Author Archives: Cosmozen

Studies find India better off if 82% of citizens didn’t have opinions

In what is being called a challenge to conventional free speech principles, a study performed by scientists from the Indian Institute of Science has concluded that the nation will be “significantly better off” if 82 percent of its citizens stopped having opinions with immediate effect.

“We tested a large number of people across a wide range of topics and issues. In general, we observed that a majority of people possessed high levels of information recall when it came to things such as timings of reality shows, lyrics to item numbers and names of cricketers. When we tested for knowledge in areas such as economics, science, environment and even history and geography as well as for the ability to reach logically coherent conclusions, we found abysmally low levels of proficiency. Truth be told, we found that most of the opinions expressed by most people to be ill conceived and dangerous to the nation. Based on the study, it’s our firm belief that if 82 percent of the people in the country were to be somehow immediately stopped from having any opinions whatsoever, our GDP growth could be easily boosted by an additional 4 to 5 points,” said Professor Viru Sahasrabuddhi who spoke on behalf of the group in Bangalore yesterday.

Prof. Sahasrabuddhi and his team shot to fame in 2008 for discovering path breaking insights into the human condition such as ‘if asked, most Indians will provide directions to any address in any city, regardless of whether they know the directions or not’ and for conclusively proving the extensive use of the word ‘Yes’ among Indians to mean ‘No’.

Professor Sahasrabuddhi added, “Freedom of opinion and expression is no doubt a cornerstone of democracy. But, I must hasten to add that we analyzed several sources of opinions such as television debates, newspaper editorials, Facebook status updates and Twitter timelines. It is quite evident that there is an abundance of illogical thinking, knee jerk reactions and ignorance wherever we look. While it takes all kinds of people to make up the society, it’s obvious that the opinions of some kinds of people are entirely unnecessary.”

The Universe denies screwing a man’s life up

In what’s shaping up as the debate of the year, the Universe issued a strong statement, earlier this week, denying that it was either ‘messing around’ or ‘screwing up a man’s entire life up’ and in attempt at damage control sought to downplay the fracas as “shit happens.”

The saga of alleged sabotage, according to insiders, started with the birth of Mr. Sandeep Reddy, 34, in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh. According to Mr. Reddy and his mother, the Universe had “consistently and unfailingly check mated him at every turn” in the thirty four years of Mr. Reddy’s planetary existence.

Sources close to Mr. Reddy believe that the Universe could have easily bestowed upon him a full head of hair, but instead chose to withdraw the privilege by the age of thirty. “We could go on and on about the damage that’s been done to Sandeep. There was, for example, this instance when he was miraculously close to booking a tatkal ticket on IRCTC. He had entered his CVV number and was just about to click ‘Confirm Purchase’ when the internet connection chose to mysteriously die. Come on, are you telling me that the Universe isn’t somehow involved in this somewhere?”

A spokesman for the Universe appeared to deflect Sandeep Reddy’s troubles back to Mr. Reddy himself,  suggesting that it had no role to play in human life events. “Mr. Reddy’s anger and frustration are understandable. When we examined his life records, it does seem like things haven’t quite panned out the way he’d have preferred them to. But it’s one thing to have a screwed up life and yet another thing to assign blame to a blameless party. We fear that Mr. Reddy’s observations are frankly without merit and based on a rather fantastic notion that we’re out here somehow plotting human downfall.”

In the meanwhile, a small group of men who claim to be friends of Mr. Reddy have launched a Facebook page in his support. “We’ve known Sandeep from his early days in kindergarten. Although he can be somewhat of a drama queen, his repeated failures in love and life, upon closer examination, appear suspiciously contrived and by design. What we once believed to be results of his inveterate alcoholism and inability to be thrifty or work hard now appear more to be consequences of a higher power’s autocratic manner of dispensing luck. We will not rest until a thousand people have liked our page,” said Mr. YVRK Manohar Prasad, who spoke on behalf of the “Sandeep versus The Universe” Facebook movement.

The escalating row appears to have put the Universe on the back foot. At a hastily convened press conference, its spokesman went into damage control mode and sought to down play the fracas as an inconsequential cosmic event. “Look, we deal daily with monumental events like giant black holes, stars blowing themselves up and the disconcerting lack of visibility of dark matter. The last thing we need is to be drawn into a dispute with an insignificant lump of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen on an insignificant planet. We stoutly deny culpability in the mishaps which seem to have pervaded Mr. Reddy’s life. Shit happens. We request Mr. Reddy to desist from further pointless finger pointing and blame games. No more looking up at the skies and “why me?” questions, please. As a conciliatory gesture, we offer the services of our Department of Time to assist in the healing process with no guarantees that any such healing may indeed occur.”

