Monday, June 11, 2012

The varnas of frameworks

In one of the Samskritam classes, I threw a few words to the students and asked them to tell what the word means:

# Solution
Answers: a final result to a math problem; some kind of liquid; an answer to a puzzle;

# Angle
Answers: a math number in geometry; point of view; projection of a building;

# Direction
Answers: north, south etc; a guideline

If meaning of single word can change within a few years, think about works that separate the modern reader by thousands of years. For eg the word "awful" originally meant "full of awe", now it means exactly the opposite. "Nice" originally meant "ignorant", now its about being pretty. Without a context or without a domain knowledge, one cannot interpret a word correctly. If a single word could mean many things without a proper context, think about complete works. This is especially true of scientific works like yoga sutras, nyayas, tarka shastra etc.

Say when we are studying a thousand year old work, it is imperative to realize what we are not readily exposed to: cultural context, language, intended meaning of words or sentences, idioms prevelant in those times, technical terms peculiar to that domain and finally the thought process itself. Given already the gap, translation only makes it worse. Any translation passes through the bias faculty of the translator, however objective it be. The difference between truly understanding a translated work versus the original is like "you breathing" vs "some one else breathing for you".

Language translation, unfortunately is not a mathematical equation, where x = f-inverse(f(x))

Many words from Samskritam has been translated to English and accepted, yet when they are translated back to Samskritam, they yield a different result. For eg, chitta is translated to mind. manas also is translated to mind. But how will you translate "mind" back to Samskritam -> chitta or manas? Yoga has been translated to union, but is union translated back to Samskritam as Yoga?

One of the most misunderstood concepts of Hinduism is "caste". Obviously it has had a long history and there has been so many interpretations. Now what are the words used for caste in Samskritam? In Bhagavad-gita there is a reference, caaturvarNyam mayaa sRuShTam (The four *varNa*-s are created by me). There is also another word "jAti". Both of these words are translated to "caste" which immediately gives the context of societal caste hierarchy. In puruSha sUktam also we find the four categories mentioned, without mentioning the word varNa or jAti. But what is the context?

varNa is a concept of functioning of any non-homogenous group: data, control, presentation and implementation.

Computers: PC, Laptop, iPad: OS (Brahman), CPU (Kshatriya), Screen (Vaishya), Software (Shudra).
Operating System: Boot (Brahman), Kernel (Kshatriya), I/O (Vaishya), Services (Shudra)
Ethernet network: Data (Brahman), DNS controller (Kshatriya), Protocols (Vaishya), Mechanism to transfer data or Endpoints (Shudra).
Corporation: Advisory committee (Brahman), Executive committe (Kshatriya), Marketing (Vaishya), Employees (Shudra).
Government: Ministers (Brahman), Ruler/PM/President (Kshatriya), Departments (Vaisya), Employees (Shudra)
Even Socialism/communism, where all are perceived equal: Manifesto (Brahman), Politburo (Kshatriya), Propaganda (Vaishya), People (Shudra).

In a sense its like a fractal. You zoom in, as long as its non-homogenous the four core function groups are reflected.

And as you write your next web application using Model View Controller framework, remember it directly reflects the principles of the four varNa-s.

Model (Brahman), Controller (Kshatriya), View (Vaishya), Service (Shudra)

All the four should function per its own rules for the whole application to work. If one throws an exception, the user is angry.

So next time you write a controller code in model, or use controller in the service layer, remember: your code reviewer is waiting to reject it with the reason "Separation of Concerns principle is not followed". Now, now, don't you accuse her of casteism.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Phonetic Bee

So there is a lot of news about how Indians excel in spelling-bee contests, remembering and recollecting words that will be used exactly once in every yuga. While I am all for the hardwork put by the kids and really appreciate their dedication, I feel there is something fundamentally missed.

The arbitrary phonetics of English is its weakest link and that has been exploited by every culture that speaks English, giving their own twists to the phonetics, which on the whole entails that all pronunciations are correct by their own standards. If the judge were from Arab country, he would ask to spell 'guedabans', if the judge were from Bengal, all a-s would be o-s and if he were from south india, you would have to spell his 'madam' as 'mmadamm'. And we could argue until the next solar eclipse who is correct. .

