Ghalib / 13.02.2009

This week we engage with a complex she’r by Ghalib in an attempt to understand how we know what we know:   az mihr taa bah zarrah dil o dil hai aaiinah tuutii ko shash jihat se muqabil hai aaiinah   from sun to sand grain, all are hearts; and the heart is a mirror the parrot is confronted from all six directions by a mirror   Given the complexity of this verse and the absence of punctuation in Urdu, numerous interpretations are possible. The reader is referred to Mehr-e-Niimroz to resolve some of these complexities.   From our perspective, the following are important in extracting the particular interpretation that we wish to present here:   Whether the break in the opening line comes after zarrah or after the first occurrence of dil. The knowledge that in Sufi thought there is a very close relationship between the heart and a mirror and the metaphor of...

Education / 10.02.2009

By Anil Kala   There is a celebrated episode in Mahabharata known as ‘Yaksh Prasn’ (Yaksh’s Queries) which culminates in this question:   Kim aashcharyam? (What is the most amazing thing?)   Yudhishthir answers that despite knowing the inevitability of death our incessant desire for immortality is the most amazing thing.   The answer seemed very impressive to me until one day I thought this is really silly. I realized that things said in a dramatic manner often escape critical scrutiny. For example, that our desire to live at every cost is the most natural thing and the crux of our existence; without it life will not last another day. Didn’t Buddha say, ‘Being born is cause of all our miseries’?  Therefore if there is no compelling desire to live why would anyone want to live? What seemed amazing though was the conduct of Yaksh Himself. This entity claiming to be a God, cursed...

Ghalib / 05.02.2009

The beauty of language and the art of wordplay determine this week’s selection from Ghalib:   laag ho to us ko ham samjheN lagaao jab nah ho kuchh bhii to dhokaa khaaeN kyaa   if enmity would exist, then we would consider it affection when nothing at all would exist, then how would we deceive ourselves?   In last week’s selection (Heaven Unto Hell), the word laag had appeared in one guise. This week Ghalib uses it in a completely contrary meaning and then pairs it with lagaao to create the beauty of opposites. One can’t resist the temptation to say: lage raho Munnabhai!   Mehr-i-Niimroz will delve further into this intricate facility with words. The meaning, on the other hand, is quite clear: any kind of relationship is better than indifference; even enmity from the beloved is preferable to no relationship at all.   What interpretation can one extract from this in the social context?   We can...

Ghalib / 31.01.2009

Even as I was writing about Pascal’s wager (On God: Existence and Nature), Ghalib’s words were echoing in my mind: taa’at meN taa rahe nah mai-o-angabiiN kii laag dozaakh meN Daal do koii le kar bihisht ko so that in obedience, the desire of wine and honey may not remain let someone take heaven and cast it into hell The question is quite obvious: What is the motivation to do the right thing or to act ethically? But, of course, this begs the prior question: What is right or ethical to start with? Ghalib’s position on the prior question is well known – he never placed much value on the rituals and gestures of propriety; for him it was always the sincerity of intent that mattered more. There is the constant contrast in Ghalib’s poetry between the genuineness of the Sufi and the hypocrisy of the Mullah. Here Ghalib is going a...

Politics / 29.01.2009

A reader’s comment has raised the issue of the dynamic of Pakistan’s creation. The question posed is about the role of Mr. Jinnah’s leadership: did Mr. Jinnah’s charisma make Pakistan possible or was the yearning of Muslims for self rule the primary driver? There have a number of other explanations for the creation of Pakistan and one can attempt to evaluate them by seeking answers to a few simple questions: (1) In which geographical areas did the demand for Pakistan emerge first? (2) Why did the demand arise when it did and not earlier? (3) Which social groups articulated the demand and lent it support? Some of the explanations appear weak when evaluated against these questions. One of them is the religious explanation that presents the creation of Pakistan as the fulfillment of a religious desire for a state in which Islam could be practiced without hindrance....

India / 27.01.2009

By Aakar Patel Manmohan Singh had his arteries bypassed on Saturday, a procedure that increasing numbers of Indians are having. Last year, medical journal Lancet reported a study of 20,000 Indian patients and found that 60 per cent of the world's heart disease patients are in India, which has 15 per cent of the world's population. This number is surprising because reports of obesity and heart disease focus on fat Americans and their food. What could account for Indians being so susceptible -- more even than burger-and-fries-eating Americans? Four things: diet, culture, stress and lack of fitness. There is no doctrinal prescription for vegetarianism in Hindu diet, and some texts explicitly sanction the eating of meat. But vegetarianism has become dogma. Indian food is assumed to be strongly vegetarian, but it is actually lacking in vegetables. Our diet is centered round wheat, in the north, and rice, in the south....

Religion / 25.01.2009

I spent a fair bit of money on the hardcover edition of Julian Barnes’ reflections on death, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, so I feel I am entitled to an extended quote. There is this section that begins with Barnes’ memory of a Frenchman (De Goësbriand) who has just celebrated twenty-five years as a priest and confides to Barnes “You don’t think I’d go through all this unless there was Heaven at the end of it, do you?” That sets Barnes off: At that time, I was half impressed by such practical thinking, half appalled at a life wasted in vain hope. But Père de Goësbriand’s calculation had a distinguished history, and I might have recognized it as a workday version of Pascal’s famous wager. The Pascalian bet sounds simple enough. If you believe, and God turns out to exist, you win. If you believe, and God turns...

Ghalib / 24.01.2009

How do we decide whom to follow? Ghalib has some advice: laazim nahiiN ke kih Khizr kii ham pairavii kareN jaanaa kih ek buzurg hameN ham-safar mile it is not necessary that we follow in the footsteps of Khizr we consider that we have a venerable-elder as a fellow-traveler Hazrat Khizr is the most revered guide to the lost in Islamic folk tradition and Ghalib is saying that we do not need to follow in the footsteps of Khizr. Why? Ghalib has faith in the individual; he wants every human being to use his or her mind first. Ghalib is not rejecting advice but he wishes the advice to be just another input into our decision-making as we proceed on our journey through life. A knowledgeable fellow traveler is fine, but a leader to be followed blindly is not recommended. What do you think of the advice of Ghalib? Well, it is clear...

Education / 20.01.2009

This is a response by a subject expert to the following question from a reader on Ask a Question: Q: Can artificial intelligence ever match the human mind in every aspect? Can a computer be “aware” like we are? This is a fascinating but difficult question. Researchers in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) have given many different answers to this question over the years. I will summarize some of the disagreements and encourage you to read more and develop your own views. My summary is based on Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig’s book, “Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach,” which you can consult yourself for further reading. Before getting to the issue of building intelligent computers, it is worth mentioning the related work in biology and biological engineering from the last few decades. In particular, you can think of cloning technology as a different way of creating “artificial” human...


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