Tale of Two Songs

Or not … well, this isn’t exactly about two different songs, though one might almost think that. This is about a song sung by different generations, for different generations.

Heres what the black and white era brought, with the legendary Noor Jehan singing the song, in a sing which is very reminiscent of the era of movies immortalised by the likes of Shammi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, or Saira Banu. A song which definitely young men a generation (or maybe two) old would have swayed to.

For those who can’t follow the lyrics, here they are.

And heres the same song, perhaps 6 decades apart from the original, sung by the gorgeous Meesha Shafi, for an audience from an altogether different generation.

This is the reason I feel Coke Studio (and Nescafe Basement) are very good ideas … they present tradition in a package appealing to youngsters (even to older people like me!), and so, keeping the tradition alive.

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God and Science

Topics on which people hold very strong beliefs … sometimes these beliefs are no more than just those. While on the one hand some of those who believe in God take Scripture literally, and will tell you that indeed the world was made in 6 days, or that there was indeed a time when snakes talked or horses flew. Little does it occur to them that maybe these stories are more allegorical, and one must look into their subliminal meaning which seems to be a consistent characteristic of Scripture to get a true understanding. Scientists on the other hand use these same stories, read at their superficial level to try to prove that religion flies in the face of logic.

There is another aspect of the scientific discourse which tells us that there is no ‘need’ for God since all phenomena can be explained by science, those which can’t be explained today would well be explained at some point. Let’s take an example to see the folly of this logic. Let’s say you have to go from place A to place B. Now, you could do this commute on foot or by bus. Now, since your commute can be explained by walking, there is therefore no ‘need’ for the bus and therefore the bus doesn’t exist.

Another logic which is most prevalent is that there is no proof of God. Now, one could also on the other hand say that there is no proof for the non-existence of God, but then that takes us into a different byway, so for the moment let’s shelve that one. Let’s say, for instance, if you are asked to cook a meal with a pen, crayons, toothpicks, and a screwdriver and wrench. Doesn’t sound logical, does it? Fact is, different tools are meant to be used for different purposes and extending this it’s easy to see why science has not, maybe will not, been able to prove the existence of God … that as a tool science isn’t the right one.  Let’s try to analyze that. Science is essentially a study of this creation, maybe (if we keep the idea of the multiverse aside for a moment) of the universe. This means that science, meant to study nature, isn’t meant to study whence nature came from.

Is that why so many scientists are so antagonistic to the idea of God?


The Focus Of Education

When we talk about education, we are talking about giving the children the right answers. We teach the children to answer questions. That means, the focus of education is on answers, as Lawrence Krauss says in this video.

What is more important is to teach children to ask questions. Answers are the consequence of questions, so it is important for children to learn how to ask questions. If children know to ask the right questions, they can find the answers they need. Education needs to be to teach children to ask questions, and then, only then, try to find the answers. In the process of finding answers lies a high level of learning.

This isnt necessarily true of the sciences, but of any subject. I believe that this demarcation between science and the humanities is an artificial one, and that children need to be taught to ask questions and find their answers in all realms. For example, when teaching history, instead of telling them the facts, if children can be taught to ask questions like what circumstances led to the emergence of a civilization or a culture, or what was the social milieu in which an empire grew, the children would learn more about history just trying to find answers to these questions than today.

In this process, the teacher needs to, to begin with, guide students to the fundamental questions and their answers, about the subject being introduced, and from there on, help children formulate questions. Children should be encouraged to come up with new questions, and then, either the teachers could answer those questions, or enable collaboration in the classroom which lets children find out the answers to these questions.

As you can see from the Kalikuppam, Gateshead and Turin experiments, children’s natural curiosity, and their ability to collaborate easily can be harnessed to enhance education being provided. This curiosity can be channeled into asking the right questions, and this collaborative nature can be channeled into exploring the vast sources of information available to the children, and to find the right answers from there.


