Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chips of Knowledge

Tom can finally be confident. Although he was unfortunate to have not attended college, he could now confidently partake in pompous, pseudo-intellectual talk that his colleagues often engaged in. He left his colleagues open-mouthed and in disbelief at how he gained so much knowledge within a matter of few weeks. Tom was gloating, happy that he finally got his ego-boost. His new implant was working miracles. He had a high-speed wireless chip that connected to the world-wide web and a powerful in-built encyclopaedia. Due to the limitless memory and knowledge space, Tom could choose to register new information effortlessly and could retrieve relevant information using basic keywords. A "Google" inside his brain. With this immense ability, Tom stopped caring what he registered and what he retrieved, as long as he could spew out the information to impress others to get his way through life. But he didn't care that he wasn't learning or acquiring knowledge in true spirit, all that he could think of was how omniscient he had become with no effort. (Original Source: The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten, by Julian Baggini)

I'm no new prophetess to argue that wisdom is different from knowledge. Knowledge talks, wisdom listens. Clearly Tom is only keen on talking and spilling out facts. Knowledge that isn't realized or experienced is vapid. Knowledge that doesn't help the individual grow from within, will soon become stale. But this scenario is not so far-fetched. It's quite plausible that within the next two generations, chips of such kind will surface. Schools and educational institutions will dwindle, given the already proliferating ideas on e-education, combined with the release of wireless chips that help one gain a limitless library of information all within one's head. Imagine knowledge chips being upgraded in toddlers as they develop, instead of school classes they progress to. What measure would be used to determine when a toddler's chip should be upgraded to newer versions? Does it matter at all? Or would everyone be given a unanimous chip of equal capabilities? Would that finally spell the meaning of being fair and equal, promising everyone equal opportunities for survival? Can someone be a good doctor just by consulting such a chip? Who decides what "knowledge" goes in the chip, and that all the information is validated and true? Would everyone be equally knowledgeable and smart? So many questions if we progress to such a realm. Such a chip cannot teach us how to apply knowledge, and when to apply which aspect appropriately. Intelligence still remains a slippery stone for scientists to hold and comprehend completely. But it sure is disconcerting if we are to enter an age wherein intelligence is confused with what people like Tom are capable of. Or with the optimism of AI scientists, maybe the chips would teach one to be "intelligent". But again, intelligence surely doesn't guarantee wisdom?

To a certain extent I appreciate the idea of technology augmenting the capabilities of the human brain, helping it overcome its limitations of memory and retrieval. But how different is a chip in the brain that helps us google, versus a hand-held device which helps us do the same thing today, with just a few clicks (or "touches"). We call it a "cognitive artifact" that helps with distributed cognition. In my field, we see technology as pieces of our mind, externalized, augmented and offloaded to be portable. So is this blog, that externalizes most of my thoughts. Haven't we then already progressed to Tom's state? We have already stepped into that smart age, although the mind is still physically disconnected from the device.

The fact that I know so many "exotic" recipes today, that my mom feels she can no longer suggest recipes to me, doesn't mean I'm smarter or more capable, but simply means I'm guided step by step through videos, pictures and precise measurements on how to make Tiramisu and souffles, when my mom had to improvise on what her grandmom taught her. Makes me wonder who the true "smart" one is. This age is designed to enable anyone to do almost anything. Despite churning out novel goodies, I still don't have the basic grasp or intuition of which spices go together with which ingredients, that my mom probably gained quite early on. She wasn't being a robot carrying out steps, she made mistakes, learned, realized her knowledge, experienced it and improvised. She had stashes of strategies and tips up her sleeves, all of which I can only google for today. I believe that this applies to even aspects that don't necessarily have an immediate, tangible practical component to them. A theory cannot be understood by merely reading or hearing about it. A book cannot be appreciated by reading its synopsis, reviews and popular quotes. Without sufficient independent thought processes applied, every iota of information just remains "raw". At a very basic neuro-scientific level, the mind cannot form any connections to new information if it is not processed. Rare are those who will persevere to gain wisdom even if knowledge is available at their finger-tips or neuron-tips.

