Life is a paradox that works in antonyms. Laziness is indolence, however the pursuit of laziness often forces us to engage in great industry.
The neurons in my indolent genius brain got fired up at the visuals of a television advertisement, it was an advertisement for ‘Kisaan Vikas Patra’. A government scheme that doubled the money invested in five years. Now, the conscientious amongst you might get stuck at the word ‘Kisaan’, however I had lived long enough in this land of miracles to realize that becoming a farmer (kisaan) was a simple matter of getting a certificate : A piece of paper that is not bought from a stationary store, but from a government office.
In the Kisan Vikas Patra I envisioned my path for a lifelong pursuit of no pursuits (i.e. diagressing on nothing specific). The formula was underpinned by finding a job which paid a salary which is twice of what is necessary. For the mathematically inclined here is an example, if my monthly need (comics, food, toys, travel, movies etc) is 5000, the idea is to earn twice of that i.e. 10,000. Use half the salary for the monthly necessities and remaining half assiduously every month into the Kisaan Vikas Patra. Early retirement in 5 years!
For the mathematically disinclined, here is an explanation. The 5000 deposited in the Kisaan Vikas Patra becomes 10,000 in 5 years. This includes 5000 for my needs and an extra 5000 back into the Kisaan Vikas Patra. Perpetual income without working!
Third Law of Thermodynamics : Entropy works against perpetual machines
Entropy is the thing that they cannot define in science, but it exists as it works against all systems. Initially I thought it works against physical systems only, but soon I was to realize that it works against concepts and ideas too.
The first setback to my idea came from the government, they increased the lock in period for Kisaan Vikas Patra from five years to 5.5 years. The powers of the universe maneuvered against me, Gangadhar was not Shaktimaan yet. However little they knew, an extra six months of work was not going to deter me, after all in the whole context six months seemed a smaller price to pay.
However, the next setback was a bigger jolt to my stratagem, Rajkamal Sweets raised the price of their samosa from twenty five paise to thirty paise, the battle was now in my backyard, my beloved samosa was the target. For some of you, it’s not a big deal, it’s a matter of meager five paise. For those I say, Ignorance is bliss. My awareness of mathematically principles told me that it was not a meager matter of five paise, in percentage terms we arrive to a phenomenally high value of twenty percent.
The moment I ran the numbers through my brain, I had to revise my target, from 5K it rose to 6K and now I needed a job that paid a monthly salary of 12K, more importantly it meant twenty percent more work!
More work is the worst thing you can say to a lazily inclined person, more than the five paise I was shelling extra for the samosa, the idea of twenty percent more work was bothering me. I stood there starting at the samosa, trying to digest the whole concept.
But, entropy was not done with me. Even before I could put the samosa into my mouth, another bolt from the blue hit me, an uncle at sweet shop complained to the shopkeeper, ‘are Bhai, two years back only you had increased the price from twenty paise to twenty five, and now again increase of five paise’. My vision blurred, ears went deaf, the shopkeeper did reply but it was lost as a background murmur in the storm brewing in my brain.
This price rise thing is going to repeat itself!
Our mathematics teacher was yet to cover compound interest, hence I just couldn’t bend my mind around this concept of repeated rise. I was so much preoccupied with my dilemma that my taste buds stopped function and the otherwise savory samosa felt bland, tasteless.
That evening I ran the numbers on a sheet of paper, I was so much out of wits that I left the complex percentage computation, and did a primary calculation of increasing the samosa price by five paise every two years, and Whoa! The samosa would become pricey by a hundred and twenty five paise in fifty years. I began with a twenty five paise samosa, and ended up with a one hundred fifty paise samosa.
The numbers were astronomical, beyond the percentage scale, they could now be expressed on a scale of ‘times’. My samosa was going to cost me six times more. My salary requirement from a manageable 10K rocketed to 60K.
I embarked on a market survey, jobs that paid 60K. Sadly, no one new the answer. ‘NO’ was the standard long form response to my query of ‘do you anyone earning a salary of 60K?’
The highest value in my survey was 30K and somebody called as the Vice President of the company earned it. Problem was that no one knew exactly what were the qualifications required to be a Vice President.
The elders around me left me in the lurch, no concrete answers, no direction as to what career path to choose. Any other mortal would get lost in the myriad of possibilities trying to figure which route to take, however, I was a child with an ingrained middle class mentality, which had taught me to keep my interests aside and follow a strategy of ‘keeping all options open’. We are the kids of the generation who want to get a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce, who will eventually pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce, yet, during the in-between years of Junior College will opt for Science stream, because, Science stream has more “options”, after all, a science wallah can get admission to both science and commerce, but a commerce wallah is stuck with commerce only.
As true follower of this belief system, I opened the options and started taking English and other languages a tad bit seriously, who knows Shakespearean writing could have the code for a 60K salary!
