India – Cut and Dried

India – Cut and Dried takes artistic liberty in chronicling real experiences during my life in India between 2002 and 2014.

The Indians invented zero, built the Taj Mahal, threw the towel in and called it a day. Historians were told to take the next several hundred years off. Deep within the Indian psyche once lay an adventurous spirit which sought to understand the best of things. Now it asks, “‘What’s the worst that can happen?

A couple of years back, I went to see a doctor in Bangalore. As luck would have it, he was one of those wizened, cynical men who have seen it all. The man waved me to a chair as he fiddled with a phone. He made no attempt to establish eye contact. As he fiddled, his sub-conscious voice rang out, “I’ve been in this profession for 40 years. I’ve seen it all. The Hippocratic Oath be damned. It’s not worth saving you people. You can wait until this app finishes downloading on my pathetic 2G connection. Feel free to leave anytime. What’s the worst that can happen?

I took in the windowless room. The man had shut himself out from the rest of the world. And here I was, an unwelcome intrusion.

I’ve been to doctors in America. The startling thing about them is that they communicate. Rather fluently as a matter of fact. They use sentences with more than two words. They wear clean shirts. And shoes.

“You think I’ll make it, doc? The faint rash on the lower thigh looks fatal, doesn’t it?”

The doctor always resisted the temptation to slap me across the face. Instead he’d put his notepad down, look me in the eyeballs and explain why I wasn’t about to tragically die young.

As my thoughts wandered, the doctor in Bangalore continued to fiddle. After five minutes, he looked up and made fleeting eye contact through a mirror on the wall as though I was Medusa and he was Perseus.

Then I heard him speak. Hallelujah!

“So what’s your problem?”

“Umm.. we met last week.. ”

This caused him to lose any interest he might have had in me at this point. His eyes lowered and he reverted to Neroesque fiddling as I sat likely dying of an incurable ailment.

I waited in uncertainty. Sensing a rapidly losing cause, I spoke again.

“I have a ringing noise in my ears. You told me to get hearing tests done. I have brought the results.”

He looked up.

“Yes, I remember you. Why is it not ringing?”

I stared, wondering which of us had a hearing problem.

 “I said that MY ears are ringing.”

“I know. I meant my phone.”

Foxed by his cryptic words, I stayed tuned in for further updates.

 “I just bought a new phone. It’s not ringing. What could be wrong?”

He handed me a brand new Samsung Galaxy 2.

“Maybe if my phone rang and your ears didn’t, we could call it a win-win, no?”

He laughed. It was a good one. But it failed to move me. Resentful, I turned the volume of the phone up.

“Here you go.”

I handed the phone to him. His facial expression continued to indicate that interest in my welfare had not made an appearance yet.

“How about I give you my phone number and you call me?”

I like to think of myself as a Zen kind of guy, with an inner Buddha chanting Tat Tvam Asi and the works. I believe that anger resides only in the bosom of fools. I have let go. And I’ve been happy ever since. I even wrote a book on all of this. Yet I felt a rising tide of anger.

“You want me to leave now and call you later?”

He looked at me, his eyes crinkling as though they were staring at the sun.

“No, not like that. Can you call me so I can hear the phone ring?”

My inner Buddha struggled to process this request. Glumly I acceded. It made him distinctly happier.

“Let’s see your results.”

He opened the envelope and began reading. His next question was a wicked doosra.

“Have you ever stood in front of a large speaker?”

“No. Why?”

“Because you have lost 50% of your hearing at higher frequencies.”

I waited for more. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him continue.

“Your hearing is normal enough to hear humans speak. Isn’t that good enough?”

My inner Buddha fought valiantly to contain my inner Hercules from slaying the man with a machete in one fluid motion. Outwardly calm, I responded.

“You said that I’ve lost half my hearing at a higher frequency. Is this normal? How did this happen?”

“I told you already. You must have stood in front of a large speaker.”

“But I have not stood in front of a large speaker. I once watched Nitin Gadkari speak on TV. That doesn’t count, does it?,” I protested.

“You must have. Unless you are 60 years old. Anyway, how does it matter?”

His inner Buddha had stumped mine. I resorted to another line of attack.

“Can you make the ringing noise go away?”

“Depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“Are you willing to wear a hearing aid? Some people think they look weird.”

“If you put it that way, no.”

“Then I can’t make the ringing noise go away.”

“But I got your phone to ring. That was our deal.”

My plea fell on deaf ears. Pun intended.

“Sorry. There is nothing I can do.”

“Wait. Is this a symptom of something else which could be serious?”

“Like what?”

“You are the doctor. You tell me. Please.”

“Probably not. I don’t think so. Unlikely.”

“Probably? You don’t think so? You are not sure? Don’t you want to look inside my ears or something?”

“No.”

“Come on, doc. I say we check for something.”

“Like what?”

I was licked. I let go.

“Fine. Let me understand what happened just now. I fixed your phone. And then you told me that you can’t fix my hearing. That I have to live with a ringing noise in my ears. That we should not bother because I am PROBABLY not dying of something serious right now. Is that correct?”

“Correct. Look at it another way. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll just lose all your hearing in another 10 or 20 years. Speaking of bad things, do you think I should get a screen protector for my phone?”

At this juncture, I did as any normal Indian would. I threw in the towel and called it a day.

The Cosmic Calendar

If you watched the first episode of “Cosmos” [hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the National Geographic channel], then you will be familiar with the cosmic calendar which highlights the immensity of the cosmic time scale. Our universe was formed 13.8 billion years ago. If we shrank that down to fit one year, we get the cosmic calendar.

1 day in the cosmic calendar = approximately 40 million years. 1 month = 1 billion+ years.

If the Big Bang happened on the first day (January 1), then:

The universe expanded and cooled over the next 200 million years ( ~5 days).

It was dark until gravitational forces pulled together critical masses of hot gases to form the first stars.

Light flashed into being as the first stars began forming on January 10.

Stars began clustering to form galaxies, small and large.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, was born on March 15. About eleven billion years ago.

Earth was born around September. Life on earth started around the same time.

Humans did not arise until December 31, the last day of the year.

Modern civilization has been around for only the last 14 seconds of the year.

Jesus Christ was born 5 seconds ago.

Columbus arrived in America 1 second ago.

India got her Independence from the British 0.145 second ago.

I was born 0.099 second ago and will likely will live for just another 0.065 second, give or take 0.005 second.

Every human we know of, who is part of documented history, lived in the last 14 seconds.

I can’t think of a more significant piece of information that shows our insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

Mind blowing perspective as we ponder our earthly problems.

Cosmic_Calendar

[Reference: Cosmic Calendar on National Geographic]

Zenlighten Up is about interestingness. I try to raise interesting questions about our lives and the world around us and the connection that may or not exist between the two.

God denies answering prayers

Yesterday, What Ho! received this letter from God which I feel obliged to share.

Dear Dr. What Ho!,

It has come to my attention that there is a falsehood circulating and an impression being created that I have been answering human prayers. I’d be grateful if you could publicize this letter far and wide as I’m anxious to dispel such a patent lie.

First, let me start by explaining how [what you call] the ‘system’ works. There are many systems. They are filled with things I had not even fathomed when I embarked on this journey. Speaking about this system of yours, there are black holes, galaxies, stars, planets and moons to name a few. And then there is the Earth. Based on what I am hearing from you guys, your system is 13.8 billion years old and you’ve been around for the last few million, give or take. There have been other things which have been around long before you came along. Like volcanos, mountains, oceans, fishes, dinosaurs and birds, to name a few. I find it intriguing that none of them prayed. Indeed, the volume of pleas from Earth has spiked from near zero to a ginormous number only after you guys showed up.