The information loaded age needs to ensure a balance such that the meaning and import of wisdom and intelligence are not lost forever from the human race.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reflections: The Twentieth Wife

I belong to the fraternity that shirks History. If you were part of the generation of textbook-burdened-school-goers from India, you will (probably) share my sentiments of dreading a Social Science/History exam. The most stressful periods of my school life were rampantly dominated by such exams and quizzes. With an examination system that encouraged rote memorization of the book from cover to cover, I was left palpitating at the mere sight of a History textbook. I toiled to remember all the ridiculously long and confusing names of Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princess, the plethora of conquests, wars and revolutions, the huge arrays of dates associated with numerous occasions etc, while unfortunately I missed the big picture of the fascinating tales and their repercussions on our present generation. After a few days of cramming information, my memory would typically burst and ooze with facts, all of which I would furiously dump on my exam paper, and leave the hall with a light head. Needless to say, I am therefore pathetic with History, probably to an embarrassing extent. Until last week, if you had (cruelly) decided to wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me, "Name one son of Akbar's", I would have likely blinked at you a couple of times, tried to ascertain that you are no phantom and then mumbled, "Birbal?" Seriously.

So, when I was approached with a book based on Nur-Jahan, a historical-fiction revolving around the Mughal dynasty, all my bitter memories from school came flooding back and I steadfastly refused to give the book a try. But, after a lo-ot of reassurance and high praises for the book and the author, I was babied into eventually reading it, and even appreciating it. I now look forward to reading its sequel and if you shuffle me out of bed with the question, "How is Ali Quli and Ghias Beg related?", I would confidently prattle on. That should suffice to give one an idea about the book if it can cause such drastic changes in someone who only had a vague memory of who Jahangir was.

The Twentieth Wife is an engaging read on the life of Mehrunisa (Nur-Jahan), her long, intermittent, torrid yet unfulfilled romance with Salim (Jahangir), her inexplicable bewitchment over his passions for her, and her eventual rise to power as Jahangir's most favorite and powerful wife. Through Mehrunisa's story, Indu Sundaresan weaves in the revolutions that hacked the Mughal Empire, with sons callously clamoring for the throne, unmindful of battling their own father and brothers, of all the treachery and hankering for power, the politics, and the insidious ploys manipulating women as pawns in a merciless game. All the major events chronicled in the book are facts recorded by historians. The only fictional elements are the imaginative interpretations of the characters' day-to-day life, and the fabrication of how the romance between Mehrunisa and Jahangir bloomed and came into fruition.

The book transports us to the era of monarchy and opulence. The culture of the Mughals, their traditions, and practices adds a crucial dimension in understanding the various power-ploys. In a culture that granted immeasurable power to the Emperor and only to the Emperor, where everyone around him had no choice but to bend and dance to his whims, on some level we can empathize with all the characters' constant struggle to establish some freedom and identity. I could especially sympathize with the hundreds of women in the Royal harem, whose only goal in life was to please the Emperor, and secure a son through him to firmly establish themselves as someone to be respected. A woman hardly had any respect if she was not lucky enough to be the Emperor's favorite wife or concubine. In such a hostile place, where every woman carefully guarded her youth and beauty, where fathers shamefully displayed their daughters, vying for them to be a royal concubine to somehow enter the palace, and where the women hatched ploys and cunning tricks to keep themselves above the rest, Mehrunisa almost effortlessly grabbed the coveted position amidst all the numerous oppositions. The materialism, shallowness and the ruses of the jungles of the harem, are sickening, yet make for an absorbing read. Within this context, it is all the more fascinating to read about the life of this powerful woman, who practically ruled the heavily patriarchal dynasty. I am yet again thankful to be born in this era,  and living in a democratic society that supports female empowerment.

