Karma and Narratives

We are suckers for narratives. In Will Storr's beautiful meditation on life narratives, he eloquently explains why is it so. Storr writes,
The brain generates a narrative to make sense of the world around us, but also to make sense of ourselves. We think we’re captained by the part of us that’s self-conscious – the bit that we experience as our own living ‘me’, that collision of sense, memory and internal monologue at the centre of which sits the ‘I’. Yet there’s a silent, unconscious ‘I’ to which we have no access. It communicates with emotions, wordlessly coaxing us this way and that with its ceaseless blooms of disgust and fear and desire. It influences everything we think and do.
Exactly how much influence does this self have over our behaviour? Experts disagree. Some say its control is total: that the voice that speaks in the privacy of our heads might seem like it’s in charge, but really it’s just a babbling spin doctor, making excuses for the misdeeds of its boss. Others claim that our rational selves can play an executive role under certain, limited circumstances – but not much more than that. Either way, most of the time we feel that we’re autonomous only because the voice in our heads narrates all our actions, explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing at any given moment, even though it actually has no idea.
The West calls this story-making, "Confabulation". In the East, we instinctively recognize it as "Karma" - the narratives we tell ourselves and others concerning the vicissitudes of our life. 

Joseph Campbell on the role of storytelling in parenting

Here is an interesting excerpt on the impact of stories in a child's growth by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero's journey. 
"It is from innocent children that I learned what happens when a young soul is held away from the breadth and meaningful nuances of stories for too long. Little ones come to earth with a panoramic ability to hold in mind and heart literally thousands of ideas and images. The family and culture around them is supposed to place in those open channels the most beautiful, useful, deep and truthful, creative and spiritual ideas we know. But very many young ones nowadays are exposed almost exclusively to endless "crash and bash" cartoons and "smack 'em down" computer games devoid of any other thematic components. These fragmentary subjects offer the child no extensive depth of storyline.

In the yagna of modernity

Update- 6/6/14: Have included my interaction with Devdutt Pattnaik-popular mythologist and author - on the movie below. 

When I was seven years old, I was initiated into Brahminhood through the sacred upanayanam ceremony. The word sacred, I admit, finds its place here after a long, circuitous journey of introspection which taught me the true meaning of profundity through unconditional embrace of profanity. Back in those days, I was taught to respect what's  profound only by abhorring what's profaneI remember doing my sandyavandanam rituals religiously, until my hormones began to treat callously the traditions and values I bequeathed from my parents. Like many others in their teens, I began to question the traditions, especially the way it was presented to me, in its ossified form, enforced through parental authoritarianism. As I followed my way through the questions, I could only find reasons which appealed to my intellect. Along the way, I also witnessed the hypocrisy in which traditions, despite their high handedness, were appropriated as means to the entitlements defining the modern life - money, good job and a well settled life. 

Indian general election, 2014: Stability Vs Chaos?


Indian General Elections are round the corner. The heat is on. Here goes my first apolitical post on politics in my blog. 

So it seems to me that the upcoming 2014 elections has brought to fore the age-old debate between stability and chaos. Leaving aside the individuals and their ideologies (or the lack of it), how do we choose between stability and chaos? 

What is "failure" anyway?

What do you consider to be your greatest personal failure? Why?

At first blush, It seems like an innocuous question. It seems to be designed with a well meaning intent to evaluate the person based on his reflections of his choices and actions. Such questions really amuse me though. When I was asked to answer this question within 50 words, I wrote this,

Failures are labels of unwilled perceptions arising from the fear of seeing the choices we have made and its unimaginable consequences. What is "failure" anyway?

My recent presentation at Big Data Innovation Conference - The return of the narratives

I recently gave a presentation on "The return of the narratives" in Big Data Innovation conference organized by Unicom Learning. As a blogger and consultant, I've been fascinated by the way narratives tend themselves to the meaning we seek (and manipulate) from information. 
"Meaning is irrelevant to the engineering problem [of information]" -Claude Shannon, Father of information theory
"Consulting, a profession grounded in building narratives and naive rationalization"   - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile
At first blush, it may seem ironic to talk about narratives in a conference dedicated to leverage the surging enthusiasm around Big Data. "Don't give me stories. Talk numbers" is the familiar cultural imperative in which we grew up, discarding our inherited traditional beliefs with scientific beliefs. As we move from data-scarcity to data-ubiquity paradigm, it's intriguing to see this old cultural gene mutating towards "I have numbers. Give me a story".

The crux of my argument is that in a world awash with data, narratives play a critical role in providing the dynamic contexts by which we would make sense of the Big Data we would breathe in the near future.

My deck used for the presentation has been embedded below. I would be writing detailed blog posts on these topics in my blog. I would love to hear your views and join the conversation.

I owe a lot to Venkatesh Rao for his work on narratives which provided me a fertile base to look at consulting narratives deeply.



Conversations with a miracle worker

Baba Amte needs no introduction to the socially conscious Indian. Here is a rare interview with Baba reflecting on a lifetime of social service and love. An edited transcript of the interview which was conducted by Rajeev Mehrotra of Doordarshan. 

Special thanks to Avinash for discovering and transcribing this conversation
Rajeev Mehrotra (R.M.):Despite physical infirmity that prevents you from sitting because of the problem with the base of your spine, you have really, in a sense,transcended the body and the limitations of the human form with the enormous energy and enthusiasm that you are able to generate in so many people and the enormous self confidence that you are able to inspire in them. What is the philosophy that has given you this altruistic thrust?

Baba: I always accept my illness with faith and peace of soul. I always remember Him for what is left rather than curse him for what is lost. That is why I could live for four decades with physically handicapped people and children of darkness at Anandwan.

R.M.: The main philosophy that you have perpetuated, while your activities at Anandwan have extended many folds beyond, has really been that ‘It is charity that destroys and it is work that builds’. Where did this idea come from? Where was it born? How did it germinate?

Deep focus - Reflections on cinema by Satyajit Ray

In his passionate lecture at the 2013 Jefferson Lecture, entitled Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema, Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest director of our times, muses on the nature of movement:



"The desire to make images move, the need to capture movement, seems to be with us 30,000 years ago in the cave paintings at Chauvet – as you can see it here, in this image the bison appears to have multiple sets of legs. Maybe that was the artist’s way of creating the impression of movement. I think this need to recreate movement is a mystical urge. It’s an attempt to capture the mystery of who and what we are, and then to contemplate that mystery"

Could it be just a matter of coincidence and a shared passion for movies that another legendary film director of his times, from a continent far away in the east, talked with equal gusto, many moons ago, on the nature of movement?