Bootlegging

Bootleg or bootlegging usually refers to making, transporting and/or selling illegal alcoholic liquor or copyrighted material.

The term originates from concealing hip flasks of alcohol in the legsteel hip flaskging of boots. These flasks are nowadays collector’s item. It size is suited for a trouser pocket or hiding in the stocking under the petticoats. That is why the term is called bootlegging.

The hip flask began to appear in the form recognized today in the 18th century, initially used by members of the gentry. During the 18th century, women boarding docked British warships would smuggle gin into the ship via makeshift flasks, created from pig’s bladders and hidden inside their petticoats.

Antique hip flasks, particularly those made of silver, are now sought-after collector’s items. Mlle._Rhea_FlaskThe hip flask appears frequently in comedy, in part because it allows drinking in inappropriate situations where a bottle would not be found. In older Indian movies, villains like Pran used to take sips from hip flask while lying in the hospital bed or attending a function where liquor was prohibited. These days this item has virtually disappeared from the public use.

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Was it a Cobra?

Yesterday, I was coming back from city. I took a detour towards my office from the normal road. My wife was sitting in the back seat. Suddenly she told me that we have just missed overrunning a huge serpent. I could not believe because, I missed seeing it completely. May be my mind was engrossed somewhere else.

The snake was still sitting with its hood totally opened. May be when our car just missed it and for a moment it became angry. I reversed the car and reached just near it. I have never seen in life such a majestic snake. Its colour was brown. It mus have been 4-5 feet long. What was more majestic about him was that it did not even seem to care whether we are around. It sat their with absolute calm. Then after some minutes, it went away into the bushes.

Actually I was roaming few days ago on the road along the boundary wall of our colony. It is rainy season and all around on the edges of road, plants with lush green foliage are growing. There on one such cluster of plants, I noticed very very tiny beautiful green plumed bird. It was sitting at one wedge of the plant branches. On looking closely I found that it was sitting on a nest. As I tried to photograph it using my poor man’s camera that is my my mobile camera, it flew away. I became sure that most probably there are eggs in the nest. Delicately, I pulled the twig towards me and lo! there were two beautiful eggs in it. Strangely, these eggs looked quite out sized for a bird of such diminutive size. There were patches of blood smeared on the eggs. I gently released the branch of tree slowly back to original position.

I was wondering how these eggs are surviving in such open space covered by a canopy of green foliage. There were murders of crows lurking around and then Oh I remember snakes which can raid the nests for eggs. Incidentally, the term “murder of crows” means a group of crows. As the Oxford English Dictionary suggests, “murder” may “perhaps [allude] to the crow’s traditional association with violent death, or … to its harsh and raucous cry.”

Bird's Nest
Bird's Nest

I also felt a remorse that may be I have disturbed the nest and the bird is going to abandon it. But I felt relieved when I saw the bird sitting again on the nest.

But alas! I was shocked today. I was passing through that path and my heart sank as I saw that nest was gone. There was no eggs.  That was the end to the so much efforts of there poor birds. My fears about thieves and marauders proved to be true.

Eggs
Eggs

I have read somewhere that species adopt different strategies for their survival and furtherance of their lineage. Lower the species is in the hierarchy of living kingdom, the survival strategy is in the sheer numbers. Perhaps, why perhaps but surely, the life will go on, and these birds will again try and succeed. My best wishes are with them.

Bombay Duck is not a duck!!

Guess what is Bombay duck?  Any normal person will think that it must be a duck living in the water bodies around Bombay. There is a surprise.

In fact Bombay duck or Bummalo is a fish belonging to lizardfish family. In the areas around Mumbai and Konkan, this fish is found in plenty in the Arabian sea and savored by the population.

The fish is often dried and salted before it is consumed. Generally it is consumed in the fried and curry forms. After drying, the odour of the fish is extremely powerful, and it must consequently be transported in air-tight containers.

Origin of its name as Bombay duck is not certain. Actually, according to one story, the fish was transported in the Bombay Dak train. Dak here means Bombay Mail. Its odour is so strong that Britishers began calling it Bombay Dak which became spoiled to Bombay Duck.

Drying on a wire
Drying on a wire

According to local Bangladeshi stories, the term Bombay duck called “Shootkie” by Bangladeshis was first coined by Robert Clive, after tasting a piece during his conquest of Bengal, it is told that he referenced the pungent smell to that of the news papers and mail which would come in to the cantonments from Bombay. The term was later popularized amongst the British public by its appearance in Indian restaurants (which are in fact, mostly Bangladeshi owned) across the country.

Despite the rather unpleasant odour of the fish, it is often considered to be a delicacy by connoisseurs of Indian cuisine. If freshly caught, it is sometimes eaten fried in a batter; and in its dried form, it is commonly eaten in a curry. It is also prepared as a pickle. The bones of the fish are soft and easily chewable.