I had always seen Jahangir cast in a reproachable light. All I remembered from school was the cruelty he meted out to his own son and his father, all in greed for the throne. But Sundaresan presents the story from the perspectives of the characters, employing some literary license to soften the jagged edges of the unpalatable truth. Jahangir emerges as a valiant hero, who, despite his misgivings, is a kind-hearted virtuous man, pushed to perform cruel acts because of the confluence of ill-advisers and his passion to rule the Empire. Indu Sundaresan brings out the conflict of emotions that Akbar and Jahangir go through in the throes of the revolts - the mixture of love and frustration tainted with anger and wrath of betrayal; crushingly disappointing, and unbelievably infuriating. It raises interesting questions on whether it is unrealistic to expect a bond between fathers and sons when there was hardly any interaction between the two for a bond to form. In that era, Princes were raised by servants and queens, many times not even by their own mother.

Indu Sundaresan's writing serves as the most alluring component of the story. Her lyrical prose sets a captivating story flowing. I would highly recommend such books to young students who have a distaste for History. It has definitely piqued my interest to learn (or re-learn) Mughal history, this time being enthralled with the whole experience.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spring-Time Prayer

After all these months of bareness, the air now holds the promise of new life. The spell has started working on those gangly branches which were previously casting ghostly shadows, stark and eerie against the moonlight. Now there are little spurts of baby green bursting curiously out of wooden fingers, smiling drops of dew. The garden transforms with every passing day as I slip into my pleasurable activity of counting new buds and new sprigs of leaves with sweet anticipation.

It is that time when Nature dips her brush in vats of bright, beautiful paints and splashes the frost bitten canvas with florid hues. Myriad little buds have popped out, their chubby seams bursting with the color of their precious petals, as delicate as an infant's pink-tinted curled fingers. The daffodils cheer the rain and wind, their yellow faces laughing merrily. Herbs crawl out of their withered shells, releasing tiny pockets of flavor as they eagerly wriggle out to be pinched and appreciated. Yummy vegetable seeds gently clamber out of the soil, bearing wispy green feathers, steadily rooting into the soil and reaching out to the sun. Soft cherry blossoms hang in ornate blooms on swooping branches that were weeping till yesterday. I will never understand how the branches can gush with such dainty pink-cotton tufts within one cool night. If only I could cast a spell and hold them on the tree forever.

With the fragrance of Spring bubbling in each atom, with Nature bearing her numerous pretty children in her womb, isn't it utterly cruel and unfair when the Icy chill decides to return, its vampire fangs eager to sink into the fecund Earth? The happy Spring tune dies down, the sun is washed out with angry clouds and hale and flurries threaten our land. Why would Nature allow this? I whimper along with the silent cries of the buds and sprigs in the garden. Mr. Chill, please look at the happy, innocent faces of the cherry blossoms. I beg you to find any trace of mercy to spare them. Please. You had your fun for six long months and we bore your bites patiently. When the bite-wounds are trying to heal and as we await the monochromatic parched Earth to revive, please don't brutally snatch the precious colors away. Please. My fervent prayers. For you see, my nourishment lies in these little cherubic buds.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reflections: Eat Pray Love

Elizabeth Gilbert is a journalist and writer from New York. She went through an emotionally draining period in her life when she was forced to confront the problems in her marriage. With a messy divorce and a rash and complicated love-affair twining against each other, her heart was crushed, and her will was broken. Swallowed by depression, she struggled to get her life back on track. A saving grace from her tempestuous love-affair was an introduction to a spiritual Indian Guru. Gilbert found solace through the power and calmness of Meditation and Yoga. But she needed more spiritual guidance to heal herself. She was fortunate enough to take a break and embark on a year-long expedition around the globe to discover herself. She chose three countries to visit, all of which coincidentally begin with "I", boding a good omen for her voyage of self-discovery. The first stop was Italy, due to her passion for the Italian language and anything Italian related. Her next stop was at her Swamiji's ashram in India. Finally, she reached Bali, Indonesia to meet an ancient medicine man who had accurately predicted parts of her life. In this memoir, Gilbert shares her experiences, challenges, revelations and lessons learned from her journey - both spiritual and personal.

