Monday, 31 October 2011

Steve Jobs and India

So we all know that Steve Jobs' backpacking trip around India, as a 19-year old in search of Neem Karoli Baba and enlightenment, didn't really go off all that well. The 1996 unauthorized biography, iCon by Young & Simon (a book which considerably upset the late Apple co-founder) sums it up thus:

The whole experience in India had been intense and disturbing. It had been entirely different from anything Jobs had expected, anything he had known in booming Silicon Valley. But it had not been the answer. The inner fire wasn't satisfied.

In fact some have gone on to make the suggestion - a rather tenuous one in my opinion - that Jobs' experiences with dirt, lice, dysentery, deprivation, hunger and general despair were responsible for his never taking India seriously as a business opportunity. However, we now finally have official confirmation from Walter Isaacson's official biography (I just got my Kindle edition this morning) titled Steve Jobs, that "experiential prajna, wisdom or cognitive understanding that is intuitively experienced through concentration of the mind" was his greatest learning from India.

Mind you, Jobs was very skeptical of spiritual mumbo-jumbo of the kind dished out to gullible tourists and not very impressed with godmen, whom he mostly thought of as impostors. His real respect seems to be for the common man, as evident from this excerpt:

Years later, sitting in his Palo Alto garden, he reflected on the lasting influence of his trip to India:

"Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don't use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That's had a big impact on my work."

So there you have it. He may have not particularly enjoyed many aspects of his stay here, but he was willing to acknowledge that one of his most admired qualities - the stuff that made him be seen as a genius - had its roots in our very own backyard. But there is a caveat - and I say this only because we have a tendency as a people to gloat over this fantastic aspect of our cultural legacy and use it to justify everything from driving like maniacs to 'voluntary corruption'. Steve Jobs did not say that this was the ONLY way of thinking. The great synthesizer of other people's ideas that he was, Jobs found his own way to combine the philosophies of East and West, as he explains to Isaacson here:

Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic; it is learned and is the great achievement of Western Civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not. That's the power of intuition and experiential wisdom. Coming back after seven months in Indian villages, I saw the craziness of the Western world as well as its capacity for rational thought.

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