Friday, February 19, 2010

The Great Egg Controversy

What religion a man shall have is a historical accident, quite as much as what language he shall speak. -George Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Often I see on T.V. people seething with primordial passions stoked by the wild statements of some revanchist clergy. I will sometimes be present at an animated discussion about the best way to perform some ritual. Perhaps they are enterprises of great pitch and moment that protect the faithful from a sea of troubles but I for one will be befuddled. It is rather like The Great Egg Controversy in Gulliver's Travels between the little peoples of Lilliput and Blefuscu. The controversy was explained to Gulliver thus:
It began upon the following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his present majesty’s grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy: but the books of the Big-endians have been long forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments. During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefusca did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: ‘that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end.’ And which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion to be left to every man’s conscience, or at least in the power of the chief magistrate to determine. Now, the Big-endian exiles have found so much credit in the emperor of Blefuscu’s court, and so much private assistance and encouragement from their party here at home, that a bloody war has been carried on between the two empires for six-and-thirty moons, with various success; during which time we have lost forty capital ships, and a much a greater number of smaller vessels, together with thirty thousand of our best seamen and soldiers; and the damage received by the enemy is reckoned to be somewhat greater than ours. However, they have now equipped a numerous fleet, and are just preparing to make a descent upon us; and his imperial majesty, placing great confidence in your valour and strength, has commanded me to lay this account of his affairs before you.
Before my stroke, I wouldn't have been hanging around listening to religious talks. But now, with the stroke having severely circumscribed my freedom of action, I often listened to people going ballistic over how to perform some ceremony even though I won't have a dog in the fight. Before I started this blog, I would have probably slipped into my Walter Mitty mode. Nowadays I am just as likely to be pondering over what to write in a future post. While musing thus, it suddenly occurred to me that 'The Great Egg Controversy' might be a good analogy for many a religious kerfuffle that I often witnessed. What made the idea particularly attractive was that I could cut and paste a paragraph from an online edition of Gulliver's Travels which meant that I only had to dictate a few sentences and I had a new post which hopefully did not follow this blueprint. (I keep looking out for such short cuts.)

I sometimes wonder what makes so many people excited about religious issues while I struggle to stifle a yawn but I won't dwell on the issue for long because soon (apart from occasionally skimming through a post on religion) I will be immersed in an interesting post on dinosaur behaviour or a bizare exoparasitoid. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. (I keep thinking up excuses to link to posts that I liked!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Remembrance of things past

Once, when we were in Mumbai, I told Jaya approvingly about the 'roomali roti' that I had eaten at an office party. Jaya said that she had never tasted 'roomali roti' so we decided that the next time we go to a restaurant we will order it. But what Jeeves would have described as a 'concatenation of circumstances' conspired to render the 'roomali roti' outing a non-starter.

Jaya was pregnant at that time and I dropped her at her parents' place in Hyderabad because I did not want to delay travel till the later stages of pregnancy. Soon after Sujit was born I was diagnosed with T.B. of spine and was advised three months bed rest along with the requisite medication. After three months we returned to Mumbai but within a week I was transferred to Coimbatore. (To be honest, by this time I had forgotten about 'roomali roti'). We had just about settled down in Coimbatore before Jaya had to return to Hyderabad because her mom was undergoing an operation. Before she returned to Coimbatore I suffered the stroke and that was that as far as the 'roomali roti' was concerned.

C'est la vie. (In Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass", the Red Queen tells Alice, "Speak in French when you can't remember the English for a thing.")

Friday, February 5, 2010


When JBS Haldane was asked what his scientific research had shown about the nature of God replied, 'The deity seems to have an inordinate fondness for beetles'. If I was asked a similar question, I will say it was ants that the deity was fond of. Much care is taken to ensure that the area around me is an ant-free zone but sometimes an intrepid ant decides to explore the forbidden territory. Ogden Nash tells us why ants are so antsy,'Would you be calm and placid/ If you were full of formic acid?'

When an ant (especially a red ant) explores your body and you are unable to do anything to discourage it, your face tends to become a bit expressive. Noticing this and the unexplained jerks of my hands and legs, the nurse will correctly intuit that some little creature is up to no good. She will move with admirable dispatch to scratch one of my ankles. The ant meanwhile will be scurrying around one of my knees making a speculative bite once in a while. Hearing the commotion Jaya will rush into my room and try to find out the problem. I will dictate a few key words which will place her in procession of the salient facts regarding the current location of the peripatetic ant. The result would be a dead ant. She is too big to fail.

Ogden Nash wrote another poem about the splendid skill of the gifted hunter:
The hunter crouches in his blind
'Neath camouflage of every kind
And conjures up a quacking noise
To lend allure to his decoys
This grown-up man, with pluck and luck
is hoping to outwit a duck.
Forget a duck, I need competent outside help to deal with a determined ant.