Wednesday, January 8, 2014



A few days ago I received a mail from a friend which read “A two letter word in English has more meanings than any other two letter word and that is ‘up’. It is listed in the dictionary as an adverb, preposition, adjective, verb or a noun”. I enjoyed reading the paragraph with all the usages of ‘up’ incorporated in it. It set me searching for words that had great significance and impact on our lives. In the process I narrowed my search down to three words – a single letter word, another two letter word and a three letter word – ‘I’, ‘If’ and ‘God’. While we have always talked about the first and the third which represent the ego and the all encompassing, we have to recognize the role played by ‘If’ in the conduct of our lives.

For a long time I held the view point that the root cause of misery in our life is the word ‘If’. A majority of us spend our time thinking about the choices we have made in life and how things could have been different ‘if’ we had chosen otherwise. There are certain choices we have made because they were within our power to do so. These are mostly centered round marriage, love life, studies, career etc. Things could have been different and may be I would have led a better life than my present state. I am not happy, I feel miserable. I am helpless when I start questioning my origins and why I was not born under more favorable circumstances. I question God and blame him for all the misery that I am undergoing now. Of course there are no answers, when someone comes along and says it is due to my Karma and I am atoning for my sins in a previous birth. All the same I am miserable. Most of the time, we end up blaming extraneous reasons for our mistakes and retreat into a shell of self pity. In all this, ‘if’ is a post mortem of our past and dissatisfaction with the present reality.

Since then I have realized that I had been unfair to the word ‘If’. This is a word that is a philosophy by itself. I thought that ‘if’ I am in a position to accept the present state of existence than I have been successful in erasing out all negative effects of my past actions. So here ‘if’ lays down a condition to help us towards acceptance so that we move on.

I remembered a poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling which I had read during my school days. Though I did remember a few lines I had to do some search for the whole poem. I am reproducing only the first stanza and the last four lines here –

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
-         - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - -
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

This perhaps is one of the most inspirational and motivational poems to have been written. It was written by Kipling to his son. May be a hundred years have passed since then but the message is eternal. Here ‘if’ lays down the path to a greater understanding and perhaps a way towards achieving the goals we have set for ourselves. Like Kipling says in the last two lines – “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And- which is more- you’ll be a Man my son”.  As per Khushwant Singh,  Kipling's If is "the essence of the message of The Gita in English.

When I read Kipling’s poem again after so many years I was also reminded of John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’.

  - - - - - - - - - - --
 Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Here one realises that this also talks about all the conditions to make the world a better place to live. ‘If’ all this can happen we can have heaven on earth.

When I had remarked that -‘if’ is the root cause of all the misery in this world, my friend replied “The word ‘if’ is an embodiment of pure atheism. Creating certainty is in our hand. Anxiety about future, punctuated by the word "if" is pure atheism, according to Mahatma Gandhi”. I had to take his word, for I have not read Mahatma Gandhi.

While I understand anxiety, I cannot accept that creating certainty is in our hands. Also that ‘if’ is pure atheism. I am sure some of my readers will have their viewpoints on this, which they can share on this space.


vaikuntam said...

Omar Khayyam wrote for mankind:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it

'If' in this sense is, atheism or no, a waste of time. The arrow of time has already passed and will not reverse.

But if the purpose is to take lessons from life, then 'if' cannot be mentioned unless accompanied by 'then'. The 'if', 'then' combination is the source of science, knowledge and understanding and drives away empty metaphysical speculation

Ram said...

'IF' & 'THEN' sequences are the learning arising out of experiences (one's own or based on other's). IF on its own can be a far more creative canvas. This is where the imagination can run riot - Where original knowledge comes from. IF opens out infinite possibilities.

Varsha Nagpal said...

I do not understand why IF is atheism. Atheism is not "if", it is a certain way of thought where there is no doubt about the existence of God. There is no dilemma at all and therefore one takes upon oneself the entire burden of having failed or succeeded in life.
If only God intervened, if only my time was better, if only the stars favored me, is not for atheists.
"If" is a philosophy by itself, it is wishful thinking, hoping against hope, looking for a bright star and day dreaming.
I am not against IF, because it is a dilemma where one can get absolved of the guilt of failure and also it gives a ray of hope for those who believe that If the time is right then success will be theirs!
A person's happiness depends upon If, just as his/her perceived sorrows also depend upon IF.

GS Subramanian said...

Diwakara Tanujaha's comments onFB: If, is indeed a wonderful word. Your blog set me thinking. There are mainly two questions that beckon to be addressed.

1. Is ‘IF’ an embodiment of pure Atheism? (My answer is NO)
2. Is Creation of certainty in our hands? (My answer is YES)

1. IF compels us to wander into area of inconclusiveness. As I exist, I see things prevailing in a state of either balance or imbalance. Now, I want to know what will happen, if one of the variables assumes a different value. That is IF. Theism assumes God to be certain. Atheism assumes No-God to be certain. But, both are assumptions. IF is permissible in both the worlds. Wherever assumption rules, IF rules!

A theist may refuse to ask this question viz, “What IF God does not exist?” But, the question is valid and has been asked by the practitioners during their lifetime in Religious world.

Similarly, the question “What IF God does exist? “ is also asked and the rational part of the brain seeks to negate it. But, the question remains. Always.

In fact, both the worlds (Theistic and Atheistic come up as an answer to the IF question)

2. Certainty is a creation of mind. It is internal. It is independent of our actions with the outside world. If brain is damaged, body lives. Doubt dies.

Doubt comes from the chain of action viz. Sensory Information, Understanding, Knowledge, Interpretation and Intelligence. They can be tweaked to create Certainty. But, this certainty may not be same for every one.

There is NO universal Certainty. But, individual certainty is possible and it is in one’s hands.