BeFunky_prayers.png

I like to think of your system as having an amorphous and invisible ‘central brain’ which regulates itself and constantly attempts to re-establish equilibrium within itself and with other systems. What is fascinating to me is that you guys appear to have developed some sort of a sixth sense as you call it. A “local human brain” if you will, which is incessantly attempting to disrupt the global equilibrium with its self-centered attempts to establish local equilibrium. In other words, your pleas, while they are an area of curious interest for me, are unlikely to be met with either prompt or favorable responses. I’m disappointed that you would even think of me, a Supreme Being, as a puppet to be wielded by your strings of prayers.

Second, I feel that I must explain my job responsibilities. My job title, which I’m convinced has to be made more self-explanatory, is God. It is weird to be called something which means nothing to anyone but you humans. My surveys have established that quarks, leptons, gluons and the Higgs Boson have not heard of or ‘experienced’ God before. I suspect that’s true for galaxies, stars and planets and everything else but you. And I haven’t even broached this with all those multiverses out there. I suggest we you look into an alternative nomenclature for my job title. Possibilities are “A Higher Order,” “The Observer” or “The Spirit.” The last is a nod to the Indians from both the eastern and western hemispheres of Earth. I like it the best.

As for my job responsibilities, I have none. I understand that you regard me as the Original Cause. But that does not automatically impose any moral or other responsibilities on me. I bear no obligation to anything that has arisen and will arise as the arrow of Time speeds forward. I owe you nothing. In fact, no one owes anyone anything. Such is the nature of things.

This leads me to the question of ‘What the heck do I do every day?’

I spend my time observing things. It’s like watching television. You may have your opinions on what goes on out there. You get the sinking feeling that you may have contributed to the problem. Every so often, you feel the urge to tweet about it. And on occasion, you want to wreck the TV screen with a baseball bat. I resist the temptation to do any of the above.

A lot of things fascinate me. They are usually at levels which are a couple of notches and degrees higher and separated from where you are. For example, the question, ‘why are you guys even there in the first place?’ fascinates me. Why is anything there at all? Why am I not alone here by myself? Have you ever seen a massive star collapse into a giant black hole? That never gets old. I could go on. I hope that you understand that your lives are not in an immediate zone of my consideration. I don’t concern myself with earthquakes in Haiti. I don’t pay attention to Kim Kardashian’s wardrobe or lack of it. I wouldn’t know what to do if two futbol fans, one Brazilian and another German, prayed and asked for their teams to win. I haven’t read the Pope’s tweets yet. I smile when Stephen Hawking denies my existence. I could go on.

There is a massive misunderstanding that surrounds my existence and responsibilities. You guys have made a rather fantastic assumption that I have to prove my existence in order to exist. There was a government in India which existed for ten years and did absolutely nothing. And yet no one disputed its existence. Think of me the same way. Think of me as an impassioned observer, curious but unwilling to play a role in your unimaginative and dreary lives as your universe marches to its yet unfulfilled destiny. Would you gaze upon a new born child with an agenda? No. You simply see the beauty in her, marvel at her existence and accept that she will grow up to be whoever she wants to be. Such is the nature of things.

There are those who believe that I don’t exist because they don’t have a role for me. There are those who believe in me so they can create a role for me. Why are we always trying to change others to be more like ourselves? Why can’t we all just get along? I’m here. I speak nothing. I do nothing. Hey, that’s me. If someone has a problem with this, I suggest they have a short chat with Dr. Manmohan Singh. He knows what I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to be negative. If praying provides solace, I don’t see the harm in it. There are no false beliefs. There are only beliefs which have advantages and beliefs which are costly. I’d rather have you pick your own poison. I’d rather have you simply try to connect with me without an agenda. I’d rather have you meet me as an equal, as a fellow traveler who’s willing to share his beer with me as we marvel at the vistas together.

I am sorry. I know that you need to see me as the ultimate go-to guy in a world filled with pain, injustice, violence and disappointment. The easiest life is one of deluded ignorance. But it is one which alternates between intoxicating pleasure and incomprehensible pain. So, the curious and the disillusioned among you go in search of the truth. I’ve been gazing on universes for a long time. All I’ve learnt so far is that the only truth is that there are no eternal truths which hold across space, distance and time.  So I suggest a little circumspection and a lot of preparation when you go in search because truth is the last thing you will want to encounter if you have not prepared yourself for it.

I am sorry. I know that someday you will die. And that, deep within you lurks a fear of death and oblivion. Of being nothing and irrelevant. There is nothing I can do about it. That is the beauty of this design; that things go on. Beauty lies in a cycle of creation and destruction of things and not in this in-between state called living, which you must look upon merely as an opportunity to behold this beauty. Life is no more and no less than a set of experiences. The larger this set is, the easier it becomes to understand this description of life. Everything moves on. I wish I could tell you that you’re special. The thing is you’re just a tiny lump of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen on an obscure planet in a limitless set of universes. When you die, everyone and everything else will move on. So, clearly this is not about you. This is not even about the things which are dearest to you like your family and friends and objects of desire. I once saw a man who had devoted his whole life to making himself a better person. What a waste of a life it is when it’s all about yourself. There is something much larger at play. Respect it and we’ll all be fine, I assure you. Don’t be depressed. When you get depressed, do what I do. Gaze at the stars. They have borne mute witness to the best and the worst of all things.

I know that this will leave you feeling lonely. I’ve traveled the lonely road for eons. I’m afraid so must you. There is really no other way. But I do wish upon you my kind of bliss. The one you can find in solitude. Go forth and do what you must do. Just in case you’re interested in joining me, I have a seat right next to me with your name on it, which has the best view in town.

The Spirit.

Why is there something instead of nothing?

Why are there things? Why is there a universe? Why are there stars, planets, earth, moon, human beings, frogs and flowers? Why are there scientific laws? Why are there abstract things like time, space and distance? Why is there anything? Of all the possibilities, isn’t the simplest that of nothing?

Why is there something instead of nothing?

This question of why there is anything at all has baffled scientists and philosophers for a long while. There have been those who have dismissed this as either not important or unanswerable, saying that since we are already in the field of something, it is not possible to step outside of this field to view the answer. Philosophers, who Plato described as “friends of God, standing on the outside and looking in” disagree saying that the answers may lead us to understand the primordial nature of things and to the original cause itself.

There have been several attempts to pursue this simple yet deep mystery. From what I’ve read, all lines of approach start with asking ‘what in this universe is necessary or fundamental by nature? In other words, what came first without a necessity to exist and thus became the foundational reason(s) for everything else to be created and exist? These are defined as ‘necessary’ and ‘contingent’ entities.

The Scientific School of Thought

The atheistic or rather the scientific school of thought answers by postulating that the laws of the universe have always existed and are the reason that the universe manifested itself in the way it did. What are these laws? There are many laws of science we’re taught in school and college. There is the Ohm’s law. There are the Newton’s laws. And the laws of thermodynamics. Of all the laws, the most fundamental ones pertaining to matter are that of Standard Model, a set of equations which describe how quantum fields manifest themselves as fundamental particles such as quarks, gluons, leptons and the Higgs boson which interact to form matter as we know it. Why is the Standard Model the way it is? No one knows yet. Why is there just one Standard Model? Why is there even a Standard Model? We have now returned to our original question.

Truth be told, it is an extraordinary accomplishment of scientists that we even know that we have laws of nature. They have helped us peel a layer or two of the onion, if you will, in understanding the nature of things. What is more remarkable is that it is only in the recent past that we have accepted that there are such things as laws of nature. Not too long back, in the 13th century, an Islamic scholar, Al Ghazali, considered by historians to be the second most influential Muslim after Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) rejected the notion that there could be such things as natural laws because they would then “put God in chains.” The Christians in the Dark Ages were no different in their rejection of science.

