Thibaw Min & Bahadur Shah Zafar: Unfortunate Kings

Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Mogul king of India. After 1857 war of independence by Indian princes and inspired people, when the rebellion was crushed by British, he was imprisoned and exiled to Rangoon Burma (Mynamar) along with his family. He was sent away from his kingdom, his people, to yearn for his beloved country and his people. British has no room for sentiments, they were heartless and bent on exploiting the resources and wealth of any place in the world. Asia and Africa were their easy preys. They filled their coffers with unlimited wealth from the countries in these continents. Today we say that India is a poor country and this is not true. If this were the case, the British were not fools to waste their time of two hundred years in India.

So the king was humiliated and along with family consigned to Burma. He was 83 year old. Two of his sons were brutally murdered by British. The British needed some pretext to rule this country and they found it in the form of 1857 rebellion. After this there was no looking back for them till 1947. They ruled with impunity. Took away untold wealth from this country. There were diamonds, cotton, oil, wood and what not.

The king died on 7th November 1862 and was buried near Shwedagon Pagoda. The British thought it prudent to bury him in Rangoon itself. It was not the lot of the King to return to India, his kingdom, even as a dead person. His wife Zeenat Mahal also died there. It is very sad to note that some of members of his lineage are living in utter poverty.

Equally sad is the story of Burmese King Thebaw Min. He was the last king of Burma or should we say of upper Burma with its capital at Mandalay which was once an golden city. The king lived in a Glass Palace. He was born in 1859 when Bahadur Shah was still alive. Who knew then that one day the last king of Burma will be exiled in India along with his family like Bahadur Shah Zafar. Both happened to be the last kings of their countries. Both were gentle and kindhearted.

Like pilfering the wealth of India, the British eyed coveted teak wood which grew abundantly in the upper Burma which was at that time not under the control of British. Also there was lot of petroleum oozing by itself from the ground. They were looking for some pretext and found one in the form of king’ encouraging the French and exhorting his people to throw out the British from whole of Burma. The queen Supayalat was more dominating and had eliminated the princes which were contenders along with Thebaw for the throne. The British defeated the Burmese forces and arrested the king  1885 and was sent to Ratnagiri in Maharastra for exile. At that time, there were two small daughters and queen was expecting the third child which was born on way at Madras.

The family lived in a place called Thebaw Palace on a hillock. The locals began revering the king. He was benign. His pastime was to scan the sea at Mandovi Jetty. The family visited the Bhagwati temple. It was the king who first noticed the arrival of boats and monsoons and informed the local people through an loyal Indian servant by the name of Sawant. The family especially children learnt to speak fluent Marathi and dressing like the local women. The eldest princess had children by Sawant and married him.  The king died in 1916 when he was 58 years old. He died of the heart attack after his second daughter eloped. It is said that one woman of the royal lineage is still living in Ratnagiri. She has married some local mechanic and living in great penury.

Such was the fate of Last Muslim King of India and Last king of Burma.

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Moonbow!

Most of us will not believe this. In fact, we never seem to have given any thought to it because it is very uncommon and very faint and seen only in some places in the world. But the truth is it exists and had been photographed be the dedicated enthusiasts.

What is light exactly? No one knows for sure. The observations about its behavior are explained by resorting to theories. Some of its properties are explainable considering it as a wave and other properties by considering the light as bundle of particles called photons.

In fact, in the realm of subatomic and galaxy scale, the entities behave in very unpredictable manner. Our mind which is attuned to the events happening in the middle scale, our comprehension fails to explain the phenomena occurring at the two extremes Rainbow is formed when the water droplets in the air hanging after the rain split the sunlight which is a mixture of 7 colors which we humans can see with eyes. It takes the shape of banded arc of individual colors. The phenomena is related to refraction. The different colors bend at different angles while entering a denser medium from a thinner medium. The red color with highest wavelength bends least and violet which have lowest wavelength bends the maximum thus representing the the two extremes of spectrum with rest of the colors following the famous “VIBGYOR” sequence. If we go towards lower wavelengths than violet, we enter into ultraviolet region which has higher energy. Going more and more towards lower wavelengths takes us into X-rays. On the other hand, if we go beyond red color we have lower and lower energy radiations beginning with infrared and going towards radio waves.

