What Measure Of Man?

When we travel, we become aware of another dimension — quite literally, a world that meaures its length and breadth differently from us.

Ask a man in Europe to let you know the height of the Eiffel Tower, or better, the height of his daughter and he will reply in the metric system. “My daughter is one point six metres. Why do you need to know this? What is your interest in her?” is the answer that will leave you not richer for your mental assessment of the girl’s height (and poorer for your honour.)

In the United States, a foot-ruler measures bunches of 12-inch lengths; and despite America’s fascination for ‘European style’, you’re not going to be listening to a jazz musician named Kilometres Davis anytime soon.

In India, long years of political fence-straddling and our free-spirited unwillingness to commit to anything other than anarchy, we are halfway metric. In the age of Vedic Math (read the Puri Shankaracharya’s potboiler on the subject), they had no labels for the system of measurement because there clearly was no conflicting system, and by the time the Brits had fled in horrified anticipation of the coming traffic chaos, we were left deliciously without standard.

Try it. Ask any Indian his height and weight and you will be told a barefaced lie in both systems of measurement. “I am six feet tall and I am a skinny 65 kilos.” We extend this schizo-geometric math to distance. A room may be xx feet long, but Mumbai is xxx Kms from Delhi.

And in India, like elsewhere, size matters. In inches, not wimpy centimetres.

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