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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Maya and Relativity

I must have watched the movie 'Matrix' in 2001 or so. I remember the conversation wherein I had suggested to a friend of mine that the central idea of the
movie was similar to the concept of 'Maya' in Hinduism. He laughed out loud, making some of the residual snow fall down from my windows, in the remote town
of Schenectady. I later read the same analogy in some movie review and felt relieved. Not to mention, a little angry at my friend who had made me appear stupid
for a while.Increased confidence about Maya, later, made me rank 'The Truman Show' in the same category.

Many years before, as a kid, I used to be very fond of comic books. Among the earliest ones that I can remember getting my hands onto were Superman, Disney
collections, Mandrake, Phantom, etc. Gradually I became a fan of the desi Amar Chitra Katha as well, which was excellent in pictorially presenting anecdotes
from the great Indian epics. That was when I chanced upon to read the story about Devarshi Narada's encounter with the great illusion of Maya.

As per the tale, Narada requested Mahavishnu to explain the great illusion of Maya to him. And boy! He did get a lot more than what he had bargained for. All the devas and asuras, between whom he had incited countless quarrels, must have thought - 'serves the guy right!' I must have read the comic at least 20
years back and hence my memory may be a little foggy. But the gist of it was that Narada, soon after making the request, found himself leading a life on
earth, fell in love with a woman, married her and soon had kids. He lead a happy life with them for many years, and grew very attached to his family. Then,
tragically, he lost them in a flood. Narada could not bear the pain. He cursed his fate and questioned god as to why such a punishment was meted out to him,
when all along, he had lead a good life. And if I remember correctly, he was almost on the verge of giving it all up, when Mahavishnu appeared before him
and snapped him out of the Maya. Being just about 10 years old, I could not make head or tail about any of what that meant. All I could get out of it was
that there was something called Maya.

Fast forward 24 years. Mother Universe is less than a month away from giving birth to the year 2011. Atheism is more fashionable than ever. And books
claiming that god is a delusion end up being best sellers. There also appear to be a huge number of extremists who, in the name of god, does exactly what he
had told not to. And then, there are the in-betweens, who are the people I like. They may or may not believe in god, or debate about it, but they don't like
to take it too seriously either. Depending on their natural inclinations, regardless of whether they have faith, lead a good, average or bad life (in the
conventional sense).

I, myself, am a Roman Catholic Christian. I believe in Jesus, Mother Mary and almost everything that the Bible says. I have equal respect for other
religions, be it Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism or any other. I despise people who profess extremist steps or hate and suspicion in the name of religion. But have
great admiration for people who take pains to worship god, such as a Catholic who fasts during Lent or a Muslim who kneels down 5 times a day, regardless of
where he is - as long as they don't force others to do the same. And in my humble view, that could very easily be wrong, in a strictly academic sense,
Hinduism is the richest religion in the world.

My family background made me a strong believer from a young age. But when I was 15 years of age or so, it became more fashionable to be an atheist. Plus, I
had probably started relying more on science, as I knew then, and logic. I continued to be an atheist, and a very argumentative one at that, for the next 15
years. I used to mock anybody who professed faith, during that time. As they say, we live in cycles of ups and down, and for the last 3 years or so, I am
back to being a fairly firm believer. I pray to god to not let that change.

Life on earth is confusing, even at the best of times. There are some days when we see a person seeking alms on the street, pass him a coin or a note and
feel great about ourselves. There are other days, when we pass by someone seemingly in need, only to ignore him to be at a certain meeting from the start. We
are what we are! Human beings, evolved supposedly from primates about 50,000 years ago. We have been learning a lot since then, and thinking way out of our
league. In the last 2000 years we have begun to understand the universe quite a bit. But we are still a long way from being wise to rely fully on science
alone. What we know today may turn out to be just an elephant's tail tomorrow. Several paradoxes remain a mystery, even as we call ourselves advanced. They
say that you can bypass time and travel to the future, by journeying close to the speed of light. Stephen Hawking even believes that it is achievable in his
lifetime. May he live long! It is so wonderful, that anything forced artificially to travel at enormous speeds, cannot cross the speed of light, as that is a
boundary parameter set for the world. Our universe itself has limits! To me, it looks like a system built for a purpose, than a harmony formed out of chaos.

