Archive for September, 2011

The Power of 32

Indian government, in all its wisdom, has recently discovered that an earning of Rs. 32 per day is all that it takes for a person to be above the poverty line, the great economic divider below which about half of the country’s population perpetually belong.  With 32 rupees, the country’s top-most policy makers tell us , a person can have three nutritious meals a day, can adequately cover his physical frame with a sufficiently long piece of cloth, travel to his place of work, meet his medical expenses, if any, and also can ensure a roof over his head! This counsel of wise men asserts that Rs.32 has all the power of purchase and to deliver these minimum essentials required to classify a person above poverty. And these are wise men entrusted with the divine responsibility to chalk out the collective destiny of over 1.2 billion people, so they just cannot be wrong.  It is another matter that even a street lumpen would display more realism in his estimates but an official figure culled out after a rigorous process of data sampling, price analysis, study of inflationary pressures and statistical modelling can scarcely be faulted. Statistics would have been clubbed together with white and black lies, but this Rs. 32 per day formula of the state has, for a fact, accomplished a stupendous task of  effectively pulling out at least 32 crore (320 million) people out of poverty- on paper, that is.

But 32 is no ordinary number that it does not have the power to achieve this herculean task. Look at it mathematically, for instance. It is the number that displays few astonishing properties that qualifies it to be bestowed with amazing capabilities.  Along with being a number that can be represented as an exponential of 2, which is 25=32, the number can also be expressed as the sum of three different numbers raised to the power of the number itself, that is 11 + 22 + 33 = 32. And that is just not all about this number. 32 is also the sum of two different numbers, each raised to the power of the other, that is, 24 + 42 = 32. And 32 is also the smallest two-digit number whose square is a four digit number (32 x 32 = 1024 where as 31 x 31 is 961, which is only a three-digit number). It is for its mathematical qualities that 32 figures as an important “byte”, an information storage unit in computers.

The uniqueness of number 32, though very significant in mathematics, is not limited to it but extends to many other fields as well. When the number of pieces in a game of chess is 32, the number of squares, both of white and black in a chessboard is also 32 each. The spokes in a bicycle wheel is usually 32 and the number of pages in a comic magazine is essentially 32 or multiples thereof. In the human anatomy, while the count of vertebrae in the spine that keeps the human body erect is 32, the total tally of teeth that is found in an adult mouth is again 32.  In music, a 32 count refers to the number of beats or pulses that go in one phrase, an extremely useful unit in dance choreography; a 32 stringed guitar is an amazing piece of art as well as a versatile musical instrument. In Indian tradition, there are 32 types of Shiva lingams, each bestowing specific boon to the faithful worshipper while Gautama Buddha is regarded to have had “32 signs of a great man” the references to which is found throughout the Buddhist texts. And that’s not all, some of the greatest men in history seemed to have just lived for about 32 years but accomplished Himalayan tasks that would take ordinary mortals millions of years to achieve and one of them is Adi Sankara, the great exponent of Advaitic philosophy. Another extolled soul, Jesus Christ is said to have lived just around that age.  Maybe these are good enough reasons why the mandarins of power chose this number to segregate the haves from the have-nots.

But the market dynamics work on cold additions of numbers than on the special features of any of them. With Rs. 32 you can possibly buy half a loaf of bread along with half a litre of milk and eat and drink them raw throughout the day, because you wouldn’t be left with any money either to warm the milk or to toast the bread. Or else, with Rs. 32, you can eat thrice and live on a few pieces of chapatti, a morsel of rice to the accompaniment of few vegetable crumbs and a pinch of salt. And if you feel these does not come anywhere near the daily calorie need of 1200 to survive, you could eat an egg but then would have to forgo a meal in return. In the event you succeed to keep the body and soul together with these bare intakes, you will have zero money either to cover the body thus preserved or to protect it under a shelter.  Whatever are the features of the number 32, Rs.32 proves to be truly a pittance which can just keep you breathing but ask our policy makers and they would tell you that if you are surviving you indeed are not poor. Because in their scheme of things, poor has no right to survive!

This numerical pegging is the highest insult that a country can inflict on to their deprived masses and when such a humiliation is administered by the democratically elected polity, it betrays an utter lack of sensitivity to the plight of the poor and an appalling state of denial to the sub-human level of their existence. And to brand those who manage to eke out a few mouthfuls a day as sufficiently endowed with the wherewithal for a decent living is to make a mockery of their impoverishment and a blatant stripping of their human dignity. This callousness is symbolic of a deeper malady of a society where people living in patches of prosperity are totally oblivious to the indignation of people spread out in vast swamps of land around them – a sure recipe for disaster.

