Almighty Google-The Smartest Of All

I still remember myself innocently typing “Who is the Tree man of India?” into the Google search engine in response to a questionnaire handed out at school. Like many of my time, I too have become the smart teen who asks from the Smartest himself.

The productivity and widespread publicity of Internet created a wave of delight and relief for millions of school-going children. Where our parents would bend over thick encyclopaedias in the stuffy library, we had Google at our disposal. Wikipedia became my best friend during my homework hour.

My brother, who had been studying in Singapore at that time, brought the winds of modern technology to our house. I was chided for not using the internet ‘sufficiently’. I strived harder and dug deeper. To be able to find something on Google all by yourself had become ‘trendy’ at school.

As I came to high school, I missed my virtual friend. With no social sciences and core sciences being the sole subjects, I felt nostalgic on remembering the good old easy times. With complex algebra and Euler’s postulates surrounding me, I was already messed up enough to venture into deeper depths. Google could not solve the complex questions for me. Those two years were a hell of a ride.

College became the eye opener for me. We were drummed by our seniors from the very first day “Internet is your best friend here”. My mistake was that I felt I had extracted all I could from Google. But, lo and behold, I saw my fellow peers deftly tapping “College life learning” into Google, through the calculus class, just a week into college. They had taken their seniors’ advice all too seriously. Googling life’s complexities became the new cool. I too joined this festival of Googling. I too learned the feted skill of Googling to keep up. You guessed it. I even tried searching ‘Life keeping up’.

Now that I have mastered this skill too I intend to move on. But no. This time, I won’t google ‘ambitions college life’. I have reached tipping point and I am fortunate enough to halt my race with the world.

It is worth pondering over that in an age where everyone wishes to be self-reliant and independent, one likes doing work solo. For solo work carries more recognition. This is one step towards compartmentalization and retreating into the shell of greed.

Our interaction with the world has become minimal and fellow humans have simply been reduced to tools for access to fun and happiness. We think twice before asking any question. What if my question is trivial? We are told to be independent but also work smartly. These two ideas are notoriously at odds with one another. I won’t ask the guy next room (problem solved in 2 minutes) but search for the needle in the haystack on Google to be independent (problem solved in 30 minutes). In an attempt to produce a know-it-all image we have shirked human feelings.

The surreal beauty of an intellectual discussion has been lost. Emotions are slashed out as detractors from truth. We fail to understand our elders’ struggles for we have not heard them. How can we feel the bitterness of war raging in the eyes of the stoic survivor? How can we learn from the experiences of our parents expressed through the highs and lows of their voice? We cannot. The solution is not Herculean. We need only to have patience to listen. The emotion ensconced in truth completes the solution.

Let us not become repositories of information. Let us shower the respect Google deserves and leave it at that. There is no harm in acknowledging Google as the GOAT in IQ and the WOAT in EQ (for those unaware of GOAT/WOAT –you can either discuss it over lunch or as always; Google it.)

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My Reflections on Unbroken

Wise people say “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep “, but perhaps the very purpose of promises lies in the will to fulfil them.

Seeing myself lose gratitude for the life I was living, I decided to pick up a book which could sprout in me the feeling of being fortunate. Thanks to my trusted gauge Goodreads, I picked up Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand as my guide.

The book describes the story of former Olympic runner Louis “Louie” Zamperini and his experiences during WW2 .The initial part of the book illustrates a restless, relentless troublemaker Louie. He has a knack for getting into trouble and the gift to let himself free from any situation. Due to his headstrong brother, he lets go of his insincerity and enters professional running. The story of a Zamperini’s rise to an Olympic runner hooks one to the book. The story itself along with the crisp focus and description of the events makes his early life a thrilling and an inspiring read.

The second part describes his time as a commander in the US Air Force. The description of the wartime life of a soldier is poles apart from that by Joseph Heller in Catch 22 which sublimely presents the imagery with an undercurrent of satire and humour. Hillenbrand presents an ominous setting to the dangers to which men put their lives forward to on each mission. The army’s allegiance to the nation and men is not exaggerated. Zamperini’s refusal to announce Japanese propaganda on radio under life-threatening conditions is a testament to this fact. By not revealing Mac’s weakness for food on their first night on the raft to the public, both Louie and Captain Phillips set a precedent for camaraderie and pay homage to Mac without whom survival would have been improbable.