Around next month, our mathematics teacher taught us compound interest, the whole idea is so overwhelming, taking percentage of the percentage. With a formula that pushes us to go beyond standard squares and cubes of numbers and introduces powers of five and six. Again, a reality check here, without a calculator it is implausible to work out powers of five and six, so even though ‘theoretically’ powers could rise, the max scenario in a mathematics question paper never rose above three years of compounding.
However, for me powers of five or even six were immaterial, I was dealing in powers of fifty. I never got down to do the math, because intuitively I realised my target had risen, and this was an indication to open another option.
I never valued a historian, for me history is just cataloguing what happened.Who needs that? It’s done, cannot be changed unless the physicist come up with time travel. More practically how does the hundred (Duck) I scored in the last match matter, when I face a new ball in today’s match (again Duck). However, great thinkers proclaim that history repeats itself. Thus I thought someone might pay an historian 60K+ to prevent repeating mistakes, and history got added to the languages in my ‘to-do’ list.
During this period of great uncertainty in the game of life, I got a lifeline – Expert Advice. In my case it was a celebrity guest visiting his uncle, who lived in our building. His arrival was greeted with great reverence, everyone in our society took appointments to visit him and pay their respects. No, No, he was not a Baba, it was a time where knowledge was still respected. Our housing society members venerated the guest for his educational triumphs. The Uncle was held in such high regard as he had done his graduation from IIM. Here I would like to remind you all that it is not pronounced ‘eemm’ the right call is ‘aye aye YAM’
I could now rise above my unexceptional acquaintances, as finally I had a sage with a higher knowledge base to whom I could pose my queries.
I approached this learned gentleman with my question. Since he was a busy man, due to the frequent visitors (admirers) he had, considering the brevity of time, I asked him a concise question, ‘How can we predict by what amount values of things will rise?’. I expected a succinct answer in turn.
That gentleman unimpressed by my question went the usual way, ‘don’t worry of such things, this is not the age for you, go and play’
However he underestimated the diminutive me, I persisted, ‘It is important for me to understand, my samosa has risen by five paise this year, I need to know how much pocket money I will need next year’
People do understand when examples are given, Uncle smiled and relented when he heard it was a grave matter of the samosa. He proceeded to introduce me to the concept of inflation, and gave me a radically different perspective to examine my problem. He explained that the value of object remains same, it is the power of money that erodes. The samosa is same, its value is same as a mouth watering and fulfilling treat, the ability of money to buy samosa has reduced. This reduction in value of money is defined as inflation.
I then asked, ‘Is there any way to know what the maximum inflation will be?’
He informed me that the Government has a Statistics Organisation that keeps record of inflation, and according to it the average rate of inflation in India is around 4%. In passing he also mentioned something called as the RBI (ar bee aye) is mandated by the government to control inflation below 5%. So it was advisable to use a 5% rate as the worst case scenario.
Years later, this same Government Statistics Organisation was in the news, a controversy had erupted regarding the validity of the new GDP (gross domestic product) series produced by them. Commentators remarked that it had hurt the credibility of the organisation. For me however, the credibility never existed, my samosa had become dearer by over 20% in two years, with my newly found knowledge of compounding I knew that the rate was around 9.5% per year, far off from the supposed target of 5%.
My endless digging for the answer left me with a stark realization : maybe there is no theoretical basis to answer my question. All we end up with is a circular argument that becomes more and more absurd, the more you state it. It is a diversion, as whether the value of samosa increases or whether the value of money erodes (to-ma-toh / tah-mah-to) is purely academic, what mattered was that I was unable to savor the flavor of my favorite samosa.
Anyways, the digging and beating around the bush experience I had, pushed me to take geography seriously. Who knows maybe a geologist knew a sub terrain path towards a 60K+ salary. With Geography on board as an option along with the already picked up History, the whole gamut of the social sciences swelled my already filled ‘to-do’ list along with the languages.
Now you may wonder why aren’t maths and sciences part of the conversation so far. Just remember that in the guidebook of middle class mentality, Maths and Science are not options, they are Compulsory. Engineer/Doctor is the real choice, the rest is just Mooh-Maya. (the use of the scientific term of entropy might have already given away this obvious truth)
Who moved my potato!
Just when it seemed that I was already scrapping the bottom, my best friend came with the news that shook the foundations of the deep hole I was in. I was staring into the abyss. He proclaimed like a good prosecutor armed with evidence, evidence of the one samosa he had eaten at Rajkamal Sweets, ‘there are now less raisins and potato in the samosa’ and he laid a further accusation that the evidentiary gap left by removal of potato has been covered by something deceitfully called as ‘Enriched’ wheat flour (maida).
A shattering judgement on my samosa. My already pricey samosa, combined with the erosion of the value of my money, plus now the disappearance of the starchy potato filling, drove me crazy. All of this meant only one thing, I was staring at 100K+
My target was beyond the collective grasp of the literary arts and the social sciences. I needed an extra edge now, a X factor. And in came the art of drawing, again who knows the path beyond the inflation riddle could be charted by a 2B pencil!
