Umberto Eco: A Tribute

Umberto Eco is one of the authors whom I really admire although it has been several years since I read his books. Popular culture knows him as the one whose Foucault’s Pendulum foreshadowed medieval conspiracy theory fiction such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. He is also known as the author of The Name of the Rose which is a detective story set in medieval times and was made into a movie starring Sean Connery.

He was an expert in the medieval history of Europe and a Professor of the mysteriously named field of Semiotics. No one else has done more to popularize this field and its use in interpreting historical findings. His knowledge of these two areas were ingrained in his thinking as a philosopher and his writing.

Semiotics refers to the study of signs, their interpretation and use in communication, and their link to language. Since these are a lot of heavy words, let me give you an example that we can all relate to. I had a twitter account under a different name. When I created this blog, I wanted a matching twitter account (no, I don’t really use it!) but “@nilambar” wasn’t available. I was under the invisible time pressure we all feel when creating a username on online signup forms. So in my panic I was searching the screen and my room for some clue.

Here is a screenshot of the top right section on twitter:

twitter

This + “nilambar” = “quillambar“! I know the end result is extremely cheesy but let me explain how my brain worked: Green post button with feather logo -> a feather is used to make a quill which is used for writing -> rhymes with nil -> bingo!

After observing the icon, this whole cognitive process took less than a second. This is a simple example that shows how a sign (feather) combined with context (writing), produced an idea (quill) that produced a word (something related to writing + the rhyming?). There are probably interesting neuro-biological aspects to this as well but we will stick to the subject here. Semiotics is basically a formal study of such processes from the perspective of history, language and communication. Eco wrote definitive textbooks in his main field of Semiotics.

He also wrote more accessible essays where he deployed these skills. After a visit to the US, he wrote essays published as Travels in Hyper-reality that explore the reasons for America’s fixation with living life larger or in recreating reality (replicas of the Oval Office or installations in Disneyland) based on his observations.

He was an expert on the medieval and Renaissance period in Europe. He could connect historic development right from the crusades and the inquisition to modern times. But I don’t think Eco wrote a popular or academic book that purely covered history unlike for example, William Dalrymple’s research on Afghanistan or the Mughal times in India. Instead he liked to combine a lot of historical fact with handcrafted fiction and his most well-known novels do exactly that.

As a widely read person, he felt every book referred to many others consciously or not. Nassim Nicholas Taleb speaks about the massive library of Eco in his book, The Black Swan, and calls it the “anti-library” of which I wrote here. Taleb also calls him encyclopedic.

He wrote a set of essays, On Literature, that demonstrates his wide range of reading. One of themes was that Literature reinvents itself with the sensibilities of every passing age. The other theme was on the nature of writing. The last essay here, “How I write” has some immortal lines on the last page:

“There is only one thing you write for yourself, and that is a shopping list… One writes only for a reader… Whoever says he writes for himself is not necessarily lying. It is just he is frighteningly atheistic. Even from a rigorously secular point of view.

Unhappy and desperate the writer who cannot address a future reader.”

He combines knowledge of semiotics, history and literature into his fiction as demonstrated in The Name of the Rose:

  • The name of the book is not explained in the book and has no connection to the story. Later in a postscript he said that he chose this, “because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left”
  • The protagonist, William of Baskerville, is a play on William of Occam (known for the Occam’s Razor principle) and Sherlock Holmes
  • Jorge Luis Borges, who was the inspiration for many of the “magic realism” writers in South America like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was a favourite of Eco. The main antagonist in this book is inspired by him. Borges wrote about a labyrinthine Library of Babel, in a short story. Eco sets a lot of the action in his book in a similarly modeled library.
  • The inquisition and fixations of the dark ages play a big role in this book. There is a theme of searching for heresies and punishing new ideas; destruction of books and scrolls that may contain knowledge that contradicts theology.

He also wrote commentary about the now. A set of essays titled Inventing the Enemy starts out with an idea that if one doesn’t have an enemy then one must invent it. He shows that even to have an identity (as a person or a group) that has some self-worth means we must invent an “other”; something foreign and repulsive – an enemy. It shows when you look around in today’s connected world. You can have enemies who you never see or speak to, provoke, draw reactions and deliver counter-reactions, and thereby establish and celebrate your identity as opposed to the “other”.