It is indeed a pity that even after 64 (2 x 32) years of independence, India still grapples with issue of poverty in such myopic way and one would only wish that it does not take another exponential years of 32 to finally eradicate the malaise in its truest sense.

Yours

Narayanan

P.S. For those western readers of this blog, Rs. 32 would roughly convert to about 65 US cents.

September 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm 14 comments

Teaching lessons

In his eternal quest for truth, bliss and for inner peace, man set on foot to many a pilgrimage that stretched from the tranquil mountain peaks to placid river banks, from silent sylvan forests to the barren hill tops and then on to the serene expanse of the choicest ocean shores.   And in those pristine spots where mother earth spreads a majestic panorama of beauty and calmness, where nature remain untouched by the exploits of human adventures, many a wise men sat and contemplated on the deeper mysteries of life and gave expressions to profound philosophical thoughts. On to these glorious lineage belonged a  Adi Sankara and a Gutama Buddha,  a Vyasa and a Valmiki and umpteen number of saints and sages who, from time to time, nourished and nurtured the eternal springs of spiritual wisdom for humanity to draw joy and sustenance from.  In these venerated places came up temples and monasteries, ashrams and viharas that beckoned seekers of truth far and wide and enveloped them with an aura of divine benedictions.  Along with being powerful searchlights for spiritual knowledge, many of them soon developed as centres of educational excellence where finer subjects of human interest, ranging from empirical sciences to abstract arts, were studied and taught and the contribution of these portals of learning towards the evolution of human mind has remained unsurpassed.

Of these extolled locations, Kasi and Rameswaram stand out as twin brothers and a visit to one of them remains incomplete without a visit to the other. While Kasi, or Banaras as it is otherwise called, is situated on the banks of the Ganges river flowing rapidly with the mingled waters of the Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati, Rameswaram stands quietly as an eternal witness to the turbulent waves of the Bay of Bengal. When a dip in the Ganges at Banaras is considered to wash off the accumulated sins of many births, a plunge in the sea waters at Rameswaram is said to have the most purifying effect to the soul. And when an unending stream of elevated souls find fulfilment in the ablution of Kasi Vishwanath, it is the Lord himself, as Rama, who paid obeisance to the deity at Rameswaram. But both personify the universal formless aspect of divinity symbolised by Shiva in the Linga form and both assure a sincere seeker, liberation from the illusionary world of bondages. They attract devotees in their millions and figure prominently in the list of our ancient and sacred cities.

Rohit Kumar

And it is in that wonderful city of Banaras that I met Rohit Kumar, a teenaged, thin framed but a very jovial boy who works as a sales person in a shop that sells the famed silk sarees of Banaras. Rohit Kumar, when he is not unfolding and folding sarees, also doubles as a city guide for the visitors to the shop and he gladly lent his services of taking me along with my family around Kasi. “This is Hanuman Temple” and “Here  Kedar ghat” Rohit would insist on giving his city counsel in ragtag English and we enjoyed every bit of his conversation. “Morning here no food, evening food” Rohit advises me on the availability of street foods in Banaras only in the evenings. “The price of silk Rs.800 last year, same Rs.1600 this year” laments Rohit on the doubling of the silk prices in just one year affecting the saree business in the city.

As I got curious of Rohit’s obsession to speak in English even to a person who understands and responds in the native tongue and asked him the reason for this passion, I was narrated a most heinous story of how the aspiration of a budding school kid could be mercilessly plucked, crushed and destroyed by the insensitiveness of a school teacher.  Rohit would go to school with his English Grammar work complete but his teacher would thrash him for doing them all wrong. With illiterates as his parents, Rohit had no way to check his answers at home but had the fire to learn well and the willingness to put in effort. But the teacher, instead of correcting and teaching him right, would continue to humiliate the young boy in front of the whole class with whipping canes and abusive words. With this regular ill treatment, Rohit’s will to continue in the school reached a breaking point and one day he decided to leave the school, for good. “One day hitting, two day hitting, three day hitting and…” continued Rohit in a voice filled with deep anguish”and I decided no more school”. Rohit ended up as an unskilled helper in a saree shop, earning Rs.50/- a day with no scope for any further education and a promising future in sight. But he still carries a fire in the belly to learn and to grow.