To come back to the question, science holds forth that scientific laws came first and thus precipitated the formation of everything else.

The Judaeo-Christian-Islamic School of Thought

The Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological position supposes the ‘existence of God’ as necessary. That God is the original cause. That there is no logic that underlies the existence of God. For if such a logic were to exist, then such logic would then be superior to God himself. The religious argument insists that the existence of a Supreme Being with unlimited powers is non-negotiable and goes on to build their case from there onwards.

The Neo Platonists

The Greeks led by the Neo Platonists steered clear of science and religion in their explanation. They put forth the doctrine of “the Good” or “the One” which is beyond being. For Neo Platonists, the first principle of reality is an utterly simple and unknowable Quality of Things, a notion derived from the Republic, where Plato famously says that “the Good is beyond being in power and dignity.”

The Vedantic Approach

The “Hindus” of the Vedic era took the position that it is the abstract thought that is the reason to believe that there is something. Vedanta says that the world exists merely as a perception of the senses and made to appear real by thought processes of the mind. The origin of everything is explained as a single thought that arose in the mind of the Brahma who sustains his own existence and everything else by his thoughts and then expires as his thoughts subside into nothingness.

The Mathematician’s Approach

There is also the mathematical school of thought which says that the nature of probability dictates that all possibilities must exist. Which implies that there must be infinite variations of the universe including a version with nothing in it. And that the probability of finding ourselves in a universe with nothing in it is not just an oxymoron but also a near impossibility since one divided by a large number is a very tiny number approaching zero.

Thoughts to Ponder

Could there really be nothing? Even in the extreme case where we had this vast void or a gigantic vacuum if you will, there would be still be abstract notions like the distance between two points in that vacuum. Assuming, of course, abstract notions can exist in the absence of a mind which could create them in the first place. And if we took the position that everything is contingent and not necessary, it would be impossible to answer the question since the solution will require something that is necessary to formulate it. Which in turn makes the case that there indeed must have been an original cause; a necessity that precipitated all other things. Or maybe the question is simply meaningless, as some say it is. Or maybe it’s not.

We may never know the answer. Even if we did, it may not save us from death or assuage the griefs or heighten the joys of our day to day lives. Even so, we must view favorably these words of Einstein which he wrote in “The world as I know it.

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man. I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence – as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”

[Reference: An excellent video series on The Mystery of Existence]

Gandhi and Satyagraha

Mohandas K. Gandhi never professed to be a saint. But he is considered one by many. He never professed to being flawless. But many consider him flawed. Gandhi the husband and father was probably flawed. Gandhi the politician was not a saint. And then there’s Gandhi the pacifist who inspires awe. His courage was extraordinary, reflected in the circumspect manner with which he bore blows and eventually in the way he died. As George Orwell described in a largely unflattering essay, “His character was an extraordinarily mixed one. I believe that even Gandhi’s worst enemies would admit that he was an interesting and unusual man who enriched the world simply by being alive.”

Every time I hear of a conflict, I feel just a little more awe for the man who took violence off the table as an option and demonstrated the alternative. Here he describes how Satyagraha (commitment to Truth) is difficult.

“How are we to train individuals or communities in this difficult art of nonviolence? There is no royal road, except through living the creed in your life which must be a living sermon. Of course, the expression in one’s own life presupposes great study, tremendous perseverance, and thorough cleansing of one’s self of all the impurities. If for mastering of the physical sciences you have to devote a whole lifetime, how many lifetimes may be needed for mastering the greatest spiritual force that humanity has known? But why worry even if it means several lifetimes? For, if this is the only permanent thing in life, if this is the only thing that counts, then whatever effort you bestow on mastering it is well spent. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and everything else shall be added upon you. The Kingdom of Heaven is nonviolence.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I honestly can’t decide which is more fascinating: Robert Pirsig’s personality or his book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

First about Pirsig. He was judged to have an IQ of 170 at age nine. He went to study at the University of Minneapolis at 15, but then dropped out to join the US army in 1946. He served in Korea before returning to the university to study philosophy. In later years, he said that he studied at Benares in India. There are many Pirsigs. The 15 year old who tried to connect with his college mates and failed. The Pirsig who was drawn to Buddhism in Korea and Vedantic thought in Benares. The manic professor who taught college freshmen ‘Metaphysics of Quality’ at University of Montana. The homicidal Pirsig who was confined to a mental institution and subjected to electric shock therapy. And the father who tried to bond with his son on a motorcycle trek and then had his heart broken by the “casual murder” of his son in San Francisco. Pirsig said that he was trying to live in truth when he wrote ZMM.

By the time ZMM came out in 1974, it had been edited down from 800,000 words and rejected by over 100 publishers. At the heart of it is the narration of a father trying to bond with his son Chris. According to Pirsig, it was a tragic book in many ways. In 1979, Chris was stabbed and killed in a mugging incident as he came out of the Zen Center in San Francisco. A later edition of ZMM carried a moving foreword by Pirsig about his son, “‘I think about him, have dreams about him, miss him still,’ he says. ‘He wasn’t a perfect kid, he did a lot of things wrong, but he was my son …”

ZMM is a strange book. And yet it is a wonderful book. One feels deprived of the 800,000 word original version by a worldly and uncomprehending editor. The book keeps you off balance and struggling to regain your poise as much as riding a motorcycle on a treacherous curve on a mountainous road would. It is a legendary search for an identity; of a soul in obsessive search of salvation.

Here are a few of ZMM and Pirsig quotes.

The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”

For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses.”

The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.”

We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly.”

Traditional scientific method has always been, at the very best, 20-20 hindsight. It’s good for seeing where you’ve been. It’s good for testing the truth of what you think you know, but it can’t tell you where you ought to go.”

How do I get into Delhi University?

Dear Dr. What Ho!

I’m a student in a CBSE school in Delhi. I’ve just entered this torture chamber that they call Std XII. I think people should be happy that we go to school at all. It’s not like we’re getting paid for it. Putting such annoyances aside, I’ve been a hard working kid all through school. I’ve done all right on my grades, barring the occasional goof-ups. I’ve always done my homework barring the few times I haven’t. I’m not at the top of the class. But then again, I’m not a slacker either. Interestingly, it turns out that in this insane world in which we live, that just might not be good enough for Delhi University. And I ask why? It’s not like they are Google or something. It’s not a place where I can go and do something that transforms the lives of people. It’s just a bloody three or four year college program, for heaven’s sake. Why is it so hard to get in? Can you give me sage advice on how I can pull off what appears to be an incredible stunt? How to get into Delhi university? Please tell..

Depressed in Dwarka.

Dear Depressed, 

Well said. We live in interesting times. These days, kids work hard in school so they can grow up to be whoever Delhi University wants them to be. But I admire your irreverence for institutions. I have a feeling that you’ll be fine no matter what you do.

Since you asked, here’s my guess on how to get into Delhi university. Something tells me that you have a boring last name. Else you wouldn’t be writing letters to strangers asking for advice. Drop the boring last name. Like right now. And replace it with something grand and dynastic like Gandhi. Or Scindia. Second, I hope you’re aware of all the tests you’ll have to undergo. Keep the results handy when applying; especially the stool sample test. I’m hoping that you’re not a ‘general admissions quota’ candidate. If you are one, you should carefully consider the merits of running away from home and becoming a nomadic gypsy. If you’re not, you must write your caste name in BIG BOLD LETTERS at the top of the application. Another tactic that has worked in the past is to get a recommendation from Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India. Remember, he’s YOUR president. And of all the things he owes you, the least is a reco letter. Last but not the least, I suggest that you play it safe and get 110 percent in the board exams.

Good luck and God bless you, kid.

Dr. What Ho!

Reports say Narendra Modi fans depressed, directionless.