Eco left us earlier this year and will be sorely missed but his entire body of work says that what he wrote will endure and reinvent itself. May he rest in peace.

Hero Worship

I could summarize this post pretty well with just this one name: Lance Armstrong. But please allow me to indulge you further. Most of us have our sporting heroes. Many summers ago I was asked to stay put at home for a month due to a health issue and this coincided with the Tour de France. This was the first time I watched the physically grueling cycling tour that had 21 stages each up to 200 km spread across a month. Just completing this would require almost superhuman effort. Lance, the cancer survivor, was pulling away from the others easily and it was natural to idolize him. He could do no wrong! We all know how that ended.

Not all sports careers end in dishonour like this but ups and downs are part of the story. People watching Sachin bat in his last two years yearned for the Sachin of old. Federer hasn’t won a Grand Slam in years now but even in his glorious peak he struggled at the French. Obviously one of the “downs” comes at the end of one’s career unless like Sangakkara one retires at one’s best. But no one is completely infallible and failings are exposed at various stages. In fact, failings show what it takes to reach, perform and stay at that level – years and years of training with extreme physical and mental conditioning combined with a good dose of luck.

Even knowing all this, rational people still expect their sporting heroes to be infallible and are hugely disappointed with their failures. Sports is not the only place where it is common. Vijay Mallya was the toast of the town in the mid-2000s for his flamboyant lifestyle to the same guys who are panning him now. Everyone aspired to live like that! Narendra Modi, Jayalalithaa and Arvind Kejriwal are all recent politico-social examples in India who are the subject of hero worship by some or other group of people.

What is hero worship? The folks at Merriam-Webster define it as “foolish or excessive admiration of someone”. Let’s try and understand this further. Why is “foolish” more or less equated with “excessive” admiration. There is some mathematics at work here – “Regression”. Regression always needs a context: regress (or return) to what? In the mathematical sense, the complete definition is “regression to the mean“.

The mean represents an expected or average or natural state. When something very positive happens you are above the mean and conversely you can go below. The concept of regression says that you need to return toward the mean in any random process such as life. Daniel Kahnemann in his book – Thinking, Fast and Slow – gave an example of pilots who were scored during their training sessions. The pilots who got extremely high scores in one session and were lauded for that almost always performed more poorly in the next session. There was a lot of analysis to see what was going on – were the praises leading to nervousness next time, were they overconfident? But in the end it was down to the concept of regression. Each pilot simply regresses toward their own long term mean score.

What does this have to do with hero worship? Normally when someone gets famous or infamous in the media they are either on a sharp uptrend or downtrend from their mean. Usually the ones on an uptrend are eulogized and turned into heroes. So we observe someone at their very best (well above their mean probably) and turn them into our hero. What Social Media does very well is make this trend viral so that more and more people do this and now you have a critical mass of people who think this person is a hero. People also judge that if the person could do X very well (which is what brought them hero status), they will also do Y very well. We know from sports that this is unlikely but we still believe this when it comes to business, religious or political leaders! When regression happens this excessive admiration looks foolish!

Here are some examples:

  • Lord Ram is praised as the embodiment of ideal human behaviour due to his obedience to his father’s promise and his rescue of his wife. Regression happened when he exiled his pregnant wife. Which woman would accept this today? Note that it is very likely that the Uttara Kanda that details this episode was a later addition to the Ramayana but my point is that the people who worship him consider this Kanda as canonical.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the unquestioned leader of the BJP and is highly motivated to lead the country. Among the positives we hear how bureaucrats are more accountable and interest groups are kept at arms length to avoid “big corruption”. More pro-activeness in foreign relations and removal of obstacles in infrastructure projects can be seen. Does this mean he is infallible? Nepal getting closer to China due to India’s blockade; promotion of regressive ideas at the Indian Science Congress; rooting for “Make in India” while cutting research funding; and his general silence when it comes to contentious issues involving marginalized sections of society are all signs that he is fallible in some areas.
  • Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal won an election on a platform of ending corruption and focusing on public services. He has delivered in several areas. But his unchallenged majority means he diluted his own Lokpal Bill proposal and expelled alternate voices from his party. Regression at work again.
  • Spiritual leader Mr. Ravi Shankar of Art of Living who is known as a philanthropist talking about how they only “leveled” the Yamuna floodplain and didn’t cut any trees betraying a clear lack of understanding of river habitats. I wrote more about this here. Modi and Kejriwal first permitting and then attending this doesn’t do them any credit either.

