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The Algebra Of Anomalies

"Let's pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere...”

C.S. Lewis

On a cold, dark and gloomy morning, I remember sitting across from one of my teachers in the Rutgers University as she explained to me the two types of poverty in this world: Absolute Poverty and Intellectual Poverty. The reason she deemed it necessary to offer such an explanation was obviously the fact that she had decided to put me in one of those categories. Of course her only intention was to alleviate the grief I had been feeling and to boost my otherwise low morale to at least such an extent that I would find my way out of the seemingly bottomless pit. She told me that I was going through a phase of Intellectual Poverty and that unlike the other category, this one was very temporary as I still had the power of knowledge and a graduate degree with me to fight the odds. Of course hunger and penuriousness just happened to be the raging symptoms of both of the above-mentioned categories. Tough luck! As I left her office and learned to cope with my empty pockets for several days at a stretch, a kaleidoscope of conflicting emotions made their way into my untamed brain. Among those emotions were anger, helplessness, confusion and a diminishing respect towards the self and utter jealousy towards anyone who could afford a cup of doppio macchiato from the Starbucks. Other symptoms that later decided to break the surface included a long and confusing investigation into the supernatural, a reaching out for the higher power (also called God), and wondering "Why me!!!". So it came as no surprise when I finally grasped that poverty and it's co-anchor hunger lead to thoughts that are rather extreme in nature and actions that are overly stupid in retrospect... hatred towards anything and everything... black and white... right and wrong... and it all becomes a hopeless muddle as sour as last week's chutney. As far as I am concerned however, this phase helped me understand to a certain extent the most significant of all the anomalies of human nature... hypocrisy.

Why hypocrisy? Lets look at it this way. If not for my given state of mind at the time, I wouldn't have given a damn about the guy with the espresso from Starbucks. I understood that we decide what to love and what to hate at some point in time. The hypocrisy of course lies in the fact that at another point in time, we might learn to hate the things we loved and love the things we hated. Of course at the time one has these feelings, the power of conviction might be such that you have no reason to doubt yourself. But unfortunately, little does one realize that the courage of conviction one feels could very well be a facade. It could just be a product of one's own survival instincts, one's own selfishness. So is altruism going to rid the world of hypocrisy and make the world a better place? Of course not! If people resist helping themselves, they resist other people helping them to a very large extent as well. But of course, I, like everyone else out there, am a hypocrite as well... so what do I know!

Humans have always been attracted to extremism... black and white... love and hate... heaven and hell... conservatism and liberalism... One important topic is of course religion. I have found that organized religion is a messy business whose behavior could very well rival the behavior of a bunch of unruly thugs in a maximum-security penitentiary. The problem lies in the very act of organizing the religion. It has never fully worked and I am not sure that it ever will. Religion depends on one interesting aspect. Faith. Of course faith is a direct product of something called belief. However, it so happens that we believe in things we least know. When people decide to follow a certain religion, they end up following certain aspects of the religion and discarding the others. An interesting recent incident comes to mind. I was waiting at this Cafe' the other day with a really good friend of mine (by this time you must have correctly concluded that I love coffee. I am waiting for the time I will change to tea!). A man from Korea approached us and randomly started talking. His first observation was spot-on. He made a statement to the effect that both of us were Indians. We acquiesced. He then went on to talk about Judaism and the large number of people of the Jewish faith in New Jersey. He kept reminding us that Judaism is not a race and just a religion. Do not ask me why he started talking about the subject in the first place because I frankly have not been able to decipher that. One thing that did strike me though was his anti-Semitism. Therein lies the hypocrisy. He follows a faith where he is supposed to love his neighbor as he loves himself... Need I say more?

