Saturday, December 21, 2013

Delhi: Memories, Objects and Change

Dec 22, 2013

Delhi, India.  I shouldn't say Delhi.  I should say Dilli.  I found myself here with a few free hours today, out of an *incredibly* hectic week.  So I went by some old spots, Bengali market, Hanuman Mandir, Connaught Place, Lajpat Nagar, ....  The brain is immediately drawn to the sights, so different now, yet still familiar.  The colors, the haze, the crowds, the structures, the spaces.  And beyond the sights, the sounds, the tastes, and, especially, the smells.  The smoky, dusty, musky air.  The fragrances of flowers being sold and foods being cooked, and the foul smells of garbage.  All mixed into an unforgettable reminder of the ephemeral present, that is also, yet, timeless.  More than any other sense, the smell takes you back.  But back where?  I remember being here 30 years ago, shortly after Delhi had seen a great renewal, in preparation of the Asian games in 1982.  The structures are still there, but they are different.  There is Talkatora stadium.  There is RML hospital.  Wow, Bangla Sahib is so different now.  My mom used to go to these places.  This is her Dilli.  And of the rest of us.  I guess most of it is from memory, perhaps the rest is my imagination?  But it isn't only the structures that are different.  It is also us.  We change.  Indeed when we think about it, change is all there is.  The constancy of the twirl, the great movement, both human and beyond, that I see around me, was in that sense also there 30 years ago, just as it is today, and yet it is different.  What is it?  Is it an activity?  Is it nature continually transforming the objects around us in a kind of eternal dance?

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that while we think of the world in terms of objects, things, entities, etc. indeed all these are temporary constructs.  Activities, and their change, seems to be all that is going on around us.  And everything that comes across as objects, I believe, is simply a set of activities in progress that our senses "snapshot" into an object, temporarily, ephemerally, persisting/materializing it in our memories, as though it is a fixed, permanent thing.  Even though it isn't.  Our societies, even our languages, seem to be geared towards "things", not "activities", geared towards particles and objects, not waves and processes.  THe plate of chili chow mein in front of me, seems to be an object, but in fact is something that was flour and water and a bunch of other things that came together into an activity for a short period of time and then disappeared.  It is just a temporary materialization of something we observe and experience.  SOmething that exists only for a moment, and in our senses.

I get the distinct sense that we must improve our ability to articulate actions, activities, processes, and think in these terms more so than in terms of objects, and to think of objects as transient materializations of activities.  And as I think of this, my thoughts drift off to computing.  Us computer scientists, and IT practitioners, are horrible, and horribly primitive, at articulating actions, activities, processes.  Even in purer object-oriented languages, most of the code seems to be about articulating actions.  Whether it is software actions, like "book me a flight to London" or "balance my checkbook" or "repair a customer's credit" or whatever, or more "concrete" actions like commands to a robot to "go to Vishal's office with a cup of tea".  Our ability to articulate actions succinctly and precisely, being able to extend, compose, project on or decompose actions is extremely primitive.  We are still in the dark ages in this regard, and we must improve.  This is one of my endeavors with the work on River and much more needs to be done here.

But all that is for a different day.  Today is about Dilli.  And to head out with some friends on a last evening here for this trip, to observe, and participate in, some activities, to make some memories, in a memorable place.  For Delhi is more than memorable, it is a permanent memory.

-- Vishal