Saturday, July 28, 2007

Quite unlikely

“Hello … Is anybody sitting here?”

“No”, she said, making room for him to keep his book on the library desk. She kept wondering why he would come to sit on the same table as hers in the library, while others were lying empty and more importantly, when they did not talk much in first 3 years of their engineering. In fact, they usually did not get along well, especially after many spats earlier during their college life. They did not see eye to eye in any matter be it scheduling of tests, sharing of notes, or even sorting out an issue with a faculty member or anything. In fact, once in the canteen they were arguing over petty issues like who should get the sandwich first, as both ordered same thing nearly at same time and the sandwiches came at an interval of 2 minutes.

But there was more to it than plain not getting along. It was after all a matter of image. If he relented, his image would be tarnished in his group, and more so in the boy’s hostel. Same was the case with her. And this was further complicated by the fact that they were sort of rivals as far as academics were concerned. She always managed to top in the class, and he had to be satisfied with the second ranker tag. Anyway, it didn’t really matter if it was gold medal or silver. But it mattered a lot to him whom he lost to, if at all.

Library was one of the better places to sit down and study. It wasn’t really needed that moment as there was still more than 3 months for the examinations. She was actually quite miffed by the way he came all of a sudden to her desk and was now whistling around in the library. Nobody else in the library seemed to care. It seemed quite clear that he seemed interested in irritating her. Finally, her patience ended and hell broke loose. Finally, she was pacified by the library authorities and he left.

In the evening, she had an unlikely visitor waiting at gates of her hostel. She was quite surprised to see him standing there. Maybe he had come to apologize ... or maybe to give her a verbal lashing. She prepared herself for the verbal duel. But, it was something else she heard.

“I …I am sorry. I shouldn’t have been bugging you in the library.”

“It’s OK”.

She stopped. But again she continued,

“Maybe, I got too angry at you and overreacted”

He was about to leave. But something struck him. Maybe all wasn’t that good between them, and there was no reason to carry on the same grudges further.

“Probably, we have been spending helluva energy in useless arguing. I don’t think it serves any purpose. After all the reasons we have not been getting too well are petty. And after all it doesn’t serve any purpose at all”.

Damn. He was running out of words in his fourth sentence.

He stopped, asked her to join him for a coffee at a nearby coffee house, and prepared himself for a lashing. But to his surprise, she agreed. She also realized that they had been fighting uselessly over petty things and holding any grudges won’t do any good for them. That day, they ceased to be enemies … rather rivals; enemy is too harsh a word.

Meanwhile they started seeing more of each other. Back in hostel, he became the butt of many jokes. But he couldn’t have cared less. He believed that what he was doing wasn’t wrong. Maybe, some might have seen it wrong but what mattered to him was what he thought of it and not others. The more they knew about each other, more they rued the ‘cold-war’ for past three years. But they had such a lot in common. But the most important thing that made them connect was their passion for winning.

Meanwhile, the final exams approached. It was 2 weeks for the same, and probably after a period of 5 weeks they would leave the college and their paths totally different. Meanwhile they had intensified their preparations for the examinations. In most of the cases, couple of days of studies would have been enough to sail through, but it was their passion to win that made them slog hard in order to be right there at top. They usually studied together. To no one’s surprise they did their papers extremely well and were expecting fabulous results.

Finally, they had to part… Yeah, they would probably meet after a month when they were supposed to come to the place to collect their mark sheet and all stuff. But that was for few hours. As of now, she was leaving by the evening train. She hoped to meet him before leaving. Never had she thought that they would become such close buddies. She once said that it was a privilege to know someone like him, and he couldn’t have felt otherwise for her. He came to see her off at the railway station, and decided to be at the town on same day for collecting their mark sheet and all. That would probably be the last time they were seeing each other. They may not meet later probably, unless they were destined for same university for their master’s degree. But that seemed a remote possibility.

The day finally arrived after a long one month. She was quite happy to see him, and he was more than elated. Their results were out. His plan had worked. His long cherished dream had been fulfilled. He had managed to get a gold medal, and she missed it by a single mark.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Assumptions

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” – Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)

There are some premises on which you build your thoughts and opinions; and often there are times when you visit these very assumptions and question them. These are usually when we find that something is not in sync with what we believe in or what we believed as self evident.

Assumptions exist at different levels. At individual level, it these are usually the core beliefs upon which we base our other beliefs and attitudes. Most of them have been passed on to us, as part of our environment or teaching. There are some assumptions on which institutions like the legal system are based, like principle of natural justice or principle of equality of all men. And there are assumptions in bureaucracy about seniority being equivalent of competence. Those in favor of caste based reservations (in principle … and not just politics!) do so under assumption of normal distribution of competence within each caste/ group.

