The enlightened call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results.

— Krishna in The Gita

The mind is everything. What you think you become.
— Buddha

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Stranger than fiction

Three totally unrelated events/issues, but they sure highlight the complexities of human life and psychology. These incidents are known to all, this post is just about my perspective.
1). The Talwars—Dr Rajesh Talwar and his wife, Nupur—who, according to the CBI are suspects in their own daughter Aroushi’s murder. Dr Rajesh has also spent some time behind the bars and was brutally attacked recently by a young man who resented his “fame”. The CBI insists he's the prime suspect, but so far no charge has been brought against him for lack of evidence. I’m as confused as the next person. But just imagine for a second that he’s innocent, as his wife so passionately insists—they lost their only child, reputation and all semblance of a normal life, and the murderer is still at large. Just seeing the Talwars on the TV is enough for me to lose my sleep.
2). This one is courtesy the BBC. A young American woman, now 23, was abducted when she was an infant by a woman who brought her up as her daughter. Her (foster) mother’s inability to produce any birth certificate made the young woman suspicious and she eventually found her photo as a baby on the Missing and Exploited Children's website. “Mother and daughter are finally reunited and the abductor faces the police,” Nik Gowing said something to the effect on BBC’s The Hub.
What should be a happy ending, set me thinking. 23 years…isn’t that a lifetime! What if the abductor had really loved the girl like her own daughter? And will she, the girl, able to forget the 23 years that she spent with a woman who was the most important person in her life? I’m not denying that it was the cruellest crime in the world—to take a child away from her mother is an unthinkably vile act. Having said that, I still see shades of grey in the story than just black and white.
3). This is a happy one. It turned out that Oprah Winfrey has a half-sister, Patricia, she never knew of. Patricia was given by her mother (a housemaid then) for adoption when Oprah was nine.
On Oprah Winfrey Show, Patricia said she started thinking that Oprah might be her sister when she saw an interview with Vernita Lee (Oprah’s mother) on television. She eventually tracked down Vernita, but was told by the adoption centre that the mother did not want to get in touch with her. Patricia managed to reach Oprah's niece and DNA tests showed that they were indeed related.
We thought we knew almost everything about Oprah’s life—the soul-numbing poverty and abuse, and the subsequent rags-to-reaches rise. But looks like wonders never cease in her life. Out of nowhere pops a half-sister who she never heard of. And from Patricia’s point of view, just imagine waking up one fine morning and discovering Oprah Winfrey is your sister!
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. But the best part of the story, as I see it, is that she never tried to sell her story and make some quick buck.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Thinking of dolphins

The other day I went to see a dolphin show. The show was fantastic to say the least; one has to see the synchronised, high-spirited frolic and performance of these wonderful sea creatures to realise that Nature is full of intelligent, talented animals.
The dolphins, six of them (or was it eight?), passed balls, danced and waved their tails, somersaulted in the air and presented breathtaking acrobatics in the tank. The spectators, including myself, watched them mesmerised, bursting into applause and hoots of joy every now and then.
But, on the sideline, I couldn’t help notice that throughout the show the dolphins were being fed fish by the conductors. One trick over and here goes the fish, tossed right into the eager mouths of the dolphins. I couldn’t figure out why they should be fed during the show, and not before or after. I was then told that dolphins were starved until the show during which they were fed as a reward for their performance.
That little bit if information was enough to needle me for the rest of the show, even though I kept enjoying it and missed my daughter. I also thought fleetingly whether the pool, with its chlorinated water, was where the huge sea mammals should be in. And the music, loud and foot-tapping—what about that? I for one hate loud noise of any kind. Dolphins are said to be extremely sensitive; were they enjoying the music?
Later I did some research on the Internet and here is what I found:
1. Dolphins perform not because they enjoy, but because they are starved.
2. They injure themselves during the performances, and the chlorinated water worsens their wounds and also makes them slowly lose their sight.
3. The loud noise is extremely harmful to the Dolphins which stresses them out. Dolphins are “echolocators”, that is they locate objects by emitting sounds and detecting the reflections given back. When they are confined in a small pool they can’t use echo-location. “It's like putting a person in a small drum and shouting loudly,” says an expert.
4. The pool is too small for the dolphins, whose physiology are built for the wide open seas. Think of having to stay cooped up in a tiny room day in and day out.

Having said that, am I asking you to boycott dolphin shows? Not exactly. It’s a choice every individual has to make for themselves, you know, much like giving up non-veg or dairy products or fur.
But will I bring my daughter to the show? Well, no. There are many ways to amuse ourselves other than seeing these lovely creatures performing in captivity, out of fear and hunger.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The writing on the (digital) wall

Recently, while travelling from JFK International Airport to Dubai I spotted something very interesting – a 40 plus mother and her teenaged son, both of whom seemed to be avid readers. Ever curious to know what they were reading, I glanced at them from time to time. The mother was holding a paperback edition of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. But try as much as I would I couldn’t guess what the son was immersed in, as he was reading a digital book, perhaps from a Sony reader. Later, when I boarded the plane I saw another young woman, a college student perhaps, reading from her iPad.
Looks like the digital revolution has well and truly caught up with the world of reading, I thought to myself.
All signs apparently point to the fact that 2010 will go down in history as the most significant year in publishing in modern times. Statistically, 95 per cent of all books sold no more than 5000 copies in the last year. In fact, several publishers were said to delay eBooks to help the hardcover titles sell. Others inflated prices online but gave deep discounts at real booskstores.
Small and independent publishers, on the other hand, were forced to embrace the digital technology as any profit was better than no profit at all. Social networking sites and blogs came in handy, as self-publishers could directly pitch to readers without any extra cost of advertising.
The reason why the iSlate—capable of accessing and containing audio, video, and both static and dynamic text—and Sony readers, along with iPhone have been embraced by the reading public is that these devices are sleek, easily portable and they allow people to carry hundreds of books with them. Even better, due to the use of eInk technology, they don’t cause eye strain or discomfort, a common problem one faces while reading online.
In a 2008 survey, some 40 per cent of 1,000 industry professionals surveyed said digital content would overtake traditional printed book sales by 2018. But it might be sooner than anticipated.
For me personally, it’s an unthinkable idea, at least for now. I’m attached to my books, for their smell, familiarity and the tactile experience they offer. It can’t compete with the cold, detached feel of an electronic reader, can it? But when you weigh the advantages, who knows?