Moon as we know is not a star and hence does not have its own light source. It acts like a mirror reflecting the light falling from sun on its surface. This gives us the illusion that moon has its own light.

So, the light moon reflects is exactly of same composition as the sunlight. In fact it is sunlight but it is very weak. In fact, its luminosity is very feeble. But keen observers are not dissuaded and have photographed this feeble but strange surprising phenomena. If you are interested, you can visit the this website to see some beautiful pictures. I have visited some other sites but the photos show the rainbow effected by the waterfall, the rainbow is very low.

Frankly, I came across this phenomena while I was reading “The Hungry Tide” a book by Amitav Ghosh. The book describes the struggle of the people living in Sunderbans delta where life is a constant struggle on day to day basis. There are so many perils like crocodiles, tides, storms, inundations, deluges, the dreaded royal Bengal tigers. Life is strongly tied to the nature as the livelihood is dependent on the nature’s dower in the form of sea food, honey and wax which these people have to snatch from the jaws of crocodiles, tigers and other perils. There are strange phenomena verging on the mythical. In fact myth and reality seem to become one, melt into one another like a twilight zone where light and darkness hug each other and then depart in their usual fashion of exclusiveness of one another. In this book, the phenomena of moon rainbow is described and characters who have been watching the nature very closely see it when sailing in the boat.

Darkness

Darkness is a much maligned being. Everyone praises the light, everyone advocates in the favour of light. Especially on the occasion of Diwali, the most common refrain begins with “Let there be light……”, as if we are living in the dark till now.

Importance of light is due to the darkness. In fact they follow each other. It is only for darkness, we admire the light. The truth is that we have been blessed to see only a very narrow spectrum of the reality. It is a very narrow window in comparison to the whole spectrum. We are not able to see beyond the infrared and ultraviolet region. Only a minuscule window is available for us. Birds and bees are better off than us in this regard. Bees for example can see in the ultraviolet region. Birds can see in the lower frequencies than infrared.

In fact, the visible is just an iceberg floating in the sea of hidden or darkness. Dark matter which is counterpart of the visible matter is many times bigger.

Darkness is absolutely necessary for shutting down the process visible inputs to our mind. It forces the humans to sleep and rejuvenate the brain by giving it the necessary respite. Receptors especially eyes & ears are always receiving and feeding the information to the brain. They keep the brain busy. So the darkness helps to shut down these receptors periodically.

Everything exists in pairs in the universe. One is complementary to the other. Matter has antimatter, electron has positron, vice has virtue, Ravana has Rama, Yin has Yang, eggs have sperms, night has day as their complements. Think if everyone were good or everyone were bad, the evolution or progress will come to a grinding halt. Humans thrive on the competition, dominating others is in their blood. If it were not true, life would be so boring. Species will not have to do anything for survival. No one will challenge others as everyone will be satisfied and have no aspiration.

Identification of Plants & Trees in My Locality

Innumerable plants grow on the earth. The very diversity is mind boggling. We did not even know the names of plants growing around us. In fact, most of us never bother to even look around. These become just the backdrop of landscape we dwell in. I don’t think that even God, the creator, has given them names. It is us mortals, who in order to make our life easier document the things. We give nomenclature to everything living in the nature. We have classified them into different kingdoms for our convenience and harmony in the views of different individuals.

I always has the curiosity to know the names of plants around us, the plants which give us hope, clean the atmosphere and provide oxygen for us humans to breathe, give beauty to the surroundings. I admit I don’t know the names of most of them.

In this effort, while searching and searching for days, I chanced upon a website about the flowering trees of India. This site is treasure trove of information about the plants and trees. Thanks to this website, I have been identify some of the plants and trees growing in my colony. Here is a start.

1.Agave, Century plant

Century Plant

This is a native of Mexico. In Indian languages, it has names like Hindi: Kamal cactus कमल कैक्टस , Gwarpatha ग्वारपाठा • Manipuri: Kewa • Telugu: Kalabanda • Kannada: Kantala • Sanskrit: Kantala.
Botanical name: Agave americana Family: Agavaceae (agave family)

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2.Snake Plant, Mother-in-law’s tongue

Snake Plant

Its botanical name is Sansevieria trifasciata belonging to Agavaceae (agave family). It originally belongs to Africa and is best suited for potting. It is sturdy plant.

