Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Raja Yudhisthira: Kingship in epic Mahabharata

September 1, 2017

Of Kevin McGrath is an interesting read. It gives new perspectives and clarified some views that I have seen elsewhere — such as in Irawati Karve’s Yuganta about Krishna Vasudeva. Even though it is a slow read, it is worth the time you spend on it. Strongly recommended.


Criticism from within

January 23, 2016

Thought worth pondering over:

Gandhi held the view that only adherents of a particular faith had the right to criticize its precepts or sanctions. By that token, it was both his “right and duty to point out the defects in Hinduism in order to purify it and to keep it pure. But when non-Hindu critics set about criticizing Hinduism and cataloguing its faults they can only blazon their own ignorance of Hinduism and their incapacity to regard it from the Hindu viewpoint. … Thus my own experience of the non-Hindu critics of Hinduism brings home to me my limitations and teaches me to be wary of launching on a criticism of Islam or Christianity and their founders.”

Critics from within had the capacity and empathy to reform and redeem their faith; critics from without the tendency to mock and caricature the other’s faith. Gandhi thus concluded that it was “only through such a reverential approach to faiths other than mine that I can realize the principle of equality of all religions”.

From Guha’s piece here. There is also this peculiarity that Guha notes, which, again, is worth pondering over:

One of the peculiarities of liberal discourse in India is that while there are many Hindu writers and politicians ready to criticize Hindutva fanatics, Muslim writers and politicians are hesitant to take on the bigots in their own community. It is disappointing to see even professedly modern, cosmopolitan politicians like Salman Khurshid and Omar Abdullah so reluctant to openly confront the likes of the Owaisi brothers and Azam Khan.

Back in 1937, Gandhi suggested that Hindus should stay clear of criticizing Muslim precept and practice, and vice versa. Perhaps in the peculiar conditions of colonial rule one had to be careful, since the British wanted Indians to divide, so that they could rule. But now that we are all citizens of an independent and democratic republic, the same constraints do not apply. To be sure, one need not be unnecessarily provocative. But one must still have the right to offer friendly advice, and even criticism, to fellow Indians, regardless of what religion or community they belong to.

A thought for Thursday morning

August 16, 2012

Money and fame can be impediments to innovation!

Von Freeman always considered his relative obscurity — which lasted nearly until the final years of his career, when the world started to recognize his genius — a blessing. It enabled him to forge an extremely unusual but instantly recognizable sound, to pursue off-center musical ideas that were not likely to be welcomed in the commercial marketplace.

“They said I played out of tune, played a lot of wrong notes, a lot of weird ideas,” Freeman told the Tribune in 1992. “But it didn’t matter, because I didn’t have to worry about the money — I wasn’t making (hardly) any. I didn’t have to worry about fame — I didn’t have any. I was free.”

Freeman used that freedom from commercial pressures to pursue a music that was as unorthodox as it was intellectually demanding, as idiosyncratic as it was deeply autobiographical. In this sense, he represented the quintessential jazz musician, forging a musical voice that was unique to him, an art that was influential but ultimately inimitable.

From here; link via Fabiorojas.

Fostering innovation: some thoughts

October 4, 2011

The illusion of eliminating uncertainty from corporate decision-making is not merely a question of management style or personal preference. In the legal environment that has developed around publicly traded corporations, managers are strongly discouraged from shouldering any risks that they know about—or, in the opinion of some future jury, should have known about—even if they have a hunch that the gamble might pay off in the long run. There is no such thing as “long run” in industries driven by the next quarterly report. The possibility of some innovation making money is just that—a mere possibility that will not have time to materialize before the subpoenas from minority shareholder lawsuits begin to roll in.

Today’s belief in ineluctable certainty is the true innovation-killer of our age. In this environment, the best an audacious manager can do is to develop small improvements to existing systems—climbing the hill, as it were, toward a local maximum, trimming fat, eking out the occasional tiny innovation—like city planners painting bicycle lanes on the streets as a gesture toward solving our energy problems. Any strategy that involves crossing a valley—accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance—will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done.

Neil Stephenson, here; a nice one; hat tip to Cowen at MR. What Stephenson says is true not just for industry but for research too.

Steve Wozniak on education

March 10, 2011

Quoted here (Thanks Hariharan, for the pointer):

As for creativity and innovation, what brings it about?

1.    Variety. Of learning and life experience.
2.    Necessity (the mother of invention).
3.    Imagination and inspiration.

And to bring it all to life: opportunity. An arena. A conducive environment.

Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder spoke at the event, captivating the local audience with his story, raised questions among the audience about the things that hinder creativity and innovation in Singapore:

1.    Rigid education system: It’s not so much the science of an apple computer, or the creativity when it comes to what separates Singapore and the US in innovation. It’s the people. In Singapore, children are not encouraged to pursue their passions but adhere to a rigid schedule instead – that all the rest of hundreds of thousands are learning. You don’t get different cookies using the same cutter.

2.    Problem solving: In Singapore, teachers and employers are caught up with “the right answer”, instead of the journey to get there and the creative solutions to other problems – or inventions that are discovered along the way.

