Social Media and Sisyphus

Sisyphus is a character of the Greek mythology – a fantastic device that connects the affairs of the topmost elite with the mere mortals which include our elites. Sisyphus is a cursed man : he was asked to carry a stone to the mountain top and as soon as he reaches the top, at a dx distance apart, the stone falls down (due to the curse of the gods ) and he starts it all over again.

The situation is really absurd. Sisyphus does it all over again and in this slavery, an Algerian Frenchman called Albert Camus not only finds our own reflection but discovers a nobility in the doomed Sisyphus. He forces us to ask many questions and more we ask about the problem of Sisyphus, using the Gallic subtlety,  Camus brings us into the scene. We do not laugh at but laugh with. We do not fear about but dread. Using the mystical device called Art, he de-links us from the popcorn  and we see not the screen but as in ghost movies, we find an empty theater.

The more I observe social media from the sidelines, more I remember Sisyphus. The more we try to carry our message to the destination, the noise derails us or simply throws us off-track. the moment we feel that we have become the celebrity, the leader, the mover – we are in the dread of losing.

One of my friends started a business and the wisdom received was that with an in-flexion point reached, the Olympian Gods (Venture Capitalists) will reward him with the holy grail- the  fund. He had a Sisyphus like struggle – every quarter when he felt that he was just at it, the goal-post receded. It was absurd. He did everything – he attended meetings, diligently collected visiting cards (he had bundled them and now uses the bundle as a pillow) and becoming super active in social media : no ear should be left behind.  Just when he was at the final round of discussion with the VCs – he was told that the measurement criterion had changed. He has to start all over again.

Sisyphus is everywhere : the class 10th student is told that another 2 years, then some grand institution and then the grail. 4 years of more toil – then, oh yes, we only prefer MBA – so another 2 years and 7 years of debt burden and then again….. Then suddenly the Olympians say : we prefer some hardcore experience. Degrees are just entry tickets.  It is Sisyphus all over again.

Many men and women of our generation have invested massive amount of time in social media – for business or non business. Either way, there was an objective. The more they tried to have the mike, they found someone buying an amplifier and a blow-horn. The noise was so high that his/her signal, his message did not reach the ‘target’. Sisyphus once again.

 

 

The greatest redeemer of Sisyphus is neither the burden, nor the judges nor the boring work, nor the spectators but an inner realization that Life is absurd and since the contemplation of it must be Absurd, the greatest way to capture the essence of Life is to contemplate on its absurdity in all intensity we can muster. Sisyphus is not a resigned man – he is not some “babaji” contemplating in some holy cave.

Sisyphus is not a tragedy. He demonstrates the nobility of Man in a way which no elite, Olympian God can take away : He does not think of the burden or the objective or the outcome. He contemplates on the situation.  

Another Frenchman, a master of understanding human heart, Blaise Pascal echoed three centuries before the inventor of Sisyphus : Man is a reed but a thinking reed !

Next time, when you are active in social media – for business or no business, remember Sisyphus.

You may discover something more valuable about you than all the social media is capable of providing you

Megalopolitan Loneliness

[Inspired by reading of Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes – Decline of the West, published in 1918. A seminal and controversial work – the work contains a memorable paragraph on how a megalopolis looks like and how does it evolve and then with a saturnine frenzy, devours its own children.]

The observers of human heart – artists, poets and very very few scholars of other domains could detect something that was born with the megalopolis itself – urban agony in one of its psychological manifestation : loneliness. 

Being alone and being in loneliness are altogether different things. The former is the amniotic fluid for a creative mind and the latter is an absence – of meaning. Now, meaning must be poured into the infinite tube of existence that manifests itself in the form of the megalopolis and all kinds of business and entertainment industry come to fill the void.

One of the subtlest observers of urban loneliness in Calcutta, Buddhadev Basu has written couple of essays on this theme in 1960s in Bengali and I am reminding myself of the essay read while being alone few years back :