Secular man all set to unveil the ‘Grand Unified Modi Theory’

In what should bring cheer to secular proponents in India, a Mumbai based mathematician Mr. Laloo Prasad Kumar is on the verge of unveiling what he calls the “the grand unified Modi theory.” What Ho! caught up with Mr. Kumar to get the inside scoop on his cutting edge research which he threatens “will blow the lid off” Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial prospects in 2014. Here are some excerpts from the interview below.

What Ho!: Mr. Kumar, without any further ado, please tell us all about your theory. We’re all agog.

LP Kumar: As you must be aware, Modi is a bad man. A very bad man. Although we have been investigating his role in the 2002 riots for the last ten years, the courts have been able to find no evidence for his culpability beyond reasonable doubt. Isn’t it the job of courts to find Narendra Modi guilty? This got me thinking that we have been singularly focused on Gujarat and 2002. Why not link Modi to (say) the tsunami in 2004? Or the financial markets collapse in 2008? Or even the production of Ra One? These are horrific calamities that have befallen us and we haven’t explored Modi’s roles in any of them. He seems to be getting away scot free. That’s when I decided to come up a grand, unified mother-of-all-theories hypothesis that links Modi to every possible tragedy that we as a nation have encountered since the time he was born. I call this ‘the grand unified Modi theory.”

WH: Umm. What’s your theory built around? Are you using any special algorithms or big data technologies? Maybe chaos theory? Or quantum mechanical principles? What’s your secret sauce?

LPK: It’s pretty simple. The entire theory is built on pure conjecture. It’s quite amazing what you can come up with after a few rounds of Scotch. And of course, I believe everything I read on the Internet.

WH: As purely a matter of record, are you high right now? Have you ever been to Gujarat?

LPK: Well, I do smoke a joint or two every so often. And no, I’ve never been to Gujarat. Is that a problem?

WH: No problem, dude. It would be nice if you can share some of the good stuff with us before you leave. So, how would you describe yourself? What are your interests?

LPK: I am what they call an impeccably secular man. I’ve always believed in the form of secularism that involves self-flagellation of the majority to the point where state and religion are ground into a fine indistinguishable mixture. My idea of a perfect evening is to have a couple of shots, followed by a joint and watch Sagarika Ghose on TV, all the while trolling Internet Hindus on Twitter. Isn’t the world beautiful, man?

WH: Of course. The world is beautiful, man. Byt why Modi? Why not Advani or Sushma Swaraj or other BJP leaders?

LPK: Modi is the big cahuna. The ultimate prize. The holy grail of secularism is to take this man down. Isn’t it obvious?

WH: Yep. It’s now more painfully obvious than ever before. Do you realize that the more you guys do stuff like this, the more there is this backlash against you which might translate into support for Modi?

LPK: That’s true. But we’re all-in on Modi. It’s time to move all the chips to the centre of the table and roll the dice. My grand unified theory will blow the lid of this very bad man’s prime ministerial prospects. I recently shared the theory with Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar. And look what happened.

WH: Shame on me. Here I was thinking that Nitish Kumar pulled out because he was upset with Chetan Bhagat giving him advice. Anyway you mentioned that you enjoy watching Sagarika Ghose’s TV show. As a related question, have you ever been swindled by the Nigerian email scamsters?

LPK: That’s so cool and amazing, man. How did you know? Twice as a matter of fact. I had not even reported either of those to the police.

WH: He He.. call it a lucky guess. Anyway, thank you for speaking to us, and good luck with that Unified Theory thing. Dude, I have to say this again. You really need to share whatever you are smoking with the rest of us. Given the shit shape the country is in right now, I think we could use that more than your theory.

Extroverts vs introverts

Our lives are shaped as much by our personalities as they are by our genders, ethnic origin and other demographic factors. Introversion and extroversion are the north and the south of temperaments. According to studies, one third to a half of all people are introverts, which is pretty amazing considering how few people would admit to being one. There’s a pretty good chance that you’re either married to or a parent of or a sibling of an introvert.

