Thursday, September 15, 2005

A new job

I landed a job at a software organisation in Bangalore early this month. And till yesterday I had no machine or Internet access. Hope that explains my silence.

This being a new (and my first) job, there is a learning curve. And I need to hunt for a flat too. So blogging may be light for sometime.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Mouse or Rat?

Strange things happen in this city of Bombay! One morning, I am on my way to the office... Suddenly a swirl of crows appear like a black dust devil over Flora Fountain... A massive rat comes scampering along the pavement. People run helter-skelter. The bus queue scatters. I see all this and decide it is safest in the middle of the road; traffic has been halted at the signals. The rat deprived of its human shield makes a dash across the road. Thr crows follow it like a swarm of bees. The rat turns to me for protection. It seeks shelter between my feet, then tries to clamber up my trousers. I yell and leap into the air like a dancing dervish. Rat falls on my foot, fat and clammy like a snake. I scream some more and run through speeding cars and buses back to the pavement.

"Arrey, what kind of Sardarji are you? You get scared of a mouse!" taunts a fellow back in line for his bus. The entire queue bursts into peals of laughter. I am very angry. I want to tell him it was not a mouse (chooha) but a rat. I scour my memory for the Hindustani word for rat. Hindi word for rat. Punjabi word for rat. There is not Indian word for a rat as distinct from a mouse. I resume my journey.
- Khushwant Singh (from the essay "Murdering English," India without Humbug)

On this auspicious occasion of Vinayaka Chaturthi, let us spend some time pondering over a pressing issue: Does Ganesha ride a mouse or a rat?

The best of us bloggers thinks it's a rat. As does the Mumbai corporation.

I am confused. In Tamilnadu, Ganesha has always had a moonjoor (Tamil for mouse) and not an eli (Tamil for rat) for his vahana.

Sadly, Sanskrit does not come to my rescue: mooshika can be translated mouse as well as rat.

This question has been left unresolved long enough. Let's settle it once and for all today.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Bible Mahābhāshya

Conservative Christians of the US believe that life is too complex to have "evolved" and so was created by a Superior Being. They are carrying out a campaign to propagate this theory, known as Creationism, by introducing it in Science textbooks. To this, there have been people crying hoarse in defence of Darwinism by employing elaborate logical arguments.

To these hoarse-cryers (HC's) I have to but quote Scott Adams, that Messiah of all cubicle-dwellers:
By definition, people with bad ideas cannot be swayed by logic. If they were logical, they wouldn't have bad ideas in the first place - unless the ideas were based on bad data. If... the "exhaustive research" option looks good for you [for thwarting an illogical idea], you have way too much time on your hands. Plus, it can only work if you're dealing with [one] who is logical and willing to admit error. (Source: The Dilbert Principle.)
Logic is the wrong weapon to fight the Creationists with. (And why do they think they are always correct? Because they are the right-wingers, that's why. Duh.)

I invite the HC's to abandon their Trinity (the God of Logic, His son Darwin and the Scientific Spirit) for some time and try out the practice we Indians have perfected to reconcile science with religion -- the art of interpretation.

Some examples:
  • Initially physicists thought light waves required a medium for propagation, and required Huygens' idea of an æther "gas" permeating all space. In accordance with this, the Sanskrit ākāśa, one of the pancabhūtas, used to be cleverly translated as "ether." Later, due to Einstein, the existence of æther was disproved. At this cynics would have thought we would be disconcerted, but (ha!) we responded appropriately.

  • The gunas - sattva (purity, goodness), tamas (stolidity, ignorance) and rajas (passion) - correspond to (guess, guess) the three atomic particles, the positively charged proton, the neutron and the negative electron, respectively.

  • According to the theory of evolution, life originated in water and later moved to land. To find evidence of this in Hinduism, we are asked merely to turn to the Daśāvatāra. Starting with the matsya (fish), proceeding to the amphibian kūrma (turtle), next the quadruped varāha (boar) and finally the biped human avatāras.
By a proper interpretation and translation, we can read any scientific theory in our scriptures. I am surprised nobody in America has tried this approach to counter the anti-science elements. "See, friend, it's all there in the Bible. QED."

Though my knowledge of the Christian texts is negligible, I shall try to illustrate the approach with some examples.
  • "The Earth was created by God [only] a few thousand years ago" rather than a few billion years as told by science: When the Bible says a thousand years, it means a thousand divine years, which may not equal the same number of human years. (Just as one Earth year is different from one Moon year.) Actually 1 divine year = 1000,000 human years.

  • In the garden of Eden, note the significant roles played in the apple-eating sequence by the apple and the snake. Which means the plant kingdom and the reptiles were there before humans came. Ergo, evolution. God may have planned out the process of natural selection and other details of evolution, though.
These are probably simplistic, but you get the idea.

The other way is to go back to the "original" Bible to resolve issues. The American right-wingers may be using some derivation of the first English translation (King James'?). Go back to the Hebrew or Aramaic texts. This would give us enormous flexibility, as these are ancient languages and the meaning of words may have morphed over time. Question the current interpretation of the words and argue that the correct ancient meaning actually bears out the scientific fact.

Sanskritists have been doing this all the time. Michael Witzel of Harvard University adopts this approach to counter right-wing historian David Frawley's proposition of a maritime rg-vedic culture. Witzel argues that samudra (translated as ocean by Frawley) is actually sam+udra, the confluence of rivers. That debunks the maritime theory for good.

In conclusion, all ye defenders of Science, look to us Hindus for help. We have perfected the very skill you require. Come to us for enlightenment.

Or better still, outsource the job.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunil's Bharateeya Blog Mela

Do check out Sunil Laxman's well-presented collection of the best blog posts of the last week. Lots of great reading material.