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.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Post-Truth Era and how to spot a FAKE?



The Middle Ages have often been termed as the Dark Age. It was a time when religion reached its peak of obscenity. Ruthless battles were common sight of the era (though there were places in the big world where peace still prevailed). Then came the age of enlightenment. Technology grew exponentially and science trumped over prejudice, or so we thought. The darkness never dies. Pride and prejudice are the lifeline of darkness, and they will live as long as humanity does. At the heart of pride and prejudice lies ignorance. 'What’s wrong with being ignorant?' you might ask. The irony of being ignorant is that most of the time you don’t know it.

"The irony of being ignorant is that most of the time you don’t know it."

Majority of American’s think that 33% of their population are immigrants. The real number is just 14%. Many Indians believe that the Muslim population in India is over 30%, The real number is only 14.2%. Wrong statistics with hidden agenda are floating around in Facebook and WhatsApp. If you tell the people who believe in these mythical numbers that they are wrong, the reply is either the government cooked up the numbers or they don’t care because they are right (http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21699455-dealing-problem-public-misperceptions-ignorance-isnt-bliss). Ignorance gives rise to conspiracy theories. And there in lies the problem. Ignorance isn’t always a bliss.

‘Post-truth’ is Oxford dictionaries word of the year for 2016. It is an adjective meaning, "Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Politicians funded news channel, rise of social media and internet, insecurity resulting from declining economy and rising terrorism and polarisation of political ideologies are few of the many reasons for the birth of post-truth era. In this era the once good words like being ‘intelligent’ or ‘liberal’ suddenly became a curse, and are now preceded by the word ‘pseudo’. These words are commonly used to describe people whose logic you do not agree with, but you are unable to prove that he/she is wrong. Why do we behave this way?

"It is a normal human tendency to only verify information that does not fit our prejudice. When it perfectly fits the bill, we tend not to check the facts."

Greylag goose brings back her displaced eggs to the nest by rolling it with her beak and neck. Now, if you keep a spherical object similar to her eggs, like a ball, nearby she would roll it into her nest too. She cannot help it. Human beings too have their eggs of faith. When someone puts another object, no matter how fake, that fits your faith near you, you are going to roll it into your nest. We just cannot help it. It is a normal human tendency to only verify information that does not fit our prejudice. When it perfectly fits the bill, we tend not to check the facts. That's when we tend to believe a lie. And when a lie is fed over and over again it becomes a truth. Post-truth politics has played its role in Brexit referendum and US presidential election. Westerners believed when Tony Blair said Iraq has an advance chemical weapon programme meant to destroy them. US and Russia are probably killing more innocents in Syria than ISIS, but many are fed to think that the war is justified. Anti-intellectualism and populism are on the rise in Poland as conspiracy theories exponentially grow. Back in India character assassination posts using morphed images of Gandhi and Nehru has gone viral. It is easy to fall for misinformations.

Misinformations are used to trigger riots and wars. Misinformations feeds racism and creates an industry like ‘fair and lovely' out of it. Misinformation creates intolerance, ISIS being a live example of that. But ISIS is not the only example. Marshal Khan was tortured, shot at, and even after he died his dead body was beaten to a pulp by his fellow students in Abdul Wali Khan University. His guilt? He was secular and liberal and thus, according to the murderous mob, blasphemous. 28 years old Nazimuddin Samad, an atheist blogger, was hacked to death in Bangladesh because he wrote what he felt was right. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 30 year old Indian, was shot in Kansas USA because he was not an American working in America. Pehlu Khan, a 55 year old man from Haryana was murdered by ‘gau-rakshak’ (cow protector) mob in Rajasthan just because the mob suspected him and his friends of illegally transporting cows. Ignorance has taken more life than any weapon in history of human civilisation, how can it be a bliss?

"Ignorance has taken more life than any weapon in history of human civilisation, how can it be a bliss?"

Is it possible to get rid of ignorance completely? The capacity of our human brain is limited.  Large Hadron Collider can churn out 30 times more data in a year then the total storage capacity of our brain. There is only so much we can store. In this age of information we need to depend on the knowledge of others to believe in something. Neither do we have money and time nor the skills required to verify each and every information that comes our way. If you question everything then you have nothing to begin with. We believe in evolution, plate tectonics and big bang because we believe in the word of someone else. These are not even facts, but theories that we have never personally tested. When an orthodox Christian tells that evolution is fake because he/she believes in the word of someone else who wrote the bible, how do we say the he/she is wrong? 6000 years ago some pretty reliable persons said earth was flat. We ‘saw’ it and believed it. But they were wrong. Newton, a pretty reliable physicist in my opinion, told us how gravity works and we believed him. But he was wrong. It is never an easy thing to separate facts from fiction. There will always be things we can never verify. It is a slippery ground. But that does not mean you will let others exploit your ignorance. Luckily, there are few things you can do. Question the authenticity of the source, especially before you plan to share an information with others and potentially spread a lie (very well knowing that even a reliable source like Newton can be wrong). The next thing would be to question the motive behind the information you received (REF#How to tell truth from lies, O’Callaghan 2017). Is it trying to spread hatred? Is it politically motivated? Spent some energy thinking before you act.

"In this age of information we need to depend on the knowledge of others to believe in something. Neither do we have money and time nor the skills required to verify each and every information that comes our way. If you question everything then you have nothing to begin with."

While it is not always possible to verify facts, there are times when we also need a bit of fiction to understand the bigger truth. While interpreting seismic data to find oil we Geologist have many interpretations. All interpretations are wrong, only some are more useful than the others. In science we often use simplifications that deviate from truth, we call them assumptions, to deduct a bigger truth. If we do not use assumptions and try to put in all complex ‘true’ variables, we will never come to an answer. These fictitious falsehoods are important as they help us dig out the truth. There is no light with out darkness…and no darkness without light. One cannot live a life holding on tightly to the truth. One needs to be flexible. A wise person understands when wrong is really WRONG. The trick is to have an open mind and challenge the prejudice. Ask yourself if you believe in something just because you were told by people close to you, or you actually spent some time thinking about it. It is OK to be a skeptic, but never be a cynic...because ignorance is a bliss only if you know you are ignorant.