Packed
Packed

Its body bones are very fragile and break on slight twist. So, special care is taken while preparing the dish.

Though the fish is mostly caught in Arabian Sea, small quantities are caught in Bay of Bengal. In Bengal it is called bamaloh or loita. In Gujarati it is called bumla & in Marathi it is called Bombil.

Once I was attending training on sea safety at Coast Guards office situated near Mallet Ferry Wharf in Bombay (near Docks). Extensive fish catch in trawlers is unloaded here and distributed to Bombay. There I saw boats upon boats on which this fish was drying on the lines. It seemed that buntings are waving on the boats. I also saw how the baskets of fish were tossed from boats and caught up by the men on the wharf platform. This job was so much perfected by the fishermen. There were quintessential fisherwomen with massive backs and one end of saris tucking between them. For two or three days whenever there was a break from training I used to visit the wharf. There was a great hustle and bustle there which subsided only in the noon. There were fishes lying on the bridge road to wharf. Urchins wandering there were collecting them and I can safely say they had bags full of them.

Dry Preparation
Dry Preparation

On the other end of the wharf, there is ferry station which is called “Bhaucha Dhakka”. From this station you can catch a ferry to go to Ali Baug, Uran etc.

Below are two pictures of Ferry wharf.

Boats with Catch
Boats with Catch
Passengers at Ferry Station
Passengers at Ferry Station

You cannot forget certain memories

There are certain memories which are very dear to us but at the same time very painful. You feel like weeping and helpless. Sometimes, you will try to bury these memories in the ocean of subconscious mind by tying the stones of helplessness around their neck. No sooner you think you have done this, both the memories as well as the helplessness gets separated and come up. These are no ordinary stones. They are like the ones which Lord Rama floated on the Indian ocean to reach Sri Lanka. Interestingly the person who is the subject of these memories, with whom these memories are connected, have long forgotten them, that once upon a time, in the past, he or she shared with you and you alone.

However hard you try, you always fail. These memories nag you day and night. They prick your soul without remorse. They don’t listen to any logic or reasoning. They are so obdurate.

Mumbai Magic-Dabbawalas

Mumbai is always on the go. There is no concept of night here as in the other parts of the country where people shiver at the thought of moving out at night. Here local trains which are the life lines of the city keep running till 3 O’clock in the morning. The VT station alone, now named after the great Maratha warrior, Shiva Raje Bhosle, called CST, short for Chhatrapti Shivaji Terminus, records 0.3 million passengers daily on it 6 platforms making it the busiest railway stations in the world. Similar is the story of Churchgate station on western line.

After this there are buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws( ply online in the suburbs up to Dadar) to take one to his office. So there is hardly anytime for many people to bring their lunch box with them.

Mumbai’s famous Dabbwala-tiffin carriers- comes into picture to the rescue of such people for whom they bring the tiffin box of  fresh food from their homes to their tables.

Today there are 5000 dabbawalas in Mumbai bringing food for 2,00,000 people daily. This system originated in British times when a Parsi fellow working at a construction site hired a person to bring food at lunch time. The proper system was started in 1890.

The work of dabbawalas these days is closely connected with local trains. Most of the dabbawalas are illiterate but it is hard to believe that their error rate is 1 in 16 millions. They follow a amazingly simple system of alphabets. One example is given below:

dabbawala-markings

On the left side, the marking C indicates the originating dabbawalas code, on top “VP” is the name of station where “C” dabbawala brings the dabbas. In this example it is Ville Parle (VP). Point in the centre (10) destination area, it stands for Nariman Point in South Mumbai. On right side 9 indicates the code of destination dabbawala, M is the building code, Mittal Tower in this case and 16 stands for 16th floor of Mittal Tower.

Earlier they used to tie threads of different colors but nowadays they use the marker pens.

This amazing system has attracted the attention of many management institutes all over the world. Experts from different colleges, institutes are coming to see and learn for themselves the system.

Most prominent was the visit of Prince Charles in 2003. The aim was to show the unique Mumbai system running on Zero modern technology and Zero inputs. Prince invited the Chief of Dabbawala’s to his marriage in England.

PrinceCharles2Dabbawalla_small

Similarly, Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Airlines visited the dabbawalas, travelled with them in a luggage train from Dadar station to Churchgate. Mr.Branson delivered a lunch box to one of his employees in near churchgate office.

branson

Such is the magic of Dabbawala system, a technology, based on totally human involvement.

Serendipity

The word has become very popular in usage after it was coined by Walpole. Serendipity means accidental discovery of something. A scientist is working on the synthesis of a particular compound he has in his mind but discovers an entirely new product. This is called serendipity.

Discovery of penicillin by Dr.Alexander Fleming is the example of serendipity. He forgot to disinfect cultures of bacteria when going for long vacations, only to find them contaminated with molds of Penicillium which had killed the bacteria.