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3.Cashew

Cashew nut is a nut every Indian is aware of. It is amongst the famo

Cashew

us dry fruits like almonds and other nuts. Following are two pictures of this tree.

The tree is known by many names like Hindi: काजू Kaju • Manipuri: Kaju • Marathi:

Kaju • Tamil: முந்திரி Mundiri, Andima • Malayalam: Kasu mavu • Telugu: Munthamamidi • Kannada: Godambi, Geru • Bengali: Hijli Badam • Konkani: Kazu • Sanskrit: Agnikrita

It grows mostly in Karnataka and Kerala.

Cashew-1The Cashew is a flowering tree, native to northeastern Brazil, where it is called by its Portuguese name Caju (the fruit) or Cajueiro (the tree). It is now widely grown in tropical climates for its cashew “nuts”.

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4.Fishtail Palm

This tree stands in the ground behind hospital in our colony. It looks very majestic. Those beaded threads hanging in a huge bunch like the beard of an saint.

Fishtail Palm

Common names around India are Fishtail Palm, Jaggery Palm, Toddy Palm, Wine Palm • Hindi: Mari • Tamil: கொண்டல் பனை Kontalpanai • Malayalam: Anappana
Botanical name: Caryota urens Family: Arecaceae (Palm family)

When these palms grow to reach a height of about 20 feet, they start producing flowers at the top of the trunk with subsequent flowers produced lower and lower on the trunk. When the lowest flower blooms, the tree dies. Flowers are long plait like bunches hanging down. Toddy palm is an Asian species that grows from India to Burma and on the island country of Sri Lanka.

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5.Barringtonia

Common name: Barringtonia, Freshwater Mangrove, Indian Oak, Indian Putat • Assamese: Hendol, Hinyol, Pani amra • Bengali: Hijal • Hindi: Hijagal, Hijjal, समुन्द्र फल, Samundarphal • Kannada: Mavinkubia, Niruganigily,

Barringtonia

Barringtonia is an evergreen tree of moderate size, called by Sanskrit writers Hijja or Hijjala. The fruit is spoken of as Samudra-phala and Dhātriphala or ”nurse’s fruit,” and is one of the best known domestic remedies. Also called Stream Barringtonia or Itchy Tree (after a catepillar with irritant hairs that sometimes colonises the undersides of the leaves) Barringtonia is a tree 5-8 m tall with rough fissured dark grey bark. Leaves are obovate. Red flowers are produced on pendulous racemes about 20cm long. Four sided fruits are produced periodically throughout the year. Partly deciduous in extended dry periods. This species grows on the banks of freshwater rivers, the edges of freshwater swamps and lagoons and on seasonally flooded lowland plains, commonly on heavy soils. Found in Madagascar and tropical Asia, amongst other places. Propagation is by seed. Tolerant of heavy clay soils with poor drainage, it can grow in a range of soils.

These are the trees which bear very beautiful flowers. These flowers hang on the tree branches like garlands. The flowers has a very short life: only one night. By the morning, the branches which were laden with flowers begin to shed the flowers which plop like rain on the surface. Whole ground beneath the trees become a carpet of red color, which nature seems to have rolled out to welcome the passersby.


6.Traveler’s Palm

This plant is growing in the lawn in front of IEOT. Its botanical name is Ravenala madagascariensis Family: Strelitziaceae (Bird of Paradise family)

Traveler's Palm

Endemic to the island of Madagascar, Traveler’s Palm is one of the most interesting tree-like plants. Traveler’s palm is not a true palm. In part it looks like banana plant and in part a palm tree. Its long leaf stalks and deep green leaves resemble those of the banana and extend out symmetrically from the trunk like a giant Chinese fan. The leaves are up to 10 ft long and 12-20 inches wide. Young traveler’s palms have no visible trunk which, is underground. In adult plants, the trunk emerges above the ground, raising the symmetrical leaf-fan to heights ranging from 30-60 ft. The green palmlike trunk grows up to 1 ft in diameter and displays distinctive trunk leaf scar rings. The small white flowers, in a foot long inflorescence, are held in bracts. In these bracts and leaf folds, rainwater is collected. It is this rainwater collecting property of this tree, which can be consumed by thirsty travelers, what gives it the name traveler’s palm. The fruits are brown while the seeds are blue.


