Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vegitarianism: Am I a Hypocrite?

I've always had this "holier-than-thou" attitude: I don't do meat because I reckon killing an animal causes it pain. And since, in general, the average living thing tends to avoid pain as much as possible - pain must be, well, painful to say the least. So, I don't do beef, I don't do chicken - or any other meat for that matter.

But the average roach that encounters me gets the under-side of my shoe, inevitably. I have an obsession with killing ants and other insects that bite. I would kill a bed-bug if I ever saw another (something I seriously wish I won't). In other words, if insects were human (which they, thankfully, are not) then most of humanity would be in my firing line.

Does one sense a certain double standard somewhere? Well, I did - so I did some reading up.

Causing a living thing a sensation of pain is what I want to avoid - and it turns out that in order to experience pain (pain as we know it), one needs a central nervous system - something that insects apparently do not possess. (A rather dumbed down explanation of the same can be found here.).

Which gets me thinking on a tangent: an insect is little but a robot: it does what it is programmed to (by evolution, so to speak).

Which eerily corroborates what I had been thinking all along: even humans are little but over-rated robots - after all, consciousness is an illusion that the conscious mind creates to "explain" itself.

At this point I see a roach crawl on the floor. I am taking a shoe out of the closet right now. I have the shoe on my hand. The shoe is being used to crush the roach with lethal force right now. After hearing a convincing "crunch" sound, one is sure that the roach is no more. But I am not a sinner. Killing the roach was as much an ethical crime as, well, breaking a pen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Quarter A Century

I am twenty five years old now. Turned 25 around the "ides of July". Turning twenty five had a sort-of -sobering effect on yours truly. It got me into thinking about Human timescales. Our lives are not mere drops in the ocean. Here is why.

Twenty of me and you have the Mughal Empire. Forty of me and you have the Christian Dark Ages - full with plagues and little ice ages and everything. Sixty of me, you have Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) fighting his wars. Eighty of me, and you have Jesus Christ - allegedly perishing for the sins of one and all. Hundred of me and you have the glorious kingdoms of ancient India and China. You have Buddha sitting under a tree in what is now Laloo-land. You have Asterix and Obelix plundering the Romans. You have Aristote and Plato commiting blunders. You have Pythagoras talking about hypotenuses. Two Hundred of me and you have the Egyptians and Chinese starting out and the Indians (some contend) on song.

As a matter of fact, just a hundred and twenty of my lives could have fit into the entire Egyptian empire. A hundred and twenty is not much - why, I see a hundred and twenty people all the time. There were classes in IIT which had 250 students. (Ah, the lovely farce that is IIT education!).

Half a billion of me, and you have the big bang. Considering that the world has SIX billion people, it is intriguing (though absolutely useless) to note that the cumulative age of all humans on the planet right now exceeds the age of the universe. On a more somber note, the cumulative age of all Indians right now exceeds that of the universe by a factor of roughly two. Now, that is scary.

I am just 25 right now. Current longevity estimates would put my life at around 75 years at least - assuming something is done to control sphericity of my own self. Utterly sobering to think that only forty of me would be sufficient to fill the entire 3000 years of the Egyptian empire.

Considering that the median age of India is 24 right now, I must also realize that I am one of the older Indians on the planet right now. It's all downhill from here, eh?

If you're not mesmerized by these statistics, all that means is that you grasp human timescales much better than I do right now. Kudos to you.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sixty Two Years Ago

Something wonderful happened sixty two years ago.

It was a miserable war which killed millions. And then a monster with a mustache killed himself. But the war was not over yet.

There was a nation which was trying to throw its weight around. A nation with imperial ambitions. A nation which wanted to colonize a significant part of the world. Japan.

And the allies (the British, the Russians and the Americans, basically) knew that colonization was unethical. It was something that they wanted to protect the world from.

So, one brave man who lived in a big house in Washington had an idea. He had hired some scientists to work for him to help annihilate an entire city of 100,000. They came up with a bomb which could do so.

The war was more or less over. It looked as if the salaries of those scientists would go to waste. Oh, what a waste.

So, president Harry Truman had a brain-wave. Why not kill 200,000 Japanese and curse their descendants with gamma rays? That would end the war, he would be a hero.

And two bombs were dropped on densely populated cities to kill people. They were not dropped on an ocean to demonstrate their awesome power and scare the Japanese into surrendering. No. That would never do. They bombed two cities instead.

This master-stroke of genius stopped the war. This is the way that god wanted it.

And now, this very responsible nation that stopped the war (after making that extremely difficult decision to kill 200,000 people in order to obtain peace) realized that nuclear weapons were too dangerous in the wrong hands - like those of Iran and North Korea and India (for 1998 + a few years) and Pakistan. (Israel, however, is responsible) So, it now acts as a champion of nuclear non proliferation - and maintains enough weapons to blow up the world many times over as collateral. That's what I call responsibility.

And that's why I will think of August 6th and 9th as wonderful occasions - not as occasions of utter shame. Occasions that make me proud to be human, not occasions that make me sorry that I am living. Not occasions that show me how deep and stupid this obsession with nationality is.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Trip Home.

Why the Hiatus?

The avid reader of this blog would have observed an uncharacteristic hiatus in recent times - and would probably have guessed that the reason for the same was the matrimony that the author was undergoing. And (s)he would not entirely be in error. The author, to use a Wodehouseism (that's a neologism) has become rather superfatted and lazy after getting married. All the author does is sleep and eat and surf and sleep, while the little woman does all the dirty work.

