Creating Life, Playing God

7 Jun

Putting science content in today’s mainstream media is a bit like putting snails on a racetrack. Some scientists would argue that there is a lot to learn from the latter but then again, it only goes to prove the initial statement. In a day and age where news reporting demands a high level of dynamism, science is just not entertaining enough. But every once in a while, a scientist declares a groundbreaking result at a press conference and sure enough, the media is there to misinterpret it. The latest case being that of artificial life created at the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI).

Over the past few days the sensational claim where biologists – mere mortals – played god has done the rounds invoking a medley of emotion from all walks of life. Curious laymen to offended theologians have all voiced their opinions in one form or the other. Newspaper editorials and talk show hosts have fueled the story further and gone overboard speculating its possible implications. Not amused by what it sees, the church has warned scientists not to play god. Between all this, the men of science who are more accustomed to being relegated to invisibility by the media are now becoming its breaking news! To their credit: creation of life and the audacious achievement of placing men on par with gods.

It may be interesting to note then, that the team of scientists credited with this breakthrough have not claimed half the things the media has said they have. None of them spoke of creating life or of playing god. Even the head of the team, the consummate showman Dr Craig Venter, had a measured approach at a press conference where he announced ‘the development of the first living cell to be controlled entirely by a synthetic DNA’.

Our understanding of what constitutes “life” is well off the desired mark. Even among scientists, there is no commonly accepted definition of life. Thus, it is possible to misinterpret the statement by Dr Venter as an announcement of the creation of life but the media seemed a little too trigger happy to do so.

What was it exactly, that went on behind the doors of JCVI? The press conference was a culmination of 15 years of painstaking work that was carried out by a team of almost 50 geneticists, biologists and chemists. They started out by tracing the entire genetic structure of a known bacterium on a computer. Then they made slight modifications to this code, the most noticeable ones being the introduction of ‘watermarks’. This was a way to brand the species they were creating as their own. The team coded in four watermarks, one of which included the names of all the team members and a website address the new species could call its own. The other three were quotes including “to live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life”.

Armed with this blueprint, they picked up four bottles of chemicals and got down to the task of preparing the DNA. The length of the final molecule was supposed to be 1 million characters. The team prepared cassettes of about 1000 characters and outsourced the job of stitching these together to the organic yeast they had at hand. In the end they had their DNA. Man made and watermarked.

But progress to this level had already been achieved before by this very team. The challenge now was to introduce this synthetic DNA in a half empty, dead cell of a slightly different bacterium and hope that the cell kicks in to life. Would the confluence of the right chemicals at the right temperature be sufficient to trigger life? As it turned out, it would. Not only did this cell come alive, but it transformed into the species dictated by its genome, replicating a few billion times. As it flourished and grew, a quick check of the daughter cells revealed that they were being controlled by the synthetic DNA. It was a breakthrough 15 years and $40 million in the making. The hard work, perseverance and sheer brilliance had paid off.

But was this creation of life? Even though the recipient cell was sans its DNA, it still had most of the other bio-chemical elements essential for life. The cell was not synthesized, only its DNA was. This genome then instructed the cell to replicate and transfer itself in all the subsequent generations. So the team effectively booted-up the cell and then controlled its behavior and replication. As Dr Venter put it this was the “first self-replicating species that we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer”. It had no ancestors, no evolutionary history. That was the significant story. Not the creation of life.

What this did however was to spectacularly debunk any claims of ‘vitalism’ that still existed. For long had the notion existed, mostly in non-scientific circles, that life depended on a vital principle beyond the realms of what chemistry and biology can determine. To them, it must have certainly come as a shock then, that no mystery ingredient, no vital spark, no Promethean lightening was invoked to breathe life. Computer generated information, digitized chemically in the form of DNA not only triggered but even controlled life in the synthesized species. Life turned out to be just a complex array of bio-chemicals with no room for a farce that is the soul.

This result is sure to throw up a lot of ethical as well as regulatory concerns. As part of any scientific enterprise, these will have to be dealt with seriously and transparently. But that certainly does not mean that the scientists have to give credibility to any ridiculous objections raised by ignorant and incompetent members of society. Leading that club are the self-proclaimed religious leaders who are warning scientists’ against playing god (their own terminology, not that of the scientists).

This sort of nonsense stems to a certain extent from media misrepresenting the story but mostly from the defensive nature of these religious groups. They perceive science as a threat mostly because they have based their faith on gaps in scientific knowledge. Every time science couldn’t answer a question they invoked miracles. As science began bridging these gaps, religious claims were left stranded and their leaders accused scientists of playing god.

