The Muse

The sheer variety of symbols and artefacts in use across the ages and geographies does not necessarily point to a multitude of assumptions and values from which they spring. The study of mythology and folklore then, is a reverse approach to anthropology. This blog is dedicated to my favourite symbols, tales and artefacts - both ancient and contemporary.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A VERSatile Term

It all began with the SIP. Was the process as random as it was touted to be? I pondered about it. Finally, I came to the conclusion that...for all that I can say or do, I’ll get what life drifts my way. But in spite of that I’ve a boat to float, and distant lands to explore...
The Drift
A boat to float, an axe to grind,
Some taken, some left behind,
For all that I can do or say,
I’ll only get what comes my way,
Both truths I have to reconcile,
And not get stuck in life’s turnstile

One fine HRP class, the day we were taught the R & S plan; my attention flickered for the first time with dangerous intensity... Soon I was dreaming of Vikram Seth’s Frog... Neither stones nor prayers nor sticks, Insults or complaints or bricks...
Dwarfed by the Drivel
Drips, feathers, and thumbscrew leathers,
Putrid words and two-pronged swords,
And all the things that get the soul to shrivel,
Are all outdone, they’re dwarfed by the drivel.

The next class... Induction & placement... I was suddenly reminded of Prof. Prithviraj H. Soni...
Faulty Faucet
Filled frustum with a faulty faucet,
Lynches lustre from a lucky locket,
Pious plea from the profoundest pocket,
Requests release from this reeking racket.

The same class, different rhythm... Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak... In response to the gassy ppt.
Global Action Strategy
Idle thoughts will leave no trace,
Little substance, too much space,
What head or heart or soul divine,
Can tolerate such gimmickry?

The Equivocator
Kiss the snake and smooch the frog,
Feed the swine and slay the hog,
Put even Janus to such shame,
That he resorts to heresy.

The aforementioned person’s  response to mid-term feedback...
Six score people and three more,
Take the cue and fuel uproar,
Poor old dusty rusty James,
Dances merrily on the flames.

Then I woke up after the ad hoc fast I observed in honour of the completion of PMIR batch placements; I felt weak (a hitherto unobserved occurrence in my experiences with fasting), so I had needed a nap. The next day I missed my beloved repository of poetry and assorted class notes (a really handy notepad along with a notepad and pen holder). I searched high, I searched low... alas! It was gone...
Syllables weep and letters cry,
Words fall dumb and ideas die,
Grief for those who are now long gone,
Puts those expected on standby.

They died not from the cold without, but from the cold within... And so I pondered about the true source of my hatred and suffering...
The Cold Within
Hated icons sting the eye,
Torture eardrums, neurons fry,
But seeking source, I come to find,
Not the cold without, but the heat behind.

Mad at the loss of my random limerick rhymes, I clutched at their fast disappearing remnants...
Water In My Cupped Hands
Rhythms of my past ruminations,
Echoes and odd emanations,
Balderdashy exclamations,
Lost to my lamentations.

Succession Plan... I drifted to the fall of the Angel Castiel. But the poem was completed in the first AFM guest lecture.
Decadent lanes in cities plagued,
More from devices than vices base,
The entrails, limbs and life blood suffer,
From the tortuous traitorous train of thoughts.

These three directly followed Vagus, on the same occasion.
Blind faith
Rosy hues turn into the colours of gore,
Veils vanish between the morrow and yore,
When doubtful fire melts not the wax of sin,
The wick burns out; there is darkness galore

Take a look beyond the veil,
Where voices die & letters fail,
What mortal heart not made of stone,
Can be so averse to verity?

Unheard Tales
Floating leaves on a silent stream,
Pass their lives in equal silence,
The world cares not for their silent scream,
But turns away in deafening silence.

The day that culminated in SIP wetnite... A highly productive and successful day... Another trio
Brainless Rapture
Amos wounded by his own shaft,
Had set his eyes on Psyche,
So when we began the HRP draft,
We traded brains with a monkey.

An ode to my dear friend Aditya Gupta...
The sage Kashyapa had two wives,
Diti & Aditi – with two lives,
One brought forth demons, the other gods,
One ate snails, the other gastropods.

জাতে মাতাল তালে ঠিক,
যে না ভজে তারে ধিক, 
পিতা সম পালে প্রজা,
নিয়ত কিন্তু নহে সজা

And then I wrote a few verses of purely academic nature, till one day the “poetic attack” grinded to a halt...
Claviceps purpurea
Rocking candies, fluffy clouds,
Seeing music, tasting shrouds,
Whatever infected my sweet prose,
Feasted also on my poetry.

