THE JOURNEY OF SURVIVORS

70,000-year history of Indian sub-continent

REDISCOVERING INDIA

Unraveling the mystery of our roots to understand the present and predict the future.

WOMEN, SEX AND PREJUDICE

Do we have it in us to give the fairer sex the place they deserve?.

CURRENT AFFAIRS

Change of world order. Religious Terrorism. Where are we heading?.

INCREDIBLE INDIA

Wanderlust Hodophiles.

Welcome to KHOJ: The search to know our roots and understand the meaning of our existence.

Prejudice is the biggest problem in the society. It can be it in terms of religion, cast, sex, skin-colour, status etc. Prejudice can also be in form of the feeling that human beings are the greatest creation, or even patriotism about artificially created borders. The motto of KHOJ is to gain knowledge and break that prejudice. But there is a word of caution for the readers. To break the prejudice KHOJ might throw upon you the concepts it believes in. If the reader believes on KHOJ’s perception without question, then KHOJ itself might incept a prejudice in the readers mind thus failing in it own motto. KHOJ is trying to break its own world of prejudice, but at times that prejudice might get reflected in its writing. Please do challenge them.

Friday, November 30, 2018

LOST IN THE BIG PICTURE


Old Delhi is a fascinating place not just for the history, but also for the conversations that the mystic chaos of this place triggers. It was one of such days, in the winter of 2016. We were walking through the haphazard narrow gullies and tangled streets of Old Delhi. It was a puzzle of different eras intertwined together is a small crowded city like a time capsule. This place was once the walled city of Sahajanabad, with busy colourful markets lined up on each side of the streets coming down from the magnificent Red Fort. Sahajanabad was founded by Shah Jahan in 1639. He was the supreme monarch who controlled the markets. Free markets and Adam Smith were yet to be born. While the demographics have not changed much, the market dynamics have completely altered over the last few centuries. The free market has taken over and powerful brands have replaced small businesses. Even Karims survived by evolving into a big brand. But the Baskin-Robbins and Haagen-Dazs have had up until now failed to replace Daulat-ki-chaat, the magical winter dessert for which we have come this far.



Our first stop in the time-capsule maze was Asia's largest spice market - Khari Baoli. This market has become a brand in itself. When we reached there, we were shocked to see the amount of garbage on the road. It was not the usual dirt that this part of Delhi was known for. It was a city that sprang up like a mushroom on an over-filled dustbin. But people kept going on with their usual life completely ignoring the unusual thrash. When asked, we were told that the MCD, who are responsible for cleaning the public dustbins, were on strike. And that was the perfect trigger for a long conversation. The question that came to our mind at that time was why are we in this mess? Is it because of our attitude - this is MCD’s mess and not ours, even though we generate it. Who are responsible for this attitude? Is it the market-driven society that we have built where branded ice-creams would sell more than unbranded Daulat-ki-chaat?



Adam Smith believed that division of labour can increase productivity by a factor of 2000 by eliminating the time wasted in switching between different types of jobs. In the older mercantilism economy, government controlled import and export to hoard silver and gold that made nations rich. Smith identified the flaw in such thinking and showed how labour was more precious than gold or silver. To Smith ‘man was an animal that makes bargains’ and the ‘invisible hand’ of acting in one's self-interest can benefit the society as a whole. To enjoy such benefit government interventions should be minimised. Smith hoped that the free market would give people autonomy and freedom along with prosperity. He probably assumed that humans behaved in a rational way. That was a big mistake. In the free market, jungle norms take over and the fittest survive. It's economic Darwinism that breeds inequality. While valuing labour, Karl Marx was critical of the free market. Marx believed that the free market only made the bourgeoisie class rich. This new privileged class replaced the oppressive kings, but not the oppression of the poor and powerless. Instead of producing an entire product, workers sell their labour by doing a small part for a smaller salary. This creates huge industries that people can never replace. But how is all this related to my Daulat-ki-chaat? To know that we need to solve the maze.



