The Potter's Masterpiece
Art is an amazement as long as it is not a profession. It was accurate from the potter's point of view. But he had proved it wrong today. He had created a masterpiece. It was unlike anything he had ever made in his forty years in pottery. And now, he couldn't stop looking and wondering in amazement at his creation.
The potter resided in the ancient village of Binjhbayla, located in a far and forgotten corner of Rajasthan. His family was one of the first to arrive at the holy village. Today, all his competitors are his blood relatives. The art of pottery traveled through the generations as a heritage. He learned this from his father and taught his son. His son had moved out to the nearest city of Mahajan and started his business there.
The potter had making pots for his living for all of his life, but never had he ever created a piece that he could call as a favorite. The creator has no favorites. Favorites are for admirers. He was never inspired by anything to create such a thing.
The inspiration struck the potter when walking to the temple on a hot sunny day. The path to the temple passed through a dune. The tiring journey through the hot sand made his legs ache, so he decided to rest under the deep shadow of a tree. He sat there for a while and checked his water bottle. It was empty. He went deep into the dune, hoping to find some water source. He didn't find water but instead found some ideally grown watermelons. He picked one up, which came off quickly from his plant, and took it under the tree. He stroked the fruit powerfully with his fist and cracked it open. He ate the flesh out of it and quenched his thrust. He was amazed by how much water it contained.
Satisfied, the potter thanked the goddess sisters Sanwali and Ujali Bayan for their grace. He looked at the empty rind of the watermelon and thought it could be a beautiful water vessel. He took that in his hands and observed it closely. He wondered what made the fruits take that particular shape only. In an instant, he had the answer. They had to be in this shape because it was nature's best solution for water requirements in the desert. It was nature's gift to the desert and its inhabitants. It was nature's best way to store water. It was god's water vessel.
The potter jumped to his feet. The message was clear. He couldn't wait to get to his workshop. Rest of the journey to the temple and back home took surprisingly less time. He was so excited, like a child, to try out this new design that he was taken back to his young days.
The first thing the potter did after getting home was to take clay from his store and put water in it. He then mixed an appropriate amount of horse dung in it. This step was crucial for keeping the water cold. The horse dung will mix with the clay like one of its particles. But they are combustible; they will burn in the kiln, leaving little holes in the structure. These holes will work like a stoma. They will leak some water to the surface of the pot. These little water molecules will evaporate, taking some energy from the environment and some from the pot's surface. So the surface would become cold, and hence the water will remain cold throughout. The potter didn't go to school, but they knew the science too well.
After the mixing, the potter took the clay to his wheel. The potter's wheel, as they say, was also part of the heritage. The potter was aware of the electric motor-powered wheels but chose to stick to the traditional ones. He was emotionally attached to his tools of pottery. This emotional attachment was out of the scope of science, so the electric equipment could never replace the old ones.
The potter picked up a stick and gave the wheel a torque; the wheel gained rotational kinetic energy quickly. While he watched the wheel stabilize, he thought about his life in a minute, his career, and his young days. When his father was teaching him the art of pottery, he didn't teach it like an art. Instead, he taught it as a way to get wheat out of the sand. The potter made better and better pots every day, but his father was never satisfied and always pointed out little shortcomings of work. The art element of pottery was beaten out of the potter. In all his years in the profession, he worked like a machine. Following the standard pot-making procedure, he never stopped and appreciated his hard work. He never cared what happened to the pots he sold. He never innovated. He never experimented and invented. He worked like a machine with the procedure of making pots programmed in his head.
The potter realized that he was lost in his thoughts a little too much. He put the clay on the center of the wheel and started working. He started giving the clay a shape, a round shape. He occasionally dropped his hands wet in the basket or gave the wheel a little more torque, but primarily he was working on the body.
The potter could feel this time it was different. He felt like time had stopped, and nothing mattered anymore. He wanted to do this forever. He lost himself in his work; he went into a state of flow. It was rare, but he was enjoying himself very much. He didn't mind the hot summer trying its best to vaporize him. He didn't notice the streams of sweat making their journey on his body. He was soaked in sweat, but he didn't mind at all.
When he finished the work, he put the piece in the sun and went to have lunch. His wife complained about being too late The food was the typical food he had every day, but he still found it extraordinarily tasty. He praised his wife for that, unaware of the actual reason. As soon as he finished lunch, he went to work again. He heated the kiln. For the first time, he heated the kiln for just one piece. He put the pot inside and waited for a long time.
He admired the masterpiece for a whole period when he took it out. His chest broadened with the pride he held for himself. He caressed his eyes to the boundaries of the pot, tracing it inch by inch. It had turned out to be the most beautiful thing ever.
