Friday, October 31, 2014

Invalid Search Strings...

There's a big difference between searching for something and finding something. To find, you don't always have to search. This difference is the answer to a question that's been on my mind- about what it means to grow up around books vs. growing up with an iPad. When I was a kid, I was incredibly fortunate enough to be surrounded by books- the complete Encyclopedia Britannica, the Tell Me Why series, comprehensive Space and Earth atlases... To me, discovery had very little to do with a search string, and more to do with stumbling, as in opening a book and stumbling upon things I never knew about, like echoes, or black holes. There was an innocent, wide-eyed wonder to my education, a feeling of it being precious since it came bound in pages that have to be opened, that have to be obeyed, not commanded.
As a teacher, I often get asked, often desperately, what a parent can do to make a child read more. Making a child read is like force-feeding an animal- a very bad idea, and counter-productive in most cases. Just leave a few nuts about, and watch a squirrel dance around, curious, afraid, toying with the idea, before it darts in and out. Children are very similar. They need to be around that which enriches them so that they reach for it themselves.
Any human growing up is going to eventually know that a round peg fits in a round hole. Yet we provide babies with such toys, not to make them curse (yep, we think it's cute only because we don't get baby talk), but to follow the educational principle simply known as i+1. This says that we introduce to a child information it is comfortable with, and then some more. A little extra jog to the brain to develop lateral pathways. Books do this naturally, because even when the content is unintelligible, we get a sense of logic, or little glimmers of understanding. We are challenged.
I love learning now as much as I ever did, maybe even more. Say what you will about knowledge now being at one's fingertips, I'll never concede the fact that I like my knowledge to be soaked up by starry eyes straight from crisp, light pages...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Of Buddhas and Bladders

Sometimes,when I step back from my own 'human existence', I am mystified. I've been watching re-runs of Star Trek, The Next Generation, and there's this episode where an arrogant alien being addresses humans as 'bags of water'. Data, the lovable android, says that the alien is quite close to the truth with that epithet. I mention this as a context for my mystification. On this piece of rock where nature has never really known this balance we love to speak of, cycling through ice ages, seas becoming deserts, tectonic forces re-arranging the landscapes, through the rise and extinction of entire species, in this brief moment of time that we happen to occupy earth in the history of its volatile millenia, our own arrogance is astounding. Our insistence that our intelligence is capable of explaining it all, when our our very perception is limited to three paltry dimensions with limited sensory organs, that we presume to be able to 'destroy' this planet, as the environmentalists shrilly expound everywhere you look, that we each have opinions that we rigidly stand by, when those opinions are only as good as the guesses that people call facts, that we seem oblivious to the fact that we're just another animal, and that we may one day become extinct as well.... the more I think about it, the more amazed I am. Even more so, when I see the sheer amount of explanations that we have come with to keep all this at bay.

Religion is one of those explanations. Going back to Star Trek again (love that damn show!), there's this episode where the crew accidentally reveal themselves to a prehistoric alien civilization, who promptly start worshiping 'The Picard', and move from being rational creatures to ones that 'fear God' (sounds familiar?). In one scene, Captain Picard rests his head in his hands in frustration. It's a sad yet funny pose, one that I imagine many, many mortals have done in our long history as they get shunted into the Immortal League. Buddha probably has tears in his eyes even now. All that dude wanted was to get people to be more zen. Now they roll around in front of huge golden statues of him, burning stuff, offering stuff, and stuffing stuff.

Never more so, apparently, than in the ancient city of Ayuthuya. Ayuthuya, named after Ayodhya, was once a thriving capital, but was ransacked by the Burmese ages ago and is now famous for the beauty of its ruins. The city truly is a peaceful, beautiful place. Not a skyscraper in sight, something you immediately pick up on when you land there. Going back to the topic at hand, I must say- even though I know of God's omnipresent reputation, I don't think I've come close to seeing one that fills it quite like Buddha. He's everywhere! In Ayuthuya, that's an understatement. There seem to be an infinite number of temples for him, and in some of them, an infinite number of his statues inside.

Now I know why this man so quickly became enlightened. He apparently did not do a lick of work. He stands, he sits, he reclines, he lies down...basically he redefines chilling out. If any lesson is to be taken from him, it's that we must do less, not more. I aspire to be like him. I even tried a few of those 'whatever' poses of his.

I stood. (I also realized I need to be more golden.)

I sat.

I leaned with him.

Finally, I found the best position that would take me closest to achieving what he did, and I think I owned it.

I also realized that to make a place beautiful, you need only two things- lots of grass and lots of bricks. For me, Buddha was mostly a side attraction. The structures themselves had infinite charm. However, I won't deny that he provides countless photo-ops. There's something about that face that attracts people in droves. Personally, I'm sticking with my chilled out theory. If Buddha had a greek tagline, it'd go something like this, 'Situm, Sleepum, No way no workum'.

I should add that there's nothing much to see in Ayutuhya except the temple ruins. Basically, visiting this place is like a real-life version of playing Temple Run. There are no feral apes chasing you, but the scenery does begin to blend after a while. If it's a hot day to boot, you'll wonder why you're doing this- it's not like you have Buddha fever, right? Um, many people around here do. He's just that kind of guy.

As inspiring as the Golden one is, I think another reason the Thais are such an easy going people is because they don't worry about going to the toilet. In India, this is a big problem. It makes us impatient, angry and murderous. Many flashbacks come to mind- the foot-tapping father waiting impatiently to lock the door as the mom rushes back in for the precautionary last minute visit to the loo, the flat out refusal of any liquid passing the lips for a few hours before travel,the horrible realization as you're whizzing by in a vehicle that yes, your bladder has managed to magically fill itself anyway, the forehead-sweat inducing grip of fear that strikes you as you pray for a clean washroom in that next hotel...

Personally, that fear is gone here in Thailand. I seriously think clean public facilities tell you a lot about the state of development a people are in. We learnt it in history too, remember?
Question (2 marks): List a reason why the Harrapans were thought to be an advanced civilization. Answer: Indoor Plumbing.
We Indian children shook our heads wisely at that. We'd already been on a road trip or two by that age.

Going beyond providing a service, it's amazing to see the Thais actually take pride in this. A popular mall called Terminal 21 proudly displays its "Best Toilets of the Year" Award plaques outside the spectacular bathrooms on each floor, which follow the theme of different countries. Some of them are stunning.

An hour or so outside Bangkok is a temple. Pretty basic stuff. But you'll find people walking around the structure to visit the washroom behind it. 'Visit' as in sit down, take pictures, and just hang around and gape. Apparently, this facility cost them thousands of Baht and I can see why. When you walk in, the first thing that hits you is the wonderful tropical fragrance. Then, there's the sounds of birds chirping as you walk around admiring the artificial jungle setup. Stained glass art on the doors of the cubicles and self-flushing toilets leave you shaking your head in disgust- why can't I live here?

Talking about living in unusual places, what about the Golden Boy himself? Near the I-covet-this-bathroom-temple is another one that just couldn't get enough of Buddha. They made him as big as they could, which isn't surprising. What is, however, is that they also made him hollow, and went ahead and built staircases inside, leading to three floors with walls depicting his life, culminating in a little corner where you get to touch his large golden heart, bless him.

Frankly, it was quite musty in there... Quite a few inappropriate things came to my mind as I typed the previous sentence, but I'm going to let them go. In fact, I think this is a perfect place to let this post go as well ;)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ah, how we comfort ourselves grin emoticon
When good things happen to good people, it's divine blessing.
When bad things happen to good people, it's a test.
When bad things happen to bad people, it's karma.
When good things happen to bad people, it's just a matter of time.