Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ashta and other avadhanis

Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution shares his secret fear:

My secret fear is that one day I will find myself working in Starbucks; the cashier will call out orders - double latte frappuccino, no whip, extra hot, tall; iced caramel macchiato grande; pumpkin spice crème with soy... I will become confused and disoriented, was that extra whip or no whip? Tall or grande? Soy or no soy? What am I doing? People will shuffle their feet impatiently, check their watch and stare at me with disdain as I struggle to keep up. I will start to sweat - now people are frowning. Aaarrgghh - take me back to my quiet office.

I don’t know why Starbucks strains the memory of its employees and makes them issue such verbal orders. I accompanied my daughters recently to Pizza Hut and found the waiter not writing down the order. He was committing it to his memory, then rushing to the computer to key it in and transmit to the kitchen. At least Anjappar restaurant, I am told, is sensible. The waiter keys in the details into his wireless whatever-it-is and issues remote orders to the kitchen.

I remember watching an amazing performance on Doordarshan in the ‘80s, when it was the sole channel available for love or money. It featured an Ashtavadani who could do 8 things at the same time. The audience would ask him questions in random sequence- like asking him to add up some numbers, to recite Kural no 785 of 1330, to remember a card taken from a deck, etc. He would commit 64 such questions to his memory. At the end of which, he would give out the answers, one at a time, all from memory. I am told that Ashtavadanis were patronised by Telugu kings and they could be seen performing even in the late twentieth century. I am not sure if this tradition exists any more. Does anyone know?

Did they have Yogic powers? Not quite. Actually, the quintessence of yoga or meditation was to rid the mind of multiple thoughts and get it to focus on just one object. Or to avoid multi-tasking as practised by the Ashtavadanis.

Update 16/10/07 : Bit Hawk has sent in a link to an article on Dr. Ganesh, the Shatavadhani


Shobana said...

Wow!! 64 different things memorized and answers given to...amazing! I can't see myself remembering 2 things at the same time. This post just goes on to say, how the brain power can be best utilized.


Lalita said...

Raj, it was multi-tasking before the term was invented. There used to be Sataavadhaanis, those who performed hundred tasks, though that seems incredible. I did see an Avadhaanam performed, and it is amazing. To compose poems on given topics in given meters, to discuss a particular scene in a classic poem, to count the number of times a bell rang, to trade banter with an examiner whose sole task was to distract the Avadhaani, to compose a poem where the examiner keeps forbidding use of any particular syllable at each word... all of this at the same time!

It is not yogic powers, though. It's just tight focus of attention on different things at the same time.

Usha said...

You tell me one thing and I turn around and forget what you said. 64 things? 100? I feel like a low life.

Bit Hawk said...

Avadhaana is quite popular in Karnataka too, though they are quite rare nowadays. I am fortunate to have seen many Avadhaanas and a person with good knowledge in literature and poetry would enjoy it much more.

Here is the link on one of the most popular Shathavadhanis of Karnataka called Ganesh.

Raj said...

Shobhana, Usha : Better find a 'guru' and learn the art.

Lalita, thanks for the insight. Your last sentence baffled me, though. How does one 'focus' on many things at the same time ?

bit hawk. Thanks for the link, That was very interesting,