An extroversion bias

Yet the world seems overcome by its preference for extroversion. We are told that – to be great, we must be outspoken. And that – to be happy, we must be sociable. Extroverts are perceived as positive and energetic. Introverts, in contrast, are often berated for ‘being in their heads too much’ and perceived as slow, dimwitted or boring. Introversion at times is even considered a problem in need of fixing. Parents constantly apologize for their child’s shyness. Why? When was the last time you saw a report card which praised a child for her thoughtful demeanor? Why are we always trying to pull people out of their shells? Let’s face it. Our schools and workplaces are designed for extroverts. Why is everyone being subjected to the oppression of the extrovert ideal? Why can’t we let people be who they are?

The difference between extroverts and introverts

How is an extrovert different from an introvert? According to Susan Cain, author of ‘The power of introverts’ (TED video), the difference lies in the need for external stimulus. Extroverts actively seek stimulus, while introverts do not enjoy over-stimulation. This difference reflects in how they go about work and social interactions. Extroverts typically seek to dominate, are good at multitasking and require constant social interaction. They tend to think out loud and prefer to talk than listen. Extroverts are energized by socializing. Introverts in contrast tend to be slow and deliberate. They usually have great powers of concentration and prefer to work on one task at a time. Although they might enjoy social interactions, they tend to wish that they were at home reading a book. They prefer to hang out with a small group of close friends, prefer to listen than speak. They typically avoid conflicts, but enjoy deep discussions with with trusted friends. Introverts are energized when they are alone or in small groups.

Introversion not the same as shyness

Contrary to perception, introversion is not the same as shyness. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval while introversion is the aversion to over-stimulation. The two get easily mixed up because they  often overlap. Often, shy people tend to turn inwards and away from the world and become introverted. And at times, introverted people tend to become shy, because they are worried that the world may view their self-reflection unfavorably. There are shy extroverts who may be afraid to speak up in meetings, and there are calm introverts who prefer to maintain silence in an overstimulated environment. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. We humans are complex hybrids and tend to lie at different points on the spectrum. All we have to do is to look around to find an amazing and mind boggling array of human temperaments around us.

In praise of introverts

We all love extroverts. They are the souls of parties. They entertain us and laugh at our jokes. But let’s not forget the introvert in the din. There is something to be said for introversion –  a way that values introspection over quick judgement and calmness over frenzied speculation. One of the world’s most famous extroverts was Steve Jobs, a man who loved the stage and the adulation it brought to him. Let’s not forget that Jobs did not invent the Apple computer. It was Steve Wozniak, an introvert who toiled all by himself in a cubicle at Hewlett Packard, working outside office hours to make it happen. It was the extrovert Steve who came up and said, “Hey, this looks cool. Let’s go sell it.” The two combined to change our world in ways they never anticipated when they started out.

The world needs both, for they are its yin and yang. And harmony requires balance. So here’s to the introverts, the square pegs in the round holes of today’s society. May (y)our tribe prosper.

BJP promotes LK Advani to Senior Vice President of Blogging

In a widely anticipated move, the BJP has promoted Lal Kishen Advani to head a worldwide initiative that will focus on making tenuous connections between political events in the country and mythology. Sources from within the BJP say that Advani’s recent work connecting Pitamaha Bhishma to his own self has caught the attention of the powerful National Executive of the party which recently convened in Goa. An internal communication to party members from president Rajnath Singh leaked to What Ho! is reproduced below.

“Dear party faithful,

It gives me great pleasure to announce the immediate appointment of Shri. Advani as Senior Vice President, Project Unicorn. Project Unicorn has always been a pet project of Advaniji, on which he’s been working over the recent years in stealth mode. We anticipate that this will tap into his inexhaustible passion for combining politics, blogging and mythology and bring much needed laser focus on an important initiative which will connect these amazingly intricate domains in ways the world has never imagined before.

It’s no secret that Advaniji is a go-getter and one of the brightest young talents in the organization. In fact, we’ve been keeping a close eye on this young man for a good part of four decades. Although he has always been part of corporate HQ, we’ve felt that his enthusiastic field work such as in the Rath yatra has been under appreciated by the outside world. His recent blog piece on painting himself as Pitamaha Bhishma, without doubt, tipped us over the edge on this decision.