Most women can relate to Gilbert. Her frank confessions of her innermost thoughts and emotions are sure to ring true with most readers. For the average practical, career woman, spirituality is often a skeptical subject. For many spiritual practices, personal heartfelt experiences are the highest testimonials. When a fun-loving, rational, modern, ambitious New-Yorker testifies the value of meditation, one can positively hope that people will pause and reflect on it seriously. I also enjoyed her writing - it was fluid and witty, liberally sprinkled with humor. Her candid recounts of her fumbling episodes are both funny and endearing.

What hooked my interest in the book was the underlying philosophical significance of Gilbert visiting each country. Italy was a place to experiment and drown herself in absolute pleasure - the pleasure of learning the Italian language, despite it not serving any "practical" purpose, and indulging in their exquisite gourmet treats. After a physically and mentally exhausting phase, nourishment and the pursuit of rejuvenation often begin with recharging the body and mind with pleasure. Gilbert treated her body with succulent pastas and pizzas, and her mind was stimulated with the challenge and enjoyment of learning the language she had always wanted to. This is very similar to Bertrand Russell's take on happiness - engaging the mind with constructive activities that provide simple pleasures and contentment. Psychologically speaking, it makes a lot of sense for it to be the first step towards healing.

India was for spiritual awakening and acceptance. Her purpose was to subject her nourished, pleasure-pumped self to four months of austerity, wherein she solely focused on controlling, disciplining and communicating with her mind - or her self. Achieving an inner-balance of harmony among the waging negative thoughts is essential to gain acceptance and wisdom. This is logically the second most important step in healing, aside being the vital step towards self-realization. Her experiences in India were my most favorite. I appreciated her honest accounts - her doubts, her frustrations and her perseverance to keep trying harder. She motivates those of us who have encountered similar stumbling blocks to keep trying harder. Some tips are also useful. I was quite envious and sad that I, as an Indian, had never availed of such an opportunity to experience a spiritual retreat. Her vivid and powerful spiritual experiences are quite inspiring and intriguing. I am glad that she found these experiences to be beneficial to gain wisdom and move on with her life.

Finally, she visited Indonesia to understand how to balance pleasure with devotion/spirituality. As much as I looked forward to reading this section, I was unfortunately equally disappointed upon reading it. Now I have to make it very clear that I am in no way criticizing the author's life. I have no right or wisdom to judge another person's life. But I have certain curious thoughts that I still want to share. I expected a more holistic perspective on the term "pleasure", but Gilbert's accounts in Bali seemed to primarily revolve around carnal pleasure. Gilbert openly shares the vow of celibacy that she took for that entire year of globe-trotting. But in Bali, she confesses that her profuse, unabated desires consumed her to the point where she had to relent. I'm not against sex, nor am I associating it with sin, but somehow it was disconcerting to me that a person who had just come out of an intense spiritual journey would still crave for a bodily pleasure. I am not advocating a saintly chaste life of penance for anybody. Marriage and spirituality can go hand in hand. But I view the balance of pleasure and spirituality to be much more encompassing (and perhaps on a higher plane), than indulging in the heat of the moment and then inserting a morning-after meditation session.