The pot was not very unusual from the other pots he had made. The bottom was as round as a watermelon. The top half was a parabolic shape with a slope of less than forty-five everywhere, (I am sorry, I can't help describing it in terms of mathematics.) Overall the pot was like a big gullak with a hole to take water out.
The potter was ecstatic seeing his imagination come out exactly into reality. The village fair started tomorrow; he would put his masterpiece in the first row and demand the highest price. It was his one-in-the-lifetime creation, after all.
The next day potter set his shop up with enthusiasm. He placed the masterpiece with other popular items, such as gullak, tawa, and diyas, in the front row. He had already rehearsed how he would describe the masterpiece, its features, and its inspiration when someone picked that up. He would be making a deal of a lifetime.
The village was filled with faithful people with colorful dresses. People there had come from the far corners of the state and nearby states such as Punjab and Hariyana. Men and women were marking their holy journey. Children were demanding their toys. Nothing was new for the potter, and the sale in his shop was also going well for an average fair day.
But this could have been better for the potter. To his utter surprise, none asked about his masterpiece. People bought simple pots, diyas, pans, and other vessels, but few were interested in the masterpiece. The potter was committed to telling about the masterpiece only if someone asked. He waited as the day passed, hoping someone would pick the pot from the first row and ask about its prize. But the hope faded with time.
His wife brought him lunch but he had somehow lost the taste of it. It was not delicious as it was yesterday. After lunch, he waited more. Whenever someone came to his shop, he traced their eyes tracing the products. Their eyes saw every piece in his shop, stopped at some pot, and then picked one of them. Some eyes stopped at the masterpiece too. But none of them showed any interest in buying it.
As the evening fell, potter's eyes started to lose hope. Generally, he would cherish every product sold, but now he was becoming sad. He could not see his masterpiece left behind. More of his product sold in the late evening and his masterpiece was left behind. He closed the shop before the night fell and went home in disappointment. The dinner was duller than the lunch. His wife could do little to cheer him up. The potter was finding it hard to sleep.
He thought he would make a great deal of his masterpiece, but none asked about it. Maybe it was worth a little. He decided to cut the price in half and promised himself he would make every effort to sell it tomorrow. Then he fell asleep with this promise.
The next day at the fair was the same. The potter tried deliberately to sell the masterpiece, but none showed interest. He would point it with his forefinger when any of the customers appeared.
"Look at that pot, sir. It has rounder bottom like a watermelon. It takes less space to sit and exposes a larger space to the environment for evaporation. Hence the water remains colder. It also has a narrower opening, leaving less room for dust from outside." He explained every feature of the pot to his customer. But apparently, no one was interested in science. And those who were interested didn't agree with the price.
The potter kept reducing the price of the masterpiece every hour, but still, there was no luck. Even when the price was the same as the simple pot, people still preferred the simpler one. The potter was amazed by this; why would people want fragile pots when they have the masterpiece as an option?
He did not touch his lunch. He panicked as the day progressed. He started calling the customer and showing the product, but they refused to buy it. At the end of the day, the potter felt helpless and hopeless. His masterpiece was unsold on the second day too. The price of the masterpiece was lesser than the simple pot. He couldn't just digest the fact.
He was sitting hopelessly in his chair when the gentlemen walked into his shop. The gentleman wore a white shirt, and the pen in his pocket indicated he was a teacher or news reporter. He could remember being interviewed by one many years ago, but the portion never made it to the paper. The gentleman might be interested in buying his masterpiece. But the gentleman didn't ask for the pot. He came straight to him and asked him:
"What happened, Kaka? Why are you looking so sad?"
The didn't expect this. He didn't knew the gentleman, he was surprise by the voice of concern. He also didn't expect the gentleman to understand his problems. "The sales are not going well." He lied.
"Is that the reason you are sad? I don't think so. You can tell me the real reason." His voice was cold. The potter didn't like it. Who was he? And why was he pretending like he cared?
"How can he say that?" The potter challenged the gentleman.
"Concerns, as far as I know, do not consist of just one line. They are written in paragraphs."
The potter was amazed by the gentleman's intelligence. Anyone could understand his concern for the world; it has to this man. The potter poured his pot of feelings into the head of the gentleman.