7.Kadam

The tree has names in Indian languages asHindi: कदम्ब Kadamb • Tamil: வெள்ளை கதம்பு Vellaikkatampu • Malayalam: Katampu • Kannada: Kaduavalatige • Telugu: Rudrakskamba
Botanical name: Neolamarckia cadamba Family: Rubiaceae (Coffee family)
Synonyms: Anthocephalus cadamba, Anthocephalus indicus

Kadam

In Hindu mythology, Kadam was the favourite tree of Krishna. Tree up to 45 m tall, without branches for more than 25 m. Diameter up to 100 (-160) cm but normally less; sometimes with buttresses. The crown is umbrella shaped and the branches are characteristically arranged in tiers. Leaves simple, 13-32 cm long. Flowers orange, small, in dense, globose heads. They appear like solid, hairy orange balls. The fruits are small capsules, packed closely together to form a fleshy, yellow or orange coloured infructescence containing approx. 8,000 seeds. The small capsules split into four parts releasing the seed at maturity. There are approximately 20,000 seeds per gram. It is believed to have medicinal value in curing astringent, ulcer, digestive, diarrhoea, expectorant, fever, vomiting. A postal stamp was issued by the Indian Postal Department to commemorate this tree.

Weather is changing

It is not a new phenomena but eternal rule of the nature. Events continue to occur in periodic manner. There is the cycle of weathers and in between transition zones. Winter is knocking at the doors. The days are becoming shorter and nights longer.

Yet in Bombay, changes in weather go unnoticed because of the temperate nature of the annual weather. After the rainy season, whole of India except Bombay begins to become cooler. In Bombay, October and November are very hot and suffocating. The sky is generally overcast, clouds hang over all the time, trapping the intense heat from escape to outer atmosphere.

These days, there is lots of dew on the grass. Everywhere on the path, earthworms slither and despite your best efforts some of them get squashed under the shoes. As the surface begins to heat up, the earthworms are fried badly. It seems that they are there for dying only.

Lots of other insects are available in the grass. I have noticed that great white herons busily foraging in the grass ground. They stay in the boughs of big trees in the night, dart to ground in the early morning to grab the lots of insects and as soon the sun is up, they again hide themselves in the cool dense foliage of the trees around the ground. The road below the trees seems whitewashed with their plenty of droppings. They make very funny noises to register their presence.

There are lots of sparrows which sit and eat the grains my wife spreads generously along the ledges of windows. Lots of pigeons also come. Pigeons gobble the grains very briskly. Most of these pigeons belong to rock pigeon (Columba livia) kind and most of the time seen perched on the ledges of houses. They multiply very fast. Then there are crows but they seem to be not much interested in the grains, they look for insects, infants of smaller birds, morsels of poultry, bones etc. There is great cacophony of birds around our house in the morning. At least, it is happy augury that these birds are there and seem to be happy lot.

Snell’s Window

How the species under water see the world above? The entire horizon is visible to them through a window, a disc, called Snell’s window named Dutch mathematician Willebrord Snellius. Anything outside this window is not visible. In fact the area outside this window looks dark.

The diameter of disc varies with the depth at which the viewer is located below water. As the depth of eye increases, the disc gets bigger in size.

All this depends upon the strange properties of the light which illuminates this world and which enters our eyes which act as a camera.

We know now that phenomena occurring in the microscopic realm cannot be explained by usual classical science. For example, light is considered as wave as well as discrete bundles called photon. We have to resort to dualism to explain different kinds of observations. This is because assumptions are required to explain when the reality is not known to us. Light may neither be discrete particles or waves which we are unable to fathom as yet.

As we know that light consists of photons which are tiny bundles of light traveling in a stream. This means that light will travel with different speeds in different mediums. In the water for example, the light travels slowly than the air because water molecules offer resistance to the flow of photons. As a viewer, we see the light rays bending towards the normal to the point where light ray strikes the water. This is the other way of saying that light seem to come from a depth which is more than the real depth. This is shown in the following picture.

Rod in Glass of water

This was explained by a law known as Snell’s law which states that the ratio of the sines of the angles of incidence and refraction is equivalent to the ratio of velocities of light in two media, or equivalent to the opposite ratio of the indices of refraction.

