My History of Eternity

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On a recent flight to Savannah from Pittsburgh (580 miles, 75 minutes wheels-up to wheels down, on Citation X), I poured myself a fabulous red wine, and, as the vimana soared into akasha, recalled Mandala 8, Rig-Veda (8.48):

We have drunk the Soma; we have become immortal; we have gone to the light; we have found the gods.

Who was the bloke who sang this? Since the private jet comes with Wifi, I Google-checked. It turns out that Mandala 8 has an uncertain history, different from Mandalas before it, and is considered close in content and language to Avesta, primary texts of Zoroastrianism

Thus Spake Zarathustra?

The identity of the primary author of Mandala 7, on the other hand, has very little uncertainty. It is Vashishtha, one of the Sapta Rishis (“Seven Sages”). Since my earliest recollections, it has been etched into my memory that my gotra is Vashishtha:

Gotra (Sanskrit: गोत्र) broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor.

I was curious as to who Vashishtha’s parents were. Imagine my amazement to know that his mom was:

Urvashi (Sanskrit: उर्वशी) is an apsara in Hindu legends. She was a celestial maiden and was considered the most beautiful of all the Apsaras. 

Nice. But what really got me excited was his dad, Mitra-Varuna – a combination god, combining priestly (purohita) character with royal (raja) character – that is:

A Priest-King.

Little wonder that I turned out to be an Academic CapitalistTat Tvam Asi.

Pretty much everyone knows about Maha-Bharata – composed by Vyasa, a great-grand son of Vashishtha and scribed by Ganesha – an epic poem that makes Homer’s Iliad seem ultra-brief, a speedo.

What many folks may not know about is its prequel

What triggered the cataclysmic consequences towards the end of the Dwapura Yuga? Who were the ancestors of the Pandavas and Kauravas? Why was King Bharata’s grandson, King Shantanu’s son, Devavrata cursed? Who did he aggravate to incur such wrath, this divinely sanctioned vengeance and retribution? 

Vashishtha!

How come? Vashishtha generally minded his own business, peacefully living on a farm with his wife Arundhati and their children, and was viewed as a kind, generous and learned man (teacher of Rama!). What happened?

Devavrata (who was previously a heavenly being) was cursed to become mortal because he stole (for his greedy wife) Vashishtha’s:

Kamadhenu (Sanskrit: कामधेनु), a miraculous “cow of plenty” who provides her owner whatever he desires. 

The rest of the prequel, in one sentence:

So that his father can marry Satyavathi, who wanted a pre-nup guaranteeing that her first-born son will be the next king, Devavrata renounces his right as the eldest son to be the heir apparent (and vows not to marry or create any progeny of his own,  sacrifices that impressed the gods so much that they renamed him Bhishma), also took upon himself to find the bride for the heir apparent (Vichitravirya, his much younger half-brother) by competing in a swayamvara as his proxy, defeating, among others, Salva, who Amba, the Princess Bride-to-be,  wanted to really marry, her true love, and after Vichitraviya refuses to marry her knowing she loves someone else, returns to (still proud) Salva, who also turns her down as he had lost, fair and square, and now utterly desolate, a fiery and ferocious Amba intensely plots her revenge (with the help of Shiva):

Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned, squared

Where was all this nataka taking place? In Hastinapura (and Kurukshetra), diagonally farthest (within the kingdom) from the ancient venerable city of Prayagaraj, located at Triveni Sangam, the confluence of Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers. 

In 1991, US deep in a recession, aged 25, with an engineering PhD and zero (shunya) work experience, I (very!) unexpectedly (inconceivably?) received a job offer from Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA, now Tepper School of Business) at Carnegie Mellon University. When I found out that Pittsburgh is located at the confluence of three rivers, home to the famous SV Temple, it felt like divine providence, manna from heaven, mystically foreshadowing my ample life, odyssean adventures after graduate school in Ithaca.

Three decades have passed. Time to take stock — review inventory, in discrete-time framing – of how the stochastic and multi-period Lila has dynamically unfolded over time.

30. Tenure. 32. Full. 37. Chair. 51. Elected to NAE for being an Academic Capitalist. 53. University Professor.

26. Infinitesimal Perturbation Analysis (IPA), Enterprise Inventory Optimization (EIO). 52. Graver Augmented Multi-seed Algorithm (GAMA), Quantum Integer Programming (QuIP).

27. Undergraduate Teaching Award. 33. MBA Teaching Award. 34. Business Week’s Top MBA Professor. 35. First Prize INFORMS Teaching Case (Fractional Jet Scheduling).

34. Founded SmartOps. 46. Founded OrganJet. 47. SAP acquires SmartOps

32. MIT sabbatical. 33. Consultant to the Firm of McKinsey & Company. 34. Fortune article on New Victories in Supply Chain Revolution. 45. Darden Case on SmartOps. 47. Harvard Case on OrganJet + GuardianWings.  49. Atlantic, NEJM and Forbes articles on OrganJet. 50. White House invitation to showcase Nudge Videos. 51. Guest Speaker for WEF Schwab Fellows. 52. Stanford sabbatical. 54 NASA/USRA collaboration on Quantum Integer Programming. 55. NSF Distinguished Lecture.

35. Advisor and LP, Commonwealth Capital (PE). 51. Advisor and LP, Neotribe Ventures (VC).

Manifestly, I have inherited Kamadhenu, and she has provided me much to be immodest about.

I savored the final sip of the dreamy amrita – made from delightful grapes that had transplanted me to a yuga before the wrath of Vashishtha – as the Citation X began its approach to Savannah/Hilton-Head airport, ending my One Hour-and-Fifteen Minutes of Solitude.  

Later that day, I thoroughly enjoyed strolling – with a spring in my walk, a blissful lightness of being — through Savannah’s many gardens with forking paths, past happy circular fountains splashing joyfully, until midnight – careful not to step on the lush verdant carpet of grass – amusedly recollecting the prehistory to the epic conflict between good and evil, divine verses from leaves of an ancient book of imaginary beings, harking back to the splendid era when gods descended from the heavens, merging the impossibly old with the luxuriously new, liberating my heartbeat from the mortal experience of the passage of time, so it goes, by absorbing the oaky aromatic spell of eternity in every breath. 

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