Give, but in Silence…

Warren Buffett’s recent trip to India has ensured that charity as a virtue has been attracting quite a few newsreels. Some, including the Government of India, are pegging it as a duty! There is a proposal to make Corporate Social Responsibility a mandatory obligation in India. Well, would it really be charity, if things were to get to that?

The art (if you will) and the act of giving is not something that needs to be taught to us here in India. It is, I believe, a much greater (and silent) part of our ethos than it is in the western world. There are countless examples of local charities, helping hands being lent – in the lattice network that is India – which never reach and never are meant to reach mainstream media. The way charity is sought to be practised in India, is best brought out by the story of Eklavya. It addresses the core question of how one should feel and behave after giving (a point which I try to address at the end of this post as well).

Most of us would know about how this master archer cut off his thumb at the behest of Dronacharya. There is a lesser known sequel to his thumb sacrfice where he is asked if he ever regretted his sacrifice. This was asked to him when he was dying and he replied that he had indeed once regretted his sacrifice. That was the time when the Pandavas were coming in to kill Dronacharya who had given up his arms on receiving fabricated news of his son, Ashwathama’s death. Eklavya regretted giving up his thumb for he believed that had the thumb been there, no one would have dared hurt his Guru. I guess this is why he attained death at the hands of Krishna (who was also his blood cousin) – which is believed to be a mark of exceptional divine favour.

Buffett’s India trip may have many motives but it is certainly being projected as a mission to rasie money for the needy. There were doubts regarding his trip but I guess he proved himself “retarded” enough to finally make the trip. Japan was to be his first stop which did not happen due to their current problems of nuclear proportions. Joined by the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Immelt and Paul Bulcke (Nestle’s CEO), who are also visiting India around the same time, I am sure he must have wanted some RoI on the various assorted flu shots and other precuations that visitors to India (chiefly from the US) routinely invest in before  taking the plunge. As usual and as expected, a visit to China (Sep ’10) predated his visit to India. In China also, he had done the rounds with his charity collection box but to limited success. The wealth in China (and also India) is new found – I think its owners may like to enjoy it’s effects for some time before embracing charity.

There is nothing spectacular or bold about his visit here, since he would anyways be under pressure to look for growth spots outside of the din of the US currency printing presses. I am not sure od the exact number, but I think I read somewhere that c80% of his investment company’s assets are in the U.S. I like to hear him when he says that India is a large maket and no longer an emerging market. When he points out that a hike in the current 26% limit in insurance Foreign Domestic Investment (FDI) would help the industry, I like it. But when when he and his best pal, Bill Gates, start talking about charity, I switch off. Never mind the fact that the Oracle of Omaha has pledged (or perhaps already given?) 99% of his wealth to charity.

Reason being, I keep wondering is there a return expectation in the minds of these ultra rich people and corporate houses when they give?

The Bhagvad Gita says, “A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return.” The Bible elevates charity and the act of giving to an act of love.  It teaches, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

There is a bit of a personal paradox here for me. I know I have read (and sometimes experieced it as well) that when we give spontaneously, without attachement, whatever you give comes back to you manifold. Now, the problem lies in the fact that the next time you give, you have precognition of this “bounce back effect” having taken place. So, then are your subsequent acts of charity really just outward? I don’t know the answer – perhaps the answer lies in mind control via Yoga or some such device. I’m bad at this.

Warm to the Task

Writing after a long gap. Apologies for staying away. What better date to start again than the Ides of March? The pen is warm again, the ink that had frozen (quite literally, for I use a fountain pen) is back to its task. And so are my frozen fingers.

I had suffered two shocks – one from the markets and the other from the US East Coast weather – both of which left me cold and too numb to write. With a bit of a medical condition that had developed as well.

