I am sure it must have happened to most of us both at home as well as in the office. In any animated discussion on matters ranging from project management to politics, quick fixes or expedient answers are demanded… patience and sobriety are in short supply.
Rather be tortured by bland inputs, which look good on paper, actionable inputs are sought. Inputs need to be context-ready and relevant. If the inputs sound to be vague and not appear to be practical, they are dismissed with a brusque comment — “it is bookish,” “do not spew our theory.”
The last two weeks have been eventful. As these events unfolded, this backdrop (of theory and practice) came to the fore.
The first event was squeezing in a short vacation to visit Hampi, a six-hour leisurely drive from Bengaluru, on the banks of river Tungabhadra. The captivating ruins, of this erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagar kingdom, are nothing less than a marvel to watch and is a delight for history buffs.
The stunning symmetry of the gopurams, the inspired elegance of the stone wheeled chariot (emulated from the Sun Temple at Konarak), the striking repeatability of the columnar structures would leave anyone awestruck. These stupendous engineering marvels came up during the 14th and 16th century.
Similar imposing structures like the towering Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur (11th century) were built centuries ago, much before the field of structural engineering and Newton’s Law (17th century) were established as mainstream curriculum. The elegant and robust workmanship must follow a methodology of sorts. Likewise, steam engines ran locomotives before thermodynamics arrived as a science subject. In one we see civil engineering and architecture in full glory and in the latter, we visualise the early days of what would be mechanical engineering. The unerring repeatability of the stone etchings of the mythological figurines on the Hampi friezes offers a hint that there must be a lurking process and methodology, untold and unseen.
The engineering disciplines have been improved by keen observation and analytical understanding. The practice that is vetted, religiously documented, results in the governing laws, formulae and theorems. While laws may be brushed aside as “theory,” they are important. The significance of theory when executed through practice help produce the phenomenon of repeatability — a methodology of sorts is born from the marriage of practice and theory which enable that. This is notwithstanding the fact that, the practice could precede the theory, here.
The second event was the wonderful rendition of a play by Bangalore Little Theatre. The play was a frugal yet elegant adaptation of the much read and loved story “Kabuli Walla,” by Tagore. This was on the eve of the 1913 Nobel laureate’s 160th birth anniversary, under the aegis of NHRD, Bangalore.
The brilliant, ageless, and profoundly sensitive short story portrays the divine affection and empathy between the migrant Afghan travelling trader and the effervescent five-year-old young girl. This was masterfully adapted on stage by prominent playwrights and theatre personalities, which I had the fortune to see.
I am told that there have been numerous adaptations of this short story, as stage and screen performances. The performed scripts have taken liberties in retelling the story with additional details, which often add to the allure of the story when portrayed by talented actors. The various adaptions pivot around ethnicity, empathy, renditions devoid of dialog, and portrayals that are musicals.
The original story is uncluttered and pristine, could referred to as a “theory.” The practical adaptations (based on this theory) have been numerous; all leveraging the more than 150 years of the short story and giving it multiple lives with creative extensions and adaptations (repeatability with a difference) which is made possible thanks to the inherent “method” governed by the story line.
Theories when put to execution through practice, help produce a process, a methodology or a tool helping generate repeatable successes and not one-offs. Methodology is the tool of many and not one.
So, there is no war between theory and practice. Best practice needs a framework to bring in consistency in efforts. As seen in the examples above, at times practice leads the way to theoretical explanation. The most valuable experience demands that each help the other grow and in complementing each other.
Someone rightly mentioned that experience without theory is blind and theory without experience is lame. Could the blind and the lame be helped if they get hold of a hand staff? Yes.
Theory and Practice go hand in hand, bringing in the wonder called repeatability through methodology…. and methodology here IS the hand-staff!