About the Power of Breathing

Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Breathing is our life. It goes on unnoticed until we are having some problem with our body. It is our constant companion from the time we are born and till the time we leave this world. Following our body breathing can calm our mind.

One of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today, poet, and peace and human rights activist, Thich Nhat Hanh has led an extraordinary life. Born in central Vietnam in 1926 he joined the monkshood at the age of sixteen.

He tells us about breathing like this. The breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather- our thoughts, emotions and perceptions- our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunken in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.

We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose. We feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing functions. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.

We may like to recite:

Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.

Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.”

We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness it will naturally become slower and deeper. Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.

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Opium poppy: Seeds of Trade

Britain ruled India not for nothing. They exploited the abundant natural resources as well its simple folks. They earned huge profits by exporting tea, opium and cotton to Europe. They employed the Indians like Africans as labors in many of their colonies overseas where there was a shortage of labor for cultivation.

English: Capsule of a Opium Poppy (Papaver som...

Opium obtained from poppies grown in the fertile valley of Ganges in Bihar was considered of high quality because of its high alkaloid morphine. It was traditionally grown in this region since the times of Mughals who were heavy users of it and many of their princes are known to become addicts.

Opium Poppy Flower in Tokyo Metropolitan Medic...

Opium poppies yield valuable alkaloids used as medicines. Medicines produced from opium poppies include morphine and codeine. Its cultivation and production is strictly controlled because opium poppies are also used to make illegal and highly addictive drugs such as heroin.

Home to Roost: Pandawill and the Opium Wars

It has many names such as Opium poppy, common poppy, garden poppy, chessbolls in English, Kas-kas, kashkash, aphim, afim, afyun in Hindi, Ahiphenam, aphukam, ahifen, chosa, khasa in Sanskrit, Posto in Bengal, Aphina, khuskhus, posta in Gujarat, Abini, gashagasha, kasakasa in Tamil. Its botanical name is Papaver somniferumFamily: Papaveraceae, the poppy family.

The plant has flowers with papery petals that can vary in colour from white to red or lilac with a darker purple base. Fruits – a rounded capsule topped with the disc-like stigma remains. The liquid that is obtained from the fruit capsule by making cuts with a knife contains morphine alkaloids which are dried to produce raw opium. Opium is used to manufacture medicinal drugs like codeine and morphine, and for illegal drugs such as heroin. Seeds – small and black, dark blue or yellow-white. The seeds are edible and tasty and are used in bakery products such as poppy-seeded bread.

Opium flourished in the Arab world, as in Islam opiates were not prohibited in the same way as alcohol. In the 7th century, the Islamic cultures of western Asia had discovered that the most powerful narcotic and medicinal effects could be obtained by igniting and smoking the poppy’s congealed juices.

The history of opium poppy use is relatively recent in South Asia. Arab trade and the expanding world of Islam are assumed to have introduced knowledge of the opium drug to the Indian subcontinent by the 12th century. The first records of its cultivation appear in the 15th century and refer to Malwa as a centre of production. The Sanskrit words ahiphena and the Hindi afin are derived from the Arabic word ofyun to denote opium.

The advent of the Europeans had a significant impact on the future of the opium poppy in India. The Dutch now introduced smoking opium in a tobacco pipe to the Chinese. As the decline of the Mughals began, the State lost its hold on the monopoly and the production and sale of opium was controlled by merchants in Patna. In 1757, the British East India Company which had by that time assumed the responsibility for the collection of revenues in Bengal and Bihar, took over this monopoly. In 1773 the Governor-General, Warren Hastings, brought the whole of the opium trade under the control of the Government.

In the late 18th century the British East India Company was expanding its sphere of influence in India. East India Company began sending large quantities of opium to China through Hongkong. The profits were very high. The Chinese had become addicted to opium consumption and country began to weaken both in terms of moral and economics. The Imperial court tried to ban the use and import, but British would not heed. Also they were not directly in the picture. It was the ships owned by rich Indians which carried out this trade. They reached near Chinese shores and moored in the sea and speed boats owned by smugglers unloaded the opium for taking illegally to the shores. The poppy growing was mostly confined to three centres: Patna Opium from Bihar, Benaras Opium from Uttar Pradesh and Malwa Opium from central India.

The Chinese authorities attempted to suppress the smuggling of opium which was debilitating the country and reversing its formerly favourable balance of trade. Their confiscation and destruction of illegal opium sparked the First Opium War in 1839. British warships defeated the Chinese who signed the Treaty of Nanking paying a huge indemnity and ceding Hong Kong to the British. A second Opium War was fought in 1856 when the French and British combined to bring the Chinese to heel and opium import in China was thus legalised. Not until 1910 did the opium trade between China and India cease.

The unripe seed pods of the opium poppy contain a group of alkaloids known as opiates that are often used as sedatives. The alkaloids can reduce pain, alter mood and behaviour, and induce sleep or stupor. It is a narcotic and potentially highly addictive.

In traditional medicine opium was made from the air-dried milky latex or juice from the unripe seeds from poppies. The quality of opium would vary depending on whether black or white seeds were used.