Interestingly, given that Dr Venter’s work was a project driven by explicit atheism right from its onset, the whole notion of playing god becomes absurd. Scientists after all are concerned only with the natural, not the supernatural. Otherwise, scientists would have surely warned god against playing science.

(First two paintings by Anarya drawing on Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ and his sketches. Third cartoon courtesy Sidney Harris)

(Published in Apostrophe’O. Original link here )

Guest Post: The Ant and the Grasshopper

10 Nov

I remember reading this story way back in school. It talks of a hardworking ant and a lazy grasshopper. I did not write this post, it was emailed to me by Swati Sinha as an attachment. I tried to look for the original author but so far I do not know who wrote this. If anyone can give me the credits I would be more than happy to acknowledge that person. The post is a satire and it presents a very interesting and apt scenario that exists in present day India and most other socialist countries.

To understand this completely you will have to know a few things about India, its states and a few of its politicians, but the message it puts forth requires no such acquaintance. Let me know your views on this.

 – Nikhil

 

An Old Story:
The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away.

Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.

Indian Version:
The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The Grasshopper thinks the Ant’s a fool and laughs & dances & plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering Grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the Ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving. NDTV, BBC, CNN show up to provide pictures of the shivering Grasshopper next to a video of the Ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.

The World is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be that this poor Grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Arundhati Roy stages a demonstration in front of the Ant’s house.

Medha Patkar goes on a fast along with other Grasshoppers demanding that Grasshoppers be relocated to warmer climates during winter.

Mayawati states this as `injustice’ done on Minorities.

Amnesty International and Koffi Annan criticize the Indian Government for not upholding the fundamental rights of the Grasshopper.

The Internet is flooded with online petitions seeking support to the Grasshopper (many promising Heaven and Everlasting Peace for prompt support as against the wrath of God for non-compliance).

Opposition MPs stage a walkout. Left parties call for ‘ Bengal Bandh’ in West Bengal and Kerala demanding a Judicial Enquiry.

CPM in Kerala immediately passes a law preventing Ants from working hard in the heat so as to bring about equality of poverty among Ants and Grasshoppers.

Lalu Prasad allocates one free coach to Grasshoppers on all Indian Railway Trains, aptly named as the ‘Grasshopper Rath’.

Finally, the Judicial Committee drafts the ‘ Prevention of Terrorism Against Grasshoppers Act’ [POTAGA], with effect from the beginning of the winter.

Arjun Singh makes ‘Special Reservation ‘ for Grasshoppers in Educational Institutions & in Government Services.

The Ant is fined for failing to comply with POTAGA and having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes,it’s home is confiscated by the Government and handed over to the Grasshopper in a ceremony covered by NDTV.

Arundhati Roy calls it ‘ A Triumph of Justice’.

Lalu calls it ‘Socialistic Justice ‘.

CPM calls it the ‘ Revolutionary Resurgence of the Downtrodden ‘

Koffi Annan invites the Grasshopper to address the UN General Assembly.

Many years later….

The Ant has since migrated to the US and set up a multi-billion dollar company in Silicon Valley.

100s of Grasshoppers still die of starvation despite reservation somewhere in India and as a result of loosing lot of hard working Ants and feeding the grasshoppers, India is still a developing country!

Announcing: The Astronomy Journal

7 Nov

I would like to thank everyone for all the support you have given me over the past few months. It is through this support that Lost Reality has grown. Its very encouraging to see viewers across the world visit this site regularly and contribute and share their views either in the form of comments on the site or through personal emails as some may prefer.

I have started another blog on WordPress. It is titled The Astronomy Journal. Follow this link to know what it is all about. Looking forward to your views and contributions on this site as well.

Cheers!

Is Ego Necessary? – A Shocking Question

23 Sep

“Is Ego Necessary?” This was the title of an article by John Bendix that appeared on Sunday, 21st September in The Times of India (Sunday Times) under the section titled Mind over Matter (A copy of that article can be found here).

Mr Bendix has tried to argue that,

“…the ego causes most of man’s problems in dealing with one another.”

While trying to solve a seemingly complex problem in his own life, he claimed that,

“There were no real answers or solutions on the conscious level of the mind. I had to go beyond the mind of thoughts to the core of the problem, the ego. The ego that the mind creates in order to give it a means to confront the onslaught of the outside world. A world that it feels threatened by.”

