Chessboard and Wheat Puzzle

Game of chess is a cerebral game. It is a game of strategy, advanced planning and endless possibilities. A chess player becomes so engrossed in it that he forgets about his other activities. Such was the condition of the main characters in the Satyajit Rays movie “Satranj ke Khilari”. The story is set in the reign if Nawab Wajid Ali of Lucknow and how by hook or crook the British East India Company took over the princely Avadh on the pretext that a king who is engrossed in licentious activities like dancing with nautch girls and singing cannot look after the well being of the subjects. This is mirrored in the addiction of two friends who oblivious of everything are always devising means to play the game somehow or the other.

The game is said to have originated in the Eastern India and its precursor was called Chaturanga having four limbs or the four divisions of the army represented by a piece. It then traveled to Persia where it was called Chatrang and when Moguls swayed the area, its name changed to Shatranj and it travelled to Southern Europe.
The board has 8 rows of 8 cells each. 64 cells in all. There are king, prime minister (queen in British version and now universally prevalent), two bishops, two knights and two rooks. They occupy the first row and second row is occupied by pawns when they play starts.
The original chess board was mathematically revolutionary, as reported by the infamous Wheat and chessboard problem. A common theory is that India’s development of the board, and chess, was likely due to India’s mathematical enlightenment involving the creation of the number zero.

Chessboard and Wheat Puzzle

The puzzle is about the inventor of chess in India by mathematician named Sessa or Sissa. He presented it to the ruler of the country, the ruler was elated and asked the inventor to choose his prize. The man, who was very clever, told the king that for the first square of the chess board, he would receive one grain of wheat, two for the second one, foimageur on the third one, and so forth, doubling the amount each time. The ruler, who did not understand the gravity of what was asked and who was not adept in mathematics laughed at the paltry prize. He was wrong as the numbers increase astronomically as the squares progress. However, when the treasurer took more than a week to calculate the amount of wheat, the ruler asked him for a reason for his slackness. The treasurer then gave him the result of the calculation, and explained that it would take more than all the assets of the kingdom to give the inventor the reward. The story ends with the inventor being beheaded.

I tried to calculate how much wheat it will be in the last square.

Going by the rule, the number of grains in first cell be 2^0, second 2^1, third 2^2 so 64th cell, the number of grains will be 2 ^63 (2 raise to power 63) which will amount to 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains
And weight of 1 grain is approximately =0.06479891 grams
So the weight of grains in the last square

=(9,223,372,036,854,775,808 * 0.06479891)/(1000x1000x1000000) =597664.4545 MMT !!!!!!!!!!!

Annual production of wheat in India in the year 2011-12 =94.88 MMT

At this rate, it will take 6299.1616 years for India to equal his demand even for the grains in the last cell not to talk of the vast numbers in the preceding cells.
Now you can imagine why the king who was at first laughing at the his demand, had him beheaded. Or should not the king had conceded and rewarded the inventor……


Kallianwala Khooh: Another Example of British Brutality

It is said that sun never set on the British empire once upon a time. They colonised most of the world and plundered all kind of wealth by making the innocent inhabitants their slaves. India was subjected to this treatment for two centuries. In the process to subjugate those who tried to oppose, they perpetrated heinous crimes.
One such famous incidence in firing on the unarmed and peaceful thousands of people in the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar Punjab. Another instance of their brutality came to light in the same district at Ajnala. There was a well called Kallianwala Khoo (well) once upon a time. This well was excavation by volunteers. The digging began on 28th of February 2014 and within 3 days, skulls, bones, some coins of East India company and jaws were excavated.
It’s believed that it was here, in this khoo or well, that the bodies of 282 Indian soldiers who rebelled against the British during the 1857.
Covered in the freshly dug earth were skeletal remains — skulls, bones — coins and pieces of jewellery.
Amritsar based historian Mr.Surinder Kochhar who led the excavation did a lot of research before undertaking this task.
By March 2, the excavators — mostly volunteers — had dug about 23 feet and claimed to have exhumed 90 skulls, 170 “intact jaws”, more than 5,000 teeth, 70 one-rupee gold coins belonging to The East India Company, gold beads, three gold amulets, six finger rings, four karas and two medals dated 1835, before they declared the digging complete.


