Saturday, July 24, 2010

Of unity with my childhood

Whenever I start reminiscing events from my past, I notice the following:

  • I can revoke it as I lived it then, involving all external characters, the situation, surrounding, etc.
  • I generally speak in the first-person, ie., I did this, I saw this. (Even while re-running the reel of the past, I can see myself addressing or referring to the others in memory as 'you' or 'they')
After the memory is exhausted, I can feel that it is connected to some other event of my life before or after it. Sometimes, I can even conjure up certain of my set-practices and beliefs as springing from some of these events. More and more, this leads me to believe as if I am still the same at the basic, and just more and more has been added to or subtracted from it. It is in some ways a solidarity with myself, a kind of a constancy.

25th July, 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Memory and Thinking

There is a difference between memory and thinking which is often overlooked; this oversight is aptly demonstrated by the difference between what we know and what we think, two activities often mistaken to be the same. While one is static and data based, the other is a flowing process. However, it would be necessary to prove this difference, and to do that it would be necessary to isolate one from the other in a given situation.

I have to pick my mom from the railway station everyday at 6:15 pm. I was leaving my house at 5:55 pm, and informed my grand-mom about it. She exclaimed, "It's six 'o clock." She was referring to the wall-clock, which had been set early by five minutes. I said, "No, it's five fifty-five. The clock is ahead by five minutes." Granny showed no signs of any familiarity with this state of the clock. This was in spite of her living with us for thirty years! (The clock, though, is fifteen years old, and has been so set since it came to our house/This in no way adds to the favor of granny, who should have known the primeval condition of the clock. I may also add that even before the advent of the clock, it has been a family habit to keep the clocks and watches five minutes ahead of standard time).

The fact that the clock is five minutes faster is a fact of memory. Though, being a senile lady who suffers from memory loss, this escapes my grand-mom. But, loss of memory doesn't entail loss of mental activity, for she can look at the clock and judge that it is six 'o clock. That is active thinking. Looking at me, it would seem that thinking and memory are the same, for I state what I recall. But, it may be noticed, I recall it as a negation of the claim that it is six 'o clock, and this was not a part of my memory, and was spontaneous in its birth. This proves that though they may be merged at will and by ability, thinking and memory are two distinct aspects of the mind, the former an activity and the latter a state.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Some reflections on education....

It seems a sham how 'education' is 'imparted', if we look at the processes at work. The child is given a concept of incompleteness and ignorance - that which he is - while shown what it is to be complete and intelligent - the parent, teacher, any professional, etc. Between ignorance and knowledge, meaning between him and his elders lie years of rigour and hard-work in acquiring knowledge, which rests, trophy-like, at a high pedestal of marks and ranks. If we look at what the act of thinking means, we would be shocked at the peril this previous idea of knowledge puts a kid in- thinking implies being aware of what most urgently concerns someone here and now, things of which one can be certain, rather than in some fanciful world sketched out in books by 'able educators'. Basically, the child learns how to impersonate, but not how to think by himself.

Though to satisfy an optimistic impulse, let me put forth an example - after years of undergoing above mentioned pedagogy, eighth standard kid Numan once asked me, "If I want to ask if the place belongs to it, should I not put an apostrophe between it and s? " I was stunned, but now I realize the significance of that question. We had pondered over sentences, finally Wren and Martin clarifying that, as convention, the apostrophe mark is not used in this case (which, of course, seems a dumb exception, now converted to a rule by itself). Nonetheless, mental activity in Numan's brain pleased me. Probably we need not be programmed like computers by the things we sense or 'know' daily, and probably our mental capacities are not like youth, which keeps diminishing every second we think about it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Raindrops like gun pellets

Probably it's a drift from me towards the crass, momentary and sensational, but I find it necessary, with a flair and flow, to note down a fascinating experience. I don't know what makes me start in such high-pedantism, probably my interests in calm and unadventurous, academic problems; but it seems that all that doesn't stop me from appreciating, nay, celebrating today's ride in the rain.

In my childhood, I used to play with what we called an air-gun, which shot yellow pellets the size of cherry seeds with a great amount of force. When they struck someone, one could, if carefully precise, say that they stung oneself.

