Saturday, December 12, 2015

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

For whom the feeling tolls

From a simple series of drawings to sophisticated and precise motion of objects following physics laws, animation has come a long way in just a few decades. Companies like Pixar have raised the bar with every movie release. Eventually all animations look sophisticated, beautiful and stunning, yet they fail to hold us unless there is a compelling story. Illustration is for the mind. Story is for generations. This is a key point for creating good slides/presentations - it is good to have appropriate visuals, but you need to have a compelling story.

In the Inside Out movie, the story of a girl depicted through personifaction of emotions is a brilliant way to capture the psychology of a child. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that 'depression emotion' is going to have some kind of impact, but the script manages it very well until the end. The fact that depression is an important emotion for human beings (perhaps animals too) is a neat little knot. But after watching the movie, I felt something was eluding me and I wasn't able to quite capture it. I have heard a similar story-line before? But where?

Many people read the bhagavad-gita in original, translated or original with translations and are awed by its philosophy. Lectures after lectures have eloquently captured its essence expounded through a variety of experiences. Its so easy to quote 'karmaNi eva adhikAraH te', 'yogaH karmasu kausalam', yet it is near impossible to put them in practice. Or get a thrill reminiscing Robert Oppenheimer quoting the destruction verse (divisUrya sahasrasya) during the nuclear bomb.

Whenever I get hold of a book, I tend to read the Introduction/Foreward section fully. Understanding why the author write the book, provides a context for the content. In that sense, one of the most brilliant and under-rated chapters is the first chapter of the gIta. In fact both rAmAyaNa and mahAbhArata are fantastic human psychology guides. Many characters of these two epics are diluted in our day-to-day versions and are put in black-white, so the real shades don't come out as vyAsa had put it. I feel sorry for psychology students who quote Jung and Freud at the drop of a hat, yet cannot explain the confusions of yudhiShThira or the anxiety of dasharatha.

From author's view, follow how the context is being brilliantly set. If the content was important, he could have directly skipped to the preaching section. Yet vyAsa devotes an entire chapter to set the mood. In the first chapter "arjuna vishAda yoga", there is a brilliant contrast of two feelings: duryodhana's and arjuna's. Both are driven by ego and are ready to annhiliate the other side. Duryodhana cautions droNa of his nemesis, followed by provoking that he is not a kShatriya (implying not fit for a battle) and then implying a soft corner for his favorite student. He has more strength in numbers than the pANdava-s, yet is doubtful of victory. And arjuna begins with ordering krishNa to take 'his' chariot in front of the army and proclaims that he is ready to take them on.

At no point duryodhana exibhits a feeling of remorse that what he is doing is wrong. Though enveloped in doubt, there is no sadness in him on what happens to anyone as he clearly declares that others are willing to die for him. In complete contrast, arjuna after being cleverly put between bhIShma and droNa, breaks down because of 'depression'. (A trivia: Many think that the first words spoken by kRShNa are in the 2nd chapter. But here kRShNa says, "Arjuna, see the assembled Kurus"). This vishAda is the reason arjuna is ready to lay down his life in the battle-field and hoping he would get mokSha without any incurred pApa or effort.

Just as in Riley's triggering of her fondest memories, 'depression' played a key role for arjuna to bring out the best in him. Without 'depression' we would all be like duryodhana, not even feeling what is wrong.

For the Samskritam lovers, the verbs used in arjuna's lamentation are like leaving a kid in candy shop. The dhAtu of many words are deep in meaning that translating them does not do justice. (kRupayA parayA AviShTaH, sIdanti gAtrANi, mukham pariSuShyati, gANDIvam sravate, tvak paridahyate, sreyaH na anupaSyAmi).

I've heard people give various reasons to learn (or not to learn) Samskritam. From a cliched 'I read in 5th grade' to a proud 'My grandfather knows it' to 'I simply don't have time' to 'Its complicated'. A few among them stay on to continue to learn the language, in addition to just admiring. For them, the depression has already set in.

When is yours ?

(Some ideas inspired by Sri Dr. Padmakumar's bhagavad-gIta series on youtube).

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Wisdom by numbers

In the late 1980's there was a superhit Hindi song with simple lyrics and catchy tunes. It become very popular even in the anti-Hindi belts of India and catapulted Madhuri Dixit to instant fame. Yeah, for those from that era, I dont have to give a clue anymore. So it goes ek, do, teen ... barah, terah - counting from 1 to 13, the lyric pauses to make a pun-ny link between terah (13) and tera (you) - tera karoon intazaar (im waiting for you, come out, the Spring has arrived). Language of lyrics and tunes are made for each other, I guess. Setting that tune to translated lyrics just doesn't feel quite right. It goes on to describe other numbers and events, but frankly who remembers the rest of the lyrics?