Saddened by the demise of my VERSatility, I sat next to Ruchika, out in the open, after the Law exam, to pen down my least favourite pieces...
For Amrit, the Sworn Enemy of Verse
My friend Amrit, he hates a rhyme,
And I worship all verse sublime,
To make him mad, and ruin his day,
I sent these five lines his way:

“Each word that makes a verse,
Each beat that makes a rhythm,
Every crystal that is not amorphous,
Is an illusion of order
In a universe destined to chaos.”

Ode to Lucifer and the First Born
When Lilith raised her lone head,
And did not to her equal succumb,
She left us both wiser and dead,
And left Utopia to the dumb.

Because it is in hunger that we seek the truth,
It is in bareness that we weave its semblance,
It is in the depths that we are cleansed the most,
And it is the bringer of light who keeps us from eternal darkness.

As an afterthought, I wrote an alternative, rhyming version of the second stanza, which reads like this:

Because only the hungry can succour find,
Only the wounded can heal their kind,
Only the depths can truly scour,
And the bringer of light keep us from the dooming hour.

Since I’d just written a law exam, I asked myself if crime paid or not. I decided that it did.
Scot free
Eaten sugar, told lies,
Given very bad advice,
Done every offence in the book,
Look dad! I’m still off the hook!

And then I thought of free will, and the debate on its existence...
The Marionettes
One by tail, the other by horn,
Sowed the kernel, reaped the corn,
Reduced all creation to finger puppets,
Alas! Found to oneself strings attached.

Epilogue: The lost notepad was found (this post wouldn’t have been possible otherwise), and I await my last exam, expecting a last spark of such productivity. All words fail to express my love and gratitude towards my friends (and to those who have unknowingly or unwillingly benefitted me), for making this term so awesome.

PS: When in doubt, remember G for God, G for Google

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Legend of Ram... The Don

Human history is replete with instances when tales expand to epic proportions, and capture the minds of the populace. In time, the institution of religion decides to encash on this popularity to suit its own purpose.

The latest (relatively) in this category is the tale of Harry Potter, which the Vatican had promptly denounced, on the grounds that it glorified witchcraft. But perhaps religion is losing its hold on public consciousness - or it was simply beaten by the mania.

But one of the oldest in this category of tale-turned-scriptures is our own Ramayana. My interest in this tale is as deep as in Harry Potter. I've followed this epic since childhood - and in more than one version, always in the search of true story.

And so, I begin a series of posts on everything that is known or said about this tale, and I hope you enjoy it.
"Don की तलाश ग्यारह मुल्कों की police को है ..."  
 The relation seems loose, but it's there. The first aspect that one has to face in an attempt to study this tale is the sheer variety of versions. Not just national, but International. The legend of Rama is part of people's lives in all of south east Asia - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Phillipines, ..., the lot. The King of Thailand is called Rama to this day (Presently, Rama the IXth) and the capital area in Bangkok is called Ayutthaya. Traditional shadow puppetry of Indonesia lives around this theme, and Indic temples and traditions accompany the tale in all of these countries.

Like the Don's infamy, Rama's fame covers a lot of ground. And while the plot remains the same, the characters sometimes go sea changes - Hanuman, for example. A paragon of asceticism in India, Hanuman is otherwise unanimously portrayed as being a womaniser elsewhere. This and many other things prompt the reader to probe beyond the facts, and to the real meaning behind these legends.

But most of all, the ancient coexistence of these variants tell us that the tale is older than religion itself, and has a profoundness that is universally revered.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guest Post - Nerdspeak - KPJ

 In reality the situation didn't get so nerdy but I couldn't stop to pen it's extension!


Me: You know why I “text”ed you, right?
She: No
Me: So was the “No” for dinner or you had no idea what I was talking about?
She: No for both
Me: Ohh :( ... So are we gonna ever meet before the Universe decelerates to singularity?
She: No
Me: And if the Universe bounces back & forms Earth-like planet again with creatures like you & me - then would you meet?
She: I might think then
Me: But it will take, if LQG is correct, at least 14.5 billion years for the universe to collapse and 14.5 billion years to form you and me... that makes a total travel time of 29 billion years!
She: LQG?
[NOTE: She didn't even read the main part of the text! Or probably she misunderstood LQG with lmao]
Me: Loop Quantum Gravity
[NOTE: I waited for 5 minutes and she didn't reply me back]
Me: Aahhh... what if an anti-you & anti-me are taking dinner in a parallel universe?
She: I don't care
Me: But then there action creates waveforms that superimposes in our universe... and hence the probability of the wave function describing our dinner increases?
[NOTE: I believe she didn't understand the point of my last text and hence didn't reply. But I was far from giving up]