This evening, I realized that my jacket had given up the ghost of its protective past, and cheated me instead of the rain, for just as I rolled out of the parking lot, I could feel my skin complain about wet clothes. Slowly, I realized it wasn't a complain, but an outcry at a potentially interesting time to come. This roughly accompanied my giving up thoughts about being cheated by the jacket-vendor. As I sped through constant water-hangings, I realized two things- my spectacles had to be removed for the rest of my ride, and my speed had to be carefully moderated, at least till I knew more about riding in the rain. As I gave up my specs, I realized that my eyes were bared to heavenly drops, heavenly here not connoting their blessed divinity, but simply their velocity at having fallen from so high, if not their encountering me, in my own high velocity. My intervals for blinking quickened, an immediate adaptation to things, and at one time I even had to use my left hand to shield my eyes from above, which I now recall, resembled shop rooves, or caps with a jutting shade, as if the pattern came naturally to me. Still, I could not help blink constantly, so that it felt as if my ride were not being completely watched by me, but by the heavens that sent those drops. At no point, though, did I ever feel like complaining about the general scheme of things, if I may say so....

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A fall from a train

It was a day like any other; though the date was different than that of any other day, though the people I encountered seemed as alien as others would be any other day, though I had a ticket, unlike my usual ticket-less "up and down", I would still fool you into believing that the day was like any other day, weaning you away from the thousands of idiosyncrasies that feebly pass beneath our prospective, juggernaut-ical self, softly wailing to be heard. Still, something about us would want us to believe that it is a state of normalcy, a state, seen in the light of all that was narrated till now, seems as hypothetical as only it can be, for if we were to abstract one normal bowl, or one normal fisherman, or one normal date, wouldn't it seem a midget in comparison with the sum total of all hypotheses, of an all pervading normalcy? Still, missing this reality, I have the valour to entreat you to a glimpse of it, cutting myself short, keeping to tradition, and calling the affairs of that day absolutely normal till then. And that tradition is not without its reason: it expresses our tendency to find continuity in things, though making us immune to the varieties; those continuities must be our own, for outside us is a new world everyday (almost new), having different permutations and even combinations of people, objects, thoughts presented to us without; within, we find the idea that all is normal.

Having thus established what I mean by 'normal' (along with establishing why this concept is dubious), I now move on to examine that which is 'abnormal'. I shall start with an incident, and hopefully, and un-prophetically, end there too. On a normal day, sitting in a train at five 'o clock, supposed to depart at five-four, I am settling down inside the normalcy, looking at my fellow commuters, perhaps with a sense of triumph at having jumped in like a hunter and occupied the best seat with the most amount of breeze to it. That was a diktat of competition: if you want to stay strong, if you need to get the best, you must be ahead of everyone. All this in the last four lines would mean I must board a not yet stationary train which has just entered the platform. However innate this competitive streak might seem, it isn't without its soothsayers; you might come across it anywhere, rather, almost everywhere given today's standards. Our day begins with it - scuttling for toilets, agreeing with it in a newspaper and so on - and even ends with it - making it in time so that television privileges may be exploited to the fullest, etc. During daytime, one finds a platform raised completely for such competition, and which allows for nothing else on it, having at the same time magnetic properties of repulsion and attraction: we call this employment. But as much as the soothsayers of competition may tell you, they fail to tell you that there surely are limits to this principle. If you look at things the way I am looking, from a normal train window at five-four, you could probably cross-examine those soothsayers more easily. Because at thirty seconds past five-four, the train has already started moving, and from the station entrance a few paces behind, five competitors start running towards the door in front of me, giving me a clear account of their game/life. With every second, the train is accumulating speed, and every competitor takes one and a half second (circa) to get in. Till the chance of the fifth competitor, the train seems faster than an average human, yet #5 thinks: "If only I could catch this one.." or "Aai guh, can't miss this one..." or "I think I can make it...". Mostly something like this, for his hand doesn't let go of the train-handles. His feet, though, are less competent, and he is pulled away by the train at one point, the next human instant of which he lets go/is made to let go, horizontal, and sliding forward, finally falling off the brink of the platform making the noise of a potato sack. It is to be noted that he couldn't have heard or thought anything else at that moment, for I, having seen the fate of such an obsession, had, as duty to myself, shouted out loudly: "chhod" ("leave"). That was the limit the soothsayers didn't specify.

This event made this day rather abnormal.