Refraction of light has many strange and interesting consequences. One of them is how the living species like fish, dolphins & divers look the world outside the water. From the Snell’s law, it is clear that a ray of light making an angle of 90 degrees incidence, meaning grazing parallel to surface, bends at an angle of 48.7 degrees. This clearly means that rays covering the entire horizon will form a disc of light with apex on the eye and cone angle double the angle of refraction, that is 97.4 degrees. Depending upon the depth at which eyes of the species are located, the disc diameter will adjust itself to enclose the entire horizon above. The calculations show this as follows.

snell1

So, the entire world above surface will become visible through a disc of light. Outside this disc is all darkness.

This disc is essential to negotiate the space in 3-dimensions. Without this, the species will not be able to know which is upside or downside. They will become disoriented. This can happen to the species which live in the rivers carrying large amounts of clay and are muddied. Here, for survivor, the fish has to adapt other means to survive.

I found this beautiful picture of a turtle in the Snell’s window on the Flickr. Please click the link to see this picture. This site contains very stunning photos. So it will be worthwhile to explore this site.

Sundarbans:Bhatir Desh

Sunderbans, the very name sends the imagination reeling about a amphibian land in the south of Kolkata spread over the maze work of islands created by Ganga, Brahmputra and Meghna rivers. These rivers which seem to abandon their discipline and break up like a fan in this land. It is labyrinth of channels encircling the islands which contain the most fertile soil in their upper crust.

The name seems to be associated with the conspicuous sundari trees which are called Heritiera macrophylla by the botanists. But Mughals, as narrated by Amitav Ghosh in his beautiful novel The Hungry Tide“, called it Bhati  Desh which means Ebb tide country. This became Bhatir Desh over time.

It is the land which is so surreal that there is no line of demarcation between reality and imagination. There are eighteen islands which is why it is also called “Atharo Bhatir Desh”, the land of eighteen lands. There are tigers which can swim miles and miles after their quarries. Crocodiles and dolphins abound here.

There is one chapter in the famous book “Midnights Children” by Salman Rushdie in which three young soldiers of West Pakistan who were sent to East Pakistan and committed heinous crimes like their army, after getting lost, land up in a boat in this Jungle. Rushdie then go on to weave a superb web about the description of the place. He tells that in rainy season, the Jungle seems to grow literally before the eyes. The fruits from the Nipa Palms fall and crack on the ground. In no time the ants swoop on the fruit juice. Since the light never reaches inside many parts, there live snakes which are transparent. Jungle begins to take a complete control of your mind and you forget about the time dimension. Clearly it is the work of great creative imagination of the writer but the author builds these things making base as some real stories.

The Jungle is so dense that if one goes inside, he will forget about the concept of time. The jungle has the power to stop the time. The land is famous for the mangroves which grow copiously and sometimes discard so much dead leaves and wood that they seem to be doing harakiri or suicide, if it were not for the crabs who live there and work as scavengers. They are the janitors who see to it that everything is spic and span or tickety-boo.

The people who live there have adapted themselves to the treacheries of the jungle. They invoke the Goddess “Bonbibi” before going to jungle to gather the honey and wax. The jungle is lorded by Dekkan rai, who stalks in the form of tiger. The legend is that Dekkan rai ruled over the entire Bhatir Desh but he became obsessed with human flesh. According to story, he accosted a convoy of boats which had come there for gathering valuables from jungle, he promised them to give the untold gifts of honey and wax in liu of one human flesh. As planned by the convoy, they left one person behind and when Dekkan rai came to eat him in the garb of tiger, he prayed to Banbibi, who then with the help of her brother fought and defeated Dekkan rai. In the end it was decided that Dekkan rai will rule only the dense jungle.

That is why, whenever inhabitants cross over to jungle, they worship not only Banbibi but also the Dekkan rai, the tiger. It is the place where the womenfolk wear the white saris like widows when there menfolks go to jungle for hunting and gathering honey and wax.

The rivers which have spawned these islands bring with them so much fertile soil from Himalayas that they seem to be playing a game of erecting and erasing the islands at will. Many islands are said to have been buried and no longer exist now. New ones can be born anytime.

There exist so many biomes which harbour myriad kinds of flora and fauna. Storms break where minutes before it was so still that everything looked like a still picture.

It is not far away from Kolkata and yet it is entirely a different world, breathtaking and beautiful and at the same time extremely harsh and unforgiving to the inhabitants.