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When life is for one-time use only, why sweat the big stuff?

There is something wonderful to be said about a one-language policy. Unfortunately, I can’t say it here because this is not the right language. Our founding fathers spoke of “unity in diversity” and we assumed it meant that despite our multiplicity of cultures and languages and lifestyles, we were in fact, one people. No, that is wrong.

We put the gaadi before the ghoda, as we say in these parts. What they meant was that as one people we have too many languages, too many cultures, too many ways of making rogan josh and just too many styles of music.

So many of life’s queries involve numbers. For example, the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, as our ancient saints taught us, is 42. But “One” as the answer to everything is far more attractive. Our students will turn out world-beaters if they had to learn only one lesson in math, for instance, and that lesson around the number one.

How much more convenient if we had only a single day in the week – let’s call it “Oneday” – so making appointments becomes easier. Perhaps only one month in the year – “Oneuary” – which will get rid of calendars and mostly everything else.

Other ideas suggest themselves. One gender, one television channel, one party, one line of thought, one joke, one leader, one man to take all the blame, one man to take all the credit.

Close followers of our society will realize, of course, that we have made great progress in this direction already. When life itself is for one-time use only, why worry about variations?

Maybe we will no longer have presidents and prime ministers and ministers, but simply “The One”. Like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Maybe its already that way, it’s just that we haven’t figured out our current matrix yet. Remember, The Matrix didn’t become part of a hugely successful franchise by Reeves’s character being called ‘The Many’ or ‘The More-than-One’, or “Not Two”.

We are a nation of One-Worshippers, looking for one reason to explain complex issues, and using one method if that doesn’t convince.

Critics of the Theory of One forget important qualities of the number. It is the only one that produces more by addition than by multiplication. There is another important connection. The same Latin word is the root of “one” and “unity”. From this, of course, we realise that if you have only one of everything, unity will surely follow.

The number also eliminates the tyranny of choice. Those in charge of distributing the moolah will not have to worry about where to spend it. One language, one idea, one plan, one issue. And having done that they can go to their one club and play one set of tennis which ends when the score reaches one.

The ancient Indian sage Marcus du Sautoy once said “Mathematics is a place where you can do things which you can’t do in the real world.” Actually, it is the other way around.

(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu)

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