Chemistry Behind Cleopatra’s Beauty Products

Everyone has heard about Cleopatra. She is said to be most charming seductress and willy woman who became the queen of Egypt. She was very conscious of her looks and knew the value of being beautiful and always looking young and alluring. It was Cleopatra, who popularized skin care treatments in her book titled “Cleopatra Gynaeciarum Libri”. There, she recorded recipes for making cosmetics and perfumed ointments. She was so interested in spa treatments and perfumes that her lover, Mark Antony, gave her the gift of a spa and perfume factory that had been built by Herod the Great at the south end of the Dead Sea.

Although Egyptians may not be knowing the chemistry behind the ingredients used in the spa treatments but still to date many ingredients used at that time are in use but in the synthetic forms. Synthetic ingredients have low manufacturing cost and avoid lots of labor involved in extracting these from natural sources which only a royal person can afford. For example, Indole is a organic compound present in the jasmine flowers as well as the feces of crocodiles and other animals. In high concentrations, this has a repulsing odor but at very concentrations it exudes fragrance. If you extract the chemical from the Jasmine flowers, you require millions of flowers for obtaining 1 Kg of oil costing approximately $10000. So these days synthetic oil is prepared from Indole and other ingredients at a low cost. Cleopatra used the excrement of crocodiles to clean and embellish her complexion.

She bathed in the milk of Ass to keep her skin soft and supple. This milk has an important ingredient Lactic acid which being an alpha hydroxy acid breaks down the dead cells of the skin. Even today’s many skin care products contain lactic acid. Cleopatra painted her eyes with green and black pigments to protect her eyes from those ever-present flies and to enhance her appearance. On special occasions, she may have added glitter made from crushed beetle shells mixed with her eye paint. And she would have cleaned her teeth with natron, a natural form of baking soda, and freshened her breath with spearmint.

Egypt is an hot country and there is lots of perspiration which imparts body odors. So for Cleopatra, perfumes were important not just for masking the smells of skin treatments but to cover offensive body odors. Cleopatra would have carried small containers of her perfumed ointments and powdered perfumes that she would have reapplied several times a day to keep her complexion looking fresh and her skin sweet smelling. Chemists have reconstructed a number of ancient perfumes using Cleopatra’s own recipes and analysis of perfume residues found in jars from Cleopatra’s spa. They discovered that Cleopatra favored perfumed ointments made from Moringa oil or horseradish oil (Moringa pterygosperma or M. aptera). Those ointments would have disappeared into her skin quickly and left no greasy feeling behind. Moringa oil is still used in Persian perfumes today, and chemists at L’Oreal have recreated ancient Egyptian perfumes using Moringa oil.

Garlic Vine

In our colony at Dehradun, on the boundary of a park a vine has spread itself. On the intervals of few days, it bears profuse beautiful purple flowers in bunches. The morning sunlight passes through the delicate newly opened buds giving them a slightly reddish hue. The bunches over the gate seem as if someone has decorated the place.

I took many pictures and was very pleased to post them on the FaceBook expecting a few likes and comments from friends. Then I began searching Google for the name of this vine and after some efforts narrowed down my search to these flowers. But still I was not sure. The vine is strangely called Garlic vine. Its botanical name is Mansoa alliacea. In Bangla it is called Lata Parul. I saw now resemblance between a plant and a vine. After reading I came to know that its leaves when crushed release a smell akin to the garlic.

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Native to South America, Garlic Vine is one of the most rewarding, flowering vines that you can grow. It can either be described as a shrub or a vine since it produces numerous woody vines from the root that grow only 2-3 m tall and form a shrub-like appearance. It produces bright green leaves up to 15 cm long. Its compact habitat and pretty continuous flowers make it a popular ornamental plant in gardens in the tropics. Flowering twice a year you will find it quite often covered with flowers. Flowers start off purple with white throat and change to a lighter shade of lavender with age. Eventually fading to almost white. You will see 3 different color of flowers at the same time on the plant. It can be grown in containers and should be trimmed after the flowers are gone.
It is a very common and well respected plant remedy in the Amazon for the pain and inflammation of arthritis and rheumatism, as well as, colds, flu, and fever. Some capsule products of the leaves are sold in stores in Brazil and Peru, and it can be found as an ingredient in other various multi-herb formulas for cold and flu, pain, inflammation and arthritis in general. The use of ajos sacha is just catching on in the U.S. market; a few products are now available and it is showing up in several formulas for colds and arthritis here as well.