Meanwhile, a lot of American/British prime-time game shows are faithfully aped by Indian TV media, with a bit of cultural twist and a phenomenally generous dose of local accent. American Idol? There is an Indian idol (and even a Carnatic Idol!). Who wants to be millionaire? There is KBC. Daily show? Several desi versions exist. Stand-up comedies have become so popular which weren't a rage 20 years ago.

So here we imagine a group of game show producers discussing about 'inventing' the next big game show program for the fortunate Indian TV viewers.

(All conversations happen in desi accent)

Producer #1: Why don't we do a game show for spelling-bee?
Producer #2: Holy Eagle! That is a cool idea!
Producer #3: (critic voice) Really? And so what spelling we will use? British or American?
Producer #1: Why British, of course!
Producer #3: Are you sure? Actually, we are more like Americans. Shouldn't we use American spelling?
Producer #2: Basically, we can give both options - students can spell either American or British spelling.
Producer #1: What about Indian English spelling? That will give a desi twist to the game...
Producer #3: (thinking)... Yeah! thats a good idea too...

A waiter-boy enters.

Producer #2: Hey waiter boy, bring chai for all of us...

Waiter-boy goes to bring chai. Producers keep discussing various ideas from whom to cast to who will be the sponsors. Waiter-boy enters with chai.

Producer #1: I have an idea.. How about we do spelling bee in Sanskrit? That will give an uniqueness to our show and increase our TRP ratings...
Producer #3: But people would not understand...
Producer #1: That is not a real problem, people just want to sit in front of tv, no matter what... do you mean to say you understand all those English movies?
Producer #2: I agree that is a really cool idea, we should do spelling-bee in Sanskrit
Producer #3: Ok I give in, Sanskrit spelling-bee it is....

Waiter-boy: Sirs, if you dont mind me saying something, spelling-bee contests does not make sense in Sanskrit, because the announcer would have already spelled the word by uttering it. D-uh!

All producers blink at each other for a few moments. Uneasiness in the room.

Producer #1: What do you suggest?
Waiter-boy: I suggest instead of spelling bee, do a samAsa contest in Sanskrit.
Producer #3: What is a samAsa contest?
Waiter-boy: Instead of remembering words as-is, students would be challenged to analyze the relationship between the words. This is not just about memorizing anymore, but to develop analytical thinking during the contest.

They tip the waiter-boy, he goes away.

And so here is presenting you samAsa-bhramari, a unique TV show from the futuristic Indian TV!

Rules of the Game

  • Amitabh Bacchan (or Rajinikanth for the South version) provides a samAsa and the student will break the word into constituent words, analyzing the relationship between the words.
  • Vibhakti must be mentioned for answer acceptance.
  • Bonus points for figuring out the dhaatu/ganaa, if any
  • Extra bonus points for quoting the relevant Paninian sutra.
  • If samasa-s have multiple answers, student can ask for a usage and the announcer will provide it.

So here goes the samAsA-s

maasapUrvaH - maasaat pUrvaH (a month before, 5th vibhakti)
chorabhayam - choraat bhayam (fear from thieves, 5th vibhakti)
vRukShamUlam - vRukShasya mUlam (root of the tree, 6th vibhakti)
rameshvaraH - multiple answers: (rAmasya IshvaraH, ramaH iva IshvaraH, ramaH yasya IshvaraH saH)
dIpaavalI - dIpaanaam aavaLIH (row of lights, 6th vibhakti, plural)

So as the students progress to higher levels, the complexity of samAsa increases too. The student is tested with the word sarasijanavadalavikasitanayanaH.

sarasi jaataa - sarasijA (lotus)
sarasijaayaaH nava dalaH - sarasijanavadala (new leaf of the lotus born in pond)
sarasijanavadalavikasita - vikasitA sarasijA (new leaf of the lotus that has just flowered in the pond)
sarasijanavadalavikasita iva nayana (the eyes which resemble the leaf of the flowered lotus in the pond)
sarasijanavadalavikasitanayanaH - (one who has the eyes which resemble the leaf of the newly bloomed lotus in the pond)

Answer: Krishna

Mr. Bacchan: Is that your final answer?