I nodded my head in a spirited display of supreme empathy, which I’m known to possess on occasion. “You go, girl!” I egged her on.
But the said damsel ignored me, thereby joining a multitude of earthlings who have elevated that activity to an art form. I cut her some slack though; perhaps she ignored me, I consoled myself, because her reality was confined to the TV screen’s pixels, while my reality, sprawled luxuriously on the family room couch in all three dimensions and a choice few of the string theorists’ extra dimensions as well, proclaimed itself beyond all doubt.
Several years ago, I was watching the popular Bollywood movie Lagaan with my wife. The heroine, a 19th century resurrection of Radha, had laid out a convincing indictment against her Krishna, culminating in that climactic question: “Radha kaise na jale?” The gentleman in question, she charged, had unmistakably flirted with the gopis in the garden whenever he got a chance. And she made her case in raag Bhimpalasi too, no less – a raag that lent weight to her accusation. And, from my vantage point, I instantly convicted the gentleman; his behavior, in the immortal words of a famous President, was “not nice.”
My excitement soared waiting in anticipation for the Bollywood Krishna’s refutation. How will he defend the charge? I mean, really, how? Will he fill Radha’s ears with a clever spin of his transgressions, and then corner her with that famous are-you-going-to-believe-your-eyes-or-your-ears defense? My hair stood up.
And then Krishna spake thus: “Oh, the gopis are just stars. And you, Radha, will always be the moon!” (O gopiyan taarein hai, chaand hai Radha)
“Wah!” exclaimed the romantic in me expressing instant approval. This romantic side of me occupies a tiny corner of my brain (which, some allege, is already tiny to begin with). He is a hopeless sucker for metaphors, meters, and all things poetic. He forgave Krishna instantly.
“Not so fast!” screamed the analytical part of my brain. This “analyzer and optimizer” occupies the rest of the real estate in that tiny kingdom of grey cells. When you study science and engineering for years, and practice it in a tech company for decades, you tend to acquire a super sized analytical part.
“Let me translate that for you, Mr. Romantic!” said Mr. Analytical loudly, his voice tinged with obvious contempt. “He’s saying, ‘Oh, the gopis! They are magnificent self-luminous entities, radiating their warmth and magic spell over unimaginable distances, making people go: “how I wonder what you are!” But, you, Radha, are a cold, reflecting mirror, a poorly reflecting mirror really, with no radiance of your own.’ And if you think that’s flattering to Radha, Oh Mr. Romantic, pray tell, what exactly are you smoking?”
Of course, when allegations of substance abuse surface in arguments between these two, I, the Self, am compelled to mediate. And while I was mediating this spirited argument, the movie progressed beyond recognition.
When mediation ended with a stern rebuke to Mr. Analytical for disrupting a movie, I looked at my wife. She was oblivious to the tumult that had played inside my head and was happily enjoying the movie. “Blissful” didn’t even begin to describe her state. Obviously the avatar of Mr. Analytical residing in her head had been overpowered, subdued, smothered, and shamed even before he spoke. Looking at her face, a picture of tranquility, my mind overflowed with envy, the known refuge for losers.
When I resumed watching the movie, a Caucasian lady was singing her love for the hero. (Yes, there is a Caucasian lady in the story.) I guess she was providing the much-needed third vertex for a love triangle. And being of the English persuasion, she had been kindly allowed to sing in English in an otherwise Hindi movie, a consideration she pounced on with gratitude and calculation. Her exact words were:
“My heart, it speaks a thousand words
I feel eternal bliss
The roses pout their scarlet mouths
Like offering a kiss
No drop of rain, no glowing flame
Has ever been so pure
If being in love can feel like this
Then I’m in love for sure”
Again, from his inconspicuous corner, Mr. Romantic melted. “It’s so…. so… ,” he choked with emotion, struggling to find that unique word that would do justice to the situation. I waited for his definitive verdict with anticipation – “beautiful!” he concluded. (I knew that the man had an astounding vocabulary.)
“Bah! Humbug!” came the prompt response from Mr. Analytical, who had obviously mentored Ebenezer Scrooge. “Did you hear her last line? Her conclusion is totally flawed. It’s a classic case of misapplied inference in logic. It has all the validity of a healthy, bald, old man singing:
If being in chemo can make one bald
Then I’m in chemo for sure!
Don’t you see the fallacy, for crying out loud?”
Of course, “loud” and Mr. Analytical always went together. The argument had erupted again, soon returning to the familiar territory of substance abuse. Annoyed beyond description, I began mediating again.
When I had finally quieted down Mr. Analytical with a stern censure, the movie had ended too, and my wife was asking me that dreaded question: “How did you like the movie?” Cornered, I remembered Mr. Romantic’s memorable eloquence: “It was so …so… beautiful,” I said. She nodded with approval: “I know you have good taste.” And I flushed with pride for having rendered a discriminating Ebert-like review.
So, that’s my life, in a nutshell: I contend with Mr. Analytical all day. He spoils movies. He analyzes and optimizes everything I do. Toilet tissues and paper towels have to unroll from the correct side, or he casts aspersions on the violator. He’s also the reason I commit the cardinal husbandly sin: offering my wife solutions to problems. He’s a spoiler of relationships.
But he’s also indispensable. After all, evolution created him for a reason: the survival of the species. He is also the reason my employer hired me. I cannot live without him. And therein lies the rub.
There is a relevant episode from Albert Einstein’s life, mentioned in Walter Isaacson’s voluminous biography, Einstein: HIs Life and Universe. In Churchillian language, it’s a book which, by its very length, defends itself from the risk of being read, but I persevered. Kurt Gödel, a renowned Austrian logician, who had moved to the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, was studying the US Constitution to prepare for his US citizenship test. Not surprisingly, Gödel, the logician, had a hyperactive Mr. Analytical within him who discovered a fatal flaw in the Constitution that would allow the US government to degenerate into a tyranny. Einstein, a colleague at the Institute, was alarmed for a good reason: The last words an interviewer wants to hear from a candidate at a US Citizenship test are, “The US Constitution sucks.” This was not the best time to unleash Mr. Analytical, so Einstein anxiously accompanied Gödel to the interview and prevented an untoward incident. It’s remarkable that even Einstein, a man known for his towering intellect, recognized the havoc Mr. Analytical could play in the wrong situation.
It looks like the key to success in life is to let Mr. Analytical reign during certain tasks and shut him up at others, especially when he goes into overdrive in relationships. At work, let him go crazy, analyzing and optimizing to his heart’s content. But, at home, where relationships have to be nourished, give him some rest and tolerate the sub-optimum. Life is peachy even when the toilet tissue unrolls from the bottom.
So, I now try to have it both ways: When I’m problem-solving, Radha, to me, is a star, a scintillating diamond in the sky. But when I’m nurturing a relationship, she is that adorable moon, that darling of poets. After all, if light can be a wave and a particle too in the quantum world, what prevents Radha from exhibiting her own version of duality?
Hamsanandi (pseudonym) is an engineer from Fremont, CA. He believes that Churchill had him in mind when he described a “modest man who has a lot to be modest about.”