Animals take drugs when in grief

Man’s penchant for getting drunk is much older than keeping himself clean. I mean the use of alcohol and other substances obtained from plants which give high is much older than the invention of soap for cleaning the body.

But it is not only the humans who feel the need to get a high but many animals also are similar. Johann Hari, who is the author of book “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” has spent 25 years observing the behaviour of animals when they are alarmed or in grief. He began his research after going through the findings on this subject by Ronald Siegel. For example, Siegel had planted “Silver Morning Glory” a plant containing powerful hallucinating chemicals in a pen of Hawaiian mongoose. The when tasted it leaves felt disoriented and avoided the plant altogether. But there happened a tropical storm which destroyed the den, filled it with mud and left the female dead. The male returned to the plant and ate its leaves to get blasted out of mind. After that Hari began his research and found more evidence. For example, in Vietnam, he found that prior to bombings in the Vietnam war with America, the buffaloes never chewed on opium plants. But when the bombings began, the water buffaloes ate the opium plants. They became dull and dizzy to escape their thoughts like mongoose. Similarly, bees fell to ground in a temporary stupor after sampling the numbing nectar of certain orchids. Birds gorge themselves on inebriating berries, then fly with reckless abandon. His more observations are given below : “Cats eagerly sniff aromatic “pleasure” plants, then play with imaginary objects. Cows that browse special range weeds will twitch, shake, and stumble back to the plants for more. Elephants purposely get drunk off fermented fruits. Snacks of “magic mushrooms” cause monkeys to sit with their heads in their hands in a posture reminiscent of Rodin’s Thinker. The pursuit of intoxication by animals seems as purposeless as it is passionate”

Some more memories of Ratnagiri

Although now I have gone far away from Panvel from where Ratnagiri was not far, the memories never die. Many times I have been to Goa where my son was studying, Ratnagiri was on the way and train halted there for sufficient time. I read about the city and particularly about the King of Burma Thibaw Minh who was confined to this place by the British after he lost the to battle to them and Burma was annexed to British empire. I don’t know how they thought to bring him and his family at such a distance away from his home. He was not old and his whole life was spent in Ratnagiri in a palace called Thibaw Palace. He was very much respected by the local people. Since his palace is located at a lofty place, he would sit with his binoculars and watch the Arabian sea and boats coming and going to the various landings. Area being the coastal, the main occupation of people was and is fishing. They waited for the fishing boats coming home. The king would announce the arrival of the boats as he was able to spot them through his binocular and people would then make for the landings.

English: Thibaw Palace, Residence of Burmese K...
English: Thibaw Palace, Residence of Burmese King exiled in Ratnagiri (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also it was the habit of the King to visit the Bhagwati temple which was located on another hill. Only for this activity he went out. All this information excited me to visit the place and see for myself. So once we decided to visit the place while returning from Goa. This has been described in another entry. From here we went to see the Ganapati Pule which is religious place as well as a beautiful beach. In fact whole area possesses breathtaking beauty. There is blue Arabian sea and coconut groves. There are cashew trees growing in the wild and the world famous Alphonso mango tree orchards. Here are some beautiful pictures.

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English: Alphonso mango tree in a dense cultiv...
English: Alphonso mango tree in a dense cultivation orchard at Kotawade, Ratnagiri distirict, Maharashtra state, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Revival of local rice varieties in India

In order to increase the yield of rice to meet the needs of food in the country, high yield laboratory engineered rice varieties also called hybrid varieties have replaced the local varieties which yield less all over the country. Many areas like Punjab and Haryana in North India which were not rice growing areas have become the major rice growers. This though has helped the Green Evolution and commercialised the farming, has played havoc by excessive water drainage from the underground and contamination of water by heavy metals present in the fertilisers and insecticides which cause many diseases. But the white or polished rice that whole of our country people have become accustomed to have less beneficial nutrients and more starch which increases the risk of diseases like diabetes.