Just three weeks into Modi sarkar, fans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have reportedly sunk into a massive depression of epidemic proportions. According to reports that are still coming in, NaMo fans have been left high and dry with absolutely nothing to talk about after BJP’s resounding victory in the recent elections. Dr. Viru Sahasrabuddhi, a practicing psychotherapist at NIMHANS in Bangalore explained. “This is perfectly understandable. Euphoria is often accompanied by depression. For months and years, thousands and even millions of Modi’s fans have been raising hell and devoted every waking moment to spreading his message and helping his campaign. After his victory, they are waking up to the gloomy and harsh reality that they now have nothing left in their otherwise empty lives.”

Meet Chandan Kishwar, 28, who spent the last two years digging up unflattering photographs of Rahul Gandhi and incessantly tweeting laudatory articles about Modi under the handle @ProudAndRabidNationalistHindu, often skipping lunch and dinner. This morning, he was discovered comatose and unresponsive to light or sound by a neighbor. “This is really sad. Until a few weeks back, I was ready to poison him for his obnoxious obsession with Modi. Now I’d give my right arm to get my rabidly nationalistic, Congi hating, Hindutva zealot friend back,” said a friend of Kishwar, YVSSR Raju, 27, who’s been fighting his own silent battle against depression after successfully lobbying on Twitter for Telangana.

The epidemic is ringing alarm bells around the nation. An estimated 67 percent of India’s workforce has been laid low in the aftermath of Modi fever, a situation which threatens an economy already ravaged by inflation. “There seems to be a strange belief among Modi fans that their work is complete now that he has been elected. In fact, they are convinced that they don’t have to work for anything anymore. In extreme cases, some are even refusing to accept the reality that the campaign is over. It’s like they are living in a fantasy of their own and continuing to post over-the-top messages on Facebook hailing their Messiah and adamantly refusing to process any negative information about Modi. The situation is so dire that these people are now transfixed, waiting for India to instantly and magically transform into an economic superpower at the snap of Modi’s fingers. This is cause for concern,” added Dr. Sahasrabuddhi in a very helpful tone.

In other news, Smriti Irani, responding to criticism that she lacks the experience to manage the HRD ministry, has enrolled herself in an online internship program run by the University of Phoenix. While the HRD ministry refused to comment, a spokesman for the University of Phoenix had this to say, “We’re pleased to confirm that Ms. Irani has enrolled in our world class internship program. The 3 week online, self-guided program has been thoughtfully crafted for those who might not normally be considered qualified for the jobs they’ve been hired for. During the course of three weeks, Ms. Irani will learn to configure Google alerts for news headlines related to education and to write catchy tweets and hashtags, areas she has specifically expressed interest in. I’d like to add that our program is over a hundred years old. In fact, the one of the first graduates of this historic program was the guy who captained the Titanic.”

The What Ho! Report is a collection of satire and fake news. We read the Times of India so you are not forced to. 4 out of 5 dentists recommend the What Ho! report.

Indian English Phrases – Part Two

I wrote the first edition of “Indian English phrases” a while back.  Check it out in case you haven’t read it. Here are two more which cry out for attention.

Part Two of Indian English Phrases

11.  “Baseless allegations”

This is usually the first, reflex response from any politician to anything that comes out of Arvind Kejriwal’s mouth. Its usage cuts across ideological, caste, creed and religious divides in India. So much so, this stock phrase stakes a pretty good claim to be India’s national phrase. Let’s dissect this one.

Allegation in itself means an assertion or a statement made without proof or basis in fact. “Baseless allegations” takes things to a whole new level ’cause it implies that things like “basefull” allegations and “baseless facts” exist.

Example:

Parent: Is it true that you didn’t turn in the homework at school yesterday? 
8th grader: I refuse to neither confirm nor deny what could be a basefull allegation.
 
One more.
 Scientist: Sir, what do you think of Darwin’s theory of evolution?
 Redneck Robbie: Garbage! Stop spreading such baseless facts.
 
And finally.
 Judge: How do you plead to charges of murder in the 2rd degree of the English language?
 AAP’s Ashutosh : Your Honor, these are baseless allegations. I had nothing to do with its untimely demise. By the way, I’d like to plead permanent insanity.

 

12. “Untimely Demise” [ And its first cousin, “Tragic demise.”]

I think this is a uniquely Indian thing. Often used to describe the sudden, unexpected or at times even widely anticipated death of anyone below the age of 80. Makes you wonder. Is there such a thing then as a “timely, delightful demise”? Aren’t all demises untimely and tragic? Especially if you view said demises through the lens of those undergoing demises?

No one ever goes, “Whatay awesome dude! His demise was perfectly timed. It isn’t all that tragic as you might think, In fact, we’re besides ourselves with joy.”

Do Scientists Pray?

Purpose is a human concept. By that, I mean purpose exists only in the human realm. The existential “purpose of my life” question is a man-made construct. An oxygen atom doesn’t wake up in the morning and wonder “what the future holds for it” or “how it can be a good atom today.” The earth bears its burdens unquestioningly. The sun shines without fear or favor. Lions hunt neither because they have to meet their quarterly goals nor to become “well adjusted” lions. We, insignificant carbon life forms on a beautiful but largely anonymous planet, have come to believe in this thing called purpose. Is the flow of a river its purpose? Standing majestically tall is not the purpose of a great mountain. They are the things that define them. What is the thing that defines us? Is there one thing that defines all of us? The answers can only be personal.

Yet, all the “purposeless” things in the universe appear to be bound by a common spirit. By a common spirit, I mean a unifying thread. A spirit, once you sense it, can lift you to the stars and galaxies and all those wonderful places without even having to transcend space. The Vedas refer to it as the Parabrahman. Some like to call it God.

It is perhaps this religiosity that Einstein spoke about when replying to a child who asked him, “Do scientists pray?” It’s a wonderful exchange between the master and a child and I’d like to share it here. [Source: Brain Pickings ]

Do Scientists Pray?

Letter from Phyllis, a sixth grader from New York.

The Riverside Church

January 19, 1936

My dear Dr. Einstein,

We have brought up the question: Do scientists pray? in our Sunday school class. It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion. We are writing to scientists and other important men, to try and have our own question answered. We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for? We are in the sixth grade, Miss Ellis’s class.

Respectfully yours, Phyllis

Albert Einstein replied in just 5 days.

January 24, 1936

Dear Phyllis,

I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer: Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.

However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.

But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

With cordial greetings, your A. Einstein

Age is just a number.

I’m coming up on a birthday soon. It’s hard to not connect birthdays to aging once you reach the mid-forties. 46. Is that really how old I am?

Let’s take a closer look.

The youngest atom in the body is more than a billion years old. Hydrogen, the most abundantly found element, is nearly 14 billion years old and was produced during the Big Bang. Carbon and oxygen atoms are between 7 and 10 billion years old. In other words, we are really really ancient. What’s another 20 or 46 or 72 years in this cosmic scheme of things?

So how old did you say I was?

Cells in our body die every second and new ones replace them. In a sense, we are re-created with each passing moment. A liver refreshes itself in 3 months. Taste buds in 2 weeks. The lung’s surface in 3 weeks. The heart refreshes 2-3 times over a lifetime. Cells in the intestine in 2 days. In fact, only our eyes are as old are we are, not undergoing transformation over time.

So we are made of ancient cosmic dust but renew ourselves in some cases as often as every 2 days and sometimes never?

So, tell me again. How old did you say I was?

Each of us, like a chicken, started off as an egg. From the egg that came from our mothers, that is. The thing about a human egg is that it is formed when the mother herself is an embryo. And we could argue that the formation of the egg, half of which contributed to each of us, is technically our first moment of existence. So, if your mother had you at 25 years of age, and you are 30 years old, technically you are ( 30 + 25 = ) 55 years old.

