Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ponty Manesar

While on hilarious posts, here is one rib-ticklingly funny post on Ponty Manesar. For those of you at Rutgers, this is somewhat like a cleaner version of Liquid Kids Classics.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


My mind recently went back to the Guru Ramdev - Brinda Karat affair. Guru Ramdev is the champion of yoga who sees it as a technique which will lead to a healthier lifestyle, while Karat is the typical Communist - anti-Hindu, and salivating at the feet of multi-nationals medical companies who see Guru Ramdev as a threat to higher profits.

This whole affair got me thinking (and this also follows from a discussion with my father). Millions of people in India have benefited health-wise from Guru Ramdev's yoga. Many people claim to have been cured of long standing illnesses, while many others have declared that they have felt no need for medicines because of their regular practice of yoga. So many people cannot be wrong about the health benefits of yoga, and it only serves to strengthen Guru Ramdev's claims.

Modern medicine has one problem. If the problem is diagnosed to be in A, modern medicine will treat part A, while the effect of the cure on other parts is not known. Conversely, if the problem lies in A, B and C, all in some proportion, modern medicine has not advanced enough to detect that (there may exist some specific instances which can be so diagnosed, but in a general sense, they cannot be). It only attempts to cure part A or B or C, which really is not enough, because all 3 parts must be cured simultaneously.

The solution is a holistic approach, that takes into account the natural tendencies of the human body, rather than trying to force a solution. Yoga is one such holistic technique. Other techniques are psychological influence (using a placebo instead of an actual medicine has provided the desired results in some cases), use of music (or sound frequencies) to effect a cure, etc. It is this holistic approach that Guru Ramdev is advocating. Yoga has another advantage - its legitimacy has been well documented over the ages. It is traditional wisdowm that is as of now beyond the reach of modern medicine (the irony!).

What would be a good idea (IMO) is to introduce yoga as a compulsary subject in schools across India. In the longer run, this would lead to an entire generation of Indians being familiar with yoga and its health benefits. And this regular practice of yoga would also render any sort of medication unnecessary, which would greatly reduce health-related costs. The value of this cannot be underestimated in a developing country such as India. This is somewhat similar to the Japanese initiative to help prevent malaria in Africa (with US funding) using low-cost techniques.

However, I have my doubts as to whether this idea can actually be implemented. Political motivations fueled by profits, gross ignorance, and maybe even religious opposition (Christians and Muslims see yoga as blasphemous) would mean that this idea will face stiff opposition.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A sense of perspective

Two different incidents, yet with a strange parallel.

Incident 1:
Last year, a Danish newspaper published a caricature of Prophet Mohammad. Actually, it is a bunch of cartoons (12 in all), as satirical illustrations accompanying an article on self-sensorship and freedom of speech. One of the drawings depicts the Prophet with a bomb as his turban, and the comments accompanying the cartoons are not complimentary either. A Norwegien newspaper reproduced the cartoon, with various newspaper across Europe following suit.

Suffice it to say that these cartoons are in extremely bad taste. For one, Islam prohibits any image of the Prophet, even if it is in a positive manner, lest it amount to idolatory. Furthermore, these images are disparaging Islam in the crudest manner. While freedom of speech and expression is a noble ideal, it ends either when it infringes upon insensitivity to the feelings of a people, or if it is intentionally ridiculing a person or community.. The cartoons in question fail on both counts. While such analysis is obviously subjective, common sense dictates that these cartoons not be published.

Which brings me to the question, why were the cartoons published? The Danish newspaper, obviously from its perspective, sees nothing wrong in publishing the cartoons, and it might be justified in its stand. However, with the larger Muslim population likely to take offence at the cartoons in question, it would have been prudent to not publish the cartoons. The other reason would be purposeful incitement of the mass protests and violence that has arose over almost all of the Muslim world. Or it might just be that the newspaper simply did not have a sense of perspective when it published the cartoons.

The controversy rages on!

Incident 2:
The Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation have have petitioned the California Department of Education suggesting improvements in the school textbooks' treatment of Hinduism. The two Foundations suggested a total of 170 corrections. Nothing wrong with that, one would suppose. Except, Dr. Michael Witzel, among others, of Harvard University deems fit to oppose 58 of those corrections (the CDE calls them edits), especially those dealing with the Aryan Invasion Theory, which he terms as fact. The curriculum commision went through the 58 edits, and accepted about a dozen of them.

What I find perplexing, is why Dr. Witzel wants to dredge up the AIT, which has been proved comprehensively to be a myth. No neutral scholar accepts the AIT as anything more than a fanciful invention of the British East India Company to create an excuse for the colonization of India, and to convert the entire populace to Christianity. Dr. Witzel's petition was neither based on reason nor on any factual and scholarly information. As some observers have pointed out, it is indeed a sad day for Harvard University that one of its "esteemed" professors is involved with such unscholarly activities.

The main issue of contention here is that while Christianity, Islam and Jewism are all potrayed in a positive light with absolutely no mention of their negative connotations, the text on Hinduism focusses more on its negative aspects, while the aspects of Hinduism that matter most are hardly given a passing mention. Furthermore, while the texts relating to the other religions are written by a person of that religion, the text about Hinduism is written from a non-Hindu perspective. Neither does the section on Hinduism confirm to the Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content, as set by the CDE. All that the two foundations are asking for is a fair potrayal of Hinduism in Californian textbooks.

What is the reason for this unfair potrayal? This theory ascribes the controversy to political issues, while this website summarizes the entire controversy. Further links are found here and here. Thanks to this article, which itself is worth reading, for the links.

Whatever be the reason, I am in favour of asking Dr. Witzel to shove it and for the CDE to get on with the proposed corrections.