A doze of Dostoyevsky for today?

notesfromundergroundThis morning I woke up feeling a little different and decided to give up mid-way what I was reading till last night – The Honorable Schoolboy by John le Carre. Instead, just before leaving for work, I quickly grabbed Dostoyevsky’s Notes for the Underground. This book has been lying on my shelf since a week and everytime I opened something else, I could hear Dostoyevsky calling out to me to read him first. I kept ignoring it long enough but this morning something changed.

So, when I finally got on the train and sat, I scrambled for a seat so as not to waste any more time and quickly took the book out of my bag. It started as follows:

“I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it and never have, though I respect medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine anyway. (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, I refuse to treat it out of spite. You probably will not understand that. Well, but I understand it. Of course I can’t explain to you just whom I am annoying in this case by my spite. I am perfectly well aware that I cannot “get even” with the doctors by not consulting them. I know better than anyone that I thereby injure only myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t treat it, its is out of spite. My liver is bad, well then– let it get even worse!”

Those of you who have ever read Dostoyevsky probably know the kind of excitement one feels when embarking upon a journey where he is the guide. For those who haven’t read him, do so before you die. Everything else can wait.

A response to Rajnath Singh’s unscientific remarks

Rajnath_Singh“Rajnath Singh” is what happens when there is a disconnect between dogma and common sense. That the minister does not know science is a sorry fact, it is also indicative of the ignorance that has crept deep into the core of an organization that wishes to keep its eyes closed to reality. This post is a response to his unscientific comments made in front of news media, which can be read here. What he is basically trying to do here is merge Science with mythology by referring to pundits instead of scientists. Is it really necessary to go on ranting about stuff that you don’t really know and label Astronomy as coming from a ‘US Observatory’? I mean, where is the man really coming from? Clearly, it is an attempt to glorify his mythological beliefs, which no doubt are BJP’s main driving factor.

What Mr. Singh really doesn’t know, perhaps due to his lack of scientific education, is that it is not a ‘US observatory’ that observes and tells us when an eclipse is going to happen, it is the science of Astronomy, completely consistent across the world as well as in (surprise) India itself that ‘calculates’ (perhaps too difficult a word for him to contemplate) the occurrence of an eclipse. Concepts such as tilt of the axis of the earth, revolution of celestial bodies around the sun due to gravity and the position of the point of observer on the surface of the earth that, when put together give you the end result. But why should the minister worry about those factors when he has the neighborhood pundit by his side?

Nevermind the scientific calculations, Mr. Singh must now answer some more basic questions about the knowledge he seems to  have derived from scriptures using the high intellect of his pundits (if that is what he meant).

First: Hindu mythology also says that the earth is sitting on the back of a giant turtle (or was it a tortoise). What I want to know is, does the minister really believe that that is the case? Does he really have the courage to go so far as to appear a complete fool by accepting this joke also as a truth? Is he angry or upset that science doesn’t care about his point of view and is doing well enough to steer clear of such an embarrassing claim?

Second: Does the minister really believe that the Earth was formed 196 crore years ago? 196 crores = 1,960,000,000, i.e., 1.96 billion years old. Scientists have a unanimous agreement that the Earth is at least more than 4.5 billion years old, so his pundits, whoever they are, have got this fact wrong by at least 2.5 billion years and ended up embarrassing the minister in front of the whole nation. Too bad! And by the way, that is just the age of the Earth and we haven’t even mentioned the age of the universe, which scientists agree is more than 14.5 billion years, and which the mythology somehow totally missed. How did this disaster befall the great Hindu mythology? The minister should have opened a science textbook instead of listening to his idiot pundits.

Third: What does the minister mean when he says “Earlier, science did not accept this..”? What the hell is he talking about? Another stupid thing his pundits told him? Who in the scientific community has accepted anything of this sort from the Hindu mythology? Science is a system of making observations, developing theories and then testing these theories rigorously to find out the truth and it is science that has discovered the actual age and not his pundits. There have been many ancient cultures in the world that have put their own guesses on the age of the earth and all of them have the missed the mark. It is purely a coincidence that Hindu mythology has come up with the longest time of them all, but it is still nowhere near the correct scientific calculation.

Fourth: According to Hindu mythology, when a man dies, his wife should throw herself into the fire of his funeral and become a Sati, whereas a man has no such obligation, and we can probably guess why that is. So, does the minister think this “traditional value” should also be followed by the country? Will he suggest such a step to his loved ones? Is this a tradition that he is proud of? As a citizen, I demand an answer.

“No other country could match our knowledge” Well, it might not be true of our country today, but it certainly appears to be true that nobody in the world can match the knowledge that Mr. Singh has procured through his detailed scientific assessments of his uneducated pundits. The world is light years ahead of India in terms of science and technology, perhaps because we still want to suck up to any myth, however uninformed and unscientific, as long as it makes some of us proud of it. What he doesn’t understand is that we do not want a false sense of pride, but real measurable achievements.