With my new realization I took drawing class seriously. My artistic ignorance stared at me. I am drawing challenged, my portrait drawings never moved beyond round eyes, a straight line for the nose, and a sixty degree arc for the lips. The only other creatures that made to my paintings were birds, only of the flying type, that too when they are flying far off near the horizon as two curved lines of lips touching at a vertex.
However the day I decided to take to drawing, there was divine intervention to help me get rid of my inhibitions. I was exposed to modern art, our teacher told us, ‘modern art is the flow of emotions, abstract, eloquent and deep’ and then showed us some haphazardly painted, probably incomplete paintings, categorized as Modern Art.
I looked at the incomplete pages of my drawing book, ‘they could be classified as modern art’, I exclaimed. This inspired me, I thought I already had an artist within me, now I just needed to loose my footwear.
My new found belief in art combined with the hunger due to loss of carbs from potato. I picked the canvas and I drew like a man possessed, I drew, and just kept drawing until the entire canvass was filled and there was no longer any space left to draw.
All that was left was to color and glamorize my already superb creation.
The color of life
Now here is a thing – “I cannot color”, I mean I can use crayons and I can use sketch pens, but paints drive me crazy. You have to take that ill designed palette, then mix water and paint. How much paint and how much water? No one knows, I mean there should be a measurement, 2 drops of water for….
Here we have free flowing water and on the other side we have a thick viscous paste in a bottle, how can you measure and mix that paste? (Plus we were another 15 years from covering the fluid mechanics of mixing viscous and non viscous fluids)
That paste of paint is still fine, because to further torment us we have those absurdly created things : cakes of paint, solid cakes of color in tiny slots. Firstly you struggle with exactly how much water to drop on those cakes, with a brush which sometimes adsorbs one drop, and sometimes two. Secondly, when you manage to get water on those cakes, the gap between adjacent cakes is so thin, that as you are brushing trying to liquefy the cake, invariably spillage occurs. Then our classic Moore’s law plays out : the cake that you are brushing will not liquefy easily, however a small mist on it the adjacent cakes will make it flow like the Ganges. I am not sure about painting, it surely taught me the science of color combinations, how two colors combine to form a third color (usually a color which you do not need)
However, like I said, that day I was on fire, I was on another level, on a higher platform, a ray of light entered my brain and lit a spark, I kept the bottles and cake aside, and I just moved to another platform, where my friend had already done the mixing, and I just picked up his palette, my brush, the canvas before me, and I expressed myself
It was a beautiful drawing of rose on a stem, complete with leaves and thorns. My friend had mixed some rich colors, the redness of the rose just radiated from the painting, the leaves complemented the rose with a serene green. And, there was the stem, I had expressed myself on the canvas, and the stem was the pinnacle of my expression. I painted it in nice shades of dark brown, like a tree trunk.
I saw it as an expression of the beauty of life rising in unexpected situations, my teacher saw it as a giant rose on a Pipal tree. Her words that followed were eloquent and deep. So deep that my emotions flowed down my cheeks, as my work of art was displayed for everyone to see.
Such was my memorable encounter with modern art.
The solitude of maternal inheritance
That evening I reached home a little dehydrated, my eyes were reddish. The burden in my head poured into the shape of dejection on my face. Dejected and disheartened I reached home. My mother saw me, and immediately hugged me and asked ‘what happened my dear?’
My voice was punctuated by heavy breathing, yet somehow I managed to tell her my attempt at glorious art and how it ended. I showed her my infamous painting. I mean the torn pieces of the painting. She sat beside me, giving me a patient hearing, kissing my forehead, reassuring me by saying, ‘it’s ok dear’.
With one hand she caressed my back and with the other she assembled the jigsaw puzzle of my paining. Once completed, she looked at the painting and said, ‘Oh dear, it’s so beautiful, and so what it is brown, we can easily recolor the stem green. I will talk to your teacher, and ask her answers.’ Now, both parts of her statement were a lie. The cake color mixing science had already taught me that there is no possible way to convert brown into green (you can add but you cannot remove red from a paint). Furthermore, I knew that she is never going to argue with my teacher. It was a generation where word of the teacher was gospel and to question it was heresy.
However in that moment I needed consoling words.
In hindsight, I think her usage of the adjective ‘beautiful’ for my painting could be the third lie of the day. Then again, who cares!
I was very emotional, the embrace of my mother made me feel very protected, I did not want to leave her hug, just wanted to forget all my worries. So I told her what has been bothering me for the last few weeks, my samosa ordeal and my fight against inflation.
She patiently listened to me and said, ‘Don’t worry dear, we will figure out a way’
That evening I just did not leave her side, I sat with her in the kitchen. She boiled some potatoes, steamed some raisins, took pure wheat flour and rolled it nicely. Crucially she consulted me on how much potatoes should go as a filling before frying. And there it was a freshly cooked, hot samosa in front of me. However the lag of being an economist was still within me and I asked her, ‘how much does it cost to make this at home?’
She caressed my face with her fingers and kissed her hand and said, “for you it will always be free”
needless to say, it was the most awesome I have ever eaten