  • One of the curses of our time is that it is afraid of melancholy. So much so that it refuses to consider melancholy as a fundamental state of mind  and is in a constant urge to transform in to a medical / clinical problem instead of understanding it. Feeling lonely ? Let us have a face-book chat. Not very happy, let us visit a mall. Very lonely – have some anti-depressant. Not having anyone to talk to or just sit in silence (megalopolis erases silence and darkness and hence makes us psychologically always exposed and naked). It does not occur that this state of being may be an existential stuff we are made up of. 
  • I have observed some people are always with the herd – always busy and looking for the next engagement. Time wears them. They do not look forward to something planned but with an occult dream that the next visit to the mall, the next purchase, the next collisions in the party, the visit to the 50% off sale, the next post will release them from the prison of their own vacant mind. Alas ! It never happens. In the universal lottery of events, they try to cheat the Machine. Businesses have a vested interest to reinforce that illusion. Advertising is the complete apparatus that slithers into their sensory openings. Most of such “adventures” with  untrained mind culminate into a kind of tiredness (especially in a populous megalopolis where one must think first about the parking slot of the car rather than the hunger of his adventurous mind) and through dialogues, most of these people remember the tiredness and the sleep thereof as the memory other than baboon like clicking of photos in their phones which they are restless to upgrade. Those who go with men, the less they become men – so said the old man of the Desert.  Only five hundred years back, Pascal nailed the problem in a pithy sentence that eventually translates that men are afraid of being with one’s own thought. 
  • Five hundred years back, men ran the risk of finding demons, witches and demi-gods everywhere. This was superstition and but now a more dangerous form of plague affect most of the people : the Unthinking.  The Great Unthinking is everywhere. The articulate among them celebrate this Unthinking as some achievement or evolution. This has a political aspect : if we become so complex to ourselves and our environment and others create such a puzzle to us, we are only a step away from the sword of a Conqueror who will cut the Gordian knot with his sword and we shall wonder at this accomplishment but will be a slave forever under his sword. The first step to Careerism. The price of Unthinking is eternal slavery. 
  • In his essays where the megalopolis was Calcutta, a special case, Buddhadev Basu lamented the fact that there is no single place where authentic food of the land could be found – everything is some kind of admixture or counterfeit or Eastern overdone. He rarely went outside his home in South Calcutta where he lived in a small flat and created some of the works in prose and poetry which are too advanced for his fellow citizens in the city to appreciate in a wholesome manner yet. Some forty years after his essays were being written, Calcutta has changed much and with this in mind, I had editorial walks in some of the new public spaces erected by private money – the Malls. These Malls provide some of the functionalities a temple provided in more religious times. Architecturally very average, completely discounting the maths of footfalls, car-parking, entry roads, security aspect, directional advisory, height and lighting and the populous aspect of our cities – these reflect the same Eastern overdone. There is hardly any character of these places. I befriended a security guard there and he summarized it : many people come here to pass time. They have no purpose. They just roam and watch. Some come to buy a specific thing but end up buying lots of useless things. This behaviour of spending money on useless things appear to be counter-intuitive (when all MBAs from Harvard to Fagin College of MBA conclude how price sensitive Indian market is) but it is not so. These “things” satisfy one of the cravings of mind these people are hardly aware of – these things, useless or useful is not the question. This allows them a temporary relief from the loneliness of Megalopolis. The more we lack meaningful human relation and communication,both will tend to the the baseline : sensing things and thus senti-mentalizing them  and sex – the last resort of communication. 
  • Buddhadev Basu did discover another aspect of megalopolis and infinitely important for us – the absence of Beauty and melancholy’s eternal association with Beauty. So much so that artists of the highest calibre in Europe declared : every beautiful object of Nature is melancholic in a sense. Just look at Mona Lisa or at Rembrandt’s self-portraits. Our own Vaishnav poets were well aware of this and they declared separation from the object and the subject of love (বিরহ) deeper and more profound than actual union (মিলন)। Our Malls also create a sense বিরহ – separation of Beauty in its gross form – not possessing those things. But the problem is that this barrier is not insurmountable and for those whom  it is, there are plethora of money merchants helping with the devices of hire-purchase, credit cards, EMI, 0% interest and as such. All Beauty that can be reached by gross means are worthless. It must have been possessed by us by someone then. The most-beautiful garden must have been brought by some rich man. The most beautiful house must be someone’s already. The most-beautiful woman is already few seconds older the moment the label is applied.  True Beauty is so potent that it is always pure and as if discovered just now – here and now. It is this lack of our mind and psyche that pushes us and we create a pile of objects and burn in anxiety and envy to upgrade them !!!

Since 2008, I have been visiting these Malls with the purpose of understanding what lies beneath. I have found some interesting aspects and noted them in Calcutta Culture Glossary – a fancy project.However, being a citizen myself of the adopted megalopolis, I sometimes find my own mask of distance and unfamiliarity falling off and I see myself surrounded in a very large amphitheater, doors of which are all these Malls, the citizens spectator and rows and rows of cars parked outside and a terrible dread seizes me.

I know that suddenly the gates will open and I know not what beasts will come and I find myself alone although I see many like me waiting in bated breath for the show to start but terribly bored at the same time.

 

 

The Wealth of the Cubicle Nation

The most seminal work on Wealth was by a Scottish moral philosopher named Adam Smith entitled  The Wealth of Nations. This post will analyse the Wealth in context of the majority citizens of the Wealth of the Cubicle Nation. For context, please read about the citizens of The Cubicle Nation  The geographical context remains the major cities of India.

Smith defined wealth more than two hundred years ago in a straight-manner : “the annual produce of the land and labour of the society”. In today’s terms we can define “produce” as items having economic value and possessing and  controlling such items. Let us now apply this in the Cubicle Nation and see the wealth in this Nation.

I am being forced to write this post after I hear arguments from the citizens that they have created wealth by borrowing. It is as ironic (in the margin and in the instant) as telling that “I am rich by INR 1 million as I have been offered a loan of INR  1 million by the bank.”

Let us study the “wealth” of these citizens one by one. We shall start with wealth (material + tangible) and slowly move towards less material and less tangible as we continue our hard-hearted Wealth Audit . We know that for the citizens, home ownership is 80% bank finance and 20% emotion, we shall be talking strictly in terms of finance.

