Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Case for Astrology

In The Tao of Cricket, Ashis Nandy says that astrology was not used as a serious guide to the future in ancient India. He relates a story to show that it did not have uncritical acceptance. Two kings consulted the same astrologer before going to war with each other. The result came out reverse of what the astrologer had predicted. Instead of keeping quiet, the two kings demanded an explanation from the astrologer. The astrologer said that the loser had taken the battle casually after hearing the prediction that he was going to win and  the winner tried even harder after hearing the prediction that he was going to lose. The astrologer said that in such cases astrology was useless!

Ashis Nandy says that not just the truth value but also the social uses of astrology should be considered. Take for example cricket which ‘is a game of chance and skill which must be played as if it was only a game of skill’.  The same characteristic exists for films and politics. All three fields are highly susceptible to the charms of astrology because it gives the actors the feeling that they are doing something to control the uncontrollable. Similarly people who feel threatened by the winds of social change will clutch at astrology so that they get ‘an internal locus of control when dealing with outside forces’. He quotes a journalist as saying:
Today, the phenomenon in India is ironic. The westernized section of the youth, who do not know which Indian rashi they belong to, or even the names of the rashis, who have not seen their horoscopes, and who scoff at superstitious Indians, the section considered the most modern, liberal, the hope of the country, are the ones who believe the most in newspaper forecasts.
Horoscopes are often exchanged between parents before fixing marriages. Many times, horoscopes are used by one side to reject certain marriage proposals which they may not be keen on for some reason. Even if the other side produces an astrologer who says that the horoscopes match, an astrologer can always be found who will say that they don't match.  In these cases, giving rational reasons for the rejection might cause friction among old friends and relatives who may find themselves on opposite sides. Citing mismatched horoscopes as the reason for the rejection enables both sides to shrug their shoulders and continue relationships as before.

Horoscopes can be used to used to justify certain decisions which have been arrived at logically. Ashis Nandy illustrates such a situation with a story by Tagore. In the story, a mother is hostile to the marriage between her daughter and the latter’s lover because their horoscopes don’t match. The husband overcomes her opposition by revealing to his wife that he had doctored his own horoscope to marry her 21 years ago because their horoscopes too did not match!

People may take astrological help as an additional insurance which may or may not help while they take normal, rational steps to cope with the problems of life. 'Maybe it has some effect, who knows!' could be the reasoning. The psychology is similar to a story I once read of an atheist philosopher who started praying on his deathbed. When he was asked why he had started praying, the philosopher replied, ‘This is no time to to be making enemies!' Nandy concludes thus:
It is possible to argue that, even as a proper superstition, astrology is less harmful than taking glucose, or taking multivitamin capsules daily in response to advertisements or bottle feeding one’s baby or drugging it with overdoses of sugar, food preservatives, or hydrogenated, hydroxyquinoline derivatives used as anti-diarrhoeal agents. At worst, the first kind of superstition benefits small-time cheats who are ill-organized and scattered. At best, the second kind of superstition is a global enterprise; it makes us a victim as well as a participant in a centrally organized, capital-intensive structure of exploitation. 
The multi-million dollar global superstitions include the prestige of quaffing certain sugared waters, the idea sold by the global arms industry that increased spending on national security will increase people's security, books on tips to beat the stock market / guarantee business success / increase self-confidence etc. (based on the belief that everything is within your control and that luck is irrelevant), fairness creams, health foods...(To a large extent, the consumers of these superstitions are the educated.) I am reminded of Gandhi's statement in Hind Swaraj, 'I am prepared to maintain that humbugs in worldly matters are far worse than the humbugs in religion.'

