Monday, July 16, 2012

“Alternative” Thoughts on Innovation

Warning: This post does not have a shred of legal analysis. These are but random thoughts on the non-legal aspects of innovation which, to me, are much more important than rumination on the protection extended to innovation. Therefore, read at your own risk because this post may not be of value to you (not that other posts are necessarily of value either), and may even put you off.

Too often when we discuss innovation, we instinctively look up to the West or Far East or Israel, and this is certainly not without reason. After all, almost everything that is of use to us on a daily basis is a product of innovation outside this country. Apart from the reasons that meet the eye, I try to look for relatively “obscure” reasons, some of which even border on the occult.

At the expense of being branded superstitious or “old-school”, I dare say I have a passing interest in planetary movements and their relationship to human behaviour, the politically incorrect word for it being “astrology”. Quite a few self-professed “agnostics”, “atheists” and “rationalists” repose faith in this branch of study in private, which they would never admit to in public even if held at gun point. Fortunately, I don’t subscribe to that kind of hypocrisy J

The psychological aspects of this subject make it an interesting tool to observe people around us at a microcosmic level and the macrocosmic level, say general traits of a nation.

A few months ago, while I was waiting to board a flight, I was reading up a random write-up on the meaning of the word “retrograde”, and its connotations when used in an astrological context, specifically “retrograde mercury”. (“Mercury” is referred to as “Budha” in the Indian school of astrology and is the planet which governs intellect). One thing led to another and I found myself reading the traits of “Bhadra Yog” and “Budha Aditya Yog”, both of which refer to two different positions/combinations of Mercury in the birth chart.

What I read got me thinking on certain lesser discussed aspects of the dialectics of innovation. Apparently, persons with “Bhadra Yog” make for great statesmen, philosophers, theoreticians and thinkers; simply put, these are people whose destinies lie outside of the strictly vocational pursuits such as engineering and the like professions, and whose key strength lies in harnessing their inner thoughts. Whereas persons with “Budha-Aditya Yog”/”Mercury-Sun combination” are those with excellent skill and proficiency in professions which involve making/manufacturing or harnessing the forces of nature.

The write-up further said that India seems to have predominantly produced people with a “Bhadra Yog” with the West producing those with the “Budha-Aditya” combination. Not that this is a conclusive or what’s the word..ah yes.. “rational” explanation for our poor performance in the field of innovation, but I’d like to take a strand out of this observation and extend it.

Our philosophical leanings have often been interpreted as containing unmistakable undertones of nihilism and “the Universe shall take care of itself” approach. The fact could be that we may have chosen to conveniently focus on those aspects of our heritage which support a passive approach to situations, in the process glossing over those teachings which fervently urge us to take matters in our own hands and find solutions to our problems. This probably explains our dulled proactive and creative instincts, which in an increasingly competitive world makes us misfits, and certainly rules us out as real contenders to the Big Boys Club of developed nations.

Also, even when we choose to cast aside our complacence and try to sharpen our survival skills to stay in the race for development, we end up looking up to the West or other nations for inspiration, in the process turning a complete blind eye to shining examples of excellence and perfection which abound around us and within us. There is nothing wrong in learning from anyone, but to not be able to indigenize, and hence internalize, makes mere aping simians out of us.

One of the keys to originality is to learn the art of “naturalizing”/indigenizing an alien idea to the extent that its foreign roots are no more visible, and to yet preserve its potency. This is how some of our best music composers and home-grown geniuses like Ilayaraaja and R.D.Burman made Western tunes their own. The proof of their genius lies in the fact that we don’t use pejorative terms like “Copycats” for them, which we reserve for the current crop of music directors.

As for shining examples of perfection around us, I can’t think of a better example than the hoary tradition of Indian Classical music, Carnatic and Hindustani. To attain a certain degree of proficiency in the ocean that is Indian Classical music, it takes years and years of practice and discipline. This has not deterred us from producing one stalwart after another, who has captured the hearts and minds of music lovers across the globe. This proves that we do have what it takes to master sublime forms of knowledge which demand absolute and total surrender. If so, why do we struggle so much to raise the bar when it comes to innovation? I will not proffer any answers, but will leave it to the readers to mull over the issue.

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