On a note of caution, I’d like to bring to your attention that Advaniji will be resigning frequently from this post in the months to come. We’ve been told by him that such tactics are necessary in driving traffic to his blog. Please rest assured that he will usually rescind resignations at any point in the 72 hour period following their announcements* (* may vary if weekends are involved). I sincerely request you to not indulge in name calling on social media or in writing petty satire articles which may besmirch Advaniji’s fair name or the party reputation when hearing of his resignations.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the fact that he is one of the founders of our organization makes this announcement even sweeter and join me in wishing him all the best in his new role. Forgive me if I sound emotional when I say that Advaniji is a cowboy made in the original Louis L’Amour mold. They don’t make ‘em like him anymore. Nothing would give us greater happiness than to see him holster his guns and ride off into the sunset on his unicorn, by which of course I mean horse.



Mr. Advani sounded upbeat at a press conference where he read out a lengthy statement outlining the details around his new role.

“I’m besides myself with joy when I see the dazzling array of possibilities in front of me. Let me tell you that I plan to bring a pan-world dimension and new perspectives to this initiative. I know that everyone thinks that the Mahabharat is a fantastic mythological platform from which to spin theories. Sadly it is also an oft abused one. I feel that Ramayan on the other hand offers immense untapped potential. Take the story of Vali who’s shot down just because he came back and took what was rightfully his. Does that remind you of anyone? Hey look at me. Hello?

Greek, Egyptian, Nordic, Chinese, Japanese, Native American . The list of mythologies is endless. For example, I can easily see Jaitley as the half-God Loki in Asgard who goes around brokering deals. As an immediate next step, I’m working on a blog post in which I will draw skillful comparisons between me and Cronos the Greek Titan, who is betrayed and struck down by his own son Zeus in his mad lust for power. I will post it in a week from now and will resign shortly after it goes live. The country is heading into a challenging phase of its history as we move towards elections. What better way to educate people than to make oblique references to Narendra Modi’s hunger for power through a Japanese mythological inference?”

In other news, the BJP national executive voted resoundingly in favour of giving Nitish Kumar, leader of JD(U) and Bihar chief minister a “good and solid wedgie” whenever they meet him next.

The case for Narendra Modi

As a schoolboy growing up in the seventies, I realized early on that India was no place for commoners. That India was a country which provided little or no hope for a person from the middle class. At that time, India was a failed state, a basket case ruled by autocrats through a network of sycophants. All the exhortations in text books to be a patriotic Indian citizen felt hypocritical. Sare jahaan se achcha rang hollow. I was a disillusioned puppy. The brief moments of joy came when we won the occasional cricket match. So I decided to take care of myself and let everything else take care of itself. I left for the United States right after college. I took the first flight out. It was a no brainer.

Imagine how screwed up a country had to be for one of its impressionable young citizens to take the first flight out. Why did things come to such a pass?

Jawaharlal Nehru did many things in his distinguished life, not the least of which was to make huge personal sacrifices for our freedom cause. I was not around when freedom happened. But I was around when Nehru’s policies reverberated through a post independence India. It turns out that Nehru made a bad bet. His wager on socialism was a costly one which sentenced the citizens of his country to spend 50 years in dark and gloomy shadows. It was a bet which led an impressionable young college student to catch the first flight out.

Hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to sit now and criticize Nehru for taking us down the garden path. The fact is that in a 1940-s post World War world, it wasn’t apparent that the capitalist US model would beat the socialist Soviet model. Nehru’s mistake is pardonable. I’d like to believe that he meant the best for us. What is unpardonable is to take Nehru’s deeply ideological socialism, and degenerate it into crass vote bank populism. It is unpardonable to stick your head in the sand and deny reality. It is unpardonable to go around telling people in 2013 that they have a right to this and that. Folks, it’s time to suck it up and admit that there is no such thing as a right to employment. It’s unpardonable to spend state coffers on freebies and deplete public sector bank funds by writing off farm loans. It’s unpardonable to invite foreign companies to your shores and then change rules on them retro-effectively. It’s unpardonable to be arrogant. It’s unpardonable to steal the people’s money. It’s unpardonable and insane to keep doing the same thing again and again and expect different results. The nine years of the UPA are frankly unpardonable, especially the last four, for the reason they have wasted critical time. It’s time for Congress and its MNREGA mindset to go. And if they persist with this vote bank socialist mindset, I’d like the Indian National Congress to be gone forever from this land.

It’s time to change the cast or the India story will die. We need someone else. This brings to me to the man – Narendra Modi.