And looking at the jet-setting, globalised modern swamis who abound in India, they seem to have a greater following in cities than in villages, among the educated than among the illiterate, among the rich than among the poor. If you thought that superstition is due to lack of education, you are ignoring reality. Ashis Nandy writes in Bonfire of Creeds:
It is a feature of the recipient culture which is to be created though the modern state system, that the superstitions of the rich and the powerful are given less emphasis than the superstitions of the poor and lowly.This is the inescapable logic of development and scientific rationality today.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Words that create a mental fog - III

In  Politics and the English language, George Orwell bemoans the deterioration of the English language with people now using vague generalities to cover-up realities. He illustrates his point by translating into modern English a well-known sentence in Ecclesiastes - 'I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth.' His translation and analysis:
Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one...It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations – race, battle, bread – dissolve into the vague phrase "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing – no one capable of using phrases like "objective consideration of contemporary phenomena" – would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. 
The first contains 49 words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains 38 words of 90 syllables: 18 of its words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from ECCLESIASTES.
A more contemporary example of such vagueness is the explanation of the financial crisis of a decade ago by the former chairman of the American Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke. Paul Krugman said that the explanation had a Hirohito feel to it. (When announcing Japan’s surrender in 1945, Emperor Hirohito famously explained his decision as follows: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”) Bernanke's explanation: “Market discipline has in some cases broken down, and the incentives to follow prudent lending procedures have, at times, eroded.”

The noise made by party spokespersons almost always tries one’s patience. They often say something to fill the time For eg., a BJP spokesman said that when growth picks up, job growth will improve. And the discussion was about there being jobless growth in the past decade! And as if by reflex, the Congress spokesman criticized the statement without showing any sign that he remembered that a major portion of this period occurred when his party was in power and it was making similar statements at that time. In the above-mentioned essay, Orwell writes (the first two paragraph are combined into one paragraph in the essay):
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White Papers and the speeches of under-secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. 
When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – BESTIAL ATROCITIES, IRON HEEL, BLOODSTAINED TYRANNY, FREE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD, STAND SHOULDER TO SHOULDER – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance towards turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
Political language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. 
PS: A paper by a Princeton University professor called ‘Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly’ explores the habit of many students of using complex words to give the impression of intelligence. You would no doubt have noticed such a tendency to utilize erudite vernacular irrespective of necessity in this blog. What to do, I am like that only (sic)!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Words that create a mental fog - II

In 1996, Social Text journal published an article by Alan Sokal, Professor of Physics at New York University, entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity." It was written in the typical style of academic articles, slightly overbearing and verbose, and it had a huge number of footnotes (more footnotes than actual text). In his article, Sokal argued that the traditional concept of gravity was just a capitalist fiction that would be made irrelevant by the socialist/feminist/relativist theory of 'quantum gravity.' Sokal assumed that this argument should have been self-evidently absurd. An excerpt from the article follows:
Here my aim is to carry these deep analyses one step further, by taking account of recent developments in quantum gravity: the emerging branch of physics in which Heisenberg's quantum mechanics and Einstein's general relativity are at once synthesized and superseded. In quantum gravity, as we shall see, the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an objective physical reality; geometry becomes relational and contextual; and the foundational conceptual categories of prior science — among them, existence itself — become problematized and relativized. This conceptual revolution, I will argue, has profound implications for the content of a future postmodern and liberatory science.
But on the day that the Spring issue of Social Text appeared in print, Sokal published a letter in the academic trade publication Lingua Franca revealing his article was actually intended as a parody, a fact which the editorial board of Social Text had failed to recognize. The article was a hoax submitted, according to Sokal, to see "would a leading journal of cultural studies publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions?"

