Saturday, October 17, 2009

Urban Legend

It is common belief that eavesdropping is ethically wrong. But there are occasions that you find rather compelled to do so. Such an occasion may arise when you are waiting for doctor’s appointment, seated in a hospital waiting room in front of some group of people. In such scenario you could have tapped yourself into the transmission at any midpoint of the discussion.

“… at the Arthur C Clarke Center” said one.

“ah really. Where is it?” asked the other.

“That is near Katubedda [off Moratuwa, Sri Lanka] right?” came a third voice.

By this point I had absolutely zero idea whom I was seated in front of. There were three male voices, mid/young aged, coming from the row immediately behind me. In fact I never intended eavesdropping and never was interested knowing who they were at this point.

“who’s in charge of it now?”

“Dr. ---- --------, He was there even when Arthur C Clarke was alive”

“ah really. He died recently right?”

“Yeah yeah… Although so well educated, he was a clerk even by the time of his death ha ha ha”

Others missed the word tussle between Clarke and clerk and the intended joke.

“I did not know that” said one seriously.

“Really was he a CLERK?” asked the second bewildered man with heavy weight on clerk.

"No no. He was writing this thing called fiction.” said the better knowing.

“Isn’t he the one who invented Internet?” somebody jumped in.

“No. It was not Internet. He invented the satellite”

“Exactly” defended the debater. “that means Internet too”

“Wasn’t he American?”


“No no American. That’s why they give such publicity to them. Their man no”

Right at this point I was itching for a glance. But I was reserving the same, as they sat right behind me, hence it would shut them, or even make them return a question to me. They went on.

“Ah I remember, those stories, 2001, 2010 and 2035. I have seen those book” one of them remembered. SEEN, not READ. BTW, 2035?? Was it a private edition for you? Again I kept it to myself.

“Not only books, the film came around 1998. I remember watching”

I ran down memory lane to locate the ACC movie in 1998, and failed. Instead there was Independence Day at large to be mistaken.

“He makes predictions…”

“He has wanted to witness year 2000 at …. [I missed the location] and they have completely sterilized the hall. Even air was filtered fully for dust. Otherwise he’d die”

It came to a pause.

“Arthur C Clarke has predicted that all the satellites will come to Una Watuna [off Galle, Sri Lanka] one day at the end of their life.” one guy is continuing.

“why is that?”

“I don’t know. There must be some truth. I think the gravity is higher at Una Watuna.  It is situated  in the other side of Bermuda”

“What is Bermuda?”

“Bermuda Triangle is a very dangerous place. There, the ships go missing and planes crash”

“Now they have stopped flying over it” an expert voice overtook.


“Yes, as soon as they found about it, they stopped flying”

Well Bermuda Triangle has inhabited countries within, ugh.

“What is happening there?”

“That is some old story. Once there was a civilization there. And aliens destroyed it and sank their island. That civilization had mastered magnetism. Even today magnetic effects are high there”

“Sri Lanka is situated right in the other side of the planet. So the effect of minimum on us”

“That is why Sri Lanka has brainy people?”

“Correct. And every now and then we get a very good leader too. At times it goes bad, but it never goes so bad for us. In addition we have least amount of natural disasters in the world.”

Another pause - as if they sank in their version of Bermuda.

“Arthur C Clarke has said that world will be completely Buddhist in 2050. That is because Buddhism is the only ‘scientific’ religion” one of them never gives Clarke a rest.

“He has said so?”

“Yes. But see they hid the fact. They never let it come out”

“Disadvantageous for their religion I guess”

“Yes. They suppressed  it. But the rumor is that he said so”


“Christians are always like that”

“Yes, even that story that Jesus was a Buddhist…”

“Ah yes I remember. Jesus has lived in somewhere in India”


“Nepal, right?”

“No not Nepal, Kashmir”

“This is what has happened. I read it well. See Buddha is predating Jesus by 500 years. And Jesus's time was exactly the days of King Asoka . And when the king organized first Dhamma Sangaayanaa.”