"It is OK to be a skeptic, but never be a cynic...because ignorance is a bliss only if you know you are ignorant."


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Let’s Embrace Death

Toastmaster's speech for Area Level 'International Speech Contest' 
Date: 8th April 2017
Title: Let’s Embrace Death
Time: 7 min

Death is one of our biggest fears. Each and every moment we are struggling not to die, we are forgetting how to live. Once we transcend the fear of death, we can live our life the way we want. So, how to get over this fear? How do we make friendship with Yamraj? And how, fellow toastmasters, guests and session chair, do we embrace death?

Before we get into the topic of death, let us understand the thing that dies. ‘We’ die. But who are we?
We are many things – a code, a form and a perception.

First: The code, our genes.
Scientists like Richard Dawkins believe that the true us is our selfish genes. Our body is just its means of survival. These codes literally make us from the dust. They decide weather I will be an unholy human or a holy cow. It is the same code that decides if I can get dowry after marriage or get killed before birth. The sole purpose of the codes is to survive. We receive it from our parents and transfer them to our kids. Our body dies a million deaths, but we as codes evolve and continue our battle of survival.
So what dies?

Second: Form…our body
Some of us associate our self with our body. It is made of cells. Your cells are dying as I speak, and are being replaced by new ones. The body you were born with is long dead. The cells that you are made of now, are new ones. If you are your body then you have already died many times. We do not shed tears for our cells because it keeps us healthy. Death is nature’s way of keeping itself healthy.

When you go back home, I want you to find the biggest mirror. Stand in front of it and look at yourself very carefully. You are looking at yourself, yourself that is made of cells, and cells that are made up of atoms. Look at yourself and remember this. The atoms that make you were once part of a distant star. They were ones part of dinosaurs. You can research it if you do not believe me, but a part of you definitely belonged to Buddha, Genghis Khan and even Shakespeare. You are a reincarnation of these great legends… and more. Every inch of you is immortal.
Then what dies?

The perception of you.
Some say, ‘You are what you think’. The truth is, ‘You are what you remember’. Suppose I knew magic and was able to erase all your memories. Abracadabra …. Woshh… You maam? Your religion means nothing to you now. You sir? You country means nothing to you now. Even you family means nothing to you. The ‘code’ you is here, the ‘form’ you is here. But the ‘perceived’ you is dead. 

Memories are just electro-chemical patterns stored in the brain. Scientists like Ramirez and Liu have been able to not just to copy these patterns, but transfer memories of one rat to another. In the future it would be possible to store human memory in memory banks. Say I store my memory when I am 40 years old. I die when I am 70. A couple of decades later my memory is restored into a person who has lost all his memories. So this guy wakes up….hold on….actually I wake up in a new body, still 40 years old, half a century later. Think about it for a bit. Let the idea sink. The ‘code’ me is transferred to my kids… the ‘form’ me is recycled and is now part of something else… but the ‘perceived’ me is still alive. The thing that we call as ourself is really that perception, that electrochemical pattern. Gita is right when it says nothing dies….because a pattern is not even a thing.

The perceived us is like waves in the ocean. They form, roll, and crush into the shore and die. But, the ‘true you’ us not the wave but the water that makes it. After crushing into the shore the water returns and starts the cycle again. The moment we break ourselves from that ego, that pattern, that wave… death ceases to exist … death becomes meaningless.

Maybe that thought is for the saints. What is in it for the ordinary mortals like us? We just need to remember how insignificant the ‘perceived’ us is. If the 4.5 billion years of earth history was compressed in a single day, our civilisation only last few seconds, and ‘your’ life…insignificant. If the whole universe were this room, your galaxy would be smaller than an atom. And you in that? Insignificant. Death is as insignificant as our life as an individual. When you realise how insignificant the perceived you is, you realise that your life is a joke. The trick is to laugh at it. Let’s be happy in that insignificant instant when we are just ‘us’. Let’s embrace life and let’s embrace death, until the time we realise that we are one with eternity.


Over to you session chair.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What is Wrong With the World

Srinivas, just 30 years old, five years younger than me, was shot dead by an American in Kansas. Before shooting, the American yelled, ‘Get out of my country’. The irony is that it is a country that is made up of immigrants who almost wiped out the locals.


A Muslim women was attacked and bitten by a man in Vienna for wearing hijab. How could a Muslim wear more cloths than a Christian?
 A Tanzanian man was beaten up brutally in Delhi because he had more melanin than Indians. Aren't we the most racist country?
And then there is Syria.
What is wrong with the world?

To understand the problems of modern day let us take a look at the past.

In all the glamour and extravaganza of being at the top of the food chain we forgot a simple truth, we are just animals. We are coded to survive, not just as individuals, but as species. There are two ways of doing that. Spread your genes, and/or stop your competitors from spreading theirs.

50,000 years ago our species was slowly rising to the top of the food chain. There were less people and thus less meeting with strangers. Those rare occasions when two different tribes met, there was bloodshed. Life, however, was dangerous. Mortality rate was high. The only way the tribe could survive was reproduce in numbers that outdid the deaths. And, quite convincingly, the favoured deity of the time was the fertility mother goddess.

"In the beginning there was no consciousness. With consciousness was born fear and hope. From those two primordial ingredients - fear of extinction and the hope of survival- god was created.


Hope is a very strong emotion, especially hope about the distant future that does not exist. It comes out of intelligence, a gift of evolution that allows our species to project information into the future. It helps us plan ahead. It is a weapon of mass destruction. It is a weapon that allowed us to defeat much stronger enemies and climb right at the top of the food chain.


