Is it the fatalistic attitude that is holding India back?

One thing that is observed about people from India is the aversion to take risk. I share my views on how an average Indian may have acquired this characteristics.

I had quoted this statement of Einstein in another blog earlier. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”. The way I interpret this quote, one can act like everything is in our hand or nothing is in our hand. Clearly, both these do appear like two extremes. However, a careful analysis reveals that, we have no choice but to act like everything is in our hands. To succeed in life, two things are important: hardwork and some luck. Luck is not in your hands and so one can only depend on hard work. One has to act like everything is in our hands. After all, fortune favors the brave.

From my experience, I have seen that, from our young age, we are told that without God nothing can happen. Let me narrate two stories I heard recently, one from a WhatsApp forward and another from a talk given by a popular speaker in Tamil Sugi Sivam. The WhatsApp forward I received is a story about a devotee in Sri Rangam. In the morning, after the prayers, they distribute ‘prasadam’, food with divine blessings. Often it is ven pongal, a delicious dish made of primarily rice and dhal. One devotee waits first in the queue everyday and demands many servings. Usually, everyone is given one serving. This creates a scene daily. God watches this saga of a faithful devotee everyday and decides to help. God finds out that the devotee is fighting in the queue for more servings every day as he has several kids to be fed and he does not have any income. God then appears in his dream and asks him not to worry about the prasadam. The devotee can go home after praying in the temple. As it was God’s wish, he does that the next day while still worrying about the food for kids. When he reaches home, he is surprised to see the Prasadam delivered at home with enough food for the whole family. When I read this story, I did not like it one bit. Here is an irresponsible devotee who gets married and produces many kids and does not support them. As he is a devotee, God ensures that his family is fed, as he prays. Stories like this should not have been written and shared to all groups. As long as you pray, things will happen for you. That’s a wrong lesson for humans.

Sugi Sivam narrated another story he heard about in one of his speeches. A barber, again a devotee, has an appointment with the king for giving him a hair cut. He walks to the palace well on time and finds some group praying on the way. He joins the prayer and sings and dances in praise of God. When the prayer is over, he realizes that he has missed the appointment. He gets worried and rushes to the palace. Instead of an angry King, he finds the King smiling, feeling good about a nice hair-cut. He thanks the barber for not only keeping his time but also for doing a good job. The barber then finds out that the God had gone to the palace looking like the barber and giving a hair cut to the King as the barber was in prayer. Sugi Sivam felt it was an awful story and I completely agree. Our Bhagavad Gita talks about doing one’s duty without worrying about the results. When did the narrative change to praying without doing one’s duty? Is it the result of assuming nothing is in our hands?

People in India know the importance of monsoon and most everyone who has some knowledge about India would know about the monsoon. A good monsoon helps the Government in power. Though climate modeling is an important area of Science today, predicting Indian monsoon is not so easy. I have heard a phrase ‘vaanam paartha boomi’ (வானம் பார்த்த பூமி) which describes a land mass that looks up to the skies for water. It describes the uncertainty. When Government can fall due to a bad monsoon, what can an individual do. I have heard about how the monsoon controls the economy in India. I was curious to find out how many countries in the world have monsoon. I have lived in the USA for about 8 years and I knew it did not have monsoon like in India. We live in a time when knowledge is in your fingertips, if not everything. I found a website which gave the list of countries having monsoon (1). It also gives the minimum and maximum rain fall during the monsoon. How does one make sense of it?

I decided to subtract the minimum rainfall from the maximum and divide it by the maximum. I thought this would give the uncertainty in the rainfall during monsoon. A number close to 0 would indicate that the average rainfall is what the country gets almost every year. A number close to 1 would indicate that the rainfall during the monsoon could vary widely. Numbers I found were revealing. Let me give a summary of the few countries. Data for 35 countries are available in the website referred above.