Me: Hey I have a much cooler and nerdier plan! Do you wanna come for Star gazing open house tonight?We can literally watch supernova remnant and globular clusters with telescope!
[NOTE: I was careful not to use abbreviations like SNR and GC. Also I thought she might find it extremely romantic when I show her that the line joining last two stars of Big Dipper constellation coincides with the Polar star. I was having all sorts of goosebumps but...]
She: No
Me: We might witness a miracle like optical signals from an alien (as there are more than 300 exo-solar planets) or might see Betelgeuse explode! :P
[NOTE: If she was an astronomer/physicist she knew I was making things up as optical signals can't travel to far or etc... I thought I could excite her “normal mind” with these words but without even carefully reading my text she went...]
She: I don't believe in miracles
[NOTE: She tried to be rational like “me”... As an usual habit, when I don't know what to say, I simply shoot a quotation of Einstein or someone equivalent. It usually never matches with the situation but I thought she might just concentrate on the main words.]
Me: "There are only two ways of living life: as though nothing is a Miracle, or as though everything is a Miracle!" - AE
[NOTE: No reply... I guess she didn't get the point of the quote (if there was any) and neither did I wanted to miss the open house. So I stopped bugging]


[NOTE: This time I knew I shouldn't be nerdy but...]
Me: You know you are like a boson!
She: What???
Me: I mean you are neither in a quantum state of being “beautiful” nor being “nerd”
[NOTE: I pressed the “send” button incidentally]
She: WTF
[NOTE: The reply came faster than ever before]
Me: My bad... sentence left incomplete :P ... I mean you are both beautiful and intelligent... as if you can be in both the quantum states and contradict Pauli Exclusion Principle!
[NOTE: I didn't get into technical details that she followed the Bose-Einstein statistics and hence be in both the quantum states. Anyways she didn't reply for few minutes...]
Me: My empirical observations suggest that you generally don't reply my text message as you can't understand my emotions.
She: What emotions? Say clearly
[NOTE: I was waiting for this instance]
Me: You know you have made my life like a Heisenberg's particle... I am living life filled with uncertainty! I know I like you and I also want to be with you but Nature is not permitting me either of that... Now you say what should I do?
She: Get a life
Me: But... never mind!
[NOTE: I wanted to say to her that she just described a paradoxical statement as “I am living” is equivalent to “having a life” and to get a life I have to first die and then find a life... NEVER MIND! Such is sad tale of mine :( ]


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dialogy... KPJ

Well, one learns something every day. So here's an excerpt from KPJ's reply.

karan.p.jani: well
  first I added that link on facebook so that entire world can read! :d
  specially the ones who know me!
 me: m honoured
22:56 karan.p.jani: I am pretty sure hardly anyone understood it as the article was too technical
 me: was it?
 karan.p.jani: I followed it only because
 me: u asked for it
 karan.p.jani: a) I was interested to know what you wanted to say
22:57 b) Because I am reading Sartre et al. which are much much more complicated then this!
 me: ah! of course!
 karan.p.jani: but I like the way you proceeded your argument
 me: he argues otherwise?
 karan.p.jani: the rational logical argument approach!
  no its hard to understand first of all what is he arguing for!
22:58 me: hahaha
 karan.p.jani: nevertheless coming back to the blog
 me: ya
 karan.p.jani: my honest opinion
  let me first write it completely
  and then you reply
 me: ok
22:59 karan.p.jani: I found your language usage different then your regular tone
  your arguments were true
  but for some unknown reason it wasn't you
  it wasn't your thoughts
  as if it was a mosaic
  of other people's thoughts
23:00 I know that you once said me
  "Man is the most unoriginal creature"
  and I agree with that
  but your "human" part was missing in the argument
23:01 you were logical, rational, might be even scientifically accurate but you weren't Ishitia
  I read it and was admired that you took the effort to write a whole blog for me
23:02 but I am sure if we had a conversation the argument would have proceeded in a different way
  like you could have created examples and situations that would have been sufficient for me to get the direction
  well... sorry if you felt disappointed but I really dont intend to hurt you
23:03 it was a friendly critique
 me: not at all
 karan.p.jani: thats it!
  now shoot!
 me: u are a very fine observer
23:04 and m not disappointed