Paddy crop plantation

Some farmers in the rice growing West Bengal are trying to reverse this trend by resorting to grow the local varieties which despite being low yielding have nutritional value which more than compensate the low yield. One such farmer is Bhairav Saini who lives in Bankura, about 200 km from Kolkata.

For several years now,  he and many farmers are engaged in this task in many districts of West Bengal. Growing the rice by traditional methods without use of fertilisers and insecticides, in fact this also lowers the cost of growing the crops.

Saini, and several others in Hooghly, Dinajpur and 24 South Parganas, in West Bengal, have been engaged in reviving lost, indigenous paddy varieties of Bengal, simply because they’re cognizant of the health benefits of grains grown the traditional way. Burdwan, the rice bowl of Bengal now grows organic Gobindobhog rice in over 30,000 hectares of land. Besides Gobindobhog, other old varieties of scented rice like Radhatilak, Kalonunia, Kalojeera, Tulsimukun etc are also gaining popularity slowly. These have a high mineral and vitamin content along with other health benefits.

Unlike his peers in North India, Saini is not driven by profit making but due to his concern for the health issues of the people. As the times are changing and organic products are a buzzword, the rice they are now growing have started fetching higher prices. Some of the local varieties they are reviving have names like Kala Bhaat, Bohurupee, Leelabati, Durga bhog, Oli, Radhunipagol, Kalo nunia, Katari bhog, Radha tilak, Kalash and so on. Setting up the seed banks is also an important endeavour.

Inputs from an article published in the Economics Times of India.

Facing Floods in Assam….

I worked as a scientist with ONGC which is the premier oil and gas company of India. I was posted in Cachar Project of ONGC during 1987 to 1991. Our company was desperately looking for oil and gas in this area. Five rigs were employed for these operations in different areas around the town of silchar located in the southern part of Assam adjoining Agartala and near this town is another town called Badarpur which is a gateway to north eastern states like agartala, Manipur and Mizoram. The area where drilling operations were being conducted bordered Bangladesh. Two rivers namely Surma and Kushiara flow through this area which are actually two parts of Barak river coming to this area from Manipur. In fact, town of silchar is situated on on the banks of barak river. These two parts again rejoin and enter Bangladesh where ultimately it joins mighty Brahmaputra river.

I worked on an old Romanian rig in Adamtilla. It was about 120 kilometers from our residence in silchar and a good 2 to 3 hours journey. Our company has hired maruti gypsy jeeps for this job.

There we did duties on 14 days on and off pattern. It means that for 14 days you will be there on the rig. Of this, first 7 days one officer did day duty from 6 am to 6 pm and other did the night duties. After 7 days pattern reverses and when 14 days are over, the employee shall go to his declared hometown and resume the duties again after 14 days. Mostly people did the off days at their hometowns from different stations throughout India.

But with me the case was different. I was a well-site chemist which is a supervisory duty but as my family had moved to my hometown in Chandigarh, but my boss gave me 14 days chance in addition.

When the shift was off duty, the staff was put up in a temporary accommodation at Patharkandi which was about 7 kilometers away. It was a good accommodation with Assam type houses for 2 people each. In addition, there was a mess for food and entertainment room with TV and VCR. There were no TV channels like these days. There was also a badminton court. But real pleasure was the flowering plants like marigolds and dahlias. A gardner from Orissa supervised the gardening. In fact this residency was the first one created when the project commenced.

Buses took shifts to drill site and back. Although it was only 7 kilometers but road condition and ongoing construction of a bridge over the sunai river stretched the time to half an hour or so. Many a times the roads inside the tea gardens were blocked.

When the shift completed its tenure of 14 days, they were transported to airport about 170 kilometers away. It belonged to air force and flights operated only in the day time only. There were only two flights each day and operated between Kolkata, silchar, agartala and Manipur. Everyone was desperate to catch the flight amidst uncertainties like strikes, irregularities of flights and inundations due to floods.

I faced one such flood. We were on the rig when the news of flooding due to overflowing of the Sonai river and closing of road traffic trickled in. The river was in spate. It was decided to stop the work. There was a railway station on the line from agartala to badarpur. While all the staff was sent to station we 5 to 6 people stayed back to close all the engines. The drill string was pulled up to casing shoe and BOP (Blow Out Preventer) was closed. The plan was that staff reaching earlier will try to somehow hold the train till we reach the station. But the work on rig is as difficult to close as it is to begin. So when rest of us reached the station, the train had already left. There was as such scarcely one train daily so there was no chance till next day evening.