Average rain fall in inches

Name Minimum Maximum Uncertainty

Bangladesh 47 118 0.6

Bhutan 55 55 0.0

China 40 80 0.5

India 12 390 0.97

Japan 60 60 0.0

Mexico 23 39 0.41

Niger 9 30 0.7

Pakistan 16 16 0.0

Singapore 92 92 0.0

Sri Lanka 38 100 0.62

US (South) 12 12 0.0

While I did have some idea that the dependence on monsoon may have led most of us to be more fatalistic than the rest of the world, the numbers were stunning. The uncertainty for India is very close to 1 (0.97). That for Japan and U.S.A. (south) are zero. China has an uncertainty of 0.5, but the maximum rainfall it has 85 inches compared to 390 inches for India. This could very well affect the psyche of Indians and our thought processes. Let me compare the stories of Science Fiction movies to illustrate this further.

Back to the Future was a popular SciFi movie from the hollywood that was released in 1985. Michael J Fox was the hero and his life story is interesting in itself. The main point for this blog is that Christopher Lloyd acts as Dr Emmet Brown who creates the time-machine. There was no iffs and buts in the story about creating the time machine. A few years ago, one Tamil movie, titled 24 was based on time travel as well. It has one of my favorite heroes Suriya in a triple role. Father Suriya has been working hard to invent a time-machine. Firstly, he decides to put a limit of 24 hours (title) for the travel. One can see the fear the character has as imagined by the writer. Secondly, he does not discover the time-machine. The story has it that when Suriya was not watching, some wind blows and a leaf falls in to the reaction vessel and the time machine is created. Why can’t we even create something at least in stories, without chance or divine intervention? He is killed by his jealous and greedy younger brother, Suriya again, and the time-machine is lost. Son Suriya grows up as a watch mechanic. Again by two rare events the son gets hold of the time-travel Watch and its key. Both these events happen by chance without the son trying anything.

Another time travel movie came later with a title, Inru, Netru, Naalai (today, yesterday and tomorrow). This story has a time machine appearing from future and some guys getting hold of it and using it. The way the story ends, everything is put back as they were and life goes on without the demon of SciFi discoveries! Manirathnam brought out Navarasa, which had some good and mostly not so good and bad anthologies. (I did not like the Navarasa and each rasa mentioned with Hindi/Sanskrit words for the Tamil movie. Adbutha was a shocker for me and it took me a while to figure out, it was meant to be Arputham (அற்புதம்)). That apart, this story by Karthik Naren was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Inception and other movies. While one might appreciate the attempt to write and direct a movie such as this, the main character talks about astrology all of a sudden. Seems like, not only the people, even writers in India cannot imagine that everything is in our hands. All these three movies were disappointing in terms of the story lines.

We really cannot do much about the monsoon. We can certainly plan for good and bad monsoon years if we take control of our lives. I wish every Indian is taught to take care of themselves and do the best they can. For it to work, everyone should be able to see some progress as they work hard. This is where the society and country should do their roles. It seems that, birth still controls a lot in India. If every child can get equal opportunity to grow, in the next few generations, we can hope that more of us will depend less on God/Luck.

On a positive note, only recently I learned the phrase Que Sara Sara, and the song by the same title. I had known a song in Tamil that was inspired by this old song. I had not known about the original song earlier. Strangely, the original version from Italy has a mother telling her daughter that ‘what will be will be, the future is not ours to see’. (2) The Tamil adaption, with the same tune and almost similar lyrics had a twist. The mother tells her daughter: You will have a life as you desire (3)!

  1. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/which-countries-experience-monsoons.html
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pv1XlKpAUc
  3. https://youtu.be/zwi1TYepXEw

God as a partner in crime and quid pro quo

When George Bush started a ‘pre-emptive’ war on Iraq, he said ‘God is with us’. The USA won the unprovoked war and innumerable innocent lives were lost. One of the following conclusions could be drawn: 1) God was indeed with George Bush and helped him win the war 2) God was not with George Bush but could not do anything about the loss of innocent lives (this would not agree with any definition of God) 3) God was not with George Bush but chose not to do anything about the loss of innocent lives.

Third choice can equally be interpreted as God does not take any side and does not intervene in human affairs.  Might is right in the earthly affairs. Democracy is a mild threat to might but it is no guaranty against injustice. The USA likes to follow the rules. George Bush amended the US law which prohibited preemptive attack on another nation. He got bipartisan support for this unjust war, as God was with him.  A whole country can be fooled without much difficulty and who can argue against patriotism! The God of the might then turns out to be the most potent. If we would like our God to be the most potent, we need to grow in stature in the world.