Our next stop was Ghalib ki Haveli, the residence of the famous 19th century poet, Mirza Galib.

bas-ki dushvār hai har kaam  āsāñ honā
aadmī ko bhī mayassar nahīñ insāñ honā


Tis difficult that every goal be easily complete
For a man, too, to be humanis no easy feat


Human beings have a symbol-centric brain. Without the symbolic connect, that Galib’s poems did so eloquently, it is indeed difficult to be human. Inside a big interrelated chaos of things that we cannot relate to, we get lost. Lost in the big picture is a curse of the free market. Just like how the labours are ignorant of the way their work adds up to the product that they are creating, the end users also unaware of how these products magically come to them. In the morning when we get up and brush our teethwe have absolutely no idea who made that paste or where the brush came from. We even have no clue about the food we eat, who grows them, what kind of chemicals are added to make them look good, what kind of atrocities the plants and animals grown in the farms have to suffer. We don’t know how to hunt our food or make our clothes. From all the products we use, to the job we dowe have no clue about the bigger picture. It was not the same with the hunters and gatherers. They made their own clothes. They hunted their own meal. They knew how to make their shelter. They appreciated everything they needed to know about their own life. Modern humans would be lost if left alone because we know nothing.





Because we are the John Snow of the neoliberal world, our choices are easily manipulated. Division of labour has made us so specialized that we have forgotten how to comprehend the big picture. Our likes and dislikes are guided by advertisements. Our happiness and sadness is defined by market. The models flashing on the screens and smiling at you in the big hoardings tells us how to dress, what to eat, and which car to drive. We work hard to earn enough to maintain a lifestyle whose standard is set by someone else. Unfortunately, that standard has nothing to do with who we are, and thus it can never make us happy. And the effort to keep pace with the lifestyle inflation is increasing the stress in our lives. Is there a way out?



We finally found Sanjay Kumar, the man whose family has been selling Daulat-ki-chaat for three generations. We had a long chat with Mr Kumar as he told us all about his family and the art of making the dessert. They come to Old Delhi only in the wintersmake this delicious creamy and frothy dessert topped with khoya and nuts, and then once the season is over they leave for their village to farm. The Kumars have been doing this for decades every year. Every person in their family knows the entire process of how to make Daulat-ki-chaat, and not just parts. They were both happy and proud of their product.



With a scoop of Daulat-ki-chaat melting inside our mouth, we finally solved the maze. We realised the most important factor that was missing from a market driven society. It was the social connect. We are social animals, and market driven societies often does not respect that social nature of human beings. We are slowly losing the emotional connect with friends and family. The inequality resulting from our market society is leading to loneliness and depression. Rate of suicide among young generation is increasing all over the world. The problem is so critical that universities are offering courses on happiness, and countries are appointing ministers for loneliness. This, in turn, is breeding a new industry. Professional cuddling is a new hot occupation. Robot dogs are being manufactured in China to give young people company. Soon paying for companionship, for an evening walk, for even a casual date will become a norm. But it is people like Sanjay Kumar and their Daulat-ki-chaat that gives us hope. Not all connections are lost in the big picture.



Tuesday, November 20, 2018

HUNTING THE HUNTERS ART


The river knows, they say. Like time she flows without complain, silently observing the rise and fall of civilizations. Humans share an intimate relation with the rivers. While she quenches the thirst of humans and provide them with the vital fertile plains, humans make her immortal through prayers, songs and art. Mangli is one such small river that flows down the dying Aravalli Hills, seeping and snaking smoothly through the beautiful town of Bundi. As you stand at the edge of her yellow rocky bank sporadically covered with short shrubs, you could hear the burble of Mangli as she dance around and jump over the boulders, occasionally slashing through the sandstones of Vindhyans. This apparently trivial river have witnessed a lot.

Mangli River
When we disturbed the buffaloes

 
Once upon a time, in its hay days, Mangli was a mighty river that sustained quite a large population of hunters and gatherers. These ancient admirers of her have left their mark on the banks inside the small caves that they once called home. Why did they create the rock arts we probably can never decode. It might have been an early form of writing that contained important information, may be painting was how they taught their kids, they might have been summoning the divine or simply appreciating a form of art. Whatever may have been the motivation, these ancient rock arts are a rare window to the mind of our hunter ancestors.

Rare window to the mind of our hunter ancestors

The window was once lost behind the desert shrubs, ignored, forgotten, and left to rest in peace. Thousands of years later it managed to find a simple and innocent 8-class pass village bloke, with a passion for the past, peeping through the bushes. His name is Mr. Om Prakash Sharma, aka Kukki. Kukki’s hunt for old artifacts like historic coins began in the late 70's when he met a man who used to sell precious stones in Bundi that he claimed to have found in the hills. Kukki tried to imitate the man and found nothing as that man was a sham. As fate would have it, he found something better. He found ancient coins. When he took his findings to the Delhi National Museum the experts revealed that his coins are 100 to 700 years old, with one specific one that was from 4th century BC Mauryan Empire.