10,000 years ago human beings settled down into agricultural societies. The settlements mostly happened around the fertile rivers, like Yellow River, Nile River and Indus River. As population grew, fights between different settlements became common. People had no connection to their land, but were proud of their tribes. However, now they had a bigger enemy. Fertility was no more the biggest issue. The biggest danger now came from natural calamities. Individual settlements were not strong enough to fight the mighty rivers that flooded unpredictably. Again, quite conveniently, new gods were created. These gods were the gods of nature like wind, river, fire, lightening, etc.
Fighting with each other was not helping the ultimate goal of our species - survival. Spreading one’s genes was more important that stopping the spread of the genes of one’s competitors. Human intelligence thus helped programme a new formula to fulfil the goal – collaboration. The smaller tribes collaborated to form civilisations. Together they could tame the nature. Stronger houses helped them weather the storm, while canals controlled the floods. Chinese civilisation, Egyptian civilisation and Indus Valley civilisation sprang up. An idea of community was established and a common culture evolved. The less the group moved, the more they got attached to the land where they settled.
Civilisation looked very stable, but they were doomed to fail in the long run. As population kept growing the different civilisations came in conflict with one another. And bloody battles followed. It was quite predictable. It was human nature. That is how they are programmed – stop the spreading of the genes of the competitors. The problem of survival was not coming from nature anymore.
"Big civilisations also required loyalty to one Supreme Being. This new world needed new gods, and it got one. Monotheism was born. There was one god, who was all powerful and omnipresent, but could not be seen.

The clash of civilisations could not last forever. Intelligence came up with a formula once more– bigger collaboration. Thus was born empires, big empires - Persian Empire, Greek Empire, Chinese Empire, Mayurian Empire, Mughal Empires and the British Empire.

1000 years ago the big civilisations were fighting with each other. There were crusades, wars and a lot of violence around the globe. Stability did come, but not before few more sacrifices. The ultimate sacrifice came during the World Wars. Once more a new formula was made – even bigger collaboration… Nationalism. Boundaries were drawn and nations were created. Boundaries worked fine and world became more peaceful than it ever was. Instead of cultures or states or tribes, people’s ownership changed to artificially drawn borders. Nationalism worked.
"For the first time in the history of the world, more people died of suicide than killed by others. The number of armed conflicts has reduced significantly in the past few decades. Believe it or not, no matter what the media likes you to believe, we are living in a very peaceful world. 
It has been proven statistically by Steven Pinker. Since the advent of civilisation, the world was never this peaceful.


Modern world brought new challenges. Human population grew exponentially and filled up the surface of the earth. In palaeontology there is a term called index fossils. These are species that had wide geographic extent but existed for a very short duration. Their fossils, thus, act as time markers. The presence of these fossils helps us identify the age of the rocks that contain them. Our species have already fulfilled the first criteria of index fossils- wide geographic extent. The challenge we have now is to stop ourselves from fulfil the second criteria. Thus, a new formula was created – The biggest collaboration of all … Globalisation.
"Science and technology brought the world closer. The rising world economy created more hope than fear. The relevance of god was reduced. Nationalism started to fade…but not for long.
The economic bubble did burst in early 21st century. Globalisation works when economy rises and there is enough hope to fuel it. When economy declines, people loose job. Fear gets the better of hope, and god returns alongside terrorism. So does nationalism. That’s when we stop looking at the future and try to hold on to the past. Let’s bring back the great Islamic Empire, let’s make America great again, let’s kill those who eat beef! That is what is wrong with the world. Actually there is nothing wrong. We are just being humans. Remember the goal – spread your genes as fast as you can, and/or reduce that of your competitors.
There was a time when your ownership to your family was more important than your community. There was a time when you ownership to your king, region, regional god was more important than a non-existent nation.  Now we live in an era where we think those who say that their state is bigger than the nation is a fool. We claim that those who think their religion is more important than their nation are wrong and misled. Nation comes first, and those who say anything different must be punished. Our perception of what’s right change with time. Where will we be in the future? Is there a solution?

Future has to be different from the present, it always has been. Our biggest problems today are global – global warming, global economic slowdown, robots, technologies and AI taking over jobs globally. The question is no more about the survival of a country, but it is about our survival as a species. Nationalism is not going to help us. We need global citizens.


Gurmehar Kaur made a statement, ‘Pakistan did not kill my dad, war killed him’. The statement is irrelevant in today’s world. Nationalism still plays a big part in our lives. It is irrelevant as long as people from Pakistan kills people on this side of the border, and vice versa.  However, if majority of people from both sides of the border says the same thing, then suddenly the statement starts making sense. Then it becomes a powerful tool to stop the war. Her statement is irrelevant in today’s context, but not a wrong statement by any means that people can ridicule. Pakistan is just a piece of land that contains our pride heritage sites of Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Taxila. Pakistan is just a piece of land that contains the birth place of Guru Nanak. Pakistan is a piece of land where few Pakistanis made sure that the minority Hindus could celebrate Mahashivratri in peace. Pakistan did not kill her dad. It is the war fought by few Pakistanis, and instigated by few more, that killed her father. Her statement is not wrong. But it is irrelevant as long as we don’t have enough global citizens on either side of the border to make the borders irrelevant.

If we do to take the next step in our cultural progress and manage to find a way to make borders irrelevant, then just imagine - all the huge sums of money wasted globally to protect the artificial boundaries we call nation, or in building walls, could be used instead for the betterment of humanity. We could save ourselves long enough to find a new planet to consume. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t end up as time markers for a future species.




Monday, January 16, 2017

How MS Excel can change the way you look at life

Toastmaster Speech CC#09
Title: Excel of Life
Duration:7min

Thank you Mr Toastmaster and fellow toastmasters. I am Subhrashis Adhikari, and today I am going to deliver my ninth speech. At the end of the speech I am going to convince you not how to excel in life...but to prepare the Excel of your life. The excel software is probably the best thing Microsoft has created. Few days back I was playing with this miracle software and ended up creating something that shocked me. It made me look at life in a different way. So I thought, why not share it with all of you in my next speech. That is what this speech is about – The Excel of Life.


