Corn: Propeller of lives

Corn along with rice and maize are the basic grains used all over the world. They evolved in different parts of the world in different climates and conditions. Wheat for example is said to have originated in Middle East. Rice requires plenty of water for cultivation and thus grown where rains are heavy or other sources of water are easily available. Here we are talking about the evolution of corn.

Evolution of the parent wild varieties have taken place man’s patient, persistent by a method of selective breeding over the centuries.  The history of modern-day maize begins at the dawn of human agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. Ancient farmers in what is now Mexico took the first steps in domesticating maize when they simply chose which kernels (seeds) to plant.

These farmers noticed that not all plants were the same. Some plants may have grown larger than others, or maybe some kernels tasted better or were easier to grind. The farmers saved kernels from plants with desirable characteristics and planted them for the next season’s harvest. This process is known as selective breeding or artificial selection. Maize cobs became larger over time, with more rows of kernels, eventually taking on the form of modern maize.

Evolution is said to be gradual and slow. But in the case of corn, it evolution occurred in a burst of fairly small time. After a long search, the scientists became sure about the ancestor of maize. Its name is Teosinte. Plants are totally dissimilar but the DNA is very similar and two can be easily crossed to produce modified intermediate varieties. Samples bear an unmistakable resemblance to modern maize.

Following shows a collection of sizes and shapes of cobs beginning from the earliest.

CornProgression
Second picture shows the comparison of Maize and Teosinte plant and cobs from which Corn has evolved over thousands of year. The hybrid corn resulting from crossing the two is also shown at bottom.

MaizeTeosinteCross

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Castaway Plants?

They are not cultivated by the people like so many plants which decorate the homes, offices and other public places. They grow by themselves on the edges of the roads and other places wherever they get a chance. They are weeded out of the fields by the farmers to clear the land for useful crops. They are very sturdy and can survive the adverse conditions.

They are like the poor children who have no access to health care amenities and sanitation facilities. Some of them who survive all the diseases become very tough and become immune to every ailment.

Almost every one ignore their existence and treat them as an undesired growth. But even then they possess certain charm which a sensitive mind cannot ignore. They may have flowers of various hues and diminutive sizes. The flowers may exude fragrances.

As they say that a plant is considered a weed until its properties are not fully known. They may have medicinal properties.

Below are the pictures of some such plants growing in our area.

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“The Emperor’s Writings” by Professor Dirk Collier

Professor Dirk Collier the Belgian writer has written a fictional autobiography of Emperor Akbar, laced with facts. It is titled “The Emperor’s Writings”. Why it is fictional is that Akbar was illiterate. Written in the form of a letter to his Jahangir, it chronicles the life and times of the Mughal emperor. The author talks about being inspired by Akbar, the emperor’s 5,000 wives and more!

Here are some conclusions from the book.

Akbar was not a very romantic man like other Great Mughal emperors including Jahangir and Shah Jahan. While he did sleep with countless many women, particularly when he was still young, it seems he had no real “love of his life”. It is however well documented that his cousin Salima Sultana, whom he married after Bairam Khan‘s death, was clearly his favorite, in spite of the fact that she did not bear him any children. She was highly influential, probably much more than Akbar’s mother was, and Akbar greatly valued her opinion. She appears to have been intelligent, exceptionally well-read, and an accomplished poetess.

It is reported that no less than 5,000 women lived in Akbar’s palace, of whom, chroniclers hasten to reassure us only about 300 (still a highly impressive number) were his wives or concubines. It should be remembered, though, that these unions were, above all, politically inspired: many a local ruler was more than eager to send one of his daughters to the imperial palace and thus establish a family link between himself and the emperor.

It is also well documented, that the ladies in the imperial palace were quite influential and active in society. Many mosques, madrasas and other monuments of the Mughal era have in fact been commissioned by women! It is also reported that the princess of Amber (Akbar’s first Hindu wife and Jahangir’s mother) was a highly astute business woman, who ran an active international trade in spices, silk, etc., and thus amassed a private fortune which dwarfed the treasury of many a European king.

From the reviews in the different newspapers and magazines, it appears that it is very well written and full of facts culled from authentic sources. Collier has spent 7 years researching for the book.

The book is also available on online bookstores like Amazon India, Flipkart, Homeshop18 etc

Return to the land of my youth

It is the beginning of October. In a few days, the winter season will begin. Presently it is quite hot in the day. Here in Panchkula which is very near to Chandigarh, rains have almost vanished. Once upon a time not so long ago, it was an agricultural area irrigated by five streams or Kul as they are called in the local parlance. The name of the place is the combination of two words namely Panch (five) and Kula (streams).

The land was very fertile. The system of the irrigation was an ingenious community exercise. These streams issued from the Ghaggar River which flowed through the place and passed along the edges of the lands of the landowners. The river originates in the Shivalik hills. It dries down in the Rajasthan. Ghaggar River is mentioned in Vedic literature and it was an important river along with Saraswati River which is now believed to be flowing underground. The days and durations were fixed for each piece of land depending upon the quantity of the water available and area of the land holdings. It was a very peaceful and mutually benefitting exercise. It was a win-win situation for everyone. It is an open fact that division of the irrigation water is a very sensitive issue and leads to unending conflicts. Everyone in India is aware of Tamilnadu and Kerala spat over the distribution of Kaveri waters. It is going on for the years.

The Panchkula is now a big city and a satellite town to Chandigarh. The land is scarce for frenzied building activity. Almost all the agricultural land has been bought by builders at exorbitant cost resulting in very high cost of flats. Even the Ghaggar River is now bearing the brunt of this expansion. At many places its natural flow has been modified or blocked. Quarrying of sand, pebbles is taking place. The day is not far when the river will be lost. The five streams are already dead.

My childhood and youth was spent in a village called Manimajra adjacent to Panchkula. In those days Panchkula was a small village like many other villages. We had agricultural land at two places falling within Panchkula. It was routine for us to walk to our fields after the school was over. We went on foot and fields were quite far. On the way, the path meandered through the fields and streams. In the summers, we enjoyed bathing in those streams splashing water over one another and bathed the buffalos.

It was all green with crops like wheat, barley, millet, sugarcane, cotton, chilies and paddy in the respective seasons.  There were mustard and gram crops which imparted yellow color to the flat interminable stretches of the flat land. There were many gardens with mango, guava and other. Many a times we stayed in the night in the shelters built on the land itself. In the winter seasons, Gur (jaggery) was prepared from the juice of sugarcane and we used to enjoy the fresh product.

Land was acquired by Haryana Government at a very low price and a housing board was built. It was the beginning of the breakneck building activity.

I have left the place after I got a Government transferable job and after 35 years have returned to this place. Fields are almost gone. Yet there are some stretches of the agricultural land still resisting and looking at the rich crops standing in them takes me back to my childhood days. At that time we never gave a thought of what is coming in future. Now it is all over. Wherever you look, you will find high-rise building. Lots of labors from East UP and Bihar have come here for work.