Dialogy... Amrit Jami

My illustrious, diligent and talented friend Amrit Jami (better known by variations of his surname) once had a status msg that quoth
"jaage hain ... soaae nahin..."
Being jobless myself, I sought an explanation. Here's what ensued ...

me: to ab soo jao
11:07 Jami: he he
 me: y did u stay awake?
 Jami: i was workin
  on somethin
 me: hmm
11:08 u got some sort of magic power
  u were properly awake in afm
 Jami: arre
  dis is my fav subject
  how can i sleep
 me: mine 2
11:09 but i slept thru anyway
 Jami: he he
 me: maybe i need more practice
 Jami: no
  u jus need 2 focus
 me: well get some rest
 Jami: sleep
  is always under ur control
 me: m doing the same
11:10 Jami: u jus need 2 hold ur mind
 me: i doubt that
 Jami: jus dont let it stop thinkin
  and u wont fall asleep
  d moment u let it stop
  u sleep
 me: u r telling me the secret of atibala
  m going to post this on my blog
11:11 chow
 Jami: atibala?
 me: it's a mantra that vishwamitra taught to rama and lakshmana
  whi;le they were helping him
11:12 it enables one to be healthy without sleep
 Jami: ok
 me: they were taught another mantra
 Jami: see
 me: it's called bala
11:13 Jami: one doesnt need 2 read all mythology 2 know it
 me: guess its power
  i know
  just my preferred way
11:16 Jami: he he
  predferred way

My insomnia and ensuing somnolence in AFM class had got me thinking of the Ramayana. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of starting a series on it. So thank you Amrit for inspiring me, and get well soon (He's got a backache).

A Holiday Called Life

The things that we do, in the course of survival, are seldom questioned. It is our other-worldly pursuits, so to speak, that are brought under the scanner.
Life, says the philosopher, is what exists beyond the business of survival. When you are certain that you can make it through the day, the rest of the day is a holiday.
Welcome then, to the holiday called life.
The realm of the living is populated by many kinds of holidaymakers. Some are busmen, some are compulsive travellers. Others are lotus eaters, and perhaps still others who are unclassified.
Busmen are people who spend their holidays doing the same thing that they do for a living. They are addicted to the thrills, chills, and by that extension, the miseries of the game of survival. When they’ve beaten the wooden jungle, they create one out of concrete just for kicks. And then they lament about their misfortunes. Truly, life is wasted on these lily-livers.
Then there are the compulsive travellers. Their sole aim is to cover as much ground as possible. They have a simple belief – the journey is more important than the end. They care not about purpose, not even about pleasure. They believe that they have one life – and they intend to do it all in that period. And as you know, like velocity and time, grading is relative, and the travellers are only relatively better than the busmen.
But as far as holidaymakers go, in my opinion, the lotus eaters take the cake. They care neither about the arrow of time, nor the vagaries of space. They live in the here and now and are unaffected by the illusions of duality. Sins tempt them not, neither do virtues beguile them. They see the world not as it was, can or should be, but as it is. Only of these people can it be said with conviction – that life is not wasted on them.
So, is life wasted on living?
Well, it depends on the liver.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Me, in verse

What I do, wherefore and why,
I know not and the days go by,
Here that I am, whence did I come,
Where will I go, these are just some,
Queries that I have, and forsooth,
I won't flinch in the face of the truth.

When it's play, it's just that, a game,
But done for a living, it's not the same,
By the time I knew, my days were spent,
Upon my resolve, I had to repent,
Disgraced by the Monarch, and out of spite,
I left Sangraal for the Jesuits' light.

My hand, my pride, the place I reside,
I am within and beauty outside,
What I see, I get the same,
If I lose it, I am to blame,
Strange bedfellows, my mind and me,
An empty manger, not a place to be.

Karma with Karan

More in the dialogue form...

KPJ: What do you mean by duty? Who decides duty?

my humble opinion: No such thing as duty...

Survival requires us to do a lot of things, all of which affect us, our friends and family, our foes and our environment.There's simply one compulsion to do these things - either do them or die. Die now, or die later, or ...

Social functioning in humans, like in wolves and dolphins and other primates, is defined by a learnt code of conduct (COC). The COC simply lists those activities necessary for survival, and calls them duties. For example, in a baboon clan, the elders always feed first, so it is the duty of the younger members to wait/assist.
But that's not all. Individual clans also might have extra clauses in their COC, to serve as differentiator between clans.

Extrapolate this to humans. The original COC's were inevitably religious, but with the rise of religious pluralism and such circumstances, they became secular, and unique to a region or community. In course of time the 'differentiator clauses' turned into proper duties.