The Trip.

A mention must be made of the recent trip to India. The trip to India was a pleasant affair - the ubiquitous rudeness notwithstanding. There were absolutely no surprises in the trip- save, perhaps the Mumbai Airport. I expected a mess, frankly, when I landed in Mumbai. But the airport was probably cleaner and more impressive than all the other airports (besides DFW) I had been in ... Frankfurt and Bahrain. And the immigration and customs were a cinch. I did not have to stand in those fabled kilometer-long lines awaiting my turn.

The Traffic

The traffic was terrible (on expected lines). To say that I was scared when I saw Indian roads for the first time after coming back would be an understatement. I was petrified. I had no clue how people could survive with such traffic. A five hour drive to Surat on the day I landed was affected. Though most of the road was wonderful (the golden quadrilateral) the stints on the two-laned portions really scared me. My heart was racing faster as the driver overtook slower vehicles. (Mum and Dad didn't even flinch when this happened, to top it all).

Here's how an over-take is performed in India. Let's say you have to overtake a truck (henceforth referred to as the victim) on a two lane road in India. Let's say there's a car coming in the opposite direction. You first speed up, such that your speed is at least double the speed of the victim. Then you perfrom a cursory check to see whether a vehicle is coming the other direction in the right lane. If a vehicle is indeed approaching - then the overtake is not abandoned. In such a case the accelerator is depressed all the more and a headlight is flashed. Flashing this headlight momentarily (this is still mid-day, mind you) lulls the you into a sense of security. It is almost as if all responsibility is passed on to the driver of the approaching vehicle. The overtake is completed. The approaching vehicle might be forced into the shoulder - that's just routine. These delicate maneuvers are performed at speeds approaching 100kmph on those roads. Needless to say, safety is an eternal issue. Indian roads are among the most dangerous on the planet.

Surat turned out to be a singularly interesting town. Absolutely no garbage on the streets - spic and span - without any city buses - with newborns (virtually) driving two-wheelers - and absolutely no place to go to.

Congestion is normal on Indian roads. Surat is congested. Mumbai is congested. But Hyderabad is something else. It is saturated with a prosperous middle class. Though clean, it is static. Honestly, there are times when you feel it is a miracle that things actually move. Let me talk about one specific road. The Hubsiguda main road. And let me tell you how we cross Indian roads.

Just walk across. Don't care what is coming. Vehicles are usually so static that stopping is not a big deal for them. Just act as if you are blind-folded and cross. Unless some Salman Khan is driving along on his BMW, you are as safe as you can possibly be.

The monsoons came (albeit a little late) to India. Rain wreaked havoc over Mumbai (on expected lines) - and even over Hyderabad and Surat. Since the internet is more or less saturated with stories about the rain - let's let that go, shall we?

The Wedding

I would like to firstly talk about the status of atheists in India. There is no respect for atheists in India at all. When you say you're an atheist, people just assume you're a Hindu of sorts. I managed to bear this soft bigotry( yeah right, bigotry!) with a smile of my face - primarily because I am not a Dawkinsian crackpot.

The wedding, firstly, was as traditional an affair as a wedding can be - with the exception of a gazillion camera men fighting with each other giving both the bride and the groom an Angelina Jolie complex. I kid you not. If you were at the wedding, you would also get the feeling that most of India's 1.1 billion turned up as cameramen (armed with Nikon D-somethings).

The food, it must be metioned, was incredible - and even as the groom, I managed to get a fair fill (sneaking to the catering room every now and then). I have a gut feeling that it was frowned upon by a few powers that thought that they were - not that I cared a hoot.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the wedding ceremony was the number of reunions it facilitated. I met cousins, aunts, uncles and grandmothers after a cruel hiatus of two years. I met friends after an equally long hiatus. It was incredible in that I met almost everyone that mattered in my life at one point - and in that lay a regret - viz. there was just not enough time to do justice to everyone who turned up. Lots of people I did want to spend time with - but I just could not make it.

Lots and lots of relatives were met - regardless of whether they were known or unknown. I would like to add that I am almost positive that there were some impostors and some gatecrashers in the mix. But one never knows, does one? Lots of gifts were handed over. Usually idols of Ganesha - a hindu God destroyed and then re-created by Lord Shiva (the destroyer). The fact that Ganesha is a fan of the edible and is characterized by rotundity could be an ominous sign of the role that obesity might play in one's life - but, if that were true, then almost all Hindus would be fat.

Moral of the Story

One of the most important players in the wedding was rice. Rice coated with turmeric was thrown at the us by one and all. The rice crashed into the our heads like a Japanese Kamikaze airplane. It was all out war. And let's not forget the long rituals. The whole wedding was a blind ritualistic orgy. But within these rituals I could see genuine devotion among the people - and often genuine happiness. A certain joy that only religion can bring to the believer. A placebo that does more good than bad.

If there is one thing this whole experience in India taught me, it is the following:

Religion and rituals make people happy.
Being happy is the point of life.
Trying to spread atheism (like Dawkins and others do) is incredibly stupid, ignorant, arrogant and counter-productive.

I am an atheist who likes to see others happy. I don't care about the logical consistency of what others believe in. As long as they're happy. For happiness, often, is much more than a warm gun. It seems to be approximated quite well by devotion.