Standing a few feet away from the well, Amritsar-based historian Surinder Kochhar, who led the group of amateur excavators, says the decision to excavate the well was based on historical research. He had based his claims on then Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Frederick Cooper’s book, “The Crisis in the Punjab” , published in 1858, which vividly narrates the incident and on the Amritsar District Gazetteers from 1883 to 1947, all four editions of which mentioned the Kallianwala Khoo killings.
According to popular history, the 282 soldiers buried in the Ajnala well were part of a platoon of 500 soldiers of the 26th Native Infantry who had revolted at the Mian Mir Cantonment in Lahore during the 1857 uprising and had swum across Ravi to reach Ajnala town in Amritsar. Around 218 of their comrades were killed by the British at Dadian Sofian village near Ajnala. Of the remaining 282, many were captured and put in a cage-like room where several died of asphyxiation, while the rest were shot dead. Their bodies were then thrown into the well.
If DNA testing is conducted, it could be another evidence,” he says.
Dr Sukhdev Singh Sohal, professor of history at the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, says there is no unanimous view on how the well got its name. The popular view, he says, is that Kallianwala khoo means the ‘well of the blacks’, referring to “dark-skinned Indians”.
The villagers want a memorial and a museum in Ajnala in memory of the soldiers. There have also been proposals for DNA- and carbon-dating tests on the exhumed remains. The government has decided to set up a committee of historians to examine these demands.
“We are getting suggestions from various quarters, including from INTACH, saying that the skeletons should be studied to ascertain how the soldiers could have been assassinated. Were they beheaded, shot dead or killed using some other means?” says Randhawa. Back at the site, Kochhar says, “A lot of research has gone into this. I didn’t dream of the well.” That the reference was to a seer’s dream that triggered a failed gold rush at Unnao in UP, wasn’t lost on anyone.
“Ten by ten the sepoys were called forth. Their names having been taken down in succession, they were pinioned, linked together, and marched to execution; a firing party being in readiness. About 150 having been thus executed, one of the executioners swooned away (he was the oldest of the firing party), and a little respite was allowed. Then proceeding, the number had arrived at two hundred and thirty seven; when the district officer was informed that the remainder refused to come out of the bastion, where they had been imprisoned temporarily a few hours before. Expecting a rush and resistance, preparations were made against escape; but little expectation was entertained of the real and awful fate which had fallen on the remainder of the mutineers… The doors were opened, and, behold! They were nearly all dead! Unconsciously, the tragedy of Holwell’s Black Hole had been re-enacted. No cries had been heard during the night, in consequence of the hubbub, tumult and shouting of the crowds of the horsemen, police, tehsil guards and excited villagers.
Forty five bodies, dead from fright, exhaustion, fatigue, heat and partial suffocation, were dragged into light, and consigned, in common with all other bodies, into one common pit, by the hands of village sweepers…The execution at Ujnalla (read Ajnala) commenced at day break, and the stern spectacle was over in a few hours. Thus, within forty-eight hours from the date of the crime, there fell by law nearly 500 men.”
— Extracted from The Crisis in the Punjab (1858)

As you might have seen in many documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the extraction of the remains of the bodies requires great patience, delicacy and is time consuming. This is because with time the bodies become very fragile and prone to disintegration. Here, the work was done by volunteers who had no knowledge of such delicate processes. They in their enthusiasm did the work in 3 days and it might have caused deterioration to the quality of the remains.
Now the mortal remains are in the possession of the Punjab Director of Cultural Affairs. A team of two professors from the department of Anthropology from Panjab University for working out the biological profiles and DNA profiles to identify the soldiers. Since there are no records of the names of the soldiers, British government has bee requested to provide the details of the soldiers who were killed in the massacre.


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.


