Our dream of Immortality!

There is a lovely Hindi song, “Tum Jiyo, Hazaro Saal, Saal ke Din ho Pachhas Hazar”!  The song is sung to celebrate a birthday and  means, “My dear, please live for thousand years and let each of the years have fifty thousand days.” It wishes immortality to the blessed soul. When we discuss human life, we always say that our life span is a hundred years! From where this number has come from is difficult to say. But it indicates the wish for immortality or longevity. Immortality is also discussed in mythology! Dronacharya’s son, Ashwathama, is supposedly immortal, and that is later considered as a curse or a punishment.

In our day to day life, there are many examples of mortality. Mortality is not a curse, but it is a fact of life. Dalai Lama had spoken about Shunyata in one of his discourses; it means emptiness. This emptiness means all the objects in the universe have no meaning unless we attach the meaning through our thoughts and beliefs! In the real world, the atoms and molecules exist independent of our mind. But our mind also exists independently, and we feel this when we are angry or happy! Anything that exists physically has a life span or shelf life. The span depends on many variables. But till the beginning of the 20th Century, the lifespan of humans was pretty low. Longevity was a word which came into discussion about a tiny number of people.

Still, the fascination for immortality continues. Why is it so?  We forget that everything has a specific life. With futility, we cling to that toiletry pouch long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighbourhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We want to go back to our roots. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and mandirs and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal life. In every nook and corner, nature is showing you that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our bodies, is shifting and evaporating, and one day will be gone. Where are the one billion people who lived and breathed in the year 1800, only two short centuries ago?

https://panvalkarpramod.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/another-view-point-the-native-place/

The above link is a blog I had written about native places. We get nostalgic about our good old native place where we spent our childhood. We remember that school where we spent an extended part of life. Some people keep on going to their native place ( गावाकडे or मुलुक ) every few years. They hope that everything has remained in the time frame when they have migrated elsewhere. But when they go there, they find most of the friends have left the place; those still left behind have changed beyond recognition. Their children don’t even know you. That old grocery shop is now converted to a modern-day cell phone shop selling Oppo and Samsung. Every visit, we see that our past memories are now becoming actual memories. Those teachers have died, the priest died 30 years back. There are more wine shops than shops selling those sweets which you enjoyed in childhood. There is a clear sign that things are changing, the old world is dying, withering, replaced by a new one. This change is happening in a short span of about 30/40 years. We don’t accept the changes, but inwardly, we know that the reasons for which we keep on going to the native place do not exist. The other day, I went on a road in Pune, where my grandfather used to live. Though I exactly knew the location where the Wada existed, I could see none of the old signs. Then suddenly I saw a flour mill or chakki from those days, that was still around! The sighting also brought a thought in my mind that in another five or ten years, the chakki will also be gone! Did I accept it? I am not sure. We humans do not accept the adage, “Time and Tide wait for none”!

Despite the preponderance of evidence against it, our culture strives for immortality and youth. We cling to a past like — photographs, memories of our children, old wallets and shoes. But it’s not only about our physical bodies that we want to be ever lasting. We struggle against every change — big and small.

We have seen these changes in real life, but we tend to ignore them until the last possible moment. Kodak and photography were considered synonyms. Till the ‘90s of the last century, other companies were called also-ran. Kodak invented digital photography but never understood its real potential. Well, Kodak does not exist any more. The change took place in front of their eyes in 20 years. Garware Nylons was a leading company, in Pune, and it prospered in front of our eyes. For various reasons, within 15 years of reaching its peak, it closed shop. There were many car manufacturing companies in the early part of the 20th century in the US. Only GM, Ford and Chrysler remained. Even GM and Chrysler were saved by the US government from Bankruptcy a decade ago.

The coast of Pacifica in California is a beautiful place to live. (The photos above)  But the sea erosion is eating away 8 inches of land every year. Those who did not understand the meaning of 8 inches per year are now suffering. In forty years, it meant almost thirty feet of erosion. People in that area have understood the real meaning of mortality!

Human life span is tiny, whereas the life span of the Universe is in terms of millions of years. Hence we hardly visualise any changes happening around us except for some happening in Pacifica. But let us not despair. In the cycle of mortality, some beautiful things and events have a life of a few hours. The night-blooming flower of Cereus or Brahmakamal blooms only once a year and has a life of a couple of hours. But during that night these flowers give us tremendous pleasure.   The other day a friend called to share the information that the plant in his home had 30 flowers in one night. He was really excited.