I was reminded of the story of Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra set out on an intense penance to become Vasishtar's equal - a Brahma Rishi to take revenge on him. But when he reached the stage of Raja Rishi, the wisdom that he gained from his penance informed him of his lowly pursuit to submit to an emotion such as revenge, and he decided to remain a Raja Rishi and gave Vasishtar the respect of being a Brahma Rishi. After reaching intense harmony with the self and the Universe, having reveled in the pleasure of being one with the Universe, with mere eucalyptus trees in moonlight enrapturing her, I was curious as to why Gilbert didn't choose to calm her body. I don't understand why one wouldn't invoke their insight when they were blessed with the potential to find happiness and harmony from within. Again, I am not judging her decisions or her life as being "wrong". There is absolutely nothing wrong. It just didn't fit my mental-model or expectations of how radically one's life, thoughts and views will reform with spirituality. It seemed like pleasure was being interpreted through a peep-hole and I was disappointed with it. Maybe I'm just being an unrealistic prude.

But I guess her experiences in Bali helped her ease back into normalcy, which I think was the overall goal of the journey. She connected with herself, learned from her insights, healed her wounds, accepted herself and her life and was ready to start getting back to her life in New-York. Probably that was the crucial balance she was searching for and I'm just being phenomenally prudish and idealistic. In all, the book is an interesting read which promises to inspire and provide some down-to-earth insights.

What about you? How would you define the balance of pleasure and spirituality?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Ring of Gyges

The ring of Gyges gave the power of invisibility to anyone who wore it. Simon confidently slipped the ring on and was thrilled at his disappearance. He enthusiastically walked around for a few hours testing out his new found "power". He was amused and excited at all the things he could do without being noticed. His mind slowly started tempting him to play innocent pranks on people. He tried to trip a few people, move a few objects around and laugh at the state of confusion etc. Soon his pranks seemed to be escalating and he had to stop himself and think about what he was doing. He was a little uncomfortable that he was drawn towards base temptations, such as peeking into private quarters. He tried hard to distract himself and concentrate on the good deeds he could do to put a smile on people's faces. But it was so very hard to come up with ideas for good deeds, when every second a silly prank sprang to his mind. He wasn't sure he could resist his temptations long. Would we have the strength to resist such temptations if we got hold of the ring? (Original Source: Book two of The Republic, by Plato)

This is a very interesting moral experiment. Often, conscience is attributed to our fear of being caught and punished. Many philosophers are skeptical that moral conscience can exist independent of fear of disapproval or punishment. It is an intriguing hypothesis to test with such a ring (or cloak) of invisibility. If one were invisible would their moral conscience remain the same? Probably not. It is easy to begin rationalizing every act as being harmless and innocent, although in the "visible" world we'll be stepping out of bounds of social convention and the dictates of moral behavior if we indulged in those acts. Eaves dropping, violation of privacy, purloining a few trinkets etc., will no longer seem as morally wrong, but mere privileges and harmless acts.

But it is not to say that the average person will drive himself to commit murder or rape. Or at least I can't imagine myself turning into such a person just because I have the power of invisibility. The assumption is that the core moral philosophy will remain same... or almost. Well, at least when circumstances are not too dire. I think it will be easier to convince ourselves of what is to be done when we encounter gray areas of moral dilemma, such as euthanasia. With no rules, restrictions or fear of punishments, it is easier to act on our impulsive decisions, for the consequences may not directly haunt us, beyond our conscience. It's a good personal test on our conscience. A person who finds himself drawing the line of morality quite differently from the way he currently identifies, will realize what his true underlying moral philosophy is, and where exactly his conscience stands in defining good versus bad. Anyone in a moral dilemma can imagine themselves executing an act when they are invisible and gauging how comfortable their conscience would be at that point. It will also help us isolate social conventions/restrictions from the true meaning of morality. Our underlying nature, personality and the values we truly believe in will come to surface.

