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Adventures in Aipotu
By Sanat Mohanty

Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 3, Part 2

The Bowl of Perspectives (contd...)

"Trouble, are you?" the woman asked in a not too polite tone. "No, Madam, I am Damini," Damini said politely. "I am new around here and am trying to figure out who you are and what you are doing." "You do not know who we are?" the woman asked disbelievingly. "Don't you know us? We are the Progressives. We are the thinkers, the leaders of this place. We know exactly what is right. And we are deciphering this truth that stands majestically in front of us." "But why is it that everyone is drawing what you are drawing?" Damini asked innocently as she walked up to this woman's easel and then compared it to the figure on the screen above. "Why do they not draw what they see?"

The woman's face turned red and then purple in anger and disbelief. The entire crowed roared in anger. "You girl, you dare to blasphemy!" the woman exclaimed. "I am the true seer of truth. I have been the first who saw this statue and hence I know exactly how it looks like. These people cannot see the real truth because they do not have the advantageous position that I have. Hence they only see glimpses of the real truth. Instead of drawing the illusions that they see, they draw what I draw since I am the one that really sees the truth. Don't you know this simple thing?" Then changing her tone she asked suspiciously, "Are you mentally challenged or are you a spy from the other camp? Tell me truthfully, girl, are you from the camp of the rights or the lefts? Both are evil cults, ignorant pagans, who believe in the illusions that they see. They sidetrack our people and should be destroyed. Are you from the camp of the devils come to waylay the good Progressives?"

"No, Madam," Damini answered truthfully. "I stumbled into this place and did not know where I was. I come from far away. I am sorry to have disturbed you." "What do you mean far away? There is no other place but this. I do not know what you speak of." Then very lovingly she added, "Or maybe those among the devils have brainwashed you. Do not worry, my child. Come join us and you will be delivered from hell. Join the ranks, see the truth as I see it and you will be saved."

Damini certainly did not want to join the ranks of these maniacs. Progressives they certainly were not. If there were people who had decided to remain frogs in their wells, these certainly were those people. "Static Frogs," Damini thought, would be a name that suited them well."
"No thanks, but I need to go," Damini said. "Seize her!" the woman shouted. The posse of four came running up to catch her, but this time Damini was ready. Nimbly she slipped between the trunk and the right foot of the elephant. She had guessed that the posse would not follow her into another group's territory. They did not. She could hear a roar of frustration. Quietly she peeped out from behind the elephant's foot. The head frog croaked

"Those who do not follow me well,
In devil's fire, they will burn in hell."
And the crowd banged their paint brushed on the easel and croaked
"We promise to follow well
So we will not burn in hell."

Sighing, Damini slipped to the group of people on the left hand side of the statue. There in rows stood painters painting the statue. Damini walked out from under the statue and went towards the center of the front row. This group did not have a leader and she thought they would be more reasonable. As with the StaticFrogs, there was little talking between the painters though they constantly looked into each other's easels. When there was any conversation, it was restricted to critiques of their painting. The large screen above showed how each of them was progressing. Damini went and peered at the painting of an easel that was in the center. It did not look like the side view of an elephant. For a moment, it looked like a blob, like some of the abstract modern art she had seen at some exhibition. Then she realized what it was - it was the superimposition of various side views of the elephant. She peered at another easel; it was the same. Easel after easel had the same painting.

"Hello Sir," she greeted a young man in the center. "Who are you and why do you draw the statue thus?" She asked. The man replied: "We are the Left. We are comrades in search of the truth. We know that no one is better than another - we are all equal. I am the leader but I stand with my comrades since we are equal. We combine all our truths to arrive at the one truth - the real perspective of the elephant. We all see parts of the truth and combine it together. Our pictures combine every picture that comes up on the screen and by an iterative process of superimposition we arrive at a consensus of the truth. Thus we come to the true picture of the statue, based on the collective intelligence of the Left. This is the only way to reach the truth and ours is the only truth."

Damini replied, "But that is also what the progressives say."
"Ah," said a woman who stood by the man. "You have been listening to those fanatics, have you?"
"Comrade," said third voice, "It is disrespectful to speak when Comrade Leader has not asked for your opinion."
The woman immediately shut up.
"Thank you comrade," said the leader, glaring at the woman. "The collective will speak to you about your conduct later comrade," he added.
"But why shouldn't she speak," Damini asked the man. "You said that every one is equal." "That is true," the man replied, "but some are more equal than others." Having said this, he yelled,

"The collective decision is always right,
Individualism must be crushed by might."
At which the rest of the crowd followed with a cheer,
"All of us have an equal position,
While we follow the collective decision."

Damini had heard enough. The hypocrisy of it all made her feel disgusted. This group reminded her of George's Pigs. Turning, she ran back under the statue. She heard a roar of jeering behind her but she did not turn to look. She sat under the statue for a while. Then she peered at the group on the right of the statue. They seemed more reasonable. From under the statue she saw that they spoke to each other and there was more civility than the StaticFrogs or George's Pigs. Having regained her courage, she slipped out to the group on the right and approached a man who seemed to be telling the others something and controlling knobs that seemed to affect what came up on their screen. He was very well dressed and seemed to be smiling all the time except when he was giving orders. At those times he seemed rather rude.