The gentleman behaved like a gentleman while listening to this conversation. He nodded at pauses and didn't interrupt. The potter had started to like the gentleman. When the potter finished his story, the gentleman appreciated the efforts and enthusiasm. The gentleman made the potter realize how great this discovery of his was. He walked up the corner and picked the masterpiece up. He examined the masterpiece closely, admiring its features. He touched it with his hands, stroked the pot with his knuckles, and carefully listened to the sound. Then he hung the pot between his fingers and thumb as if measuring its mass. He then turned to the potter and said one line- "Indeed, this is a masterpiece."
It takes the eyes of an expert to recognize a masterpiece.
The potter was happy that someone in the whole world could understand its true worth.
"But I have something to ask you, Kaka." He waited for the potter's nod. "Why haven't you painted it? It's so bare and barely interesting."
"But this piece doesn't need to be painted; this is a masterpiece." The potter cried.
"This may be the masterpiece for you but not for others." His voice was still cold, calm, and composed. The potter stared at him in disbelief. "What do you mean?" He asked the gentleman.
"You have created this. You are always going to see it as a masterpiece. It's called the creator's bias. The person who makes a thing always likes it. It's also applicable in human creations, even a murder's parents would cry that their child is innocent. A creator is always biased towards it's creation. It is a masterpiece if people other than you think it's a masterpiece. For that, they would need to examine this closely. No one would tell it from far that it's a masterpiece."
That might be true, the potter thought. No one was picking it up because they couldn't tell from afar that it had unique qualities.
"This is the modern world, Kaka. The thing which is most striking to the eyes in physical look would sell the most, despite its qualities. And the best will not sell if it doesn't look good."
The potter nodded in affirmation. Whatever profession the gentleman was in, he was indeed intellectual.
"The masterpiece is built very well in design, but I think it lacks some colors that distinguish it from other pieces. I cannot guarantee it will sell if you paint it because I am not an expert in marketing. But I can advise you to paint it.", The gentleman said as he put the pot down.
"Thank you for your advice. I would look into the matter and do whatever is needed." The potter said very formally. But inside his heart, he knew how grateful he was.
The gentleman smiled pleasantly. He checked his watch and said- "It's time for me to return to my cottage. "Bailyan gi jay kaka." He said and got out of the shop.
"Bailyan gi jay.", said the potter. The two men departed on their journey.
The potter closed the shop early and took the masterpiece with him. He didn't attend the dinner. He switched the lamp of his workshop on and worked on his masterpiece. He carefully painted the pot with a red and silver lining. He was being cautious not to cover much surface area but making it look impressive to the eyes simultaneously. It was a maximization problem with the constraint of constant surface area. The sum of the painted area and the open-to-the-atmosphere area should be constant. The potter didn't work with variational calculus, but he knew the solution by heart.
When he finished, he admired his work for one minute straight. It looked breathtakingly beautiful. He was surprised by its enhanced beauty because he was sure last time that no piece more beautiful than this existed.
The potter's wife was livid with him when he returned to dine. It was already passed midnight, and the food had gone cold. She heated it again and served the potter without speaking a word.
"You know, when I met you for the first time on our wedding night, I thought you could look no better. But you look much more beautiful now." He joked, but he didn't tell the inspiration for the pickup line.
"Are you drunk?" She shouted and stormed away furiously. The potter finished his food and did the dishes himself. He slept soundly that night.
The following day, the potter set up his shop early. And the first sale of the day was the masterpiece. A rich girl bought that straightaway. She was jumping on her feet and shouting.
"OMG, OMG, that looks so beautiful. I want to buy it." She shouted excitedly. But her mother denied the request. Then, the potter explained the unique properties of the masterpiece. He elaborated on the unique geometry and how it helps the water stay colder for extended periods. He explained the material and promised it would last longer than any pot they had ever bought. It was not until he pointed out that it was a unique piece and they could find a similar pot nowhere that they decided to buy it. They scanned the shop and found no other pot looking like that. The potter collected the courage. He put a high price, which he decided when he made the pot. He got the price, and the moment became the happiest moment of the potter's life.
The potter was ecstatic that day. He wanted to dance to the sound of Bhajan. He made double the amount of sales because of his positive attitude.
That day, the potter's son and his family visited to pray at the holy temple. The potter's grandson, who was failing terribly in math, told him he was giving his best but not getting any results.
The potter shied and told his son in his language only. Giving your best and not getting any results are the two sides of a coin. They can't occur together. These two are mutually exclusive events, and the probability of both happening simultaneously is zero. If one of them is true, then, by default, the other is false. It can't happen that you are giving your best, but still you are not getting any results. But the complex problem is to find out where the problem lies. Where the missing piece is which degrades your best to better. You might be the best in your frame of reference, but more is needed. To get the result, you must convince the other frames that it is the best. To debug your situation, you need to scan it extra carefully, or you need the help of an external tracker. A person sitting outside the sphere of influence doesn't have the creator's bias and can help you find the bug in your process and make it the absolute best.
