Sunday, October 16, 2005

Asato ma sad gamaya; Tamso ma jyotir gamaya

After the Times of India (whose disregard for fact and laziness in verification I had written about in an earlier post) and a number of other uninformed publications, it is the turn of the President of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam to have been misinformed – and become a party to spreading misinformation! This is what he said at a meeting of senior police officers in Hyderabad: “You will realize that some of the developing countries, which are already in danger of terrorist attacks, have been singularly chosen to provide such high resolutions about them”.

No! Mr. President, you are wrong.

Forget fact checking, just repeat to yourself what you’ve been reported as saying. It doesn’t just sound absurd, it IS absurd. There’s no percentage for Google in conniving with terrorists! In fact, there’s no percentage for Google to be “singularly choosing” one, some or all of the developing countries! Why should they?

After thinking about this for a bit – when it will likely be clear that there is no motive that can link Google to be singularly choosing developing countries – you should have got someone on your staff to do a simple fact checking exercise. And this is what 10-15 minutes on the internet will uncover – basic facts such as:

1. The highest resolution areas are of locations in the US. In progressively decreasing order, Canada, Europe, other “developed” nations and metropolises in the third-world follow!

2. US’s interests abroad have been mapped out in great detail. These include areas in Iraq – where US military forces are currently engaging with enemy combatants. This mapping is NOT, presumably, to give any additional information to the enemies, it is because folks back home are likely to be curious about where their sons, daughters and loved ones have been sent to!

Easier still, have someone look through the software’s “Common Questions” page and test the claims for veracity. These newspaper-wallahs don’t have the systems in place to cross-check anything: that was obvious from that un-researched and incorrect Times of India article about areas around White house being “blanked out”. However you, sir, have a greater responsibility to the citizens of India for veracity in your statements. Specially because of your non-political background and previous scientific training and experience, your statements on such issues are taken more seriously by most.

And in this instance, there has been a slip-up. I trust some heads will roll in your speech-writing division and your people will learn not to depend on random newspaper articles for conclusions. As for you, even if in vain, I will hope that you will realize the error and – sooner rather than later – use some occasion to let the world know that by itself, the availability of more and better information that is freely accessible by all is an unambiguously good thing.

N.b. From the Rig Veda. See the entry at Wikipedia here.
अस्तो मा सद् गमय तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय मृत्योन् मा अमृतं गमय् ॐ शांति शांति शांति
Which transliterates to: Asato Ma Sad Gamaya; Tamaso Ma Joytir Gamaya; Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya; Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi

This means: "O Lord, Lead Us From Untruth To Truth, Lead Us From Darkness To Light, Lead Us From Death To Immortality, Aum (the universal sound of God) Let There Be Peace Peace Peace."
Erratum [Monday, October 17, 2005; 7.14am]: The Wikipedia entry reproduced above is sourced wrongly. As Piyush points out in his comment, it “is from the Third Brahmana of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28), which discusses the life force, i.e., Prana”, not from the Rig Veda. Sorry.


Piyushgupta said...

That the Indian media does not do any fact checking was also shown when it was widely reported a few months ago that a UP boy has topped a NASA exam. According to the news reports, not only did he top the exam, he bettered the record of Kalam (7th) and Kalpana Chawla (21st). (see the reports in Rediff, The Hindu and The Indian Express, for example). It was soon revealed that no such exam existed but for a week such reports were published, the government officials got into the contgratulatory mode and the UP CM even announced an award. Such is the state of inquiry in our country.

On a slightly different note, though technically not part of the Vedas, but because they contain the essence of the Vedas, the Upanishads are also also known as Vedanta (End of Vedas). The Sanskrit quote that you have quoted from Wikipedia is from the Third Brahmana of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28), which discusses the life force, i.e., Prana. Wikipedia articles can sometimes be not correct.

NPOjha said...

Thank you for pointing out the source error.
Like many others, I have known the words and their meaning for a long while (school motto etc.) but never was sure where it was from.
Going solely with Wikipedia was lazy fact-checking on my part!

Sig 11 said...

While it is fun and easy to put all the blame on ToI, in the two cases you have mentioned in your post with regards to Google Earth, all they have done is report facts. They never said Google was taking a partisan stand. They reported Mr. Kalam as saying that Google was taking that stand.

There is a difference.

NPOjha said...

Sig 11:

Thank you for dropping by.

