The gift of wisdom

In the realm of information technology and computer science, information is arranged in bits and bytes. The smallest unit of information is a bit. Typically, with a few bytes we have data. Sufficient data gives information; and sufficient information gives knowledge. And with sufficient knowledge and experience we get into a state called wisdom.

In the modern world, there is a trend whereby people are getting less intelligent, but more pragmatic; allowing computers to do all the data-crunching work. Rote learning is shunned like anything, and the shift is more toward analyzing the information that we already have. Not to reinvent the wheel, at least for language learning, rote learning has its role.

Unlike baby boomers (people who are born after World War II), currently there is a tendency to limit the number of offspring, especially in developing countries, apparently to ensure good socioeconomic standards to children. Fewer children mean automatically increasing the resources that are available to them. As the aphorism goes, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” But in the modern world, there is a tendency among parents to avoid chastisement of any sort, save physical punishment.

For me, wisdom is directly related to a person’s conscience. And a person’s conscience is developed in his childhood. As the English poet William Wordsworth correctly noted, “The child is father of the man.” Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. God’s laws are universal and are the mainstay of a person’s wisdom. When we fear about something, we are uncomfortable doing it, and physical punishment, like, spanking, will make a child uncomfortable to do certain things that are against, well, common sense, to say the least.

It is sad that today’s parents are unaware of the consequences of their bad parenting. Their child might be smart, suave, and apparently good-at-studies in the first appraisal. But unless he can distinguish the right from the wrong, he, as well as the society he lives in, will have problems in his adulthood.

I have personally seen the late Malayalam writer, Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, remarking in TV. He, in half-jest, is attributing all the modern scientific inventions to ‘Christians’. Because, I personally believe, Christians, especially Catholics, have a tradition of baptizing their children in their infancy. With a covenant that they will bring them up as ‘children of God.’ Spanking, or otherwise, it is the duty of parents to ensure that their children have moral sense. That will, in turn, allow them to enjoy the gift of wisdom in their adulthood.


The big joke that was Indian soccer

On November 12, 2015 India retaliated uneventfully with a 1-0 victory in the home match against Guam in the 2018 FIFA world cup qualifiers. But at the time of writing, they’re still at the bottom of the points table, and are out of contention for the 2018 FIFA world cup to be held in Russia. In June, Guam had inflicted an insulting 2-1 victory on India. The world’s most populous democracy, India, with its billions of people was beaten by a 212 sq. mile U.S. territory in the western Pacific Ocean with a population of just 180,000! Notwithstanding the fact that almost all of Guam’s players were from the U.S. soccer league system, the defeat had caused a lot of shame to the Indian team and the Indian authorities have supposedly rethought on the long term plan for the Indian soccer team.

India has never been a great sporting nation and soccer is also no exception. When India gained independence from Great Briton after World War II, the majority of her people were under the poverty line. Indian economy was predominantly agrarian one, and the vagaries of its fortune were inexplicably tied with that of the ‘rain god.’ For a poor nation and its people, sustenance was of primary concern; not sporting excellence. Indians paid a lot of importance to academic excellence and this disposition has handsomely paid off. India is the only nation that has sent a spacecraft to Mars on its maiden attempt. Multinational companies are fueled by Indian talent and expertise, including Microsoft and Google whom have two people with Indian-origins as their CEOs.

Indians are a mixed race. They do not appear to be big or strong compared to their Caucasian or African counterparts. I remember a train-ticket-examiner whom had asked for my ticket. I was sitting alone, and his id badge was dangling before me; and I was able to read his name from the badge while he was inspecting my ticket. His name seemed familiar to me, but I was not able to identify the athletically-built young man who was seemingly of my age. On an impulse, I searched the internet immediately afterward, and I was able to find out that he was a 400 meters runner who had represented India in the 4 x 400 m relay in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

He was much shorter than me in height, but was a better-built person. On a racetrack, he was able to outrun me or other fellow Indians, but was he able to win against other world-class athletes? As a matter of fact, the Indian 4 x 400 m relay team did not even go past the first round in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The mindset also has to be improved. Athletics, sports, and soccer in particular were considered stepping stones to a well-cushioned government job. This has to change. Indian athletes have to select appropriate avenues where they can compete world-class with other people. Talking about soccer, though, everything-else-being-equal, physical size can be a game-changer; we can take examples from Latin American countries where their style of play compensates for their lack of physical size. So when the tall Austrian-and-Serbian teams try to compete with long-range passes and headers, Argentinians and Brazilians try to outsmart (and outmaneuver) them with their dribbling skills and ball-control using shorter passes.

