The Kitchen Vedantist

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To Read or not to Read

Left Brain Simulation 6

Left Brain Simulation 6 (Photo credit: Paige Marie)

There won’t be many people who don’t extol the virtues of reading- whether they read or otherwise. I don’t know where I stand compared to people who could be called voracious readers; but I do know that I have read some of the greatest literature. If you rate by quality, I know I would score well. Despite all that I also know I don’t like to always read. No, it is not laziness; nor is it that I believe quality is hard to come by, and if one were to read all the time one would have to read second rate stuff as well. There’s so much of great literature that even the most voracious of readers can hope to read only a fraction of it.

For me there is a thing called too much of reading. When you read too much, you are spending all your time immersed in other people’s thoughts. You are seeing the world through someone’s eyes. Yes, there are occasions when a conversation, a turn of phrase, or a situation feels as if the writer had seen your innermost thoughts. The clarity of vision, delightful insight and the wisdom a great work imparts can’t be overestimated. But isn’t there something to experiencing life first hand? I may not be a genius but my perceptions are as unique as I am- I want to have time to be immersed in them. I may not come up with a work of art, but I have an underlying sense of structure to the multitude of experiences that I have gone through- I would like to play with it at least in my imagination.
And then there are other reasons and moods too. Sometimes I read a challenging book-mostly non-fiction- and then don’t feel like picking up another book for months on end. But the time I lie down and stare at the ceiling does something for me- beneath the surface, the thoughts and ideas are assimilated; sometimes new perspectives, spin off ideas and questions are formed; and often I come out of the hibernation invigorated to take on a new exploratory trip down as-yet undefined intellectual pathways. I believe it has added new cells to the matter inside my skull.
Now, is there anyone out there who thinks there’s some sense in this approach? Or am I wasting precious opportunity?

March 4, 2013 Posted by | culture, literature, self expression, Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

No Easy Comparisons

This picture of a lady holding a suckling child, in conversation with Venezuelan Prez Hugo Chavez has been doing the rounds in Facebook recently. The narrative along with the photo invariably goes like this: see how natural they are- imagine this happening in Kerala/India. I must admit it set off a train of thoughts the very first time. I kept it to myself the second time I saw it, but I promised myself I’m going to shoot the next time it appeared before my eyes. It did and here goes:
Is this all as simple as that? Why make comparisons with India/Kerala?
1. As recent as the first half of the last century women with bare torsos were a common sight in Kerala, and a little earlier all over India. Think back to where this sense of shame associated with the body came from. Going by classical Indian art, it was not part of our early makings. It wasn’t there in early Europe (all those Greek sculptures) either. This idea of hiding the body, especially the female body, looks to me to have originated from the Semitic cultures and it prevails everywhere the Semitic culture has had its influence. Then why blame only Kerala/India?
2. As stated earlier women used to go about with bare torsos just like men, at least in Kerala. Even if they wore a cloth to cover the upper parts of the body, they had to remove it, just like men, whenever they came face to face with a man holding a position of authority- say a high priest, the elder of the family or the king. Back then it was all about power-equations and the women fought for their right to cover their torsos. Now you want them to have a right to- what, exposure or comfort?
3. Nobody bothers much about a bare head or arm do they- what is usually hidden makes people want to peep. Now why go far- just look carefully at the picture. There’s more than the guy peeping from behind the Prez’s back. Another guy is looking away-embarrassment? And not only is the Prez’s hand on the lady’s shoulder-there’s another hand on her other shoulder- looks to me a bit like groping. And to me the only people who look comfortable in the picture are the lady and the child. Now maybe this is my naughty mind at work- but looking at the frown on the President’s face I’m getting the impression that he is trying hard to concentrate on the lady’s face.
‘Natural’ is the word we often use in situations like these. But then we’d do well to qualify the word- what’s natural for birds and bees and other mammals couldn’t be possibly applied as is for the human animal- he has moved far from his primate past. The animal is still lurking behind the surface but in their quest for a better, securer life humans have acquired a multitude of complex social rules. To make things more complicated these rules are not interpreted in the same way everywhere and by everyone. It is easy enough to see that the civilized thing is to let a person choose what to wear or not wear based on comfort. That said it’d do us a whole lot of good to accept that the collective consciousness of any society at a given point in time is the outcome of decades and sometimes centuries of conditioning and adaptation. Let the Zeitgeist work, but progress is bound to be slow.
Tailpiece: The picture got me intrigued enough. I even had a suspicion that it couldn’t be real- the lady and a whole lot of people in the picture are too good-looking, nay even glamorous. So I did some googling to check on the source. I couldn’t identify the source, but I did find the picture on a couple of websites. There wasn’t any clue to who the lady was or where it was taken or first published, but I learnt that this picture was originally banned on several websites as some deemed it to be indecent exposure. Among those websites where it was banned is Facebook, with its origins in one of the most so-called liberal of societies!

August 2, 2012 Posted by | culture, evolution | , , | 1 Comment

The Evolutionary Disadvantage

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London

Image via Wikipedia

The brain has weird ways- out of nowhere a song or image appears and it goes on playing for hours, sometimes days on end. That’s what happened today- of all things a rhyme from school days pops in and I’m stuck with it.

Twenty froggies went to school,

Down beside a rushy pool

Twenty little coats of green

Twenty vests all white and clean


But then came along a couple of observations:

One, the froggies don’t seem to resent that they have to attend the classes. Not one seems to be bunking. It’s not that learning is all fun for them. The master bullfrog is all grave and stern, and they have to study before playtime.

Two, there are no dropouts or failures. All twenty froggies came out polished to a high degree as each froggie ought to be. Not one was a dunce.

That’s it. This may sound like a prim n propah victorian picture but it’s so true. Not only froggies- doggies, kitten and all other beings except humans seem to learn what they need to. There are no dunces, no dropouts, no failures- only smart ones, smarter ones and smartest ones. What’s with us humans?

September 11, 2010 Posted by | culture, education, evolution, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lost in Transmission

Statue of Confucius on Chongming Island in Sha...

Image via Wikipedia

A recent conversation about the nature of communication has left me wondering. The guy, someone whose views and judgment I value a lot, was going to meet his friends from schooltime, and I asked “Can you still connect with them?”. He said , “I speak to them in my own way”. He continued that no matter who your correspondent is, they’ll make what they want out of your words. I can readily see the point…our interpretation of someone’s words and deeds is tempered by our own attitudes, experiences and state of mind at that point in time. But doesn’t that make each human an island unto himself? If total communication were not possible, why this irresistible instinct for self expression that only the great silent ones (munis) could overcome? Why this need to be understood?

On the other hand, is this such a one-sided need? Don’t we all at times want to get inside someone’s head, see and experience things as they do? What of that saying “to know someone is to love them”? Why do we buy books and art? Why do great works of art and literature appeal to people divided by centuries and vast geographical expanses? Where lies the universal and where the individual?

These thoughts remind me of a quest in an entirely different field. I just can’t stop marveling about the delightfully thought provoking Edge essay by neuroscientist V S Ramachandran about mirror neurons. Call it empathy, call it collective subconscious, there indeed seems to be some kind of overlapping of minds/experience/consciousness.

Coming back to the munis, is silence the ultimate desirable? Did they withdraw into silence because they realized experience can never be expressed in words? Is it the ultimate victory when one overcomes the need for self expression? If so, have I fallen from grace by starting this blog?

August 25, 2010 Posted by | communication, culture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments