Monthly Archives: May 2011


The Times of India carries large number of obituaries every day. It devotes full one page for this purpose where bereaved people want to share with the world the loss of their dear ones. Generally, there is a photograph of the person who has gone up and then there are epitaphs some of which are simply exaggerations, but this is permitted because there are both flip and face sides to everything and everyone’s perspective is different.

Today, I saw a obituary which quotes a poem by Henry Scott Holland. It is reproduced below in Toto. It is beautiful poem exuding optimism and treating death as only a transient reality. It runs as follows:

“Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.

I am I, and you are you, and

the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.

Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.

One brief moment and all will be as it was before.

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”


Description of Early Bombay nee’ Mumbai

This information is given about Bombay in the Imperial Gazetteer during the period 1908 to 1930. During this period a frenzied activity was taking place resulting in the development of a city which is nowadays known as the commercial capital of India.

In the historical context, originally Bombay formed the outer portion of the Kingdom Aparanta or North Konkan and was ruled by King Asoka. He was succeeded by Satavahanas, who ruled this area in the second century AD. After this the succession of rules belonging to Mauriya, Chaulakyas and Rashtrakutas.

The original inhabitants of the place are Kolis which have their settlements in Colaba, Warli, Sion, Mazgaon and Naigaon. These people were mostly fishermen and husbandmen and thought have moved here during the advent of christian period. The island takes its name Mumbai from the Koli goddess Mumbadevi whose temple once stood at the place presently occupied by Victoria Terminus.

The bazaar represented the most northerly side of Fort area. The first significant building outside the fort was Victoria Terminus of Great Indian Peninsula Railway very handsome building standing at the site of old Mumbadevi temple. Opposite the station are the municipal offices. The foundation stone of the municipal office was laid down by Lord Ripon in December 1884. A short distance away are the newly erected offices of the famous English newspaper The Times of India. At a few minutes stroll away is the market known as Crawford market named after Arthur Crawford, who was the municipal commissioner of Bombay from 1856 to 1871. North of this market lies the native Bombay. There are two well known thoroughfares in this area namely Kalbadevi and Abdur Rehman street both of which lead to Paydhuni (foot-wash) so known because the passerby used to wash their feet in the stream flowing through this area. At the junction of these thoroughfares, lies the temple of Mumbadevi guardian Goddessof the city.

Parel was one area which was favorite place with the British authorities. Parel was, along with Naigaon, Wadala, Matunga occupied by Bhima Raja in 1284 on their arrival from Deccan. But Parel has yielded the favorite position to fashionable Malabar Hill and Cummbala Hill which have some very beautiful buildings. From the Malabar Hill and Altamount Road, the view is very beautiful. At night, one can look at the palm groves at Chaupati, Backbay, Rajabai Clock Tower and secretariat and light house in an unbroken line of lights in an arc appropriately called Queen’s Necklace.

From Bombay to Mumbai

The Apollo Bunder Area

There is no Gateway of India yet.

Apollo Bunder with Gateway of India

Church Gate Station

Church Gate Old

Church gate station now

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) aka Victoria Terminus (VT)

Chhatarpati Shivaji aka Victoria Terminus Station

Khada Parsi Statue

That the Parsis are the architects of developing the Bombay is not a overstatement. This community which is known for honesty and great entrepreneurship was encouraged by British to settle in Bombay from Gujarat. They have made an immense contribution to the city. Besides being the entrepreneurs, the Parsis have been great philanthropists and opened many hospitals, educational institutions and bridges for the populace of Bombay.

Khada PArsi Old Glory

Although still they are a dominant force in the commerce, their population is dwindling which is matter of concern. There are many statues erected by them in the city in the memory of great persons. But some of them due to their location and increasing crowds and scramble for the whatever space is left unoccupied, some of these monuments are in a ruinous condition. For example, the iconic heritage landmark called “Khada Parsi” at Byculla bridge. If we compare the present picture with the original, we will come to know the state of utter neglect. There was a fountain at the bottom just like Flora fountain which is dry and does not work anymore. One the lamps has been stolen and has never been replaced. The hawkers sit around it. Due to the increased pollution from the vehicles, its brass work has been corroded.

