Random Thoughts

Serendipity, Juggernauts, Kismet, Karma, Calculation and Hubris

English is a rich and evolving language that ironically has become the " Lingua Franca", much to the chagrin of French hubris. The origin of the word serendipity is from Sinhaldweep (island of lions), a prior name for Sri Lanka and the ancient Indo-Ceylonese tale of the three princes that set out to explore the world. They were gratuitously showered by good fortune and thus showed an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by chance.

The so-called Columbus's discovery of America is a good example of a case of hubris based misnomer. He was looking for a passage to India. It is indeed serendipitous that subsequent copycat attempts using borrowed technology from the Portuguese Henry the Navigator, the Puritans were fleeing religious persecution.

An earlier attempt to settle North America at a place called Jamestown, after James the First, the wisest fool in Christendom, had failed miserably. He was torn between his Scottish Catholicism and the mandatory assumption of the leadership of the Church of England and made a hash of his tenure as a King of England and Scotland. His son Charles the First, outdid his father and paid with his head under the leadership of the Puritan Cromwell. The return to the throne of his son Charles the Second, led to the persecution of the regicidal Puritans and other sub-sects of Christianity.

The Draconian property respecting laws, the rampant poverty, the beginning of the industrial age so well depicted later by Charles Dickens, and the desperation leading to mandatory adventure drove hordes of the have-nots to the shores of America for a new life. This pattern of immigration still persists despite the change in the geographic origin of immigrants over time. Thus the beautiful and famous inscription the Statue of Liberty, "Give me thy tired ' yearning to breathe free '". It is also a matter of serendipity that the new territory was vast, securely bounded by two oceans, munificently blessed with natural resource wealth, and inhabited by primitive and somewhat honorable natives, devoid of technology and obstinately unwilling to adapt, change or unite against a common foe. No wonder they were called Indians! It was also serendipitous, but unfortunate for them that their long isolation and lack of bovine herding and concentrated populations had never exposed them to epidemics of smallpox, measles and sundry other plagues and the devout Puritans were calculating and not hesitant to provide them with infected blankets out of Christian charity! They practiced this virtue for worldly gain by becoming privateers and many of the fortunes of Boston Brahmins were made from piracy, slaving and later peddling opium to China aboard their clippers. Take that you Noriega and the Colombian cartels!

Thereafter the concept of Manifest Destiny enlarged the new Empire from sea to shining sea by encroachment, Louisiana purchase, aggressive militarism, legal chicanery with the Cherokees and others, shameless pretexts for war with Mexico and Spain and such shenanigans like the Monroe, Truman and National Security doctrines, NPT and CTBT. Along the way the declaration of independence and other high sounding documents justified slavery and even recently support of apartheid.

The European Hordes (it is not only Mongols that have hordes) spread over the continent like a Juggernaut. The word is derived from Jagannath, the famous temple in Puri, Orissa, in India. It has an annual Rathyatra (chariot procession) where myriad devotees pull the huge chariot across the roads in the city. The inertia and effort required is so great that once the chariot moves, it is impossible to stop it at will and it flattens everything in its path. This scenario was used in the movie "Ten Commandments" to depict the heartlessness of the Egyptians to Hebrew slaves. Sadly, there is no truth to this propaganda. The Egyptian rulers treated everyone badly and the fable of using Hebrew slaves is a myth invented by the ever losing Hebrew intelligentsia to hide their numerous defeats behind delusions of grandeur, a talent for story-telling (like the Greeks and Indians) and unshakeable fidelity to a single tyrant god. The reality is that they were closet polytheists, a minor power, an insignificant minority and at best a marginal and bit player on the then stage of world history and politics, just like another people of the Book, as well as the believers in "Shruti, Smriti and Karma" are at present. To give the Hebrews due credit, they have learnt and are intelligent enough to have resolved "Never again", a lesson lost to the inhabitants of the subcontinent.

It is the nature of the weak and powerless to invent destiny, God or other supernatural skyhooks to rationalize their status and seek solace. This is howKismet got into the English language. Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat stanza,

"The Moving Finger writes; and having writ, 
Moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit 
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it."

