Thursday, March 12, 2009
Approximately Inaccurate ......अंदाज़पंचे ....
For a country that is supposed to have bequeathed the world the concept of zero, and students with great mathematical proclivities , we thrive on being knowingly inaccurate at times, to such an extent, that sometimes I wonder, if, maybe we picked up the inaccurate-gene or something, at some point in the vast migrations that took place across continents, aeons ago....
Driving on a long distance trip out of state, and we are only just waking up to the fact that one can bypass cities on the way, which are not your destination. City bypasses are being constructed, where earlier one traversed the city.
There was a time, when one suddenly found oneself entering a city, and before you knew it you were in the middle of downtown. Most signboards were so old, they were covered with creepers descending across their faces. If there happened to be a signboard you could read, it was always possible that the road it showed was extinct. Sometimes, a new road came up out of sheer population ingenuity, and when you tried to smartly take a left turn, you were suddenly faced with two roads on your left.
The smart thing to do then, was to slow down, stop and ask rickshaw driver. Nine times out of 10, he'd say something like, "go straight". When you'd ask "how far", they'd always say " Oh, it's 1 or 2 "furlongs", in an unintended dramatic defiance of the metric system. What is interesting is that regardless of the actual distance of the road leading out of the city (from downtown) , it's always 1 or 2 furlongs.
So you kind of meander through the city, take unintended turns here and there, and in general get to see a new city. Every city in India is different. There is no concept of avenues and streets gracefully cutting each other at right angles, and a main road meandering through the centre. Shops are not always necessarily on the main road. They could be almost anywhere.
Sometimes you'd see a heritage bungalow (where the occupants themselves didn't know they were heritage types), happy in the fact that their grandfather built the house brick by brick and each room had a story to tell; and they were least bothered about the golden arches of McD coming up right next to them. You suddenly came across an imposing ancient looking temple, and if you had parents along with you, a stop there was guaranteed. Someone would get talking to someone while coming out of there, post-worship , and a well informed gent would give you better instructions, complete with traffic circles, significant signs and structures on the way, where not to stop , etc etc.
Back in 1977, on a car trip from North Kerala ( a narrow north-south expanse) down to the tip of India, we just kept driving mile after mile, furlong after furlong , entering and leaving cities, interspersed with fields, weekly bazaars, that merged from one city into another, and before we knew it, we were at the confluence of the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean , and Bay of Bengal.
I think things have improved considerably on the main highways, but still remain happily unchanged in the small inland rural areas.
In a connection that would have the late Albert (Einstein to you) rejoice, we Indians also extend the principle of vast inaccurate approximation, to time. Even if it naturally doesn't, we dilate time. Relatively.
Millions of jokes are cracked based on Indian Standard Time. You are considered close to foolish if you land up accurately on time. It means if you are invited for a wedding reception at 7 pm, you go around 8.30 pm, unless you want to arrive before the bride and the groom. Most shameless types have redefined this as Indian Stretchable Time.
Except for movies, TV programs, , train and bus departures ,and examinations, most things happen on IST. I was going to include airline departures, but people have been known to sit in planes only to find out they are at their departure point 2 hours later, thanks to some dignitaries flying in and out, and being pushy about it.
If you are invited somewhere at 8 pm for dinner, its always advisable to eat at home at 8 pm and saunter in at 10 pm. You will still be early for the actual dinner. Sometimes a persons status is directly proportional to how late he can arrive for functions. And still be early.
This is particularly chronic amongst people in the performing and political arts.
But like Dirt, which is suddenly coming into the limelight as a useful thing , thanks to research in Universities, this "inaccurate" mode of time and space definition, has unexpected benefits.
Sometimes , it is unusually beneficial to be inaccurate.
The recent Mumbai Carnage terrorists, were supposed to have trained on Google Earth, and familiarized themselves with the Mumbai terrain that they were to function in. Reports have it that they memorized the roads and byways.
In a city with great and accurate road distribution, clearly defined street names and the like, Google Earth would have been a boon.
But Mumbai has a proclivity for frequently digging up roads, creating diversions, and , changing existing road names , particularly if they have a connotation with something Royal and British. And names of places that bore the names of Albert and Victoria, have been changed with great alacrity to names of Indian Freedom fighters. The city-of-Mumbai's population, also has a proclivity for creating newer pathways, by sheer persistent large volume human usage, with a fine disregard for municipal rules, and realization of slow monitoring by authorities.
The two terrorists who killed hundreds at the CST Railway station in South Mumbai, escaped from there and emerged on to what they thought was a road to the police headquarters (as per their e-training on Google Earth), but actually ended up on a back entry road to a big municipal hospital.
Their plans had to undergo a quick change, and the sudden arrival of the police, panic shooting and takeover of vehicles, forced the two terrorists to take off and drive, on whichever roads that occurred through their windscreen.
That these actions led to a roadblock on the sea face is well known , but one of the biggest benefits, of the confusion, caused by things not being accurate as Google Earth, was, that one terrorist was caught alive, something that was not intended to be so. And that he was overpowered , not by an accurate rifle shooter, but by a brave heart middle aged policeman, who jumped on him, covered his weapon with himself, and wrestled the guy to the floor. The brave policeman was posthumously awarded the country's highest award in January. The terrorist, awaits his trial in jail.
Today the confession of this lone terrorist has pointed fingers in various significant directions. And a charge sheet has been filed.
But we are funny people.
We are achingly accurate where not required.
Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist and his dead colleagues are being prosecuted for 12 crimes, among which are , serious stuff , like waging war against India, murder of 169 people, terrorism, destruction of property, conspiracy, weapons and immigration violations.
Somewhere in the 5000 page charge sheet, lies a crime included for the sake of accuracy .
Entering the Railway platform concourse without a valid ticket. ........
As they say, "What to do ? We are like that only ......"