That politics in India is going through much dog whistling and turmoil is stating the obvious when the ruling party and opposition distrust each other. But there were kinder times when debates were robust and there was healthy respect among opponents. This is highlighted in Sagarika Ghose’s biography Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister who first led the BJP into power at the Centre. The extract below draws from Vajpayee’s early days as a parliamentarian when he would lock heads with Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister then and who was seen as all powerful.
“The atmosphere in the House was heady, exemplifying democracy’s greatest practice: debate and contestation, without enmity. Nehru distrusted the RSS and heartily disliked the Jana Sangh, seeing it as a symbol of reactionary communalism. ‘If there is any organisation in India which is really communal, it is the Jana Sangh,’ Nehru once said in response to Syama Prasad Mookerji. ‘It is a wholly reactionary organisation. All the reactionary minded people in India—I say this deliberately, the princes and jagirdars who are to my mind the real backward classes, are behind the Jana Sangh. They are financing it.’ On one occasion Vajpayee sat listening while the prime minister launched another of his scathing attacks on the Jana Sangh. As he ended, Vajpayee leapt to his feet and shouted out: ‘I know that the prime minister does a shirshasana [headstand] every morning, but this doesn’t mean he should see my party upside down!’ After a moment’s pause, Nehru laughed out loud and the House guffawed.
“Vajpayee’s impish wit was a welcome addition to the Lok Sabha. On a speech on deaths in railway accidents, he cried: ‘Our Railway minister [Jagjivan Ram] has both “Jag” and “Jivan” in his name, but travellers lose both “Jag” [the world] and “Jivan” [life]. They are left only with Ram, the last portion of the Railway Minister’s name.’ Again, the House roared. In 1959 when Nehru dismissed the communist-ruled Kerala government, he was assailed in Parliament, including by his own MP son-in-law, Feroze Gandhi. Teased Vajpayee: ‘Panditji’s rath (like Dharmaraj of the Mahabharat) used to float a few inches above the ground, but has now come down to the ground. But the Communists who were overground will now go underground.’ For India’s early democrats of the 1940s and 1950s, argument and counter-argument strengthened—not weakened—the painstakingly erected scaffolding of democracy. Whatever the disagreements, that vital structure must hold, be kept upright, be reinforced. The right to dissent and to oppose were crucial: they were the rivets that fastened democracy’s frame.”
After Vajpayee came to power, “In the 1990s, he suggested that a recently installed 16-foot statue of Nehru be placed on a stand, at a height, so it looked as if the first prime minister was always watching over the House. His suggestion was turned down, but it revealed his mind. Whenever he sat in Parliament, he felt himself being watched over by Nehru’s spirit.”
Those were gentler days!
Is the phone your extended self?
This debate is not a new one and a provocative essay by Joshua Moritz on the theme talks about how we got to this point. He writes about how humans have always wondered how far the boundaries of the mind can extend. “Socrates believed that one’s mind or psyche was beyond and yet within one’s body. Two thousand four hundred years ago, he reflected that the mind belongs to the ideal world of forms that do not change and never die. During one’s life the mind inhabits the body where it extends in three parts from the head to the heart. While the essential mind is unchanging, its time spent in the body leaves some residual corporeality that clings to it.”
More contemporary researchers believe that “If someone consistently relies on a notebook or a smartphone for an address or a number, then that same notebook or phone is part of that person’s cognitive process of remembering, and consequently part of that person’s mind.”
How are we to assimilate this? Moritz’s reflections on the theme offer much to think about. “The more we use a given tool, and the more that tool is readily available, the more that tool becomes part of our extended body and extended mind. Whatever we happen to be touching, using, or interacting with becomes part of us. In a very real sense, then, my mind is not my own, but rather it is a product of the various contexts that I choose to inhabit and the things I choose to think upon.”
Is this good, bad, or are there shades of grey? Researchers are at work to uncover much. Meanwhile, do let us know where you stand on this.
- Can thoughts exist outside the brain? (Templeton Foundation)
The best times to eat
A recent piece in BBC explores healthy food habits, concluding that the three meals a day phenomenon that we are all so used to might be on its way out. It quotes food historian Seren Charrington-Hollins, who says: “When we came off rations, we embraced three meals a day because there was suddenly an abundance of food. But time goes on—food is everywhere now.”
Two or three meals—and what’s the best time to eat?
Emily Manoogian, a clinical researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California actually wrote a paper in 2019 on the subject “When to eat”. She is pragmatic when answering the question. It’s not the time. What’s important is the pattern you set for yourself.
“Manoogian says it's best to not specify the best times to eat, as this can be difficult for people with responsibilities and irregular time commitments, such as those working night shifts.
“‘Telling people to stop eating by 7pm isn’t helpful because people have different schedules. If you try to give your body regular fast nights, try to not eat too late or early and try to not have huge final meals, this can usually help. People can at least adopt parts of this,’ she says.
“‘You could see a dramatic change just from a small delay in your first meal and advancing your last meal. Making this regular without changing anything else could have a big impact.’
“But whatever changes you make, researchers agree that consistency is crucial.
“‘The body works in patterns,’ says Anderson. ‘We respond to the anticipation of being fed. One thing intermittent fasting does is it imposes a pattern, and our biological systems do well with a pattern.” She says the body picks up on cues to anticipate our eating behaviours so it can best deal with the food when we eat it.’”
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