There are ample number of other examples of serendipity which can be found in different spheres of life. For example, superglue.It is cyanoacrylate and it was accidentally discovered by Dr. Harry Coover, first when he was developing a clear plastic for gunsights  and when he was trying to develop a heat-resistant polymer for jet canopies.

The word was coined by Horace Walpole. The word is derived from a fable called “Three Princes of Serendip” which is a story based on the adventures of three princes of Serendip when their father sends them into exile (to learn the first hand experience of their kingdom) and they happen to discover unexpected things by chance or by their sagacity.

Sri Lanka was called “Serendip” in ancient times. According to one theory the name is based on the Sanskrit word derives from Swarnadip, the Sanskrit language name of Sri Lanka.

There was a king named Giaffer who had three very intelligent children. They are sent to very learned persons in different fields to learn and show precocity and return after completing the education. Their father asks eldest son to take over the reins of kingdom as he intended to go to some monastery.  One by one, sons refuse on the grounds that their father was the wisest king and should rule till the end of his life. The king then feigning anger send them on exile.

On their journeys, they meet a man coming from opposite direction and who has lost his camel. He asks the princes and they tell him very accurate description of the camel though they have not seen it. They tell that camel in question was blind in right eye, it was lame , it was carrying honey and butter on its left and right sides and a pregnant women was riding it. The description was so accurate that the man complains to the authorities of that kingdom that these boys have committed the theft of his camel. They are put in jail but released when the camel is found out. Impressed, the king of that country asks them how they had known so much about the camel. They answered thus:

“As the grass had been eaten on one side of the road where it was less verdant, the princes deduced that the camel was blind to the other side. Because there were lumps of chewed grass on the road the size of a camel’s tooth, presumably they had fallen through the gap left by a missing tooth. The tracks showed the prints of only three feet, the fourth being dragged, indicating that the animal was lame. That butter was carried on one side of the camel and honey on the other was clear because ants had been attracted to melted butter on one side of the road and flies to spilled honey on the other.

The deduction regarding the pregnant rider is more complicated than the rest and is somewhat lewd, so I shall let the princes tell it themselves: “I guessed that the camel must have carried a woman,” said the second brother, “because I had noticed that near the tracks where the animal had knelt down the imprint of a foot was visible. Because some urine was near by, I wet my fingers (in it) and as a reaction to its odour I felt a sort of carnal concupiscence, which convinced me that the imprint was of a woman’s foot.”

“I guessed that the same woman must have been pregnant,” said the third, “because I had noticed nearby handprints which were indicative that the woman, being pregnant, had helped herself up with her hands while urinating.”

It is clear from the princes’ reply that they had brilliantly interpreted the scant evidence observed along the road.

There are so many stories which had been added over time to the original. But the meaning of the English word must be clear by now.

If you are interested in the complete story you click here “Three princes of Serendip”

Dream of Kekule:Benzene

Continuing the subject of dreams, it is pertinent to mention that lucid dreams had helped many to make great discoveries and inventions. Since my subject is chemistry, I will touch upon one such famous dream which laid the foundation for understanding the structure and chemistry of  aromatic compounds.

As every one versed with chemistry knows, the benzene is the starting compound of aromatic compounds. Its structure was derived by Kukule’. His full name was Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz.

kekule-benzene-stamp

Benzene was analyzed to have 6 carbon and 6 hydrogen atoms. Existing formula of all the organic compounds did not fit into the structure of benzene and explain its strange properties.

Kukule’ was working on this problem but could not find its solution. Totally engrossed, he fell into a sleep in front of fireplace. He has a dream of the atoms which he described in his own words as follows:

“…I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis.”

So the snake he saw holding its own tail in its mouth was the the circular structure or closed ring structure of benzene. He immediately woke up and worked out his dream on the paper and by morning he had discovered the chemical structure of benzene.

snake

From the chemical point, the formula of benzene is C6H6. Kekule proposed the following structure to explain the number of substitution compounds which have been synthesized  using this structure.

Kekule's Benzene

Still there were problems in explaining the two different compounds obtained when hydrogen atoms on adjacent carbons were substituted with two different radicals like cl, NO3, I or CxHy. This is called ortho disubstituion. That is to say that C6H4XY will form two different ortho isomers depending  on whethere substitution has taken place C-C bond or C=C bond.  But such isomers have never been found. Kekule tried to explain this by saying that single and double bonds oscillate and thus become identical. Dr.Linus Pauling later on proposed resonance phenomenon, in which there are no purely single and double bonds but something in between and thus all C-C bonds are equivalent. This has been conformed by UV analysis which shows all C-C bonds of equal strength and indistinguishable. This is like the Hindu God Shiva when He assumed ardhnarishwar or androgynous form to show that both male and female forms coexist in the body. The final outcome depends upon which of these dominate at a given time.

In the end of a lecture explaining the discovery of benzene, he said

“Let us learn to dream!”