Teerth Yatre

The Yatre (journey) took us through four different worlds. All at the same time. We kept flipping from one world to another. Each of us were going through the worlds independently, yet we seemed to meet in one of the worlds (let’s call this one “reality”) once in a while. Time moved extremely slowly. It was like TDMA (time division multiple access) was going through our minds, as we went through the four or five worlds simultaneously.

Parts of the human brain are sequential and parts are parallel. I discovered during the course of the Yatre that our minds are equipped with a parallel, maybe even superscalar, processor. However, certain features such as context switches are not very well developed in human minds so this capacity is seldom used. The human mind prefers linear processing and thus most of the time, all but one processor is shut. And there is a continuous stream of thought that allows us to “execute”.

Those like me with ADHD seem to have an easier time in context switching. While this results in a generally higher level of mental output, it also means that there is greater discontinuity in thought. This discontinuity in thought leads to what psychiatrists term as ‘lack of executive functioning’. “Executive functioning” as us humans have defined it depends on a single train of thought working continuously to get things done.

The Teertha (holy water) however ensures that all human beings, ADHD or the lack of it, become equal, and opens up the superscalar processes in people’s heads. It is like everyone who imbibes it reaches a state that is an advanced level of ADHD. Four or five streams of thought. Parallel inhabition of four or five different worlds. And constant switches between the worlds. One moment you have a sense of achievement. The next you are paranoid. Paranoid about getting through the madding crowd and back safely to the dirty hotel room.

Fifteen minutes past six, we are on the way to the river bank to watch the world-famous aarati. An eternity later (but with the watch only showing six twenty) we see a chaat shop on the way and decide to imbibe some chaat. Another eternity later, some parallel thoughts drive us to the aarati, the rest recommend stopping at the restaurant for an early dinner.

I order pav bhaji. Four pieces arrive. In my journeys through the various worlds, I think I’ve spent an enormous amount of time eating it. During fleeting visits to “reality”, though, less than one piece has been eaten. The rest of the table also consists of plates with a lot of leftover food. I break a piece of pav. By the time I bring it to my mouth I’m in another world. And when i return to “reality” the piece of pav is still in my hand, uneaten.

The final bit of the teerth yatre is the most surreal, when we have to get back to the hotel. We are in no mental state to tell our driver where to reach us. We decide to take cycle rickshaws. To get to a cycle rickshaw, though, we need to go through a sea of humanity.

We don’t know where we are going. We hold hands. In the moments when we are in “reality” we check if we are still together. In the fleeting between-moments, we worry about losing each other. We do our independent trips of the other worlds (I think we have our own set of worlds and the only intersection is “reality”). We independently worry where we are going. The sea of humanity means that traffic is rather slow and there is little chance of being run over. Yet, we worry.

The teertha in question is a product of this tiny store at Godowlia Chowk called “Mishrambu”. It came highly recommended by a friend who had studied at the Banaras Hindu University. It was sweet, laced with dry fruits and nuts, and dollops of butter. “Shall I put a little or more?” asked the kindly shopkeeper as he displayed a dirty-looking green paste from a small stainless steel box. In one of those collective fleeting moments of bravado we asked him to put ‘lots’. Maybe our inexperienced showed up there.

So what if we had gone to Varanasi and not seen the famous Ganga Arati? So what if we didn’t take the boat-ride to see the various famous ghats, and instead settled ourselves in a rooftop cafe on the banks of the Ganges (we were the only Indians there)? So what if we went all the way to the Kumbh Mela and spent our time mostly clicking photos and walking around, and didn’t venture close to the river?

We’ve undergone the most exhilarating Teerth Yatre ever. I’m not sure any of the religious experiences could match this parallel journey across four worlds.

Libertarianism and rejection of authority

Ok so this is yet another of those self-reflective posts, where I try and rationalize why I’m the way I am. And in the process concoct a fancy theory.

I’m part of this secret society most of whose members are libertarian. I must in fact credit this society from changing my ideology from one that was broadly conservative to broadly libertarian (notice that my economic ideology hasn’t changed, only the social bit has). One thing common among most members of this society is that they are the kind of people who don’t bow to authority. They can be described as confrontationalist, or maverick, ¬†or non-conformist. And most of them are libertarian.

I must mention that for purposes of this post, I define libertarianism as a “belief in free markets and free minds”.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes that one of the things that makes people religious is the tendency to listen to “superiors”, “elders”, etc. He argues that this is consistent with natural selection – that back in those days where we were a “hunting ape”, if we were the type that didn’t listen to our parents, there was a greater danger that we’d fall off trees or got eaten up by lions. So us human beings are “naturally conditioned” to listen to “elders”, “superiors”, etc. Effectively, we are conditioned to take orders. Dawkins talks about how this makes us religious, but that is not relevant here.

So we grow up having this “elderly authority” at home. The “elderly authority” commands us and guides us and gives instructions, and in return provides us protection from the outside world. Soon we grow up, and don’t need that protection any more, so we don’t need to take instructions any more (if you look at taking instructions from parents as the “cost” of the protection they offer you). But then we are conditioned to taking instructions, and being controlled, and it is tough for most of us to outgrow this conditioning.

And so some people look to “society” to provide the instructions, and control you, and tell you what to do and what not to do. They end up as conservatives. Some other people, look to the government (remember that today’s “government” is a replacement for yesterday’s “king”, who was supposed to be “divine”) for instructions and control. They end up being “liberals” (quotes because traditionally liberals supported free markets; it’s only recently they’ve taken a socialist turn). It is quite interesting that a lot of “liberal” people, who profess their rejection of authority, think it is ok for the government to tell them who to do business with, and at what price.

And then there are these really masochistic people who look to both “society” and “government” to put controls on you. Think Swadeshi Jagran Manch and similar institutions.

And so what about people who actually reject the need to have a “protector” once they grow up? They don’t want to take instructions from anyone, and in return they are willing to forego protection – apart from asking from the government protection in terms of defence, foreign policy and upholding of law. Given that very few people reject authority (Dawkins’ concept), it’s very few people that end up as libertarians.

PS: Is it a coincidence that so many very good libertarian bloggers (Caplan, Tabarrok, Hanson, Cowen) are at the little-known George Mason University, and not at one of the “top-ranked” universities?

PS2: I think large corporations are not free-market in any sense. Leave aside crony capitalism. Corporations, by definition, are internally deeply socialist. I guess I’ll save that for another post.