  1. Home / Apartment / Real Estate : Most of the citizens reside in a home (an apartment mostly which is a box in the sky) which is actually controlled in terms of an item of value by the bank, at least for 15-20 years. Why ? Using the device of float / fixed interest rate, front loaded interest payments, 20% equity from the citizen and with the oversimplified maths of tax-saving, the banks extract not only monthly payments but has an irrevocable claim on a certain percentage of earning (=labour) of the person – generally 40% of the net for 15-20 years. The citizen who pays for the “box in the sky” cannot scratch the wall of the flat and generate some value. The “magical appreciation of value is a myth” and the citizen has no control on this except hoping. So, either when he is using the flat while paying EMI or when the flat is his own, he is not able to extract any value unless someone rents it. Now let us calculate the  cost of ownership / cost of rent and it is more than 4 : 1. In other words, once the item is controlled by you (you have paid the loan in full – generally 167% – 221% of the actual money borrowed), you can expect 25% of the cost of ownership at any point of time. The only wealth is that in these years, there will be some gold mine or uranium ore found in your gated community and you shall have quadrillion appreciation. This is possible but we do not call this wealth, we call this speculation. One of the acid-test of wealth is the non-speculation aspect of it. Good health is true wealth because it is here and now.
  2. Car : Most of the citizens not only have car but upgrade the car. Many consider this as investment ! A car is an asset but a depreciating asset. It is highly unlikely that sitting in their car they automatically design some super value algorithms. Any driver in Indian roads are well aware of the ordeal. The car returns something on cost but it is not wealth. Unless one buys 3 – 4 cars and invests as a travel agent (or in Ola/Uber) and becomes profitable, then we can consider that the car is returning positive on cost. Otherwise, it is simply a cost and an item of pretension and marginally increasing the already horrible condition of our city’s transport infrastructure. I repeat : a car is not an investment and does not make you wealthy. 
  3. Credit Cards : As a a business owner, I marvel at the ingenuity and the brilliance in designing a Weapon of Mass Enslavement like Credit Card. Many citizens believe in the potency of their cards is directly related to their own and they sometimes look down upon a village bumpkin like me who says : ” If I have buy something from a shop/bar/restaurant/mall in credit, I do not need it.”. In one of the malls, one such citizen looked derisively at me when I paid in cash and was counting slowly and I heard a remark he made to his friend : “are yaar, yeah card se kitna asan hota hain.” I waited and saw a credit card opened and swiped with the elan of a Knight Templar’s sword. Credit cards are not investment, it does not make you wealthy. It is rather a very brilliant means to make a hole in your income.
  4. Life Insurance ; It is not an investment instrument. Period. It is a means to mitigate risk.
  5. Mutual Funds: Any equity based instrument, in the strictest sense is subject to market risk and market is nobody’s father-in-law. In other words, mutual funds do not create wealth as the control is not with you.

Land / Cash / Gold / Precious Metal/ Government Treasury Bonds/ Gilt-edged securities guaranteed by  Government / Business Owned and Controlled to the extent of ownership and control / Skills immediately marketable in return of cash  / Patents / Foodstuff / Orchard /Health : These are genuine wealth.

In terms of intangibles, many citizens build houses to enjoy but because of the design and schemes completed much before the citizens were born (our city planning and infrastructure), they will commute 2-3 hours even to commute to workplace (to pay the ownership money of the largest equity they have – the house – the box in the sky) and when they will enjoy the home ? They have no time and hence their sleep is very costly when they apparently use the area mentioned in Tolstoy’s story : How much land does a man need ? The land he needs to lie down !

Other wealth building proposition runs like this :

1 Let us have our first house by toiling hard and paying huge money for the “box in the sky”

2. After 15-20 years, we shall have the second house for the family – the cash-box in the sky

3. The man and woman are 50+ now and the children pursuing their dreams and in a short while they find they have no family now….I see rows and rows of houses in some area where I live where grand old couple live and the whole house is locked with two rooms occupied. What working for family !!!

4. It is not considered that in such long term, events – ranging from mild shocks to cataclysmic are bound to happen but time will not come again.

5. This proposition takes huge toll on one’s health as many do not exercise, do not sleep well, remain in perpetual stress and anxiety and ruin their health. Simple but invaluable pleasures of Life now become very costly and the medicine men of all variety and all corporate emblem now find repeat customers.

There is a spiritual aspect of this : as net worth now becomes the whole of self-worth, the greatest illusion now tightens it grip and a descent into the grossest and most horrid materialism is reached : there remains no self-worth but only pursuit of net worth. This is done in a relative scale and slightest difference perceived in neighbour’s lifestyle and possessions now get magnified and becomes a sense of equally false self-satisfaction or self-hate. It can be as banal as the modular kitchen of the neighour as compared to one’s own and although most of the time eating is outside, this fact hangs in the mind like bitumen in trouser and a source of irritation.