It did get published much to the chagrin of the editors when they discovered later that it was a hoax. Sokal says that if the editors had been careful and intellectually competent, they would have recognized from the first paragraph of his essay that it was a parody. Above all, however, the Sokal hoax demonstrates how willing we are to be deceived about matters we believe strongly in. We are likely to be more critical of articles which attack our position than we are of those which we think supports it. This tendency to confirmation bias affects physicists or professors in the social sciences or a lay person.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have identified a certain kind of humbug they call pseudo-profound bullshit – the kind that sounds deep and meaningful at first glance, but upon closer inspection means nothing at all. In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb gives such an example from Hegel:
It is hard to resist discussion of artificial history without comment on the father of all pseudothinkers, Hegel. Hegel writes jargon that is meaningless outside of a chic Left Bank Parisian cafe or the humanities department of some university extremely well insulated from the real world. I suggest this passage from the German 'philosopher' (this passage detected, translated, and reviled by Karl Popper):
Sound is the change in the specific condition of segregation of the material parts, and in the negation of this condition; merely an abstract or an ideal ideality, as it were, of that specification. But this change, accordingly, is itself immediately the negation of the material specific subsistence; which is, therefore, real ideality of specific gravity and cohesion, i.e.--heat. The heating up of the sounding bodies, just as of beaten and or rubbed ones, is the appearance of heat, originating conceptually together with sound.
I won't detain you further. I am sure you want to rush to a good bookstore near you and grab copies of Hegel's books before they go out of stock.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Words that create a mental fog - I

In 1950, computer science pioneer Alan Turing proposed a famous test of computer intelligence: could a program (what we might now call a "chatbot") answer your questions so convincingly that you couldn't tell it apart from a human? A reverse Turing test is a Turing test in which the objective or roles between computers and humans have been reversed

Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about the reverse Turing test in Fooled by Randomness: a human can be declared unintelligent if his or her writing cannot be told apart from a generated one. The Postmodernism Generator is a computer program that automatically produces imitations of postmodernist writing. It produces random text with correct grammar and makes for hilarious reading of gobbledygook each time you refresh the page. For eg today, I got a treatise on 'Rationalism in the works of Pynchon' by Catherine N. Cameron, Department of Politics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Helmut Tilton Department of Semiotics, Carnegie-Mellon University which began as follows:
1. Narratives of meaninglessness
“Society is unattainable,” says Lacan. However, the subject is contextualised into a modern discourse that includes art as a reality. “Consciousness is part of the economy of language,” says Bataille; however, according to d’Erlette[1] , it is not so much consciousness that is part of the economy of language, but rather the collapse, and subsequent fatal flaw, of consciousness. Neocapitalist desituationism implies that reality is responsible for capitalism, but only if sexuality is distinctfrom narrativity. Therefore, any number of discourses concerning the role of the poet as reader exist.
The Chomskybot is another such page which produces imitations of Noam Chomsky writings on linguistics. The creator writes, ‘What I find interesting about it is how it just hovers at the edge of understandability, a sort of semantic mumbling, a fog for the mind's eye.… [It’s] most interesting effects are in the mind of the beholder, especially since its output not infrequently induces a strong feeling of inferiority in the unsuspecting, a sense of "I just don't get it, so I must be dumber than I'd thought."’  Here is an example of the output:
Look On My Words, Ye Mighty, And Despair!
        For one thing, the descriptive power of the base component appears to correlate rather closely with a parasitic gap construction. It may be, then, that any associated supporting element cannot be arbitrary in problems of phonemic and morphological analysis. I suggested that these results would follow from the assumption that this analysis of a formative as a pair of sets of features is not quite equivalent to a corpus of utterance tokens upon which conformity has been defined by the paired utterance test. This suggests that the speaker-hearer's linguistic intuition does not affect the structure of the system of base rules exclusive of the lexicon. Suppose, for instance, that this selectionally introduced contextual feature can be defined in such a way as to impose a general convention regarding the forms of the grammar.
Another such software is the Random Deepak Chopra Quote Generator – Wisdom of Chopra. Every time you refresh the page, you will get some mind numbing words of  Chopra randomly strung together that will stir your soul. In these examples from the generator he doesn't take a long time to make his pointless.
  1. "Transcendence is entangled in the flow of excellence" 
  2. "Your heart constructs a symphony of neural networks" _
  3. "Information shapes formless belonging" _

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Post-traumatic growth

Most people have heard of post traumatic stress. Yet few are aware of post traumatic growth (PTG). The idea of the possibility of finding blessings in bad breaks is said to be present often in the writings of the ancient Greeks, Hebrews, early Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims as also in literature and philosophy. PTG began to be studied in the 1990’s and they indicate that for a substantial number of people, trauma can be a catalyst for positive psychological changes. For eg., people may feel an increased sense of compassion for others, they may have a greater acceptance of their vulnerabilities and limitations, may become less materialistic etc.