What should we read from all of this? All these are examples of people just being people with all their good and bad. Even from each of our personal experiences we know each of us have our own pluses and minuses. But knowing all this does not convince hero worshippers to take a step back! Hero worshippers tend to justify each action of their hero whether good or bad.

Does this somewhat blind worship make any difference to the heroes? A degree of hero worship is necessary to get people to vote you into power especially when a large part of the voting population does not see how good policy can help them. After a while the heroes (for example, Indira Gandhi) start believing in their own infallibility and this results in disaster. Such heroes fail to see the need for surrounding themselves with people who complement their own skills and instead rely on sycophants. The BJP currently praising the great “Modifier” and imposition of President’s Rule without due process in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand show increasing signs of such behaviour.

People are some times capable of great things but at other times are fallible. Our heroes are also normal people who just got famous during their high point. They can inspire us to do great things as well as wrong things. They can lead a country into war or destroy the economy with wrong policies. When there is mass hero worship we allow ourselves to be led down this path while all along we say this is for the best. Erdogan in Turkey is proving to be a good current example of how a popular leader can transform into an autocrat.

An individual can benefit from good role-models (from Merriam-Webster: “a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others”). We can look at someone and say he is a good role model as a father and I will learn parenting from him. This person might be not so great at their work as a financial advisor and can be criticized for that. We can look at a political leader and say this person builds consensus well and I will learn that from her. But when she enters into a deal with a conflict of interest I can critique her. One need not worry about justifying actions of their role models! A strong person can withstand some criticism and may be even improve themselves.

Having role models allows us to derive inspiration from certain roles or actions of another person while leaving space to critique their other actions. This keeps things realistic and our political or other leaders grounded. It avoids false overconfidence in our leaders in matters they are not strong on and encourages them to augment their own weaknesses by building a team around them. For example, Modi can benefit from better Ministers in the Health and HRD departments.

Even criticizing reasonably good policy is good for the country because it encourages policy makers to communicate why the policy was created and how it will benefit us. A robust policy can survive criticism and can become even stronger.

We all like a bit of hero worship because a heroic narrative inspires us and motivates us. But we should probably restrict it to the sports arenas where it can do less harm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this is a good use of your time?

I decided to raise this question putting at risk my meagre readership! Your decision to read this probably comes at the cost of some of your “free time”. When we are working, our employers structure our time so we don’t need to worry about managing it. This typically takes 30-70 hours a week depending on the type of work you do. Sleeping and daily ablutions probably take up another 70 hours a week. This gives you 28-68 hours of “free time” that you need to plan for.

On average humans are very poor at utilizing their time:

  • If our time at work was used effectively, better productivity in a meritocracy would lead to better rewards. This means a focus on creating processes and practices that avoid day-to-day firefighting instead of living in the crisis. However, this doesn’t happen. So fear and panic about our jobs or deadlines become the main motivators to accomplish anything at work.
  • The less said about how we use our free time the better. We might want to do X or learn Y or spend time with Z but we usually end up watching cat videos and scrolling through our social media timelines most of the time.

There are some who are completely fine with this or don’t see this as a problem. This post is not for them. This post is for those who want to do more or better but are unable to. Procrastination is the term normally used for this. A task is already defined either by the person or their employer or others. The task is ignored until the last moment. When the deadline is close, it is worked on and somehow completed but not with very good results. Tim Urban who writes at waitbutwhy.com is now a world famous procrastinator who wrote extensively about this specific issue.

Let us use the Eisenhower Matrix to understand this better. You divide everything you do into 4 quadrants based on urgency and importance:

MerrillCoveyMatrix

  • You have to do Quadrant 1 items. This is the work crisis or home crisis that cries for immediate attention. This some times needs high CPU usage but adrenaline will help you navigate this.
  • Quadrant 2 is where all the great achievements lie. This needs sustained high CPU usage and there will be no adrenaline to push you. Even most bosses will not push you to do these types of tasks unless you are at a higher level of management.
  • Quadrant 3 can be loosely labeled as “Somebody Else’s Problem” that you have made your own. You can delegate these to the right people and save your time but more often than not you don’t.
  • Binge watching a bad soap opera is a good example of Quadrant 4. All the time we spend entertaining ourselves could also be counted here. It is very hard to spend zero time here because even a hard working brain needs some rest. But mostly we overstay in this quadrant.