Summary

 In a dispassionate and mathematical analysis taking into consideration entities like risk, control, time-value of money and body, societal and cultural context, citizens of Cubicle Nation do not create much wealth for themselves. They have only one asset – the home and in order to build that asset, huge risks are undertaken with one  irreversible damage : health : physical (sore eyes, distributed aches and pain in the body, poor appetite, sleep problem, fatigue) mental (anxiety, stress, anger and a perpetual worry translating into : Why am I not worried now?, and spiritual. The spiritual health can be understood best in a negative sense. Imagine your office does not have that soul crushing politics, back-biting and fight onto trivial issues (for the universe ) like raise, promotion etc. 

When I was a cubicle man some decade back, a colleague narrated a story – rather a question from his five year old boy and I remember this just now. He was at that time a 3 BHK, Wagon R, 3 credit card (2 Lac credit Limit total) man and was slogging hard in one of the cubicles in Norther India. His five year old boy once asked him as why, in spite of his Daddy studying for some 18 years still stuck in Wagon R whereas his classmate’s father – having studied up-to class 10th only – who rather built their gated apartment travels in a turquoise blue BMW. He was not able to answer. Fifteen years hence, he is still there – struggling with his job and against Formula 40 and finding work and life a drudgery and not much of great promise ahead.

In retrospect, the Cubicle Nation citizen were easy cash cows for the following business and these businesses just boomed near the office and residences of these citizens : banks, bars, credit card companies, transport companies, car sellers, tax department, promoters, local landlords, local brokers, junk food sellers, malls, brands of all kinds. It is only some 30 years ago when salaried class of India witnessed a miracle – a miracle so profound in terms of cultural impact that it will take at least 200 years to understand its full impact. They are in order : transport (car and motorbikes), phone, TV channels.  Then IT and ITeS happened. This explains the behaviour of Indian driving on Indian roads, Using Phone in public spaces and Entertaining oneself.

Somewhere, these whitest of the white collar jobs – the cubicle citizens felt something like the British of late Victorian era- the sun will never set. The white collar sun was radiating stronger and these citizens thought that they will now become wealthy, upper class, elite and rich. Finally they will catapult into the higher echelons. A thin segment actually did – middle class boy having no suit commanding a business empire after 30 years. But this dream had a democratic downside. A considerable proportion felt that borrowing money to buy prestigious box in the sky and uberlong car and credit cards were signs, trajectory, trail and propellant of the upbeat journey. And a great faith – natural in a country accustomed and conditioned to believe. A herd journey followed.

The sub-golden generation of this period of India are in the forties. After the heady days, the natural rebound and re-thinking is happening ? Is this 3BHK (box in the sky) + Longish Car + Credit Cards + 12 hours of work each day and 3 hours of commute really taking me anywhere into the stratosphere ? In simple money terms, isn’t the sadakchap broker having better net worth in ready cash and assets than me ? The fellow does not pay even tax !!!

Many of this generation now at the precipice of the 40s find their health ruined, their career stagnant, their days long and nights restless. Many try to show that things are fine and upbeat and world domination (synonym :superpower ) is just around the corner but things are not golden anymore.

In the last 30 years, this generation has learnt something devastating in a general sense and they hesitate to tell this to the next generation. They must as within a decade, they will slowly slide away – some very tenacious and politically savvy will be able to overcome cubicle politics and other but a large section will exit sideways – the white and grey corporate forgetfulness.

But there is a great opportunity – many will rediscover Life. Many will face truth – truth in its all nakedness and splendorous intensity – they will realize many truths which will make them free – really free.

They will be angry as well. But the anger will sooner or later turn philosophical and they will realize that it was their own illusion that made them vulnerable and we remain what novelists (the novels they had never read because they wanted entertaining and engaging and feel good novels) had long explored : We are playthings in the hand of History.

This generation, which is also my generation in India is both the plaintiff and the victim in the courthouse of History and we can only hope that History will be kind to us.

Disclaimer : I am not against buying a home, car or anything. Everyone has the freedom to make choices. The purpose of this post is to request the citizens to become critical of the received wisdom and try to see who benefits. This exploration – the greatest one of being critical with one’s cherished belief system and the prison of current wave of thoughts and approach to Life may be guidance for the next generation.

 

 

 

Helpline for the Cubicle Nation

“Cubicle Nation” has come to being quite recently where we could observe hundreds of people look at a CRT or plasma screen for 10-12 hours a day for work and earning their living.

Since all products and services are nowadays powered by cubicle nation in some form of the other, this post is relevant for them.

The urge for writing this post came to me when I had heard that my alma mater – University of Strathclyde, Glasgow was doing a research on the “Health of the Entrepreneurs” with the characteristics Scottish pragmatism and usefulness ( The University motto is : “A place of useful learning”) while arguing that those (the entrepreneurs) who are going to take care of the health of the economy and ours must have sound health.