46 years. 2 days. 14 billion years. your pick.  I told you that age is just a number.

And happy birthday to you too (for whenever the day comes). Remember that you are this newborn baby that has existed since the beginning of time and will last till the end of it. Many happy returns of infinity to you.

The Rule of Three

There is an old thumb rule in the tech industry which says that you can get at most only two out of performance, quality and price in any given product. For example, if you get low price and high performance, chances are that the product is sold by an inferior brand. If the product is sold by a great brand for a low price, then it’s likely that its features are limited. And so on. I call this the rule of three.

There may be a similar rule that applies to leaders, especially the political ones. I think you can get at most only two out of charisma, integrity and performance in a leader. By charisma, I mean an intrinsically trustworthy and likable person who has the ability to inspire large numbers of people. Manmohan Singh, for example, is not a charismatic leader. Ronald Reagan was a charismatic leader. By integrity, I mean things like not being corrupt, honesty, truthfulness and similar traits. Bill Clinton, for example, would not rank high on the integrity scale. By performance, I refer to an ability to govern and execute. Vajpayee’s stewardship of the national highways project, for example, is quoted often as an example of excellence in execution.

If we applied this model to Indian leaders, it seems to work well. Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were not the best of administrators. Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Narasimha Rao lacked charisma. Indira Gandhi lacked integrity. Atal Behari Vajpayee is the only one who comes somewhat close to having all three, which probably is why some consider him the greatest prime minister till date. Manmohan Singh displayed governance and integrity early in his career, as RBI governor and then Finance Minister. His last five years as Prime Minister are notable for their deficiency in all three areas of charisma, integrity and governance.

In 2014, we will likely evaluate three prime ministerial candidates: Arvind Kejriwal, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.  Kejriwal appears to possess charisma and of course, has built a campaign around his personal integrity. Inexperience in governance is his weakness. Narendra Modi scores on integrity and governance fronts, but comes across more as a polarizing force than a unifying one. Rahul Gandhi appears to be the straggler in this mix, possessing at best personal integrity and at worst, none of the three. That doesn’t bode well for Congress. If his party were to somehow win, it wouldn’t then bode well for the country. We can’t afford yet another leader who scores zero on three.

Can you think of any leader, either in politics or business, living or dead with all three? Please use the comments section to nominate.

Dhoom 3

Yash Raj Films didn’t set out to win an Oscar when they started the Dhoom franchise. After viewing Dhoom 3, I can attest that they remain firmly committed to that non-objective. I believe it was Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist, who once postulated as part of his Uncertainty Principle that one can have either Katrina Kaif or a script in a Bollywood film but never both. I’m happy to inform you that Dhoom 3 has Ms. Kaif in it.

A Tale of Revenge, a Circus which is really a Magic Show, Hindi Stuff Written on Walls, etc.

Dhoom 3 is a tale of revenge. Iqbal Khan (a bleary eyed Jackie Shroff) applies for a loan to an evil Darth-Vader-meets-Ku-Klux-Klan style banker with a cowboy accent. What makes this loan application interesting are 2 things: 1. Iqbal claims to run a circus, but in fact it’s really a magic show with one massive treasure chest like thingy.  2. Iqbal has not repaid loans to this banker in the past. Hence Evil Banker connects dots between 1 & 2 and refuses loan. A distraught Iqbal embraces the dark arms of Hades (via single bullet to the temple) and thus triggers a cataclysmic series of events which include aforesaid bank being robbed in broad daylight 25 years later by a mysterious thief who writes some stuff in Hindi on the walls WHICH LEADS TO (sit down, you’re not going to believe this) Mumbai police being summoned to help Chicago Police solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO mysterious thief offering to help Mumbai Police to solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO Mumbai Police inadvertently helping mysterious thief rob more banks and getting fired. Wait, there’s good news. At some point, the bank shares take a beating in the stock market and aforesaid EVIL BANKER is forced to resign his job. Take that, you evil Voldemort banker, you! Hope you learnt your lesson to never mess with Indian circus people.

Dhoom 3 is Aamir Khan’s gig and everyone else just happens to be it. Mr. Khan is said to be a perfectionist when it comes to film making. Well, he seems to have put aside such ideals for this movie. Mr. Khan is first introduced to viewers as he climbs out of bed in a sparsely furnished apartment in a Chicago skyscraper and walks towards the window to gaze down ominously upon the windy city. The apartment is never seen again. Perhaps the apartment is a metaphor for the script. One can only wonder.

Let’s talk about Uday, Katrina and Junior B.

Uday Chopra apparently announced his retirement from acting in the weeks leading up to the release of this film. Didn’t that train leave the station in Dhoom 1? The announcement was quite unnecessary as most people were unable to recall Mr. Chopra being in possession of acting skills in the first place. Mr. Chopra is a laboratory based, experimental version of Salman Khan in which things have just gone horribly, horribly wrong. His comic interludes are neither comic nor are they interludes.

It is said that Robert De Niro prepared for a role as Jake LaMotta in The Raging Bull by gaining sixty pounds to his frame and learning to box. Likewise Ms. Katrina Kaif appears to have prepared for her role in Dhoom 3 by taking pole dancing lessons. She enters the movie half way through it. And her first full line of dialogue makes its appearance 30 minutes after that. There’s none better than Ms. Kaif when it comes to portraying the multi-layered complexities of a modern Indian woman. She deftly demonstrates how although Indian lasses might dress in overalls and appear to be demure at first, they are in fact simmering cauldrons of sexuality and willing to shed all clothing and perform complex calisthenics, all for a mere job in the circus.

Someone, please send prune juice to Abhishek B urgently.  The lad seems to be backed up.

The Whole Bank Robbery Situation Sucks

We’re not talking Shakespearean drama here. That’s hardly the expectation. In fact, it’s not fair to judge D3 by such standards. Having said that, I feel like I ought to talk at length about the whole bank robbery situation in this movie which sucks. We live in a world filled with James Bonds and Jason Bournes and Spy Kids and Incredibles and Danny Ocean’s 13. So, we the people know a thing or two when it comes to pulling off heists or robbing banks or retrieving USB drives from ruthless saboteurs. And as anyone will attest, what makes a bank robbery interesting is how you pull it off – getting past the multi-factor authentication systems by faking finger prints and  performing yoga and tai chi to avoid coming in contact with red laser beams and then gaining access to vaults with 2-feet thick steel walls. I mean, people go through a lot of trouble to rob banks and casinos. We the people have never before seen movies before in which banks have robbed upon mere access to blue prints of building which we presume have already been posted on Facebook by bank employees anyway. We the people have never seen movies in which police hand over blue prints of bank building to complete strangers within 24 hours of meeting them. We the people ought to be surprised that more banks are not getting robbed in Mumbai, given this is how Mumbai Police seems to operate.

The Verdict

Anyway, things thankfully get sorted out by the end. I got the feeling that the actual movie was only about an hour long but was stretched to three hours thanks to slow motion technology. There’s a twist somewhere in the middle. The songs are downright spectacular. In true Indian spirit, I’d recommend watching the movie for “Malang..” alone. Dhoom 3 is paisa vasool. So go see it. And if you live in Mumbai, I’d recommend taking your money out of your bank and stashing it in your pillow.

The What Ho! Guide to Winning Arguments

Let’s face it. We humans are an argumentative lot. We argue on social media. We argue on television. We argue in the YouTube comments section.  In fact, studies show that in every passing second, 412,335 people are “wrong” about something, and that for each person who is considered wrong, there are 14 others who will feel inexorably compelled to point it out.

For all the arguing we do, we just don’t seem to be good at it. Arguing has been misunderstood over the centuries as something anyone with lots of time and a Twitter account can do. What’s not appreciated is that it’s an art form, the sort which requires great passion and lots of practice to excel.

