Monday, October 26, 2015

Cellphone corollaries - Evolution through formless circumstances in India

On an early morning sky, an elderly adult of 65 was pacing his available place on a cool morning near his ancestral home. He was holidaying among known relatives, taking a break from the Big Apple where his permanent residence is. Looking toward the two steady lights of the sky between clouds of rain and mist, he exclaimed that the two stars had been his companion of the mornings he was on tour. When I mentioned the redness of a planet that looked silvery through the atmosphere, he was all ears. Recognising that they were the planets Venus and Mars or Jupiter, he seemed dwarfed in time and space to acknowledge the need for a telescopic confirmation. In about the early 1980s, when he migrated, it was not an easy decision to meet with an alien culture, where his daughter now teaches math for a living, and his son is on the brink of a doctoral publication in neuroscience. Saged through experiences, he had the discernment to appreciate that it was a tad late to buy his first smartphone, as he expanded his source of information and was more knowledgeable on matters since his first purchase.


It was in 1989 or so, that I had read in a French publication – (le nouvel observatuer or the L’Express Internationale – I do not remember which) of a caption that featured India’s crossroads in time. It was a colour picture of a bovine on an Indian road. “une vache sacrée a la rue” tried to capture India’s contradictions at a time, when the liberalisation of the automobile sector was on the anvil. Today, two and a half decades later, the smartphone indeed has ruled and the automobile has displaced the bullock cart in most places. Why go far? The home care-taker of the resort I was at in Allepey, whose business is younger than the liberalisation of the Indian economy, says that none row their boats with effort now along the Manimala or the Pamba rivers, leave alone the Vembanad lake. All prefer the Japanese motor-powered boat. His attendant adds quickly, none know hunger here anymore.

This week, the Newsweek’s issue carries the burden of the Indian zeitgeist in similar language as the French press. “The French” our attendant proffered, “prefer blander food preparations, even if it is meat; than the British and the American tourists”. The experience of being on the ground was shining forth in just a decade and a half of such flourishing house-boat and holiday home business in Kerala. The holiday-home owner was more forthright in his assessment though. He wondered why the fuss when even the lower castes with whom local politicians were playing coy; would return to sanity after their tempting differentiation in identity. He was certain that they would be side-lined by the higher castes in communal politics. At the crossroads at which India is today, caste is still a potent killer within India, than cow slaughter is. Social psychology still knows no better wisdom of in-group and out-group phenomena, in that the French observed of India in 1989, as clearly and as early as did the Newsweek did of India’s social contradictions in 2015.

Evolutionary biology, history and even philosophy are enriched in interdisciplinary contributions than are religion and politics of everyday living in the age of the hand-held mobile smartphone. Learning at a societal scale is not only mediated through technology and access to information, it is also restricted by inept social learning; like, falling on naked eyes to ‘know’ the planet from the star; when more contemporary lens are available. Bias and overlearning part, activity – and almost any variety - is considered a strategy for life. So popularity is weighed against social media rankings, and political achievements through material manifestations – even at the cost of the earth and the air on its surface. Activity inhibition is considered as sloth, and not as a possibility for inner reflection and contemplative meaningfulness. So hours are lost as minutes are kept; and the fear of not doing anything has the whirr of the modern boat scare away fish and tear away livelihoods impacted by nature’s plunderers. Seldom has the radical nature of groups been so incendiary in grabbing our attention. 


In populous India, the smartphone presents both opportunity and challenge. Rabble-rousers speeden the reach of their dogma faster than the citizens’ capacity to develop their innate intelligence and express themselves in independent critique based on emerging truths that science methodically uncovers for us. Else, may the farce be with you, and the mercy of a timeless zone rescue us from ourselves. Until then, am hoping to embrace the effervescence of formless circumstances!