While they were not happy about what had happened to them, they felt they had learned valuable lessons from the experience and these lessons eventually changed their lives for the better. They became better parents, better partners, and more compassionate friends. This does not happen immediately or easily, and rarely by itself. The right tools and support are almost always required in order to transform a bad break into a breakthrough. PTG is true not just for life-threatening illness or abuse, but also about everyday traumas such as a divorce, losing a loved one, or a surgery.

This does not mean that trauma is not also distressing. Just because individuals experience growth does not mean that they will not experience struggles. Also, PTG is not universal. It is not uncommon, but that doesn't mean that everybody who faces a traumatic event experiences growth. But there is a view that contrary to popular opinion, experiencing growth after trauma is far more common than PTSD. Richard Tedeschi, Professor and Graduate Coordinator, Department of Psychology, UNC Charlotte, says, 'In the wake of trauma, people become more aware of the futility in life and that unsettles some while it focuses others. This is the paradox of growth: people become more vulnerable, yet stronger.”

An example of PTG  is Dr. Geraat Vermeij, a scientist who I think should be as well-known as Stephen Hawking. He has been blind since the age of 3 but he is an evolutionary biologist, a teacher, was the editor of Evolution, the field's foremost journal, a MacArthur Fellow, an obsessive shell collector, a world- traveled explorer and a field naturalist. Researchers say Dr. Vermeij's findings are among the foundations of the emerging field of paleoecology. He is considered a world authority on the evolution of shells. He has even published on such diverse topics as leaf shape and the evolution of birds. He has the ability to feel differences among shells, quickly identifying them down to the level of subspecies using only his sense of touch.

There are examples  of PTG closer home. We had got a table calendar which featured people from a local NGO called Swarga foundation which performed some services for handicapped people. Jaya rang up the organization to find out if they had some services that I could use. She told the person at the other end about the calendar and enquired about services that they rendered.The other person introduced herself as Swarnalatha and said, ‘I am in March!’ Huh? Jaya was nonplussed for a moment before she realized that the person she was speaking to featured in the March page of the calendar!

I am in March!

Swarnalatha said that they were going to launch a vehicle soon that would help in easier transportation of handicapped people. This service looked attractive for us since shifting me to a car is a difficult task requiring a lot of physical strength. The proposed vehicle was supposed to have a ramp which meant that I could go inside directly seated on my wheelchair. This is the vehicle we now hire when I travel locally, say for going to the hospital, school reunion or for attending a cousin's wedding reception.

Swarnalatha is the Managing Trustee of the organisation. She holds a Diploma in Computer Science and is a post graduate in Hindi and is fluent in 6 languages. She is a Motivational speaker, Social Activist, Singer, Artist (arts & crafts), Puppeteer, Green Crusader, Counsellor, Story writer, Photographer. Also, she is affected with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis since 2009 and is wheelchair-bound. If you look at the other pages of the calendar, you will similarly come across many instances of achievers who have overcome various handicaps viz. a person with Transverse Myelitis who is a Disability rights advocate, Hr consultant and a guest lecturer for management studies or person with Down's Syndrome who is a Bharatanatyam dancer and playschool teaching assistant.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"Just where do you think you are, sir?"

