Saturday, May 09, 2015

Thus Spake the coconut tree

“Knowledge is insufficient to comprehend this universe.  Human consciousness must expand many fold to understand such a complexity and vastness.”, I said.

It was one of those terrace conversations I have with my son.  He is a student and hopes to get back to Physics sometime in the future, when the universe interests him more than computers.

“That’s a philosophical mumbo jumbo, I’ve heard it a hundred times from you.  Please talk some real Physics.” said my son.

“May I join the conversation?”  a gentle deep voice asked.  I realised it is the coconut tree that spoke.  My son didn’t bother to look around and said, “Go ahead.”.  He too must have got used to the tree. He has been alone at home during holidays and may have struck a friendship with the tree.

“It is amusing to listen to humans who think knowledge is absolute.”, the tree paused for a while and said, “Tell me, what do you think of me?”

“I see your branches and leaves, whatever you may want to call them are designed in such a way to not resist strong winds.  They let the wind pass through.  The trunk can sway during strong winds unlike a mango or neem tree.  The coconut is of the shape of a football that lets it disperse in different ways.  I like this analysis.  I think I can write a paper on the physics of every part of the coconut tree.”

“Sure you can, if you observe enough.”

“See, that’s the power of science.  I can explain everything rationally, support it with pure mathematics and quote references of work that use in my paper.  No mumbo-jumbo there.”

“I see your point.  Do you think you could have such an analysis, 10 years ago?”

“Probably not.  I learnt a lot of stuff as prepared for IIT.”  

“Well, someone who got into IIT recently wouldn’t be able to analyse when he was 8-9 years old.  What do you know about my age?”  asked the tree.

“You must be about 40.  I heard this area was developed about 40 years ago and they must have planted these tree then.  There is a pattern in the way they had planted.”

“It doesn’t matter.  I may be a few million years old, all coconut trees are the same.  We just continue living at a new place.  The point is, I’m a lot older than your knowledge.  Right?”

“I guess so.”

“For the same question I asked - “what do you think of me?” Would someone who lived five hundred years ago, answered the same?

“No.  This knowledge is recent - about couple of hundred years.”

“So, your Physics is based a few hundred years of knowledge.”  

I could sense the sarcasm there.

“If I were you I wouldn’t bet too much on that knowledge.  It is a bit stale already and would give way for another idea in a hundred years.”  continued the tree.

“So… what is permanent?” 

“This moment.  It is always there."

“That’s enlightening.  Thanks”, said my son.

“You’re welcome.  We, tropical trees are known for that!”, said the tree with a wink.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What's in a last name?

I was just telling my son about my boss who coined a new last name from his father's name and got his siblings adopt it.  Now his family has a unique last name.

 My last name is the name of the village. Since I hadn't been to the village in twenty years and it is too long to spell, I offered him to find a new last name that he can start using.  Adyar was an option.  But he didn't like it as the old style initials would read ASS.  So, he decided to use my first name as his last name. This has been a standard in many south Indian families.

After the topic of my boss' last name, I offered that we can coin a new unique last name that is easy to spell and neutral.  We rejected a few options.

  • No place name, as we carry no special trait of people from a place.  So, no Tiruchendurai, Adyar, Longawal, Bindaranwale, Semmangudi, Ariyakkudi etc.
  • No animal names as we can't identify with any animals.
  • No caste names. So, Iyer spelled in hundred different ways is out. 
  • No family names based on Gothram - too old style.
  • Last name by profession is possible.  The west has the Cooks, Bakers, Smiths and Archers.  Closer home, the Zoroastrians had Contractor, Engineer, Kelawala, Daruwala, Tadiwala and Kagalwala.  
We are getting close.  We use computers at work more than most people.  My son is doing an undergraduate course in Computer Science.  So, Computerwala is an option.  An Indianized name like Ganithshastri is also an option.  Going for short names, there are options like Java, Ruby, Python, C and C++.  Quite trendy, but may not stay trendy for long.  He even considers BackslashZero as an option.

But wait.  What if he wants to be an investment banker?   My son is only in the first year of college and committing to such a last name at this stage appears too rash a decision.

So, we are postponing the decision by about 10 - 12 years till he chooses a lifetime profession.  And hopefully we will have more options then.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The parent dilemma

An ABCD asked his father - why should I pray to a stone?  I thought the father's answer wouldn't convince the kid.  So, here is my help.

"When you were a toddler, you played with toys.  The toys were miniature version of real-life objects, simplified to some extent.  The toys helped to introduce you to handling real-life objects.

Grown up people have to deal with complex relationships - with parents, spouse, children, bosses, peers, vendors, customers etc.  Idols help in preparing to deal with the relationships.  They are forms of humans with some minor variations to address the sub-conscious - just like the brightly colored toys cheer the children.  Toys are designed by a few engineers over a few months, idol designs are evolved by societies over generations.

Unlike real humans, idols do not react.  That makes them an ideal sink to express your frustration and grievences.  You can be totally honest with the idols, for they won't misuse the information about you.  You can go back to your favorite idol to confide and be happy.

Temples give the comfort feeling with their structures and the deity.  It is getting a bit difficult due to crowding and changes to the structure.  But you can always observe that comforting feeling when there is no crowd, even in a small temple.  Go to a temple for this comforting feeling, not for a "God" who marks attendence.  It is ok to be a bit selfish and focus on this comfort.  You can deal with people properly only when you are comfortable."