I am now back in warm and sunny Hyderabad and feel quite giddy at the constant battering of the sun at 100 degrees F. F for real Fun. In New York /New Jersey, the only television channel that used to play in my room was The Weather Channel (TWC). It was as if my unblinking act of viewing TWC would somehow make things better. It was on one such extended viewership sessions that I came across a light hearted comical filler program on TWC. It was a correspondent of TWC asking people really tough posers like the spelling of the word Arctic,  the shape of snowflakes, the expansion of the acronym TWC, etc. One such poser had set me thinking and occupied me for a few moments as I braved an extremely irritating 120+ kmph wind that somehow always figured out the way to blow right into my face even though my walking route to the train station hardly changed and it was generally straight.

The weatherman had asked: “If someone told you that tomorrow will be twice as cold as today, and today is Zero degrees then what would be the temperature tomorrow?”

I thought about this for some time during my return flight to Hyderabad and also posed this to some of my work colleagues and friends. I got a lot of interesting answers, but Adithya’s almost nearly and quite surrealy corresponded to how I thought about it as well.

For a layman it would be simply zero degrees multiplied by 2 which is Zero degrees

However temperature has various scales one of which is Fahrenheit

0 degrees – 32 F and half of 32 would be 16 F which in turn converts to  -8.8 degrees

But it isn’t that simple in my view – Cold is nothing but absence of heat and measuring heat is a whole lot harder when compared to temperature which is straightforward.

For example let us take 2 scenarios

Scenario 1 : 20 degrees today 10 degrees tomorrow

Scenario 2 : 10 degrees today and 5 degrees tomorrow

In both the scenarios how can you say that it is twice as cold just by reducing the temperature to half.

Going back to school days we used to measure heat in what we call as Kelvin scale

0 degrees Celsius  would be 273.16 degrees Kelvin.  Twice as cold => 273.16/2 in Kelvin scale which is 136.58 degrees Kelvin. 

When we convert this back to Celsius we would get – 136.58 degrees Celsius which I feel has never been recorded on earth I guess.

So I feel the weather channel guy must have not attended his science classes otherwise he would never make such a statement 😀

or this one from Kishore (which he said he checked off some internet resources):

The answer depends on which temperature units you are referring to when you say “0 degrees.” Since we most commonly use Fahrenheit temperatures here, we’ll assume that for now. If the temperature is 0 F today, then being twice as cold tomorrow presumably means it will be “half as warm.” If so, that means tomorrow’s temperature will be halfway between 0 F and absolute zero, the temperature at which there is no molecular motion and therefore no heat at all.

Because absolute zero falls at -459.67 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, “twice as cold” as 0 F should be about -229.84 degrees!

If you were referring to 0 Celsius (the freezing mark) instead, then absolute zero on that scale is -273.15 C, and “twice as cold” would be -136.58 degrees C 

Ok. “Cool”. Even if you were fortunate enough to feel the East Coast of the US chill this season, you may have a different take on this. Which is fine, as long as you shiver too.

The best part of this year is that assorted groundhogs came and went; companies and event organisers announced and celebrated the onset of Spring (in their thick winter coats!) . What spring? There’s no let down of the blizzards, sleet, rain, snow, flash floods and yes, even some forest fires!!!

Living there and arriving to work at 8 A.M. EST is tough. Glad for my base to be in a tropical, sweaty, paradise. Check out this photo which Anthony sent me. Most cars look white in the winter there!

But not the car that Eddy drives. It’s a black Lincoln and he is such a welcome sight especially on the day he is at my door to drop me off to the airport!  I’d called him at 6:30 EST (for a 11 PM flight!!) and was sheepishly listening in to his lament about some of his other customers who call their cabs even earlier! At 5:30 PM! So eager are we to get stuck in the (usually) Fri evening NY traffic to JFK that we end up reaching JFK at nearly the same time if we’d left much later! But his calling on my igloo earlier last week did break some ice and I managed to escape to the welcoming warmth of a NY traffic jam and already begin my path to a much needed thaw. While in the cab, we did talk about his theory of global warming being responsible for the harshest winter in a decade as also the rapidly rising cost of gasolene in the US. We also tried to unsuccesfully convert gallons into litres (unit sale measure of fuel in India) but gave up after a few traffic signals. However, we did wonder as to what would happen to the privacy of people staying in igloos if global warming continues to persist?

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