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Monday, January 14, 2013

When man tries to play God…..

A small, interesting anecdote in the Garuda Purana about the age of human beings is usually narrated by the priest performing the post-demise thirteenth day ceremonies in Hindu tradition. Initially, when God created this universe and all the living beings, He had given them all the same life-span. But, man being more intelligent amongst them asked for a longer life. Brahma, the Creator, said he could not indulge in favoritism and made a small concession. If any of the other beings would like to transfer some years of their life, He would not mind adding those years to a man’s life. So, the greedy man went around seeking a part of life from animals. Most refused to oblige. When he approached a donkey, the animal was willing to give away twenty years of it’s life provided it got “mukthi” (salvation). So, they went to Brahma who added twenty years to man’s forty years and man’s life extended from forty to sixty and the donkey got it’s “nirvana”. Then, the dog agreed to gift another twenty years and man’s life was further increased from sixty to eighty years. The owl also parted with another twenty years and man got his dream life-span of hundred years. Now, on hindsight, it seems the animals were more intelligent than the human being by consciously willing away a part of their life-spans so that they could attain “moksha” sooner than man!

Be that as it may, the next part is more illuminating. The years that man got from the donkey (forty to sixty) are called the donkey years during which man just slogs without realizing what or why of his aim in life. Many men in their forties say unhesitatingly that their life has become routine and they work like a donkey – “katthe duditha”. The age of sixty to eighty is likened to a dog’s life where a man retires and is home-bound taking care of the house and protecting his precious acquisitions which surely is akin to a dog’s life. You ask any retired man about his post retirement life and it is always “naayi paadu”. The eighties sees a man being compared to a “goobe” (owl) waiting for things to happen, not being able to realise or comprehend the goings-on around him and being castigated by one and all as “goobe”.

This tale or yarn as you may wish to see it is a pointer to man’s greed, his propensity to take what is not his and his stupidity in measuring life in terms of volume rather than qualitatively!

This set me thinking about man’s attempt to add quality to his life.

The discovery of inheritance of genetic traits through seven generations by Father Gregor Mendel through his experiments on pea plants laid a strong foundation for modern genetic science. But, the concept of hereditary characteristics was known and well documented in Hindu religious scriptures ages before others could dwell on these matters. We have heard of elders talking of “elu janmada punya” and “sanchita karma” and accumulation of the worth of good (and bad) deeds over seven lives in human life-cycle. The common prevailing practice of gothra based family union has been the corner stone of marriage relationships in Hindu households. The compounding of undesirable hereditary traits and the resulting physical, mental and medical adversities due to in-breeding were known to our ancestors. The introduction of diversity and thereby genetic improvements through preclusion of “sagothra” marriage has enhanced the richness of our genetic pool.

The “Human Genome Project” aims to map the human genes (around 30,000 of them) present in the DNA. Genes are unique to every living organism. The Crick-Watson model of the double helix DNA structure electrified the genetic studies. Bio-technologists have been trying to improve life by tweaking the human genes. Geneticists have identified the disease-causing genes (Alzheimer's and Parkinson's) in human beings. A day may not be far off when most of the diseases can be eliminated in the womb at the genetic levels by tinkering with the genetic matter at conception stages. Genetic Engineering will be the order of the day!

We need not be surprised if customized babies with attractive characters are offered by sperm-banks! A person with well-built, athletic body, intelligent, healthy, strong, tall, fair colored skin, blue or grey or green eyes, blond hair, aquiline nose, perfect set of shining white teeth and so on may be available on demand. Even now, the sperm banks screen donors for disease susceptibility and physical traits. They accept sperms only from healthy, strong, fair, able-bodied youngsters. Intelligence quotient, family medical history, education levels of donors and various other parameters are verified by the sperm banks. Molecular mapping and genetic finger-printing is a common protocol that scientists adopt to trace chromosomal trails. The scientific experiments in the domains of human, animal and plant bio-technology have seen revolutionary revelations, discoveries and inventions. We have seen hybrids and genetic modifications (both animal and plant). GM crops have caused huge controversies. Anti-cancer, anti-rabies and immunity-inducing vegetables and fruits are now awaiting government approvals for release for human consumption. Many learned people say these are hyped up fancy scenarios which may not really benefit the common man and will ultimately fatten the cash chests of multinational companies which do not hesitate to indulge in unethical and immoral conduct to achieve their selfish goals by exploiting the ignorance of common populace!

The macabre and horrendous events leading to ethnic cleansing by the German “Aryans” during Hitler era in concentration camps caused extermination of Jews and Romanian nomadic tribes. The Nazis were seemingly protecting the “Super Race” and preservation of the purity of “Aryan race” during 1930s and 40s. The Ku-Klux-Klan and white supremacists in USA see the non-white people as unworthy scum belittling this planet. The Apartheid regime in South Africa considered the black population as undesirables. Even now, racial attacks are not uncommon in several parts of the world. These are but manifestations of attempts by some persons to establish racial hegemony by segregation and elimination of what they see as impure and unwanted fellow-beings.

Science can and may deliver the “Super Man” in the near future. But, can his attitude, behavior and mentality be customized or controlled? Will man continue to be greedy, vengeful, devious, violent, selfish, intolerant and aggressive? 

Man may try to become God. Can he really be benevolent and non-discriminatory?