Well Buddha's time was in seventh/sixth century BCE. And wrongly King Asoka reigned in 3rd century BCE, who endorsed the third Dhamma Sangaayanaa.


“Are you sure it was the first?”

“No no, first was immediately after Buddha attained parinibbana.”

“Then the second”

“Not the second either… not even third. This must be forth”


“So king Asoka lived in Jesus’s time…”

“Hang on Devanam Piyathissa [third century BCE] also lived then.”

“Yes him too”

“But they say Vijaya came to SL on the day after Buddha Parinibbana. And Devanam piya thissa reigned about 100 years after that.”

“I don’t know that, but Asoka lived in the time of Jesus”

“Can’t be.”

“Asoka lived 100years after Buddha”

“No no, I’m sure of that Asoka and Jesus lived in the same time and that is how Jesus became a Buddhist. Asoka gave Buddhism to him”

“I have read history well I am very sure that Asoka lived 100 years after Buddha”


Then it could have gone anywhere. Jesus was married, Buddha was born in Sri Lanka, Alien’s founded human civilization, Man never made it to moon, Indians had a mercury engine, no no it was Sri Lankans, King Ravana and his flying hours, 2012 end of the world, world was inhabited by Sri Lankans.... oh you just name it. Sadly, putting an abrupt and premature end to my thought provoking and extremely educational informal study program, the nurse called my name. I had to go.

On my way I could satisfy myself with the much wanted glance at them. They were three medical sales reps probably in their twenties or thirties, waiting to market the latest of their products to the doctor. And it is immaterial who they are. Could be anyone, in today’s mad quest for information.

The whole event left me thinking... we were brought up with only the radio and the newspaper [with a black and white TV appearing in the middle of my teenages]. And our previous generation lacked the radio too. But the planet spun with more sanity.

Today we live in the peak time of information era. Televisions with dozen channels, Satellite television with 24x7 feeds from likes of Discovery or National Geographic, news papers of all kind, and Internet at almost every household. And Internet with google, Internet with Wikipedia. Is this the kinda achievement they all intend? Or is the society mature enough to gobble the big information double whopper?

Despite being great sources of accurate information, these media contain equal or higher amount of false information, or let’s say misinformation. Misinformation has this tendency of always being the spiced up version of any story wrt to the truth and hence they have the better appeal. And they are deliberately presented with an agenda of spreading, and therefore their marketing edge is higher.

How many mails do we get in a day with misinformation? And how many news papers of today publish faulty articles with the reference “from Internet”? How many cheap marketing campaigns and political campaigns take over the right information in the Internet?

Good thing about Information era is that they replaced the school classes which only a selected subset of smart kids followed. Today every Tom Dick and Harry is an expert on petty topics such as Napoleon or String Theory or Quasars or Pulsars. But those old day's classes were mostly accepted knowledge, but the Tom Dick and Harry interpretation of the universe is solely their own unconfirmed gibberish.

Plus the journalists of past possessed much brains than mouth with respect to today. With little brains and bigger mouth, it is the unconfirmed legend storage called internet that fills the gap between supply and demand. For journalism being a service by society for society, the degradation of sanity levels mutually effecting journalism and society as a whole.

We are yet to see its outcome. Today most of us are still capable of finding the right information [at least with few google/wiki/ searches]. That is because there is a differentiation of right and wrong information and existence of sanity in most minds. They both are soon deteriorating and in another few generations, especially after the world has eliminated the old-fashioned non-information era people, there will not be such differentiation of sanity to save us. Today there stand three states, be non-informed, informed or misinformed. Tomorrow the latter two will mingle in such a way that prior state can be hardly defined. And of course there will be no one to define it.

Is this the culmination point of information era? Sanity would ponder in the verge of its extinction.

[I hereby confirm that the entire proceeding was a true happening in a waiting area of a prominent hospital in Colombo and it is literary accurate to the memory persistence of my brain within a day and my translation skills]