I have done a kind of field investigation among the citizens of cubicle nation – mostly in my native habitat and found out some serious conversations going on and for brevity I note them in this white space, as if jotting down in a conference room. There is a subtle difference in these notes : due to reasons not unknown to the citizens, I am translating them, rather making them  less sanitized and more urgent :

  • Formula 40 : Citizens over 40 and having a large pay-package and less half-lives as in case of the radioactive elements find tremendous stress, anxiety, fear, dread. In addition to the issues of 2 EMIs (car + bank funded home), 2 school fees ( private schools) and 3 credit cards, they also find that there is no one with whom they can speak openly, without agenda, without the fear of being heard by an informer’s ear.  Colleagues are no longer friends but potential assassins.
  • Mard Ko Dard Nahin HotaMenfolk among this nation were taught, since childhood and via Bollywood and Hollywood that men are tough and have balls of steel and the tear glands and emotional glands are also made up of the same material. Hence, most of the men can neither open their minds and fears fully to their better halves / friends and the whole atmosphere has a no-ask-no-tell protocol. Some search for relief in nicotine, alcohol, diversions of many kind but the core issue : unburdening one’s sense of fear, of insecurity, of being proven if not utter but a serious failure in life at this age. There must be someone – a place of trust, someone who will not judge but will resonate with this. There is absolutely nothing to take care of the “dard” – not the aspirin kind but a very deep one.
  • The Rank-holder syndrome : Most of the citizens above 40 in the Cubicle Nation must have held some rank or other in India in their 10th / 12th / Entrance examination -otherwise they would not have been in the cubicle mid 1990s. This has consequences. Many have never failed in anything serious things in their lives. They simply could not.  It is not possible in the scheme Indian for them to think that they can fail. In India, the greatest conditioning we have is this : a white collar job is better than a blue collar or any collar job, irrespective of any other consideration of earning, location, interest, leisure, family lives, one’s own life. The Cubicle Nation citizens, especially the IT work is the whitest of the white collar job considered. This perception by the outside world and the inner turmoil of the citizen combine to make a lethal mix : Life is worthless if I fail to remain a white collar. White collars did not invent Life. Life or Existence does not listen to any one – of any collar. And even to Dollar.
  • Do you hear me Bela ? (“বেলা বোস, শুনতে পাচ্ছো কি…..?”) : In one of the memorable songs of our generation, the caller called Ms. Bela Bose but did not receive any answer. The message was curt and clear : “I got the job” (চাকরীটা আমি পেয়ে গেছি, বেলা শুনছো). But all of us, author included, at the circa 2016 have a more ominous reason to call our own Bela – that resides within us. The message is telegraphic, impersonal and explosive and since most of the citizens are quite accustomed to deal in acronyms, the word comes in a shade of pink, in Gothic font : GTFO …here. There  must be a place, other than a bar to go to – to handle the humiliation, the heartburn, the terrible anger and a helplessness. There is no such place. But we need one.

Great thoughts come from the Heart. We need men and women – of exceptional calibre and sensibility, having passed through this themselves, an ex-addict and with all the scars visible and they are kind, understanding, non-judgmental and competent.

The true philosopher – not a priest, not an astrologer, not a mentor, not a doctor, not a therpaist, not a depgrogrammer, not an ex but all of them together.

Dr. Philo  is coming with a helpline for Cubicle Nation very soon. Currently, he is in his study in some cellar in East Calcutta. The sun rises here.

Those of you who do not know Dr. Philo, the best introduction will be his treating of Mr. KT – a brother citizen of yours who, at the height of success suddenly found that he could not move his finger as he lied in his bed in one morning, aged close to 40 years – a top-notch, rank-holder, well-performed man with a nice wife, one five year old daughter, 3 BHK in the suburb, one Wagon R and his nemesis – six digit monthly salary ( in INR)

Wisdom in a post : Wisdom of Literature

This is the most ambitious post and is particularly useful for our “analytically loaded”,  “measurement fanatic” and distracted world. I am answering in brief paragraphs, rather in expanded bullet points, the question : is there and if it it is, what is the wisdom of literature ?

Multiple Lives : Literature is the only authentic device available to man, created consciously and unconsciously that allow us to live multiple lives. Truly great works of Literature creates windows inside us and we can live multiple lives in the form of being with the characters. This facet of Literature allows us to escape the limitations of our body, space, time and history.

Time Machine: Literature is the cheapest, simplest but most-powerful user-interface that allows us time travel. We can find freedom in the great works of Art – even thousand years apart because it somehow fulfills some aspect of our Being that we find completely outside the current time where we are imprisoned. Using the fuel of imagination and the preliminary navigation from the author, we can command a Time Machine at will. Because of this, some literary works become extremely relevant and moving after hundreds of years after being written.

Non-Linearity and Time warp : Literature has a power which is mysterious and no one able to explain it. This is a kind of clairvoyance. The closest parallel is in the domain of abstract mathematics which suddenly seems to be immensely practical (matrix algebra, set theory, number theory, non-Euclidean geometry). Long before science found out that if we increase power, both signal and noise get amplified, Literature demonstrates that stupidity does not decrease with time, it is proportionately amplified.

Privacy : Literature although a public domain material (a novel, a story) and consumed by many, it does not completely become old or used while being used privately. In a strange manner, it has a privacy protection that multiple uses do not wear it. Hamlet’s soliloquy somehow does not exhaust itself and every person has the opportunity to discover, connect, identify and apply it afresh.