After some successful missions, Louie finds himself in the Green Hornet which crashes into the Pacific during a search mission. Louie, Phil and Mac survive. Hope was all that they had in the ocean. Strength of mind over body drives Louie and Phil to spare no effort in devising ways to stay alive. Mac’s continually depressive thoughts could have been infectious but the pilot and the bombardier safeguard their minds from the abyss of negativity through mental creations.

Wise people say “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep “, but perhaps the very purpose of promises lies in the will to fulfil them. One cannot fail to notice that it was his ‘promise’ to his fiancée Cecy of marrying her after the war that drove Phil through such hardships.

The two men knew what fate held for them when they were found. I would not dwell on the mistreatment and the inhumane attitude of the Japanese guards towards POW’s. My mind could only conjure a blurry image of the atrocities committed, something I shall not be and would never wish to comprehend.

As I read through Louie’s experiences at various POW camps, my mind reeled back to his circumstances on the raft. Getting out of there, alone had been a harrowing experience. Did not experiencing further hardships at the hands of ‘The Bird’ go beyond the realm of human strength to endure such torture and condemnation? Although, both Louie and Phil being alive after World War 2 was fortunate coincidence, they both had gone through utter hopelessness and despair on the raft. I believe the ordeal was the grinding stone for their mental strength. They pushed through and came off even tougher rather than depleted. Louie is, too, quoted in the book saying that time in the ocean gave him mental space that he had never been given before. Phil believed that they wouldn’t last longer than the record of 23 days. They survived 47 days. It is no doubt that their days were doubled as each one had a companion to confide his feelings in.

After returning from war, Louie faces the horrifying nightmares of his torture. The end of his running career due to a broken ankle put out the sun to which Louie would rise to after the storm of dark dreams. With nothing to cling onto, he ends up on wild drinking sprees .He retreats into the selfish cocoon of curing himself of the demon, heedless to the lives around him.

Had he not injured his ankle, he probably would have even gone into professional running and represented America post war. But the question remains: How much would he have recovered from the horrors of war?

He was shaken up through Billy Graham’s preaching when he realized that he was not being a good man in society.His conversion to evangelical Christianity was not meant to serve himself but others. That perhaps is the essence of prayer. One does not take up prayer to only alleviate one’s own suffering, but to be the support in his neighbors’ trials and tribulations.

Plucking the life out of ‘The Bird’ would never have given him the redemption he hoped for. His visit to the prison guards in Sugamo served as the beacon of redemption during times of deep distrust and hatred. The unresentful interview of Watanabe shows us how he had still not given up the war inside him. Louie served as the living example of ‘Forgiveness rises above revenge’. Reading Louie’s story made me believe that perhaps the only true way to live happily is by being grateful. His name is secured in the annals of American athletics but the World shall look up to him as an epitome of forgiveness and redemption.

Perfection to the World

Shakespeare once said :” The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Realizing our imperfection leads us to the path to perfection.

History is replete with people who made their imperfection an asset to their lives.They had the courage and resolve to mould their imperfect lives into ‘extraordinary’ lives.Helen Keller, with no ‘natural’ means of communication, became the symbol of social activism.Franklin Roosevelt was a cripple. Oprah Winfrey had the darkest of childhoods.

A beautiful thought anyone can relate to :’Don’t curse yourselves for you are the creation of God. With each negative thought ,you insult God.’ The vision to see our gifts lies in being grateful to the imperfections bestowed onto us.The concept of God itself is an attempt by mankind to accept the imperfections of nature which has puzzled humankind since time immemorial.

I strongly believe in the words of the great Indian reformist Swami Vivekananda :’In a day when you don’t come across any problems,you can be sure that you are travelling on the wrong path’. The beauty of nature and fate itself lies in the imperfections abounding it.

The countless number of racism cases and hate attacks around the world is an outright negation of us accepting imperfection in fellow humans.It again is a case of blatant disrespect to the laws of nature to which we submit ourselves every day. What assurance do we have of us being the same ‘perfect’ individual tomorrow, we assume ourselves to be today?