I come from a surrounding where people pray to God to get a cure from common cold to passing JEE. There were specific promises to the God that on getting this favor, some thing will be done in return.  This could be breaking coconuts, lighting lamps, shaving off one’s head, money in the Temple Hundi …. you name it. I have seen people carrying out the promise when their wish came true. I always wondered what was done when it did not come true or when the deal was not kept. God perhaps never bothered about individual promises and was not keeping track.

During my youth, I prayed to God with specific promises for personal favors on a few occasions. One was when a new-born child in our close family circle was in a serious condition. I had a silent prayer and promised to God that I would do something if the child survived. The child did and I kept my promise to God.  In the next few years, we had another young relative in serious condition and I made the same offer to God. This young relative did not survive. For some reason, I thought I should still keep my promise to God and did. God must have tried hard and the efforts must be rewarded, not the end result.

People around me had Murugan as their favorite God. Bathing Him in milk was often a promise to get something from Him. I remember carrying a pot full of milk (Paal kudam) when I was a kid during a specific festival known as Paal kudam. Devotees would become hysterical as they carry the Paal kudam towards Thirupparankunram, one of the six temples of Murugan. I was carrying the Paal kudam with no emotion whatsoever.

Another occasion I prayed to God was when I wrote the entrance exam for IIT Madras, MSc admission. Unlike the other two incidents mentioned above, this was in a lighter vein. Just for the sake of it, I prayed that we will give a ‘milk bath’ to Vinayagan, the elephant God, brother of Murugan. I thought Murugan was getting far too much milk and Vinayagan did not get any share. The deal was complicated. Myself AND a friend of mine should both get admission to IIT Madras. He was a top ranker and I was a reasonably good student. We both made it and as a bonus, two more of our classmates got admission. One of them was a christian! They were both good students too.

Now we were in some kind of a shock and denial. Many temples of Murugan do this routinely and at that time I was not aware of Vinayagan temples doing this. My friend asked me, where should we do this now? We had our own Vinayagan temple in front of our house where we lived all our childhood. I told him that we would do it in that temple and he agreed. We arranged a function and did do what is known as ‘Paalabhishekam’ or giving the statue a milk bath. Until that time, I had not witnessed such a ritual in Vinayagan temples. To our surprise, when we reached IIT Madras, there was a Vinayagan temple in the woods. We accidentally walked through the temple on our first day and there we witnessed the same event once again. It was an incredible sight.

Selection was based on the performance in the exam and as long as God helped us perform better, it would be alright. I hope the God did not do anything to favor us at the cost of another more deserving student and that would be unlike God. Often when my students ask me about God and religion, I tell them this: When your experiment works if you want to thank God, go ahead. When it does not work, don’t tell me that you have prayed to God. Better sit in the lab and fix it.

If you look at the world today, it would not be difficult to identify the major causes for conflict. One is energy and another is water. Iraq war was not for restoring democracy. I was born in Tamil Nadu and work in Karnataka and our states fight for water, even when India and Bangladesh seem to have some water sharing agreement. However, if you look around, both water and energy are available in plenty. Two thirds of our earth is water and everything is energy (E = mc^2). The trouble is that portable water and usable energy are not freely available. For that, you need to understand and make efforts. Clearly, God wants you and me to work. If not, ocean could have drinking water and the energy in my pen could be used readily.

In the recent days, I have been reading about so many murders in the name of God. I have also read news paper reports about large amounts of cash and Jewels being deposited in the Temple Hundis. The common perception is that this is a share from ill-gotten wealth. Fortunately for God, none of the Lokpal bills (anti-corruption bill in Hindi) have any provision to touch God even if God were given a good share of the loot.

I must add one thing before concluding.  I have seen this in India. People who grow by cheating a system eventually suffer even if they had given a fair share to God. May be one life-time is not enough to see what happens to a country or group, which in the name of God commits atrocities. May be the law of nature or God will eventually make things even. How can I ensure that no one blames God for killing another person? The nation-states of today should ensure that.