The New York Dispute

Theres a dispute raging about whether Park 51, and the centre for multi-faith dialogue and engagement should go ahead or not. As predicted, passions run high. The question that comes up, though, is whether this is about religion at all or not. Looking at it as a political dispute is also probably missing the basic idea. It is, i feel, more about the attitide people have for others different from themselves, and though i have no opinion, either for or against, i am just trying to look at the larger picture of intolerance and misunderstanding that provides the backdrop for this, and a number of other disputes raging across the world. I do feel this is more about attitude and ignorance than anything else.

There is an interesting piece written by Mr. Ashok Malik in Hindustan Times about A Strange Crusade. There is a picture of an a protestor holding a placard saying “you can build a mosque at ground zero when we can build a synagogue at Mecca”. Interesting, that, isnt it? Well, there are places in the world where religions can co-exist. Yes, there can be disputes, but they dont necessarily need to go out of hand, do they? There are numerous examples of this from around the world. Interestingly, there are quite a few examples of this in South Asia, considered one of the most volatile regions in the world. No, i am not talking from a political perspective, rather from the perspective of the common man, the human being.  I was, for example, recently reading a book titled Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia, and i feel she has written wonderfully, capturing the synthesis of Islam and Hinduism into a common cultural fabric, which, though sundered by partition, is nevertheless part of the social psyche, the Punjabi Taliban notwithstanding. This, i feel, should be a wonderful demonstration of the way sometimes mutually opposing philosophies (and religions cannot be mutually opposing) can find a way to live together.

This finds much more expression in the Sufi tradition of the sub-continent. Though originating from the Middle East (i havent read much about the history of Sufism, so if you know of a good book which is available in India, please do leave a comment), i feel Sufism came into its own in South Asia, where the tradition drew from the rich heritage of both Hinduism and Islam to build something which is all encompassing, transcending organized religion, looking at The One God. Why this cannot be an example for building a movement towards greater inter-faith engagement i dont know, and where this should be physically located may also not be the central question, in this virtual world of today. Should the movement gather enough steam, the virtual world itself would keep the momentum going. What is more important is attitude.

What i found interesting in the article is that Mr. Malik writes that Christians and Jews paid tax which Muslims didnt have to pay when Cordoba was a part of the Caliphate. Jaziya, if i remember history. Though what that has to do with 2010, New York, or any other part of the world, as Mr. Malik says, i dont really understand. What i also find interesting is:

To laypeople in the West, the Moorish rule of Spain was simply occupation and colonisation by an alien people. That may not be the entirety of the story but it is certainly the popular one.

That may or may not be the entire story, but its the popular one. One mistake we make is that we tend to see history in black or white. History, i feel, is never so. Rather, since history is the story of the changes human civilization has been through, and changes are always gradual, at least at the social level, history is full of transition periods where civilization is changing from one form to another, and these transition periods are shades of grey. There is no “us-or-them” in history, what we see as something which is neatly dividing into pigeonholes is actually more like a flowing river. Or, in other words, what we see as a series of lakes is actually a river. This sentiment is basically assuming that anything Islamic cannot be native to a particular region. But this doesnt consider that its people, culture, psyche which are native to the region, and is a belief system which people adopt, in a way which goes along with their cultural ethos. Which is why you find that the same religion is followed in different ways in different parts of the world.

I feel it is important for us to understand this. That there is no “us-or-them” block which can divide me from the next person, and that we are all in it together. Its not easy to divide the present into neatly divided pigeonholes, just as we cannot divide history on similar lines, for both are defined by the flow of time.


Civilization Cycles

A very important question Panditji poses in The Discovery of India why, over a period of time, nations lose their vitalityand cannot seem to come out of a stupor as though unable to move in the direction of change. He says, on page 46, that:

One senses a progressive deterioration over centuries.

He goes on to say that this is not a trend, but rather, is a phase which gets reversed through some period of productive, progressive activity, only to slip back into slumber. How is it that Europe managed to subjugate the till then vastly superior armies of Asia?

