Posted on May 8, 2013 by K. M.
From an interesting conversation about superstitions with my sister…
There are a number of superstitions that have little or nothing to do with religion. A few examples. There are probably a lot more like these.
- Not serving poli (bread) before bhaaji (curry). Why? Poor people do that because they can’t afford vegetables.
- Not taking a bath in the evening. Why? One does that after attending a funeral.
- Not using a particular kind of flower for decoration. Why? That kind of flower is used during funeral.
- Not saying/doing a namaskar (a kind of salute with folded hands) to a person who is resting. Why? One does that after a person is dead to pay one’s last respects.
- Saying “yete” (“I will be back”) instead of “jaate” (“I will now leave”) at the end of a meeting, lest it be the last meeting.
Each one of these has a common thread to it – the belief that acting as if something has happened will make that thing happen. The belief that an effect will produce the cause. This is an incredible inversion of causality. But, now that I think about it, I think it is pervasive in our culture. Absolutely mind-boggling.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Causality, Culture, Superstition | 1 Comment »
Posted on April 16, 2013 by K. M.
For over 10 years I have believed Narendra Modi to be responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat – without ever trying to research the facts in any significant detail. Modi’s culpability has been an easy-to-believe narrative. He is a self-professed Hindu Nationalist (I have contempt for both elements of that combination). He belongs to a political party that has never hesitated to exploit religious insecurities for political gains. He was the Chief Minister when the riots occurred. Nothing could be easier to believe.
I have always regarded his culpability to be an indelible blot. A man responsible for the murder of thousands is not fit to live, let alone serve in any public office, no matter what his other accomplishments may be. And so, I have never bothered to research those accomplishments either. They seemed irrelevant, even dangerous. If this country is to be governed by *<insert non-genteel word of your choice here>*, I would rather have them be incompetent.
This blog is dedicated to the pursuit of truth – truth that has an impact on my life and is therefore worth discovering. Narendra Modi has succeeded in capturing the imagination of almost all my peers. Given the alternatives, he might well become the next Prime Minister. If he is the man I have suspected him to be – an efficient, ruthless fascist with a very dubious association with deeply illiberal political parties and no concern for such “niceties” as freedom of speech or justice – that is the worst thing that could happen to this country – far worse than the institutionalized socialist scams perpetrated by all the major political parties – chiefly Congress but not excluding the BJP.
The big question is: Is that the truth?
Modi, in a couple of speeches I have listened to, has been talking of a vision of empowering business and setting it free from the clutches of the government and the bureaucracy. Not by any fundamental reforms. Merely by using the existing government machinery effectively. That is clearly not sustainable in the long run. But it would still be an improvement over what we have today. Even if Modi’s vision is incomplete and short-sighted, it is refreshingly different from the socialist rhetoric that everyone else keeps spouting. To any socialist who has not deluded himself completely, Modi’s vision is extremely dangerous.
Is it possible that Modi is actually innocent and has been vilified in a targeted campaign by populists who would otherwise have no answers to the achievements he claims?
I chanced upon this post by Sanjeev Sabhlok: India should support Modi from the outside – conditionally. It surprised me and following links in that post, I reached this long article by Madhu Kishwar. In light of its contents, that is a question I am now forced to consider.
Filed under: Current Events, Media articles | Tagged: Gujarat riots, Narendra Modi | 3 Comments »
Posted on February 9, 2013 by K. M.
The last time I watched a speech by a political leader was 15 years ago – because my parents used to ask me to listen to the Prime Minister’s or President’s addresses to the nation on Independence Day or Republic Day. Presumably they wanted me to take an interest in politics. It would be difficult to imagine a more effective way to ensure the opposite! That, the stench from the sewer that is Indian politics, and my conviction that politics is fundamentally unimportant (I believe that culture drives politics rather than the other way round), has meant that I have never bothered to follow politics. All the hype around Modi’s SRCC speech however interested me enough to watch his speech.