Suspending all known laws of matter and life :  Great authors while creating their work do have a God-like power. Great works make us feel what is the willing suspension of disbelief. In that way, all great writers are like magicians – we know that we are being charmed but there is some allure in this voluntarily accepting this deception that great literature, a product of imagination appears to capture Life so completely.

Possibilities and Forgiveness : Great Literature through one of the greatest inventions of mankind – the character allows an entry into the innermost chamber of a person. This permission which we never grant becomes an immense opportunity to connect with this process. We learn to forgive others and ourselves as we find the grand mystery of Being.

Specialism as Omniscience  Of all the human creations, literature is by its own nature – supremely anti-specialism. All other subjects are specialists, literature’s specialism is omniscience. This omniscience is beautifully masked in the great works of Literature. It does not teach you anything directly as mathematics, science or engineering does. It transforms – this process is integrated. You do not become more-intelligent or better in calculation or better in design but you can absorb all of them.

Literature : with the tools of poetry and prose and their variants and mix and with the building blocks called characters (or without them) create something which is so airy and nebulous in their construct captivate us to such an extent that we seem to have discovered our essence in them.

This is the primal and the most-sophisticated aspect of Literature : it has the mystical power of being essential and redirecting us to the essentials.

Wisdom in a post : Ludwig Boltzmann

Any student of physics or chemistry cannot avoid Ludwig Boltzmann.

His contribution is such profound and wide at the same time. We would not have featured him in this series had he been only a brilliant scientist. He shares something striking with another genius of Europe and of humanity – Blaise Pascal . Boltzmann was also at the cross roads of two worlds of science and he was one of the few geniuses about whom it can be said : “Civilization is the story of those who hang their heroes”. Persecuted and ignored by his peers for his radical theories, redeemed by music, inspired by a rare kind of genius illuminating his work and relieved from the mental agony by suicide in an Italian resort while vacationing with his family.

Although this series of post does not describe the technical work in detail but for Boltzmann, an exception must be made. Boltzmann’s most important contribution was developing statistical mechanics for atoms. In his time, many reputed scientists considered atoms as a mental construct and not anything of reality. Symbolically speaking, Boltzmann not only understood the ghost-particles called atoms, he even wrote poetry about them in mathematics and which these ghosts completely liked, so much so that they obeyed it. It is no wonder that in his time his theories were considered phantasia (e.g phantom : an un-embodied being, a ghost)

Pessimism is natural : Boltzmann’s work with energy pointed out to a scenario where all natural processes tend to a direction of more disorder. In other words, our universe is passing from order to disorder and in ultimate analysis, this whole cosmic manifestation will be dead. There is no known law which says against. From the gases in a small box to the whole galaxies evolve in a way where disorder increases although total energy remains constant. It was Boltzmann who wrote universal pessimism in the famous equation below and provided us with a tool to measure disorder which he called entropy. 

S=k_{B}\ln W\, [ This fundamental law of matter remains engraved in his tombstone  and no less beautiful or poetic than that is on Keats’ : “the name written on water”]

220px-Zentralfriedhof_Vienna_-_Boltzmann

His tombstone with the Entropy Formula at the top

Contemporary time may be posthumous : It may so happen that your ideas – in whatever domain it is, may be way ahead of your time. Hence, trying to convince your contemporary time may be useless and sometimes the best way is to forgive. It is just like explaining the joy of coitus to a 4 year old…This person will, after 20 years realize this but there is a barrier of time and this cannot be tunneled. Boltzmann felt this at times but his genius was also of a self-destructive variety.

Price of Beauty is Loneliness : In his works, he was fanatic about Beauty. He believed with a passion that there is something called mathematical beauty  and fundamental laws of nature are not only comprehensible but they are beautiful. When he looked at the four electromagnetic equations of Maxwell and exclaimed : “Was it a God who wrote this ?”. Search for this beauty – mathematical beauty, made him a loner. All seekers of beauty must pay the price in the currency of loneliness. Beauty is the most sensitive thing in existence and even a second will make it fly.

Boltzmann died in 1906 – in his lifetime, his work was mostly ignored. After few years of his death, his works on thermodynamics ( cold death of the universe as entropy increases) and statistical mechanics (where gas-particles do not have any velocity at all but only probable velocity) became a new orthodoxy.

His work teaches us to become humble and sane. It provides us with a deep respect for a new and austere kind of belief – a belief that there is an underlying Beauty in the fundamental working of natural processes and we are able to discover it.

On one hand, his works doomed certainty in the domain of atoms and molecules but on the other hand, his work provided with a grand certainty in terms of disordered death of the cosmic manifestation.

His suicide was poetic – his mortal coil was under tremendous stress from his genius – rare, delicate, deep and profound.

He lies everywhere in modern physics.

