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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Interpret and Distort

There was a talk by Dr. N. Gopalakrishnan in 'Udayamrutam" in Amrita TV on Avittam day. The learned Professor, like so many others, talked about the socialism of Mahabali's days, misinterpreting the lines, "maanusharellarum onnupole" of the Onam song,  This was taken to mean that all were equal. .

The complete line from the song read " maanusharellarum onnu pole aamodathode vasikkum kaalam"  meaning that everyone was living happily and not necessarily that they were equals. This is clear from the following other lines of the song.

"ella krishikalum onnu pole, nellinnu nooru vilavathundu' meaning all type of paddy cultivation, Punja, Nanja, or Mundakan (Khariff, Rabi or Zaid} virippu or kole all yielded a hundred times. It does not mean that all cultivated variety of plants were alike. The song continues:
"valsaram onnakum chinga maasam, utsavamaakum thiruvonathhinnu.
maanusharellarum onnu pole, ullasathodangu anugrahichhu"
(New Year day will be Chingam first, thiruvonam will be a day of festivities, everyone in unison and with fervor proclaimed)
"maanusharellaurum onnu pole, manassum thelinjangullasichhu"
(Everyone without exception, celebrated with a carefree mind)

This is the risk of transposing an alien concept to a different era. Obviously all were not equal during Mahabali's period too. He was a king, Vaamanan was a mendicant without even a cent of land, Shukracharya was an honoured, royal priest. But Bali's kingdom apparently scored very high in the 'well-being index'. Well-being index has very little to do with material wealth or possessions and is evaluated under the following parameters.
Satisfaction with leisure & social life
Satisfaction with family life
Having control at work
Positive attitude to personal wellness
Solution-oriented coping rather than avoidance-coping

In a Gallup poll lowly Hawaii fared better than rich Virginia. 

That is the story of the non-existent socialism of Mahabali's time. Even the dialectical materialism of the Marxists presupposes the existance of contradictions in every society in every era which act as catalists for class struggle and revolution.

Another instance of interpretation and distortion is the interpretation of this sloka from Gita
"aparyaptham tad'asmakam balam Bhishmabhi rakshitham
paryaptham thwidamethesham balam Bheemabhi rakshitham'

'aparyaptam' 'paryaptam' in most interpretations of Gita have been stated as 'unlimited' and 'limited' instead of 'inadequate' and 'adequate'. The first interpretation confers an advantage on the Kaurava army and the second one on the Pandava army. The second interpretation appears more logical as the ensuing exhortation of Duryodhana to Drona is to protect Bhishma by surrounding him with the best warriors of the Kaurava army.

Yet another instance of transposing a relatively modern concept for interpreting  a sloka from an old scripture and grossly distorting the meaning is that oft quoted stanza from 'Manusmrithi'
"Pitha rakshathi kaumare, Bhartha rakshathi yauvvane
Puthro rakshathi vaardhakkyae, na sthree swathantrya marhathi'.

The last line 'na sthree swathanthrya marhathi' has been misinterpreted to mean that women do not deserve freedom(liberty) instead of the intended meaning that woman, who is looked after by her father, husband or son at various stages of her life, should not be left to fend for herself at any time. In an era when everyone was expected to live in strict adherence with one's 'dharma' individual freedom did not have much relevance, whether you are a man or woman. But 'swa thanthram and 'para thantram' were quite important. Her biological handicaps would have made survival difficult for a woman, left alone to fend for herself. 




Thursday, August 19, 2010

Coincidence Threshold

This particular posting appeared in Dilbert blog of Scott Adams.

Coincidence Threshold
Jul 16, 2010 | General Nonsense | Permalink
You probably saw the story about the woman who won the lottery for the fourth time. Some say the odds of that are 1 out of 18 septillion. I think almost everyone who reads this blog assumes it wasn't luck, and that there was some criminal activity involved. But it made me wonder if humans have some sort of innate and similar view of where coincidence fails as an explanation. Let's test that.
Let's say a mysterious man appears at your door and tells you that you have a special power. If you write the name of a person on a piece of paper and put it in a sock overnight, that person will die. You try it once out of curiosity, picking the name of some scoundrel from the news so you won't feel bad if it works. And sure enough, that person dies of a heart attack that very night.
Your first thought might be that as a general rule, scoundrels live risky lifestyles. You might have gotten lucky on that one. So you try it again the next night with a new name, and that person is also dead by morning. You try it twenty times, never telling anyone else of your experiment, and each time it works before sunrise the next day.
You can imagine a variety of explanations for your experience. You might be crazy, or dreaming, or experiencing selective memory. Maybe the mysterious man who told you of this method is somehow watching you and putting out the hit order on the name you choose, for reasons that you can't understand. Maybe you're just good at recognizing when people's time has come. Maybe you are part of some sort of science experiment or reality show. Perhaps there are a dozen other explanations.
My question to you is this: How many times could you repeat this experiment alone, with whatever controls or privacy you could muster, before you believed your actions were causing specific people to die?
For me it would be somewhere around the fourth person.