One of my school teacher once took me aside and told me that what he was about to say will change my life. He went on to say: 'A man without an ambition is like a ship without a rudder. To be successful you need to have an ambition...focus on it so hard that all the obstacles between you and your ambition fades away.'

No wonder he chose me to shower his wisdom on. I was the person who was most clueless about what to do with his life. In fact I still am.

I asked him innocently, ' if you don't look at the obstacles you can bump into one of it and injure yourself'. He had no answer. He looked at me disappointed,...and went away. He knew I was a lost cause.


How do you measure success at the end of your life? 
Money? 
Status? 
Nah! 
It is all about how many red dots you have in your excel. I will explain that in a minute.


To me there is only one criterion of success- Happiness. 

Happiness is made of happy memories. By focusing too much on ambition you make just two memories. One where you set the target, and another where you achieve it. Just two memories are not going to make you a happy person. You need more happy memories.



More than the target it is the journey that is important. If you look at the obstacles closely you will see that each on of them has a gift. There is something to learn from each obstacle.
A rudder guides a ship to know destinations. To discover new places you need to throw away the rudder. Columbus would have never found America if he was not lost. My teacher was right...I am lost....and happily so...


Now let me come back to the Excel.




This is what I made. A 45*24 martix.
Ideally you should make a 90*12 matrix. 
Every year has 12 months and the assumption is that you live till 90. 
So every month of your life is a square in that excel. 
90*12 is same as 45*24, just easier to handle.


When I looked at that I said ... boy it is not that big! One month passes at the blink of an eye. All my month fits in just one screen! 

The first thing I said is ...I don’t have much time left. 
The more I looked at it the more it got worse. 
I have already spent 35 *12 boxes. 
I retire at 58. 
The last decade or two, if I survive that long, I am going to be really old. 
The message is clearly out there...there aren’t many box left!




Now mark all your happy memories in the excel as red dot. The number of red boxes in there is the actual measure of your success.

I request all of you to make this excel. Put all the important events of your life in it, that has happened or will happen. If you have wishes ...decide a date and put them there. Then check how many red boxes you have...and how many you have planned for.


We are all born with a terminal disease call ageing. We will eventually run out of life. Make the most of it now, when you can. 

Most of us tend to plan a lot for the future. We try and save a lot for the future. If your plan is to save now and enjoy after retirement, think again...how many boxes will you actually have. 

Believe me, no matter how young you are; there isn’t a lot of future left.

I do not want to sound negative. Take the right message out of this. Let this excel trigger you to enjoy your life. Make your excel as red as you can, as fast as you can. Life is like ice-cream, enjoy before it melts. 

How many red dots do you have?


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Body? Soul? What about a third alternative?




Before going any further into this article please close your eyes for a moment and remember the happiest memory of your life. May be your first kiss… the first day you hold your child… the gift you gave your parents from your first salary … just remember.


What if I tell you that all those memories are fake. What if I tell you that they have been implanted in your brain and have never taken place? What if I tell you that those memories belong to someone else? What will happen to you, to your identity? What if all your memories are wiped out. Will there still be a ‘you’? Ever since human beings gained consciousness they have asked a basic but profound question, ‘Who am I?’. After thousands of years of progress, are we any closer to answering that primitive question?


There is a big debate between the religious and scientific community about weather we are the soul or the body? Some say we are the soul that is eternal and it changes the body like we change cloths. Others say that the body is all that there is. We are born with the body and die with it. What about a third alternative? We are neither as permanent as the soul, nor as temporary as the body. What if I tell you that we are just memories.



Emotions creates impacts, impacts creates memories, and memories creates consciousness. Events that trigger emotions, like love, passion, fear, anger etc., leaves behind an impact that the brain thinks as important and stores as memories. It is those memories that makes us who we are.

Some say, ‘You are what you think’. The truth is, ‘You are what you remember’. Your idea of yourself, the ego that you have about yourself, your identity, all exists in memories. If I erase those, they do not exist anymore. Your religion would mean nothing to you. Your nation would mean nothing to you. You will understand no language. Even your family would mean nothing to you. In fact there would be no ‘you’. You must be thinking that playing with memories is science fiction. What if I tell you they are more real that you think.


We are lucky to be living in an era where science is breaking new grounds. Experiments have brought out unbelievable facts. Unfortunately, they do not make news. We are fed with the news of poverty in Africa, with the killings by ISIS, or with court’s judgement of whether Homo sapiens living inside an artificial boundary that matter to just one of the 9 million species, should stand when some acquistic vibrations happen in one of the infinite possible patterns created by one of over 100 billion members that ever existed of that particular species! They do not tell you about scientists like Ramirez and Liu who are removing fiction from science fiction.



The white rat in the picture is the hero of the experiment. A tragic hero if I may call it so. The wire that goes down its head is a switch to trigger a memory on or off. The white little hero had memories of the blue box. Then it was put into the red box and given mild shocks while the memory of the blue box was triggered. A trick was played with its memory. The poor guy now believes that it got the shocks when it was in the blue box. So, whenever it was put in the blue box it froze with fear. Bingo! Inception!

Scientists have managed to store rat memory in artificial memory chips that mimics brains own memory signal. They have used memories of trained rats and implanted them into untrained rats, who then became trained without any training. Scientists have even transformed shocking memories into cheerful ones. Think about the implications that it can have. One must not forget that the brain of a mouse and that of human beings are totally different. Human mind is much more complex. But, limitations are now just technological. Possibilities are endless!



We have blood banks, sperm banks, gene banks…what about memory banks? A place where you can periodically back-up your memories. Incase you suffer from Alzheimer’s when you are old, you can get all your memory back. What about erasing traumas? What about education? Just like training untrained rats by replacing memories, what if we can turn unskilled labours into skilled labour? But storing and implanting memories have much bigger implications. It shatters the very idea about our existence.