Throughout the article Mr Bendix talks of the ego as a separate entity. An entity that was created to protect, but has somehow managed to break its restraints and take over the human. Something like runaway robot who was built to serve but has developed a power to turn on its masters and enslave the very people who built it.

Describing the way our ego performs, Mr Bendix says that the ego interprets the information presented to it by the senses and cognitively assesses them and through the mind, produces thought. However good a description this might be, it describes the mind and not the ego. The only way we can perceive things around us is through our senses. This information is then integrated by our mind and an appropriate response is generated.

Ego is self. It is not and cannot be considered as a separate entity. It is engraved in an individual. Over the years however ego has been portrayed as evil. Pretty much the same way as selfishness has been painted in negative light. But egoism and selfishness are synonymous. The word selfish brings to mind someone who tramples helpless souls, brutally pushing them aside to gain some advantage for himself. It conjures up an image of a path taken to achieve a goal but not the goal itself. However according to most dictionaries selfishness is simply the concern of one’s self interest. There is no judgment of the path one takes to attain this self interest. That path may be good or evil. It is the job of ethics to decide that, and the job of one’s philosophy to decide the ethics or moral code.

Mr Bendix puts forth the example of a verbal assault. He states that if a person verbally attacks another, then that may result in thoughts of hostility towards that person attacking him. All seems fine here. But he then goes on to argue that there is no real damage in a verbal assault and any perceived threat is quite simply ‘imagined’. He blames the ego for fostering such imagined threats and expects the ego to take the blame for thinking such a thing. This is a classical example of the altruist philosophy. If you are attacked by your neighbor, it is your fault if you try and defend yourself against him. Your life, the altruists claim, belongs to your neighbor and if you feel aggrieved by this then it is you who is evil. The fault lies in you.

The response you give to a verbal assault or anything else for that matter depends on the way you have integrated thoughts and concepts in your mind. The mind is simply a processing device. The way you program it, is the way it will act when given certain inputs. Thus if your programming is inadequate or superficial, an input such as a verbal assault may result in hostility and violence as the output. If you have programmed it differently, such an input will perhaps result in you laughing off the baseless claims. Under no circumstances can you blame the mind or the ego for the output. The output is simple a result of your conscious volitional programming. Your philosophy.

Note that many people may not be aware of the philosophy they follow and hence the conscious programming that they did. Perhaps they were simply following the majority or their family or friends. But that doesn’t change the fact that they had a voluntary choice. They were unfortunately unaware of it. These people might not understand why their mind gave the output that it gave. But irrespective of that, it is their voluntary choices that determined the output. And now, not because the argument is convincing, but simply because they have something to blame – a scapegoat, these are the people who will be the first to believe when altruists claim that the ego is to be blamed..

This is exactly what Mr Bendix claimed when he said,

“It is not what is said to us, felt, or thought about us that does harm, it is the ego’s reaction that creates the damage.”

Little do they realize that their scapegoat, the ego, is themselves. And then these people will drown in a battle with their own consciousness, because they are utterly confused and lost. Searching for a way out of this mess and chaos. The altruists have a way out. They will ask you to surrender to God or some such higher being or higher power.

It is at this point precisely that, like all proponents of mysticism, Mr Bendix encourages and urges everyone to shed aside their mind and their reasoning and look to a ‘higher self’

“…we can all do something to alleviate this dysfunction. But it cannot be done on the intellectual level. The mind is ill-equipped in this pursuit. By taking notice of how our mind and ego work, we can begin to function at a higher level.”

Mr Bendix concludes that when we dispense with the ego, our true nature is brought forth. This would be true if our true nature was not that of the man who built skyscrapers and dams but that of a sheep in a big herd, shepherded by the mystics and the spiritual gurus of the world.

Ego defines an individual. Without ego there is no existence of that person. So asking “Is Ego Necessary” is like asking “Is Existence Necessary”.

I end with a quote by Howard Roark from The Fountainhead…

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced… but the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won…

[For every man] His vision, his strength, his courage came from his own spirit. A man’s spirit, however, is his self. That entity which is his consciousness. To think, to feel, to judge, to act are functions of the ego.

The creators were not selfless. It is the whole secret of their power—that it was self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated. A first cause, a fount of energy, a life force, a Prime Mover. The creator served nothing and no one. He lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement.”