Where the rubber hits the road

If you buy into what I’ve said above, the case for Narendra Modi begins to appear. Modi has a track record of successful governance in the real world. He has a reputation for being business friendly. Someone named Ratan Tata will attest to this. Millions of Gujaratis will agree. Narendra Modi has influenced the course of Gujarat towards its present prosperity. He has won two back to back elections without resorting to populism. One can debate endlessly as to whether he gets sole credit. In my book, he gets full credit since it happened on his watch. If we’re going to blame him for 2002 riots, it’s reasonable that we also give him credit for the good stuff which happened in his tenure. That’s the way things ought to work.

Instead of rattling off more reasons in his support, let me focus instead on where the rubber hits the road. There are essentially two questions about Narendra Modi which you have to answer for yourself. I’ve given my take below.

Can Narendra Modi repeat the success in Gujarat on a national scale?

Yes would an optimistic answer. Governing a state with a majority can be very different from administering a nation with the accompanying pressures of coalition dharma. But, this is one of those questions which have to be answered in a relative manner, taking into account the alternatives at our disposal. Modi is not an unreasonable bet considering that the alternatives are either a former Reserve Bank governor who has failed as a Prime Minister or a man who makes his case solely on a famous last name. I have little hesitation in recommending that we bet big on Modi on this front.

Is Modi good for India?

Now, this is a question that has to be answered in absolute terms. We cannot resort to the “the other guy is equally bad or worse” argument. This is a thorny unavoidable question and has to be answered honestly. And the answers can only be but deeply personal.

It’s hard to be objective on this. But, let me try. The answer is ‘I don’t really know.” The 2002 Gujarat riots are not the reason for my diffidence. In fact, the courts have ruled out Modi’s wrongdoing. If the courts have gone over this with a fine comb for a good part of a decade, perhaps it’s time to put this to rest and move on.

My ambivalence has to do with the fact that Modi has his roots in RSS, a pro-Hindu organization. The point I’m trying to make is that even if 2002 riots hadn’t happened, I might still be diffident about Modi’s ability to be a neutral, trusted leader of a country with close to 200 million Muslims.  If I was a Muslim, would I feel comfortable voting for Narendra Modi? As context, I used to live in the US and the open Christian bias of the right wing of the Republican party at times unnerved me. I am familiar with being in the minority in a large country.

I happen to believe that India is not just for Hindus. I don’t believe in Hindu Rashtra. I don’t even define myself as a Hindu anymore. I believe that India (and indeed the whole world) should be a place where like minded people can get together, be able to do amazing things and lead peaceful and dignified lives without fear of persecution. While I may or not believe in the greatness of Sanatana Dharma or Tibetan Buddhism, I certainly don’t wish to foist it upon unwilling recipients. I happen to believe that Hindutva or Zen (or whatever I call my poison) is a state of mind to be kept within the confines of my personal world, and not something to be broadcast from rooftops. This is my secularism.

I also believe that there are imbalances in India on this front. That we have gone far too long with a misguided notion of secularism which horrendously mixes matters of state and religion. I believe that balance has to be restored before my version of secularism can even see the light of day. Perhaps the wheel has to turn fully before it can come out of the ditch. And I believe that Modi will turn the wheel. So, if you are a Muslim, should you vote for Narendra Modi? If you deploy the utilitarian “bad for few, good for many” argument, you might. But it would be understandable if you chose not to. Like I said, this is a deeply personal choice.

Whichever way you go, it’s time to discard the failed socialism and dangerous secularism that Congress practices. It’s time for a new approach. If we don’t do that, I will guarantee you that another generation of impressionable young men and women from India will have no choice but to catch their first flights out of this country in about a decade from now.

Man files RTI petition asking if Karnataka has a government.

In a move that’s being widely hailed as a victory for democracy and free speech, a Bangalore man has filed an RTI petition demanding to know if such a thing as the state government of Karnataka exists or not. Mr. Satish Kumar, 48, who works at a public sector bank, said, “I could have sworn that we had an election around here recently. I also have fuzzy memories of walking towards the election booth and casting my vote. And soon after, I read in the newspapers about some party winning the elections and someone being sworn in as the Chief Minister. The funny thing is that I am now not able to say with certainty if any of these things actually happened or if I’ve dreamt them up. I’m a little worried that I’m not able to tell if there is a government or not.”

