By Mahesan Niranjan –
Somewhere in a faraway land is a well with a colony of frogs living in it. They have lived there for generations and are proud of their way of life. Strong hierarchy is a particular aspect of their culture. There is a super senior frog, beneath whom are middle level frogs, then more junior frogs and beneath them were the young tadpoles. There was some understanding in days gone by that the purpose of the well was to serve the tadpoles by providing an environment in which they are nurtured and their horizons stretched so they may leave the well in some mature shape or form. Such thoughts no longer apply.
At the surface level, the hierarchy in the well manifests as “Sir” and Madam” used to address those above. Names are used only in the downward direction. To know how high up the hierarchy was frog A with respect to frog B, you only need to count the frequency with which B would use one of these keywords per unit of time. That is syntax. Semantics always come from A. Lower down, B performs as follows:
“<nod> Sir <nod> <nod> Sir Sir <nod> <nod> <nod> Sir Sir Sir.”
The well and its inhabitants are in bad shape, having been through decades of tough times when lions and tigers were at war. Lions saw no difference between tigers and tadpoles. Tigers wanted to morph young tadpoles into killer machines. So the tadpoles and frogs perished in large numbers, maybe in their thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. We do not know.
Nobody was counting.
Many frogs lost their limbs. Anyone who cares to peep into the well will easily notice some who are just about managing to swim with paper-clips as substitutes.
Some frogs, however, managed to leave the well. They jumped high and escaped far. Some of the escapees were fortunate to receive kisses from Lady Sa Sa, from her throne atop a white lotus. A kiss from the good Lady can turn a frog into a prince (or princess), endowed with education. It brings out the best in them. Such lucky frogs readily liberate themselves from the enforced belief systems of the well back home. For example, they give greater attention to observing that the human genome has been sequenced in its entirety, than to worrying about whether the cat crossed the road from left to right or right to left as an omen of events to come.
Occasionally, the escapee frogs look back in time and space.
“Well, I also came from the well,” they might say to themselves. The thought that the well nurtured them and gave them a protective environment during their tadpole days, combined with what they observe about its current state, may even induce a mild feeling of guilt in the escapee frogs – now princes or princesses. The probability of such guilt induction tends to be high after the second glass of wine. “Should I be doing something back home?”, they wonder and even shed some tears, to the embarrassment of the more mighty amphibian to whom that particular art is often attributed.
But we know about feelings of guilt, don’t we? They decay exponentially with short time constants. So such temptations of “doing something back home” are easily forgotten.
What’s more, the escapees would also have received a kiss from Lady La La, seated atop her throne on a red lotus. A fine standard of living consisting of material goods, schooling for the next generation of tadpoles – princes and princesses – and gifts to temples will follow this kiss. Those cannot be easily given up. Hence, examples of princes or princesses returning to the well are rare.
Now, back in the well, the chief was about to retire and leadership elections were being held. Just about everyone in the layer below jumped at the idea of being the next chief and put their names forward. That is the usual pattern. When the chief goes, someone hops one level up the hierarchy. The perks must be good, for the hop has often happened by hook or by crook. History shows it is always from within. It is always to protect the age-old culture. It is always to maintain the rhythmic chants:
“<nod> Sir <nod> <nod> Sir Sir <nod> <nod> <nod> Sir Sir Sir.”
Well, no outsider has ever broken into the well-maintained hierarchy of the well.
On this occasion, however, one escapee frog — now a prince — thought differently and put his name forward from a faraway La La land. His educational accomplishments are demonstrably impressive. He has been kissed on both cheeks by Lady Sa Sa, you will agree. I know someone else, who also left the well some time ago, proudly identified with this prince as “this guy is from my part of the world, you know,” when discussing his work at a journal club recently.
“Hooray,” we hear cheers. Saved by the intervention of Lady Ka Ka! To the delight of those high up in the hierarchy, postman Pat who carried the Prince’s good intentions was delayed on the way. Apparently, one Saint A. Claws has been doing several busy rounds creating much traffic and slowing things down on highways.
The lowest ranks of the hierarchy in the well – the small frogs and tadpoles – are generally unhappy with status quo. In the past, they not only had to put up with top down instructions, but were also dependent on the same hierarchy for the flow of information. These days, however, they have knowledge of a better external world, discovered by going on frognet and reading froggypedia.
Their knowledge is surprising because, statistically, users of frognet are known to spend the largest fraction of their surf time on frogface sharing their pictures and liking those of others. Second comes time spent on frogwin reading about the millions who marched at the glorious frogrise gathering recently. Third in the rank is frogtube where one may study the latest dance moves from Bollywood.
Against all such odds of statistics, we are happy to note that the tadpoles are well informed on the subject of the existence of a wider world – of ponds and lakes and the sea — and their thirst to make the well a better place ought to be acknowledged. They deserve better.
So we now understand that the outsider prince is not going to be considered for the top job and, as usual, someone on the next step down the existing hierarchy will be crowned. They will then able to preserve the traditions and cultures we have carried with us for centuries. Everyone in the well will continue to look to see if the cat crossed the road from left to right or right to left, the well will continue to rot and decision making processes will sing the rhythmic chants:
“<nod> Sir <nod> <nod> Sir Sir <nod> <nod> <nod> Sir Sir Sir”
All that being the environment of the well, earlier this afternoon, a young tadpole named TaDa asked his mother: “What will become of me, ammi (mother), when I grow up?”
“Que TaDa, TaDa,” the wise mother croaked, “you ought not to try and predict the future putha (son). Nobody here cares about you. Nor does anyone care about the well collapsing little by little.
“Try and jump high. Try and jump out of the well.
“Lady Sa Sa will give you a kiss and you will turn into a prince. And when you receive the kiss, the best in you will come out.
“And then you need not be concerned if the cat crossed from left to right or right to left as an omen to tell the future. You could be intrigued that the genome has been sequenced in its entirety.
“And Lady La La may also give you a kiss. And you may have a good life, darling TaDa. And if you make it there, you can drink a second glass of wine.
“And, at times, even cry like a croc.”