'Respect your parents, and care for them in their old age' is one such example (in my humble opinion). This clause has no evolutionary merit, as such, but is still considered a duty in the Orient (that includes us). Idea is, anyone who loves their parents will do this anyway, but there isn't any point compelling someone who doesn't. In the US, for example, old folks don't expect their children to take care of them, and usually bequeath their properties to the institution which does. The children don't expect otherwise. In India, in spite of this being deemed a duty and all, we observe the worst of both worlds.

KPJ: Emotions make us weak, cloud our judgement, force us to waste our time and energy - how do we escape them?

me: You don't.

There are two systems that coordinate everything we say or do, voluntary or otherwise. And they always, repeat, always work together. One's the endocrine system, other's the nervous. Both are headquartered in our brains, but in different regions. Emotions, largely governed by the former, are the tools of this decision making system. Not reasoning.

Emotions don't cloud your judgement or weaken you; they are the results of ages of evolution, and hold considerable survival value - or had held in the past. The reason they seem redundant sometimes, is that we have changed our environment much much faster than our brains had time to evolve to modify or discard them. Which is why most human COC's advocate control of certain emotion as a duty.

But it requires wisdom to distinguish between which 'duties', so to speak, have social/survival value, and which are not. So you shouldn't blindly stifle your emotions or do what is supposedly required of you.

KPJ: What stops us from doing what we want, especially at the expense of the others?

me: The transactional analysis theory is the simplest way of explaining it.

This theory talks about the human mind being divided into three overlapping sections - the parent, the adult and the child. It works like this: when we are children (or encounter a new experience, such as learning to drive a car), and any event happens, it is simultaneously recorded in two areas - one records the child's own emotions, reasoning, and reactions and the other records the emotions, reasoning, and reactions of the elders/dominating authorities involved in the event. The former record is the child, and the latter is the parent.
The child and the parent areas are also governors of certain traits, such as inquisitiveness/creativity and a dominating/nurturing tendency respectively.

When making a decision, inputs from both records are compared and the person's own discretion is used by the processor area, which is the adult. But this is the ideal case.

Sometimes, one of the records dominates, or is completely estranged from the decision-making process. For example, a typical religious fanatic does exactly as programmed in the parent, without taking inputs from the child or processing it in the adult. Such a person is technically said to be parent contaminated, and child estranged.

Needless to say, you'd have figured out that it is the parent that stops you from doing a lot of things. But the influence of this area can and should be overcome in the face of circumstances.
At any rate, it is my belief that even if the parent stops you from doing really dangerous stuff or makes you do stuff you really like to, it is wise to come up with logical adult-like reasons for doing/not doing those things.

Extra Info: Existentialism in a nutshell: Existentialists believe in the power of personal choices in determining destiny - this is all I gather.

...Like I always say, a story or two is worth tomes of theory. So I suggest you watch The Beautiful Mind, and if so inclined, read more about TA in 'I'm Ok, You're Ok'.

About KPJ
Karan Pankaj Jani is currently pursuing his BS in Astrophysics from the University of Pensylvania. He's known to be a friend in need, and for his propensity to ask beautiful questions. Watch out for his comments.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Many scriptures and other profound writings in the past have been presented in a Dialogue format - most notably the Bhagavat Gita. I too propose to adopt something similar here. Here's an excerpt of a chat between my sister and me. (I think the world of my sister, and I may be excused for it)

21:00 Aritri: love s nt done lik buisness
  neway kp it ur way
21:01 me: i agree
  but love is something that should make u rise
  not fall
  true love increases one's powers
  remember kikio
 Aritri: i noe
  nice :)
21:02 me: she was lost in inu yasha's thoughts
  her rival priestess thought that falling in love made her spiritualy weak
  and attacked her
21:03 but in spite of being lost in thought
  she not only repelled the attack nonchalantly
  but also practically destroyed the enemy priestess
  this example is etched into my mind
21:04 and u must remember it too
  i don't know if m in love
  in fact m trying to find out if m capable of such a thing
  but i care for these ppl
21:05 i think so atleast
  and probably that's something like loove too
  coz it inspired me to apply those fundas
  which i didn't even know properly abt
21:06 that's all
  temme what u think
21:08 Aritri: bravo
  m amazed
  u inspire me
  pls blog this thingy up
 me: no way
21:09 will be teased to no end
 Aritri: arey
  pls blog it up
  man dis s wat ppl
  die 2 hear read
  dey need dis clearance didi
  do sum social service

So, upon her request, I narrate this excerpt from a famous Japanese Manga storyline.

