Shock and awe

Shock and awe

Two totally unconnected events on the same day, only a decade apart. Both examples of the capacity of the human brain. One personifying the brilliance of the human intellect, the other, the Machiavellian depths of the scheming brain. Both evoking a gasp, one of shock, the other of awe.  One literally an earth shaking event, the other a quiet, but no less brilliant and perfect one in concept and execution.

September eleventh is a day when the world woke up to the machinations of an evil, devious brain which struck at the heart of US power and super ego. Only a brain like Osama’s could have even conceived of striking at the symbols of power and prestige of the most powerful country on earth. Not that the world needed an Osama to understand the depths of human wickedness.

Human incarnations of Satan have co-existed with humanity since aeons. But Osama’s plot stands out for the sheer ingenuity in the theme for his ‘dance of death’, selection of  the cast , the modus operandi and choice of stage for its ‘world premiere’.  Surely not the work of an ordinary brain!

Ten years down the line, in Bangalore on the same day. A curious and eager audience in a small auditorium has its sights glued on to a stage where a diminutive figure sits, flanked on either side by four persons each. The stage is set for ‘Avadhana’ meaning concentration in Sanskrit. The central figure is the ‘Avadhani’. None other than Dr R Ganesh, the acclaimed scholar and one of the very few practitioners in India today of this ancient intellectual exercise.

The people sitting on either side are the ‘examiners’ who test the concentration of the ‘Avadhani’ in various ways. All accomplished in their own fields. A stanza is recited at random. The ‘examinee’ has not only to identify the work, but compose extempore lines on the same theme.

A set of words or phrases is given by another, using which a meaningful couplet has to be composed in a particular grammatical metre. Another wants certain alphabets to be excluded while giving a verbal portrayal of an event. Yet another proffers a mathematical puzzle... A ‘jester’ through his  jabs tries his best to throw the ‘Avadhani’ off track, who, while responding appropriately has to simultaneously do the ‘back-end processing’ of the variegated challenges thrown at him.

At the same time, he has to keep the audience engaged through his wit and scholarship. The ‘Avadhani’ has to run this gauntlet with split second precision and emerge unscathed. What must be the nature of this ‘grey matter’ that so perfectly ‘multi tasks’? Still what more must be the capacity of the brain or brains that conceptualised such an exercise? This is just an example.

Brilliant brains have created the most moving of music, the most magnificent art, the most sublime poetry, the most glorious scientific advancements. The human brain can reach the empyrean heights of attainment or the nadir of debasement and degradation. The world could do with more of the former and less of the latter.