Mr. Kukki

It was only after his visit to National Museum in 1988 that he became interested in archaeology. Since then he have been crazily looking for more. With a little experience of artifacts he saw in the museum he found spear-head arrows, hand axes, cleavers, scrapping tools, bronze and copper age artifacts from mounds in Garada, Bhilwara, Bundi and other places. The madness turned a sweet-shop owner into an amateur archaeologist who found over 103 sites, and according to him the longest rock art site in the world stretching for 35 kms. His first encounter with rock paintings started only from 12th June 1998. Kukki is in his mid-sixties now, but even time could not erode his craving for archaeology. In his own words,
“I am richer than Bill Gates. Gates is rich by money, and Kukki is rich by culture. Everyone has at least a bit of money, but Gates do not have a single piece of the precious artifacts I own”.

We met Kukki in an unplanned trip to the sleepy town of Bundi. Unlike the rock paintings, I found Kukki on internet.  Being a busy man, it is difficult to get his time during working hours. So, we met in the evening and had a long chat. He is a very interesting man who can entertain you with stories for hours. Some of them even have ghosts in it. After a bit of persuasion he kindly agreed to share his time from a packed day to show us his ‘discovery’. I, along with my wife and over enthusiastic 7-year daughter started the trek along the rocky banks of Mangli with Mr. Kukki, looking for the ancient art. How often you get the opportunity to see the rare rock paintings away from the mad crowd, with the man who discovered it? It was our lucky day.

Over enthusiastic 7-year daughter


The paintings we saw are of antelopes, tigers, bears, humped bulls/buffalo, dogs, dancing men and women, hunting scenes, animal traps, various geometric patterns and one specific one that he claimed to be a giraffe. While the giraffe was not very convincing, the humped bull/buffalo in site no 23 is my favorite. These paintings are one of the richest I have seen.

Nets, traps of just geometric figures
A Dog?
A rich canvas of antelopes, wheels, dancing scene, hunting scene, etc

Humped bull or buffalo from site no 23
The animal canvas
The rock paintings are brown or yellow. Unfortunately Indian pre-historic men made paints from hematite and chalcedony and not charcoal, and hence carbon dating is difficult. But, based on Rock tools found here, these sites should be equivalent of Bhimbetka (Paleolithic and Mesolithic). But there is a mix and these sites have been occupied periodically even until recent historic times. A disappointed Kukki tells us with a sigh that only because of the poor choice of paints we cannot claim the oldest rock paintings of the world. He complains how the Indian archaeology is lagging far behind. Kukki’s discoveries are left unguarded and unprotected, only marked with numbers. Probably because it was not discovered by any professional, and thus there is no glory for the babus in wasting their precious time on this. But Kukki is hell bend to protect his findings with his life.

Kukki believes that he was a hunter and gatherer living here in his past life. That is why the paintings found him. Despite the threats to his life from mafias who are blasting the hills into the ground for home building rocks, and along with it Kukki’s passions, he continue to protect the sites. His biggest threat however comes from innocent local children and fervent lovers who write their names in the now popular cave paintings. As he was showing us one of the sites, a group of half-naked local tribal children gathered around us. When Kukki yelled at them, they giggled, ran and jumped unto the Mangli River. They were so comfortable with Mangli, as if she was one of their own. It was their time to bath alongside their pet buffalo who looked no different from the paintings in the wall. I wondered, if the person who drew the humped bull in the Chalcolithic period was yelled at for spoiling the Paleolithic paintings, would there be the site no 23. And, if not for Mr. Kukki's yelling, would these sites survive? May be, the river knows.

The local tribal children behind me

The pet buffalo


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

'Who am I?' - An irrelevant question



‘Who am I?’ is an irrelevant question. Lots of people, including me, have wasted loads of time trying to answer it. Now I have come to realise what we were really doing. We were looking for a black cat in a dark room that was not there. It does not even matter if we were blind or not. Do not believe anybody who claims to have found the answer, or worse, wants to help you find the answer. He is either delusional or trying to fool you. Why are we so obsessed with finding the answer to that irrelevant question? Why do we need to be some thing?  

‘I’ comes from ego. It is our ego that wants us to be something - not just ‘something’, but something that does not die. 