Opium from India contained not only high levels of the alkaloid morphine but also the alkaloid codeine. This could explain why it was traditionally used to relieve pain and to suppress coughs. The presence of another alkaloid called papaverine in the seeds could explain why the extracts relaxed muscles and reduced stomach and respiratory spasms.

The seeds were also used in Ayurveda and Siddha medicine. They were cooked and ground with sugar and cardamom seeds and used to treat diarrhoea, coughs and asthma. Extracts of poppies were used to treat fevers, tuberculosis, liver and kidney problems as well as diseases of the urinary tract.

Unlike the unripe seed capsules of opium poppies, the ripe seeds do not contain narcotic chemicals. They are used in many forms of cooking. The seeds can be cooked in water with oil and salt and served with rice where they provide a nutty flavour. They are also blended with tamarind into a curry paste. In confectionery they are sprinkled on sweets and are added to baked goods like breads and cakes.

Harappa Culture Continued

In the last post on Harappa Culture we described some features of the civilization. Science and intuition of some extraordinary men have enabled us to understand the Harappa Culture and its people.

English: Harappa Pakistan Indus Valley Civiliz...

As mentioned the cities streets were straight and very broad. Then as usual there were side streets running into the houses. Houses were in general quite large and built on a uniform pattern. There was a large courtyard and on its three sides were rooms and kitchen. Courtyard opened on fourth side to the street. Thus the windows opened against the walls of the houses on the opposite side houses presenting a monotonous vista. There were baths without showers. People took bath standing pouring pitchers of water on the them as we still to today.

Drainage system was the most important innovation of these people and emphasized once again the desire for cleanliness. There were drains running from houses to the bigger drains running on the sides of the main streets.

There were bigger public bath tanks. The bottom was covered on stones and sealed with bitumen. On one side there was a drain opening for draining off the water during cleaning operations. There were steps leading to the water and people bathed on the lowest steps. There were rooms along the periphery of the baths. This indicates that these baths might have been used for religious ceremonies and rooms were where priests lived.

There were granaries for storing the agricultural produce. Rows of quarters have been found near these granaries indicating that these were living places for the labors who pounded the harvest and worked the crops. One granary of the size 150X200feet discovered at Harappa stood on a high platform to protect it from inundation during flood days. It is divided into many storage blocks of 50X20 feet size to store corn.

The main crops were wheat, barley and sesamum, the latter still an important edible seed for extraction of edible oil. Many domesticated animals were buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs asses, dogs and fowls. Although it is doubtful that horse was a domestic animal but few teeth of horse had been found in Baluchistan‘s Rana Gundai indicating that nomadic migrants from West began roaming the area. Bullocks were probably the beasts of burden.

On the basis of thriving agricultural economy these people built their rather unimaginative but comfortable civilization. They lived in good palatial houses. There was a well organized trade. They traded with village cultures of Baluchistan which were their North-Western neighbors. But their precious metals came from distant places. They imported conch shells from Saurashtra, silver, turquoise and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and Persia and Jade from central Asia.

We shall continue the story………..

Janjira Island Fort

Murud is a beach 165 kilometers away from Mumbai. You go to Alibaugh which is also a beach town situated on the Arabian Sea and is halfway between Mumbai and Murud. The scenery of Konkan region is breathtaking after you leave the Alibaug for Murud. There are coconut palm and areca groves on the way. Sea is everywhere blue and green. Road runs parallel to sea coast. There are small hillocks on the way. On holidays lots of people visit the beaches here. There are boats available which takes you to the fort. One has to be very careful though while alighting at the landing because the boat rocks with waves and stairs are slippery.

murud-janjira-2428_m Janjira-Fort_12561 Janjira_Fort_bastions Janjira

From the beach, lapped by the waves is the fort called Janjira fort. It is situated on a rock of oval shape. Janjira is one of the strongest marine forts of India. The name is derived from Arabic word Zazira which means island. It is most strategically situated fort. The fort is approached by sailboats from Rajapuri jetty.  The main gate of the fort faces Rajapuri on the shore and can be seen only when one is quite close to it.  It has a small postern gate towards the open sea for escape.  The fort has 19 rounded bastions, still intact. There are many canons of native and European make rusting on the bastions.

Presently the fort is in very bad state, all in the ruins. But in its heyday had all necessary facilities, e.g., palaces, quarters for officers, mosque. It was built by Siddis, who came to India from Africa and served many rulers here. They are master sea people. They rose to power by dint of hard work. The fort’s residents were Siddis, Marathi, Koli  and people of many other communities. Siddis were very generous towards their populace.

Although it is surrounded from all sides by the briny sea, there was a big fresh water tank which provided the residents with fresh drinking water.

Originally the fort was small wooden structure built by a Koli chief in the late 15th century. It was captured by Pir Khan, a general of Nizamshah of Ahmednagar.  Later the fort was strengthened by Malik Ambar, the Abyssinian Siddi regent of Ahmednagar kings.  From then onward Siddis became independent, owing allegiance to Adilshah and the Mughals as dictated by the times.  Despite their repeated attempts, the Portuguese, the British and the Marathas failed to subdue the Siddi power.  Shivaji’s all attempts to capture Janjira fort failed due to one reason or the other.  When Sambhaji also failed, he built another island fort, known as Kansa or Padmadurg, just 9kms north of Janjira.  The Janjira state came to an end after 1947.  The palace of the Nawabs of Janjira at Murud is still in good shape.