When you don't get the result you wished, it is an indication that there is some problem in your side. For example, you worked hard to an entrance exam but still you didn't clear it. That would mean that you certainly missed something. If you are only watching lectures and making pretty notes, thinking that you are working hard. Indeed you are working hard but that's not what it requires to clear that. You must practice hundred of questions. Instead of revising the lectures again, solve problem sheets, problem sets of different coachings, different exams etc. If you are preparing for IIT JAM and you have already solved CE sheets, then start solving for Jest and TIFR. There is some problem within the scope of fixing, it might be in your method, it might be in your intention, it might be in your environment. The effort takes you find the problem and eliminate it.
External tracking, honest feedback in simple words, plays an essential role in your learning journey. People say you need ten thousand hours to become an expert in any field. For example, if you give ten thousand hours to music, you will become AR Rahman. But that's not enough; you need the feedback for your repeated exercise, honest feedback independent of the creator's bias. You won't get any expertise if you practice music in a room for ten thousand hours without showing it to anyone. Watch Veritasium's excellent video on this. For example, I write this blog and always think I am writing well, but that is the creator's bias. That might be stopping me from being an expert in this field. But you guys, who are reading this, can provide honest feedback, which will help me improve my writing skills. So please don't hesitate to criticize me.
However, this story's origin differs from its interpretations that originated later. So, What happens when you are not getting the results of your best efforts? Or, in our context, your masterpiece doesn't sell? You start to doubt yourself, your abilities. Instead of refining your efforts, you begin to lose confidence and think of quitting. You reduce your price.
I don't want to confess because I am ashamed of myself for this. But I do exactly this when I don't get the things I want. I panic. When I was in my first year of college, my friends used to say that when Shyam would be in his third year, he would date a first-year girl. The third year came and went away, my master started, and I am halfway through, and I never dated anyone. When I realized this, I began to put myself on the sale. I thought I was a masterpiece of myself. What would be better than a boy who is good-looking enough, who has cleared IIT entrance exams twice, and who writes poems too? But apparently, that doesn't work when impressing a girl.
So I started to reduce my price. But I couldn't find any girl on any social media platform even after being a creep. So I reduced my prices further. I registered on several dating apps. My day would start by right-swiping every girl on every dating app until I was out of likes. Months passed in this process, but I didn't get a single match.
My desperation was at its peak in February. When the love was in the air, I seemed to live in the vacuum of free space. What was troubling me was that everyone seemed to have someone in their life, and I was alone and lonely. Every time I go out, I see a couple walking hand in hand, fingers crossed. The jealousy and desperation burnt my heart. My roommates, the most intellectual people I have met, spent hours talking to someone in a low romantic voice. I could observe myself getting angry at them. I was furious at that time; the urge to throw things was vital. I lost focus on my studies; I stopped leaving my room, even for classes and food, because I was afraid I might see a couple. The situation was bad. I would do nothing and order food and waste my day.
On 14th Feb, valentines Day, two suicide attempts happened in IITM. One successful, one saved. That was the first in the series of suicides that follow every month and still going on. The frequency of bizarre accidents shook me at heart. I found I was not the only one feeling such things. I felt grateful that at least I was not getting suicidal thoughts. The institute offered free counseling and a wellness test that was compulsory for every student to attend.
At my turn, I explained my feelings to the psychologist. She listened to me patiently and asked one thing: "Is it your time to search for love?" She insisted that I focus on my career rather than wasting my time searching for my love. All the things are automatically falling into place. That seems like advice that any random uncle can give you. But her style of explaining it made sense. I can't describe that meeting in words but when I walked out, I was feeling much lighter and fresh.
I reflected on the session for days going ahead. And I found out there are still so many things I could do myself. I could read a hundred romance books to find out what works and doesn't in a love story. I could do some gym training to look fit and attractive. Suddenly, I felt like I was not perfect. I am not a masterpiece, and I still need to work more on myself before I actually start looking for a romantic relationship. The biggest thing which gave me motivation was that I should actually write a book and publish it. It would be very pressing to say that I have published a book rather than saying that I write poems sometimes.
This changed my life. I immediately deleted accounts on all dating apps. I stopped stalking random girls. And I adopted a healthy lifestyle. If I see a couple going hand in hand, I still get the same feeling of desperation, but now the response is different. I take a deep breath and tell myself that I still have a book to write, and not before I complete that I am not getting a girlfriend. I have decided to paint the pot instead of reducing its price.