Why is living in Quadrant 2 so hard? I had posted about a book; Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann; that talks about how the mind works. The mind is easily distracted even when making important or complex decisions. Basically it likes to keep CPU usage low. Staying in Quadrant 2 requires a couple of high CPU usage activities:

  • Deciding what to do: planning, setting objectives or outcomes
  • Doing it effectively: execution

In a workplace, “Deciding what to do” is a leadership responsibility. “Doing it effectively” is a joint responsibility of all employees including leaders. For your personal time, you are responsible for both. Being consistently good at this is hard. You can read Tim Urban’s perspective here. He says you can make it easier on yourself by setting challenging goals in fields that come more naturally to you and easily motivate you. You can also publicize some of these goals in your circles so that you now feel some invisible pressure to deliver. You can literally set a fire by quitting what you do today because panic is a big motivator.

But most of all, you succeed by having the mental discipline to stay in Quadrant 2. This means that first we must plan and set objectives and then for the bulk of the time focus on the moment and execute. We all know that if we actually are focused for the bulk of an 8-hour work day, we will achieve great things. But we don’t!

Are there tools that help you with “focusing”? Interestingly, there is one powerful tool which is over 2500 years old. The new age form of this is called Mindfulness. Buddhist tradition ascribes this to the Buddha and says that this is what helped him concentrate and focus on the problem he was analyzing (the nature of human suffering). Academics still debate whether Buddha’s core teaching was this mental method as a way to analyze complex problems or the canonical doctrine of The Four Noble Truths. We don’t know for sure because the Buddhist chronicles were written down only a few centuries after Buddha died. As an Indian I can feel proud that India was the origin for both physical training practices like yoga and mental training practices like mindfulness! The sad part is that both of these are considerably less popular in India compared to the West.

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What is mindfulness? It means intentionally focusing on your present experiences without distractions. This is basically what we need to live in Quadrant 2! The good thing is just like you can build muscles by physical training, you can build your concentration skills by mental training. You can start with the traditional practice called anapanasati which literally means mindfulness of breathing and then escalates into more and more advanced steps to train your mind to focus.

Does it really work? There has been a lot of scientific research into mindfulness. Research has shown that it actually modifies the brain by shrinking primitive impulse centres like the amygdala and enhancing and better connecting the parts that control attention and concentration. It therefore makes us less of a slave to stress and even to pain. Knowledge industry leaders have already taken notice and Google has a Head of Mindfulness.

You can try this at home using a simple starter video like the one below:

I’ve not gone beyond 10 minutes and I always get distracted. But if you stick with it for at least 8 weeks, you will see results. Trainer-led sessions will obviously help to begin with. There are more advanced steps you can try as you become an expert.

Managing time effectively is critical to achieving stuff in life (if you are into such things). When we consider super-achievers like Einstein (when working as a patent clerk and publishing Nobel winning papers) or Elon Musk (disrupting 3 different industries by age 40) or that guy who became a VP at your office at 35; after accounting for genetics and pure luck what remains that probably explains their success is their relentless discipline in living in Quadrant 2.

P.S: Before I sign off, I need to get back to the title of my post! Is this a good use of your time? If you think not, I can still live with it because you will probably thank me later! Those of you who think otherwise, thank you for your time…

 

 

Kamal’s Legacy

It is probably too early to speak about Kamal Haasan’s legacy as he hasn’t started playing a grandfather on screen. He would most likely rock that! But I think he already has enough content that ranks up there in the top percentile of cinema that we can speak about his legacy. Personally I am not very qualified to speak about it as I am not one of those die-hard fans who has watched every one of his movies a dozen times or even seen some of his movies (like Hey Ram, A Wednesday, Sigappu Rojakkal). But may be that’s what it takes to write about someone’s legacy. An interested outsider who enjoys the good and is disappointed with the bad. Right now there is a Tamil TV channel running a great selection of Kamal Haasan movies and that’s what inspired this post.