In the state of utter neglect

The restoration work has yet to begin even after one year the project was approved. The statue is a Grade-I heritage urban installation, the restoration of which has been assigned to a panel of experts. Though the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had promised to restore the statue to its ‘original glory’, there is no sign that the statue will get a facelift soon.
“It’s a mess. By the time they finish constructing the flyovers, the statue will not even be visible. What’s the point in restoring it at such a place?” said Tasneem Mehta of the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). “The problem is that there is no respect for anything of heritage value. They should know how to blend the old with the new. We, as citizens, need to stand up to protect Mumbai’s heritage.” Mehta said the city needs an advisory panel like Delhi’s Urban Arts Commission.
Historian Sharada Dwivedi, who is on the committee of the Urban Design Research Institute, said, “We’ve been hearing of this project since over six years. If the BMC wants to save money and doesn’t care to restore the Khada Parsi and other fountains, let them rot. I know that a major bank had offered to pay for the restoration of Khada Parsi, but the BMC didn’t seem interested.”
The statue of Shet Cursetjee Manockjee was built by his son at a cost of Rs 20,000 in the 1860s.The family donated the statue to the municipal corporation with the understanding that it would be properly maintained.

Forgotten Cousins of Punjbai Sikhs

Just like many Marathi families settled in Tanjore during the time of rule of Marathas at this place, many Sikhs opted not to return to their native land but to settle in the Assam itself. These Sikhs trace their genealogies to few hundred Sikh soldiers which arrived in Assam to help the Ahom rulers in the year 1820. These Sikhs were sent by Ranjit Singh as a friendly gesture.

Many of them perished but many among those who survived chose to settle down there. Many of them married the local girls. Most of the descendants are mostly concentrated in Lanka in Nagaon district of Assam living there for Sikhs for approximately two hundred years.

In the earlier times, the year 1505 to be precise, the first prophet of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev had visited Kamrup (Assam). This fact is recorded in the documents concerning the numerous journeys undertaken by  Guru Nanak in various stages of his life.  It is said that, he had Srimanta Shankardeva (the founder of the Mahapuruxiya Dharma) as the Guru traveled from Dhaka to Assam.

After this journey by the first Guru, Ninth Guru or prophet of Sikhs Guru Tegh Bahadur also visited Assam in 1668. This was the time when armies of Aurangzeb tried the best to cross the Brahamputra river and enter the Assam. They were thoroughly routed by the Ahom general Lachit Borphukan. Guru visited the the place called Dhubri. A  famous for the Sikh Gurudwara was constructed to commemorate his visit. Every year Sikhs from all over India and foreign visit this holy place.The grateful Ahom King invited Guruji to the Kamakhya shrine, where he was honoured.

While some died and some came back to Punjab, a few stayed on and made Assam their home, raising families. Their descendants today —mostly concentrated in Nagaon district — are Assamese for all practical purposes, and none speaks Punjabi, but continue to maintain their Sikh identity and observe most tenets and traditions of the religion.

Barely a few days ago, I happened to be watching a TV program called “Mysterious North East”. In fact this a an interesting series on North Eastern states of India made by Bhupen Hazarika and Kalpana Lajmi. In that particular episode, he showed a Gurudwara and a village inhabited almost totally by Sikhs. These descendants of original Sikhs although follows all the Sikh tenets, many of them keep the hair, they resemble the Mongolians. This had happened due to their mingling and marrying into Assamese families. Most of these Sikhs are farmers. In fact, there was scene of extracting sugarcane juice in a machine rotated by Bullocks. It was a familiar scene in the villages of Punjab during my childhood and still now.

During a period two centuries, they have assimilated and integrated the Assamese culture into their own original culture. They speak fluent Assamese and forgotten to speak Punjabi the mother tongue of their forefathers. They call themselves as Assamese Sikhs.

Their are other classes of Sikhs living in Assam which don’t mix up with these Sikhs. In fact, these Sikhs do not marry their girls with the Assamese Sikhs and consider them as inferior class forgetting the very basic tenet of their Gurus teachings which preached the equality of all human beings.

Some research says that the Assamese Sikhs may have their roots in Bihari Sikhs which to some extent seems logical given the vast distance between Punjab and Assam. It is not easily understood, how the Ahom kings has corresponded with Mahraja Ranjit Singh as there were numerous states between these two places. How the soldiers might had reached the Assam after treading the whole distance of thousands of miles without getting into problems along the route. How they had overcome the temptation to enroll themselves into the service of better off intervening kingdoms?

Unlike the Maharashtrians who chose to remain in the Tanjavore, the Sikhs in Assam depended mainly on the agriculture or manual labor. This is due to the fact that Assam was virtually outside the realm of mainstream India due to geography of the area. It was almost inaccessible and so suffered from the lack of education and other amenities. Whereas, the Tamilian Maharashtrians, when they lost their respected position after the decline of Maratha rule, took to educations and excelled in the field and many of them are prominent people in the Government echelons.