After a brief emotional pause, Mr. Kumar added, “I know it sounds crazy. This happens to me every five years or so. Although I have distinct memories of voting, I don’t have any recollections of seeing a government actually function in this state. I hope that I am not hallucinating or something. So I have filed an RTI petition to find out.”

When asked to which government he was planning to submit this petition, Mr. Kumar became flustered and incoherent. “I mean, there’s got to be someone who knows this, right? Are you telling me that there is no government anywhere in India which actually exists to which I can turn for answers?” he stammered as he placed a helmet over his head, kick started the scooter and hurriedly left the scene.

In other news, Jagmohan Dalmiya has promised a thorough probe into the spot fixing scandal that has recently rocked IPL. Mr. Dalmiya read out a brief statement to the press in which he said, “I’m confident that we will get to the bottom of this and unearth all the wrong doings that have been perpetrated by Sharad Pawar.”

With contributions from @wabbster on Twitter.

The What Ho! Report brings you headlines, baseless rumors and no news whatsoever. We read Times of India so you shouldn’t have to.

The Beauty in Uncertainty

Life is uncertain. As we grow, we learn that stories don’t always have happy endings. We see that poems don’t always rhyme. We are distressed to see that good does not always win over the bad. We find that truth is not always dressed in black or white. We begin to see shades of grey and so we adjust our sensibilities and beliefs. We sense degrees of uncertainty in events that transpire around us. We become uncomfortable and so we embark on a quest to seize control.

In the quest, we try to force happy endings onto tales that cannot be salvaged. We don’t notice or even deride beauty when it does not conform to our sensibilities. We look for patterns amid the disorder and we interpret them in a manner as to reinforce our biases. We mix effects with causes. We try to re-order chaos to make our lives more predictable. We constantly intervene. Sometimes we succeed. That makes us happy. Sometimes we fail. That makes us miserable. So we go on.

There are two fundamental problems with the way we view uncertainty.

  1. Our brains are not wired to comprehend uncertainty.
  2. There is nothing you can do about uncertainty.

The wiring of our brains

The first problem has to do with the way our brains have evolved. In biological terms, evolution is a process which promotes certain traits disproportionately to others. Human evolution, it appears, has promoted the ability to leap to conclusions over the ability to make carefully thought out analytical decisions. This explains why a fast thinking college quarterback or dashing batsman is more popular than a slow thinking chess club geek.

Example: Imagine (a 100,000 years ago) a cave man running into a saber toothed tiger on one of his daily hunts. As you’d imagine, his choices were to either fight or flee. If you think about it, he also had the option of whipping out his NCERT designed maths text book and calculating the odds of an average 20 year old Homo Sapiens male becoming fodder for a wild canine. It turns out that (not surprisingly) that evolution rewarded those who leaped to the swift and plausible conclusion that flight was the prudent course of action. Those paused to analyze and failed to take quick action were weeded out. Thanks to the momentum of evolution, this tendency to leap to quick conclusions persists to this day even in the absence of the threat of encountering sharp toothed felines on daily morning walks.

This is how our brains came to be wired. We are not good at understanding the concepts of chance and probability. Our brains don’t naturally construct normal distributions and assign confidence levels for events. At least, not in normal course of action. If you think back about the struggles with probability and statistics courses in school and college, I’m sure you’d agree.

What can we do about uncertainty?

The first coping mechanism was a belief in an entity called God, who is all-knowing and orchestrates the events of our lives. Pretty soon, salesmen claimed privileged access to God and added extraordinary tales of His powers and especially about His ruthlessness when it came to dealing with disbelievers. These middlemen are possibly ones who understood the nature of uncertainty (that you could do nothing about it) better than most, and exploited this arbitrage to their benefit.

And then came scientific determinism in Europe more than a thousand years after Aristotle spoke of it. Science began explaining events which would normally be interpreted as acts of God. Science began explaining nature in ways that undermined religious middlemen. Scientists began curing people. They made people fly in the skies. They explained why the planets moved the way they did and why stars twinkled. The moon was not made of cheese, they said. Scientists began displaying powers normally attributable to Gods. And it is possible that scientists began believing that they were Gods themselves.