What if my memory is stored and preserved even after I die. Then it is implanted into someone who have lost all his memories. Think about it for a bit. Let the idea sink. That person whom I have never met has my memories. He ‘remembers’ just what I remembered and thus becomes me. The body changes, but I continue to exist.  I start again from the day I last backed up my memory! What if my memory is copied into more than one person? Remember Agent Smith of Matrix. There will be more than one me, with a shared past but different futures. 'Should we store memories?' then becomes an ethical question.

There would be a time when our planet will die. If not by nuclear weapons then by asteroids, if not by explosion of Yellowstone then by the sun burning all it’s fuel. If we want to outlive our planet, we need to find a new one. The nearest known liveable planet will take us over thousands of years to reach. Only way to survive the journey is to store the memory and put it back into the body after reaching there. That is one reason scientists are trying to find ways to store memory. The question of storing memories is not about ethics, it is about survival. 

Machines are slowly replacing parts of human body. They are better and efficient. Artificial limbs implanted in people who have lost them in an accident are stronger and faster. We are even creating artificial organs that lasts longer. How far is it before we create the entire robotic body and implant the memory of a living person into it? Where is the next stage of our evolution taking us? This post is not meant to answer the questions. It is to trigger the questions that makes us think we we really are. 

http://medicalxpress.com/



If we are, but our memories, how solid is that memories? What are memories after all? They are just electrochemical signals that are QC’ed by our hippocampus and stored in a very complex way in our brain. The picture you see above is a cross-section of a positive memory. Only bits and pieces of your life that had created an impact are stored as memories, while most of it is rejected by the hippocampus. Rest are just brain’s interpolation. In fact, brain plays a trick with you. Your brain manipulates and recreates your memories. Many of them are actually false. But to you it is truth because thats what you ‘remember’. I am afraid, our consciousness, our idea about ourselves, is not standing on a strong ground.



Memories are fragile… memories are manipulated. As R. Lanza says, the feeling of ‘I’ is just a 20-watt fountain of energy operating in the brain. So much for our big inflated ego!



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

WHY IS INDIA FIGHTING A WATER WAR?


Short answer: Because “whiskey’s for drinking, but water’s for fighting over”.


Water crisis is not unique to India. Human population is growing while the supply of drinking water is decreasing. Water crisis is inevitable all around the world at some point of time, if this trend continues. In fact, it is a reality at many places at this very moment. The problem is there in every corner of the world. ~2.8 billion people are affected by water shortage for at least one month in a year. 


Let us first understand why is there a crisis in the first place. With growing population and urbanisation the demand of water is exceeding the rate at which the aquifers are recharged. The waste generation is also increasing with time. It is polluting the already stressed drinking waters. This is very obvious in cities like Delhi. We desperately need to clean our rivers. Climate change is accelerating the crisis further. As the icecaps are melting, the glaciers are receding. This reduces the flow of waters in rivers and streams. Climate change also affects the weather pattern. Droughts are becoming common and monsoons are becoming unpredictable.


Water conflicts are nothing new. Where ever a river basin is divided between strong states, there has been rivalry. In fact, the English word “rival” is derived from the Latin word "rivalis," meaning persons who live on opposite banks of a river used for irrigation. Conflicts related to usage of river waters is common in Middle East and North Africa over the waters of Euphrates, Tigris, Nile and Jordan river. Turkey and Israel had made a “water for arms” deal in 2004. Turkey exported gallons of water in oil tanks to Israel in return for tanks and airforce technology. Stress is building up over the water usage of Colorado River in US. Water wars have been common in California. When I went to Mono Lake I was amazed to see the towering Tufa towers. I was surprised when I heard that they formed under water. The dramatic fall in the water level has not only exposed them, but also affected the eco-system. 

Tufa tower of Mono Lake

Water scarcity is also affecting Mediterranean basin. Spain had to import water from France in 2008 due to severe drought in Catalonia. South-eastern Brazil, including cities like Rio de Janeiro, are struggling with the worst droughts in over 80 years. China has always been a society that is heavily depended on its river water. Hydrologists have warned that the economic boom is fast drying up the water resource, and with it China’s future.

Nowhere on earth the decline of groundwater is faster than it is in northern India. It became evident when twin satellites from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) detected the ground water storage based on gravity. India had it’s share of disputes over the sharing of river waters with Bangladesh and Pakistan. But the main war for water in India is happening in the south.


In India water is not just a necessity … water is god. Control of river has always been the key to agriculture and economy of empires. Wherever there was a dispute, war followed. Fight for the waters of Krishna River dates way back in history. There have been battles between the Chola and Chalukya Empires between 10th to 12th century, then again between the Vijayanagara Empire and Bhamani Kingdom in 14th century.



The dispute of Kaveri River started in the 19th century between the kings of Mysore and British controlled Madras Presidency. A pact was signed in 1892 that allowed “on the one hand allow to Mysore in dealing with irrigation works, and on the other, give to Madras practical security against injury to interests”. The pact resulted in peace that lasted for 18 years. In 1910 the issue resurfaced when Mysore king wanted to construct a dam with a capacity of over 40TMC. It clashed with the interest of Madras which had it’s own plan of a dam almost double in size. After lots of negotiations final agreement was reached in 1924 which allowed Mysore to construct the dam, but of only 11 TMC capacity. Because of higher population and need TN got more share of the water. The agreement was to lapse after 50 years. The seeds of today’s conflict was planted.

http://www.india-wris.nrsc.gov.in/wrpinfo/images/b/bf/Cauvery_basin.png


Post Independence Indian states were reorganised on linguistic basis. The Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (ISRWD Act) was passed on the eve of reorganisation under Article 262 of Constitution of India to resolve the water disputes that would “arise in the use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valley”. The reorganisation brought new players into the game. The new state of Kerala and the Union Territory of Pondicherry now had a share too. However, Madras, now Tamil Naidu (TN), and Mysore, now Karnataka, remained the major players.


