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Double Impact

What an idea two-ji

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What's second generation wireless telephony got to do with the word, rather the digit, that has gained popular currency this year? 2G is an acronym that has over the last few months, with association, brought to mind not-so-edifying thoughts about our political system. But hang on. If we begin to peel connotative layers of the integer there, we'll chance upon other ideas. Two, indeed, has multivalent faces. If one looks at measure and magnitude, another explores progression and versioning, while a third examines duality through binary glasses.

First is its suggestion of quantity. At shop sales where we buy two shirts and get one free or with family snack-packs stuffed with double treats that we take away from restaurants, Two is an integral measure of capacity and amount. Anything happening twice implies excess or bonanza as the fortunes might be. Good times must always roll once more. And so, we are always sizing up the digit. Our jaws drop when somebody tells us the presumptive loss of the 2G spectrum rip-off is twice as much as some other scams in the country. We turn greeneyed on hearing that our club mate has bought a second apartment or a vehicle. Do dooni chaar is the mathematical equivalent of everybody's secret dream.

But numbers can seduce. That's why one can do little to help the not-so-charmed middle class Indian na?ve enough to hand over his savings to a dubious agency because he was promised "doubling of the investment". Be doubly sure, is the over-wrought advice experts and tax consultants offer, before you shake the proffered hand of Lady Luck. Else, like star-crossed businessmen, you'll double your losses. As the moral goes - fool me once, shame on you;fool me twice, shame on me.

Like other cardinal numbers, Two has an intrinsic characteristic. Numerologists see those with this sign as sensitive persons who care for their family;who love good food and wine and a good joke. They are also endowed with a sense of balance and fair play and so, may frequently be invited to play judge and mediator. Often it's the second one in the pecking order who shoulders this role. The movies have recognised this key man in a rather comical way. In the Austin Powers series, Dr Evil introduces his deputy thus, "Finally, we come to my number two man. His name? Number Two. "

At other times, having another of the same prepares us for the rainy day. A car stepney or a back-up mobile charger form basic needs. Two as a unit that follows one entails progression. In the arrangement of numbers, the second is the most crucial in the ordinal clan. Even opinions are modified often, prompting the skeptic to ask, "Why don't we get our second thoughts first at crucial junctures?"

If the 2G scam brought to light the preposterous neglect of governance, it also heightened the sense of disgust in civil society giving rise to a mass movement led by Anna Hazare. That the campaigners sought extraordinary latitude from the government and in fact redefined the notion of satyagraha is another story, but they finally raised hopes of a second chance for the Indian citizen - of another appeal, another go at the corrupt.

The second chance isn't handed over to us;it's a blessing that comes disguised. Like optimistic athletes, we could seize the day and run the race, or, like slackers, we could think it foolhardy to even try once again, comforting ourselves with, "If frogs had wheels, wouldn't they bump their butts?"

Sometimes, the second set of circumstances is as grim as the first. In the market when consumer confidence lags or the price erosion shows no signs of ending, the buzz is that double dip recession has arrived. This happened a couple of months ago triggering talk of a second big slump, but many put two and two together and declared that the curtains were never really drawn on the first downturn. Take another instance. Perhaps the grimmest reminder of the new second generation post-reforms India is got through cold statistics: that more people have access to mobile phones than toilets.

Another intricacy of No 2 is its central idea of more than one position or even a binary vision. In the history of two views or dualism, opposites exist together - love and hate;joy and sorrow;corruption and honesty;illusion and reality. The serpent and the rope. Duality comprises entities that are further incapable of simplification. And these contradictory views pave the path for a synthesis.

Philosophically, the nature of two has to do with relationships and partnerships - a bond so unique and simple. As opposed to interactions in a group, the attachment between two people has an exceptional harmony. Sportspersons who hunt in pairs (Michael Holding and Andy Roberts or Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa ) or writers (Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins) who dig information together certainly need an intuitive sense of rapport.

The most sublime of twosomes would be a couple deeply in love. Here, thoughts are shared in whispers, movements are soft and quarrels are affable and pleasant. As Tomas Transtromer, winner of the 2011 Nobel prize in Literature, puts it: "Their most secret thoughts meet as when /Two colors meet and flow into each other /On the wet paper of a schoolboy's painting". Could a starburst of emotions be rendered so quietly? It could, only if it were between two special people.

The No 2 is special too, this year... For 2G. And, of course, for iPad2.

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