Kismet is fate and the most poetic prose is from the Bible in Ecclesiastes.

"I returned, and saw under the sun, that race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

Interested persons may wish to pursue the philosophical debates on free will or better still read the writings of Bell and his theorem and quantum paradoxes. It is this inability to accept injustice and an instinct for explanation, rationalization, categorization and planning that led to the invention of Karma with or without God. Renunciation of desire and labor without hope of reward leads to attainment ofSthitpragna status. It may mean gyroscopically stabilized and unshakeable intellect immune to the Brownian motion of external impact, but it can also become stagnant, rigid and incapable of progress, adaptation and survival. This is why Darwin is on par with Aryabhatta, Newton and Einstein.

That brings me to the etymology of the word "calculate". It is derived from calculus meaning stone, even as in renal calculus. Stones were used for counting and tallying and it was the invention of the decimal system by India and possibly Aryabhatta that was a quantum leap for mankind. The Arabic numerals are Indian, just as algebra and algorithm are derived from the Arabic Al-gibran and Al-khwarismi, though the Iranians claim they were not Arabs, but conquered Persians like Avicenna. The irony is that the blind tinkerer evolution devoid of premeditation or design, has produced the speaking, thinking and calculating creature that now rules the earth.

Premonitus premunitus in Latin means forewarned is forearmed.

There is an ancient Indian myth of a thirsty monkey approaching a lake and being on the verge of rushing in after its long search, when it notices that there are innumerable footsteps going towards the lake, but none returning. The red flag of caution and the instinct of self-preservation and invention makes it snap a long bamboo stem and drink by using it as a straw, while safely ensconced in the overhanging branch of a large shore tree, thus avoiding death by a demon or crocodile, whose prior victims left the non-returning footsteps.

Here is a lesson for our troop commitments to Bosnia which were supposed to last for a year or two and now it is a decade. I see no returning footsteps. Our new misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost us precious blood and treasure are likely to be unending, painful and probably unsuccessful.

I strongly recommend reading "Imperial Hubris" by Anonymous. It explains the motives of Bin Laden and reveals the lies, fibs and baloney fed to us by our current leaders and think tanks. The former reveal the principle of a Torricellian vacuum. It has nothing to do with an ethically challenged losing senator from New Jersey, who embodied the new Democratic Party, but refers to the mercury barometer made by inverting a tall tube in a bowl full of mercury. The column's height gives the barometric pressure in millimeters of mercury and the empty space at the top of the tube is a vacuum and reflects the intellectual abilities of our leaders. The think tanks are reminiscent of the harems of Sultans where many concubines preen and prance to be selected for (high level cabinet appointments) their fifteen minutes of orgasmic pleasure. Better still think tanks are like the red light districts of Bombay or Amsterdam with the harlots exhibit in windows, while their eunuch pimps representing the American media tout the charms and virtues of these out of favor pundits in their op-eds, televised media events and conferences.

That brings me to the last word "Hubris" from Greek meaning arrogance. It is not be confused with confidence or resolve. The probably apocryphal story of the young Panini destined to be the first grammarian, when taken to a palmist by his superstitious mother is instructive. The palmist states that the child is destined to be an illiterate bum because he lacks a palmar line for education. The precocious child asks where the line should be and when shown, takes a pocketknife and draws a long line in blood on his palm. He goes on to become the first and the greatest grammarian with his "Dhatupada". It is, this can do, adventurous and curious psyche of the West with its emphasis on the rewards and comforts of the present life that has led to its prime status, helped of course by conveniently flexible ethics. This is what makes them search for the origin of the Nile, climb Everest, invent airplanes and build empires, etc. Henley's Invictus sums it up best.

Out of the darkness that covers me,
Black as pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods that be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Unfortunately faith, resolve and dogma can lead to atrocities and catastrophes as the Crusades, Inquisition, Holocaust and Fanatic Islamism prove. It takes little for self-confidence to become hubris or chutzpah, as for money to become an obsession from means and power to become an addiction from intoxication. 


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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