5. The Kurukshetra of our Times

In the end, we conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We understand only what we are taught
— Baba Dioum

I had a memorable childhood growing up in a Hindu Brahmin household with considerable exposure to the myths and fables from the great Epics and the Puranas of India. But while growing up, I never quite understood the significance of those stories and came to treat them with disdain. Being of a literal bent of mind, I couldn't understand how a ten-headed man, Ravana, could have existed at all, just to take an example. One of my school teachers was fond of quoting archaeological and physical evidence for the historical basis of some of the epics, which made it even worse for me to identify with them. He pointed out that there was evidence of a physical bridge between the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka, which to him, proved that the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana as described in the Ramayana must have truly happened. The rag tag army of animals and people headed by Lord Rama must have truly crossed over into Sri Lanka on foot to defeat Ravana and recapture Sita from his clutches. My teacher also said that archaeological excavations and astronomical signs indicated that the Battle of Kurukshetra, as described in the Mahabharata, must have actually occurred about 5100 years ago. In the Hindu Luni-Solar Calendar, Kali Yuga started when the battle of Kurukshetra ended and we are currently in year 5112 KY[1], cementing his assertion. He concluded that the fantastic missiles and other weapons described in the Mahabharata constituted lost know-how from an advanced technological civilization that existed in India, which got destroyed in the immense conflagration of the Battle of Kurukshetra.

I concluded that he didn't know what he was talking about. Ten-headed men, seven-headed snakes and multi-limbed Gods and Goddesses were figments of the imagination and couldn't have actually existed as far as I was concerned.

I gravitated towards Science and Technology instead. It helped that my father worked in the British Council Library in India and as a result, I could read all the English scientific books that I wanted. In Independent India, successive governments had instituted a number of policies to redress the historical inequities of the caste system that had plagued Hindu society over the centuries. Therefore, as an upper-caste, Brahmin child in India, I had access to very few avenues for higher education that didn't involve a huge capitation fee (a form of bribe), a fee that my parents couldn't afford. Of these few avenues, the strictly merit-based admission scheme through the Joint Entrance Exam for the Indian Institutes of Technology[2] was the most attractive. That is how I became an Electrical Engineer and wound up in the US working on the hardware nuts and bolts of the Internet communications revolution.