Something happened in 1927 which rocked the world of science. The scientific community which comprised confident men and women who believed that someday they would explain (and thus control) EVERYTHING were told that the creation was not as explainable and controllable as they believed it to be. They were told that, at the subterranean depths of nature where particles smaller than atoms exist, there was great uncertainty. Quantum mechanics described the fundamental aspect of nature as probabilistic (one of many possible outcomes) and not deterministic (a cause leads to a predictable effect) as Newton and Einstein had led them to believe. Wisp like particles with no mass interact in unpredictable ways to produce blocks called atoms and molecules which in turn combine to produce concrete things with mass (like babies, stars, flowers, bees, chairs, etc) which then interact with each other according to deterministic laws, thus creating an illusion of an orderly creation. Some like Einstein never came to terms with this notion of uncertainty. “God,” he complained, “does not play dice with the universe.”

In other words, if you were given a 300 qubit quantum computer capable of processing every single microscopic piece of data from the beginning of time and then were somehow able to construct a model that explained EVERYTHING till date, you would still not be able to predict what would happen the very next nanosecond because even nature does not know what she is going to do next.

To say that the only thing certain about uncertainty is that you can do nothing about it is a conundrum unto itself.

The beauty in uncertainty

Whether you choose to confide in God about your deepest hopes and fears, or to place your faith in text books and armies of scientists who toil unsung in far away laboratories, or to unconditionally embrace the uncertainty in this creation is your decision. However, there is something to be said about the beauty inherent in uncertainty. This beauty becomes pronounced and magical when we view it from a position that is separated from the self.

Happiness comes from simply listening to the music and swaying with your eyes closed without having to torment yourself about why and how the notes came to be composed. The greatest of joys sometimes does not always come from knowledge or discovery. It comes from the simple act of surrendering to the experience.

Maha Kumbh Mela: Part 2

Here’s the link to part 1 of the Maha Kumbh Mela series if you want to read it first > Part 1

Day 3

When we set out for Ram Janma Bhoomi, I don’t think we knew quite what to expect. It’s fair to say that we were surprised, even stunned by what we saw. Before I get to that, here are a few of my thoughts as context, related to the questions of “Did Sri Ram exist? Who built the mosque? Was it built by destroying a temple which stood at that site?”

Did Sri Ram exist?

Believe it or not, this question crops up every once in a while. At the root of it is the argument that Sri Ram is a mythological figure, and that there is no historical proof that he existed. And by extension, the question of things such as birthplace, etc. is void. This is a slippery slope. If we go down this path, we’ll have to tear down every temple, church and mosque in this land and convert them into strip malls. I don’t think that any reasonable person disputes the value brought by the Puranas to the Hindus or by the Quran to the Muslims.

The question of if God exists or incarnated on earth is out of bounds to all except the believers. We must respect belief and put this question aside.

Who built the mosque?

I haven’t yet read Babar Nama, the diary of Babar. Who better than Babar himself to hear from? Apparently the pages from the relevant period of Babar’s life have gone missing from the diary, and the rest has no reference to Babri Masjid. Also, there does not seem to be definitive proof that Babar had the mosque built. There are accounts of Aurangazeb having done it. The accepted version seems to be that Mir Bakshi Khan, one of Babar’s underlings, built the mosque on his boss’s orders. In any case, there seems to be no dispute that the Babri mosque was built by the Mughals, though architecturally it pre-dates the Indo-Islamic style which came into vogue during Akbar’s era.

The answer to who built the mosque is irrelevant to the dispute. Let’s ignore it.

Was the mosque built by destroying a temple which stood at that very site?

This is the central, unavoidable question of the dispute. Naturally, there have been frenzied attempts by several camps to prove things one way or the other. If interested, you should read up on this. There’s plenty of information available on the internet and in books.

We live in a country where it is hard to prove your own birth place if you should need to. Something tells me that we’re going to have a hard time proving Sri Ram’s birth place. To arrive at a sensible solution, there’s no point in trying to decipher specific details of what happened in 1528. The only approach can be to look at patterns and trends instead. In other words, if we don’t have reliable eye witnesses, we must look at circumstantial evidence.

It was standard modus operandi for Mughal rulers to demolish temples and build mosques at sites which Hindus considered sacred (Kashi, Mathura, etc.). Speaking as a student of history and an objective observer, this fits the pattern of an aggressive new conqueror attempting to stamp his authority and power by replacing ‘your God with mine.’ The Ottoman Turks converted the Parthenon in Athens into a mosque until they lost control of the city. This has happened pretty much in every part of the world where there have been conquerors and vanquished. The temples of the gods of the vanquished have always been collateral damage. One of the first things a conqueror must establish is fear. And the best way to create fear is destroy the temples of the Gods of the defeated, and demonstrating courage by inviting punishment for the sin. There is nothing right or wrong about this. It’s just the way things once were.

