or more of my time watching videos from his insane archive of cricketing classics. Rob is equally famous for trolling rabid Indian cricket fans, especially the “SACHIN IS GOD” variety. These fans retaliate with accusations of racism, and then paradoxically spew some of the most disgustingly racist bile one will ever find on the internet. No wait, never underestimate the power of the internet. Let’s just say the title of this post is amongst the more civil comebacks one will find in the comment threads of his videos.

Now, I’m not sure if this has affected Rob’s opinion of India and Indians. And I’m not sure why I should care. It’s not the remnants of my long-abandoned patriotism that’s making me do this. No, it’s a different feeling. Something less altruistic. Whether I like it or not, being Indian is a part of my identity and I need to ensure that I’m not classified with a bunch of ill-informed ignoramuses furiously hammering on a keyboard while frothing at the mouth to post such incisive pearls of wisdom as “Sachin is God, u just jealus cheating Aussie, go fuck ur mom, hahahaha lololol!!!!!!!!!” So, Rob, I have a message for you:

First of all, big fan of your work, thanks for the videos. I was looking at a comment of yours where you mentioned the BCCI’s negative influence on cricket and how Indian cricket fans seem to be getting more rabidly racist by the minute. And that got me thinking.

Harsha Bhogle loves talking about how Gavaskar and Tendulkar are products of their respective generations and how they represent the attitudes and aspirations of the India of their time. Bhogle goes on about how Gavaskar grinding out bowlers in an era where the Indian team saw a draw against a top-class test side as being equivalent to a win can be juxtaposed with Tendulkar’s more aggressive approach as indicative of the difference in attitudes between Indians in the 1970s, who were just trying to survive and make a decent living, versus the more self-assured and confident Indians of the 90s, who had much bigger ambitions and the means to achieve it. If we were to extend that analogy, Virat Kohli and the current pack of young Indian cricketers probably represent the India the 2010s.

We are a nation that has fallen for our own hype. The world’s been bleating on about how we’re the next global superpower, and we think we’ve already made it, when in fact there’s a long way to go. The inequalities and divides in this country have become so wide, people on one side are now refusing to acknowledge that the other side even exists. Thus, you have people from who have been brought up in relative affluence who think that they are utterly invincible and take any comment that is even slightly critical as nothing short of an affront on their pride, honour, values, culture, and country. They hate hearing about how 40% of Indians still have no access to basic utilities like clean drinking water or electricity, or how a third of all children in this country are malnourished. And this has crossed over onto the cricket field. Anything short of reverence for Sachin Tendulkar is a crime, and I know that most international cricketers who come here praise him simply to avoid unnecessarily creating a media furore. The BCCI is run by a bunch of megalomaniacs who don’t care about the history or future of the sport, they just want to make a quick buck. Maybe we are aware that our time in the sun is limited, and we are all just scrambling to make what we can now before we descend back inexorably into irrelevance. Those morons who comment trash on your videos are the products of this mindset. They think everything Indian is the best in the world, and yet love nothing more than hearing people from the west talk about how superior India is to the west. We have bypassed the the actual process of becoming a part of the first world, and have instead gone straight to suffering from first world problems.

When you see Indians talking shit on your videos, you just see a bunch of morons with sewage pipes for where their mouths should be. I see the downfall of my country. Just know that for every idiot who tells you to fuck your mother/sister/second cousin twice removed for the insolent act of saying Tendulkar isn’t the second coming of Christ, there are an equal number of us who are thoroughly embarrassed by those people. Those of us who can take a good joke about themselves without crying racism and then responding with demeaning racist abuse. We tend to not say much, both on YouTube or elsewhere, because we’re not looking for a fight, and we don’t want to bring ourselves down to their level and ruin our reputations to fight about things that are, essentially, non-issues. We are the silent, moderate, minority of rational Indians, and we need to start making more noise.

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A large Soma on the rocks

I’m undertaking a pretty daunting task. It begins with these words:

agním īḷe puróhitaṃ
yajñásya devám r̥tvíjam
hótāraṃ ratnadhā́tamam

Read them out loud. Congratulations, you have just read something that was composed over three and a half thousand years ago, in a language from the Bronze Age. How does that make you feel? In the common tongue of today, they say:

I Laud Agni, the chosen Priest,
God, minister of sacrifice,
The hotar, lavishest of wealth.

Yep, I’m reading the Rig Veda. Specifically, I’m using Ralph T.H. Griffith’s 1896 translation, simply because it’s well-organized and easy to find on Wikisource. If anyone knows a better version to refer to, well you can see the comments section below and know what to do.

This is not the first time I’m attempting to read the Vedas. I have read bits of them before, you know. I introduce myself on Twitter and other places with a rather lovely quote that describes, in equal measures, me or the creation of the universe:

Whence this creation has arisen
Perhaps it formed itself, perhaps it did not
The one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows
Or perhaps he does not.
- Mandala 10, Hymn 129, Verses 6 & 7

But these were nothing more than random excursions born out of passionate coitus between curiosity and boredom, and an interest in reading one of the oldest extant works of literature currently at our disposal. I’d browse through fragments of it while at work, largely to relieve the monotony of reading or, indeed writing, such Orwellian new-speak as: “It is important to holistically incorporate disparate elements of sustainable development into a single paradigm-altering framework that ratifies the goals committed to at Rio 1992 while also integrating current economic inputs to create a systematic agenda that can overcome North-South divides and accelerate consensus.”