There are many things that are truly great. A powerfully understated realism when required like the protagonists acting in Nayagan and Papanasam. A brashness that comes naturally like in Virumandi or PKS. Impeccable comic timing you can see in Michael Madan Kama Rajan – henceforth to be referred to as MMKR – and Panchathantiram. A meticulous attention to detail that comes through in several movies. For example, the NRI in MMKR who wears loose sweatshirts and speaks a funny pretentious English and the differences in dialects and accents in Virumandi or Thenali. He displays a boldness of the kind you will never see in any other mainstream actor/director. The exploration of mental illness and jealousy in Aalavandhan/Abhay, the touching story of his daughter in Mahanadi, the burden of inheritance in Thevar Magan, a silent masterpiece in Pushpak, marrying an exploited prostitute in Nayagan are some typical markers of this. He adds layers on to the story which you learn more about each time you re-watch the movie or learn more about the context. In Virumandi you have the folk stories and historical references, the typical rural property inheritance issues, the tragedies faced by eloping rural couples, the difficult questions around caste issues and death penalty all in one coherent movie which you can read about in this blog. His make-up artist training has also helped add dimensions to several movies – Indian, Nayagan, Avvai Shanmugi and more. An actor or director is celebrated today for displaying even a single one of these characteristics, so Kamal ranks very high indeed.

The not so good follows. He does have a tendency to burden his protagonist with an improbable number of unfortunate events and make you feel awed at his ability to not feel self-pity in the face of them (Manmadhan Ambu, Anbe Sivam). I don’t mind that in a movie you can have one individual face a succession of tragedies but I would really like for them to let loose once in a while and rage at everyone and everything which would make them more human. There are also several movies where he tries to do too many things and fill too many frames himself (Apoorva Sagotharargal and MMKR were just about tolerable in this respect but in Nayagan it starts to hurt a bit when unlike in The Godfather where the Don Corleone is succeeded by his son, Kamal is there from beginning to end, and Dasavatharam took it to extremes). Many of these movies are good (even great like Nayagan) but all of them would have benefited from letting other characters develop and occupy some space. There are also several movies which are forgettable and which you would expect someone of the calibre of Kamal would instantly reject. But this price has to be paid because no producers are willing to finance his bolder fantasies that have come to define him.

He is an inspiring figure for not only being a great creative but also a tenacious fighter. He has fought against the tide of an insipid industry for decades and got his masterpieces financed. He has then fought the very typical reactionary attitude of political parties to anything they feel is negative to Tamils and a Government that goes weak on its knees when asked to protect freedom of expression. All this to get his films screened in the very state that should be proud of such a prodigal son.

 

 

Memory and Writing: Recording Literature

Who has not heard of their own culture’s sagas and epics? In India we are brought up on stories from a body of literature called the Itihasa, a corpus that includes the well-known Mahabharata and the Ramayana and several Puranas which were all probably composed by bards. These may have originated as the bards’ paeans to their respective kings and embellished further by generations of state-funded poets have now taken a form that is difficult to interpret in a historic sense. The language of the itihasa is believed to be the vernacular of several regions and times (Prakrit(s)) until they were standardized in Classical Sanskrit at different points after 500 BC. The Vedas on the other hand were regarded as sacrosanct and were composed by different schools in what is now referred to as Vedic Sanskrit, considered much more fluid and adaptable than the strict Classical Sanskrit of the grammarian Panini. Vedic Sanskrit itself had a significant period of evolution from the early hymns of the Rig Veda to the Upanishads.

Using a crude analogy, while the Itihasa can be considered today’s equivalent of dinner-table stories usually narrated to entertain a king or an audience; the Vedic corpus of literature was considered the (meta)-physics of the age starting with praises to various Gods and trying to describe physical reality and the nature of the soul. The needs for preservation were therefore different. The Itihasa could be violated in form and substance which is the reason they are nearly useless in historical studies. There are hundreds of versions of every story each localized to the unique needs of the region where the version originated. The Vedas needed to be preserved as is but due to the nature of its content it is also not a powerful tool to understand the people and culture of the age very well. Writing is the best option to preserve a text but it took hold much later in India as the materials (palm leaves?) were not durable and oral tradition dominated almost until printing presses were introduced. Prior to the advent of the Brahmi script in India, both traditions had to be recorded orally.  What one does not realize or takes for granted is the impact of memory on this process.