"Hello Sir, I am Damini," she said. "Hello Damini," the man replied in a very polished manner. "And how can I help you today?" He reminded Damini of the salesman that came home once in a while trying to various appliances. "I am new to this region and would like to know who you are and what you are doing," Damini replied. "Oh, you are a visitor. Good. Let me tell you about us. We are on the Right and we are right." The man laughed loudly at his own pun and some people around him laughed loudly as well. He reminded Damini even more of that salesman with his false laugh and greasy manner. "We believe that the right decision is based on the majority opinion. Thus, every individual decides how we should perceive this truth, this majestic statue. Based on the majority opinion of this group, we decide what the truth should be. In this fashion, our truth is based on freedom and on the choice of the majority. For the majority is right." He began to chant:

"The majority has the might.
The right is always right."
And the group echoed his chants.

Despite the greasy fellow who seemed to be the leader, Damini seemed impressed by the philosophy of this group. It certainly seemed a fair way to decide what the truth was. The man seemed to gauge what Damini was thinking and said, "This certainly is the best way to find the truth. It ensures that all ideas are considered. See the various clusters that have formed? Each cluster has a similar view of the truth. Each cluster then sends a representative. The representatives represent the ideas of each cluster and hence of the entire community. I, the leader of this community, twist the knobs on the screen to present the idea of the majority. Once the truth has been decided by the majority, everyone must adhere to it."

"This does seem very fair," Damini said. "It seems more fair than the StaticFrogs who are dictatorial and George's Pigs who are muddled up in trying to present a truth that is an average of all that they see. In the former, freedom does not exist since everyone must do what the leader does. In the latter, personal freedom is lost among an overpowering average."

The man looked rather lost for a while. Then he laughed out loud. "You have chosen rather colorful names for our friends on the other sides of the statue, I must say", the man replied. "Of course, we do not even bother with the degenerate urchins who stand there in their torn clothes and foolish ribaldry."

At this point, a shrieking arose from the corner of the group. Damini ran towards this shrieking to see what was happening. A group had gathered around a woman and was beating here mercilessly.

"Stop, stop," Damini screamed. "Why are you beating her?" The elected leader replied, "We have decided on the truth based on the majority. This woman refuses to follow that truth. Hence she is being punished." The picture on this woman's easel was exactly what she saw - very different from the picture up on the screen.

"Sir," the woman pleaded. "This is what I see. How can I lie to myself and not draw what I see." The leader replied harshly, "The law is the law. Once the majority decision is made, that is the only truth that exists. You have to paint that truth."
"I would rather die that paint that truth. I will paint only what I see," the woman replied defiantly.
"Then beat her till she changes her mind," the leader ordered.

Damini could bear it no more. She ran back to under the statue. She would be safe there since none of the other groups came there. Burying her face between her knees, she began to cry. She had thought that the Rights who made decisions based on popular opinion were fair. But in reality they were the MinorityKillers - as bad as the other.

After a while she felt a soft hand rustle her hair. Looking up she saw a young woman wearing a shirt smeared with paint, torn pants and disheveled hair sitting next to her. "Hello Damini," she said.
"How do you know me?" Damini asked, still sniffing.
"Oh, I saw you going and meeting the various other groups. The other groups do not like to move from their positions but we move all around, looking for different views of this statue."
"Who are you then?" Damini asked.
"We have not named our group. I am Agatha. Come let me take you to meet the others." With that she crept out towards the backside of the statue holding Damini's hand in hers. "Hey folks, meet Damini," she yelled. A number of people came forward, surrounded Damini and shook her hand. Each of them greeted her and introduced themselves.

"What is your way of seeing this elephant?", Damini asked the group when she had met everyone. "C'mon Damini," someone who had introduced herself as Shabnam replied. "Do you still think there is only one way to see this elephant? Think about it. Once I stand at this position, no one else can stand exactly there. Hence, no one can have the same perspective of this statue that I do, even if he or she is standing inches away from me. Hence my truth has to be different from someone else's truth. It cannot be the same. We must learn to respect these various perspectives of truth and learn to live with this plurality."
"In fact, truth itself changes with time," added someone named Chinua. "As we move around, our view of the statue changes and hence we enrich ourselves by seeing more perspectives of reality. One perspective is not superior to another though one perspective may have greater significance at a certain time than another. Hence we encourage ourselves to move around and see different perspectives. We have moved around and seen the perspective that the Progressives, the Rights and the Lefts see. Each of our perspective changes with time and we respect the change."

"That is true," thought Damini. "Years ago, the tooth fairy was truth to her. Now she knew better." She sighed as she wondered what other truths would change as she grew older.
"What is important," Arundhati added, "is that we do not force any one truth on ourselves or others. At one point we might be more attached to one perspective of this statue than another and we should be free to do so. Unlike any of the other groups, we respect this plurality. In fact, we realize that it is possible that we may not be able to see all perspectives of this statue - or of truth. Look up. There you see some eagles sit on the back of the elephant and warm themselves. I am sure they see a perspective of the statue that we will not. Similarly, we do not know how the statue looks from inside. Thus, it is best to listen to each others perspectives, and enrich ourselves by the perspectives that others have to offer without forcing any perspective on anyone."

"I like you," Damini said. "I shall call you the Truth Seekers."

There was some sudden shouting and Damini noticed that the entire group had been surrounded. On one side stood a large group of Rights. On the other side stood George's Pigs and the StaticFrogs occupied the third. The fourth side was cut off by the statue itself. All three groups looked to be in an aggressive mood. "That girl is the devil that insults us and incites those degenerates", yelled the woman who was the leader of the StaticFrogs. "Get her," shouted George's Pigs. "Destroy the degenerates," shouted the MinorityKillers. From three sides, a mob of angry folks advanced on to this group, their paintbrushes raised to attack.

Adventures in Aipotu
By Sanat Mohanty


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