FUN FACT: the word 'competition' is formed using latin roots 'com' (together) and 'pletere' (to seek). Though analytically broken down as 'seeking together', this word is used and practiced in a vehemently opposite sense.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How human societies developed

The idea of evolution of human societies has today been severely questioned. That all societies are fated to follow the same line of development seems rather absurd. Not only was this idea incorrect, but it also played host to a host of notorieties. It set forth the final aim of all societies- those who created it, the Western scholars- and demonstrated that which they considered the nascent stages of man in general- the "savages", "primitive peoples", etc. as found in the newly explored areas of Asia, Africa, Australia, Oceania, Latin America, and even the fringes of North America and Europe.

However, giving up such an evolutionary view of societal development need not mean giving up a linear view of it. In fact, it is a linear view that makes a historical appraisal of a given society possible and without which one would have to remain mum about how any given group of people are living today as they are.

For this kind of an approach, it would suffice to look at our own society at the outset: from the right to adult franchise at one point of time, we moved towards a right to get information about what had been classified government documents. These two points (though it is too simple like this, considered in isolation) give a certain direction to the kind of life that we are living and will live in the future. Take, as a more plentiful example, the development of communication in our society. From telegraphs and letters to the radio, newspapers and telephone, then the cable TV along with emails and today social broadcast networks. Along with a technological development, we can see a linear development in the amount of comfort that one could afford, in the amount of roles one could have played, in the amount of exposure to information (and misinformation) one has had and also the amount of time one can waste. This is the case of our society. How about finding such 'points of interests' in other societies, and seeing how they join together? For example, for aboriginal Indian people, the British caused a drift towards alienation from what was considered legitimate living. Though they were close to the rest of the nation in the independence struggle, one sees them, today, again as the scapegoat of many govt. laws and policies. Is it not possible to construct a linear flow from that point to this?

Linear patterns need not be altogether difficult to see through time, but they need not be cosmically predetermined too.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Kinship terms: age or relationship?

Kinship enjoys a special place in anthropology. Understanding how people are bound into a family is considered the first (and most certain) step towards understanding how people are bound into a society. Such relationships, because of their structure, acquire regular patterns in regards to the age-relationship interface or the gender-relationship interface as far as consequences of the relationship are concerned (like flow of respect, roles allotment, etc.). If a relationship broke this pattern in structure, it gives curious results.

Having recently attended a wedding, I found myself left with such a peculiarity: my maternal uncle (mama) had come too; he was only sixteen years old. I, being almost twenty, couldn't bring myself to call him mama. At least not seriously, as one usually does by force of being related in that way, unaffectedly. Nor could he give any credulity to my constant addressing him as mama and found it shameful at best. Relation-wise, he is superior to me, meaning one generation ahead. But age-wise, he is far younger. So is it that one's age determines the relationship that one assumes with others, on the spot? This reminds me how people spontaneously enter into relationships on streets, in trains, during economic transactions, etc. Chacha, kaka, bhau, bhaisaab, taayi, Sir, boss- each call, along with other factors, has a consideration of age involved. Misplacing these factors could give funny but insightful results (the epithet dangerous is not altogether ruled out). Age is more active a factor in setting up the relationship between two people, at least more so than formal expectations, which evaporate in front of it.

Further thinking about this provisional leads us to another question: how well can one know someone's age at first glance? Mostly, the answer to this depends upon the situation. For a sixteen year old encountering a sixty year old with white hair and loosened skin, the age difference would be most apparent. However, we must not consider loosened skin and white hair the same as old age. Its only too apparent that age never comes at the same time to all. Attributing predicates to subjects is always a tricky thing if left to speculation. To a three year old girl, a boy seeming ten year old could be anything from a nephew to a brother to an uncle (even a grand-uncle, if one could but stretch one's imagination), though he may invariably be interpreted as one of these (grand-uncle being the least likely, brother being the most). Given that it is impossible to make such lengthy calculations (due to lack of means of thought that are precise) , one makes do with available modes of reasoning (approximate precision from appearance). So further sharpening our idea, its the momentary appearance of age that plays a more important role in this entire business.

However, if we were to put formal relational ascriptions completely out of the picture, we would find it difficult to confront certain questions: how do those attributes invoke precisely those kinship terms? Why does appearance get tagged with age? I think at play is a scenario in which the mind has certain basic relational indicators to operate with, imbibed with growth and association, which one puts to a pass or fail test during active situations. Because appearance is something that holds more certainty than age in mere situations (as opposed to situations with knowledge), the relation-building process follows its lead more than that of accurate relations in the network of the family.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Use this diversion....