In his speech, Modi talks of enabling development, condemns vote-bank politics and even has the courage to say “the government has no business to do business”. Had this speech been delivered by a man without a history or a well-established image, it would have impressed me enough to register for a voter identity card. As things stand, it has merely succeeded in confusing me.
- Modi is part of a political party (the BJP) that established itself by creating and exploiting the Ayodhya Ram Mandir issue.
- Modi swept the Gujarat elections after the 2002 violence during which he was the Chief Minister.
- BJP itself is the political arm of the Sangh Parivar, an organization that is best known for using hooliganism as its primary weapon in a mission to safeguard “Hindutva” and “Indian culture”. Many (if not most) of Modi’s ardent supporters seem to be part of the Sangh Parivar.
- Modi himself has an image of being a Hindutva hardliner, presumably the same obnoxious conception of Hindutva held by the Sangh Parivar.
In his speech, Modi does not make a single allusion to religion, let alone Hindutva, and focuses solely on development. In fact, he openly mocks India’s reputation for being a land of snake charmers and proudly claims that India is now a land of mouse charmers – whose youth transforms the world by the click of a mouse. This, even as the Maha Kumbh mela – a festival of snake charmers – is being celebrated by the Hindutva-vaadis. If what he claims about Gujarat is true – and anecdotal evidence indicates that it is – he has delivered on his vision in his own state.
In his speech, Modi declares that vote-bank politics has destroyed the nation and development politics is needed instead. But his party has always played the same vote-bank politics and continues to do so (witness FDI and fuel price decontrol).
The question remains: What is Narendra Modi? A visionary and a statesman? Or a demagogue and master orator who can tailor a speech to his audience?
And there is another question too. One that I believe is even more important. What do Modi’s supporters really want? Development or Hindutva?
Filed under: Current Events | Tagged: Development, Gujarat, Hindutva, Narendra Modi, Politics, SRCC Speech | 8 Comments »
Posted on January 27, 2013 by K. M.
Just watched Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey where he confesses to doping over his entire career. Here is a man who recovered from cancer and went on to win 7 titles in an extremely demanding sport. Only to have it all fall apart. What went wrong?
I have never followed the sport, but judging from the interview and the nature of the sport itself, it seems clear that doping has been a common and widespread practice. In any case there does not seem to be any clear line demarcating what practices should be allowed and what practices should not. A sportsman in such an environment will have only two choices. Dope and compete with others on a level footing or not dope and accept that you will never be able to win. Is the first choice wrong? If so, why?
This is not a question limited to cycling alone. It is very much relevant in other fields as well. Speaking of India, it is clear that all politics and many areas of business are such that success requires breaking the rules. In fact, some of these rules are so flawed that they should not exist at all in any reasonable system. Others rules may not be flawed in themselves, but given the effects of the rules that are flawed, it is nevertheless difficult to follow them. In such circumstances, what should a person with an indomitable spirit and a fierce desire to succeed do? Is it OK to break rules that one thinks are wrong? Is it OK to break rules that are impractical?
Unless one wants to be a rebel and openly fight the “system”, it is wrong to base one’s entire career on breaking rules – regardless of whether those rules are right or wrong. It is wrong because one is then living a contradiction – pursuing success as defined by the very system whose rules one intends to break. In the long term, that cannot work. As Lance Armstrong found out.
Filed under: Current Events | Tagged: Doping, Ethics, Lance Armstrong, Rules, Sport, Success | Leave a Comment »
Posted on December 30, 2012 by K. M.
Consider the statement (call it p):
This statement is false.
Is p true or false? If it is true, it contradicts itself. So it must be false. But that is what p states, so it must be true. Liar’s Paradox.
On the face of it, it seems that the problem with this paradox is either self-reference or bi-valued logic itself. If the problem is bi-valued logic, it seems that a lot of math is suspect, in particular proof by contradiction. Proof by contradiction is a staple of math as I know it, and giving it up would be difficult.