Aloe has a very long history of use. The sap was used medicinally by the Greeks and Romans, who obtained it from the island of Socotra. The Greek physician Dioscorides recorded the use of the leaves to treat wounds in the first century AD. Aloe had reached England by the 10th century, where it appears to have been one of the drugs recommended to Alfred the Great by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. In the early part of the 17th century, the records of the East India Company show payments for aloe being made to the King of Socotra, who held a monopoly on the production of drugs from the Socotrine aloe.

Spotted forms of Aloe vera are sometimes known...
Spotted forms of Aloe vera are sometimes known as Aloe vera var. chinensis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is not known whether the Socotrine aloe obtained in Greek and Roman times was from wild or cultivated populations. Today, however, African aloe (both Socotrine and Cape) is collected from wild plants, while in the West Indies, the plants are laid out in plantations like cabbages.

To prepare Aloe vera for market, the leaves are cut near the base of 24-36 year old plants. The resulting latex is collected and concentrated to the consistency of thick honey. A true concentrate produces a clear, translucent gel, which can be applied fresh, or it can be commercially converted into a more expensive ointment.

The gel can also be fermented to produce a tonic wine, to which honey and spices are added. In India, this is used to make a drink called kurmara or asava to treat anaemia and digestive and liver disorders.

The gel can also be inhaled in steam, and the powdered leaves can be used as a laxative. There is a danger that the huge tonnages of gel now sold in the developed world will mean that aloe is regarded as a cure-all for any ailment.

Assam Tea

I first went to Silchar,  a border district of Assam in 1987. It is in the Barak valley and very poorly connected to rest of India. Most of the people who go there are Defense personnel, Government employee and tea garden managers who are entitled to air fare from Kolkata and reduce the tiring circuitous journey by train through upper Assam which shall not take any less than 2 days. Air journey takes about 1 hour and plane flies most of the time of its journey over Bangladesh.
I boarded the similar flight which was the sole flight in a day. The airports in Assam are make shift structures built at the time of world war by the British for sending the military personnel and arms to the front to confront the Japanese forces. There is no facility for night landing and in the foggy days during winter.
Anyway the plane landed safely after circling over paddy fields and lush green bamboo groves and tea gardens. The airport is about 28 kilometers from the Silchar. I took a taxi which soon was running on the sinuous road amidst the hilly slopes. It was a beautiful sight to behold. All around were tea bushes on the slopes of hillocks. There were teak trees interspersed in the gardens. The womenfolk were picking up the selected leaves and putting them into the baskets hanging on there shoulders. We north Indians have only heard about these things but this was before my eyes as I was amidst this.
This was my first encounter with the tea gardens. During my 4 years sojourn there, it was almost a daily routine to go to far off oil rigs and roads ran almost throughout the lush green paddy fields, along the river on which there were boats in which fishermen caught the iconic Eelish fish which is considered as the most delicious fish and Bengali folks are crazy for it and never ending tea plantations. In fact our oil rig was located in the tea gardens itself.
So these were the plants whose leaves are sent all over the world. Most people in the world drink tea. My second encounter with tea gardens was in the upper Assam. Again there were tea gardens running along the roads and never seem to be coming to an end. the area where we were located was called Sibsagar which, once upon a time was the capital of Ahom Kings who reached the valley from the south eastern side, most probably from Thailand. On the way to Jorhat from Sibsagar one encountered the Tea Research Institute at a place called Toklai. It is learnt that experiments are on to create a tea variety which will combine famed aroma teas of Darjeeling and rich brew teas of Assam.
British knew the potential of area for growing teas. As such the wild tea plants in Assam, India, do not produce a palatable brew. The credit goes to the British whose commercial interests led to the identification of local bushes which tasted like Chinese tea and the local people were drinking it although they did not know the present name. It all changed in the 19th century when the cultivation of tea began in the planned manner. Sir Joseph Banks was among observers of tea plants growing wild in the hills of Nepal in 1788.
In 1815 it was noticed that the people of Assam drank a tea from locally growing plants, but identification of these as tea plants proved inconclusive. In 1823, a Major Robert Bruce had also learnt of the existence of tea in Assam and sent samples to the East India Company’s Botanic Gardens at Calcutta, who declined to confirm that the samples were tea. Lieutenant Charlton, who was on service in Assam in 1831, sent plants to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society in Calcutta with the observation that the leaves were drunk as an infusion in Assam, and that they tasted of Chinese tea when dried. Charlton’s plants were also denied official recognition.