The Government of India archive website reports 7 Inter-State water disputes under ISRWD, 1956:

http://www.archive.india.gov.in/sectors/water_resources/index.php?id=14

The control for Kaveri remained a volatile mix of unpredictable monsoons and dirty politics. The dispute was referred to a Tribunal in 1990. Every failed monsoon inflamed the tensions. Violence broke out in 1991-92, especially in Tamil populated parts of Bangalore. Monsoons failed again in 1995. Quick intervention by the then prime-minister P.V. Rao resulted in a negotiation and helped prevent widespread violence. Tensions flared up again in 2002 when monsoons failed once more. It was followed by four years of relative calm.

The final judgement by the Tribunal was delivered in 2007 as per ISRWD. It allocated 419 TCM ft. of water annually to Tamil Nadu, 270 TCM ft. to Karnataka, 30 TCM ft. to Kerala and 7 TCM ft. to Puducherry. None of the states were happy with the decision and review petitions were filed by them for re-negotiation. With no side willing to back off, the dispute still remains nine years since the judgement.


To understand the dispute let us first try to understand the number game. The following analysis is based on the data in the following website : http://thewire.in/65243/who-should-karnataka-blame-in-the-cauvery-dispute-history-has-some-answers/

Experts did some complicated maths (which has lot’s of assumption) to come up with the magic number of 740 TCM ft of total water available from Kaveri Basin (if monsoon does not fail). Of that the major chunk of 462 TCM ft is the yield of the river in Karnataka. Karnataka can keep only 270 TCM ft and give the rest (192 TCM ft) to TN. TN also generates 227 TCM ft from it’s own catchment area increasing the total share of the state to 419 TCM ft (227+192). Kerala, which generates 51 TCM ft, can keep only 30 TCM ft. The rest 21 is divided between Pondicherry (7 TCM ft) and environmental purposes (14 TCM ft).



The obvious question is why Karnataka gets less water though it has the highest water yield?

This is a very common problem around the globe. As per this (http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/La-Mi/Law-International-Water.html#ixzz4K8rBYhPM) website:

The upper-riparian nations (riparian nations—nations across which, or along which, a river flows) initially base their claims on absolute territorial sovereignty, typically claiming the right to do whatever they choose with the water regardless of its effect on other riparian nations. Downstream nations, on the other hand, generally begin with a claim to the absolute integrity of the river, claiming that upper-riparian nations can do nothing that affects the quantity or quality of water that flows in the watercourse. The utter incompatibility of such claims guarantees that neither claim will prevail in the end, although the process of negotiating or otherwise arriving at a solution might require decades.

Karnataka, being an upper-riparian state, has more responsibility. It has to provide water for down-stream states, which in this case is TN. That still does not justify TN getting a total of 419 TCM ft and Karnataka only 270 TCM ft. The justification to the biased proportion lies way back in history. The Chola Dynasty has been building dams for irrigation since 10th century. This led to growth of agriculture in TN. Comparatively, Karnataka had been lagging behind. The people of TN became more dependent on the waters of Kaveri River than Karnataka. Under British Rule TN naturally got more share of water. Even till 1974 80% of the annual yield of Kaveri River was used by TN. Now that TN is more dependent on the waters, there is no way of reducing their share drastically without adversely affecting the farmers. TN has more population and thus more need. Karnataka, on the other hand, needs more share for the growth of their agriculture. With rapid increase in the population (more than 10% in last decade) in Southern Karnataka (having cities like Bangalore) the demand of water is also rapidly growing. Without increase in share of water Karnataka's growth will become unstable.


Another issue that Karnataka has with the tribunal is the monthly allocation of water that it has to provide to TN. During the four monsoon months it has to provide 10 TCM ft in June, 34 TMC ft in July, 50 TMC ft in August and 40 TMC ft in September. This is based on the average figures provided by the state itself. There is no problem when monsoon is sufficient. However, during the distress years, like this year (2016), it becomes a major issue.


The 2016 water crisis started when Supreme Court (SC) directed Karnataka to release 15,000 causecs of water to TN for 10 days on 5th September. This order was passed to satisfy the demands of TN's farmers for growing summer crops. This led to violent protests in Karnataka, as the water flow was already less. As the law and order went out of control SC revised the orders this Monday (12th Sep). Now Karnataka has to provide 12,000 causecs instead of 15,000. The duration, however, was increased till 20th September instead of 15,000 causecs for five days as Karnataka wished, and the protest continues.




According to recent estimates Karnataka has suffered a loss of around Rs 22,000-25,000 crore because of the wide-spread agitation hitting transport services and businesses. Two deaths has already been reported because of the clashes. Most of the violence is instigated by miscreants. Involvement of politicians cannot be ruled out. The scary fact is that, there is no easy solution to the problem.


Is Kaveri dispute a warning for rest of India? As water demand grows and rivers dry up, are we going to see more of such wars? What is the solution?



Only way to solve the issue is dialogue and negotiations. The states has to be more mature and understand that the problem will only increase if it is not solved now. Instead of short term thinking guided by local politics, politicians should think about the long term implications. The states also need to manage the water efficiently. There is a lot of scope of improvement for better water management. One way is to avoid water intensive paddy crops and the use of techniques that do not facilitate conservation of water. If we don’t act now, the water wars is soon to become reality all over India. We desperately need to find a peaceful alternative.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

MOTHER TERESA - SAINT OR SATAN

Is Mother Teresa a saint?


REF# © 1986 Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 1986 / Lizenz: Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0 de 


This simple question has been a topic of heated discussions in our office cafeteria since she received her sainthood. I am sure other offices in India would be no different. The simple answer to that question would be ‘no’.


The long answer to the debate is probably more complicated than a simple ‘no’.


Let us first take a look at how she became what she is today.