For a long time, I thought that the problem here was inappropriate self-reference. But not all forms of self-reference lead to contradictions. Self-referencing statements are even used in proofs of theorems, the Godel’s incompleteness theorem for example. The title of this post “This is my 200th post” is a self-referencing statement (incidentally, it is true). It does not lead to any contradiction. If the problem is inappropriate self-reference, what forms of self-reference are problematic? Change the liar’s paradox to “This statement is true.” and there is no contradiction. The form of self-reference is clearly the same. What then?
q: This statement is true.
If q is false, it contradicts itself. So q must be true. This does not lead to any contradiction. Assuming bi-valued logic is valid, q is true. But what does q mean? What is true? As I see it now, the problem with the liar’s paradox is that just like q, it is empty, devoid of any content. There is nothing in it that can be either true or false. In other words, it is not a statement at all because it does not state anything about the world. Mere adherence to rules of grammar does not produce statements.
Filed under: Concepts | Tagged: Liar's Paradox, Logic, Meaning, Reference | 8 Comments »
Posted on December 29, 2012 by K. M.
As I write this, the victim in the Delhi gang-rape case is no more. Despite the best efforts of the state to provide medical help.
The protests will continue and demands for capital punishment for rape will intensify. These demands are little more than an instinctive reaction. The first thing that came to my mind when I read about this case was: I would like to kill the perpetrators. Combine that thought with the inability to really do anything of the sort and the Indian habit of seeking a state solution for every problem, and the result is a demand for state action: Stricter laws, more policing, capital punishment.
Consider this report from Tehelka. It is titled: The rapes will go on. Along with some commentary, it describes the views held by senior police officers in and around Delhi. Most of the police officers believe that of the cases that are reported, most are not really rapes at all. That in itself, may not be surprising. Somewhere in the report there is a parenthetical reference to studies indicating that for every reported case of rape, more than 50 go unreported. Most genuine cases are perhaps never reported and the once that are fall through, given the attitude of the police officers. What is noteworthy (though not surprising) about the report is that the police primarily blame the dressing and behavior of the victims for the rise in rapes.
It is all too easy to demand things of the state. In this case, it might even seem right to demand that the state provide a safer environment. Crime is after all, a state subject. But the question that the protesters seem to be missing is: Can the state really do anything about it? Can it ensure that the police have the same outlook on our modern lifestyles that we do? Can it punish the perpetrators in cases that are never reported? Can it remove the stigma attached to rape?
But the state can indeed attempt to do the things the protesters want it to do. The state can create new laws (which will never be implemented, just as existing ones aren’t), it can allocate more funds to recruit more police (who will drink Chai at the corner shops and collect bribes from hapless non-rapists), it can declare capital punishment for rapes (further reducing the already dismal conviction rate). And clueless politicians who have no idea how to deal with the protests will indeed be too happy to to oblige.
Is this what we want?
Look below the surface and it is clear that the rising number of rapes (and other crimes against women) are social and cultural issues. The state is entirely powerless to do anything about these underlying issues.
Filed under: Current Events | Tagged: Capital Punishment, Culture, Police, Protest, Rape, State | 3 Comments »
Posted on December 28, 2012 by K. M.
“Poetry,” wrote Aristotle, “is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.”
A similar argument may be made for sport. Sport reduces life to its essentials and expresses its fundamentals in their purest form. Just as poetry expresses the universal through particular characters, sport expresses fundamentals through the actions of individual sportsmen. But unlike the characters in poetry, who are after all, mere figments of the poet’s imagination, the sportsmen are real. Sport then, is likely to fall short of poetry in its power to inspire, to embody the values of life. Perfection and purity is easier to achieve in poetry than in the life of a sportsman.
But once in a while, a sportsman comes along to prove that the difficult is not impossible, that a single-minded dedication can be maintained, that ability can be turned into excellence, that consistency can triumph over uncertainty. And such a sportsman transcends the sport, lends it meaning, makes it real.
Sachin Tendulkar is such a sportsman, and I am fortunate to have grown up at a time when my values could be shaped and sustained by the example of his greatness.
Thank you, Sachin.
Filed under: Current Events | Tagged: Life, Sachin Tendulkar, Sport, Values | Leave a Comment »