The issue of racism is pretty interesting as well and the hypocrisy involved should not escape anyone's eyes or ears. I for one do not understand the fuss. And I for one cannot imagine this happening in any other species. Try imagining a white dog calling a black dog a Negro... or maybe it is because dogs are said to be color-blind. The time when all the men and women of this world would actually believe in a "human race" rather than black or white or brown or yellow might actually be the time when the world finally comes to an end! Of course then we can all "hitchhike" our way out of the galaxy. But those are just the words of a cynic. A recent misadventure that could compete (and actually win) in the category of the Himalayan blunders of the current year is the faux pas by an insipid and obnoxious character by the name of Jade Goody and her clique of cartoon characters on a reality television show called Celebrity Big Brother. I watched the show (only the controversial parts that is) and concluded two things. The first thing I decided was that television had managed to reach a new low point. I hadn't deemed that possible after sitting through 5 minutes of another show called "The Flavor of Love"(A lot of people would agree with me about "The Flavor of Love"). The second conclusion I was forced to make was that the racism, bullying and the ignorance that becomes evident after watching the show is surely but the tip of the iceberg. I wondered how deep the rabbit hole actually went.

The debates following the incident were extreme and expressed the anger the people around the world felt. The international incident made Shilpa Shetty, the Indian actress who was the victim, a household name around the world. She is apparently more of a household name than Aishwarya Rai because of this comedy of errors and that is quite an achievement albeit quite unintended I am sure as far as she is concerned. The amusing part for me about the whole episode however, was the staunch support she seemed to be getting in Britain (where the show was aired) and the vacillating support she seemed to be getting in India, her homeland. In India, some people considered her a hero while the others believed more media coverage and emphasis should be given on tackling the issue of poverty. Of course according to the latter group of people then such an incident should be just pushed under the rug without a second mention. I wonder what these groups of people are doing to tackle the issue of poverty. Something tells me that they would be the same bunch of people who would wait around for things to happen rather than taking the initiative to make them happen. I wonder whether it would be fair to say that their voices would rise calling to tackle the largest issue in the country only in the face of seemingly small but sensationalized issues such as this. Then it is my contention that we need more sensationalism on a daily basis. At least then enough people would start talking about poverty for somebody to at least take the first step! But of course I am ignorant. There were still more comedians who pointed out that such division and bullying based on race, caste and creed happens in India and therefore this particular 'Shilpa Shetty - Jade Goody' matter is nothing special and hence shouldn't be given any thought whatsoever. I wonder whatever gave this group of people the brilliant idea of using the same "weapon" in the case of Shilpa Shetty and her tormentors as used in India to tackle similar vile acts of ignorance… I am of course referring to that all-powerful "weapon" of silence…just waiting for the winds of change and doing absolutely nothing! Hypocrites! Tolerance is a big word if actually used along with defiance as the man in the loincloth tried to teach us once. Without defiance, it just becomes a big black hole sucking away our souls. As for Shilpa, hero or no hero, her defiance was truly classy and she definitely deserves merit for her resilience and her level of tolerance. But of course sanctimony reigns supreme...

In the end, once I prayed that I never get to have the same gloomy conversation with my teacher about poverty, I realized that pretentiousness and sanctimoniousness are embedded in the human nature and it might very well be impossible to be cured. We might as well learn to live with it. And that I think is the truth. No more black or white... just plain gray... and then maybe we can avoid those unnecessary bloodsheds, the unnecessary loss of lives based on race, caste, creed and religion... This would indeed seem like a tall order and hypocrisy is like a mutating beast that shows its head at every corner... that has its tentacles extended to every human emotion... prejudice with a halo... an anomaly that gives rise to every other human anomaly... THE imperfection... As I stood in the cold winter with the gentle snow caressing my face, I could see through the glass enclosing of the Starbucks... The people sitting in the comfortable sofas talking to each other... drinking coffee... discussing everything from the most mundane to microbiology and nano-technology... I decided to enter... the strong whiff of coffee tickled my nostrils but was more than welcome... I checked my pocket and found the dollar coin... one that I had resisted myself from spending just because of the fact that I hadn't seen many such dollar coins around... I looked at the coin, turned it over several times and pondered over it for more than a minute... I went outside the cafe, pondered in the cold a little bit more and finally reaching a decision went inside and ordered an espresso after managing to find 25 more cents in my pocket... my lucky day... I settled myself on a cushioned chair, hot coffee in hand, stretched my legs, inhaled deeply and closed my eyes... The dreams began..

Submitted by:

Nitin Murali

Nitin Murali is a graduate student in Industrial Engg at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. Writing is one of his many passions and he is currently working on an anthology. He blogs from time to time at http://nitinmurali.blogspot.com/ Nitin could be contacted via email at enemus@gmail.com




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