Saturday, December 6, 2014

The cost of price

Yet another Thanksgiving Day and a mad rush to get the best deals went by. In thee recent years, Black Friday has started arriving a few Mondays earlier, and if we apply mathematical induction, in a few years Black Friday deals may start by New Year. The tradition of having a nice family dinner and rushing off to retail stores at 12 mid night with friends and cousins may vanish soon. I hope such moments will make a great adventure story for our grandkids, er... only if they will ever sit down to listen to us, instead of playing PS10.

One of the things that surprised me in Russia (Soviet Union) was the "Price of Things". Obviously, consumerism hadn't gotten there yet (before 1991), so the prices were always fixed by the government. For any produce you pick up from store, there were only three price ranges - 1) moscow region 2) siberia region 3) vladivostok region. And each was about 10 kopeks (think 10 cents) dearer, to cover the transport cost! That's it! Any city I go, any shop I go, whether its Moskva, Kiev or Minsk, the price of kilo of butter, a litre of milk or loaf of bread is same price. With inflation hardly a notion under socialism, the prices remained stable for a long time. And with government controlling produces, there were not 10 brands of milk, 6 gradation of fat %, with or without lactose, with or without Vitamin D, with or without DHA, organic and non-organic, quality of grass and food consumed by the cows, amount of hormones injected, pasteurized or homogenized, and a stamp of shelf life of 10 days for milk! And there were just two varities of bread (white and black - if you are curious).

And guess what? When friends and relatives gathered around for weekends or holidays they did not talk about varieties of milk or whether the basic human consumable food like bread has any harmful ingredients like HFCS or who gives the best deal. No one regretted paying more for something and go back to stand in line to return it only to spend more money on something else than what they originally spent. Many conversations were around literature, music, culture, science, math and of course vodka.

Constrast this in US (for sake of this comparison) many conversations are invariably intruded with some sort of "where what is on sale, now?". Pretty much every information media is always providing some kind of deal - email, mail ads, billboards, store coupons, online coupons, bulk coupons and so on. In general, the common public seem to spend more time trying to "get a better deal" out of anything. Imagine a person spends about 15 minutes on average a day (including spending time to return, talk to customer service etc.) to find a deal. Assume that about 100m buy stuff every day after comparing prices from various online stores, deal sites and retail outlets. So conservatively about 100 million x 15 minutes of time is "non-productive" every single day in US. All this is inessential non-productivity.

(Note: I'm not against choice, choice is needed for creativity. Just saying that that major part of our life could be productively spent elsewhere).

How does this all relate to Sanskrit? I am currently teaching Sanskrit to children (of ages 5 to 15) and I am realizing that the lack of phonetic knowledge is causing them a great difficulty. I then started looking into how the English language is being taught and it was very intriguing to see the amount of time and effort put into "giving a phonetic twist" to a script in which phonetics simply does not exist. As a child, I somehow learnt English as a foreign language, but I dont remember how I learnt it. Now when I try to feel how English is taught, I realize it must be one of the hardest things to do. I watched a kid trying to learn different pronunciations of letter "A" for about two weeks. She was very confused with the sound 'A' and how it ends up differently in bat, boat, far, near, that and so on. Nearly every other new word contained an exception to how a previous word was learnt. God forbid when it comes to consonants - who knows when what is silent - the point is there is no logical relation between the letters, script and the language. Children are merely forced into a prevailing structure, with every institution claiming their method is better than another. A whole industry of private schools, expensive curriculums, tutorial institutions, spelling-bee competitions and reading programs thrive just to "fill in the gap" of something fundamentally missing in the English script/language. Children at their early ages (1-5) are in the absolute prime time of absorbing languages. And guess what? Most of their prime time is lost in inessential non-productivity.

Constrast this with a fully phonetic language like Sanskritam, which has a very strong "shIkShA-shAstra" (phonetic-science). There is a clear separation of vowels and consonants, a clear notion of what parts of mouth is used to pronounce a sound, and what the amount of stress of each sound requires. There are even more attributes, but this suffices to make the point. The day a child learns the "sounds", she is productive immediately with the words. The real challenge for the kids then is to find relationships between words within compound-words (samAsa) or in a sentence and that builds a strong analytical skill. This, at least should be one of the reasons why Sanskritam should be taught at a very early age.

(Note: I am not saying English shouldn't be learnt or taught. Just saying that there is a major part of brain that gets exercised better when learning Sanskritam at an early age).