If someones answer to that question ‘Who am I?’ is ‘body’, ego will be quick to reject it as body is not permanent. Then you find thousand reasons to justify why you are not your body. The most common justification is, 
‘You have a hand, but that is your hand and not you. You have a face, but that is also not you. All your body is an accumulation of the food you eat. So you are not your body. So, you must be something else.’ 
No matter how convincing that sounds, if you spent some time thinking about it, you will realise that it is BL - a bullshit logic. Not being your body is not a guarantee that you are something else that is permanent. Our brain is configured in a way that it wants to associate everything with something. Truth is, you do not have to be anything.

There are probably easier ways of proving that you are not your body. A simple thought experiment will prove it. If all your memories were transplanted to another body with no other memory then that body will become you. You are what you remember about yourself. Your memories are not your body.  By the way, memory transplant is not fiction anymore. Memories have been successfully transferred in rats. So, if you are not your body, then are you your memories, your mind?

If someones answer to that question ‘Who am I?’ is ‘mind’, ego will be quick to reject it as mind is not permanent. Then you find thousand reasons to justify why you are not your mind. You are born with a blank slate. Your accumulate memories with experience and they die with you, just like your body. Memories are ever changing. If you are your memories, do you die if you loose all your memories in an accident? You definitely do not. So, if you are neither your body nor your mind, then what are you?

What about ‘soul’? Soul is the most abused word, a word that should not even exist. But it does, only because our ego does. When you cannot explain something with logic, you fill in the blanks with fiction. It also gives you hope that you future life might be better than your present. If someone tries to question the assumption behind ’soul', it is easy to shut them up by saying that the truth is much larger than what our tiny brain can comprehend. Yes, off course. All our five senses with which we perceive the world is limited, hence our knowledge is limited. We, indeed, can never know everything. But it makes no sense to me to invent something unexplainable to explain the unexplainable. What is even more amazing is that soul is defined as 'energy' to make it sound scientific. Everything is energy - true. Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed - true. So, soul is indestructible- bingo. No, its BL.

Soul fits all the bills. It is neither your body nor your mind. It is something that does not die. Your ego loves it and soul sells. You jump with joy at the slightest hint of its existence. There are thousands of articles in Google and hundreds of books written on soul and past life experiences. People earn a lot of money doing Past Life Regression therapies. Truth be told, there is no scientific evidence of soul yet. If there was, it would have been in your science text books by now, and someone would have got a Nobel prize for proving it. Genetic memory theory might have a faint possibility of being true, but that has nothing to do with soul. Number of living things has increased over the years. Does that mean new souls are being created everyday? If souls are created, the they are destroyed as well. Then soul is not energy, but another meaningless temporary form like our body and mind. But then comes the twisted logic about your brain and things it cannot comprehend. How can you argue with someone in the domain of unknown?

Now we know why we are obsessed with the question 'Who am I?'. Because it satisfies our ego. Gives meaning to our otherwise meaningless life. Soul was born out of our ego to be 'something' instead of 'nothing'. But still, it is an irrelevant question. It does not matter whether you consider yourself as body, mind, energy, or even selfish genes. What ever be your definition of 'you', it is temporary.

If Big Bang Theory is correct then energy began its existence at big bang. Where ever there was energy, there was space. The whole space is our universe. The internal changes of energy within our universe is time. There is no time without change in space. If space stops changing, which means the clock stops moving, the sun freezes burning, your body stops degrading, your neurons stops firing, etc, then there is no time. Any small change anywhere in space, and there is time. The internal changes of energy, like waves or currents in the ocean, create temporary features like the solar system, our planet, us and even our ego. None is permanent. None is important. So, ditch the ego and ditch your soul. Stop asking ‘Who am I?’. 

You are insignificant, and so is everything else. There is no purpose for your existence. The more important question is how are you in your infinitesimally small moment of existence. Are you happy? Are you satisfied? If you are…you really do not care! If you are not, then do something about it rather than trying to find a stupid answer to an irrelevant question. Do not let others make money by selling you 'hope'. It was rightly said in the TV series Prison Break, 'Hope is for people who do not already live in grace'.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

How we came to be

Life Takes Shape


Before we understand human beings, we need to understand how we came to be. One of the most thrilling experience of my life happened in one of the holiest places of India, Chitrakoot. Legend has it that King Rama, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshmana spent eleven out of their fourteen years of exile here. My group and me were also out there for a fourteen-day exile, looking at the outcrops of Vindhyan. I was standing over the Tirohan Dolomite of the Lower Vindhyan and staring down at one of the oldest evidence of life. I was looking at our tiny ancestors- the phosphatized stromatolitic microbialites, a variety of red algae- that was 1.6 billion years old. They are one of the oldest direct evidence of life. Isn’t that fascinating? What’s more fascinating is to trace back the evolution of the complex humans from those tiny creatures.
 