Being an outside observer now rather than a participant in daily activities that I would otherwise have been, I get a different take on what people do. In many cases, when I hear about people 'working hard' till late at night in the office, it just seems to be a confirmation of what Gandhi had said in Hind Swaraj, 'Formerly, men were made slaves under physical compulsion. Now they are enslaved by temptation of money and of the luxuries that money can buy.' The world is too much with them. I was reading a book written in 1883, Conventional Lies of Our Civilization by Max Nordau. Its description of Western society at that time seems to be true of India today:
Each day witnesses the birth of some new, wonderful invention, destined to make the world pleasanter to live in, the adversities of life more endurable, and to increase the variety and intensity of the enjoyments possible to humanity. But yet, notwithstanding the growth and increase of all conditions to promote comfort, the human race is to-day more discontented, more irritated and more restless than ever before.
[SNIP] 
The light literature of England has long since ceased to be a faithful mirror of real life. When it is not describing with gusto, crimes and scandals of all kinds, murders, burglaries, seductions or testamentary frauds, it portrays a model society, in which the members of the nobility are all handsome, dignified, cultivated and wealthy; while the lower classes are honest God-fearing people, devoted to their superiors, the virtuous among them being graciously praised and rewarded by Sir This or Sir That, while the wicked are locked up by the police — in short, a society which is in all respects an absurd idealization of the dilapidated, tottering structure of society as it exists in England at the present day.
Many people I meet are richer than they were before my stroke but I am not sure if they are happier.  The levels of narcissism seems to have gone through the roof with people spending incredible amounts of time, effort and money to look good. In spite of riches they seem to have many issues to worry about – property disputes; couple separating within months after an extravagant, no-expenses spared wedding; highly educated son becoming a drunkard…After listening to all the sorry tales, I will end up feeling that I am not in such a bad state after all.

Private vehicles are regarded as status symbols rather than as a means of transport. Some people change models of cars and mobile phones every year depending on the talk of the town. They seem to be advertisement driven rather than utility driven. Teens will wear only expensive, branded items (which they will soon outgrow much to the delight of manufacturers) due to peer pressure. And as George Orwell says in his essay Pleasure spots, ‘Much of what goes by the name of pleasure is simply an effort to destroy consciousness.’ I heard of a 14 year old boy who committed suicide because his parents refused to buy him a smart phone. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is difficult to put it back in.

People keep wanting a bigger TV with additional features they will rarely use. They will want computers with more RAM, more hard disk, higher speeds…all of which will be an over-kill for their normal use. And as you become more tantalized by these 'innovations' , you become more dependant on your job which thereby becomes the modern version of slavery. There is often an air of pretense and phoniness like one sees in the manufactured, made-to-order smiles of air-hostesses, hotel receptionists and TV presenters. Many successful people seem to acquire characteristics similar to one I had read in an article which had a quote from a novel in which a wife tells her husband who is a typical big shot executive:
‘…you are losing a kind of innocence which was always dear to me. I think you take the wrong kind of pride in what you are doing. You are learning how to push the little buttons which make people jump, and you are becoming cynical and skeptical about people. It is a kind of 'watchfulness' which I see in you. Your smile is the same and you seem to talk in the same way, and people like you as readily as ever, but you are on guard, even with me. I think you are becoming a political man, and once again I must sound childish to you as I say that I do not like the byproducts—the compromise, subterfuge and so help me, the 'use' of human beings. I am not accusing you of some enormous wickedness. But I think the kind of work you are doing now will change the essential texture of you, will harden you in ways I cannot clearly understand.’
There is a philosophical term called the paradox of hedonism according to which directly seeking pleasure makes pleasure difficult to achieve and even more difficult to maximize. The person starts framing all of his relationships in terms of his own pleasure and cannot care about anything or anyone else.  It is better for him to  genuinely care about things distinct from pleasure and then let pleasure be felt as a byproduct. But we are attracted to all sorts of trivialities thinking that they will give us pleasure as noted by Gandhi in his description of the Eiffel Tower - 'the tower was a good demonstration of the fact that we are all children attracted by trinkets'.