3.    Pressure and competitiveness for nothing but the best grades and schools. Does that leave room for life and experience, the corner stone of creative innovation? Can a grade-A engineering student design a new ski-lift if he’s never been on top of a snow capped mountain?

The study circle of a Maharaja

March 3, 2011

Here is an interesting story.

One among the hardest of farewells

January 26, 2011

is probably this! I guess, more than the coffee itself, it is the cultural association that is associated with coffee drinking that is hard to leave behind. It was never just a cup of drink — but a culture, you see!

The essential writings of Dharmanand Kosambi

January 8, 2011

I had a chance to read Dharmanand Kosambi: The essential writings, edited by Meera Kosambi. I can not say that the book is uniformly good; however, there is enough of interesting history, social anthropology and some glimpses of a scholarly mind at work to make it a worthy read. If your interests are in history (of religion and Buddhism in particular), or social anthropology, this is a book that you do not want to miss. Here are some sample passages from the book for your reading pleasure.

With ample textual substantiation Dharmanand narrates the salient features of the Buddha’s life — first that his name was Gautama and that he was never named Siddhartha; then that he was the son of a wealthy Shakya landowner dependent on agriculture, but not a king or emperor; that the story of his having lived in three lavish palaces during the three seasons was a myth (although Dharmanand earlier believed it to be true); that he practised Samadhi since childhood; and that the reason for his renunciation was not the improbable incident of seeing an old man, a diseased man, and a corpse for the first time in his late twenties, but his distaste for violent quarrels such as those erupting between the Shakyas and the neighbouring Koliyas over the water of the Rohini river (although a general awareness of the frailty of life was also a contributory cause (From Meera Kosambi’s Introduction in the book, pp. 34-35) .

I would really love to read the book mentioned in the passage above, Dharmanand Kosambi’s Bhagavan Buddha.

We went to Ashoka’s stone pillar, inscribed on which are words to this effect: ‘Lord Buddha was born here; therefore I came in person to worship here, and erected this stone pillar’. (p. 177)

By the way, from the book, I also learnt that Ashoka exempted the village where Buddha was born from taxes and even gave some endowments; so, it looks like though Guptas methodically used grant giving to temples to further their imperial agenda, the example was set much earlier.

Among them was found a rock pillar of King Ashoka, on which appears a Pali inscription as follows:

Twenty years after his coronation, Priyadarshi, the Beloved of the Gods (i.e., Ashoka), came here personally and offered worship because Shakyamuni Buddha was born here. (He) built a wall of stone pillars on all four sides and erected (this) stone pillar. The Lumbini village was exempted from tax because Lord Buddha was born here, and some revenue was assigned (to the vihara?) (p.245)

Apparently, this stone pillar is what makes Buddha a historical person, and not a Puranic deity derived from sun worship (as some scholars believed).

Lord Buddha would rise at dawn and meditate or walk back and forth quietly outside the vihara. In the morning he would go into the village [or town] to beg for food. He would answer any question that anyone asked, then preach to him and lead him on the right path. …He would return to the vihara with the begging bowl in which the cooked food given as alms had got mixed up, and had his meal before noon. After eating he would rest a little and then meditate. In the evening he would preach to householders or or monks. Late in the evening he would meditate again or walk back and forth. At about midnight he would go to sleep, lying on his right side, placing one foot upon another, and using his hand as a pillow. This sleeping position is known as the sleeping position of the lion. (p. 257)

There are more information about Buddha’s travel habits in that section, which, again I enjoyed reading.

Till I read the book, I did not know that Vagh Bhatta of Ashtanga Hridaya is a Buddhist (and, that Maitri is an object of meditation for attaining samadhi).

Also, by far, of all the writings, I enjoyed Kosambi’s the translations of the rock edicts of Ashoka and his The Buddha, The Dhamma and The Sangha the most (from which the above quotes are taken).

Kosambi’s writings on socialism, nationalism, reasons for the downfall of the Buddhist sanghas, and his feminist ideas make very interesting and thought-provoking reading.

Let me end this post with a quote from the preface of Kosambi’s play called Bodhisattva (which, in some way, for me,  indicates the importance that films started gaining in the Indian entertainment and edification landscape in 1940s).

Anyone desirous of making a film or a talkie on the basis of this play should take advance permission from me, and make changes–if any–only under my supervision.

Have fun!

Influence of mother tongue on habits of thought

September 9, 2010

For decades, Whorf’s theory dazzled both academics and the general public alike. In his shadow, others made a whole range of imaginative claims about the supposed power of language, from the assertion that Native American languages instill in their speakers an intuitive understanding of Einstein’s concept of time as a fourth dimension to the theory that the nature of the Jewish religion was determined by the tense system of ancient Hebrew.

Eventually, Whorf’s theory crash-landed on hard facts and solid common sense, when it transpired that there had never actually been any evidence to support his fantastic claims. The reaction was so severe that for decades, any attempts to explore the influence of the mother tongue on our thoughts were relegated to the loony fringes of disrepute. But 70 years on, it is surely time to put the trauma of Whorf behind us. And in the last few years, new research has revealed that when we learn our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.

Guy Deutscher in NYTimes Magazine; link vis A&L Daily.

Learning from Rajini

September 6, 2010

The title of Baradwaj Rangan’s Tehelka piece says it all: