The mainstream considers those intelligent living in a rarefied atmosphere. They say we are cynical about everything except their own cynicism. I would like to add a more endearing trait. We argue out, we think. As Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”
Most of our clan start young, much like the kid in the Horlicks ad who stumps his mother with, “February mein kyon sirf 28 days hai?” Woody Allen once quipped that as a young boy he was worried. His cause for concern? The universe is expanding, and so one day it will burst! In my teens, the theories of evolution captured my imagination, nay it became an obsession. I decided to approach Mr Gopal, a retired college professor and a man of erudition, with my nagging doubts. One morning I plucked up enough courage to meet him in his house. Mr Gopal was an early riser. The soft glow of dawn had barely set in, but he was up and about and watering his plants, and looked up when he saw me.
I blurted out without any manner of preamble, “Sir, do you think that we all came from a single cell organism, say like the amoeba and worked up our way to become planktons, non-vertebrates and then vertebrates and then monkeys before we climbed down from the trees to make it good?” His reaction took me by surprise. His face turned purple and his moustache bristled in anger. “Be gone,” he thundered. “Go and play cricket like the boys of your age.” I tiptoed my way out, out of the line of fire.
I let the matter go, but being a member of the intelligentsia by my own reckoning, more dilemmas cropped up in my head. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The approach had to be different. Just one opinion will not do. This time, I asked the question to a number of people working in the paddy fields. I noted down the answers. For methodological accuracy, I rephrased the questions, and asked the same to a group of men passing through the bus stand, making sure that it was handed out, printed as a question and answer, and one could tick yes or no. Much to my chagrin, rephrasing the query turned out to be my undoing. Many ticked both answers!
I am not a person to be put off easily. Are the stripes on a zebra black or white? My recourse to this puzzle was the nature channel. All I could gather from them was that the stripes are there to confuse predators like lions. However, this was not to be the final answer. Now researchers at Sweden’s Lund University have come up with an amazing solution. It is that such stripes reflect polarised light in a peculiar pattern, and that kept the blood sucking parasites at bay.
The next time I went to the zoo, I watched the painted horse in awe. This marvel of evolution with its unique bar-coding was standing right in front of me, but she appeared indifferent. She flicked her mane and said, “Neigh…” as if mocking my intellectual pretensions. I think she was desperately trying to tell me that some of nature’s riddles are not meant to be cracked.