Teresa was born in an ordinary family of Skopje, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Macedonia, on 26th August 1910. Her real name was Agnes (Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu). From her childhood, she had been a religious person. The idea of serving the poor of Bengal for Christ was implanted in her mind very early. In her teens, she got fascinated by the stories of missionaries serving in Bengal. Once she was 18 years old, there was nothing that could stop her from achieving her dream. Teresa left her home and went to Ireland not only to learn English, the language of missionaries in India, but also to start her journey of serving Christ by joining Sisters of Loreto. She arrived in India in 1929 and began her training in the foothills of Himalayas of Bengal in the sleepy city of Darjeeling. In India, she took the name of Teresa - the patron saint of missionaries.


It was only in mid 20th century when Teresa became Mother Teresa. The World War II had deadly repercussion in Bengal. The famine of 1943 left over 3 million dead and those left behind barely survived. Few years later, before the wounds of famine could heal, Bengal suffered the second deadly blow - the Hindu-Muslim riots. Kolkata was lucky to have both Mother and Mahatma (Gandhi) with them during such trying times. Teresa was saddened by the desperate condition of the poor in Bengal and she experienced "the call within the call" to help the poor. She decided to leave the comfort of her missionary and serve the poor while living among them. Since then she has served the poor and took care of "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”


With permission from Vatican, she opened the missionaries of charity in 1950. Since then she had opened numerous orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centres worldwide. In 1952 she opened the home for dying in Kalighat and named in ‘Nirmal Hriday’ (Pure Heart). It was meant for those who lived their life like “animals”  but could now “die like angels—loved and wanted.” Her efforts made an adherent atheist like Mr Jyoti Basu, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, say “She makes me a bad Marxist since she makes me believe in godliness”.


Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work. As humble as always she said, “I am not worth it”. Her humbleness could also be found in her card that did not bear her name or number, but just had the words “Happiness is the natural fruit of duty” typed in it. While she tried to make others happy, it took a toll on her mind. Behind her smiling face, she suffered the “tortures of hell”. She wrote a letter in 1959 to the then archbishop of Kolkata, “There is so much contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God, so deep that it is painful, a suffering continual, and yet not wanted by God, repulsed, empty, no faith, no love no zeal. Souls hold no attraction. Heaven means nothing, to me it looks like an empty place. The thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at him in spite of everything.” 

She died on 5th September 1997. I was 16 years old when she died. You could see sad faces everywhere in Kolkata, irrespective of which religion people belonged to. She lay in repose for one week in St Thomas church, Kolkata. Being a student of St. Thomas School (Kidderpore), her death had affected me too. I still remember writing a poem for her when she died:

MOTHER
I will remember your blessings mother,
Till my last days sun shall set.
With which you have blessed the poor,
Gave them shelter and bread.

I will remember your smile mother,
With which you won million hearts,
With which you revived people in misery,
Made them one amongst the world.

I will remember your words mother,
Which you taught and prayed.
With which you showed path to salvation,
To the millions, sinful and afraid.

Your frail silhouette in blue and white sari
Is a symbol of hope and peace.
In a mind full of distress and pain
It feels like eternal bliss.



I am not a poet…..nor was she a saint.


To understand why we have to answer two questions:

1] Sainthood requires two miracles. Are the miracles real?
2] Was her humanitarian work selfless?


The first miracle she performed was recognised in 2002 when an Indian woman named Monica Besra claimed that she was cured of a cancerous tumour in her abdomen after a beam of light emanated from a locket she had containing Mother Teresa’s picture. Her doctor and her husband rejected the miracle as a hoax. According to them the tumour was non-cancerous and was cured by conventional medical treatment. The second miracle was recognised by Pope Francis in 2015 who claimed that Mother Teresa was involved in healing a Brazilian man with multiple tumours. Another lie. Thus, the two boxes were ticked and Mother became a saint. Sainthood would have been the last thing she wanted. The only thing she craved for was God. After her canonisation on 4 September 2016, she would probably have said, “I am not worth it”. Sainthood on the basis of lies would have made her feel even more so. To me, it is an insult to her soul. Faith heals. Placebo medicines are proof of that. Science has proven that yoga and happy, positive attitude boosts health. But there is so much placebo and stress relieve can achieve, and curing tumour is not one of them. I wonder why her supporters are celebrating such an insult!


The answer to the second question is more complex. Teresa was a believer and whatever she did, she did for Jesus. She believed in Christianity as the only saving grace. Teresa was against abortion, contraception, divorce and remarriage. She has also been responsible for many secret conversions. According to a video recording from 1992, she has boasted of converting over 29,000 people to Christianity on their deathbed in Nirmal Hriday. But she converted those who got only suffering from their own religion. Though not selfless, it does not make her a Satan. She did it only because she cared. How many people would be happy to attend a person on the roadside dying of leprosy? One may doubt her reason, but not her commitment.


There were many charity organisations and individuals who has been serving the poor in Kolkata and other places in India. She was not the only one and her organisation was not even the largest charity organisation in Kolkata. She, however, received more media coverage than anyone else. One of the reason for her popularity was her right political alliance. Being close to Congress she even supported the Emergence declared by the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. She said "people are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes."


The question most of her critics ask is whether she did enough to eradicate poverty from Kolkata. Is the City of Joy (and poverty) any different because of her. Though debatable, the answer to that is probably no. She cared for the poor but did nothing to stop poverty. Some of her critics compared it to caring for rape victims rather than trying to stop the horrendous crime of rape. Her treatments were also not up to the mark. The sisters were not skilled enough to treat the diseased. The motto was not to cure but provide a ‘beautiful’ death. In a way, the ‘Saint of the Gutters’ was very much like the ‘Half-naked Fakir’ Gandhi. They glorified poverty and suffering which, they believed, were the path to god. 


Her most vociferous critic has been Christopher Hitchens and Aroup Chatterjee. According to Hitchens, “many more people are poor and sick because of the life of Mother Teresa: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.” They have questioned her dubious political contacts, how she managed the huge amount of money she received, and her main mission of conversion through which she wanted to come closer to god. Are they right? Are they wrong? Truth, like always, follow the middle path.



