Sunday, May 27, 2012

Of Flipping Coins and Decision Making

I had an uncle called Krishnamurthy.  We used to call him Kittu Mama – a very quiet and thoughtful man. He was very popular with all the children at home. He was non-judgmental and always supported us in any way he could.

My earliest memory of him was his taking me to a shop in Madras to buy me a candy called 'kamarakattu', a specialty in those days. I don’t see them in the malls any more. What an expectation! Like many of the things of my younger days, it has not passed the Darwinian test – survival of the tastiest!

During the summer holidays, he indulged all of us by teaching to make a special candy made of tamarind, sugar, salt mixture, stuck to a small toothpick-like stick. We used to walk around the house feeling like Edison having invented something new. Such was the power of his persona. Nowadays, we need more of such Kittu uncles.

One day, I was caught up with myself in some decision-making bind – Do I? Do I not? It was all too confusing and I resorted to the usual – flip a coin, make a wish, and see what the coin lands up with. Seemed easy! I tossed the coin and 'asked' for heads. When it landed on my palm, it was 'tails'. Hmm ... best of 3s, I told myself. Rats ... again, tails. Hmm ... best of 5s, I said to myself.

And as I flipped the coin, Kittu Mama appeared from nowhere and caught the coin mid-air. He looked at me and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was making a decision, and of course, that I was betting on best of 5 flips of the coin and if I called correctly, it would lead me one way...

Kittu Mama looked at me in a good-natured way and said that flipping coins was a great way to make a decision, and said that we need not flip it more than once. The coin would never lie, he added. He asked me to flip for the last time, and asked me to call out if this were 'heads or tails'.

I called heads, and even as the coin went flipping, he caught it as it came down, covered the coin in his palm, and said, “What did you wish for when the coin came falling down – a deep desire?”

I said, “I wanted heads, and badly so.”

He said, “Then don’t look at the coin. It does not matter if this were heads or tails.”

The decision making was complete, even as the coin was in the air. “The outcome of the coin in his palm was inconsequential,” he added.  He said, “No more 'best of 3s' etc.”

Suddenly it all fell in place. I wanted a desired outcome, and could not decide and flipped a coin. Even as the coin was in the air, the heart knew what it wanted. That was the right answer! This was magic – what a great and simple philosophy!

Recently, I flipped a coin and even as the coin flashed in the air, I knew what I wanted … and I remembered my late Kittu Mama.