Earlier too there were similar posts by him on Freaky happenings, one of which I have reproduced in my own posting titled 'Synchronicity".
For some months now, while returning from Cherthala by Aleppey- Chennai express, I travel past Trissur Railway station and get down only at Punkunnam for two reasons. Firstly, I don't have to negotiate the overbridge and secondly my driver can park the car nearby without paying any parking fee. When the train pulls out of Trissur station, I get up and stand by the door of the compartment so that I can quickly get down when the train halts at Punkunnam station. This has been the routine for sometime now. On 11th August, 2010 while standing at the door of the compartment, suddenly for no reason I thought of my train journeys to Mumbai from Madras/Bangalore while on Inspection duties. As the train approached a particular station not very far from Mumbai, the passengers used to pull down the metallic shutters. The precaution was well worth as there was a virtual shower of stones thrown at the train while it approached the station.
That was nearly fifteen years ago. I do not remember the name of the station now.
While my train was passing under the Kottappuram bridge, I idly speculated that if I stood at the door, a little inside the compartment facing in the opposite direction in which the train was travelling, then the velocity of any missile thrown at me will be reduced by the speed of the train and I might escape any serious injury. On the other hand, if I stood facing in the direction of travel of the train the speed of the train would increase the effective velocity of the projectile and it may cause substantial injury. A little sheepishly I changed sides to comply with my silly reasoning. Nothing happened that day and I got down at Punkunnam station and went home.
As I said, that was on the 11th.Aug. Two days later I saw a report in Mathrubhumi about a passenger being hit by a stone. He was travelling by Cannanore-Ernakulam express and he was hit when the train was passing under the Kottappuram Bridge almost exactly at the spot where the random thought came to me a couple of days previously. The stone hit him on the forehead and cracked his skull. He must have been facing the direction of travel of the train and the speed of the train would have given the stone added momentum.
What would be the odds? It may not be one in a septillion but certainly it must rank as a very strange coincidence. To add to the odds, the victim's father is a previous employee of Bank of Cochin/SBI whom I know personally.
The good news. The boy will survive and may soon be out of the hospital. The Railways should offer a substantial reward for information on the stone thrower. If the reward is adequate, there will be squealers. And if the guy is caught he should be charged with attempted murder. The stone could have killed the passenger.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

The strange case of a demon without fangs.

This is in a way a sequel to my last blog post.

Why does an apparently sane, normal person, a loving husband, an affectionate father suddenly start behaving like a demon? When does the transformation takes place? What is the tipping point taking a person beyond the thin red line separating acceptable, civilized behavior from barbaric, inhuman behavior?

These were some of the thoughts which came to my mind while writing my last blog on the Kongad incident. The flames of the failed Naxalite operations of the late sixties did not die out completely. The smoldering embers blazed forth again briefly in the Emergency days in yet another botched operation in the form of an attack on Kayanna Police Station. The 'revolutionaries' succeeded in carrying away a rifle. And that was all. What followed was the infamous 'Kakkayam' camp culminating in the disappearance and presumed death of Rajan, a Calicut Regional Engg College student. The lifting of the emergency, removal of press censorship shortly thereafter and the defeat of Indira Gandhi and her Congress in the elections resulted in an explosive release of pent up emotions. Stories of all sorts of brutal deeds allegedly perpetrated by the police under the emergency powers, some of it true, some not quite true, started circulating. Unlikely victims along with quite a few genuine victims started competing for special treatment as victims of Emergency. Pictures of a few 'Demons' like Pulikkodan Narayanan, Jairam Padikkal and Karunakaran also emerged along with tragic figures like Rajan, Eachhara Warrier etc , with the active support of the propaganda machinery of the Left. Facts got submerged in an avalanche of rumors, idle speculations, and motivated falsehoods that ,one may be excused for asking like Vikramaditya did:

"Whether Truth was that which was said repeatedly,

That which was said loudly;

That which was said with authority;

Or that which was agreed upon by the majority.