Science exemplifies the art of reaching perfection though imperfection. The basic premise of science resides in discovering the fallacies which underlies the existing theory. With recurring cases of the speed of light barrier being broken in laboratory physics, Einstein’s laws of physics, deemed priceless by the physics community since its inception, is now under the scanner and may be classified ‘invalid’. The physics community is not let down by this discovery but considers it to be the next big thing in this field.

The quote from F. Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby highlights the importance of accepting the imperfections each person harbors. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” We need not be at the fore of social upheaval to bring about change. It is only by reminding ourselves of the perfections we are already endowed with and accepting the imperfections,can we contribute to making the world a better place.

 

My tryst with greeting cards

I was waiting impatiently for the birthday boy. I am too punctual even for birthday parties. My friends consider this to be my fondness for free lunches. I could not disagree more. Walking through the branded shops, contemplating on the revenue and fate of the sprawling new mall, my gaze caught sight of the white in the red background displaying Archies.

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The calm, the sweet chime at the entrances and the neat stacked display of emotions had always attracted me towards a card shop. Cards themselves never fascinated me. Since childhood, I had seen cards as ‘stuff’ handed out during birthdays and anniversaries. Our school even held a card-making competition. With every art and craft competition, it was time to get sick.

The interior of the showroom was similar to the other franchisees I had visited. Wooden boards decked with cards with little plaques over them. The middle row consisting another of those stands and the corners of the rectangular shop adorned by shining glass showcases. My childhood memories came alive as I walked through the aisles. When was the last time I walked through these rows, adoring the neatly displayed cards? The arrangement evoked the last memory I had of walking in Archies. It was with my brother. We were looking for a card on our father’s birthday. It was then when I stumbled upon the Farewell section that I changed my perspective about cards and art. A card depicted a group of penguins waving goodbye to their leader, who with wide moist eyes waves back, floating away into the ocean on another ice block. I still remember delicately holding the card, scanning the picture to secure a place for it in the special album at the back of my head. I had never seen such a simple picture represent such strong emotions. I exclaimed to my brother, “Here “. He too was moved by the picture and explained with great pride, “See Shubhu, do you know who creates these greeting cards. You see it is not easy making them. Archies hires only highly creative and imaginative people of the industry. They brainstorm every day to bring out different cards on the same topic, no two cards being the same.” The image of creative young men and women on circular desks working in teams of four and five, perfecting the exact mix of art and words, floated through my mind. It was my first tryst with these soothing, silent, little works of art around me. Walking out of the shop, I felt I had unlocked another key to understanding the world. I had learnt to appreciate the work of a professional card designer.

From that day onwards cards have carried a special meaning to me. My notion of cards being just another formal routine to wish had been swept away. Admiration for designers and creative artists had taken its place. Today at the card shop I relived that experience with my brother and all those ‘other’ experiences which I had taken for granted while scanning for my friends’ birthdays.

The stream of thoughts abated as I felt the card in my hands. ‘What is so significant about the sensation of touch? Why is a hug more peaceful than words?’ I asked myself. As I write this, I feel cards exemplify the importance of touch. They serve as something in this abstract nothingness of human emotions.  They serve as the medium of communicating emotions, a conveyor of assurance that we are not alone. The adorned cardboard is worth a hundred digital template wishes.

Where did I learn History ?

I had always wished to write this article as an engineering student, and not as a student of history. An engineering undergraduate student who his passionate about social sciences courses.

Yet, it was only after reading Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer-winning book,’ All the light we cannot see‘ that I was compelled to write this article. The book provides a detailed account on how the rigours of WW2 impacted the daily life of the common citizen in France and Germany. The drive to express myself on this topic was the culmination of the various pictures painted in my mind through my various readings about the Indian Independence movement and World War 2. Caught up in a retrospective mode after having read the above-mentioned novel, thinking about the Indian scenario during the 1940’s,I asked myself, “Where had I learnt more? In my eighth grade, spending a year learning the Indian independence or during the three months which I spent reading the greatest novel on Indian Independence- Freedom at Midnight. What was more responsible for the sense and understanding of Indian Independence which I now possessed?”

