On Muqaddimah and Facebook

Source: Amazon.com

Source: Amazon.com

Facebook is often a slit in the canvas overlooking people we call friends. The intimate association that comes from personal experiences has been dwarfed by fleeting interactions through algorithm-driven posts. This semblance of a connection, however incomplete, gives us the gift of time and convenience. But it is also, in admirable fullness, a platform for sharing ideas.

Mark Zuckerberg recently endorsed the book Muqaddimah as a part of ‘A Year of Books’ – a project that aims at reading and discussing a new book every two weeks. Written by the 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah is a voluminous exposition on the philosophy of history, politics, sociology, economics, theology and other topics that shaped the social environment of its time. Though the subjects covered have today undergone transformations, Muqaddimah is a repository of traditional thought that covers a wide expanse of academic themes.

What’s striking is that despite being a commentary that could be considered a relic from the vantage point of modernity, the founder of a dynamic digital platform finds in it an opportunity for reflecting on our past. In many ways, spending time with Muqaddimah is an antithesis of one’s relationship with Facebook. The laborious efforts expended in reading a treatise are alien in the world of little nuggets of post updates. While each word may be measured to reflect the central idea of the book, our Facebook activities are not bound by the disciplines of vocabulary, often meandering into words and phrases that scream of our affinity with colloquial existence.

Muqaddimah is an exegesis on philosophies unknown to the human mind; the most engaging Facebook posts, on the other hand, are those that are relatable and induce an acknowledgment of familiarity. Muqaddimah decodes the nuances of society, recognizing the underlying forces of politics and culture that guide human disposition. Facebook is best enjoyed as a reflection of human interaction with culture and real-time news on politics. Muqaddimah is a sum total of civilization; Facebook is the little snapshots that drive social interactions over the internet.

Muqaddimah is the result of an author’s mind that has endured the intellectual journey in search for ideologies. Facebook is at times the knee-jerk reactions, and on other pleasant occasions tiny travelogues that banish barriers to information. Muqaddimah is a privilege of those who decipher the erudite narrative; Facebook is a song, the lyrics of which are popular with all. Muqaddimah is an ocean that stands still with the passage of time; Facebook is a stream that grows as strong as it tributaries wish for it be.

Amongst all that is different, there still remains some similarity between the both. Much of ideas that echo from Muqaddimah have been disproven and displaced over the span 700 years. Facebook too is just momentary truths that we wish to share with our immediate world. What we write as an absolute today is nothing more than a transitory moment that holds the promise of change. The people who complete our pictures either disappear completely or are reduced to mere subjects of a customary birthday wish.

Amidst the differences also lies the similarity of being messengers of transformative ideas. While Muqaddimah was confronted with contrarian views leading to new philosophies that live today, users of Facebook are but beings that convey true stories to challenge conventional wisdom.

As Facebook remains a slit that overlooks lives, Muqaddimah is the window with a wider view of our recorded history. What matters in the end is not which of the two provides a better sight, but that both show us things that exist only to change tomorrow.

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A Cake Called India

India Independence

India celebrated its 67 years of Independence from British colonialism on 15th August, 2014

Fresh out of the oven, my country India always leaves an aroma of stories that can be discussed and reflected upon forever. It is the most eclectically flavoured cake, with 1.2 billion candles poised on it with their part of the story. But alas, this cake is not the sweetest to bite into. Especially not in areas where 180 million candles  prop up, weak, and their flames dimmed to virtual darkness. It’s a cake wherein the cream carries the strongest flame, often dwarfing what remains of the weaker ones. Their clout gets them to re-ignite their wick in times of momentary despair, distracting the decorator from the others who live with flimsily for ages. It’s a cake, the crumbs of which are never picked up from the floor. Instead, birthday hats and ribbons join it to fight against the science of decomposition.

It’s a cake on which the candles multiply at a rate that rings ominous with the limited ingredients in it. Sadly, not all candles are placed to equal height. Some claim to have been from an elite packet and are entitled to a bigger space on the cake, not realising that their greed has been witnessed by other confectionery shops. It’s a cake which witnesses, from time to time, the extinguishing of many flames – just as they had been prolifically born. The reasons are too many to cite – some could not yield enough from the batter, some had accidentally tripped over the surface due to the chef’s carelessness.

The mantle of melancholy is borne by one certain group of candles who have known to the be producers of fresh candles. They are subservient to the whims of the chef, often losing their shine & dignity to stray pieces of wax in areas not well lit.  It’s a cake that carries a stigma of not being able to handle tiffs between two groups of candles for centuries. A certain group complains of the other carrying a shade of green in their flame, while they themselves have been accused of imposing their tinge of saffron on the rest. It’s a tussle that follows into the mouth of the consumer, often leaving a bad taste and needless to say – memories. History has seen some portions of the cake burnt, leaving a narrative of exclusion and intolerance.

But there’s a reason why the many candles have drawn the attention of every other confectionery delight to this one cake. It is a cake that has been baked with tender hands, fighting the oppression of imported ingredients that did not blend well with the cake mix. The light that some candles emanate with their skill and diligence is a topic hotly discussed in kitchens, restaurants and plates around the globe. Often, the signature dish of chefs is marked by candles from this cake – their positions high in the rank of importance. Despite the hypocrisy of many, there are stories of candles being united only by the belief in their ability to banish darkness and overlook trivial differences.

The candles that constitute the middle portion of the cake and also its core struggle to make ends meet, but their philosophies are often sweetened with emphasis on honesty, integrity, humility and wisdom. They remind the ones around them never to forget the first humble slice of cake they feasted on, the efforts that went into baking that part and the forks that felt short on the table. It is this middle portion that often reminds others not to be lured by the fluffiness on other sides, and be content with the chef decided for them. When pursuing their dream to immigrate to other cakes, the candles carry the crumbs of their parents and teachers and strive to shine brighter on cakes that host them.

The lives of some carry perpetual sacrifice, selflessly dedicating their years of shine for a sparkling future of the young ones. The candles enjoy some freedoms that others yearn to achieve, the ability to elect their chef lies in their genesis while others melt away dreaming of it.  This cake can also easily be regarded as the most celebratory one, offering itself to hundreds of festivals and moments of joy.

It’s a cake, the recipe of which is too convoluted for a passive observer, and too commanding for a cynic. It’s a recipe that stands as a special contribution to literature itself. It is a cake that has stood the test of time, temperature and the impulse of the mouths to feed.

It’s a cake where a few may get to be the cream, but every candle is an icing in one way or the other.

A very happy birthday, India. And let’s not cut this cake, for we have been splitting it in pieces for far too many years.