It is also interesting that it's much harder to think of good deeds to perform when all that one can think of is suppressing base temptations, or yielding to silly, rationalized behavior to express freedom. But I will be optimistic - once we get over the urge to burst out and revel in our new-found precious freedom, I have hope that most of us will eventually consider doing "good" :)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Reflections: The Conquest of Happiness

As the car sped down the road, my mind raced with it. Thoughts chased one another relentlessly, churning up the bottomless void full of dust, of buried fears and hopeless scenarios. When the typhoon in my mind kept swirling faster and faster in sync with the trees wildly zooming past the window, the car screeched to a halt, and the typhoon froze in midair. Outside the window was a common sight I'd seen over a million times in my life. But on that particular night, with a panic stricken mind and a heavy heart, the sight of seeing an entire family sleep blissfully under the stars, precariously positioned on frail street partitions, amidst all the blaring horns, the mosquitoes and the dust, gave me a jolt. As if someone sharply slapped me across the face. I swallowed the painful knot in my throat and seriously considered stepping out, waking a teenage girl sleeping in rags and asking her what her secret was to sleep so blissfully when she had no clue about tomorrow's meal. As cliched as this might sound, I felt embarrassed and guilty at how I had sat there aimlessly letting my mind wander and conjure up such an abysmal view of my life, when I was blessed with so many many things. It is so easy to fall prey to the ego and its cry for pity. With an idle undisciplined mind, everything can be twisted so as to portray oneself as the victim of a great tragedy. But it is not often that such rude awakenings pass by one's window. So for many in comfortably developed societies, the mind rarely stops its tricks. And even if it did pause, the temporary realization is not strong enough to sustain the peace.

It disturbs me that human beings can be so intensely discontented even when they have all basic necessities, are blessed with decent health, and live in a peaceful, free society. I have never understood movies such as American Beauty. I get annoyed and depressed every time I watch it, but I have watched it multiple times to sincerely try and comprehend why a man would turn a supposedly normal and decent life, topsy-turvy. Is one's dissatisfaction so high that even inevitable, remediable glitches and hiccups in life can't be tolerated without running amok? What is the root of such deep dissatisfaction and unhappiness? Why are we setting up our lives to expect perfect happily-ever-afters, when the world can never guarantee such perfectness? If happiness is always dependent on such unrealistic external events, no wonder so many wallow in despair and unhappiness.

We are all familiar with the saintly spiritual definition of happiness - it is a state of mind which has to be trained to be independent of external causes. True and everlasting happiness is one that comes from within us. I completely agree. But Bertrand Russell's take is for the practical, spiritual agnostic. With his razor sharp logic and his lucid writing (rare for his breed), he explores the psychological aspects of happiness - unraveling those perspicacious understandings of the human psyche, which will strike a familiar chord of agreement with even the spiritualists. As a philosopher, I expected Russell to analyze and pick out the epistemological definition and purpose of happiness. But no, he thankfully does not. For, I am way past that state where I want to know why humans need to have this emotion or state of mind. I have reconciled to the idea that humans need a purpose to survive. Attaining the purpose needs to create some fulfillment, sensed in some tangible way, perhaps through the feeling of happiness. The book details all the means through which an average man can gain that feeling of purpose and happiness despite the ground beneath him constantly shifting. We have no control over many things in life, but of the things we are in control, the most important is our mind. Happiness is not something that will waft its way to us. The mind needs to go on a quest to find it, and to conquer it.

What causes a man in a developed nation to worry? Self-inflicted feelings of guilt, misplaced and irrational feelings of sin, the fear of boredom, envy, fear of public opinion, paranoia that we are the victims, the loveless souls in the middle of a mass conspiracy of hatred and unluckiness. The more idle the mind is, the worse the paranoia. Russell's basic and simple philosophy is to widen our circle of interests. The more we are interested in things outside ourselves, the more we give the mind opportunity to chew on creative conquests, taking the resources away from unnecessary worry. He urges us to be rational, and to discipline our mind. It is easier said than done to compartmentalize the mind and veer it away from unwanted, inevitable worries. This is where religion/spirituality and meditation would come in, but these aspects are not discussed in the book. But the most important first step is to identify if the mind can be channelized into any interest at all that will cause us happiness and pleasure (of course, something harmless and devoid of drugs). Doesn't matter if the interest that we want to pursue is not practical or meaningful according to Utilitarian's definitions. If watching the sunset is a cause of pleasure and inexplicable feeling of weightless happiness, then that's what you go after. Rather than worry about the futility of wasting time when you are expected be more productive and successful, relish the simple pleasures. Cultivate zest for such interests. An interesting discussion in the book is how the more civilized a society, the more unhappy the people are, and the more sterile. Contrary to evolution's common sense, the more civilized a society is, the more its people dread having children. There is a general fear, cynicism and pessimism about the future, while it is the other way around with less developed, less civilized parts of the society. Why?