There cannot be any dispute about the fact that Rajan was a victim of custodial violence. He did not deserve to die. He should not have been subjected to custodial violence even if he was involved in the attack. In fact there shouldn't be any custodial death at all due to custodial violence. One would have thought that the sensational Rajan case which resulted in the resignation of the all powerful Home Minister Karunakaran and prosecution of the Police officers would have acted as deterrence. In fact, custodial deaths in Kerala went up. The statistics from NHRC:

Year                    Number

2003                    41

2004                    49

2005                    39

2006                    NA

2007                    62

2008                    45

2009                    50

The conclusion is irresistible. Custodial violence is/was/will be an investigative method of the Kerala Police whether they are trained in Scotland Yard or FBI or in China or Russia. Even if the Kakkayam Camp was under a different officer, say K.P.S.Gill or Julio Ribeiro or M.K.Joseph, instead of Jairam Padikkal the violence which ensued would have gone on. It was not individual violence; it was institutional violence. Karunakaran is only as guilty for Rajan's death as Kodiyeri is for the Palghat custody death where the Police was investigating the murder of the sister of a senior IAS officer reporting to him. The only difference is that the emergency and press censorship prevailing at that time emboldened the Police to keep even the death of Rajan under wraps. Otherwise, it would have been yet another case of suicide in the lock-up.

A few months ago, there was an article in the Mathrubhumi weekly by the wife of Sri.B.Rajeevan a known Naxalite sympathizer. Mrs.Rajeevan recalls in the article a raid by the Police on their house in search of a wanted Naxalite. She says that the last person to leave was Jairam Padikkal who gently explained to her: 'Child you do not understand. The person who came to your house was Venu'. Not quite the demon, is it?

I had known Mr.Padikkal personally. That was almost a decade after the Rajan case. He was fighting his case in a Court in Coimbatore and Vigilance was raiding his house in Trivandrum/Ernakulum and generally making his life miserable. His wife had a small scale unit manufacturing plastic covers for protecting the latex collecting containers from rain. It was a small unit and also a sick unit of our Bank. They had frequent fund shortages for importing the raw material HDPE which was also in short supply. They had a bigger unit banking with some other Bank which was in no better shape. Mr.Padikkal used to visit the branch once in a while as he did not have any pressing responsibilities at that time. Not even once did he try to use his position to gain any undue advantage from the Bank. It was difficult to visualize him as a heartless demon that enjoyed torturing people. He had an unblemished record till the Rajan case unfolded and was sought after by the Left Government too. Perhaps it was as Martin Luther King said "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Mr.Padikkal could be faulted for remaining silent. But it would have needed extra ordinary bravery to speak out.

Strangely Sri.V.N.Rajan, Director General of Police and C.Achhutha Menon, Chief Minister at that time escaped much of the fall out. The DGP was a close relativeof Kongad Narayanan Kutti Nair who was beheaded by the Naxalites and could be expected to have no sympathy towards them. The CM could not have pleaded that he had no control over his Home Minister. The fact is, everyone knew how the Police functioned and was at a loss to suggest any viable, effective investigative method in the prevailing circumstances. So everyone played politics and allowed the system to flourish. The agenda was only 'Get Karunakaran'. So they went after Jairam Padikkal who was perceived as close to him. This was repeated later in the ISRO case when they tried to make Raman Srivastava , who was also close to Karunakaran, a scapegoat. They could not succeed. They needed a Trojan horse in the shape of Muralidharan to get the wily old fox. Still they have not caged him fully.

And all victims are not equal. The lives of the many more millions of peasants exterminated by Chairman Mao and that of the Kossacks and Kulaks starved to death by Stalin do not collectively have the same value as the millions of Jewish lives taken by Hitler. The Jews own the Media and the Communists are not very keen to publicise this particular achievement of theirs. An American Death in Iraq or Afghanistan is a tragedy; countless Iraqi and Afghani deaths are mere statistics. Naturaly Rajan's life is more valuble than Sampath's. Kodiyeri need not resign. Prosecution of the Police officers need not be pursued and no CBI enquiry is needed.