Indian soccer is slowly developing, and things like the Indian Soccer League – ISL – are really good for Indian soccer. Among other things, Indian players are able to train and compete with world class soccer players through the ISL. This is going to be one important factor if ever India starts to really compete at the world level in the years to come.

Taj Mahal and some thoughts on love

I have seen Taj Mahal. From a train. I was fortunate enough to look at it from the train’s door as my hair and clothes fluttered with the air that blew from the outside of the moving train. It looked like a small figure to me, compared to the gigantic ‘red fort’ that is situated adjacent to it – the Agra Fort. These two historic sites are separated by the Yamuna River that flows in between them. The Agra Fort with its vibrant, brick-red color and intact battlements attracted me more than the off-white marble structure that is Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal’s marbles were fading in color reportedly due to acid rain and the toxic gases that came out of the nearby industries.

Everyone talks about Taj Mahal. It is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The best example of Mughal architecture. Built by Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor, in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is often cited as a great monument of love. It is actually a mausoleum where Mumtaz Mahal was laid to rest. It is said that Shah Jahan was so particular about the fact that this should be the biggest monument that he dismembered the architect who built this for him. I became sad for him. I did not like the idea of him building a structure so big for Shah Jahan, and the hands being cut off for it while he was expecting a huge reward from the king!

I suppose medieval kings do not make good role models for the modern man. Man is more concerned about the big picture that he often ignores the small things that make life wonderful. Taj Mahal is a monument of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife. But what if everyone draws a sword in memory of his love? Like Shah Jahan did. I did not like that idea.

History says Shah Jahan was incarcerated by his own son Aurangazeb for the throne. He was imprisoned in the nearby Agra fort until his death in 1666. Aurangazeb conceded him one jail cell whose windows opened to the outside. From where he was able to see Taj Mahal, situated on the other side of the Yamuna river.

The flip side of being human

Human brain works in certain predictable ways. An example is empathy. If we are in the same room, if you ‘yawn’ you are almost certain to get company. I will also yawn. Advertising and marketing people utilize this human quality to sell their wares. During the last decade, I believe, mobile-phone marketing-companies used to send smart young people in public transport vehicles with expensive, latest model mobile phones. People with sufficient disposable income, which there would be plenty in a public transport vehicle, would be predisposed to buying one themselves; and then, in turn display it in public. This had an exponentiation effect. This works almost to the point of evil.

There was a child whose father had only money for an immunization shot. The child needed a candy for the money. What would the father do? If he buys the candy, the child would go unprotected. If he goes in for the vaccine, then the child would be hard to pacify. This is the sort of dilemma we face when we are supposed to take a decision in these settings. The money is better off spent on the important things.

For me, there is only a remedy for this. Deciding for ourselves what we really need and resisting the urge to buy but-everybody-buys-these-stuff kind of things. But this is easier said than done. Man is a social being.

Talking about the flip side of influence, the following story describes it at its best:

A Brahman was carrying a goat on his back. Three thieves saw this and they planned to extort the animal out of this upper-cast man. They went like this. The first thief approached him and said,

“My lord, why are you carrying a dog on your back?”

“This is not a dog, fool! This is a goat.”

At the next corner, the second thief approached him.

“My lord, this is a dog on your back.”

This time the Brahman didn’t say anything, but tried to walk fast.

After sometime, third thief approached him and started mocking him,

“Look, a dog on the back!”

That was enough. The Brahman simply put the animal down and walked away.

After he went, the three thieves came together and eloped with the goat.

Jersey Cow

Everyone was ridiculing one particular student, who was sitting in the class, by calling him “Jersey”. Another student empathized with him and stood up in the class. Interrupting the teacher.

He said, “Sir, everyone is ridiculing him by calling him Jersey Cow”.

The teacher asked him who was being ridiculed upon.

He pointed his index finger out to the student who was sitting nearby.

“Please stand up.” The teacher asked.

The class erupted into laughter.

The student who complained was sure that he had done a really good thing. An act that would make his sins forgotten. A virtue. This feeling didn’t last long enough though, when he looked at the classmate whom he was supposedly helping out. His face was red with anger.

Seeing his livid face, the student who made the complaint sat down perplexed.

The teacher asked the pupil,

“Who is ridiculing you?

The class went wild with laughter and ridicule.

“Quiet please.”

The teacher whipped his cane onto the desk to make a loud thud. The class became silent again. To the point where the drop of a pin would be heard.

“Who is ridiculing you?”

The teacher asked again.

“No sir. Nobody did ridicule me”.

“Then why did he complain?”

“They were teasing me by calling me Jersey. A soccer Jersey. It has nothing to do with any Jersey cow.”

The class erupted in laughter again.