This is a question which was probably a difficult thing to answer when Panditji was writing this book, but i think he had an idea. And this is something we can see today.

What i think is that nations go through cycles of prosperity, vitality, and so on. Which is why India, or China, having enjoyed a vigour in their civilizations, as can be seen from the tremendous contributions of these civilizations to sciences, arts, dance, music, literature, even war of a period of centuries. And this is where the interesting part comes. As we can see, after a burst of development in all spheres during the Middle Ages, and reaping the fruits of these developments over the following three centuries or so, Europe somewhat lost that edge, and America and Japan came to the fore in the 20th century, leading innovations, not just scientific but economic, commercial, managerial, and in a number of spheres (including Hollywood, i would say).

And this is where the interesting part comes. Today, as we can see from internaitonal geo-politics, nations such as India, China, Brazil leading the world in areas unheard of, whether it be outsourcing or BPO, technology, or (well, well) emission reductions. In a nutshell, like everyone says this is India’s and China’s millenium. While i wouldnt go so far as to describe the millenium that way, we could say this for the century. And with this, as you can see, is where the wheel comes full circle.

So why does the wheel coe thus? I believe that as a nation is at it zenith of glory, that is when the seeds of decline are sown. Let me explain. If there are certain things which bring a nation to the zenith, they have worked in the past, and so there is no reason to believe that they wont work in the future, and success gives the confidence to assume this. This is where the nation tends to ossify, becoming rigid in its ways, thoughts and more importantly in its intolerance of new ideas because they would challenge the status quo and the status quo is the zenith, so why bother. And this, i believe, gives opportunity for other nations to “build a better mousetrap” because if the current one isnt working too well, then there is reason to change, and this reason to change displays itself in a new suppleness, an openness to new ideas, to a change, the outcoe of which may not be well defined. And the cycle continues …


Shared Context

My friend Nirmala has written a nice post about the way people with a shared context can solve problems by interacting with each other. The story that the post tells is self-explanatory, so maybe need not write anything to describe what i thought of the story.

What the story illustrates is something which a lot of people have written about. Something i have written about, as well, the idea of the intersection of knowledge from multiple sources, and the ways of using this intersection to create new knowledge, and from here, new ideas. What is important is that the more the context which is shared among people, the less is the probability that these people would come up with an idea which is new. Like the article says, if two people are speaking the same language, they are speaking the same things, so the way for new things to come up is not too easy, while if you bring together people from different backgrounds, with only a small level of intersection or overlap the probability of new ideas coming up is more.

This is primarily because these people have in their heads a context which is different from each other, and hence, they tend to see things different from each other, and this probably leads to a scenario where the ideas of one in the team could be interpreted differently by someone with a very different context, and this leads to the cross-pollination of ideas. What seems interesting in the story is the idea of encouraging diversity, because it is only through this diversity that the vitality of thought and ideas can be maintained. This is because this diversity itself is what leads to the flowing of the water so to say, making sure the water of thought and ideas doesnt stagnate in a small pool, but rather have a wide sweep of flow.

This is an idea not just for the world of knowledge in organizations, or KM or innovation for that matter, but probably for society as well. An interesting thing which is coming out of the book i am reading, The Discovery of India, is that one of the reasons India, as a civilization has survived the millenia is because of the frequent inflow of new ideas coming from very diverse civilizations, like the Greeks, Persians, Bactrians, Huns and so on, and the ability of the civilization to assimilate these ideas into the social fabric, leading to a constant renewal of strength through new ideas, new thought, new cultures, leading to a constant recreation of thought, ensuring it doesnt stagnate. This is important because stagnation leads to decay. While these civilizations did share some part of their context, there was a large part where their way of looking at the world was very different from each other, and this may have been one of the reasons which brought about the vitality which has enabled the civilization, the culture to survive, evolve, emerge stronger over the centuries.