"Once upon a time, the world was inhabited by humans and demons. The latter came in all shapes and sizes, and like humans, in all personality types. Those who were kind and good sometimes fell in love with humans, and raised mixed families. Those who meant no good to any creature were slain by monks/nuns and priest(esse)s.

We talk of a time when there existed a Sacred Jewel (history and name irrelevant to us now), guarded fiercely by our heroine, a priestess named Kikio. Evil demons and humans sought this artefact with equal enthusiasm, for all the reasons typical to such fairy tales.

But one fine day, an exceptional individual came to seek the stone. Born of a human mother and a demon father, he had had a tough time growing up. Neither the humans nor the demons would accept him, and his mixed blood had unusual properties (not of interest here). Sick of being in no-man's land (no-demon's land, actually), he sought the powers of the Jewel to turn into a fully fledged demon. Meet the hero, Inu Yasha.
Well, needless to say, they met. Also needless to say, it was love at first sight.

Strictly speaking, priestesses differ from nuns (in the Japanese form of Buddhism) in that they are ascetics - they can't get married. So this was, sort of, bad news in a lot of respects.

So, word got out. A rival priestess (name both irrelevant and difficult), who was evil, btw, decided that the time was ripe to wipe Kikio out. Assumption was, since the priestess has fallen in love, her spiritual powers have weakened.

So one evening, when Lady Kikio sat on the riverbank, contemplating her beloved, our villainess struck. Too bad for her though. For the thing is, losing herself in his thought had made Kikio 4 times more alert, and 10 times more powerful, and with a casual flick of her bow (she was always armed), she not only deflected the aforementioned attack, but wiped the villainess out.


Ignorant as I may be of many things, I do believe that being in love magnifies one's powers, and this tale is one of my favourite examples.

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's only words... Part II - वान्ग्मयम तपः

Words are constituted of two parts - the phonetic, or sound, and the intrinsic meaning. The phonetic part is manifest- it can be heard, recorded in writing/audio, and reproduced. The meaning is unmanifest- it can only be perceived or understood.

One ancient school of thought described God the same way. Divinity was expressed in the manifest form as Creation, and as the Unmanifest form that was the Spirit or Paramatma or whatever one might call it. In fact, so strong was their concept of duality, that their official language had a singular, plural and dual form.

Seeing this similarity in between the nature of God and words, they held words sacred, and professed that  the art of good speech was tantamount to penance - वान्ग्मयम तपः

The school of thought is of course the Shaktha/Shaiva school, whose credo is:
वागर्थविद सम्वृत्तौ, वागर्थः प्रतिपत्तये |
जगतः पितरौ वन्दे, पार्वती परमेश्वरौ ||

Salutations to the parents of all Creation, Parvati and Parameshvara, who are inseparable, just like the sound and the meaning (of a word) are inseparable.

Divinity theories aside, there's no denying that words are powerful tools in the aid of mankind. Wielding them skilfully requires true penance. But using them well is penance too.

Long before Socrates' triple test, our scriptures defined that anything to be said must satisfy three criteria: सत्यम्, प्रियम्, हितम् - It should be true, it should sound good and it should be well intended. Such speech is truly an offering to God, and pleases all who hear it, and never fails to fulfil it's intentions.

So with the best of intents, I pray that this Deepavali, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Sarasvati, bless us with the power to win over the recruiters with our words (and deeds, but mostly words).

It's only words... Part I - Etymology

E PLVRIBVS VNNVM - one, among many. This is one of the two inscriptions on the Great Seal of The United States of America. বিবিধের মাঝে আছে মিলন মহান - among the various, exists this great union. This is a lyric from a Bengali patriotic song, referring to what is technically known as The Union of India or The Indian Union.

There cannot be union without communication. But what happens when the means to communicate becomes the instrument of diversification?

The parable of the tower of Babel tells us of such consequences. In a nutshell, the story goes like this:
Ages and ages ago, the twelve tribes of Israel decided to pool in their technological expertise and build a tower that would take them straight to heaven. Infuriated by this arrogant intent, God created a multitude of languages, making communication between the tribes effectively impossible. Since the tribes couldn't understand each other, they couldn't coordinate and build the tower, and their ambitious plans were laid to waste.

Biblical parables aside, the languages of the world, while being distinct, are definitely not distant. Shown below is a graphic taken from my sister's project

Copyright Aritri Roy

This brings us to another branch of knowledge that is closely related to mythology - we call it etymology - the study of words and their origins.