It be too hard,
aye it sure be
with the same vision
all things to see..
Whence let me keep
two ends of a stick away,
if politics by the night,
then uncoloured thought by day.....

This blog is specifically to publish that which is not political in nature, as opposed to that which is, which I intend to keep here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ways of teaching/learning

Things may be explained in more than one way. I remember when I was in school, I and many of my friends used to find text-books tiresome. It somehow became a task which ought to be done, simply for its sake. The tone of discourse is somewhat like this: there is something in the text which is true. Your job is to take that truth, imbibe it fully and be able to revoke it when required. It is, in a way, something that begins with the reader from the book, and goes back to the book. Take for example the last time I felt this happen. I was reading Linguistics when I suddenly started getting bored. I had started with bright prospects, and had shown some interest in the early stages. But soon, I started giving up. It got progressively boring and sleep-inducing. I was reminded of the impervious school texts and was rather disappointed that Linguistics, which had an aura of nobility and intelligence to me, was actually the same as that. I made, in fact, a decisive stand that Linguistics is not made for me. In fact, I proclaimed that no formal discipline is made for me, and I need something like writing fiction throughout my life, which is allegedly without any formal necessities. As you might have imagined, I met with failure there too. For if nothing else, writing fiction requires that disciplined regularity and concentration which other 'formal' pursuits do to. Underlying moral was that one would have to work hard for anything, and thus obviously, the problem was in my approach of finding the right bird to nail, meanwhile finding faults in every bird that came one's way. I could see an underlying snobbishness in my approach to things and it was that which was preventing me from confronting them reasonably.

This idea first struck me recently twice: one was when I was reading Premchand's Pratignyaa. In a way, it seemed that I had come out of a fast moving whirl-wind of fiction, and had entered a very calm sea which belonged to the same world, but a different hemisphere. When I try to account for the difference, this is what I arrived at: most of my reading in the past two years had been of 'modern' or 'post-modern' or 'magical realist' or some other nature which had been contrived into a movement. The idea of a movement is a curious one: it seeks to find the ideal in everything (what should be) and, once found, seeks to propagate it, in a way that reminds one of conquests. Usually though, in art, unlike warfare, the ground to be covered in endless, and thus there isn't any prescribed way that this is directed in. As a result, it is impossible to think of art as having one aim. What happened with Pratignyaa is this: having to read in Hindi meant having to pay special attention to the words (Hindi being relatively newer to me) and that automatically led me to understand it more carefully. Suddenly, it dawned on me that a text wasn't something to be read and conquered, but was like nutrition that had to be taken in spoonfuls and absorbed. The idea of time for me changed: previously, I lived in a world wherein there were loads and loads of books, and too little time to read them. As a consequence, I felt need to rush on with books. After this episode, it came across that skimming through a book is not exactly reading it; and once I followed its implications, I have now realized that I have all the time in the world to read. In fact, what is necessary to read is not speed, but consistency. The story of the hare and the tortoise would hold true here.

Similarly, would an education exercise in which the students study out of fear of exams at the month's end provide them with an opportunity to understand with a moment's peace ? Is it possible that the 'need' to assess a student's performance has now become cause for the student's shift of focus from studying to that need ? I think that is presently the case; and the shift is caused not only in students, but also in their parents. Parents have endorsed all sorts of ways to make sure that assessment comes out good: tuitions, indoctrination, beatings, etc. In a way, at all corners of discussion, the student is mostly given all ends in sight except the simple one, namely, understand what is in front of you. What is needed is that first of all the parents and teachers must take back all force from over the student. Secondly, it is necessary that as studies, they imbibe the habit of uniting the text with the world to the student. Thirdly, they must not make the assessment an object of their performance, but must simply act as disinterested mentors.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Obviously, it has been a while since I last wrote. Let me attribute this fault of mine to a tendency far more greater than me: its called the maelstrom effect. For every time that someone finds life as something that has to be enjoyed only, one loses an ability to think beyond that enjoyment. Enjoyment, I am led to believe, becomes an end in life. To think, I am also led to believe, requires a sense that everything one does is not for itself, but a means to other things. A good example to clarify with- one could board a local train for a trip to wherever one wants. Depending on what the local train gives, one could either enjoy it or find it distasteful. This approach is binary and leaves no choice. If approach were altered a little, we could find a neutral mean, which means something that would broadly be liked, but not dependent on temporal, sensuous stimulations. The braoder principle at work is: I write because I think.