Stromatolites
The earliest evidence of life dates back to 3.8 billions years. 3.8 billion years is too long to preserve direct evidence of micro life. Scientists need to depend on indirect evidence, which came from the carbon-isotope analysis of rocks from the Isua and Akilia greenstone belts of southwest Greenland. There are also structures within the rocks, which according to some geologists, look like stromatolites. How life started is still a big puzzle that needs to be solved. Did a creator design it? Was it just a chance episode? Or is it that we can ask this question because we happen to be in one of the infinite universes that happen to have the right conditions for life? Was it an obvious outcome of the initial conditions of our universe? Unfortunately, as things stand now, we are not going to have an answer anytime soon.

Hungarian Nobel prizewinner Albert Szent-Györgyi once said, ‘Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest’. As long as it is ‘looking’, we are good. As long as the electrons are snatched and transferred from one atom to another, life will continue. For example there are bacteria’s, which strip electrons from hydrogen, and attach them into carbon dioxide generating methane and water. All living things do that. Strip electrons from something and attach them to something else to tap the energy required to live. Electron transfer was the first process that happened when life was born, in the primordial soup or deep-sea hydrothermal vent, or wherever it started. In the process it was creating information about its own identity.

Miller-Urey experiment showed that biology could be cooked out of chemistry, given the right ingredients and a spark. Jeremy England, a biophysicist, thinks that complex structures like living things can naturally grow from restructuring effect, which he calls dissipation-driven-adaptation. Atoms try to restructure themselves in order to burn more and more energy resulting in the rise of entropy, as required by the second law of thermodynamics. And the most effective way of doing it is replication. However, the conditions on early earth or inside a cell are very complex and cannot be predicted from first principles. All experiments done so far are only speculations. Whichever way life formed, it was using geochemical energy (water-rock reactions) to survive.

The next step life required, after it was “created”, was replication of the information that made the blob of protein. One of the popular theories suggests that self-replicating nucleic acids were the first replicators, from which RNA took shape. Recent findings propose that Mars was the best place for these replicators to form. Martian or not, our tiny ancestors must have been cannibals. Proteins required eating protein to survive, thus arose the first predators and their preys. As if creation of replicating proteins was not enough a miracle, there was an even bigger miracle that made us - endosymbiosis between two prokaryotes. According to biochemist Nick Lane the miracle of one bacteria getting inside another and surviving there for generations has helped develop complex life like us. One such bacterium is the mitochondria living inside our cells. This triggered a chain of events, including formation of nucleus, sex, two sexes, predators and preys.

These early autotrophic forms of life soon turned to heterotrophic by feeding on the dead cells of others. This suddenly triggered a race of survival between the predator and the prey, making way for Darwinian evolution where the fittest gene survived and spread. While the preys developed hard shell or became agile, the predators developed stronger teeth to crush their prey. Sometime, before the more complex predator prey evolved, some of these early life forms learned to utilize the energy from the sun to power life. This is when we find stromatolites and banded iron formations in different parts of the globe. From anoxygenic photosynthesis, life learned to take in oxygen by breaking down water molecules. This aerobic photosynthesis started to increase the oxygen content in the atmosphere. This resulted in the Great Oxidation Event around 2.2 billion years ago. Red bed outcrops found around the earth are evidence of this global event. Rise of oxygen created the Ozone layer, making earth more habitable. Oxygen is the most efficient element in terms of the amount of energy released per electron transfer, apart from the much less abundant chlorine and fluorine. This helped in the creating of complex life form.

The first single celled eukaryote evolved around 1.6 billion years ago. During the Snowball Earth, that happened 750-600million years ago, oxygen level rose rapidly to modern day concentrations. Oceans were oxygenated and the earliest know complex multicellular organisms, called Ediacarans, took birth. Multicellular organisms developed special systems, like the nervous system, that helped them perceive the world in a more advanced way. Desires were developed that helped the organisms to survive and reproduce. After a pause of a century or so since the first Ediacarans, life began to explode. This period, as recorded in the fossils of around 541 million years, is known as the Cambrian explosion.

