Funniest line ever in an Indglish play-
Mr. Gosh- 'National bard of India is not Rabindranath Tagore. Peacock is the correct answer."
Prof Kaushik Basu, the contriver of the 'Traveler's dilemma'
as a critique of 'backwards induction' in Game theory has also written a hilarious little play
- Crossings at Benares Junction' which combines old fashioned romanticism with game theoretic insights into intentionality and ethics.
Basu’s protagonist is a 39 year old bachelor, Siddharta, a professor of philosophy, who has just won an International prize and, as such, for complex socio-biological reasons, has suddenly become the ultimate matrimonial trophy for brainy women on the prowl for- I will not say Bengali beefcake, as that would be culturally insensitive- but a slippery, cerebral, hilsa like husband from the right side of the Hooghly.
In the first scene, the improbably named Melba Iyengar- an ambitious philosophy lecturer/documentary film-maker, who combines the emotional crassness of her generation (she is in her late 20’s) with the cultural illiteracy and naked careerism of the bien pensant N.G.O do-goodniks- makes indelicate advances to our blushing Bengali boy.
(En passant- I may note the curious attribution of sexual aggression to Iyengar females in Indglish fiction- vide Shoba De, Mukul Kesavan but not, I hasten to add, my own 'Samlee's daughter')
Miss Iyengar presses her suit on Siddhart using two powerful arguments. Firstly, the fact that if he proposes she is sure to say yes- thus greatly increasing the expected value of proposing. Secondly, three other people are competing for her hand. By delaying proposing, Siddharta keeps three others waiting in limbo.
Hence, altruism would dictate proposing sooner rather than later so that three other men can get on with their lives.
Siddharta has till now played a Stoic’s part- as indicated by his choice of Hindi song
to play on the stereo.Mai.N Zi.Ndagii Kaa Saath Nibhaataa Chalaa Gayaa
Har Fikr Ko Dhu.Ne.N Me.N U.Daataa Chalaa Gayaa
Barabaadiyo.N Kaa Soz Manaanaa Fizuul Thaa
Barabaadiyo.N Kaa Jashn Manaataa Chalaa Gayaa
Jo Mil Gayaa Usii Ko Muqaddar Samajh Liyaa
Jo Kho Gayaa Mai.N Usako Bhulaataa Chalaa Gayaa
Gam Aur Khushii Me.N Fark Na Mahasuus Ho Jahaa.N
Mai.N Dil Ko Us Muqaam Pe Laataa Chalaa Gayaa Mai.N Zi.Ndagii..
I went on my way keeping faith with Life
Blowing away anxieties like smoke from a cigarette
Grief over disasters is a futile thing
I celebrated my calamities along life’s way
Whatever I received, I considered my fated portion
Whatever I lost, I resolved to forget and move on
I move my heart towards that (mystic) station where sorrow and joy are indistinguishable
He parries Melba’s crass attempt at seduction by claiming, firstly, that he is not at all sure that she will not reject him if he proposes and, secondly, that her mention of three other suitors is 'double counting' since only one of them could have her. This is a disingenuous argument, since Melba's point was about a duty to minimize the total waiting time of the other suitors- that being the only opportunity cost that arises where a woman is determined to marry a particular man and the fellow is dragging his heels.
Siddharta, clearly, is either really stupid or clever enough to appear so when his happiness is at stake- in other words, the man is a born philosopher.
Fortunately, the arrival of other guests prevents Melba from raping the hero, thus ‘ruining’ him and leaving him no option but marriage to his assailant- so backward is Bharat, such things happening all the time, I yam telling you- simply to save his family’s izzat.
In the next Act, we meet Siddharta’s lost love- June. Or so we conclude from Siddharta’s choice of song
June points out, she was almost ten years older than him and did the right thing in marrying a pompous ass of an academic closer to herself in age. She counsels Siddharta to marry, to trust in God, and keep promises.
‘Nibhana’- to abide by a commitment- is a key value expressed in the two songs- from the Dev Anand vehicle ‘Hum Donon’- Siddharta has played so far. Since the lyricist was Sahir Ludhianvi we see that both faithfulness in love and integrity in political engagement are meant. In this case, resistance to Right Wing Hindutva hooliganism is the righteous path.
Siddharta had promised God that he would give thanks in a temple if he gets the prize, but he is agnostic not only about God but also about the value of Prizes and- more to the point- the incentive compatibility of Marriage as an institution. Yet he is lonely. He has to ‘go out into the dark night’ not from fear of God but because fear is the biggest sin.
Here the text is a little unclear- is there a temple in ‘Plaza gardens’ or is there to be a political demonstration there, or is it a place to meet girls?- so we can’t be sure exactly what June is counselling Siddharta to do.