We returned to drill site which was now pitch black. Somehow the generator was started and light was restored. There was no food. Nothing to lie back on. Mosquitoes attacked in hordes. Cicadas chirped with piercing sounds. Whole night passed like that. In the morning, flood had not receded. Only way to colony was walking along the railway track all the way 7 kilometres. It was raining incessantly. The going was slow. There were many small rivulets flowing full and the wooden slippers were of uneven thereby increasing the chances of slipping down. Had someone slipped, he would had sure fallen into the stream. After sometimes, as energy was sapped, walking became very tiring and we had to sit in the rain for sometime.

At last, after 3 hours we reached patharkandi colony. We got refreshments and were dead tired. We were held up there for 3 days before the shifts resumed again.

KINTHUP: THE MAN WHO DISCOVERED PATH OF BRAHAMAPUTRA RIVER 

HOW THE WORLD CAME TO KNOW THAT TSANGPO AND BRAHMAPUTRA ARE ONE AND THE SAME River.

It is thanks to the person in the picture. His name was Kinthup, a tailor by profession.

British officers sent him on a very dangerous mission because despite being illiterate he had amazing graphic memory.

As we know now Brahmaputra which originates from Tibet and flows East and suddenly enters very deep gorges to loose height and enter North East India. It is known as Tsangpo in Tibet . But during 1880, it’s path was not mapped. Some people even doubted that these are two different rivers.

Tibet was then a closed country and not under British. When the sent Kinthup through Sikkim in 1880 secretly to go as far as possible along the river. Plan was that Kinthup would throw wooden logs (specially marked) into the river in Tibet and British troops were stationed in India. If it was the same river, they soldiers will definitely retrieve them.

He remained for 4 years on his mission facing lots of hardships, arrests, slavery , sleeping on treetops. Returned back in 1884.

Why lobsters and Crabs turn red on cooking……..

Popular Food

Lobsters and Crabs are the two Sea foods are mouthwatering and popular all over the world. So much so that fairs are held to celebrate the lobster.  One such festival is held in Rockland, Maine which is attended by thousands.

lobster

Cooking Chemistry

When cooked these creatures turn coppery red. Although it is not necessary to become a chemist to become chefs but cooking is a science where chemistry takes place at each step. Some chemicals break down to get converted into edible and easily digestible form. Similarly in many foods there are color changes when cooked which is also due to chemical modification of ingredients. Here also, chemistry is occurring.

Normal lobster is of muddy color when alive. But the final color is dependent on the amounts of a pigment called astaxanthin which is also the pigment responsible for the red color of carrots, pink of flamingos, salmon and crabs. This pigment is red in color when free. It’s chemical structure is given below.

Due to the ketone and alcohol groups this compound is very active chemically easily binds other chemicals like proteins. Pigment is a powerful antioxidant. Lobsters ingest it to keep stress of survival under control has been found be beneficial human beings.

What happens in the lobster is that this pigment binds to the proteins in its skin. Due to this binding, it is forced to change its geometric structure and gets twisted to fit in. Depending on the type of protein it bonds to, there’s either what’s called a bathochromic shift, which turns the pigment blue, or a hypsochromic shift, to yellow. When you’re looking at a lobster, you’re seeing light reflecting through different layers of free and bonded astaxanthin–a lot of colors mixed together, hence the muddy brown.

So the final color is a combination of many colors like red, blue and amount and type  of proteins present in the body of lobster and the age . The muddy color is good for camouflaging from the predator because it becomes indistinguishable from the muddy water.

When the lobster is cooked the proteins are denatured and release the astaxanthin pigment turning the cooked meat into coppery red.

Last Days in Assam

Peculiar things happened with me as I made preparations for leaving Sibsagar on my transfer back to Mumbai.