Why are we looking for immortality? Is it for pleasure? Is it enjoy life for an infinite period? Imagine you in the year 2219. I can not imagine what the world will be. I may be immortal, but my body cells may not be eternal, my muscles may not be immortal, nor may my brain be immortal! Will my contemporaries also be in a similar position? What will we do in those times?  Instead, it might be a good idea not to have immortality and in short span of life, be like Brahmakamal to your friends and near one; be a Brahmakamal those in your ecosystem. There are some great achievers who in the same life span cross the mountains of achievements and some reach the Mount Everest.

The joy of living life is an individual choice! Some are happy with the smallest of achievement and others are not happy even after climbing the Mount Everest! Immortality is not going to give us any special joy. But don’t forget that even the North Start (Dhruv Tara) is not immortal.  After a million years it might disintegrate into atoms and molecules. But one thing is is surely permanent and will always be available; that is God!  He will always be there as a concept and will last forever! Let us not try to imitate Him! We are humans!

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Richie Rich!

RIchieRich

 

Richie Rich! This is my favourite comic character, in fact I still read these comics when I get a chance to read them. This kid is from a rich family and has everything that one may dream of. I used to wonder, how hard his family must have worked to reach this stage. Even today I dream of becoming Richie Rich but now there appear to be simpler ways than working hard, slogging all through life!

Nirav Modi has shown us the way of doing these things. This Modus Operandi had started with Harshad Mehta when he got a bogus Rs.200/ crores fixed deposit certificate. This was done in connivance with some bank official from Bank of Karad. The original FD certificate was for Rs.2/ crore and was conveniently changed the certificate to Rs.200/ crores. Using this fictitious certificate Mehta borrowed money from institutions, and rest as they say is history. When you borrow money against a Bank Deposit, it is assumed to be correct one in all respects and loan is simply given against the most liquid asset. Bank of Karad later went into liquidation. Why work  hard when you can cheat? A little jail term and some bad name is ok as long thousands of crores are available to you.

What we all have seen is that real money is created over a period a few generations of consistent efforts and hard work, sometimes a bit of luck also plays part. But during last 50 years, share markets, and IT companies with their very high  valuations and hence their skyrocketing share prices, have created billionaires. But in share markets real billionaires are far and in between. Not like those from IT industry. Classic case is Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. Even after 25 years in business, Amazon is constantly in loss, but keeps on doing business, gives deep discounts on products, Bezos is currently the richest person in the world. Some years back he bought iconic Washington Post for US $ 250 million , in all cash deal. These people have huge personal wealth, they have money to pump in business continuously, but their companies are loss making all the time! But at least they are not cheating banks and you and me!

In normal course, non- IT businesses do become bankrupt, fail but in IT industry failed companies on your CV make you special! Venture Capitalists pump more money in your next  ventures. Cheating happened to some extent, like in case of Enron. There are normal cheats but those of the size of Mallya’s and Modi’s were not many. There was a classic case of Chrysler corporation, who were given special loan by US Government. After a couple of years, this loan was repaid! The Chairman, Lee Iacocca at that time made a famous statement. “We borrow the money the old way, we repay it!” This one statement explained the way the business is done, world over, including India !

But with Modi’s and Mallya’s of this world, things are different. In recent years, there is a big list of people, from different sectors of industry like, power, construction and steel. These companies were given such huge loans that they have sucked the banks in trouble because they are all on the verge of bankruptcy. The beauty of current law in India is that the personal assets of the defaulting promoters cannot be attached. So, most are enjoying life as if nothing has happened.  A bankrupt company’s assets were being auctioned. The original promoters had failed to repay Rs.800/ crore. Original promoters took part in the auction and bought the same assets back at Rs.50/ crores; due to declaration of bankruptcy Rs.800/ crores went into thin air! A law was recently modified to stop people from cheating further.

In case of Modi, fraudulent LOU (Letter of undertaking) were issued by Punjab National Bank. Officers from the Bank issued these without any guarantees. This issue came up in January as the suspect officer had retired and when Modi needed fresh LOU’s, the new officer asked for guarantees. Modi’s people said that they had never given any guarantees before. Why they are being asked now? The whole Pandora’s box opened!

There are many checks and balances in the system but those who are supposed to check, break the rules, how to stop such frauds? It seems that the sizes of fraud are increasing in proportion to inflation and lifestyle. With whatever wealth they had,  before fraud, both Modi and Mallya could easily have lived with whatever lifestyle they wanted! But why do something fraudulent? What is enough money? It comes to basic question; how much land does a man need? What does one do with tens of thousands of crores of Rupees? There is a reverse trend started by Bill Gates who is encouraging the superrich to donate their assets because those assets by remaining under control of an individual or organization, remain idle. If these are donated and correctly used, world will be a better place to live.