Neither did Teresa perform miracles, nor was her act of kindness selfless. Whatever she did, had only one purpose - getting closer to god. Thus, she in not a saint. But, she is not a satan either. Coming from an ordinary family, fatherless at just nine, growing up in a religious environment, one cannot blame her for her blind faith. She lived a life she believed in. She did save many lives that others ignored, whatever may be her reason to do so. Despite all her flaws she was a human being, and a good one. Let us remember her for what she was…nothing less, nothing more. The world needs more mothers and less saints.



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

CONSILIENCE: Geology, History, Cultures and Evolution


REF http://www.channelnomics.com

Some people have asked me that, being a geologist, how did I end up writing a book on history? To me, geology is an extension of history and the two subjects are more inter-related than we think. 

Geology deals with two different aspects: the living and the non-living. The rocks, mountains, minerals, plate-tectonics, etc, are the non-living part of geology that closely relate to geography. The living aspect, ironically, deals with the dead. Fossils and evolution to be precise. It is closely related to biology.

It is history that connects the two extreme aspects of geology. How? The short answer is: Geology influence history, history influence culture, and culture influence evolution. Let me explain.

Rifting in Africa is considered by many as the reason for the evolution of Homo sapiens. Plate tectonics created mountains that acted as barriers and thus natural boundaries of human civilisations. The rivers that came down from the mountains created fertile plains that became the nucleus for the growth of civilisations.  Indian civilisation would not have been born without the fertile plain created by the rivers that exist because of the Himalayas. The melting of glaciers had a profound effect in starting the agricultural revolution. The long east-west axis of Eurasian plate, a result of plate tectonics, was the reason for the rapid growth of civilisation in the fertile crescent (read J. Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel). The mineral deposits, coals and petroleum has influenced the geopolitics of the world. The mountains and passes have influenced the outcome of many battles. Geology, thus, played a big role in guiding the path human history took.

History’s influence on culture is more easily understood. Arts, languages, religions, nationalism and politics are outcomes of history that define cultures. Culture is unique to human beings if you define it, in a less minimalist way, as a complex social organisation where people learn shared way of life transmitted through symbolic forms of communication, like language. Unlike animals, culture binds a large group of people together through an idea that does not exist in reality.  Languages are random vibrations whose pattern we associate with a certain meaning. The sounds are abstract as it does not have any real universal meaning. It’s meaning only exist in our mind once we are trained to do so. Language, however, creates bonds between a large group of people that defines a culture. Same is true for religion. It is an abstract concept that binds people together. It is a myth that exists only in our mind (read Sapiens by Y.N. Harari). It helps create an identity, a sense of unity, which has historically helped tribes to survive. Nationalism is also same as religion. Instead of an imaginary faith we now have imaginary borders that only exists in the human mind. Politics is no different. The leaders who create history, most often than not, are people who were able to incept any such mythical ideas in the minds of a large group of individuals. Individuals who were ready to fight and die for that idea. Ideas that resulted in numerous battles and bloodshed, ideas that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ideas that now breed terrorism. We can say with some confidence that history and culture are intricately interlinked.

The link between culture and evolution is a bit more complex. Human beings accumulate ideas and technologies over generations and the culture evolves. Inventions like fire, or stone tools gave few groups of individuals advantage of survival. The groups that did not learn the new inventions perished, while the genes of those that survived dominated. Control of fire gave us the ability to cook food that became easier to digest. As a consequence our stomach, teeth and mouth became smaller and the intestine shortened. That might have helped us focus more energy towards the brain. There was a time when humans could not digest cow milk. Once we started domesticating cows our digestive system evolved in a way that it became easier to digest milk, or milk products. Cow milk became an easy source of protein and fat that gave the animal herders better chance of survival compared to hunters and gatherers. Thus, culture guides our evolution and decides which genes will spread.

Genes, in turn, control our behaviour, and thus culture. When I started having thyroid problems I noticed that I lost my temper very easily. I became a different person. It made me realise that a lot of what we are depends on the hormones that flow in our body. Those hormones, in turn, depend on our brain and thus our genes. How brains affect behaviour is well documented by the case of Phineas P. Gage (read Consilience by Edward O. Wilson). In 1848, Gage suffered a major accident in which he lost a part of his brain. The loss of that particular part of the brain, prefrontal lobe to be exact, turned a cheerful well-mannered gentleman into a self-destructive habitual liar. Similar cases have been observed with other people who lost that part of the brain. Prefrontal lobe, we now know, controls our emotions. When we judge people we often forget that most of the time they cannot help. Our culture, guided by our behaviour, is the result of our biochemistry.

That would mean something very interesting.  The type of behaviour that would dominate the human race in the future would be guided by the genes that would spread. The genes that would spread would be the ones that control particular physical or behavioural traits in individuals that are preferred by the dominant culture at a particular time. These traits could be entirely imaginary bias/prejudice, like skin colour. Development of such prejudice is governed by historical events. An example would make things clear.

History of colonial rule can create a racist mindset that makes individuals prefer white skin. If the people in power, who had a better chance of survival, had white skin then a society like India can develop a preference towards that skin colour. In such a biassed society people having darker complexion would have less chance of getting married and thus spreading their genes. If the biassed culture continues long enough, soon that society would start getting fairer. For natural selection to be effective a cultural preference should persist for a long time. Thus, a historical event can create a biassed culture that, by the process of natural selection, directs the line of evolution. Lest we forget, the British colonised India because it had enough wealth that could make them rich. That wealth was a product of India's fertility and natural resource governed by the geology of India.

We tend to think of geology, history, biology, sociology, anthropology, genetics etc as entirely different subjects. When we think about it, these subjects are very much related. Being a geologist, it was only natural for me to get attracted to history. My current interest is in Dual inheritance theory (DIT), also known as gene–culture coevolution. And geology has a role to play there too.