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(Author’s Note: Minor edits incorporated after publishing)

Here’s how it all started

10 Sep

Recently there has been a lot of hype among the educated-yet-unaware-people thanks to the sensational-yet-worthless reporting in the television news media about the end of the world. There has been talk about black holes, energy explosions and destruction of the Earth. 10th September 12:30 pm IST is supposed to be the time when all hell breaks loose. In fact one of the national news channels actually made the following statement:

“Though scientists across the world are rubbishing claims of the destruction of Earth, the common man strongly believes that an end is eminent”

Who cares if the poor geek-like scientists who have buried themselves in books ever since they were conceived and checked, double checked and cross checked their equations, solutions and experiments a hundred times over say that there is nothing harmful in what they are doing. Ignore the scientists. What do they know! The common man says its the end of the Earth and the end of the Earth it is. Even though I am writing this at 12:43 pm IST, 13 minutes past the dreaded time of destruction and mayhem.

Well it turns out that one of the research institutes who specialize in high energy particle physics have planned an experiment that will tell them about the origin of our universe. A bold attempt I must say. But since everyone is convinced that they will blow us up instead or feed us to a hungry greedy black hole, I thought I should publish what they would have discovered. This is the story of our universe.

So here’s how it all started…

Long long time ago, well before the birth of our planet, there was nothing. No stars, no galaxies no atoms, no energy, not even light. In fact, if you can imagine (and of course you cant!) there was no space either. Truly nothing. And there stood God! Tall, dark and handsome. I don’t know why he was tall and handsome, but the dark part was simply because there was no light. It was he who had created this nothing and after proudly witnessing his creation, he got utterly bored by it dullness and worthlessness. So with an embarrassed look he thought of creating something.

Two spells and three ingredients later was born the universe. The recipe was terrible and the cooking even worse. After an intellectual blunder which created nothing, it was an execution failure that gave god his second screwed up product – the universe. It looked like irregular shaped clumps scattered all over the place totally useless and completely ugly. Irritated at his own incompetence, god kicked the universe that sent all these clumps flying away from one another.

Little did he know that 13.5 billion years later some weird life form that calls itself human, living inside one of these flying clumps calling it a galaxy would see that the other clumps or galaxies are moving away from one another and spend years and years to come up with a what-it-will-claim-to-be-a-brilliant-theory that the universe started with a huge blast called the Big Bang and that there is a mysterious force called Dark Energy that pulls everything away from one another and causes the universe to expand. So much for the frustrated kick!

Anyway, for now god was all upset and began whining about his failed products. He realized that there was no one to listen to him. He needed a companion. So he had another idea for another product. I have to admit that for a dumb god he got quite a few ideas. He planned to create himself a companion. Now there was no point making a companion that could not understand him or would not be able to interact with him. So he decided to make life. Life was to be something that could understand him, interact with him, help him, support him, be his friend and partner. Life would help him make sense of what was going wrong with everything.

So again a few spells and some exotic ingredients later he created life! It was alive, breathing and moving. Ironic as it may be, within seconds of creation life ran away from god and went into the universe. An utterly frustrated and dazed god could do nothing but watch another blotched up plan fly away from him. Flying across the lumps of matter in the universe life saw a shining ball of fire which would eventually be known as the Sun. The slight distraction due to this ball of fire was enough and life crashed onto the third rock from the Sun.

On this rock, life which is itself intelligent created multiple shapes and sizes and forms of its own self. Each with varying degree of intelligence. The rock is now called planet Earth. The biggest forms of life – the mighty dinosaurs were happily living and feeding off one another completely oblivious to what created them or what their destiny would be. They had little intelligence. There were plants with lesser intelligence but even lesser demands and requirements.

Meanwhile god was planning his comeback. Embarrassed at being left high and dry by life, god summoned massive rocks and launched an attack on planet Earth. All the dinosaurs perished. The dim witted humans eventually called this “a random asteroid hit” after spending ages trying to figure things out. Massive rocks from space managing to hit the tiny earth which is one of over 1000 billion objects in the universe seemed like a chance event to some weirdo.

However life found a way. It survived this attack. Considerably weakened, it could not muster enough power to create the massive dinosaurs again and hence it created humans. Humans who saw a few monkey bones lying in their backyard and came up with the theory of evolution. Humans who saw the galaxies going away from one another and came up with the Big Bang theory. Humans who built a huge particle accelerator and devised an experiment of find out how the universe started.

And that is where we stand today. If the experiment is successful, this is what we will know about the universe. But then again the common man is confident that this will not happen. He is confident that we will blow ourselves up even though right now it is 3:00 pm IST which translates to two and a half hours after destruction. The current date is not 10-09-2008 A.D. but it is 01-01-01 A.E. – After Earth.