Here are a few tips to help you excel.

The What Ho! Guide to Winning Arguments.

Draw upon your deep well of emotions.

A common fallacy is to assume that logic works. Another is to assume that an argument is about issues. Winners are those who understand the power of uncontrolled emotions and that the sole purpose of an argument is to stray as far as humanly possible from issues and to stay laser focused on belittling your rival with the choicest of pejoratives.

This leads me to the merits of alcohol.

Drink.

To win an argument, it is important to create the perception of knowing things. But how do you create such a perception when, in fact, you know nothing? Rest easy, I have a solution for you.

Imagine you’re at the company party, watching a whiz kid intellectual with a fancy MBA spouting forth with nauseating fluency on the complex linkages between temperature fluctuations on the mountains of Kenya and coffee prices in India.

Ask yourself this: What is more likely to help in this situation? Tomato juice or vodka on the rocks?

I’m sure that it will come as no surprise to hear that tomato juice drinkers tend to go weak-kneed and fade silently away into the dark of the night when confronted with a troll. On the other hand, downing several shots of Old Monk or Director’s Special will not only magically endow you with unparalleled knowledge of the Kenyan economy but also cause you to eloquently hold forth your hitherto latent opinions of Kenyan culture and dazzle everyone with your keen observations on the Kenyan way of life.

Winners drink often. And they drink early.

Lie.

Truth is overrated by losers, which is why losers tend to lose. Let’s say that the argument has strayed towards the vexing issue of malnutrition among Kenyan children. And let us pretend that you have been mindlessly and passionately arguing in favour of the position that Kenyan children are surprisingly well-fed and well nourished. Instead of stating, “Kenyan children are well fed and well nourished” which is likely to be met with scorn and laughter, you must say “According to the 2004-05 UNESCO report published on Aug 12, 2012, Kenyan children were found to have consumed on average of 432.5 calories per day in summer and 453.2 calories per day in winter, both of which are considered well above national averages of all but 13 countries in the world which do not follow the British constitutional model of government.

For lying to work, precision and accuracy are paramount. Numbers with decimal points are excellent. Statistically complex sounding terms such as ’30 day moving average’ or ’24 year longitudinal median’ are genius. Always quote your false sources proactively. If you’re smart, you will quote your own widely unread blog post.

Use Latin.

Following are examples of terms you must find and commit to memory before venturing into an argument.

Ad hominem

QED

In so far as to say

Holistic

Hoi Polloi

A priori

Ceteris paribus

Latin and Greek phrases are pure gold. They indicate that you’re not to be trifled with. Random use of these languages will bludgeon all but the fiercest into submission. Use them as you would a stun gun with as little advance warning as possible for maximum effect.

Instead of “Kenyans have always had problems with democracy” you must say “Ceteris paribus, it has been shown in various studies that any a priori assumptions about holistic governance systems involving free will of hoi polloi have proven, in so far as to say, to be unjustified ad hominem attacks on the aforesaid systems themselves. QED.

No sane person can possibly withstand such an assault on the senses.

Evade.

It is possible, due to some unfortunate quirk of Fate, that you may find yourself to be the spokesperson for the Congress party. You will likely encounter questions for which you are absolutely certain that no truthful answers can be given. As winners are aware, it has been well established as a historical fact that honesty is the best policy for losers. Evasion, on the other hand, is the way of winners.

Rule no. 1 of evasion is to create the convincing illusion that you are not evading.  Start your responses with “I am glad you asked me that question..” and proceed to confidently make any unconnected statement that pops into your cranium at that point in time. A large majority of the public does not listen beyond the first 8 words. Use “I’m glad that we’re talking about this..” with no obligation to shed any further light on the topic at hand.

renuka c

Keep mum.

The highest form of evasion is to manmohan your way through slippery slopes by maintaining what must appear externally to be a thoughtful and intellectual silence. Silence accompanied by an air of carefully cultivated superiority evokes images of a zen master who has graciously descended into the petty world of humans and who shall not be subject to such petty questions as “Dude, what do you mean you misplaced the Coalgate files?

Deflect.

During the course of an argument, it’s possible that you may find your position weakening. You may find your back in close proximity to the proverbial wall. It is important to train in the dark arts of deflection so you can wriggle out unscathed from the trickiest of situations.

The following phrases were modelled after deflection techniques used by Shaolin monks and designed to blunt the most cogent of arguments. It is important that you master them in your quest for world domination.

That’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Everything is relative.

Why are you being defensive?

That’s such a typical fascist view of the world.

What are the core assumptions in your model?

For example, you might insist “Gandhiji died on Feb 10, 2010 at 430am” and your opponent might respond “No, you fool, he died on Jan 30, 1948.” You must immediately counter with “That is such a typical fascist view of the world.” If you say, “the economy grew by 8.5% according to the NCERT-AICTE study” and your opponent counters “No you fool, it grew by just 2.3% according to the RBI governor,” you must counter with “Duh, that’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Abuse.

As unlikely as it sounds, there will come a time when all has failed and you find yourself on the mat, hopelessly pinned and in dire need of copious amounts of oxygen. This is when you must pull out the big guns, and resort to sick, vile and tasteless name calling.

Comparisons with odious historical characters, innuendos about your opponent’s paternity, crassness about your rival’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, height and weight are perfectly acceptable. A time tested phrase is “You remind me of Hitler. You make me sick, you fascist dwarf!” Since no one likes Hitler or fascists and very few actually have seen or care about dwarves, you will pull victory out from the jaws of defeat.

Well, that’s all there is to it. What are you waiting for? Go confidently forth and win that do-or-die battle, upon which may hinge the fate of this universe itself.

Comment away and share your winning practices too!

**inspired by the one and only Dave Barry.

Falling In Love With India

I recall reading Plato’s Republic in 1996. At that time, I was living and working in the US. In the book, Socrates asks what Justice is and Polemarchus responds by defining it as “helping your friends and harming your enemies.” Indeed, it was the accepted opinion among the ancient Greeks (and many societies which followed them) that the morally right thing to do was to favor the “insiders.” And Socrates responds to Polemarchus by questioning the exclusivism of his moral position. Thus was launched a debate over the morality of patriotism and nationalism that reverberated through Europe over centuries. Nearly two thousand years later, Kant and others concluded that morality could not be confined to narrow dimensions of ‘me, mine, my family, my city or my nation’ and extended it to include humankind as a whole.

IS PATRIOTISM MORALLY JUST?

I recall pondering, as an immigrant in a foreign land, the notion of patriotism. What logic lay in blind loyalty to a nation, whose citizenship you hold only because of a random act of nature? Or did it make sense to be patriotic to a nation which welcomes you as a citizen after having examined what you had to offer? Have nations done enough to deserve our loyalty? Wasn’t cosmopolitanism, a notion first espoused by Diogenes who declared himself a citizen of the world, more morally acceptable than patriotism? Wasn’t patriotism at odds with a just, moral view of the world?

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF MORALITY

Should one country succeed at the expense of another? What makes anyone believe that they are “the chosen ones”? There are no easy answers. Suppose, for example, the Prime Minister of India when faced with the choice of securing Indian access to oil in Iran versus the choice of withdrawing to allow Chinese access to those reserves, decides (rather disinterestedly and morally) on the latter because it would lead to greater overall good of mankind. While morally laudable, it may, by no stretch of imagination, be construed as rightful discharge of his duties as a leader of a nation. Morality can be a slippery slope.

FALLING IN LOVE WITH INDIA

To this day, I haven’t yet resolved the conflict which Plato created in my mind. I am rather enamored by a universal humanism in which I choose not to belong to just one nation or people. I believe in John Lennon’s secular humanism that believes that all humans are equal and share the same aspirations, fears and hopes regardless of our histories and geographies. At the same time, I have a hard time holding back tears when the words “Hey Ram” stream into my consciousness and evoke my pride in having come from a society which brought about a man who Einstein described as “generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.