Sikhs in Assam have been forgotten by their cousins in Punjab. Unlike the Sikhs which arrived in India after partition settled in many places of the country and by the dint of hard work became prosperous, the Assamese Sikhs live miserable lives. The indolence which must have inherited from their Assamese hosts may be one factor responsible for this. It is this feature of being satisfied with whatever is available and lack of initiative which is the bane of Assamese people.

Tagore on Celluloid

Year 2010 was the 150 year of Gurudeb Rabindranath’s birthday. Celebrations were conducted all over India and still continuing.  Many works of Rabindranath Tagore has been made into films. In fact his works seem to the most favored subjects for film adaptations. Many films were made in the initial phase of beginning of talkies based on his works. The examples are notable adaptations like Chirakumar Sabha (1932), Sodh Bodh (1942), Gora (1938), Choker Bali (1938) and Naukadubi (1947) for which prints are not available and restoration is urgently required.

During the second half of the 20th century, many more films based on his novels and stories were mounted on the celluloid. Notable are Khokhababur Pratyabartan in 1960, Megh O Roudra in 1970, Malyadaan in 1971, Nishithey in 1963, Streer Patra in 1972, Mrinal Sen’s Ichhapuran in 1970, Rabibar in 1996 and Rituparno Ghosh‘s Chokher Bali in 2003.

Not only in Bengali, but films were made in Hindi, Malyalam and Indo-Frech. In Hindi Nitin Bose made Milan (1947) starring Dilip Kumar, Sudhendu Roy adapted Samapti in the Malayalam film Upaharam (1972) while Kumar Shahani made Char Adhyay in 1997. Tagore’s lyrical novel Sesher Kobita was improvised as a contemporary fictional drama in filmmaker Subrajit Mitra’s Indo-French production Mon Amour (2008).

Besides these, scores of other films in different languages and at different times have been based on Tagore’s works; not just his novels, novellas, plays and short stories, but even his poems and songs. An example can be given of Debaki Bose who in an instance of rare cinematic inspiration took four poems of Tagore to make the documentary film Arghya in 1961. Many of Tagore’s stories have been adapted and readapted multiple times like his story Naukadubi & Chokher Bali.

Great Master Ray made ample use of Rabindra Sangeet as the background music to convey the essence and mileu of that time. In addition, he adapted quite a few of Tagore’s stories into four films and also made a documentary on the Nobel Laureate. In 1961, Ray made Teen Kanya (Three Daughters), on three Tagore short stories – Postmaster, Monihara and Samapti. Interestingly all these three stories have been made into individual films, before and since this film. Charulata (1964) based on Tagore’s short story Noshtonir won Ray his second Silver Bear for Best Director in the Berlin International Film Festival while Ghare Baire made in 1984 won him a Golden Palm nomination at Cannes International Film Festival.

In 1932, on the occasion of Tagore’s 70th birth anniversary, New Theatres, one of the prominent filmmaking studios, arranged the filming of Natir Puja – an adaptation of Tagore’s poem Pujarini, which the poet had staged in 1927. This was the only time that Tagore was so closely associated with cinema with the screenplay being written under his guidance by nephew Dinendranath ‘Dinu’ Tagore and the master composing the background music, with students of Santiniketan acting in the film. Tagore not only directed this dance-drama shot over four days, but also played an important role in the film. Though the film in its entirety has been lost, a portion has been found and restored.

Over the years, close to a 100 films, more than half in Bengali, have been made on Tagore’s works, making him one of the most adapted writers of all times. This number would have been bigger if many films had not been lost forever. Also many don’t even mention Tagore. Adaptations of Tagore’s work just don’t seem to stop with many more projects being announced in the last few years, ever since Tagore’s work came into public domain.

Rabindranath Tagore’s contribution to cinema thus demands a more serious attention from scholars of cinema, literature and history itself.

Forest Owlet: The new State bird of Maharashtra

I saw the green pigeons first time in Sibsagar Assam. Firstly I was confused and took it for doves. I thought may be it is due some genetic defect in this bird. On close look, I discovered groups of them hanging on to the branches of Pipul trees and eating merrily the fruits which the trees bear when after autumn  these are covered with new trees. I also observed another trait in these birds that unlike their cousins which prefer to roam on the floor and live in the houses, these pigeons never even came down and touched the earth. The birds were in plenty there. From the literature, it became known that they have Bangladesh, North-Eastern India and Burma as their habitat.