Indian Independence – Are We Really Free

14 Aug

I was driving down a busy street in Hyderabad a few days ago. At the crossroads a red traffic light made me stop. Soon a bunch of street children emerged from another side and one of them started tapping on the window of my car. Others spread out to the other cars that were pulling up. Each held tiny flag pins, the kind you can pin up on your sleeve or on the collar, slightly bigger tricolor flags that you can put up on the car dashboard or another bigger size that can be put up on tables and in offices and living rooms. 15th August was approaching. The day India got her independence 61 years ago. Unfortunate way for those street children to be independent I thought. They are apparently assigned traffic junctions and sell flags from 8 am to 9 pm starting from about a week before the independence day.

Yesterday one of the political parties of the country enforced a nationwide closure (bandh) protesting against a decision taken by the government to withdraw the free land that was given to a religious board to accommodate pilgrims. This closure resulted in the death of innocent people across India who struggled to reach a hospital after they were blocked by the protesters. In all these cases prompt medical attention could have saved their lives but that was not to be. This is what the citizens of India got for being in a free and independent country.

In India, freedom is an illusion. And unlike an elaborate hoax, this illusion is staring everyone in the face. People just refuse to see it and acknowledge it. They have no problems living under a nanny state that forces everyone to use seat-belts and helmets. Sure these save lives and should be worn by everyone traveling but the state shouldn’t be enforcing this on people. At most it can create awareness about these issues and let the people judge.

People employed by state owned firms and even private companies are forced to work without pay for over three months every year. Thats right. Most of us work without any pay for over three months. The government takes this hard earned money in the form of taxes and simply gives a large chunk of it to people incapable of earning on their own. Sure a part of the taxes go in boosting defense, improving roads, improving water supply and other infrastructural benefits, but most of it goes in public welfare programs and freebies for the poor. Every product we buy is inclusive of taxes. Every service we get is taxed. At every point in an honest man’s life, he is robbed by the state. His own child may be sick but it is his duty to pay taxes and ensure a stranger fills his stomach before he can help his own child.

The leaders of the country roam around in long convoys paid for by the people of the country and behave as if they own the country. Honestly, they are not far away from reality. Given the mindset of Indians, these leaders or politicians do own the country. That is why we have political protesters burning buses, blocking roads, pelting stones, destroying property and bringing the country to a halt at the smallest of provocation. They can because they own us.

India is not free. In fact it is going further and further away from freedom. I have seen people argue that we are much better off than a few Arab countries and most African nations. True. But that still does not make us free. Sure we are less miserable that most countries. That we have better living conditions than some disease infested countries. Better stability than most of our neighbors. But all that still does not make us free. Freedom is a dichotomy. So there is no such thing as we are more free than we were in the past or that we are more free than most other people. Freedom is two fold. You are either free or you are not. Indians are not.

There is very little we can be proud of in this country. People will argue that India has a glorious past and a rich culture. That no other country can claim such a vibrant heritage as India can. Now it is arguable as to how glorious our past was but even if one assumes so, in the words of Plutarch, “It is a desirable thing to be well-descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors”.

Most of the modern day developments we see have come despite the government policies and working. Not because of it. Brave industrialists and great minds like Tata, Ambani, Murthy and Premji are slowly leading India out of its shackles. Foreign investors and companies have helped us more than our own government. The reason – their aim was profit not welfare. They came here to earn a profit and knew they had to deliver. They are accountable for their products and services. If only this were true of our government.

Independence is the freedom of a man to live his own life as he sees fit. Not in servitude to others. Not with a gun pointed at him. Not by sacrificing his mind to serve the state, religion, society or his neighbors.

On 15th August 2008 we will celebrate the successful completion of 61 years of a self made Indian government. It will be called Independence Day but we wont be celebrating our independence. That, we still haven’t got.

A Troubled Heart

24 Jul

She was scared, nervous and completely lost. She could hear her heart beat real hard and could feel it pounding against her ribs. She was on West 85th Street. As she entered Central Park and walked along the familiar track towards Turtle Pond she was glad that it was raining. She had forgotten her jacket at home. She had been forgetting a lot of things lately. For three weeks to be precise. Her mind was a complete mess. The jacket was just another thought lost in the myriad of emotions. As the cold October rain kissed her cheeks she knew it would drown any tears that may break through at any moment. Her eyes had betrayed her before. She knew they would do so again.

“At least today no one will know”, she thought to herself.