The student who made the complaint was almost crying now. To his good fortune, the teacher didn’t spank him for this.

The real winner

There were two friends in a small village in Kerala. They had known each other from childhood and had studied in the same school. One was rich and the other was poor. Both people got married and had children. They became old. And one day, while both people were talking and walking down the village road, they were hit by a truck that had lost control.

Both were taken to a hospital in the nearby town that was only a few miles away. Both men were lying in coma, when the rich man’s son came from abroad and decided to airlift his father to another hospital. The poor man’s family decided against it while the rich man was being transported via an air ambulance to another, big hospital. And the poor man breathed his last after a few days.

The rich man was admitted in a big hospital in the city. Though a couple of emergency surgeries were performed, he did not regain consciousness. He had an oxygen non-rebreather mask on his face while his vitals were being monitored in real-time via telemetry. Days passed into weeks and weeks passed into months. Still the rich man was lying unconscious in the hospital.

Doctors were analyzing him from various perspectives. Specialists were called on from emergency medicine, neurosurgery, orthopedics, and cardiology. His children had been informed earlier that since he was brought in time, in the first place, they were able to stabilize his cardiopulmonary system and perform an emergency surgery to correct the broken ribs that had pierced his lungs. His brain had subdural hemorrhage and an emergency brain surgery had been performed. Since he had longstanding issues with his cardiovascular system, a cardiologist was called on to consult with the medications. That was how they were able to save his life.

Shortly, the first anniversary of the poor man’s death had come, while the hospital where the rich man was being treated had a symposium on the topic of ‘Newer advancements in Trauma Care’. Other villagers attended the poor man’s requiem as well as heard about this conference when they came to visit the rich man. They had a dilemma — Who was the real winner?

The experience conundrum

Bodybuilders are judged by the size, shape, symmetry, proportion and the definition of their muscles. Nobody would ask how many years they were doing bodybuilding before a competition. India’s Premchand Dogra, the former Mr. Universe, was a wrestler. He only had about six months’ training experience before his first bodybuilding medal in 1980 and he eventually went on to win the Mr. Universe title in 1988. There are other young bodybuilders who have over ten years’ of training experience without any major title to their credit.

Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian gymnast attained a perfect 10/10 in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. For the first time in the history of modern Olympic gymnastics. They didn’t even have a proper scoreboard to display a score of 10.00 (Omega, as per specifications by the organizing committee made only a four digit scoreboard, since it was told that a perfect 10 was not possible. Comaneci’s score was displayed as 1:00) It was such a flawless performance on the uneven bars that nothing short of a perfect 10/10 was possible. Comaneci went on to score three more 10s on the uneven bars and another three on the balance beam. A total of seven 10s.

I have been transcribing doctors’ dictations for some time now. I know from experience that when I hear “acute and chronic” it is “acute on chronic” and levothyroxine is prescribed in micrograms. So even if the doctor dictates ‘ levothyroxine 10 milligrams’ either I correct it myself to ’10 micrograms’ in the transcript, or I flag the report. Also, when the doctor says ‘the distal ileum was tied and clamped’ I know that it is the distal end of the small intestine and not ‘ilium’, the innominate bone. Also, I know that patient safety is of paramount importance and I always strive to follow the golden rule of transcription, “when in doubt, flag”.

These are all examples from my personal experience. Yet, I know that medical science is such a vast field that no one ever becomes a master in every aspect of it in his entire life. Transcription is as art as it is science. Since it is science, there is stuff we need to learn from a book. Human Anatomy — again subdivided into gross anatomy and microscopic anatomy is the structure and organization of the human body, and physiology — which is the science of how the body works, human diseases, diagnostic tests and laboratory studies, medical imaging, pharmacology, common tests and medical abbreviations, medical eponyms, etcetera — the list is large. Yet it is an art by itself. We have to practice it. But nobody has outlined how much experience it is sufficient before you become someone who is considered a professional in this field.

When I attend a job interview this is one of the most difficult questions I have to encounter. “How much experience do you have?” Is experience such an objective assessment of someone’s skills? I do not know. Do two different people with different educational backgrounds and different attributes with ‘n’ number of experience produce the same results? I do not believe so.

But I am hopeful. Only the ‘getting hired’ part is difficult. One thing I have experienced is the conviction and belief from the employer’s part once I started working –“If you have people like you, please ask them to join our company.”

A famous story goes like this. When Charlie Chaplin, the famous Hollywood actor was in his prime, a masquerade party was held. The prize would go to the person who masqueraded the best as Charlie Chaplin. The original Charlie Chaplin also attended the event impromptu. And when the results came, Charlie Chaplin himself was pushed into the third place by two other participants.