I personally feel that life is a divine educational course. The objective of the course has been provided to us, through scriptures, parents, preachers,
extremists and our own experiences. Just as space and time in this universe is not absolute, every aspect of this universe has a relativity linked to it.
Beauty is relative! Achievements, fame and wealth have a relative value! Even hardships are relative! And all of these are transient as well. My two year old
son places a lot of value in any new toy he sees. His initial valuation may be higher than anything he already has. Give the toy to him for a few days to
play and the value becomes almost nil. He is never able to figure its absolute value, as there is no such thing in the universe. My cousin keeps telling me
that he would do anything to get a job in the same company as mine. Relative to him, my job is one of great value. I, on the other hand, think of it as just
a regular job. The perception of relativity as absoluteness is what Maya is all about, in my humble view. The very few who are able to see past Maya should
have been able to see the absolute.

There are things in life which transcends us. Love, compassion, truth, courage to face hardships, humility, just to name a few. Deep within us, we know these
as the original directions to follow. But there are forces which pull us away from them. And therein starts the exams for our course. While people can
advise, nobody can tell us what to do. Some advisories may even be deceitful. There are transient distractions, very forceful in the relative, that almost on
a regular basis, do not even let us attempt the exam. But there is always a place to go. That is our beloved lord. And if his direction is for you to have a
tough ride, you better ride it through. You are scoring high!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Sports, Competition and Martial Arts

Argentina is one goal ahead of Nigeria and only a few more minutes remain. One of my all time favourite sportsman, Diego Maradona, chews his nails. And because he is the current coach of Argentina, my loyalties may have shifted from Brazil to the Albicelestes. I am not a 100 percent sure about that though. Hey, the tournament has just started. But that is quite typical of me. It is the player whom I support and not the team. I support Boston Celtics because of Kevin Garnett, the eighties Windies team, since Richards captained it, and Switzerland Davis cup team due to Federer. In the case of the Indian Cricket team, there may be reasons other than Tendulkar, but the result is usually a disappointment, except for him.

Why are we men so hooked onto sports, often to the chagrin of women folks?

If you ask this question after a third round of Budweiser, one of our guys will be quick to explain the Testosterone angle. Another may say, with a smirk, that we like it because, they hate it. For me, sports is a way of playing out the competition within you vicariously. Let us not get into how competition developed within men, as part of evolution and natural selection, and reached its summit during mating. Interestingly, when I typed that, the image that popped up in my head is of a group of bull buffaloes having a go at each other to be popular among the cows. Of course, I am trying to shrug off that image now. Must have watched Rakhi ki Swayamvar or so.

But competition intrigues me. It is the matchup that usually triggers the interest. When equals enter an arena and stare each other down, Testosterone reaches an altogether different level. And media plays up the hype to make every matchup appear as if it is a fight of equals (but we all know, there are times, like when Nadal is scheduled to play, the other guy may as well not turn up, 9 out of 10 times). When a person you like becomes a force majeure in any sport, you see him as a manifestation of yourself. Race, creed or caste does not matter. It is you, in a different form, ready to match up with another who has challenged you for whatever reason. And it is time to put him in his place. As the match starts, you are no more on your couch at home (And that is probably why I never hear what my wife says during a match). It is you who competes. You step on the field, only dressed as another man. When your
manifestation is underperforming, you urge him and shout at him. If he raises his game, it is because of you. The final moments are the biggest challenge for you. You have to hold onto that lead. When your avatar delivers the final blow and raises his hand to the skies, you have finally done it. When the crowd chants his name, you, not him, say thank you. But, on the other hand, if he fails, you fail. The rest of the day is then a nagging disappointment.


The vicarious aspect is nowhere as visible as it is in Britain. When Murray progresses to the third round, there is a Murray mania. When England plays the USA tonight at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, every run should lead to a surge in the noise levels in my flat.

A few years back, I became the fan of combat sports. And the biggest international stage for that is Ultimate Fighting Championship. Basically, two men enter a cage and beat the hell out of each other. My wife runs away, the moment I put that on TV. Don't get me wrong. I don't like the 'blood and violence' aspect of it. There may be people who watch it for the violence. But I switch it off when I see somebody bleeding or being bullied by a bigger stronger man. I enjoy it when it is a match up between equals and when they are engaged in a tactical fight. I do admit though, that I like it more when there is a knock out, as opposed to a judges decision. At the end of the day, the fact remains that full contact combat sport is the most direct form of competition, that is legal. The problem with that sport though, is that, because it is so direct, you may get a bit too involved. Your breathing becomes quite a bit higher than when you watch Volleyball, for instance. Those reading this and judging me now, it is no different to watching Jackie Chan or Rajanikant.