She remembered their last meeting. It had started so well and ended so disastrously. That was three weeks ago. These three weeks that followed had completely isolated her from the world. The three weeks had wreaked havoc in her life. They were not letting her live. It was an effortless act to place the blame on these passively passing hours rather than the way their meeting had turned. The blank and aimless days were to blame. The sleepless and long nights were to blame. That is where the problem lay she kept telling herself.

Three weeks ago they had met at their regular spot. In Central Park, next to Belvedere Castle on the edge of the Turtle Pond. They had met there regularly for months. Twice a week, thrice a week, sometimes even often. This is where she had fallen in love. This is where she had learned to live and her life had begun. But on that day something had gone wrong. She couldn’t figure it out. That evening the love of her life had said that things weren’t going well. That they can’t carry on any more. That this is the last time they would meet. She was shocked. Since then, every moment of every passing hour she had wondered what was it that went wrong. How could this have happened? That evening, those cold piercing statements had taken a few minutes to sink in. Before the full blow hit her, the two of them had already kissed one last time and left. It was after this moment that her heart cried through her eyes. But with every passing tear, her heart wept a few more. It kept getting heavier and heavier. Now, three weeks later, it was ready to burst.

She was a few meters away from Belvedere Castle. She had decided to go to Central Park and try and reason things out. She was in love and knew that she always would be. For her this was going to be a battle for life. Not just her life but their. In a society that had opposed every move she ever made, her love was her only support. They had fought together. For her, it was her girlfriend, Kia who was everything. And now she was loosing her. Not speaking to her for three weeks had already drained all the life out of her. With what was left, she was going to fight her last battle. She had not told Kia about this visit. Kia didn’t know she was coming. She knew Kia would be there at this time. Central Park had always comforted her and helped her relax. Today this coalition had broken. In fact, with every step she took, her heart was pounding harder and harder. She stopped in her tracks. The anxiety was getting too much to handle. She leaned over drawing support from a tree and took heavy breaths. A storm was brewing in her heart. Around the bend was the place where she expected to see Kia. This was the moment of reckoning. She had to get her life back in place. She started walking again.

Around the curve, the nervousness and anxiety was unbearable. She could feel her entire body throb with every fast paced heartbeat.

“What if Kia refuses to reconcile?”

She could feel her legs giving way. She soldiered on. She had to. It was a fear she had to face today. As she crossed the Castle her eyes searched for that familiar body. She was desperate for a glimpse of the girl she loved. A body she had owned in a sense till a few days back. The rain had stopped. The sky had cleared just a little bit. It was approaching sunset and light was fading.

Her job was made slightly easier by the fact that not many people were around at that time. Among those handful of people she saw the lovely Kia. As her heart leapt with joy and sank in apprehension at the same time, she got a faint smile on her face. Kia was sitting facing the pond. As she took a moment to relax herself before approaching, she saw a girl walk up to Kia. From a distance she saw Kia leap onto her feet and embrace the girl. She watched expressionless and motionless. The sight had pierced right through her fragile heart. Just stood and tried to understand what she was seeing. She could see Kia smile from where she stood. She could see Kia happy. A natural joy. An amplified version of the faint smile she got a few seconds back when she had seen Kia after three weeks. She closed her eyes and smiled to herself. For the first time her heart quietened.

As the Sun set on New York city and Kia and the girl locked their lips on the edge of Turtle Pond, she calmly and quietly turned around and walked off into the dark.

Guest Post: The Social Structure of India

24 Jun

“So when I started Lost Reality, I always wanted to invite guest contributions. Not necessarily in the field to which I restrict myself but contributors who would cover much varied aspects of life and reality. I am happy to announce the first of such contributors. Her name is Srishti Dogra, a 15 year old school student whom I had the opportunity to meet at one of my overnight sky observations. She came across as a girl with exceptional intellectual maturity and a clear sense of right and wrong. This is a true account of an experience she had recently.” – Nikhil

India is a country that people believe has a great and golden history. Its culture and customs are thought to be great by its people. But here, I stand alone shouting the real truth about this ridiculous society. A society where even after so much development people consider women to be backward. As someone who should be kept inside the house for doing household work. What else can we expect from a country where the leader says that women are born to work inside the houses, raise children and serve their husbands. A tied creature that deserves no freedom. This is the social structure of India.