But in the other city of Rameswaram, there was another teacher and another boy, and this boy had a totally different story to tell. The teacher, Mr. Siva Subramania Iyer, would lovingly explain to the children the concepts of science and also give practical demonstrations and make them understand those concepts. One day Mr. Siva Subramania Iyer explained to his class children the science behind the bird’s flight. He drew pictures of birds flying on the board, explained how birds created lift and thus could fly and why birds flew in formations and other intricate details of flight. Many of the students did not understand but Siva Subramania Iyer is the one who would ensure that his children learn and learn well. He took them to the sea shores of Rameswaram, made them observe the birds in motion, make note of their formations, the way they flap their wings to fly and how they bend their bodies to change direction. This demonstration kindled a fire in one of the boys to learn more about flights as his life mission. The boy studied hard and well, got into a prestigious engineering college and took up Aeronautical Engineering. He later went on to head the country’s space mission, won many laurels, got the highest civilian award of the land, the Bharat Ratna, and ultimately became the president of the country. That boy was APJ Abdul Kalam.

Oh what a contrast! One teacher made a gem of a person out of an inquisitive boy and another extinguished the fire to learn in a curious child through abusive behaviour.

Aarti at Ganges

As the historical city of Banaras silently gazes the incessant flow of the Ganges below, it still awaits for its Siva Subramania iyer to light the lamp of hope in its children.

Yours

Narayanan

September 25, 2011 at 8:17 am 12 comments

Forty something

The tightened belt struggles hard to rein in his ever expanding waistline while the protruding tummy makes him lose his buttons at periodic intervals. The pitch dark hairs are slowly giving way to sparsely spread strands of silver as the once piercing eyesight now demands spectacles to decipher the fine prints.  There is a noticeable lax in the strides which are no longer brisk nor breezy and the snail-paced cruising of the car is a pale shadow of his famed formula styled racing of yesteryears.  A compulsive devourer of anything that is eatable now studies the fat content of the bottled lime water before taking the first sip and also keeps an antacid tablet handy, just in case the citrus juice triggers a bout of acidity in the digestive tract.  And when the “once-upon-a-time”  daring, experimenting and risk-taking individual now craves for stability and shows an overarching desire to maintain the status quo, you bet the guy is now in the forty something years of his earthly existence.

And if the guy is the one who is genetically predisposed to shed his locks early on, a visit to the salon during the forties would prove to be a very exercising and also an expensive experience. With a very limited supply of widely dispersed strands, the barber, nay the hairstylist, would need to deploy all his hairdo skills to reasonably conceal the shining pate and the money the person need to shell out for this delicate job would be inversely proportional to the density of the tuft on his head. And even after all the expertise of the tress were put to lavish use, if he is still dissatisfied to that modicum of a dark cover, he is sure to be gently reminded that one cannot possibly hide an elephant under a mud pot. With the add-on service of a discounted facelift massage that promises to drop years from one’s face, the guy definitely would look poorer, if not younger.

The waning of the youth and the advent of the middle age is announced through well-calibrated indications that start with the subtle whispers of the occasional bodily aches to the more pronounced reflections in the mirror, to the loud proclamations of the younger people around who spot the phenomenon and seldom forget to remind the guy of its vital signs.  Along with exaggerating the mild physical changes that the body display, they also highlight the antique value of his two-year-old mobile, look at his glittering Rolex watch with an archaeological curiosity and keenly study the contours of his well-fitting pants as if it was a costume wear of a period film. For them he is the representative of a bygone era, reminiscent of an age untouched by the liberating influence of Gucci, Messi or 3G.  The guy would be pleased when a teenager, considering his saltish-pepper crown, extends a courtesy to drop him to the nearby store in the bike, but when a stunning beauty in her early twenties, displaying a sizzling figure and a terrific attitude, passes by and wishes him “Nameste Uncle” in reverential tone, his heart bleeds and bleeds profusely.

But he is not the one who would take things lying down and let the world move ahead while he gazes at it like an ancient monument. He picks up the trendiest wears in the town, checks in to the most happening places in the town, checks-out the latest fashion accessories in vogue and chills at the coolest spots. He brushes up his lingo with the latest Facebook idioms, plugs-in to the latest music from the apps store and joins the neighbourhood gym to tuck in the tummy and to tone-up the muscles. He is now seen more often in t-shirts and in skin-hugging jeans and has, of late, acquired an additional bounce to his steps. At forty, the guy has become damn naughty!

But he soon realises that forties is not all about greying hairs and slowing lifestyles. It is also a spectacular reminder of the deepening life experiences and the blossoming of wisdom that accompany it. The bespectacled face symbolizes a keen intellect sharpened by years of scholarly pursuits and each silver hair represents the maturing of the person achieved but only through years of grounding in the university called Life. The treasured old gadgets signifies the value that we need to attach to products that truly serve our purpose and not be carried away by every passing fads while, the balancing and stabilizing approach towards life is an anchor sheet to still life’s occasional tempests.

Forties indeed are the finest years of our lives!

Yours

Narayanan

September 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm 9 comments


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