The best evidence of Cambrian explosion in India is preserved in the Blue City of Rajasthan. We went to Jodhpur as part of a fieldtrip to look at the rock outcrops and understand the reservoirs that hosts the largest onland oil discovery of India. The pink Jodhpur sandstones are too old and too tight to interest a petroleum geologist, however they would fascinate any geologist. These famous sandstones have been queried and the slabs sold as building materials all over the world. While we are loosing these rocks, that have survived for over 540 million years, rapidly, it also gave us the opportunity to look at some fresh rock faces. In one of those fresh rock faces were some weird looking disk-shaped fossils. These discoidal fossils are the most common and youngest Ediacaran fossils in the world. Since Cambrian, life never looked back.

The first dominant vertebrates were the prehistoric fishes that swam the ancient ocean 500 to 400 million years ago. From these ‘fishes’ evolved the adventurous tetrapods at around 400-350 million years ago. They were the first animals to get out of the ocean and colonize the dry lands. For the next 50 million years the amphibians dominated the land and had the better of the evolving reptiles. But soon the tables were turned. Reptiles grew big and became the glamorous dinosaurs, while the amphibians shrunk into frogs and toads. Our tiny furry warm-blooded ancestors evolved around 230 million years ago. They lived under the shadows of the mighty dinosaurs. While these first mammals were no matches for the giant reptiles, they were the masters of hiding, running, and most importantly, surviving. Our ancestors survived what even the dinosaurs could not – the K-T extinction. As the reptile menace perished, it was time for the mammals to flourish. Filial emotions evolved in mammals to help then bind with each other. Unity was the key to mammal’s survival. Primates evolved from the tree hugging mammals of the tropical forests. They are the most social of all animals and the social emotions, like guilt and pride, became a dominant part of their brain. Strong emotions created a highly sophisticated animal. Who knew what these innocent looking animals would soon be up to.

The Smart Ape


Primates and emotions

So far we saw how apes evolved from the single celled organisms. In this section we will see how we evolved from apes. It all began more than 30million years ago, ~200kms below the surface of earth, at a temperature of 1500°C, somewhere under the Mountain of Moon. That was where a dangerous force was unleashed, that changed the world forever. The heat, 200kms below the earth (geologists calls it magma plume), was slowly tearing Africa apart (rifting). The force that was soon going to change our fate was first changing the geography of East Africa. The landscape slowly evolved into The Great African Rift Valley. It created deep lakes like Lake Tanganyika that is 1470m deep, to high mountains like the 5109m tall Mt. Rwenzori, within next 20 million years. The high mountains blocked the clouds creating a rain shadow in the eastern part of Africa making it more arid. A kilometer reduction of topography would have meant I would not have been here to write this book, the world would have been lot greener, and no one would have been there to worry about global warming.

The single most important thing that separates us from other primates is that we walk upright. According to the most popular theory the colossal change of climate initiated by the tectonic forces triggered evolution of apes. The climate in which our ancestors became so comfortable changed from rainforests to savannas. These changes meant that the apes themselves had to change to adapt to the new conditions. One of such change was the decision to walk upright. The reduction of trees meant that they were forced to come down from the comfort of the trees into the unsafe land and also had to cover huge areas for food. What actually influenced bipedalism is debatable, but one thing is for sure, it gave us an immense advantage. Bipedalism is effective in terms of energy conservation making us more agile. It not only helped us catch preys but also helped us run away from the predators. But the most significant aspect of bipedalism was that it freed our hands. This meant that now we were ready to go on the offensive. Free hands were the most powerful weapon any animal ever had. Use of hands made us more intelligent as we used it to create tools that were useful for survival. We were ready to take our future into our own hands. Use of tools required hand eye coordination, fine motor skill development, and process of large volumes of information. It required powerful brain. Bipedalism happened about 5 million years ago and it corresponds to the time when human brain began to develop, not just in size but also complexity. Desires were the first to develop, followed by emotions. Now the third and the most powerful part of the brain were evolving. This part is call intelligence.