Though I am only 15 I can still see the effects of men exploiting women and the discrimination against them. Today I was playing with my friends. We were 6 girls and a boy. Playing and doing nothing wrong. Then suddenly an old beast came and started beating that innocent guy. All other girls kept quiet except for me because I could not tolerate something wrong. I was shouting at him, trying to explain to him that he was wrong and I was right. But he shot back at me with abusive language and scolded the boy who respects me. Is this called justice? That a man using his powers of incorrect experience and “elderism”. Is this what is called right? I, who was shouting the truth, made him feel wrong and guilty inside and that made him shout back at me. Bingo! Here is where he stood weak and I and stood strong.

So tell me was he correct or was I. Women are no backward class now a days who should be forced to play only with girls or sit back at home. Rather they are birds who should be freed after captivating them for so long. I know if I speak this truth I will be criticized by this shameless society where women are themselves responsible for their condition. But I don’t care because if this is the society then I don’t want to be a part of it.

– Srishti Dogra

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A Comment:

Such incidents are rather common in India. Authoritative, discriminatory, orthodox and irrational treatment of children by their own family is unfortunately a fairly dominant trait in our society. Since the time I received this article from Srishti, I heard of three more girls being subjected to irrational and authoritative demands by their parents. By their mothers in two cases incidentally. These three girls are all adults and they all have the right to vote and to own a drivers’ license. But not to live their own life apparently. That right is owned by their family.

Such restrictions are imposed on all children not just girls, though the percentages may vary. In most cases parents and other family members take a stand of ‘I-said-it-and-hence-its-right’. Often it is a slight variation to ‘Because-I-Said-So’. Can it get any more absurd! I am not arguing against parents and family members having a say in the decisions of their children. But these have to be explained logically, for which they must have a reason. Dictatorship is not the answer. And when their children start demanding reasons for their actions and stop being slaves, they pray to god asking what has come over their child and why he is rebelling. They may call it a rebellion, Rand would have called it Atlas Shrugged.

Nikhil

A Kid with a Flying Broom

11 May

Seven months in New Delhi, seven months away from parents, seven months of fun and joy. Then I returned “home”. All the fun ended. Or did it?

Sister fighting over the possession of the TV remote, mom yelling at me to tidy up the living room, dad shouting at me for… well actually, I don’t know why dad’s shouting at me. He’s been at it for the past 22 years. Still haven’t figured out why. I was their first child. Guess that’s got something to do with it. At least that’s my best bet. Ah! Home sweet home. Was totally worth leaving the independence of my own room in Delhi with no time limits, no sleep limits and no booze limits. Who wants all that when I can have my family yelling at me?

No I don’t miss New Delhi at all!

(I am learning to be sarcastic and learning to understand sarcasm. I have always struggled with it and I have friends who will vouch for it. So when I got confused by that above statement while reading my own post, I thought it would be best to clarify it right up front. I am being sarcastic (Not here. In that statement above. Of course I miss dilli! (Am I allowed to put brackets within brackets?)))

Anyway, in the last two months at dilli, I met these amazing friends. We had a blast at Nainital for three days and continued it all at observations (night sky… yes we are all astronomers… we wish), restaurants, bars and cafes. Those were two really great months and the highlight of my stay at dilli.

Nikhil thanks…

Jiya. This is the girl who read “Chester thanks” in the acknowledgement section of a Linkin Park album cover and thought that the lead singer’s second name is Thanks. Oh yeah, she rarely speaks but when she does, you wont forget the words of wisdom for a long time to come. Loves books and reads like crazy. She is a sweet, quiet and a sharp girl who is very picky and choosy about friends. I’m glad I made the cut. Loves monkeys indiscriminately though (Do not connect the previous two lines). Another thing she’s really picky and choosy about are her drinks. Give her a bar menu and wait for Christmas. But between all this, she was my best friend in New Delhi. We used to chat for hours almost every single night, aimlessly and blissfully. Loved those moments. Jiya, my stay would have been hopelessly dull with you.

Shubham. Begins every phone conversation with “Wassup!” and spikes his hair probably as a defense mechanism. Is a awesome drinking buddy and has plenty of observation experience to arm a telescope. I still remember the night we located and observed some 25 deep sky objects in a few hours. Proud owner of the kambal (internal joke) and a fellow Carlsberg hater. Brilliant associate on the TubeSat Project where he will launch a high altitude balloon soon. He was the source of booze on most observations and would correctly interpret my “I wont drink this time” every single time. Drinking on an overnight will never be the same without you mate.