This time, however, I’ve decided to incorporate my own paradigm-shifting methodology, and am reading the transliterated Sanskrit version alongside it. While many people will contest these claims, I know Hindi and Telugu; and theoretically, should be able to follow a few words here and there. The opening verse was encouraging as I could understand around 60% of the verse in Sanskrit

agním = Agni = God of fire, or fire itself
puróhitaṃ = Purohit = Priest
yajñásya = Yajna = Sacrifice, or generally speaking, a religious ritual
devám = Deva = God
ratnadhā́tamam = Ratna-something = Jewel-something

I think I need to clarify that this is not a precursor to a story involving me re-discovering my religious heritage and becoming a born-again Hindoo. My interest in the Vedas derive from my love for history and literature, and am treating them as an unique and exciting opportunity to read something that was first composed sometime between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago.

While it mostly consists of praises of Agni, Indra, and most importantly, of the Soma drink; there is the palpable presence of a story in the Rig Veda. The first 20-odd hymns of the first Mandala describe a journey away from their homelands, preparations for some sort of battle, and victory in the said battle. I have to say I am even more surprised at the pig-headedness of Out-of-India theorists now. If archaeological and linguistic evidence aren’t enough, there is evidence of a migration in the Vedas themselves. The landscape describes hills and mountains filled with gushing streams, ridges, and regions of aridity interspaced with lush, fertile pastures. Not much mention is made of agriculture so far, and one gets the distinct feeling that these people are a warrior race of heavy Soma-drinking, meat-eating, horse-riding, cattle grazers. When they praise the land, they praise qualities that would appeal to a nomadic culture rather than a sedentary one. But this is just the first 30 hymns. There are nearly a thousand in the Rig Veda alone.

“But why are you doing this?”, my non-existent readership asks. Well, apart from the reasons mentioned above, what really motivates me is the prospect of figuring out what all those shlokas I had to listen to while being forced to sit at (and even conduct) religious rituals meant. The pandits at these rituals never answered my questions (“Do not ask such questions! Pour more ghee in the fire! Yes, the smoke is holy! Yes, I know the smoke’s burning your eyes; your tears please the Gods! Yes, they are vindictive bastards!”), and I have a well-formed hatred of religious people who took my parents money and ruined my holidays only to burn some wood, sacrifice some fruits, and eat a bunch of free food, before driving away in their 20-year old beaten-up Bajaj scooters. So it is time I take matters into my own hands. For all I know, the priest didn’t know what he was saying either. Perhaps he didn’t know that Verse 5, Hymn 29, Mandala 1:

sám indra gardabhám mr̥ṇa
nuvántam pāpáyāmuyā

Translates to:

Destroy this ass, O Indra,
Who in tones discordant brays to thee

Of course, Indra never did. Pity.

Posted in Fads, History, Ideas, India, Literature, Philosophy, Science | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Aim for a Post-Scarcity Economy, we will achieve a Green one

Perhaps it is a consequence of living in a world where the pace of growth has accelerated to such an extent that technologies less than half a decade old are seen as irredeemably obsolete; but I believe that society has appeared to have lost its ability to plan for the long-term. Even those among us who are trying to prevent the catastrophes of climate change, bred from an almost cannibalistic avarice for economic “development”, are looking for solutions that can be implemented in the next decade or so, and would be quite pleased if their impacts would continue for the next century. I would like to advocate something far more radical; and while it may be appear to be an almost impossible request, we must remember that the last century has been identified by the ability of humanity to achieve tasks that were considered impossible in the not-so-recent past.

One of my favorite books of all-time is the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. For the sake of brevity, I will try to contain the highly complex plot to a few, brief sentences. In the far future, humanity has spread itself across the galaxy. Sociology and economics reach their zenith under the care of Hari Seldon, creator of the science of “Psychohistory” (a sort of kinetic theory of gases for sociology). Using the principles of this science, he predicts the inevitable collapse of the millennia-spanning ‘Galactic Empire’, followed by an even longer period of anarchy and intellectual darkness, before a new system can evolve to restore order. To stem the societal rot and decay that would follow in the interregnum, Hari Seldon advocates a radical plan which (and this is the nub of the matter) would be executed over the span of a thousand years.

Now, I do not claim to have invented such a new science, nor do I have a thousand-year plan to address the problems of climate change and sustainable development. Instead, all I wish to advocate is the idea that we can have a grandiose, extremely long-term goal, and work together as a single society towards achieving it. And the goal should be, quite simply, eliminating scarcity of any kind. The ultimate green economy would be no economy; a singular human civilization, completely capable of sustaining itself, and devoid of any resource imbalance.

The Soviet astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev devised a handy scale with which we could measure the progress of our civilization, and chart our future path. According to this scale, humanity is currently a Type 0.7 civilization, which I think is pretty much the ceiling of growth that is possible using existing energy technology. In order to ascend to a Type I civilization, it would be essential for us to be able to harness renewable energy on a massive scale. These were not the goals in mind while the technology we use today, or have been using for the last few centuries, were being made. In order for humanity to be able to – in the imminent future – achieve energy self-sufficiency to the extent that we can advance to a Type I Kardashev Civilization; and in order for us to eventually eliminate all scarcity completely, it would require, from all stakeholders (i.e. governments, corporations, bilateral and multilateral institutions, and even us common folk), a change in the approach we take to development. The scope of technological, social, and economic progress must be global; we must learn to view ourselves as equal users of a single common resource – the Earth.

This would, of course, require a change in mindset that is unprecedented. Yet, almost everything that has happened within my lifetime has been unprecedented; thus, I do not believe these goals are too daunting a challenge.

Posted in Competition, Gloom and Doom While Things Go Boom, Green Economy, Ideas, Post-scarcity, Rio 20+, Science, UNEP, WED2012 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments