13 August, 2017

Menu: A Philosophy

Almost any group of words can be turned into a philosophy. Those that talk of their holy books as some kind of philosophy for life ought to understand that it is simply a matter of interpretation, given the claim that almost everything is either literal or allegorical depending on the person interpreting it.

I was challenged, some months ago, to create a pop philosophy with a random collection of words, to prove my point. I chose the leaflet lying closest to me, a menu card, since we were sitting at a restaurant.

This is how people like Deepak Chopra, Sadguru, and Sri Sri create crap philosophies and sound mystical, knowledgeable, and wise. My intent was to show how simple it is, given the intent and intelligence, to create vapourware that impresses lesser minds. The tools are present all around us. So are fools. It only requires a willingness to employ those tools to extract first attention, then respect, then reverence, then money, and eventually power & control, from these fools. In effect, it is only our morals that prevent us from exploiting this weakness...which says something about those who actually do exploit it.

On with the exercise then:

A Philosophy of The Menu

A random menu card

The Mystical Name

This is called The "Menu". If you see carefully, it consists of "Me 'n U", which means this is about "Us". I am part of you, and you are part of me.

The Metaphysical Metaphor

It also seemingly speaks of food, an essential ingredient in our survival. It is apparent that without food, there is no life. Food is essentially the fuel our body requires to sustain and survive. But the "food" is allegorical. In this is a hidden dimension we miss. The menu is in two pages. "Food" for the body isn't sufficient, for man doesn't live on bread alone. Food is required for the mind too. And, the two-page format shows that the "food" it talks of is for both: One that holds together the body, and other that nourishes the soul.

The Colours Speaketh The Language of Life

Look carefully again. It has 4 colours: Orange, White, Black, and Green. 4 Colours, 4 Parts, 48 items. In the "W Philosophy" (Author's Note: This menu is from the Wadeshwar restaurant in Pune, hence the "W"), 4 is a magic number. Humans pass through 4 "dashas", with each characterised by the heading of The Menu items.

The "Wada-Idli"

When the human is born, s/he is fresh and virgin like a fluffy idli, untouched by the sambhar or chutney of life. This is the stage where the human is the most malleable, soft, and pure white. If you look carefully, this stage has two sub-stages, with the "Wada" stage coming before the "Idli" metamorphosis. This shows us in our mother's womb, which is like a cauldron of hot oil, creating us, toughening us from the outside, while protecting our softest parts. Once we are out in the real world, we arrive pristine pure.

The "Snacks"

When the human comes of "Ardh" ("Half" or "Unfinished" in Sanskrit) age (which is between full adulthood and infancy), s/he is a mix of various elements. S/he has no character of their own, like a snack has no fixed time of consumption, and is made of bits and pieces of other food items. In this stage, humans must strive to build an identity, while remaining open to being slotted in every pigeonhole. Like the tomato omelette that has very few tomatoes and isn't even an omelette, the human finds him/herself in a position of ridicule. This, s/he must endure, for the next stage, and an escape from this "dasha" is around the corner.

The "Dosa"

At this stage, the human begins to become formed into an adult. A flat, regular-shaped, crispy at the edges, soft in the centre, sometimes with a stuffed middle, sometimes not, having made peace with the sambhar and chutney, the human now has personality, though many-a-times, like a badly made dosa lacks shape, taste, or crispiness, a badly formed human may be short on character, opportunity, or be oddly and unevenly burnt by life's experiences.

The "Uttappa"

Experts vary on whether this stage comes before, after, or concurrently to the "Dosa" stage, but this writer firmly believes that it comes in the last part of our lives. Just like the batter and the toppings used in an uttappa are left over from the idli, wada, snacks, and dosa, and the human reaches this only after having passed through all the previous ones. To the lay observer, the uttappa is a confusing dish, part pizza, part dosa, part meal, part snack, and a bit of everything. But here's how it resembles a human in the last stage of his/her life: The uttappa doesn't care, and continues to be. In short, it has arrived! Humans reach this stage with much behind them, and though to the outside viewer, they may seem a mish-mash of everything and anything, the bottomline is that they are comfortable in their skin to just be.

The Menu characterises our life, and teaches us lessons beyond the reach of most other religious holy books. But it goes further. It also teaches us other profound truths, which some "W Philosophy" (which is less a philosophy and more a "way of life") scholars codify as commandments:
1. Know your options and study them carefully.
2. Know what you can and cannot have and be at peace with this.
3. Order only when you are sure, for once placed, it cannot be cancelled.
4. Thou shalt only receive what thou hast ordered:
   4.1 You cannot order an idli and receive a dosa. Such is the rule of nature.
   4.2. Thou shalt not receive what your neighbours have ordered. If thou doest, that is a mistake and must be corrected.
5. Certain items are only available on certain times and days. Thou must be careful what thou desires. Remember that everything has its own time and place.
6. Extras cost.
7. Thou must pay for what thou consumest.
8. The actual payment differs from what you may be led to believe. You can call it the "Taxes" of life.
9. Thou needeth others. This life isn't possible without the help of those like the chef, waiter, cashier, and above all, The Owner.
10. Thou need not share what thou receiveth with any of the above, for their payment is in a different coin.

At this point, I was tired. As you can see, it is easy to go on. There’s a lot to be done with the colours, the various numbers and costs, the font used, the rectangle shape, and so on. But honestly, i think the above should suffice to prove a point: Given enough time and enough words, one can have a philosophy with anything and make it mean anything.

The menu card also provides very little text. Given a larger body (say, an Arthur C Clark’s book) it would be too easy. The more the text, the older the text, the more profound and meaningless the philosophy. Why meaningless? Because by cherry-picking, one can prove almost anything in a long enough text.

Stop believing these false gurus, the holy books, the "profound" philosophies from mystical text. There is enough and more real, beautiful, insightful, and intellectually stimulating philosophy to be had in books and thoughts or real philosophers like Plato and Nietzsche, Kant and Marx, Hume and Russel, Camus and Descartes, Avicenna and Aquinas (yes, there's a lot of religious and spiritual claptrap in there too, but ignore that part), even Krishnamurthy and Kabir, Tagore and Gandhi, even Savarkar and Rand. 

Reading these philosophers won't mean you agree with them or are compelled to live your life as per their thoughts, nor do I claim all or any of them to be either 100% right, moral, or complete in any respect. But at least these real philosophers would get you thinking about life, about morals, about actions, about other people, and about your own self. That is so much more fulfilling than the alternative: Being hypnotised by shrewd word-magicians and being impressed by word-play.