Psychologists have double plus ungood news.They have determined that people are more sensitive to losses than gains, privilege short-term over long-term and prefer certainty over uncertainty. So if changing the current style of living involves bearing shot-term costs that are certain in anticipation of uncertain long-tern gains, most of us will not consider the long-term alternative. So we will continue to struggle in the swamp even if we know that we are getting even more stuck. I know I have this weakness. It is not a pretty picture. Gandhi seems to have instinctively recognized this Faustian pact of the human mind.

In Oct 1945, he wrote to Nehru that may be India too will adopt the modes of modern Western civilization that he had criticized and ‘like the proverbial moth burn itself eventually in the flame round which it dances more and more furiously’. ‘The indefinite multiplication of wants’ which Gandhi said defined modernity soon begin to pall. (It is one of the paradoxes  of India that a man who was not materialistic finds his portrait on all rupee notes.) This tendency has a name - hedonic treadmill, which proposes that people return to their level of happiness, regardless of what happens to them, because we psychologically adapt to that new experience. Gandhi recolonized this tendency when he wrote in Hind Swaraj:
We notice that the mind is a restless bird; the more it gets the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied. The more we indulge our passions the more unbridled they become. Our ancestors, therefore, set a limit to our indulgences. They saw that happiness was largely a mental condition. A man is not necessarily happy because he is rich, or unhappy because he is poor.
A model of growth that requires an endless increase of consumption is probably doomed. As someone said, ‘If you think infinite growth is possible on a finite planet, you are either crazy or you are an economist.’ It all reminds me of a joke that is more than a joke that I had once read. A man found himself, after death, in heaven. His host showed him around the celestial premises and it soon became apparent that it was a place where the residents could have anything they wanted. The man kept wishing and getting whatever he wanted until he finally ran out of desires. Then he started getting bored and irritated and said flippantly that things might be more interesting in Hell. His host asked quietly, 'Just where do you think you are, sir?'

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Recreating LFS in CBE


About 10 years ago, some of my schoolmates - Little Flower School (LFS), Jamshedpur - started planning our 25th year reunion and started tracking people down. But try as they might, they couldn't locate me. They finally found out the landline number of my house and gave me a ring. It was then that they found out some details about my stroke. By then there was only a week left for the reunion, I had never travelled so far at the time (2010) after my stroke and I did not attend the reunion.

Earlier this year we were informed that this time the reunion was being held in Coimbatore so that I could attend easily.  This was a pleasant surprise for me since I had thought that the reunion will be in Jamshedpur. The connectivity between Coimbatore and Jamshedpur (call me biased but that is the best city in India, at least as I remember it from over 30 years ago!) is poor and it would have been difficult for me to go there. There was a good chance that I would not have been able to go. With the reunion now scheduled to be held in Coimbatore, to go or not to go was no longer a question that I had to grapple with.

I was shocked when I read this post. It is by a person who  graduated from high school in 1984 (exactly the same year as me) and was being called for his class’s 25th year reunion. He writes about the rough time he had in school, the bullying, physical abuse and social ostracization that he had suffered. He writes that ‘there was not a single person in my graduating class who came close to treating me like a friend. Not one.’ It was the exact opposite of my school experience where being with my school mates was something I looked forward to.

I had spent many pleasant years with my schoolmates both inside and outside school. Within about half an hour of our school-day being over, many of us used to meet again and play cricket for the next 2-3 hours. (On many days, we used to play till it was too dark to continue.) This is is what I think about when I see children these days running from one tuition to another with no time to play. And I am quite sure that the syllabus was more in our time so I don't know what it is all about. I am reminded of a poem called Leisure by W.H. Davies that I had in school.