In case of Modi he has been living in Europe most of the times, in case of Mallya also it is the same! At least at present they are lucky otherwise, when and if they are brought back to India, they will meet the same fate as Sahara Chief, Unitech boss, Jaypee team and now probably D S Kulkarni. What is the thinking of these people? All these people had done reasonably well in life, till they started doing wrong things. What were they trying to achieve? To become biggest in their field? These four groups have cheated individuals like you and me! Many of us have taken loans to buy flats, many have given life’s savings as FD’s after retirement!  Now there is no way for any new infusion of funds; income for these retired people have stopped, and capital is locked!

Let us hope that government of India, irrespective of party in power, continues the good work they are doing. They are ably supported by our courts by giving strongest possible indictment for bad deeds of the suave looking bad guys! But in discussions with some friends, I found that some people have sympathy for the these fraudulent people! They felt that it is just bad luck in their business cycle and people should support such business people. If you are supposed to be doing Rs.10,000/ crores of projects, and cannot raise Rs.50/ crores to repay depositors money, you do not deserve sympathy, they deserve law to take over and may free stay in Tihar jail or jail of your choice!

Net Neutrality!

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.

 For example, imagine someone using a paid service from a website, regularly. That person does a lot of purchases on the site. If there is no net neutrality, the service provider will have the authority, in connivance with the web site, to allow faster access to large customers! It is like mother giving additional cookie to favourite child! In certain cases, they may block access to you! To avoid such situation Net Neutrality is essential.

Discussion on this subject has started recently in the US. Internet was born with Neutrality and US government under Trump for their own reasons want to end Net Neutrality. Main thing is that nobody “owns” internet! Internet is a service created by scientists which has changed the world beyond imagination. It is a rare service which is independent of language, nation, cast and creed!

A couple of years back Facebook tried to bypass Net Neutrality with a concept called Free Basics, in India. They said after arrangement with some service providers, if a user has fully used his usage limit, he will still be allowed use of Facebook. This is the first step away from Net Neutrality. If this were allowed, then service providers would have made their own rules slowly and allowed access as was beneficial to them. Government of India came down heavily on them and stopped free Basic from rolling out.

Today there is a news that in the USA, that FCC has repealed all the laws set by Obama administration to keep Net Neutrality. Is this the beginning of war on the net? Does it mean that there will be rich man’s internet and poor man’s internet? Does this mean that if you pay more fees then you will be able to sit in the first-class lounge?

People who are for non-neutrality argue differently. They claim that they will provide basic services to all in the same way; however, those who pay more money will get services even if their package has been used up. But what about those who already have unlimited package? Will the speed remain same for them beyond “fair” usage? Will they get lesser priority beyond a certain limit? Who will decide fair usage? Once the discrimination is allowed then it will be impossible for anyone to track what certain sites do or what certain service providers do? Agencies cannot track these misdemeanors.

In Portugal, something similar is already happening. Even though they are under EU laws, each country has its own bit of freedom. Portugal is allowing their ISP’s to play around a bit. Large ISPs have given every indication that the idea of freedom costing extra isn’t too far from their ideal. And abusing a lack of broadband competition to force users to shell out additional funds to access to the content and services of their choice isn’t too far off of what has already happened;  AT&T had decided to block Facetime from working unless users shelled out for more expensive plans, or Verizon’s had decided to charge users $10 more just to avoid arbitrary video throttling. This is going to happen! 

All these years internet is being treated on par with Electricity, Water usage. For using these services, one did not have to do anything special. If you used more electricity or water, you paid more. These utilities never say, we will give you xxx units only. You pay more then only you get additional usage. Or since you are not our priority customer, water pressure will be low at your end.

I feel that jury is still out. But with USA formally declaring internet as “Non-Neutral”, we will know the real meaning of the same over a period. Portugal has done it, but they have done it in a small way and discretely. There is another argument for “Non-Neutral” internet; the proponents of this are saying that there will be large investments in internet technology because of new policy. According to them there are “serious” users and “non-serious” users. Majority are of the second variety. For them probably internet will continue to be available as it is available today. Serious users may not mind paying a little more for additional, better, faster and un-restricted services. On the other side Netflix has already shown how people love to use it. So they already have an upper hand on the ISP’s!

Friends, I am non-serious user of internet. Will it really matter to me about net neutrality? Honestly, I do not know and only time can tell. New internet order has just started today, formally. So let’s wait and observe.