Month: February 2012

When a lonely bird walked the sands of (what is now) Wyoming, 125 million years ago, he did not know that his seemingly insignificant parakeet-like foot prints would one day be an exhibit in one of the largest museums of natural history in the world; and people would be staring at the piece of metamorphosed rock he once walked on, enclosed in a glass box, with confused amazement. The foot-long bird was probably only trying to understand how to be strong enough to survive in a world of dinosaurs.

Jupiter is up there in the Solar System with his 63 (source: Siri) / 64 (source: Wiki) / 66 (source: astronomer in Cal Academy of Sciences) moons, trying to make sure they all exist as one happy family. Little does he know that every day actual living people on a planet called Earth, not too far away from where he is, are looking at him through some ancient asteroid-like telescope, amazed at the fact that they can see not one, but four of his moons at the same time!

The point being – the world is an unfathomable, highly-randomized, yet probabilistic experiment which we mortals think is controlled, but no one has been able to provide evidence to that effect yet. In a place of such realities which we cannot even perceive, who is to say where the tiny experiments we run on a day-to-day basis will take us?

Ten years down the line, I could own a famous patisserie/cafe in downtown Manhattan..
I could also have my own travel show on Discovery, where I get paid to travel where I want and take a thousand pictures a day..
One day, some publishing guy could read this blog and think that I am decently talented enough to write a book that is NOT about a conservative girl from a small town in India, who learns the ways of the world in the big bad city (which seems to be a recurring theme among first-time female Indian authors)..
Or maybe one day I could finally get to do research on the psychological complexities of the brain which make people do what they do and behave the way they behave..
And finally, I could get to give a talk at a TED conference…

On a day that is singularly significant because it’s my birthday, who is stopping me from wishing for one of these wishes to come true, as I blow the candles on my cake?

The world is highly randomized, after all…..and I aced my Design of Experiments course… :):)

Happy Birthday to Me !! 🙂

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The Tale of the Juju

It all started when my cousin told me about ten years ago about how wishing on a sardarji brings you good luck. We were sitting in the Mumbai local train, when she saw a sardarji uncle enter the train with his family- she instantly turned to me with her index and middle finger interlocked and in all the seriousness of a sixteen year old, asked me to tap on her head thrice and “release” the lock! Were turbaned, paratha-eating, big-hearted Punjabi gentlemen around when the east-Africans invented this “sacred ritual” while dancing around a holy pyre in the wee hours of a full moon night chanting “Obala obala….!!” Who knows! But for my sister, this was the best and only form of juju she knew!

I, as it turns out, am an even bigger juju-believing junkie than she is, because I took the story a step further. Don’t laugh, because this is important. So, there is one really sweet-looking, small-built sardarji who always wears a red turban and lives somewhere close to where I stay in India. I saw him once, riding his cycle on a very busy intersection- I was returning home from a particularly terrible practical exam and like an obedient sister, did the tap-your-head-thrice-and-release-the-lock ritual! By some stroke of luck, I got an A in that exam! And just like that, he became my most favorite juju-sardarji uncle in the whole world! I see him very rarely, mind you, which only adds to the angel-like charm I feel for him. Over the years, there have been many such objects and people which have been delegated to a similar divine stature – a yellow UCB T-shirt I got as a gift (which I wore once during my entire board exams!), my mom (if I argued with her before leaving the house, my day went bad!), blue Scorpios (yes, those Mahindra SUV’s in India), shooting stars (I’ve only seen one till now, but it was so awesome that I almost forgot to wish!) and many other things! Friday, the 13th and wishing on fallen eyelashes were too common for me- what is special about discarded hair, right!

Before you dismiss me as a crazy fanatic, let me assure you that I do understand the science behind it – it is an extension of the placebo effect – a strong (even irrational) belief in something which causes the perception of a therapeutic reaction.The other aspect of it is that unlike a true scientific experiment, in such cases, one keeps record of only the hits and comfortably disregards the misses each time. But then again, who said I was trying to prove my theory using science? Trying to prove the juju is almost like dissing the juju in their face, and you never diss the juju!

Where do all these crazy beliefs come from? Why is it that we follow logic and reasoning to describe almost all phenomena around us, but still reserve some space in our minds for these superstitions? The fact is that we cannot use rationale to explain everything. The fact is that no matter how practical we may be, we still want to witness miracles every day…

Maybe my data will yield good results..
Maybe the interviewer will like my personality, even though I may not have the best experience..
Maybe there wasn’t a camera at that last traffic light..
Maybe he will finally stop pretending that he doesn’t care..

There is a very big divide between things we can and cannot control. Bad things do happen to good people. And sometimes, you can’t help but want to be a little bad, but still not have to pay for it. And while the nice, grown-up thing to do is to learn to accept things we cannot change, it is never an easy thing to do! The kid in us wants to believe that maybe if we wish hard enough, we will get that toy. Sometimes we need that tiny push from within; sometimes we need to know that while all the odds may be against us, we still can hit the jackpot….if only we see that red sardarji on the cycle!

Find a penny, pick it up; and all day long, you’ll have good luck! 🙂