But long before Madhuri danced to the tunes of counting 1,2,3 to wait for her boyfriend, this technique was used to put a distressed King to bed. Not by counting sheeps, but by shedding an enormous amount of wisdom on observations of human behavior. Set in a form of dialog, the context of it is as fascinating as the content. Sanjaya has just returned from a mission to pANdava-s to "accept terms" of duryodhana, but dhRtarAShtra does not know about the result yet. The King asks Sanjaya to spell out, but Sanjaya says, its late in the night and he would disclose the details only in the court in front of everyone, the next day morning. This makes the king uncomfortable and cannot sleep at night. And so when the king is in distress, he promptly calls for his brother for advice. And thus the chapter is named "Unable to sleep at night chapter (prajAgara parva - part of udyoga parva)" - more popularly known by its content - vidura nIti (Laws/Sayings of vidura). Yes, we are talking about Vidura, yet another fascinating character of the epic. Etymologically viduraH could be vigrahavAkya-ed in two ways - vidyAyAm rate iti viduraH - (one who revels in knowledge is vidura) or vidyA rate yasmin saH viduraH (one, in whom knowledge shines, is vidura). The whole vidura nIti is a dialog between completely distressed dhRtarAShTra and the wise Vidura, that goes on for the whole night.

Unlike the pancatantra or hitopadeSa, where a story ends with one profound subhAShita that serves as a morale summary, the whole vidura nIti is chock full of quotes, sayings, proverbs and subhAShita-s, that would make any quoter look like an "Instant Jnani".  Its literally an encyclopedia of taxonomy of human behavior, a critique of human tendencies and a book of law for a ruler and advice to common man. Many popular quotes are from this chapter -

"ekaH svAdu na bhunjIta" - do not eat alone (always share food with others)
"satyam svargasya sopAnam" - truth is the step to svargaH
"kshamA guNo hi aSaktAnAm, SaktAnAm bhUShaNam" - Forgiveness is a virtue for weak, and an ornament for brave.
"mUrkheShu paNditAH jIvanti" - Because fools are around, wise are recognized (lit. wise survive in fools, ie in foolishness of other people)

and many many more. The last one, especially can be related easily in IT project environments. If you got a performance reward, its not because you worked hard, but others around you worked less harder than you! In some sloka-s, vidura's perspective and straight-forwardness is stunning.

But there is always one thing most profound than others. In the first section of the dialog Vidura explains the dos and donts of a king just using numbers. Vidura delivers a summary of his advice to the king in a single quote.

ekayA dve viniScitya trImScaturbhiH vaSe kuru |
panca jitvA viditvA ShaT sapta hitvA sukhI bhava ||

By 1 determine (discriminate/divide) 2, using 4 overpower 3, conquer 5, know 6, shed 7 ane be happy.

If we take liberty to write this down mathematically, here is the formula for happiness:

happiness = 1/2 + 3^4 * 5 + 6 - 7.

The rounded answer seems to be 404 (as you type in a calculator), and Im pretty sure Vidura secretly encoded that happiness is not to be found without these - astonishingly predating the Http API.

Ok just kidding. Philosophically, this is explained as - Using 1 intellect (ekayA buddhyA), determine 2 - whats right and whats wrong. Using the 4 sAma, dAna, bheda, danda technique subdue the 3 types of people - friends, enemies and the confused. Conquer 5 indriyAs (senses of perception), know 6 (adhibhUta [material science], adhyAtma [spiritual science], adhidaiva [science of natural forces], adhiyajna [inquisition about one fundamental kartA], sarvagata [omnipresence of the kartA] and karma [that kartA is the real doer of everything]) and shed the 7 vices (striyA, mRgayA, pAnam, vAkpAruSham, mahat-daNda-pAruSham, artha-dUShaNam: respectively - indulgence in amorous activities, hunting, addictions like alcohol, harsh speech, excessive punishment, misusing wealth).

Then he goes after each number upto 10 and classifying various laws, rules, systems and observations by numbers. There may be some observations that are not relatable to modern society, but in many cases he seems to be spot on. The taxonomy of Vidura reflects a very deep knowledge of things around him. A deeper inference from this - to make such a classification, the person should not only know the properties of the subject, but also know what NOT belongs to that classification and why. To say that there are three primary colors (RGB model) takes observation. But to say only 3 colors are required, not more not less, requires deeper understanding of the nature of colors.

And finally, a word about the Samskritam behind it. Just like yakSha praSna is a great material on gender of nouns, vidura nIti is a fantastic source of using linga-s for cardinals. The slight variations of cardinals in Samskritam may distract a beginner learner (dve, dvau, trayaH, tisraH, catvAri, catasraH etc.) but these sloka-s will help to understand them with context.