Sunday, 12 August 2007

Square peg in a round hole

It is rather shameful the way in which ignorant people use half baked knowledge to cook up new ideas that fit their belief. As for myself, my desire to look at various perspectives and verify a claim makes these cooked up stories look like square pegs in round holes but forced to fit in somehow. This particular story of mine swung into action two weeks back when a friend engaged me in a conversation on philosophy. In the process I broached upon exaggerations as was narrated in my blog ‘Chinese Whispers’.

My friend is a staunch believer in ‘Hinduism’ and I respect that for everyone has a right to his or her belief. Children believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, they too have a right to those beliefs, but what got me ballistic is when he said, “Nasa has said Rama’s bridge exists. They have given satellite pictures to prove this”. This is what is called ‘Argumentum ad verecundiam’, a Latin terminology that describes a fallacy in an argument when someone claims an accredited source has certified their claim. (Nasa has since clarified that they never made such a statement).

I know people who believe that the story of Pushpaka Vimana is proof of man’s ability to fly many years before the Wright brothers created an airplane. Yeah right! In the Arabian nights series of stories, there is mention of the flying carpet, Greek mythology has a story of Daedalus and his son Icarus who built artificial wings to fly away, Leonardo Da Vinci had detailed drawings of a helicopter but since all events from his period have been recorded we know for sure that he never built one, H. G Wells talked about travel to the moon much before man thought of going into space, so you see this idea of Puspaka Vimana is not unique. Humans can imagine the impossible and work towards making it a reality but when people quote from ancient literature and claim them as proof it’s ludicrous.

This renewed story of Rama’s bridge was resurrected when the Indian Ministry for Shipping suggested an option of cutting down travel time for ships by making a new canal (The Sethu Samudram project) through Adam’s bridge – a shallow area between India and Srilanka in the Palk straits. That sounds like a very rational idea but you know how the opposition parties in India are; they take the word ‘opposition’ rather literally. So they did what any self respecting bunch of politicians do; oppose anything that the ruling party comes up with irrespective of the merits of their decision. The ‘Sethu Samudram’ project would cut travel time and cost, many folds over for ships traveling to either sides of the Indian peninsula but our opposition parties don’t want anything that does good to the country, they cried foul using a very dirty trick. They touched on the sentiments of the majority. They used Hindu bodies to protest the move as a desecration of Hindu history.

When I learned geography as a young boy and obtained my first atlas in class six, I couldn’t help but notice that there were a series of islands between India and Srilanka called ‘Adam’s bridge’. This was at an age when I was still comprehending all the information I was being bombarded with. I was familiar with the story of the Ramayana. My mother had narrated to me the portion where the monkey army wrote Rama on stones and rocks and hurled them into the sea where they mysteriously floated to form a bridge. I had then wondered if Adam’s bridge could be remnants of Rama’s mythical bridge, but over a period of time reasoning and common sense had over ruled this notion. My friend however is of the category that has probably not looked at the atlas at the right age.

Adma’s bridge is so called because unfortunately it is the westerners who had taken pains to map the globe and when they were presented with two names for this geological phenomenon while mapping Indian shores, they chose the one that was closest to their culture. On the one hand Hindus’s claimed it is ‘Rama’s bridge’ for it was built by Rama’s monkey army and on the other the Muslims claimed Srilanka is the site of the mythical ‘Garden of Eden’ and when Adam was expelled he left Eden using this bridge and hence it is ‘Adam’s bridge’. Neither is true and a name means nothing. A quick look at the world will reveal that this is not an isolated phenomenon.

What we see is called a ‘tombolo’. There are many such examples around the world where Islands are connected to a larger land body by a narrow strip of sand that rises above the sea level. Adam’s bridge or Rama’s bridge is no exception. It has existed for eons. It is believed that the land bridge was intact till a few hundred years ago when tidal activity reduced them to a series of sand banks.

My argument is simple. Scriptures have to be comprehended with a pinch of salt. It cannot be taken as conclusive proof especially since various sources of the same story do not tally – no two versions match. It is but obvious that over the ages the true incident (if it at all occurred) has gone through numerous editions and a lot of spicing up. I am told there are 250 versions of the Ramayana alone. Did Rama really build the bridge or more realistically did the ancient Indian believe that the land bridge between India and Srilanka was miraculous and had to be built by the intervention of the supernatural? Today we live in a world where one can access information very easily. There is no excuse for blind faith. It is one’s duty to verify a claim against the available evidences.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

What did you eat today?

Like the saying no man is an island, our life is a complex web of influences from all that is around us. In the midst of all this I find it rather irritating when I come across people who think their culture and ways of life is the ideal path and that everyone else different from them are inferior. I believe that what we are is a result of numerous inputs over the ages and hence there is no independent identity.

My earliest recollection of when I started recognizing such attitude was at home as a teenager. We had neighbors who were from a southern part of Kerala and they had an infant son who like regular children his age would babble short sentences and reply to totally ridiculous questions that elders often ask children, like “Where is your nose?”. The problem is that he spoke a different version of Malayalam. On a few occasions I found my mom talk about this to other Palghat Malayalee women and laugh about it. All this ridicule happened because the child was growing up learning his native dialect. I forced my mom from correcting him and over the years she has given up this behavior. Incidentally as I grew older and reached college I realized that the Malayalam spoken by people in Palghat is far worse with its mixture of Tamil words and a completely off-key accent as opposed to the majority.

Let’s face it, no one is unique and people who respect this are ones I now appreciate. In this regard, the one area I see people extremely touchy about is in the area of food habits. I know people who pack precooked, ready to eat Indian dishes on journeys abroad because they just can’t adjust to anything else but their ethnic cuisine. This mindset often stems from the belief that all other dishes are paper mash in comparison to their own. I had a tough time in Malaysia the last two and a half months while shooting for a film because I refused to join in with others in our group who took great pleasure in criticizing the local fare. Hell I enjoyed every bit of Malay, Chinese and the Indian fusion Mamek food that Malaysia offered.

I had read an article in the Hindu many years ago regarding the evolution of Indian cuisine, and thanks to the net I was able to locate them. (I have provided links to the same at the end of this blog). The articles are with references to the books written by the late Dr. K. Thammu Achaya once a leading food and nutrition expert. I wouldn’t want to repeat what is written there, but he goes on to clarify how things we think are unique and Indian are not Indian at all. Here is a teaser for you – Did you know IDLY is not Indian? Rajma Chawal? Rajma is not Indian, hell rice is believed to have been brought in from Southeast Asia. Aloo Gobi? Neither vegetable are Indian. Gajar Halwa? Mirchi Ka Salan? Tomato Baath? The list is endless.

I love travelling. I love travelling to places that are not on the radars of regular tourists and so last September I travelled to the land of horses in Central Asia – Kazakhstan. I intend writing a blog on my awesome experiences there but for now here is something new that I found out. From the time I was a little kid I always associated the Samosa with North India and loved eating them at Chat houses with the channa gravy but I was in for a shock. One morning on my way to an archaeological site in Atyrau, Kazakhstan I stopped by to pick up breakfast at a local fast food joint. See the video below to know what I experienced.

Samosa is not Indian. So the next time you see someone who boasts about his Indian inheritance try taking time off to burst his bubble for today in the global village that we live in, he could prove to be an embarrassment.

Link to the Origins of Samosa

Hindu Article 1

Hindu Article 2