I am not sure that this is exactly the bird which is called Hariyal in the other parts especially Maharastra where the bird had been the reigning state bird.

Green Pigeon

After it dawned on the people who gives these titles to the birds that this bird is not unique to the state, the green pigeon has been stripped of this title and instead the Forest Owlet, a bird that is active during the day unlike its cousins, has upstaged the green pigeon as the state bird.
The honour is being taken away from the green pigeon because it has just dawned on the state that this bird isn’t unique to Maharashtra; it is found across not only India, but also in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Although this argument is arbitrary as can be seen from the fact that Magpie Robin is the state bird of Bangladesh, it is found in wide spread regions as far as Maharashtra in the Western edge of India. I am not giving arguments against the Forest Owlet being chosen to replace the green pigeon. It is us humans who tend to label the things. Neither the Green pigeon not Forest Owlet could care less about all this fuss about them.

The New Prince

Another one

On the other hand, the Forest Owlet that was struck off as extinct for 113 years, was spotted one morning in November 1997 at the foothills of the Satpuras, northeast of Mumbai.
“The recommendation to change the state bird will come up for approval when the wildlife board meets next,” said Anna Dani, additional chief secretary of the department of revenue and forest. The board, headed by the CM, last met in 2009. Later, in June 2010, the Bombay Natural History Society asked the government to take off the Harial (the green pigeon) as the state bird and elevate the snow-white Forest Owlet (duda) to that post.

Forest Owlet is also known as Athene Blewitti or Blewitt’s Owl after the man who discovered the species in 1872 in Busnah-Phooljan in eastern Madhya Pradesh, now Chhattisgarh. From 1884 the species was missing and was considered extinct. But after a gap of 113 years it was rediscovered in November 1997 by Ben King, Pamela Rasmussen and David Abbot at Shahada near Taloda in the Nandurbar District.

Now from this statement, it is clear that boundaries are for human beings not for the birds. A pigeon perches on ledges of a mosque with same ease as on the parapet of a temple. Some traits of the birds are given below:

•The Forest Owlet is slightly larger (8-10 inches) than the spotted owlet

•Ornithologists say it is bold and comfortable in the presence of humans

By the way, if you are really a bird lover then visit this exhaustive website.

The more the Merrier

When Dharmendra wanted to wed Hema Malini, which was illegal as he already had a wife, he took recourse to convert to Islam which allowed him to have more than one wives.  If you are affluent, you can circumvent any obstacle and do whatever you want to do. The original woman did not have the courage to oppose and was resigned to her fate. These type of social aberrations occur regularly but go unreported unless the person involved is a celebrity. There are arguments for and against for this kind of behavior but such stories provide the entertainment and public is always eager for such stories. The interest wanes as soon as the new story breaks out.

This is not new to Indian subcontinent. In the mythology, Kings invariably had many wives. In addition to these, many of them kept many women in the harems for their carnal pleasures. Everyone is aware of the hundreds of keeps of a particular King of Patiala. Arjuna had many wives in addition to Draupadi. Affluent people try to emulate them though they have to manipulate the things and pull the strings at the higher echelons. It must be emphasized that the roles of every class in the society was clearly demarcated. No one could do what the King wanted to do.

But what about those who are supposed to be the lodestars and guides for the public which elects them to govern the country. For example in South India, many men have more than one wives.  For example, Suryanarayana had two wives became public only after his murder in Afghanistan, but the revelation isn’t surprising in Andhra Pradesh, indeed in most of south India.

In Tamil Nadu, bigamy is commonly accepted and has a term reserved for it. It is called Chinna veedu, which translates roughly to “Small Home” or the second home. And it is rampant despite being as illegal and is an age old tradition.

In the case of ruling politicians, the state has to provide security cover at the main house as well as at the Chinna Veedu.It may not be surprising that the politicians stop at only two. They are entitled to enjoy at the cost of public expenses. After all it is not theirs but public’s fault to elect them and empower them for 5 years at least.

All the great personalities like late M G Ramachandran, or M Karunanidhi, they have all had it, and flaunted it. Karunanidhi has married at least three women, the first of whom is dead.

The DMK chief now divides his time in the houses of both wives – spending mornings at the Gopalapuram residence with Dayaluammal while moving to the house of his other wife, Rajathiammal, at CIT Nagar in Chennai in the afternoons.