I'm inclined to quote Prof. Srinivasan, our OB-II prof here - that a language is more than a sum of its grammatical syntax and vocabulary. A foreign speaker, who's an expert on a language can be easily differentiated from a native speaker, because the former would not have the body language, the slang or the attitude of the latter. All this simply because he wasn't brought up in that culture.

Etymology however focuses only on the vocabulary of languages, and can give valuable insights into the history and the mindsets of the speakers of the languages. But again, there is also a matter of perception.

Take for example the words for left - sinistra in Latin and gauche in French. It is clear that they're the origins of the English words sinister and gauche, both with very negative meanings. Dan Brown related the fact that the left side has traditionally been associated with the 'Feminine Principle', to the prevalent male chauvinism of the Dark Ages and thus explained the etymology of these words.

While this theory is plausible, I draw your attention to another very gender-neutral explanation to the same phenomenon. Do you think it is a coincidence that left handed people make only 25% of the human population? Before you point out that left-handedness is a recessive trait, let me assure you that it's not the cause for the actual demographics.

Maybe, just maybe the low survival rates of left-handed people caused a stigma to be attached to the phenomenon of left-handedness, and anything related to the left side. Hence the origins.

The point in mind was that etymology, like mythology, has tremendous powers of revelation, if used carefully. With this short piece, I leave you to ponder on the true meaning of 'It's only words...'

... to be continued

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

XL Suuktani

I wrote these shlokas in the Crederity PPT. I'd be happy to know if anyone could translate them before I post their meanings. I'll add more shlokas and their translations soon. (Plz excuse the lack of halantas, and Kudos to the Google people for developing such an awesome transliterating interface)
आकर्ण्य यस्य सुस्वरं, द्रष्ट्वा यस्य वदनं |
त्रिश्णाम नाशयते येन, तस्मै सद्बांधावे नमः ||

कोमलं हृदयं यस्य, शोकनिवारने रुचिः |
मतिमान बलवन्तश्च, तस्मै वल्लभाय नमः ||  

Saturday, September 5, 2009


In this personal learning paper, I intend to discuss not the content of the course, but what I learnt by attending the classes – both about myself and about the subject.

In the very beginning, the subject of Organizational Behaviour seemed to me an attempt to formalize, through theory and jargon, what is commonly known as ‘common sense’. It was a bad attitude, because it prevented me from learning anything at all.

The only life I’ve known so far is that of a student, and I’ve learnt to trust my teachers completely. So when encountered with a subject that seemed wholly unworthy of study, and that too by so respectable a teacher, in an institution of such calibre, was rather disconcerting. Even my father, who’s an MBA in finance, spoke highly of the subject. All of this compelled me to reconsider my view.

I commenced my soul searching by trying to relate what I learnt to subjects I was more familiar with, i.e. the pure sciences. The very backbone of this viewpoint is that there exists a chain of things in nature, and various levels in this scale come under the purview of various sciences. The very fact that this hierarchy exists, justifies the study of all hierarchies. In fact I recalled that one of the things that motivated me to do an MBA was to understand the hierarchy in the artificial chain of things – the economy, for example.

One of the first pillars of OB is that people will inevitably form groups. Thus, even though in OB-1 we focus on the individual, experiments like the Hawthorne one and the various theories of learning and motivation prove the power and influence of groups on people. In that way people are like atoms. A silver atom, for example, has the power to kill the highly dangerous MRSA bacteria when in isolation, but loses that property when it is part of a wire. Similarly, copper loses its superior conducting powers when made into nanotubes.

As a student of Biology, I had the opportunity to get to learn about the basics of this subject under the head of Ecology and Behaviour. We learnt that all behaviour in the wild originated from one motive – the preservation of one’s genetic makeup, even if it meant reducing or destroying the chances of another creature of the same species i.e. the object of all behaviour was to ensure that the creature left viable offspring. And that all other needs and motives could be traced back to this one.

Take the case of the butterfly, for example. Upon hatching, the caterpillar does nothing but eat, so it can pupate properly and become a butterfly. This creature spends its time pollinating flowers of the plants that it knows will be food for its future generations, mates, lays eggs (if female) and then dies.

The behaviour of solitary, selfish herd and colonial animals (other kingdoms as well) could be equally explained by this one need. In a true colonial situation, for example naked mole rats or ants or bees, each member is practically a genetic clone of the other, so it doesn’t hurt to have only one reproducing member.