[Fiction] The Indian Taraaqi Man

Mr. KT* has recently turned in his mid-forties and he has been a taraaqi man through and through. Born in a small town, he had achieved a lot – academically, professionally, economically and socially.  A biographer (a contemporary media man of India) of him will describe him as below:

He was an adolescent when Indian economy was opening up. He joined the elite Indian technical school then worked in a multi-national corporation, eventually getting his MBA from an Ivy League University in the United States. He had worked in the US for couple of years and then returned to become the Country Head of an Indian Multinational. Based in a happening megalopolis in India’s West with regular visits in major cities in the world – he works very hard – almost 15 hours a week. He suffers from many diseases – mostly minor but that does not deter him from taking up new challenges.  

Such mini-bios have appeared in many places and he has found them to be quite interesting. He remembers a young girl who came to take the interview – barely 22 or so and he fondly remembered that in that age he was focused on grades, scores, academic excellence and he did excel. He sighed, half satisfied and in half emptiness.

As a matter of fact, when he was a student, he was already a highly trained, motivated and single focused man. His parents obliquely made him understand that any interest in beer, girls, and beer with girls were distractions and once he becomes  ( what ? none knew exactly, including himself), he will have more opportunity and time to enjoy these charms of life. However, once charmed early, he runs the risk of having the taraaqi obstructed.

In this 10th and 12th classes, he focused on physics, chemistry and mathematics with an additional  steroid-driven training for cracking some of the toughest entrance tests since the Nalanda and the Lyceum, he did not care much about his own biology in the form of a body.

When he started working, he was so dedicated and focused and self-forgetting that his seniors immediately dropped hints of the great promise he had. Since he never questioned any argument on taraaqi and considered everyone his true well-wisher who was such fervent worshipers of growth  starting with his parents, he had no problem with his bosses. The bossed obliged and he was a promising, hard-working, slowly-settling and decent man in his early thirties.

The matrimonial ad ran out in the newspaper – both English and vernacular and since parents were the Programme Manager of the match making as a strategy  and marriage as an event, he was married seamlessly, so as to speak, of the efficiency aspect of the happenings. Two weeks leave for marriage and honeymoon, he started his family. At that time, he found out that his wife could not and did not take much interest in his work or what he did in the office where he remained for 12 hours a day. But he found his wife to be pretty and adorable. His wife proved to be his first physical and intimate interaction with a woman. Not because he was having any different orientation or some physical disability but he did not simply have time and by implication, not much passion or if it was, it was subdued by a passion of much intense variety and having much larger jurisdiction – the future itself.

In his 38th year – six years after the marriage and having one child some 4 years old, the  taraaqi had a crisis. A strange morning sickness seized him. He felt paralyzed in the morning just after waking up. He could not even lift a finger while he thought that he had to go to the office. Since he was trained since boyhood to take command in serious matters- either from text-book, note-book, tips-book, parents, bosses ; he called a doctor. The doctors and a battery of tests after, nothing could be pin-pointed. His wife was deeply disturbed. He was suffering from a battery of psychoses and neuroses and he really felt that he would die on the bed through sheer exhaustion although he was not doing anything.

After 2 weeks, when neither medicine nor diagnosis made a breakthrough, alternative therapies were tried. One of them was “The Pomegranate Clinic”. It was recommended by a colleague. The Pomegranate Clinic appeared in his apartment in the form of a middle aged man around 11 am and brought a small packet of tea and asked his wife to prepare three cups. He introduced himself by his adopted name of  Dr. Philo and as soon as the wife went to the kitchen, he moved his lips near Mr. KT’s ear and told : “This is a very rare disease. Almost incurable. Good news is that I also suffered from it and ruined my career. However cure is there. No worries. You will be cured and soon. Around 1/10000000th of the population contract it . You are a rarity and can be a celebrity, if you wish.”

The tea came with some crackers. Dr. Philo politely declined the crackers observing that mixing anything other than white sugar with such fine and pure tea is outrage of modesty and a sin as serious as fornication.

Dr. Philo appreciated his wife’s taste in decorating the house and the delicate way she prepared the tea. As soon as his wife was going to describe her worries, Dr. Philo dismissed everything with a friendly wave and said that her husband would be alright soon. The disease was already detected. She looked at him in disbelief. He then said, softly – “I am the proof.” Before leaving, Dr. Philo had assured them that he would come again tomorrow. He had asked Mr. KT to move himself near the window, lie and watch the birds and clouds. He had asked him to eat and drink whatever he liked.

Dr. Philo returned the next day, this time with a big box and a portly lady followed him. She was the chef and the box contained many medicinal delicacies, he winked. The plan was to have a conversation and meanwhile the herbal cook was preparing the “medicines” in the kitchen. A conversation followed :

Dr. Philo : Mr. KT, tell me somethings in last five years only for yourself ? Tell me something you did consciously for yourself only – not for the company, not for the family, not for health, not for fitness but for yourself and yourself alone ?

A silence followed. Then Dr. Philo turned to Mrs. KT and asked her the same question.

The silence was deeper.

Dr. Philo, as if  sucked the silenced, and delivered the following as aromas from the kitchen filled the room. He closed his eyes and in a trance like state he started speaking as if he was watching a film in his mind’s eye.

Just hear the music by your nose and the ear. Do you hear the ting-tong sounds coming from the kitchen. Do you feel the blending of the aromas ? Now watch the sky – this is at least billion years old. Does it look tired ? Watch the bird – it shares almost 97% genetic code with you. Does it look frozen while foraging for food just like you feel while going to office ? 