The book viewed the independence movement as something more than a chapter in history. To me, the freedom movement became the reason for our existence, in ways more than the history course book taught.

Having studied history all the way from the 6th grade to the 10th grade, I could never really appreciate how significant the subject was. During my post analysis of historical novels, I was asking myself, “Were we really taught history? Do we really appreciate the value of our freedom? Why, in our quest for future growth, do we forget the basic qualities which had defined us; which had united us? ”

I could see that the biggest problem lay in the manner history was taught to us and the way in which it is still being taught. We have condemned history to a subject of rote learning, full of dates and timelines and weird names of dynasties, but in this muddle, we have undermined its basic importance. History is a work of art. To actually study the subject requires imagining earlier times, not through logic but through emotions. It requires feeling the sweat of resistors amidst the stench of burning rubble in Yugoslavia. It requires feeling the blind nationalistic fervour of the teenage soldier of the Hitlerjugend. It requires appreciating our present. It requires paying tribute to our previous generations who came through mammoth ordeals to leave behind a peaceful world.

To really feel and appreciate history, we are not required to remember dates and the names of our rulers; instead we need to read the poignant letter of the young soldier, in his dying moments, to his mother. We need to read the biographies of men who survived the concentration camps. We need to read the accounts of the atrocities at Gulag in Russia. We need to understand how India would have been, had Gandhi never been the idiosyncratic freedom fighter he was. These stories, these accounts is what is missing from the subject of history in today’s middle school. My ‘formal’ classroom history course had created a void about which I never knew. An understanding of this void only came through after I started filling it, by reading and watching the literary accounts of the survivors of the 20th century.

Being an Indian I have always felt that our nation has downplayed the value of our freedom. We know the price of freedom in terms of the number of martyrs, but have not yet understood the value of their sacrifice. This is a feeling which India will have to develop as one nation. We do pride on our peaceful existence among the multi-cultural ethnicities but only if we could remember the people who made it possible in times of savage racial abuse and bloodshed.

The solution to understanding history needs to start from the bottom up. It begins in the middle schools teaching history. The course should not be just numbers and dates. Schools and teachers will have to make efforts to screen documentaries and include historical accounts into history books.

Only when we understand our country’s history do we begin to appreciate our nation’s existence. 15th August and 26th January remain no more than holidays if we cannot remember the martyrs who sacrificed their lives at the altar of freedom. Only then do we keep up the spirit of the Amar Jawan Jyoti.

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Why playful?

The word was catchy .In a life where everything seems just not enough, to see play suffixed with something so complete in its meaning was very appealing. The word conjures many images in my head but at the background of the screen of pictures lies my playful childhood image.

Marching forward to conquer our dreams and living with the maxim of making the best of our future ,we inevitably lose track of our beloved past.The word playful was enough to take me back in time, where I still remember  showing my milk teeth to the photographer who requested us to “cheese” for the family photo beside the waterfall.

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I feel blessed to have lived a happy childhood and to have availed all the luxuries a normal child could ask for. Unfortunately, not every one of us has a playful childhood written into their destinies. The burdens of supplementing their parents’ income or an unhealthy family environment are just some instances of a child losing the golden braid of childhood which is meant to adore a person’s life.

Being playful demands us to get rid of the hypocrisy we entangle ourselves with. Being playful is fulsome with no restrictions. Nothing can define playful,it is too good to be expressed in words. Neither can it be captured through a lens and rested on the living room mantelpiece.

The word playful is distinguished from happiness by the inherent social connotation involved. I can be happy for having achieved my business goal but I will be playful when I live up to my New Year Resolution, something which I had been drumming into my friend’s head every day to garner appreciation. Playful has the ability to delight not only ourselves but all those involved with us. These are moments of extreme happiness and moreover, they are pure as they are devoid of ill-feeling towards our peers. This purity is what frequently leads us to associate playfulness with childhood.

My 20 years of life has already shown me enough reasons of not letting, let go of my playfulness.I am sure my ‘adult’ life shall offer me,even more ,lessons and reasons to fill every moment of my life with pure happiness.

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