Saturday, 18 August 2018

Natural Factories

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Nature loves symmetry. I wonder why? Did all asymmetric ones die out?"

We have to consider various aspects while trying to develop a complex system. Take the example of a car. We first start by defining what features and qualities the final car needs to have. Then, we move to divide the car into logical subunits. We think about the design of each of these subunits and how they will interact with one another. The subunits should perform their tasks efficiently but also be economical to produce while looking aesthetically pleasing. We've to think about the energy source or fuel, rate of consumption, rate of recharge, wastes produced and how to eliminate, etc.

Once we're ready with this, we move on to develop a prototype, run various tests, iteratively improve the design till we reach a design that's meeting all the goals sufficiently.

We then proceed to mass produce them. This, of course, requires capital for land, factories, workers, machinery, etc. We should be able to store raw materials, we need processes and managers to ensure effective utilisation of said resources, etc.

As I sit in my garden pondering deep thoughts, I see a few bugs crawling about, flying about, feeding on leaves and other insects... These insects are fully developed units, capable of motion both on land and in the air. They consume energy but refill it as they run out. They're also aesthetically pleasing (debatable? Some of them are gorgeous)

But at the same time, there are no actual factories. Though there's fantastic engineering involved, they're factories by themselves.

I'd a small pot that had a plant in it. After the plant died, I just left it out in the garden. Some days later, I saw tiny mysterious plants of a different kind  sprouting out of it. Nature somehow finds ways of propagating life. Probably these seeds were in the soil already and were dormant, or they arrived through an external agent like an insect, animal or wind. But they did manage to sprout.

And that brings me to the final part of the thought. Is it possible for mankind to create engineering products like drones by making use of concepts that exist in nature? And if they're too complex to understand, can we bend existing "natural technology" to do what we want? I understand that this is not really new thought and that much of genetic engineering revolves around this. But the idea of developing newer kinds of self healing, self repairing, self regenerating units that can perpetuate themselves but also be programmed is amazing.

I'm sure that we will be able to purchase blank bees in the future that will provide API interfaces for custom programming. You will be able to transfer custom code and the bees will perform all the actions. The code can be transferred to the next generation as well. Of course, a mistake in the code will result in bugs containing bugs.

One of the other questions to think about is whether this is ethical. Is it ethical to have living creatures produced for the sole reason of serving mankind in a specific way. I immediately dismissed this thought thinking about the abattoirs in the world.

I hope that the future will be a time where man has developed material science to the extent that natural substances can be mimicked. These are also biodegradable and can work in swarms.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

On Mindfulness

Swami Gulagulaananda quoted Kanakadasa:
"naanu hodare hodenu [I can go if I could go]"

There was a tale that I had heard in my childhood. Kanakadasa, the great poet and saint, was asked who could attain salvation by his master, Vyasatirtha. Kanakadasa replied, "naanu hodare hodenu" in Kannada. The sentence can be translated to: "I might go if I want". Many of the scholars at the convention were offended that Kanakadasa had earlier told that nobody at the convention, including his own master, could attain salvation. However, his master saw wisdom in Kanakadasa's words and asked him to elaborate what he said. Kanakadasa explains his pun, which can also be translated as "If I goes, I could go", meaning that a person who rejects ego can attain salvation.

As I looked around at society in general, I started seeing a pattern. I saw a certain quality lacking in most people, and I wondered what the right word for that quality should be - The answer: Mindfulness.

The term mindfulness has started cropping up in multiple places now. I heard about mindfulness a few years ago when an acquaintance started a blog on mindfulness. Most people associate mindfulness with meditation. In this post, I would like to discuss mindfulness as the word: "The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something."

The next time you see an escalator, pay attention to the steps. You'll notice that every escalator has a yellow stripe along the centre. The yellow stripe is like a lane separator.

People who wish to simply stand and ride up the escalator should stand on the right side of the line. People who wish to walk up the escalator taking advantage of the movement should walk on the left side of the line. You'll see a similar yellow stripe on moving pathways in airports.

Most people are unaware of this fact and stand around simply without adhering to this rule. Not being aware of a fact doesn't qualify as lack of mindfulness. However, not allowing a person whom they see that a person walking up the escalator to pass, is lack of mindfulness. Why do they have to wait till someone comes up to them and says "Excuse Me?" when they have noticed this person walking up to them?

Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening around us - being mindful of people around us, being mindful about the trouble that we put others through due to our actions, or thinking how we can alleviate the pain of others through our actions. One does not necessarily have to go out of their way help others. One simply needs to tune in to their surroundings and go beyond the self to understand what's happening around.

Two days back, I was riding towards my house on my motorcycle when the car in front of me suddenly swerved to the left without warning because he wanted to stop. I applied the brakes immediately, more or less being convinced that I was going to ram into the car. Fortunately, the bike skidded to a halt about a foot behind the car. The sound made by my bike skidding prompted the passengers in the car and the driver to look back at the source. Being rattled, I questioned the man why he hadn't turned on his indicator if he wanted to turn to the left. Rather than apologising, the passenger at the back turned defensive and indignant as if I was not paying attention while driving and started arguing. The driver who knew that he had made a mistake should have simply apologised. But we digress. The main point was that the driver was not being mindful of his surroundings - He simply turned his car to the left because that was what he wanted to do. He was not mindful of what impact his actions could have on others.