I'm not putting all the blame on ToI in this instance - re-read the post: "No! Mr. President, you are wrong", "you should have got someone on your staff to do a simple fact checking exercise" etc. No, the paper apart, Dr. Kalam's people should've had done their own homework.

However, in the previous post on this subject - Trashy Tabloids and Luddites - the blame was (deservedly) only on ToI (see the picture of White House from Google Earth in that post).


Kapil said...

I have used Google Earth and from that little experience, for someone to plan a terrorist attack using Google Earth looks like a real far-fetched one to me...but then I am not a terrorist and not able to think like one either so...

Amit said...

Wikipedia should be actively corrected by all Internet users! (That's what a wiki is.) It never claims to be definitive -- just the best collective output of all who police it. Your changes will appear immediately.

piyushgupta said...


No one is claiming that wikipedia articles are definitive. The concept of wiki is well understood and it is a great thing, which will only improve with time.

Hiren said...

I have read Kalam's autobiography and for someone who was so meticulous in space, automic energy and defence it is strange that he spoke without doing his homework. Or perhaps his stint in the space organization caused him to be presumptuous. Non political presidents should preseve their distintiveness.

Amit said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Amit said...


I wasn't claiming that you claimed Wikipedia articles are definitive! Sorry if it came off that way. It was a general response aimed at clarifying the concept for those who don't know what a wiki is (and I would still say that's a majority), not at you specifically.

I've deleted an earlier posting that contained a typo.

NPOjha said...

Here's another post at an excellent hindi web log on the same topic.
One point that I made in my comment there deserves repetition - the far more real and present (even today) danger from moles within our own system as exposed by Mitrokhin's archival material.
And another thing - instead of the McDonald's using GPS for site selection, I'd focus attention on the more public-good applications that are possible: Imagine GPS-equipped police vehicles in patrol around town which a central command center can track, pinpoint and re-direct on a real-time basis! Or similar applications in other emergency services like ambulance and fire brigade (These are INEXPENSIVE applications, now). More prosaically, the issue of unauthorized colonies has been hostage to "aerial surveys" for a long time now – well, here it is – and free of charge! Of course, the private sector can adopt this technology for efficiency gains in their logistics and distribution management systems.

janya barrish said...

Thanks for the source correction for the verse. I frequently consult Wikepedia as I am researching the Hindu Scriptures and am quite frequently concerned as to the accuracy of the information therein.

I am also shocked at the Tantrik killings in India, especially in Delhi and Northern India..possibly other parts of India too... The problem appears to be lack of psychological help for those suffering from demonic ideations. It is undescribably sickening but very instructive to watch Zee T.V in the United States and view heart wrenching incidents where little children, the most vulnerable members of society are murdered on behest of Tantric fellows { I don't they should be given the privelege of being called "purohits.") Why does not the Indian Government, step in, like the British did when they were ruling India and abolished Sati and actively enforced the Anti-Sati Laws? Why are there not massive demonstrations and social outrage at such incidents? Where is the SOUL of the Indian people? Being an Indian, I feel morally obligated to express my outrage.

With poverty and ignorance, superstition and giving undue personal and spiritual control to undeserving persons, such as MURDER INCITING TANTRIKS..PSYCHOPATHS INFACT these desparate women (seems women and children are the most targeted, either as victims or perpetrators) cling to whatever hope they can... even if it means killing the innocents.

It is during times like this that I seriously doubt the "moral strength and goodwill" of the people of India.

What is the real problem with India? Poverty, no doubt but also absolute unmitigated shameless GREED and SELFISHNESS seems to be the plague.

India must heed the words of Christ and also much of their own religion.

...if you have done it to the least of your brethren, you have done it unto me.

So what can be done? What is wrong with the Indian People? Can they not stand up for the rights of the weakest members of society?

Anonymous said...

Are you the guy from IIMA -94 batch? Please reply..I need to establish contact for a project that I am doing.

IIMA Alumna

tangled said...

They should have some way of posting comments that have nothing to do with the current post :)
Just wanted to say that I read your reply to "DesiHowardRoark" over at Rashmi's blog (a little after the fact, I know) and enjoyed it most thoroughly.
Will perhaps get around to reading your blog soon!

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Anonymous said...

the answers to this prayer : "Asato Ma Sad Gamaya; Tamaso Ma Joytir Gamaya; Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya" (BRIH. UPANISHAD-1:3:28) is seen in the words of jesus who said :