It was no surprise that my mother expressed a desire to meet my friends. She would be familiar with many of them since the ground we used to play cricket in was next to our house. Many of our parents knew each other since they worked in the same organization and also met on various social occasions. So she had a lot of news to catch up with! My mother and sister accompanied us on two days and my in-laws on the second day of the reunion. Sujit came for a day to attend the reunion. He returned the same night to Chennai.

Sujit in the center of the circle; others clockwise after me - Jaya, my father-in-law, my sister, my mom, my mother-in-law and my classmates Saravan and Manoj. The other person in the photo is Sarvan's wife. 
It was great meeting people I had grown up with, most of whom I was meeting after a gap of over 30 years. Even though Father Time had done his bit in producing grey hairs and generous paunches, I could recognize everybody without much difficulty. I had, like Wordsworth up at Tintern Abbey, “sensations sweet, / Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart; /And passing even into my purer mind  / With tranquil restoration:—feelings too / Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps / As have no slight or trivial influence” on my life.

With all my classmates 
Updated on 10/08/2017: I have changed the group photograph because three of my friends were not in it. I have included the old photo at the end.

While identifying the people present did not pose a problem for me, I would have struggled to identify everyone in a group photograph having everyone in all 3 sections of our class. (Jaya will tell you that this is not surprising as I once failed to identify myself in a photograph!) I was astonished at the rapidity with which many had been able to identify everyone in that photograph. Age had not dimmed their memories at all.

There was a session where people related various funny incidents that they recalled from schooldays. I was often surprised by the clarity with which people recalled various incidents, many of which had remained with me as what Wordsworth called”gleams of half-extinguished thought”. I am often told that I have a sharp memory which was belied by the stories that I was hearing. I suppose, like it is said in obituaries where a person is said to be the best, the kindest, the most loving person who ever lived, I get to hear wonderful things about me that nobody told me about in my better days.

I was asked to relate an incident from my school days but I declined the invitation. One of the advantages of suffering a stroke is that I can delegate to Jaya the  nightmarish task of speaking in front of a mike. (This is a characteristic that I share with Gussie Fink-Nottle, the newt lover with a face like a dead fish.) The one time I managed to do the impossible, people were so surprised by the event that some seemed to remember something about it. But this was not the only reason why I kept quiet.

I generally avoid saying anything substantial when a lot of people are present and prefer to keep my responses as short as possible or say nothing at all. The reason is that my method of communication is so slow that it keeps others waiting for long and also prevents Jaya from interacting with people for quite a while. Also, unless she is writing my responses, some distortions will inevitably creep into the retelling. That is why I prefer blogging: I can take my time to write what I want in the way that I want. So I will write about a cricket match that Thapa (Ravinder Kumar) had talked about.

He talked about the final of a cricket tournament that we had won in which he was the captain. I had injured my finger the previous day and did not expect to play but Thapa insisted that I play. Fortunately we won the toss, batted first and Thapa played a brilliant innings. (The fortunate part was about winning the  toss not Thapa’s brilliant innings which was along expected lines.) At the lunch break he showed my injured finger to the umpires, said that I had got hurt while batting and asked for a substitute fielder to which the umpires agreed.  The substitute fielder was Anuj Kathuria who was a very good fielder and took a couple of excellent catches that helped us win the match. I was a lousy fielder and would have dropped them for sure. This was the ideal match for me and the team – I batted and did not field!

With Thapa,  the canny captain - he knew when to keep me in the pavilion much to the relief of the team and me!
The surprise for me at the reunion was Rocky's (Rajesh Sharma) singing. I had no idea about his talent when I was in the school.  With such a great voice, he can make a career out of singing. He later recorded a song and posted it here. Listen and be amazed.


                   
Rocky singing at the reunion. With him is Chandrashekar, who organised the reunion
I am reliably informed that we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. If that be so, I was pretty well stocked up for the dreams when I returned from the reunion, like Wordsworth from Tintern Abbey, “not only with the sense / Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts / That in this moment there is life and food / For future years.”

Until next meeting!