For instance, Algebra is now from India? When the hell did that happen? Did he derive this also from his foolish pundits? The word algebra comes from the Arabic language (“restoration”) from the title of the book Ilm al-jabr wa’l-muḳābala by al-Khwarizmi. The roots of algebra can be traced to the ancient Babylonians. The word entered the English language during Late Middle English from either Spanish, Italian, or Medieval Latin. Algebra originally referred to a surgical procedure, and still is used in that sense in Spanish, while the mathematical meaning was a later development. If you need to read more about it, go to wikipedia. So, not only does he want to inflate his sense of mythological pride, he even wants to steal from scientific achievements of other cultures.

At this stage, rather than going on attacking the minister, I would pardon him a break and make one point very clear. Progress on scientific fronts has happened throughout the course of history. It is in accordance with that that various theories and concepts came about in different ages. So, yes, there will always be some concepts that you can attribute as having originated in one country or developed and refined in another. But, it doesn’t by any means imply that people in India discovered everything scientific and that was the end of progress of all areas of knowledge across the world.

The theory of relativity was not discovered in India. Neither did the theory of gravitation, electricity, nuclear physics, the periodic table of elements, evolution. Countries such as Japan have mastered fantastic technologies such as magnetically levitated trains, while we still are unable to figure out why our trains keep running off tracks every now and then.

What the minister has forgotten, or perhaps failed to understand, is that even the scientific achievements of India from centuries in the past did not come from pundits and that was not even mythology being practiced. That was science itself. And any person, whichever age they lived in, who developed any scientific theory was a scientist and not a pundit. And there is a huge difference between the two. Of course, a believer in mythology can still be a scientist if they follow the scientific method to draw conclusions, but the results of their method are by no means mythological in nature. Yes, it was someone living in India who invented the concept of Zero, but did he say it was thanks to mythology that he found out about Zero or was it because he used his intelligence just like many others have done all across the world to come up with their own discoveries in mathematics and the various branches of science.

The minister also fails to realize that our country was for long a source of inspiration to many other upcoming nations and do you know what for? We were the first nation in the world that had in its constitution the duty of each citizen to “build scientific temper”. But, perhaps the unscientific minister merely confused temper with temple, which is why he is part of an organization that has its origins in mythology and seems to be more concerned with where the next temple could be built.

“When knowledge is cut-off from traditional values, it becomes disastrous.” Does this sentence make any sense at all? Does he mean to say that what is wrong with the world is lack of touching of feet? Really? He thinks science tells one to stop touching our parents’ feet? Which scientific book is he referring to? Traditional values have nothing to do with knowledge.

“Civilizations which get cut-off from their traditions and values do not survive for long.” Again, what is he talking about? Which civilizations is he getting his knowledge from?

“..highly-educated youth involved in terror activities..” Oh? Now now, isn’t he talking about the ill effects of religion itself?

Now, why criticize the man so ruthlessly when there are many more like him in the country? Because he is the Home Minister. He is in charge of the country in a very special way and I, as a citizen, am obviously quite concerned with what he thinks about science and technology. I really want to know if the Home Minister of India really believes the Earth is sitting on the back of a giant turtle. I really need to know which direction this man and his party are planning to take the country towards: a progressive development of science and technology or a systematic rusting of the scientific capability and regression of the nation?

We have a right to know.

 

Edit 1: Added link to TOI report on what Rajnath Singh exactly said and expanded the intro paragraph a bit.

A writer’s biggest struggle

Sometimes I sit in front of my computer, fingers hovering and sort of shadow typing only millimeters above the keyboard as if a long sentence is on its way the very next instance. Instead, what happens is a long – very long – dry spell where the ideas that were just flooding my brain and about to flow out have just vanished into oblivion. Seconds turn into painfully long minutes which test my patience and I tell myself that now was probably not the correct time for it. But, when this happens almost daily, when you always have ideas but never the words, it might force you to think if writing is for you or not. Or am I just lacking the discipline?

I guess, I have to keep reminding myself that writing is for everyone. How could it not be? You don’t have to be successful at it, even if you write a few sentences every now and then, even if you don’t post them, maybe it is good enough. I think, for a writer, the bigger struggle is not on the paper, but in the mind.

Isn’t it? What do you think?

The Dream – A Short Story

TheDream

After a long dry spell of almost a year, I have published my third short story The Dream.

The Dream is the short story of a girl who wakes up every morning to realize she still hasn’t forgotten the devastating memory of seeing off the love of her life for the last time ever. Here is an excerpt:

She woke up to find herself crying hard. Tears filled her eyes and everything looked blurred. She tried to take a deep breath but choked on her sobs. Still lying down, she rubbed her hands over her eyes and large drops of tears fell onto the pillow, which she discovered was already very wet. She wondered how long she had been crying in her sleep.

You can download it for free in various ebook formats from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/508280.

If you would like to check out any of my other short stories, please have a look at my author’s page on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/shitijbagga

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