I have interrogated myself often and at length on why I fell in love with India. And I have come to believe that I love India not because I was born on her soil but because there’s something touching and deeply inspiring about the way she’s tolerant and merciful of the human condition with all its frailties and foibles. It is a country that that will lift you from a low to a high that will amaze you. Never mind that it pushed you into the low in the first place. After all, you need to truly understand pain before you can enjoy pleasure. There is no question that she will provide you with an adequate supply of both. If there’s one place on earth which has willingly embraced everything, it is India. If there is a place on earth that will teach you humility and awaken your soul, it is India. May she prosper and shine and provide comfort to all other nations and peoples.

Take your time to examine your beliefs. Find yourself before you fall in love with India. And when you do so, I will guarantee you that it will be a love of a lifetime.

Happy Independence Day (in advance)! God bless India. God bless us all.

Is there a formula for a good life?

Is there a formula for a good life? Are there secret ingredients like some sort of a magical mix of love, work and social connections?

THE GRANT STUDY

A Harvard study set out to find answers to this question in 1937. Called the Grant Study (named after its patron), it is one of the most comprehensive research efforts put into studying the human condition. It was a complex, longitudinal study that examined two vastly different cohorts.

The first cohort had 237 Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939-44 and the second cohort had 332 socially disadvantaged, inner city youths who grew up in Boston between 1940 and 1945. The subjects were all male, white and of American nationality. The men were followed until they reached the ages of 70 years for the inner-city group and 80 years for the Harvard cohort.

The men were evaluated every two years by questionnaires, information from their physicians and in many cases through detailed personal interviews. Information was gathered about their mental and physical health, career enjoyment, retirement experience and marital quality.

The goal of the study was to identify predictors of healthy aging. Healthy aging was defined to include both physical and mental health.

THE STUDY’S CONCLUSIONS

Its results have been compiled in two books by George Vaillant, who led the study from 1966. Vaillant identified major factors that predict healthy aging as education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise and reasonably healthy weight.

What factors didn’t matter? Cholesterol levels at age 50 had nothing to do with healthy aging. “There is an age to worry about cholesterol and there is an age to not worry about it,” he said. The predictive importance of childhood temperament diminished over time. Shy and anxious kids tended to do poorly in young adulthood. But by age 70, they turned out just as likely as the outgoing kids to be “happy-well.” There were a few subtle surprises as well. For example, regular exercise in college years ended up being a bigger predictor of late-life mental health than physical health.

THE FORMULA FOR A GOOD LIFE

After four decades of painstaking and meticulous research, Vaillant put his finger on two factors which predicted a good life.

A LOVING CHILDHOOD

The study said, “We found that contentment in the late seventies was not even suggestively associated with parental social class or even the man’s own income. What it was significantly associated with was warmth of childhood environment, and it was very significantly associated with a man’s closeness to his father.

Hug your children often. It will make a difference long after you’ve ceased to exist.

RELATIONSHIPS

Interestingly, the study revealed that it was not about the size of the social network. The benefit of relationships came from helping others. Those who cared for others tended to live longer. Good sibling relationships seemed to play a powerful role. 93 percent of the men thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.

The study asked, “Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?” Those who answered ‘Yes’ lived longer than those whose said ‘No’. The master strength, according to Vaillant, was the capacity to be loved.

It concluded, “It is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, which leads to successful aging.”

In a 2008 interview, Vaillant was asked what he had learned from the Grant Study men. And he said, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people.”

Hope you enjoyed this food for thought. Happy journeys! Stay blessed.


Here are a few links if you want to read more.

About George Vaillant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eman_Vaillant

About the Grant Study: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grant_Study

A comprehensive article from The Atlantic about The Grant Study: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/06/what-makes-us-happy/307439/


Welcome to the world’s largest religion

BIG NEWS, folks. I have started a new religion.

Is there a need for a new religion, you ask? And I say no, but have gone ahead with it anyway.  In any case, I’ve already updated my Twitter bio with this announcement. So, this whole thing is kind of irreversible at this point. The die has been cast. The diem has been carpe’d. The Rubicon has been crossed. Yada Yada Yada.

The world’s largest religion..

I’ve named the religion, to which we all now belong, as Tacoism. We? Yes. We. You have all been automatically enrolled into Tacoism. If you wish to opt out of the Taco of Life, please send the following via registered post, acknowledgement due.

  1. 12 passport sized photos
  2. PAN number
  3. Income tax returns for the last three years.
  4. An opt-out application letter in triplicate. [ NOTE: You must send only one original and two duplicates. If you send three originals, your opt-out application will be rejected ]

Note: Once you have received the acknowledgement for registered post, you will need to send a scanned copy of the same via email.

Alternatively, you can take the “EASY OPT OUT” option by simply mailing me a check for any sum above one million US dollars.

If you’re a keen observer of things in general, you will have noticed that I have just become the undisputed leader of the world’s largest religion.

About Tacoism

Although founded as recently as August 1 2013, Tacoism is an ancient religion based on the Taco of Life and is as old as the universe itself.

As the 5th century BC Tacoist Laco Tze once astutely pointed out, “Tacoism is in no way responsible for any happiness that you may experience from being a Tacoist. All happiness (or lack of it) is entirely in your hands.”

If you didn’t know, there is an long and undocumented history of Tacoists living (but mostly dying) by its timeless motto: Let go. Be happy.

Tacoism FAQ

I’ve been working furiously to clear questions which are pouring in (from mostly non practicing) newly aware Tacoists. Here is a mini FAQ below.

What holidays does Tacoism observe? And what are the rituals to be followed?

You’ll be pleased to know that the first Friday of every month is a religious holiday. In addition, there are two floating Thursdays a year. Those of you following the Mahayana version of Tacoism can opt for Mondays instead of Fridays and Tuesdays instead of Thursdays. You may wish to work with the HR departments in your companies to have the Tacoist holidays incorporated into the company calendar.

The faithful are requested to observe their faith by watching YouTube for a minimum of four hours on company bandwidth on Tacoist holidays.

[ Note: There has been some confusion in this regard. Although Tacoism does not require you to watch YouTube on non holidays, it does not specifically bar you from watching YouTube on non holidays. Let’s make it simple and say that you can basically do whatever your Tacoist awareness permits. ]

Is Tacoism an open source religion?

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to open source Tacoism. In other words, you can add your own rules, diktats and commandments as long as no one else is required to follow them. Any rules, diktats and commandments that you make up will apply only to you. Other than the rules I may impose upon you from time to time.

What do we call ourselves on our business cards?

There was a small dilemma over whether to call ourselves “Virat Tacoists” or “Taco Nationalists.” I am happy to say that good sense has prevailed and we’re going to call ourselves “Taco-ularists.” In a divided and polarized universe, I strongly believe that Taco-ularism is the need of the hour although I could be very wrong about this.

Please note: You can be a Taco-ularist and believe in Tacotva at the same time. Also, I have no idea what that means.

What God or Gods do we worship?

This is yet to be finalized. Truth be told, this was the seventh item on my Tacoism to-do list and I was hoping to get to this shortly after I ensured Tacoists are guaranteed 100 percent quota in education and public sector jobs. Unfortunately, Tacoists have been piling steady pressure for this to be answered quickly. Here’s my position:

At the moment, I’m leaning towards appropriating any and all Gods worshiped by any humans or extra terrestrials at any point in time and at any place in the galaxy. Based on last count, we may end up having approximately 332 million and fourteen Gods. One of the issues is with having Gods is that we may not be able to keep the atheists within the fold. So I plan to address atheist sentiments by converting following groups of humans into Tacoist Gods.