Tobacco & Slavery

When America was in the process of colonization by European powers who began settling their people there, they required large numbers of labors to work on their farms. Most of the people who were enslaved and sold in America were Africans.

The transatlantic slave trade involved many millions of people, and its history and legacy have had an impact all over the world. There were European slave traders, ships’captains and sailors as well as African traders and the African people captured and enslaved.

They cultivated the land which were highly fertile and produced crops in vast quantities. Colonizers saw that these crops were commercial in nature. The produce were shipped to Europe and earned huge profits. One of these was Tobacco.

Dunhill Early Morning Pipe Tobacco, 1990's Murray
Dunhill Early Morning Pipe Tobacco, 1990’s Murray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tobacco is called Nicotiana tabacum in scientific language and English were to make huge profits by selling it just as they did by selling illegally opium produced in Bihar India to Chinese people. The opium trade had two effects which favored English to defeat the Chinese and dictate the terms in future trade of Silk. These were making the Chinese people addicts and siphoning of the money from China. Anyway we are talking about tobacco.

Original people of the Americas were already growing it when the colonizers got foothold there. It originated in the Andes mountains in South America. It was not only smoked but also used in ceremonies and as a medicine. They smoked it through pipes.

It was Mr. John Rolfe who was one of the first English colonists in Jamestown, Virginia which was founded in 1607. He introduced the sweeter Caribbean tobacco to Virginia. Heavily forested island of Barbados were cleared for cultivating the tobacco. Tobacco was the most profitable export from mainland North America before cotton was established, and from the Caribbean before sugar took over.

Tobacco cultivation requires lots of hard work. Many diseases which were unknown to Americans came along with Europeans and reduced the local population. This made the English to capture the Africans and sell them as farmhands in America.

Tobacco became very popular throughout Europe. Francis Drake first introduced it to England in 1585, and Walter Raleigh made it fashionable. It was seen as a miracle medicine, curing anything from stomach ache to gunshot wounds, and snakebites to bad breath.

Lascars: Indian Sailors on European Ships

Lascars were sailors on the European ships mostly on the British ships when the European powers were locked in great tussle for taking control of the routes and spices found in India. The British finally ousted all others and took control of India, first as East India Company and from 1857’s mutiny onwards for almost 100 years as British India Empire.

The term “Lascar” is derived from Persian word “Lashkar” which means army or a group of soldiers. They worked on the foreign ships under Lascar agreement which gave the owners more powers under which lascars could be shifted from one ship to another and also to work continuously on a single ship.

Lascars were mostly drawn from Silchar in Bengal, Goa and Gujarat coastal areas. The number of Lascars increased sharply on the ships because of their being better adaptability and sturdiness than their European counterparts. So much so that the British Government was alarmed and passed a law according to which a minimum of 75% crew should be whites.

Many of these Lascars settled in England where they intermarried white women despite the scorn shown by many British people. Many of them went out of job and became very poor and lived in squalid conditions.

The ranks of Lascars were different from their counterpart Europeans. For example equivalent of Bosun on the deck was Serang in Lascars, quartermaster’s equivalent was seacunny,  carpenter was mistree, Lascar cook was called Bhandari. Over the years, Lascars developed a unique language of their own.

Lascar’s life has been described most elaborately  by the writer Amitav Ghosh in his great novel “The sea of poppies”.

Dean Mahomet: The founder of First Curry in UK

Sake Dean Mahomed

Sheik Dean Mahomet is credited with being the first Indian to open a Curry House in UK in the year 1810 and it was called Hindoostane Coffee House. It was situated in George Street of central London. It introduced Hookah in England and served Indian culinary dishes. The premises is now a building called Carlton House. To many who are now part of the city’s expansive curry house business, Mahomet was a pioneer. Mr Mahomed’s plan had been to serve “Indianised” British food which would appeal to the Indian aristocracy in London as well as British people who had returned from India.

Portrait of Sake Dean Mahomed (1759-1851), Bri...

“The Indian aristocracy however would not come out to eat in the restaurant because they had chefs at home cooking more authentic food – it was just not a big enough draw to come out.”

He was born in 1759 in Patna then in the Bengal Presidency. He joined the East India Company Army when he was 11 years old. He rose to the rank of captain in the Army. He fought in a number of campaigns and the book is based on his experiences in the army. He resigned from the army in 1782 and two years later arrived in Ireland. He is also the first Indian writer to be published in English. The book was called Travels of Dean Mahomet.

He later moved to Portman Square where he became an assistant to Sir Basil Cochrane at his vapour bath. This is where he is said to have added an Indian treatment, champi (shampooing) or therapeutic massage, to Cochrane’s bath which became very fashionable.

He died in 1851 and was buried in St Nicholas’ churchyard in Brighton.

He was honored for his achievements in 2005. The plaque, which celebrates the achievements of former Westminster residents, was unveiled on Thursday.

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