Dr. Philo started coming regularly and after a week Mr. KT desired to take a walk outside. Dr. Philo drove without word for 45 mins till they came at the outskirts of the city. He parked the car and pulled out two by-cycles and asked him to ride. Both rode the bi-cycle and then took tea in a small shack – at the shadows of the tall towers – the office and residences of fellow citizens of Mr. KT.

“You are suffering from many maladies and almost the same one I did.”

“What are these ?”

“Analytic overload syndrome, adolescent emerging economy disorder, hormonal sublimation for narrow purpose and the last one which I have to borrow from another dead language  – anexatasti zoi – ancient Greeks called this Un-examined Life.”

“Please explain”

Dr. Philo smiled. A sunset was approaching and the distant horizon, filled with paddy -fields looked honey coloured at the edges. A soft breeze was blowing and Mr. KT watched white cranes flying back home. A serene atmosphere and he heard the shack is emitting ting-tong music – the virginal tea – cutting one is being prepared for the evening.

“Since you were a boy, you have worked with the intellectual firearms since the dawn of civilization in sciences and mathematics with a very narrow objective. Calculus, periodic table, atomic structure, probability, entropy, electromagnetic equations, statistical mechanics – all these and many more profound insights you have studied with a singular aim of buying a better ticket in life – to have a good life. No one told you, none knew, neither you reasoned it what is the good life and what is the ticket’s worth. You have used your wings for walking faster. What could have freed you from the ground made you only collide faster. This analytic overload had made you an excellent tool but a tool nevertheless. You have never used the tool for your own self. You have been an efficient digger to get gas out of the deep interior but never thought of using a gaslight from the gas that your exotic tools made to come up. ”

Dr. Philo asked : “Another cup of tea ?”

The virginal and warm liquid was served again and Mr. KT listened – the bicycle reminded him of his 12th tuition days – his only mode of transport then.

“You were also victim of history. You were born in a time when the environment had a certain tune – just like fancy of music at a certain time. Being narrowly focused on the analytic and that too for a very narrow purpose, you suppressed the basic biological and emotional urges. You commanded your body and the body listened to because your mind was narrow-beamed and it was delivering energy in a laser like manner.”

“I think so – I have left many things in life untasted.”, KT ejaculated the words.

“Most of the men have not lived long. They have simply existed long. Living and existing are completely different affair. As the natural capital in the form of bio-energy dissipates, like all energy does through entropy, around forty, men have a profound choice – Either / Or. He can either draw heavily on the natural energy in  the same way or choose another way.”

Dr. Philo now looked straight at him and said : ” Do not be listening wrongly. Haven’t you felt sometimes a kind of guilt of not spending time with the family ? Don’t you sometimes find little important when people forgave you for not showing common decency and social obligations for being “busy”, “important”, “responsible” and “hi-flyer” ?”

“Yes, all the time. I have forgotten when was the time when I had attended a marriage for few days.” – said KT

Dr. Philo nodded and went on : “… Examine your life. Many a times when you were coughing blood in your office, metaphorically speaking, stressed and anxious – your family, although bankrolled by you – did complain of not spending quality time with them. Didn’t they ? ”

“My wife constantly complains that my office is her no.1 enemy. I see my daughter only in the morning in the weekdays. Because in all other days she is asleep when I return.”

“Aren’t you being lectured or taunted being more creative ? ”

“All the time.”

“Don’t you feel that you have no life to call your own ? Don’t you feel that your time, your living energy being completely sold out in advance in the form of debt, upgrades, upgraded  (reference to yours) career of children, devices and services that you know not you need for at least half a decade in advance, if not more”

Mr. KT wanted to speak something but kept silent.

“You have been very dutiful, very diligent to everything so far – except to yourself. You have not even thought about it.”

This is my first and last therapy : Think more. You are very fortunate. Many contract this disease at the threshold of their death. You have a chance to fight. I too share the same fortune like yours. We are beneficiaries of the Immanent Mercy of the Cosmic Manifestation.”


Six months later, The Pomegranate Clinic** found two new team members. Mr. KT’s wife. whose name was Annapurna went to Japan, taught herself Japanese, took a rigorous course in Japanese tea ceremony and Mr. KT shifted himself at the edge of the city, started riding more of his adolescent transport – the bi-cycle.

Dr. Philo and Mr. KT were riding a car – on a call – to meet another victim of anexatasti zoi syndrome in an affluent quarter. Dr. Philo asked him : “What do you think we should prescribe ?”

Mr. KT smiled :”I think  Gnothi seauton will be my first and last therapy.”

“And a cup of tea- green one will do just fine as the medicine for the body” – Dr. Philo replied and the car boot danced in joy with three bi-cycles waiting to be unleashed.

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* The initials KT can be read, among billion combinations in India as Kam Tamam 

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** The Pomegranate Clinic is currently operating in beta-testing mode. Dr. Philo and Mr. KT can be contacted for a no-obligation and cost free consultation at wordsmith.bengal@gmail.com