Ruhi. Words are going to be inadequate here. She is the bestest thingest I’ve knownest. A genuine and really sweet girl, she is caring, supporting and thoughtful. A little confused and lost and really really dark… in a good way. An extrovert that anyone will love having around. Loves vodka and spreadsheets (!!??!!). The MS Excel type of spreadsheets. Works on them all day apparently. Was a pleasure chatting with her during office hours keeping work aside for a while (sometimes a really long while) much to the dislike and jealousy of “someone”. I hope “he” never reads this. Gave me a wonderful gift while parting, for which she was willing to make me travel for an hour and fifteen minutes to a meet that would last 2 minutes. Of course it eventually lasted over an hour. Ruhi, counting the days till I see you next.

So that was a brief insight into my friends in New Delhi and I have missed a few the most notable of whom would be Vikrant, a few fellow amateur astronomers and a few friends from office. Maybe they will get a personal thank you or I might add to this sometime later.

I know after all this, the smart ones among you are wondering that the title doesn’t make sense. I know. It has no relation to the post what so ever. It was just a really sad prank. Anyway, congratulations on getting this far. Now get back to work 😉

PS: My family is not nearly as bad and my friends not nearly as good. Well maybe my friends are. Actually they are much much better. Love you all.

Of Love and Expectations

8 May

I do believe in love, love that betters and completes both the people involved, and not the love that fools either or both.

– Apoorva Maheshwari

That is probably the best and simplest description, if not definition, of love I have come across. Most aspects of the human life are a trade. A modern day barter system. You get something in exchange for something. Love is no exception. I consider love not as a magical spell open to the whims of mysticism but a trade between two persons on an emotional level. A trade of ideals and of principles. It is logical and rational and definitely not blind. When I love someone, it is because I adore and respect certain qualities in that person and I know that the person feels the same for me. There is a sharing of ideals and principles. Both persons learn and understand themselves, each other and the world a little better. Each person becoming the fuel for the other to keep moving and living. A pillar of support whenever things get rough and a source of belief when the other questions his ability.

This love is not just restricted to the most intimate of relationships. Its true of love between friends as well. The degree of admiration and mutual connection determines the level of love and closeness of relationship. Of course you will never get a clone and in fact it is definitely not desirable that the person you love, your friend, be exactly like you. Every person has a few shortcomings and these need to be filled to some extent by those that he loves and those that love him. A mutual exchange. A human photocopy will not do.

Then comes an aspect that is a source of huge misunderstandings. That of expectations. Without doubt, this is the biggest cause of friction in most relationships. A source that gives rise to pain and illusions. In any relationship, expectations are prevalent. But there is a need to weigh them on a scale of rationality. Both the people involved in a relationship are individuals. Both have freedom of choice and are free to adopt and follow their own philosophy. Both have free will. Both will act or behave according to the philosophy they follow. So to expect someone to do something will inherently imply a constraint on his freedom unless he was planning to do the same regardless of the expectation.

Let me try to demonstrate the above statement with an example. I will take an inanimate object on purpose because it will behave independently, ideally and according to the laws that govern it. It will be independent of whims.

If I drop a cricket ball from the top of a building and “expect” it to fly instead of drop down I am restraining its natural behavior, its freedom. The ball will of course not let me restrain its freedom. It will drop down and I will feel hurt since my expectations were not met. But had I expected the ball to drop down, and then let it go, the ball would have met my expectations. Not because it cared for me, but simply because it would have done that regardless of my expectation. That’s the difference between irrationality and rationality.

You cannot escape irrational expectations without getting hurt, and rational expectations are really not necessary at all. They would be met regardless. You cannot pre-suppose a victim. You cannot expect someone to give up on their free will to achieve yours.

Thus in a relationship, there is effectively no place for expectations. Anyone expecting anything off you, if being irrational, is bound to get hurt if you do not sacrifice. On the other hand if you do sacrifice to meet their expectations, you will be hurt. There is no middle ground here. Never consent to irrationality. Make your stance clear. Do not expect the irrational and do not try to meet irrational expectations.

Rational people will always say that you always meet their expectations. That is not because you did anything special to meet them. You would have done those things, taken those actions regardless of their expectations. But since your ideals were similar, they benefited from it. Irrational people will always expect sacrifices and will always be hurt because you “failed” them. Do not succumb to or even encourage such behavior. Most people might be a combination of rationality and irrationality. Make sure that your association with them stays as far as their rationality remains.

You will not get hurt. No one can hurt you without your consent. Don’t expect people to be perfect, but select the aspects you want to associate yourself with.

“This is a response to Apoorva Maheshwari’s post Too close for comfort on Vagabond’s Ramble.”