Siddharta announces that he is not a coward. He will walk out into the dark night. He is prepared to take the risk.
Siddharta’s dilemma is the classic Romantic dilemma- most fully realised in Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa- whereby ‘a boy loves with his full heart, a man loves with a full stomach’ (Kipling). However, the boy with the full heart can’t feed the beloved. She marries the fat older guy. But what happens when, a few years down the line, the boy wins a big prize and becomes an attractive prospect? How can he get a bride after his own heart rather than the full wallet that nestles against it?
The problematic that, where meaning is gamed, where emotions are strategic, where the subject matter of both epistemology and Aristotelian ethics- in other words both Knowledge and ‘Character’- are in flux for defined, as it were, by backward induction from the reference point of a mercenary, memoryless, game- then, but not only then, it is not only the fraudulent ‘businessman’ but also the scholar, the lover, the spouse, everybody in every relationship, who keeps going only by introducing more and more chaos into the system- but that system itself a Ponzi scheme that feeds off its own ever widening circle of ruination to make itself the only game in town…
The one rather artificial assumption in the above is that modern life is a memoryless- i.e hysteresis free- game. Siddharta is worried by what happens if things suddenly stop- how can the world suddenly start up again.
Siddharth: I have not thought it through well enough to know the answer myself. But see, if everything stops, the earth, you, the protons and atoms inside you and inside me… everything. It does seem obvious, right? That things cannot re-start again?
One way to reason is that whatever happens at any time is caused by the state of the world just before that. Now, if the world is motionless for some time, no matter how brief, there is a time when the world is motionless and just before that the world was motionless. Hence, motionlessness causes motionlessness. Hence, once there is no motion, there cannot be any motion.
This has lots of interesting implications. It means that we can never invent a TV set that can switch itself on. If it does, it is because we have programmed that in and there are small actions occurring inside it all the time. (Pause) What I wonder is, are we reaching this conclusion purely by deduction, or is this just a fact of life — that motion cannot come out of motionlessness.
Kavita: The fact that you reach this conclusion without ever having experienced the stoppage of everything suggests, doesn’t it, that you come to this conclusion by deduction.
Siddharth stares at her in disbelief.
Siddharth: Are you a philosopher? I am sorry to inflict this trivia on you…
Kavita: No, but I was taught philosophy. In fact, by you — at NDU.
Basu enrolled at the Delhi School of Econ when it was full of ambitious cretins- Manmohan had spurned Prebisch in Geneva, at UNESCO- to return to that impostume of Export Pessimism and Socio-Democratic Defeatism- not to mention swinish subservience to the Dynasty- which poisoned Indian discourse from about the time that I became fluent in it.
What he wasn't taught that Von Neumann had invented cellular automata theory at the same time that he and Morgenstern established Game Theory as a paying proposition- for cretins.
The Delhi School- which turned me away though I had an LSE degree at the age of 19 and could have aced their puerile Entrance exam- was a shitty little darbari clique of an 'ICS Gotra' casteist type. So was the supply of 'independent' Econ Advisers to Govt. I had married an Italian whose half-sister was married to a guy whose Dad had been a great pal of Sonia's daddy. Youth Congress leader, Anil Mathrani- later our man in Belgrade (whose whores he did much degrade) but also the guy who did for Natkat Singh- could have gotten me in on the inside track. Sadly, my Dad put his foot down. Fuck off back to Blighty. Only Covenanted officers or Additional Secretary level 'lateral entrants' can be permitted to fuck up India.
Returning to Basu's play, we have to ask why his protagonist- a 'philosopher'!- is so fucking ignorant. Did the cunt not read popular, Leftist, articles re. Ilya Prigogine, Jacques Monod, chemical clocks & Conway's game of life and so forth?
I suppose, the answer is that D School was a shit place to study. It encouraged ambition but inhibited intelligence.
To be clear, we are all thoroughly familiar with the notion that 'everything can stop'- or more precisely 'nothing happening' can occur for any given number of time periods before novelty starts to appear or things to start up again. In other words, for any given specifiable world state there is a cellular automata model such that everything stops at time t and everything starts up again at time t+i.Thus, Siddharta's puzzling over this is either the author justifying an implausible assumption- viz. the trope of a memoryless game- or else it is a pointer to the protagonist's emotional state. Well, d'uh!, it is both- so that's okay.
Basu’s delightful, Shavian, jeu d’esprit has a happy ending and will be appreciated by all who read it- if hopelessly stuck in an early Seventies time-warp. Except, of course, it would be even more fun to watch in an auditorium- if no Colosseum is available for lions to feast on the flesh of the actors and author and director. And if anyone asks-
- will be my reply.