  1. Anyone who has won a Nobel Prize
  2. Anyone who’s discovered an element in the Periodic Table
  3. Anyone who has a scientific law named after her/him
  4. Anyone who finds the Higgs-Boson particle
  5. Anyone with over 1 million followers on Twitter

I request patience as I sort through this delicate matter before publishing the final list.

What is the Mahayana version of Tacoism?

Other than differences in religious holidays, Mahayana Tacoists will get enjoy a detached sense of superiority as they gaze upon the world at large. That’s all I have at this point.

What’s the Holy Book called?

I haven’t decided on a name yet. “The Tacoist’s Guide to the Galaxy” sounds fetching. Another option is “Who moved my Taco?” I am not sure what will be in the Holy Book. But I’m sure that there will be one rule that will apply to it. The holy book of Tacoism will be compulsorily erased and rewritten every 20 years.

Are there Tacoist mythologies? 

At the moment, there are none. Soon there will be many. I will plant them discreetly all over the internet so you can quote them in your religious debates on Facebook. Tacoist mythologies will contain characters who are ambivalently righteous, filled with existential angst and often known to ask themselves, “Dude, what’s going on?” I assure you that there will soon be a plethora of mythical tales filled with the deeds of tortured Tacoists waging epic battles against unknown and uncertain fates.

How can I evangelize Tacoism?

There is no need to convert anyone to Tacoism. Every one is already part of it. Please let people know that they are Tacoists whether they like it or not.

Anything else?

The following topics will be covered in the Holy Book.

  1. What happens to Tacoists when they die? Do they go to heaven or hell? Are they reborn? Or do the lights just go out?
  2. What is good and bad in the Taco Way of Life?
  3. Who created Tacoists? Was it God? Or ..what else can it really be, right?
  4. Why are reality shows popular? What is the Tacoist view on Bigg Boss and Jhalak Dhikla Jaa?

Stay tuned for more Tacoism updates to come here on What Ho! In the meanwhile, do let me know your questions and comments below.

Stay strong and stay true to the Taco of Life. As Yoda, a Tacosattva from a faraway galaxy once put it, “The Taco with you may be.”

Man alleges elderly relative reneged on promise to “cut a long story short”

CHENNAI. JULY 17, 2013.  Describing it as a “nightmarish experience,” Avinash Iyer, 24, claimed that an elderly relative who engaged him in conversation at a cousin’s wedding went back on a promise to “cut a long story short,” and alleged that he was coerced into listening to the full version which lasted well over an hour.

“It was kind of a rough ordeal and I’m still hazy about the details of how the whole thing got started. I was seated next to my uncle at my cousin’s wedding. The exchange started off innocently enough but before long, I realized that I had been slowly drawn into a hellish web of deceit and fraud. When he first began recounting his frustration with the newspaper arriving late in the mornings, I nodded politely, naively believing it to be the easiest way out of a tricky situation. In retrospect, that may have been the fatal move which sealed my fate. As he began to relentlessly delve into completely unnecessary details of his altercations with the newspaper delivery boy (who, I was told, also delivered milk and equally erratically), I developed a vague foreboding of doom and began fidgeting nervously in my seat. Sensing my impatience, (I swear) he made a clear and unequivocal promise to cut a long story short, an undertaking that was not honored at any point in the conversation. In any case, how an innocent conversation around newspaper delivery turned into a mind numbing discourse on the deteriorating state of journalism in the country boggles my mind, which continues to recover from the unanticipated ruthless assault on it. I was told later that I was observed to be in a state of uncomprehending daze for well over an hour by various passers-by and onlookers, before being rescued by my elder brother at lunch time,” said an emotional Avinash who seemed clearly shaken by the incident.

What Ho! has subsequently received confirmation from reliable insiders that the offender, identified as Sri. Sitaraman Iyer, 58, has been sequestered and isolated from contact with younger family members to avoid further untoward incidents during the wedding.

UPA govt announces the Right to Housing

This week’s What Ho! Report is brought to you by Mr. Wabbster (@wabbster on Twitter) aka Pradeep Ananth.  Mr. Wabbster is like half my age with twice the wit. Since that makes for an unfavorable comparison with the self, I will restrict myself to mutely waving you ahead to the treat he’s laid in front of us. Enjoy!

UPA govt announces the Right to Housing

 Buoyed by the success of eradicating hunger from our country through the Food Security Ordinance, the UPA government announced that it will now take on the scourge of homelessness that afflicts our citizens. The government announced a draft version of a bill which guarantees that all Indian citizens will get a roof over their heads. The Right to Housing Bill, as it is being called, calls for every middle class family to accommodate a minimum of 14 homeless people in their homes without compensation.

Announcing the measure at a press conference earlier today, Union Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Ms. Girija Vyas said, “The Empowered Group of Ministers tasked with solving the problem of homelessness looked at it from all angles including factors such as total available residential area, demographics such as religion, caste, sub caste, secular status and ownership of cats. And they have come up with a holistic and innovative zero loss method of providing homes to the homeless,” leading to political pundits unanimously hailing it as the first known use of the expressions “holistic” and “zero loss” in the same sentence in the history of mankind.

Clarifying the reasoning behind the move, Ms. Vyas added, “There are a couple of fundamental concepts that form the basis of this measure. The first is the notion that mere announcement of the right to ‘X’ has a magical way of making ‘X’ appear out of thin air. The second is that if an option to inflict severe pain on the middle class is available, the government must always exercise the option. We have taken these two epic concepts and mixed them up with caste and religion based quotas to achieve God level here.”

When prodded to elaborate, Ms. Vyas snapped, “Look, a lot of space is wasted by selfish middle class people who use homes as storage areas for their stuff. Tell me why middle class people need homes when they hardly spend any time there? They spend 13 hours in the office, another 3 hours on commuting on god awful roads through messy traffic and the rest of the time filling out income tax returns. They don’t even spend weekends at home. Instead, they go on road trips or to malls, take selfies and post them on social media. In the meanwhile, their homes have stuff and stay locked and unused. This is a scam of gigantic proportions which puts both 2G and Coalgate scams in the shade. Now, it is our responsibility as a government to question citizens on such dubious home ownership patterns which have led to much presumptive loss being incurred in buying assets and not using them in a profitable manner.”

Mr. Kapil Sibal, present at the press conference and observed going into paroxysms of ecstasy on hearing “presumptive loss,” vigorously defended his colleague saying, “The way this works, each middle class family will be forced to accommodate a minimum of 14 homeless people in their homes without compensation. If they don’t already own homes, they will be required to buy homes immediately and allow 14 homeless people to stay in them. The cool thing about this bill is that minorities, SC/STs and OBCs are exempted from compliance. The measure also provides another easy way to dodge compliance by obtaining a secularism certificate personally signed by either Ms. Barkha Dutt or Ms. Sagarika Ghose.”

Mr. Manish Tewari also present at the conference merely had this to say, “I’m incredibly jazzed that my re-definition of the word holistic to mean I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about is being popularized by Ms. Vyas.”

When quizzed about the impact of the measure on real estate prices, an exasperated Mr. Sibal quickly intervened and said “Obviously zero yaar. Zero. Zero. Zero. Everything is a bloody zero. How many times do I have to repeat this nonsense?”

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the government is working on an equally innovative “Right to Clothes” bill. According to sources, the bill will provide for any shirtless or dress-less person to legally and physically remove clothing of middle class people (with the exception of secularism certificate holders, minorities, OBCs and SC/STs) at any point in time and begin wearing it themselves with immediate effect.

Brought to you by @wabbster with critically acclaimed contributions from moi. You can follow him on Twitter at @wabbster

The What Ho! Report is a collection of satire and fake news. Do not, I repeat, do not try this at home. We read the Times of India so you shouldn’t have to.