I am sure that looking around will give you plenty of other examples of situations where people can be more mindful. People who play songs in the metro or bus or while walking in the parks without using earphones, people who talk and laugh raucously, people who honk incessantly, people who double park, park incorrectly, drive in the opposite direction are examples of people not being mindful in obvious ways... People not cleaning gym equipment after use, leaving toilet seats up, not flushing all the way, not muting phones during meetings or while watching movies in theatres are other (subtler?) examples of not exercising mindfulness.

As a population, we need to start becoming mindful - And most of us can achieve this goal of moving towards mindfulness. However, people who have had a sense of entitlement ingrained in them for a long time or people who are more self centred may find it very hard to acknowledge that they were wrong in the first place. After all, acknowledgement of mistakes is a prerequisite to course correction.

Therefore, it is imperative that we teach children to be mindful and sensitive to others right from their childhood. If we teach children the differences between right and wrong and how their actions have ramifications, they will grow up to be upstanding and outstanding citizens of the country.

Remember to be mindful. Jai Hind.

Monday, 6 August 2018

The Eye Opener

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
We all owe a debt to society… You are significantly more privileged than you think

The soft rays of the morning sun slipped through the blinds and woke up Simi. As she opened her well rested eyes, a smile formed on her face as she looked at the calendar on the wall. Just one more day to go. She looked at the neat array of stuffed dolls adorning a specially created shelf. But this birthday was special and she knew exactly what she wanted. "Maaaa!! Coffee!!" she yelled.

A few moments later, her parents walked into her room, beaming at their daughter. Offering her the cup, her mom asked her, "Just one more day for your birthday, Simi beta. What do you want for your present?" This was the moment that she was waiting for. She held the cup between her palms and interwoven fingers and looked at the brown liquid. Then, gushing a little, she said "Ma, Pa, I want the new iPhone X". At this, her mom turned to look at her dad. Her dad obviously hadn't expected such an expensive request. "iPhone? Beta, isn't that very expensive? Ummm ask for something else", said her dad as he fumbled for words. He didn't want to disappoint his angel daughter.

"No. For this birthday, I want an iPhone." replied Simi. "It's very expensive Simi. Besides, what does it do that your phone doesn't do?" reasoned her mom. "All my friends have one. I also want one" said Simi. "I'll not be able to afford an iPhone Simi, I'm sorry." said her dad as he walked away. A visibly upset Simi turned her head away as her mom tried to mollify her.

With a start, she jumped out of her bed and said, "I'm going for a drive." and ran down the stairs, ignoring her mother's pleas to not go out on an empty stomach.

Having driven for about 30 minutes, Simi felt her throat feeling dry. Her tongue seemed to get heavy. She picked her bottle to drink but found that it contained very little water. She had forgotten to refill it. She looked around and found herself near a slum. She got out of her car and walked up to a small house. She saw an elderly lady sitting outside, chopping some vegetables.  "Aunty, may I've some water?" asked Simi, indicating her bottle. The elderly lady looked up and smiled at her. "Of course, of course, come in, little girl" she said, accepting the bottle. The elderly lady walked into the tiny house followed by Simi who had to bend her head to pass through the low door.

She was surprised by what she saw inside. The house was very plain and had only one room. The flooring was of red oxide. One of the walls had some kind of a battered shelf with a few utensils arranged on it. She saw a trunk with a few clothes in one corner, a small bed with a pillow and a thin blanket along another wall. The lady carefully poured water into the bottle from an earthen pot. Simi continued to observe the tiny house. She saw a tattered wall hanging. It was a makeshift board for children. It said "A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat".

Simi was surprised at this. "Aunty, what is this?" she asked. "Ah, I teach some of the local children here. I've studied till seventh and I want these children to be able to read. I hope that education will bring them out of this abject poverty" she said as she returned Simi's bottle. "Why don't you sit for some time? I'll make some tea for you", she said. Simi was very curious about this lady and the slum. She spent half hour drinking tea and listening to the wonderful stories, how excited the children around the locality are to learn new things, how people help one another, how people run up to the nearest STD booth when they get a call from their village, how they fear that the government will tear away their hutments and render them homeless. Simi listened with rapt attention. These people went through a lot. "Aunty, give me the phone number of that booth", said Simi as she left bidding goodbye to the lady.

The next morning, Simi was awakened by her parents. "Happy Birthday, Simi beta!". Simi woke up with a wide smile saying "Thank you" in a sing-song manner. "Beta, I thought a lot, and I've decided to get you that iPhone", said her dad. Simi looked at her dad and smiled with a twinkle in her eye. "I'm coming to the market with you".

Two hours later, a kid ran up to the elderly lady's house. "Aunty, aunty, you've a phone call". The elderly lady wondered who had called her. She slowly walked towards the telephone booth down the street. Picking up the phone, she said, “Hello? Who’s speaking?

Hi aunty! This is Simi, from yesterday! Guess what, aunty? I got a present from my parents and I am calling you from my new iPhone! Isn’t that cool?

How should the story have ended?
My original intent was to give it a funny ending where Simi says that she called up the elderly lady to say “Guess what? I am calling you from my new iPhone! Isn’t that cool?”
Or perhaps, Simi decides to donate a board, books and other materials to the elderly lady to educate the children. Or go a step further to even teach the children herself… (some forward)

Each of us is a Simi and we all have a choice… I read somewhere that we all owe a debt to society and that we should do our part to give back to the society in some way.

I don’t know if charity is the right solution - Perhaps there is a better way. If anyone has any good ideas, please let me know