To the girl who was sleeping in the middle of traffic, my life would be a blessing. She would find so many things to be happy about, and be zestful about. What is missing in me is that zest. A child is constantly at the brink of such vivaciousness and zest. Everything is new and exciting and adventurous. It's marvelous how children can entertain themselves for hours on end with something as trivial as sticks and mud. Somewhere in our lives, adults lose this feeling of implicit excitement and zest, of seeing everything through colored glasses. Why so? Because as adults our perspectives narrow in time. Our mind shrinks. All we focus on are the practicality and utility of things. We structure our lives with tight variables, when the truth is that we don't have as much control to regulate all the variables we introduce. If our happiness is to depend on them, it is unrealistic. The world doesn't revolve around us, neither is it sympathetic to our unique parameters of happiness. But we are so wrapped up in our self-centered pondering, that we delude ourselves that we make a difference to how the world functions and how it ought to reciprocate. Shifting the focus away from the self, and attending to the world around us, would make a big difference. Directing all the energy to creative means is a fruitful way of gaining purpose and happiness.

We are also paralyzed with the fear of boredom. Competition sucks us into its constricting core. We constantly try to run away from the fear of being alone, of being bored, that we cause ourselves intense physical and mental fatigue trying to numb our senses and kill time, rather than live the present as it is. A long and relaxing afternoon nap is immediately regretted when we get up and look at the time. We worry over the lost hours, when we should have been doing something more fun and constructive, such as taking a hike, meeting people, and being a tireless social butterfly. But what is wrong in taking a relaxing nap? Why not revel in that simple pleasure which we anyway appreciate. Why let our thoughts gnaw into us? Why be worried that we are not having enough fun? Why let the mind dictate and regulate what is fun? Simple pleasures are ignored in pursuit of something bigger, more fun, and more pleasurable to the senses. With this rigorous pursuit, finding pleasure by itself becomes a tiresome task, and there is no energy left to feel genuine zest or enthusiasm. The pleasure of simple solitude is now alien.

These are the simple aspects of happiness discussed in the book. Nothing earth-shatteringly new, but just a well-written, thoroughly analyzed essay on human psychology. It is down to earth in its convictions, and the recommendations on the pursuit of pleasure are devoid of any connotation of sin, which by itself is refreshing.

A woman once called up a radio-philosopher/spiritual mentor and cried out her woes. She had lost her husband in a tragic accident a year back, lost her son to cancer the following month, and recently lost her other son in another accident. With so many losses within a matter of a year, her life looked unbearably tragic and deeply saddening. When she cried, asking what other purpose she had to carry on living with so much sorrow, I waited in earnest for the mentor's advice. He asked her what would make her happy again. She said she wanted her family back, and that she had so much love to offer, but her children were taken away from her. The mentor responded saying that she still had ample opportunities to have a family again and share all her love. He reminded her that the world was full of young children craving for motherly love. As a matter of fact, the world was full of people yearning for love. He insisted that she still had plenty of reasons to survive and share her love with all those people and create a family for herself. After more than 10 years, I remember this piece of advice. We can always create meaning and purpose in our lives. We just need to go on a brave quest to find that which resonates with us, however trivial and simple, that will infuse pleasure and happiness.

The world has never yielded to us. As a species, we have constantly evolved and adapted to the ways of the world. So we must with our lives.