Another towering Tamil actor, Gemini Ganesan, married five times while his first wife was alive. The Chinna veedu concept is fairly common in Krishnagiri and Salem districts of TN, where males believe in more the merrier.

Actor-director K Bhagyaraj even made a Tamil movie called Chinna Veedu.

At least one top Union minister from Tamil Nadu is known to have two wives and so does a senior DMK official, who married his daughter’s classmate. An academic said, “The social sanction for two wives can be traced to religion and mythology. Lord Muruga, for instance, had two wives.”

In Andhra, bigamy doesn’t have the traditional sanction it enjoys in TN, but the practice is fairly widespread among the powerful and even a status symbol.

Hummingbirds: The extraordinary birds

Hummingbirds are most beautiful birds endowed with dazzling colors and hues. But these birds seem to be consigned to the extreme life because at the end of the day, they are so exhausted that it is not sure whether or not they will live to see the another day. Their humming near the flowers in which they insert their specialized beaks to suck the nectar while steadying themselves by constantly flapping their wings, seems like a fluid motion poetry. It is sight to behold. They can fly forward and backward, up and down manoeuvrings come as easily to them.

So they are not the ordinary birds but take the definition of extraordinary to a whole new level. They are the smallest warm-blooded creatures on the planet, but they are also among the fastest. They measure on the average 4-5 centimeters. They can  With wings that beat up to 200 times every second, they are among nature’s most accomplished athletes, the only birds able to hover, fly backwards, and even upside down.

Hummingbird metabolisms are set in permanent overdrive, requiring them to consume more than half their body weight in nectar every day. Some researchers say that nectar consumption for providing energy to fuel the furious activity during the day time, may be equal to their own weights. Since nectar provides them only sugars for energy, they have to supplement it with insects for getting proteins and other nutrients.

To survive the night, they fluff up their feathers and adjust their body thermostats, and reduce their body temperatures by half and reduce their heart rate from 600 beats per minute to a mere 36 to save the energy for survival  and begin their struggle for life next morning.

Due to their small size and dizzying speeds, human beings know only the crude facets of their sizes. PBS has sponsored a study to peer closely into their lives. By using state of the art technology and high definiton cameras, they have been able to delve deep into the private lives of hummingbirds. With  cameras able to capture over 500 images a second, the hummingbirds’ magical world can finally be seen and appreciated. Amazing footage shows these little powerhouses are far more than delicate nectar gatherers — they are also deadly predators. And watch as the birds display their elaborate mating rituals, showing off with nose dives that subject them to over ten G’s of force — enough to cause an experienced fighter pilot to black out!

These tiny marvels dazzle and delight bird watchers all over the world, and NATURE reveals their stunning abilities as they have never been seen before. The whole story is available at the PBS website page. Please go through and if you can watch the video you are lucky because video is blocked in our region, God knows for whatever reasons.

Raktika: The bright seed of Gunja

Raktika or Rati, seed of Gunja vine, was used in ancient India as a unit of weight for weighing the precious metals like Gold. The seeds have the quality of having almost identical weights. It is generally taken as 0.118 grams but the consistency over the different times is doubtful. The standard varied from time to time and place.

Gunja is also the name of girls in India. Remember, Actress Sadhana Singh was called by this name in the super hit Hindi movie called “Nadia Ke Paar“.

The botanical name of Gunja is Arbus Precatorious. It is vine which spirals on the trunks of the trees. The seed is bright red with black spots like ladybirds. The seeds contain a potent toxin called which is called abrin and consists of proteins which are dimers and called abrin A and abrin B respectively. It is very lethal. The unit B attaches itself to the cell. Once inside the cell, the A chain deactivates the 26S subunit of Ribosome. One moelcule is enough to deactivate up to 1,500 ribosome.

Manu defined the weight units in ancient India as follows:

5 Raktikas = 1 masa

16 masas = 1 tola or suvarna.

4 tolas =1 pala

10 palas =1 dharana.

Thus Raktika or Ratti was the smallest weight unit.

Besides, the Raktikas were used to make beads and ornaments.

The seed is also known as Jequirity, Crab’s Eye, Rosary Pea, John Crow Bead, Precatory bean, Indian Licorice, Akar Saga, Giddee Giddee or Jumbie  Bead in different parts of the world. It is, as one of its names suggests, used as rosary beads. The seeds are used in Andhra and Tamil Nadu in the medicine called Siddha medicine. For this purpose, the toxin arbin has to be deactivated. It is done by boiling the seeds with milk which helps in peptization of the proteins.