Imagine I recite a verse several pages in length and it is your responsibility to ensure you can repeat it without error 5 years later! Now imagine that I will not ask you but ask my grandchild to ask your grandchild to recite the same 50 years later! This led to specialized systems simply to preserve a text. The widely criticized rote system of learning in India today can possibly be traced back to the mnemonic devices needed to preserve the ancient texts. A scholar would memorize the text in several different ways and recite them along with his colleagues several times a month. Backward if needed! Maintaining the integrity of several thousand verses across a millennium until it could be written down takes a lot of doing. Today when we listen to Vedic chants we focus on the rhythm and its capacity to reach the divine. We forget why the chanting came into existence. Chanting was one of the many mnemonic devices needed to preserve literature in the absence of writing when the integrity of the text was the ultimate objective. To ensure the devotion of scholars to learn and preserve the texts there are several verses that only focus on the benefits of the chanting and the divine nature of the rhythm and sound. This stupendous achievement of preserving a text was recognized by UNESCO as valued heritage. This is because there are very few known ancient traditions from cultures dating from times prior to when they assimilated writing into their literature. Copious amounts of ancient literature are therefore lost to us simply because memory wasn’t enough and writing wasn’t available!

The sad part is that while the objective of preserving the Vedas in India was achieved, the numbers of those who can could understand and explain the meaning of the verses has dwindled. In fact, even starting in the late 1st millenium BC, Buddhism and Jainism flourished because vedic chants mingled with ritual were incomprehensible to those who were supposed to benefit from it and even for many who conducted it! These newer traditions in turn also couldn’t hold their own partly because writing was still not prevalent. Today much of what is known about Buddhism and its literature comes from sources in Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Japan where the oral traditions persisted till writing took hold. We learn of the Buddhist Councils held in irregular intervals after Buddha’s passing whose sole purpose was to discuss what was canonical and what was not in the absence of writing. Experts with strong memories were worth their weight in gold! However, a thousand schisms duly ensued and after a not so brief flowering, Buddhism was forgotten from memory for a thousand years in India!

Students of the future who study the modern era will have other problems though. The problems have moved on from preservation to interpretation. There are now several written versions of any event driven by the biases and the memories of the individual writer! Memory even when retrieved and written down within a few hours is a fickle thing.

Interstellar and the Interest in Science

For many viewers like me, I am sure Interstellar was a flash-back to the days of wonder. What is our place in the Universe? What is a black hole? Space travel! Given there hasn’t been a shortage of space-themed movies, what is different about this one? I think it is because most of the mainstream space-themed movies have a general lack of respect for real science. Scientific themes that are either uncool or difficult to visualize are completely dropped by the way-side. Understandably, it is difficult to hold the attention of an audience while grappling with relativity theory or the realities of space travel.

2001: A Space Odyssey was acclaimed as a movie that got the Physics reasonably right but never ended up getting a mass audience. Therefore, the science in main-stream science-fiction movies is truly “fictional” in nature. Great cinema stimulates the audience and the fact that no one really googled the science behind science-fiction movies says a great deal about these run-of-the-mill space-age entertainers. Interstellar though was different.

The reality of interstellar travel was made stark. Some improbable concepts (eg. wormholes) were cleverly used but the beauty of the movie is in how it embraces a difficult concept (General Relativity) and helps an audience visualize multi-dimensional space-time. I don’t know about others but I trawled Wikipedia’s dense articles on the theory soon after watching the movie. I stumbled on and got reminded of the Annus Mirabilis papers that Einstein published in 1905. When you think of the problems Einstein explained in one year, it boggles the mind. I never truly understood the implications of Brownian-motion or the Twin-paradox when I was made to read them at school but I remained in awe. This time I was more patient and finally got some of my concepts reasonably right. I also found that Einstein wrote a popular science book on Relativity. The explanations were extremely lucid in simple language. Einstein also later added an Appendix V that contextualizes Relativity theory in the overall multi-epoch human effort to understand natural phenomena. In fact, I got so interested that an otherwise banned thought entered my head – a career in research specializing in Physics! While research as a career does interest me, my thinking has always been to pursue social sciences like economics or a multi-disciplinary study of history.

When I interact with friends and colleagues, I don’t believe I am alone in getting caught up in this sudden bug to understand the Universe! My science teachers couldn’t really do that for me. This in my opinion is the biggest contribution of Nolan’s Interstellar and why I rate it as great cinema. Only regret – I couldn’t see it on IMAX!