I’m pretty sure that no one is going to fall out of their chairs in surprise if it is somehow conclusively proved that the same approach was taken by Babar in Ayodhya as well. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck; even if the duck was born in 1528.

Ram Janma Bhoomi

Coming back to our trip, I mentioned our surprise and shock. We live in a world where it has become commonplace to conduct our religious business while under the supervision of armed forces. We expected heavy security. That was not a surprise. There was a failed attempt in 2005 by terrorists to breach the wall here. So, in a sense, I appreciate the extra vigilance that is being maintained in Ayodhya. That we were body checked a half dozen times seemed a tad excessive. There are snipers in watch towers watching us as we walk through what I can only describe as crude metal cages, which are frankly claustrophobic and a public safety disaster in the making. I wouldn’t fancy anyone’s chances of getting out of these cages alive if there were to be, say a fire or a stampede. I wish we did better. Surely pilgrims deserve to be treated better than being herded like Holocaust victims in a concentration camp. I exaggerate not.

After about an hour of queuing through the cages, we finally caught a short glimpse of Sri Ramachandra Murthy, who has been graciously accommodated inside an Army tent. The story of Sri Ram and Sita-ji is about upholding dharma and dignity in the face of trials and tribulations. Perhaps it is fitting that their devotees have to undergo the test too.

My take

Are courts designed to resolve religious disputes?

The current approach of placing such a monumentally emotional decision in the hands of the courts is flawed. Courts are good at making binary decisions when there is reasonably solid evidence (or lack thereof). Courts are meant to enforce the laws of the land. They are good at interpreting rules, not creating them. They are not designed to make subjective judgements and interpret history. Courts don’t work well when it comes to arbitrating emotional issues or deciding relative merits. Plus, it’s not fair to place the burden of such a decision, and potential security hazards such a decision may bring about, on the shoulders of a handful of judges. Fear for personal safety may delay or distort decisions. It’s time to disengage this issue from the judiciary.

A group of villagers listening in rapt attention to a bhajan in Ayodhya

A group of villagers listening in rapt attention to bhajans at a store in Ayodhya

Or should this be a decision of the nation’s collective conscience?

The Ram Mandir decision is one that has to be driven by the collective conscience of the Indian people. And the people who represent the public and thus its conscience are unfortunately our MPs. We have no other choice but to force them to get involved. There ought to be an attempt to construct a multi-party bill and take it through the Houses, which is then voted upon by our representatives. While I’m all for keeping the affairs of the state separate from affairs of religion, I must admit that the train has left the station, with the matter already in courts which effectively are government bodies. If a resolution were to be drafted and made to go through the Houses, it would be interesting to see how our representatives vote on the issue. It will give us a sense for how much they are in touch with those they claim to represent. It will give us an idea of how fair and balanced we are as a nation. Our best option to arrive at a sustainable solution may only be a legislative one.

The ball has been set rolling. Where will it stop?

There is a beautiful part of Kambar Ramayanam in which the Tamil poet describes how ‘all the sins of Raavana over the centuries accumulated and manifested as a single white hair on King Dasaratha’s mane.’ Upon seeing the white strand, the long reigning king realized that the time had come to hand over the throne to Sri Rama, thus triggering the sequence of events which eventually led to Raavana’s demise.

Similarly, the sins of the Congress party over several decades may have manifested themselves in the form of the alimony petition brought forth by Shah Bano in 1985, which was then upheld by the Supreme Court. The ensuing protest by Muslim conservatives led Rajiv Gandhi to amend the constitution to effectively limit the powers of a secular judiciary from delivering judgments in conflict with Muslim personal law. The amendment created yet another backlash, this time by the Hindus. A ‘balancing’ appeasement measure led to the opening of the mandir at Ayodhya, which had been under lock and key for a good part of 200 years. The ball which was set rolling by Shah Bano in 1985 may well lead to the eventual end of the 125+ year old Indian National Congress as we know it.

As Chairman Mao famously replied when asked what he thought of the French revolution, “Let’s wait and see.”

Do share your thoughts. I remain open to insights, counter viewpoints and new information as always. Please note: Comments denigrating or mocking religions, religious heads or beliefs will be deleted.