The next big step our ancestors took was control of fire. The oldest evidence of control of fire dates back to 1.7 million years, but the definitive evidence of controlled use of fire dates back 600,000 years ago by Homo erectus. By 125,000 years anatomically modern humans were masters of controlling fire. Fire gave us big advantage over other animals. It warmed us at night and helped us spread to colder places. Fire not only helped us forge better weapons, it also helped us create works of art like terracotta statues and pottery. Fire helped us scare predators and cook preys. Had we not been playing with fire, mammoths would probably be still around and we would probably be still in caves. The cooked food was healthy as it killed unhealthy bacteria’s like E.Coli and salmonella. Cooked food was easier to digest. As a consequence our stomach, teeth and mouth became smaller and there was a decrease is the size of our gastrointestinal track and organs in the digestive system. Richard Wrangham suggests that the brains now used this freed up energy, making it bigger and us smarter. Change in food habit also helped. Increase in meat and shellfish consumption increased dopamine secretion in the brain making us smarter. The intelligent human beings had a better chance of survival and finding mates. The genes that preferred intelligence and bigger brain size rapidly spread in the population by natural selection.

The bigger brain did come at a cost. While being just 2% of our body weight, human brains consume 20% of our energy requirement, much higher than any other animal. This increased our food requirement, keeping us busy. Had we been a bit less smart, the world would have a lot more food. There was also less energy to built muscles. Our intelligence came at the cost of our strength. The large brains also meant large skull to contain it. This made childbirth difficult and painful. The birth canal of women grew wider. But it was not enough as the brain of the primates of ‘homo’ genus continued to grow. The solution was in giving early birth, before the skull became too big. The need to take care of infants for a longer period of time bonded the parents together. Emotional part of the brain helped develop the intelligent part by creating the feeling ‘love’.  Partners in love stayed together and cared for their offspring. The brains could now continue to grow, but it made these primates beings less mobile. They stayed in one place for a long time. Females took care of the infants while males went to hunt.

The biggest invention of the “smart” us was probably language. Language not only helped in communication, but also in making and sharing stories. It was a cognitive revolution for our species, which could well have been triggered by some sort of mutation. Noam Chomky would tell you that language is in our genes. One must not get carried away here to believe that we are the only species that communicate using language. We know of birds like parrots that can make sounds just like us. A whale can communicate meaningful words with another whale that is 100s of kms away using sonic waves. Green monkeys has different words to differentiate between ‘Careful! Lion!’ and ‘Careful! Eagle!’ Fellow monkeys reacts appropriately depending on the warning. Homo sapience, however, has developed the most complex language amongst all animals, a language that helps us to gossip. Other animals communicate about immediate danger, while we can teach dangers of predators to our kids through stories even before they face a threat. We can talk and plan ahead to save ourselves from predators, while at the same time strategizing how to kill our next prey. We can gossip about whom you like and whom you don’t, about who is helpful and who is a cheater, about who loves whom and who is sleeping with whom. We created legends, we created myths and above all, we created gods. According to Yuval Noah Harari, none of them would have been possible without language. This great revolution probably happened around 70,000 years ago. That was the time when humans migrated out of Africa (even though some latest research points its fingers towards Europe), improved our art and craft abilities, and drove Neanderthals towards extinction. This time, also known as the “Great Leap Forward”, coincides with climate change resulting from the great Toba eruption. The deadly eruption created a ten-year-long winter. It resulted in an ecological disaster that destroyed most of the vegetation. The long and harsh winter decreased the human population of the world to just 3,000-10,000 individuals. All human beings alive today are descendants from those small numbers of individuals, as proven by genetic studies. In fact, every person alive in this world today can be traced back to a single female who lived 140,000 years ago and to a single male living 90,000 years ago.
 
Arts and Intelligence went hand in hand

Once they were out of the comfort of their ancestral home in Africa, they required innovation to survive. They took risks and ended up discovering more. These new adventures were changing their brain. The once apes, were now slowly rising up the food chain. Homo sapience’s were evolving into a perfect killing machine. The cave paintings by this early sapience revealed their love for hunting, music, and dancing. As the ice age melted away and earth became more hospitable, people started getting organized into groups and settled down in a fertile land. Human beings started to tweak the rules of nature. In nature, the big fish eats small fish, and the fittest survive. Humans created a world where even the weak could survive. They named this world ‘civilization’. In the new world they were making, unity was strength. Civilization needed a tool—an idea—to bind people together. The idea came in the form of society and religion. Some among the clans claimed to be closer to god and declared themselves priests. Some of these priests specialized in healing the sick, some in predicting the future, while others at changing it. The first temples (dolmens) were created out of stones and menhirs. The logos of intelligence and mythos of emotions was growing together. From the single cells of Isua and Akilia to a complex organism that can read and write, we have come a long way.