A few days prior to my planned departure, the weather became very hot and humid as it becomes there during summer days. But on the day of my journey to airport at Dibrugarh, it began to rain and rained so much that it became a deluge. Without any respite, the rain was falling in solid sheets. Visibility became very poor. My flight was canceled on the scheduled day despite the fact that our luggage was boarded and boarding passes were issued. Such a thing never happened to me in my three years sojourn in Assam. My flight never got canceled and I made it to airport even on the days of ULFA bandh. It seemed that there were some scores remaining unsettled, as if I owed something to others and others to me, as if someone was waiting for me to see me and fulfill the unfulfilled desires. My colleagues advised me to stay put at some hotel for next day journey but I returned back. Luckily, one of my colleagues brought back the key of the house which I had surrendered that very day. I changed my flight altogether for next day.

Next day flight again arrived one hour late and I began to have doubts again. At last it took off for Guwahati on its way to Kolkata. On my adjacent seats-I was on window seat-were sitting two very pretty young girls who incidentally happened to belong to same place I was coming from and their parents worked in same company as I. They were going to Chennai, but worried about missing their connecting flight from Kolkata to Chennai due to delay in this flight. It turned out that they were having non-refundable tickets of different airlines. If everything went on time from Kolkata not only would they miss the flight but also lose the money. I tried to help them and luckily at Kolkata when they were waiting for luggage, inquiry at help counter of the airlines revealed that the flight as usual was delayed for an hour.

But I made to Kolkata with no hurry as my connecting flight to Mumbai was late in the evening with enough time remaining. Flight to Mumbai also was delayed and reached at midnight. My real nightmare started when I hired a taxi from outside. There is a great racket going on at Mumbai airport. Some taxi driver and accompanying person will board the taxi with you and take a just outside the airport where number of taxis are waiting. He will charge money from you as they pretend it be prepaid taxi and will ask you to shift to some waiting taxi and will give the driver very vague instructions about the destination and give him some share. After traveling about half the distance, the driver will ask for the spot where the passenger will drop but he will give the name of place nearby. As you will protest that I have to go to where I have to, he will say that the fellow who transferred you in my cab told me to drop you elsewhere and for going further he will again demand some more money. Really, Mumbai is going to dogs, it will go bust. It is the city whose cycle of decline has really well started. It has become a old vamp. Name any kind of maladies-physical as well as mental- you will find them in Mumbai.


Best of luck for this dying city. My lungs choked on pollution as I sucked so many pollutants in two hours as I have done in Assam in 3 years.

Where is Gopal?

I was working in a place called Sivasagar in Assam. There was a shopping centre. In one of the shops a boy named Gopal used to work. Gopal was a runty-bodied boy from Bihar; he was working in a shop here in the mini-shopping center. Anyone who saw him will take him for the proprietor of the shop which sold eatables, victuals and phone service and has a xerox machine. Shops generally are all-in-one type here.

Gopal was very agile and competent and extremely good-natured. He has a gift of gabbiness and it did not take him long to make a niche in a corner of your heart. I thought him to be Bengali but actually he was from Bihar; so many Biharis have come to this state because the British rulers brought their forefathers here as labours for tea plantations, and to  do the menial jobs and rickshaw pullers, barbers and laundry.

Then one day, Gopal suddenly disappeared from the scene. How did I come to know was that I had given Gopal a parcel to courier to my native town and it did not reach the destination for a long time. I came to inquire for it from Gopal but he was not in shop. Other persons who were actually the proprietors began sitting in place of Gopal. In the beginning they will not divulge his whereabouts but they knew it for sure. Sometimes they said Gopal has gone to another village to attend a marriage; after some days version became his own marriage.

Gopal is the name of Krishna who you might have seen playing on a flute in front of cows and there are amours Gopis who dance around him. These Gopis were married women who it is said, forget everything in the world: shame, their family, husbands and society, and went running to him when his notes on flute began wafting into the air and reached their ears. And our Gopal, he was smitten by love though not of gopis but only his unwed neighbour.  The girl’s father and mother are also having a shop in the same shopping place; they were next door neighbours. The affair was kept secret by the smart Gopal, but I doubt that some of the boys who loiter around all the time were knowing everything and so did the owner of the shop in which Gopal worked.

So one night, Gopal eloped with girl and to this day nobody knows where he has gone. He might be in some secluded place, must have got employment and by now may have fathered a child.