There are assumptions upon which societies are built. For example religion assumes that there is a supreme power controlling everything in the world. As an extension of this, it is often assumed that bad guy will always be defeated sooner or later or that god is fair and just or assumptions that caste system is the way things are actually supposed to be. On the other hand there may be people who don’t believe in these assumptions or have diametrically opposite assumptions, and hence they may have completely different viewpoints.

Then there are some assumptions on which nations are built. Different countries have been built and have progressed with different sets of assumptions. USA was based upon individual freedom and individualism, which reflected the culture in western world. Russia, on other hand was built on completely different assumptions which gave rise to communism. Countries in Middle East were built upon same assumptions that of their chief religion. Of course, circumstances play an important part in it, but how they deal with them depends upon the set of assumptions.

There are opinions which are based upon these very assumptions. Yet, there are times when we think that things ought to be in particular way, and we might face a dilemma as to which side of the line we are actually towards. This is when it becomes imperative to visit our assumptions, and maybe even challenge these assumptions. Take for instance, issue of reservation. There would be people for it based upon the rationale provided, there would be people against it and there would be people in both groups who might be confused between the opposites in the rationale provided. All these views are a function of their assumption.

And there are individuals who have influenced the course of history by challenging these very assumptions – like Raja Ram Mohan Roy or Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Galileo. Had they not challenged these basic assumptions, history might have been different. Factors like discrimination or inequality or simply assuming that they had a right to challenge the existing practices probably made them review his assumptions of life and do the things they did during course of their lives. Not only them, but since long, since the prehistoric times, the course of history has always been given shape by people who challenge the very assumptions of their existence, and same would be in times to come!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented

(Disclaimer: I am NOT justifying any action or behavior. I am just speculating why people usually act so)

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“We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented” – The Truman Show (a 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey)

The above line explains a great deal about why we hold on to some beliefs as gospel truths, and form our judgment about things and act in a specific pattern.

This movie (which I feel is still quite under-rated!) had Jim Carrey, a person whose entire life had been a live, non-stop, unedited television show. He lived in a world which was completely artificial; everything, everyone knew that everything were fake. But the person was real. His emotions were real. He was conditioned to a certain realities of world, and believed in it. The makers of the show did not want to show him what the ‘actual’ world was. He was made not to want to explore the outside world, made to fear things that could have led him to explore outside world. Yet he believed it, because it was the only reality he was presented with. (How he later moves to outside world is another story!). Though parallels between the movie and the real world were probably not direct, yet they were quite remarkable. The one line mentioned above can explain a great deal about why people act or behave in a particular way.

For example, we all condemn the act of terrorism and acts of extremism, especially activities of likes of al Qaida. Often the question is raised that why they do such acts and no religion would ever support such activities. However, the reality of the world according to us and according to them is completely different. They are usually trained for these purposes and taught that what they are doing is right. People who usually carry out such activities usually have no skills except reciting The Quran, which they cannot usually comprehend as it is written in Arabic, and they are usually trained in local dialect, making these people vulnerable to the manipulators in power. They believe that this is the right path and are brainwashed and conditioned to this ‘reality’. They accept this, as it is the only ‘reality’ to which they are exposed to. So what they do, we might consider it incorrect, but for them it might be the ultimate truth. (Some insights were from ‘The Afgan” – Frederick Forsyth)

Taking other example, we more often than not find many people holding on to the set of beliefs that we don’t and find it odd. We may find some person of older generation too obsessed with religion, caste, customs, xenophobia and he/she might be condemning the current generation for lack of belief, or consider them to be heretics. They might have their opinions about things like eating habits, talking to others, moral code of conduct, female education etc. The current generation may not subscribe to this. But, we should consider the fact that it is what they were conditioned to. Today’s world might find atheism or cynicism in age old traditions as correct, but the ones of older generation might not. This was the only ‘truth’ they were exposed to, and this is what they adhere to.

Most of the things we know or the opinions we form (including this one!) are what we have been taught or are exposed to in some form or other. We think it to be accurate (usually!) because it is the only one to which we are exposed to. But we may not know what the truth actually is, because what we know is the reality of the world which is presented to us.

Though we have a right to criticize things; but before we make a judgment about anyone we should put ourselves in their shoes and then form an opinion after answering the question “why?”