Students of ecology and behaviour rarely venture into the domain of Human Behaviour, even if they do realize that there is an inevitable linkage. I realized that Freud, who didn’t sound like an ecologist to me, was probably also referring to this same point of view in his notions of infantile sexuality.

Exceptions in this theory, of course, are grouped under altruistic behaviour, and are more difficult to explain. For example, emperor penguins fight over the adoption of an orphaned chick, which is not genetically close to either prospective parent.

Humans are by no means wholly altruistic, but do seem to display a component in their behaviour that doesn’t comply with the prevalent theory. And I am glad that I got the opportunity to study theories of need and motivation that capture that component. With each passing day, I understood the relevance of the subject.

But perhaps the strongest link I perceived was that between models of perception and Optics. I mean Rayleigh’s criteria for resolvability of images is exactly what is implied by the perceptual grouping models.

At the end of it, I realized that the fundamental premise on which this field is based is not just that Human behaviour is explainable and predictable, but that it can and should be managed to the advantage of the organisation. OB isn’t just about knowing others, it is about knowing myself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The opiate of the masses


For any algorithm to run, some minimum input data is required. Now imagine an algorithm that can fetch for itself the data that it requires in order to run. Stressed by the exercise? No problem, just think of the lowliest creature you can think of - maybe a virus.

A virus is essentially a strand (single or double) of nucleic acid - which is basically the algorithm with the purpose of replicating itself - enclosed in a protein coat. When it comes in contact with a suitable host cell, it injects its genes into the host where it is transcripted and translated into the proteins and replicated - basically, copies are made. these are assembled into new viruses, which flood the host cell till it bursts, and then are sent out. When not in contact with anything alive, it simply lies there, doing nothing.

This was life, from the virus' point of view. I draw your attention to the way it spends its lifetime.

If you're of the view that creatures can be grouped from least evolved to the most evolved, then consider a ceature from the middle of that ranking - a butterfly, maybe.

Upon hatching, the caterpillar does nothing but eat, so it can pupate properly and become a butterfly. This creature spends its time pollinating flowers of the plants that it knows will be food for its future generations, mates, lays eggs (if female) and then dies.

Notice again how it spends its lifetime.

Look now at a lion. A highly evolved creature. The leader of the pride, in fact. He doesn't hunt, but gets the biggest share of the spoils. He defends his territory and his position in his pride, and mates when his lionesses are 'on heat'. Apart from that he only sleeps.

What a waste of talent, isn't it?

Idea is, at both extremes of lifeforms, we've creatures with a lot of 'free time'. I'd define free time as any amount of time not spent in doing survival tasks. Basically, free time seems to follow an inverse bell curve.

The difference is, can this free time be utilized?
Back to our algorithm. It needs minimum input data to run. So does every lifeform, to survive.

A sapling needs to find water, sunlight and nutrients - therefore it has a rudimentary sensory and motor system that attracts its shoot to light and away from gravity and its root towards water and gravity.

The more things a creature needs in order to survive, the better sense and locomotory systems it has.

It so happens, the more evolved a creature is, the more things it needs to survive, and hence, we have the creatures with the most 'free time' also having the best sense and locomotory systems.

Somewhere along the evolutionary ladder, this double convergence of time and resource turns into a triple convergence. A creature with highly developed sensory processing centre with time to spare from tasks of survival. How does it engage the idle yet powerful system? Simple, by probing into things apparently unconnected to its survival. And thus are generated the first probing questions and their first attempts at answers.

Sometimes, the business of Q & A seemed more interesting than survival itself. So here was Homo sapiens neanderthalis, a social animal, with an ice age to survive, and abstract questions to answer. What did he do?

Simple, he invented religion. An institution that had the following functions:
  • Define socio-political relationships and hierarchies
  • Define the ways and means to subsistence i.e. the processes of hunting, farming, etc.
  • Define the judicial system
  • Provide the answers to abstract questions, such as about genesis and destruction
  • Provide spiritual and psychological guidance
These were the functions of the institution of religion, as concieved by our close cousins the neanderthals, and adopted/propagated by our own ancestors.

The ages passed by, each time stripping religion of one of its functions till at long last only the last listed function was relevant to it.

Religion has been a very useful tool, as well as a potent weapon. Which of these conflicting roles it will predominantly play in the future, will depend on the practitioners of the religion.

Meanwhile, the wealth of answers constituted from all religions of the world (living and extinct), and the customs that stem from them, create the massive corpus of knowledge known as Mythology.

On this pensive note, I leave you dear reader, to attend my OB project meeting.