Archive for September 30, 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


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