Soccer may not be that direct, but it is more engaging than MMA, and more healthy to watch. Tennis is even better and a gentleman's sport. With Wimbledon about to start, my fingers are crossed for Federer.

All said and done, there is nothing like sports and it does not get better any better than this month. We have a right to follow our avatars. And women have a right to watch romantic movies.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Back to Square One - Paths of Life

A few thoughts, with an early morning coffee. And I can see what you will probably say - get more sleep :-). For sure, I should.And while typing this, my thoughts are already influenced by what the reader will say. As Heisenberg said, certain pairs of physical properties cannot be simultaneously known (and I add done) to precision. One influences the other.

Getting back to the point. There are two paths to life. One is the obvious path most of us follow. The path to glory or success, and let me, patronizingly or
diligently, call it self glory. This is the easier path of the two. Although we all know how hard it is for us.You have to have talent, ability to work hard
and luck to be successful, in the conventional way. The second path is less obvious and even more so, for those who are well on course in the first path.

Heisenberg strikes again. Capturing thoughts into words has already started eroding the effect of the thought. Let me persist.

The second path can be called glorifying life itself, or in other words, glorifying the one who created life. The intention here is not to get into the
debate of Big Bang, atheism, scientific evidence, evolution, etc. At the end of the day, we all have our own belief systems. And much as we demonstrate how
firm they are, they change overnight or in a course of a few years. For me personally, over years, I have switched from an innocent believer to a cool
atheist in college to a frustrated hater of all belief systems to this self proclaimed believer now. I pray, it will last this time around. All I will say
is, tough situations test your belief, one way or another.

Among us, there are some who are blessed with the right talents and support to make it big (conventionally) in life. And boy, are some of them good? When you
see a Federer forehand, or an Obama speech, or Lance Armstrong beating cancer to the finishing line, you feel that you have lived to see something. You will
also see that ambitious businessman or politician, taking the wrong routes (conventionally) and striking it rich. We may have criticized the guy, while he
was on his route, but may still praise him once he becomes a force to reckon. Again, not trying to be judgemental here. Rest assured, I am no better than
anybody else.

But at the crux of this piece, lies an opinion, that the 'not so obvious' need not be as hidden as it is today, as the 'obvious'. The emphasis on success
places a smoke screen on folks, who are not successful conventionally but are succeeding in the second path. It is an inherent choice, partly pre-determined
when we were born and partly a choice, and mostly deep within, which we probably are never even aware of. For the second group, the ones who struggle on a
regular basis or the ones going through a temporary bad and tough phase, you still are glorifying something. The blind man who finds his way through the
street is certainly glorifying something. He glorifies the subtle and sublime purpose of life. He reduces his negative balance with the father. He gains more
credit with the one who sent him here. This could be another way of saying that if you suffer today, you will inherit heaven. Or it could be about the urge
to walk the path that you have been shown without worrying about the result. It is, also, more so about the 'why should I' or 'why me' and 'what have I done
to deserve this'.

Life is as much a school as it is a competition. Each day is a course. Some courses are simple, obvious and conventional. Some are tough, hard to understand,
and almost impossible to pass. As much as I consider it a lowly thought, it may be worth equating life to how a father sents his kids to a school. He knows
schooling is tough and would much rather have them near him all the time. But he still has to let go. His kids need to be at the school and have to go
through the grind. There are even times when he has to give them that bitter medicine or injection to cure that persistent virus. His kids probably cannot
see beyond the chocolates or playground. They may see another kid having an ice cream and scream at the top of the voice for that. But the father may not buy
that. He may insist on the kid continuing with his broccoli and spinach. The father's judgement is better than the kid's. And the heavenly father's judgement
is better than all ours.

If you felt as if you have just finished listening through the Sunday sermon, I am sincerely sorry :-). I am not a big fan of that either. And after this, I am back to square one, none the wiser.