Official recognition

It was not until Christmas Eve of 1834, when Charles Alexander Bruce, Robert Bruce’s brother, sent samples to Calcutta, that the true identity of the plant was finally confirmed to be tea, or more accurately, Assam tea. It is now known botanically as Camellia sinensis var. assamica. Subsequently there was huge controversy between Charlton and Charles Alexander Bruce as to which of them was the first to ‘discover’ tea in India.

It was found that a tea could be manufactured from Assam tea which was in some ways superior to China tea. Tea planting became popular and there was great demand for land and seed. Thus seed gardens were established with whatever seed was available in many cases. Some were pure China, some pure Assam and some were deliberately inter-planted with both types. Thus Indian hybrid tea was formed, which has great variability and vigour. This was undoubtedly the most important event in the evolution of the commercial tea plant.

Tea is good for health as contains many anti oxidant molecules.The latest research into how we live our modern lives often shows how things like pollution or too much sun can be harmful to us. Intermediates that arise naturally during chemical process, called free radicals, can challenge our normal healthy state. Free radical damage has been implicated in diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancers.

It is thought that by regularly consuming foods and drinks that are rich in substances called antioxidants that act to ‘soak up’ these free radicals we can help ensure we have sufficient resources. As well as fruit and vegetables that are  good sources of these substances, you can help increase your daily antioxidant intake by drinking tea. That’s because tea is widely known to be rich in a particular group of antioxidants called flavonoids.

For example, there is about eight times the amount of ‘anti-oxidant power’ in three cups of tea than there is in one apple, and every time you brew up in a cup or a pot for upto one minute you about get 140mg of flavonoids. Who’d have thought something that tastes that good can help maintain your health!

In some districts of West Bengal, India, arsenic is found in the unacceptable levels making the water unfit for drinking. It has been shown that both black and green tea reduced the elevated levels of lipid peroxides and protein carbonyl seen with arsenite poisoning. Both teas showed protection against the decline in antioxidants, including catalase, glutathiones, and superoxide dismutase (SOD), as well as against genotoxicity (Sinha D et al, Antioxidant potential of tea reduces arsenite induced oxidative stress in Swiss albino mice, Food Chem Toxicol, January 2010). For full article click here.

Kanoji Angre

There is no doubt about the fact that Shivaji was a great hero. Why I am saying was, he was, he is, and always will remain in the hearts of Indians. Some say he was Hindu king but that is not true. He looked upon his people without any discrimination. But the qualities I admire him for are his bravery, fearlessness and presence of mind. Otherwise, who can even imagine that any person who is in clutches of such a mighty emperor as Aurangzeb at Agra could make his escape good from a place which is thousands of miles away from his home. My heart is always full of praise for the man who had the prescience of what the towering and powerful Pathan Afzal Khan had in his mind when Khan invited him and planned to squeeze him to his death while hugging him. These traits do not come by education, they are inborn.

Shivaji was the first Indian King who realized the importance of controlling the sea with systematic navy and ports. He had made many ports like in Panvel, Murud Zanzira. He also constructed a number of forts. Some of the forts are at such places which seem unassailable. Many are located on ridges overlooking the Arabian seashore while many are located on small islands. It is a matter of shame that such monuments which had so much history attached to them are lying in very ruinous state. Government of Maharashtra is planning to install a very huge statue in Mumbai costing crores of rupees. Instead of carrying out such senseless and ill conceived project just only for the sake of false admiration of the great man, it would be wise to restore those crumbling structure which are proud of our nation.

He was having very trusted and brave general and army under his command. One such person was  Tanoji Angre who had a son called Kanoji Angre  also known as Sarkhel Angre, who was the worked under Chief of Satara. He was so much bold that he had one of his bases at Andaman. He relentlessly harassed the British ships of East India Company, who were so  frustrated, that they called him a pirate.

Kanoji Angre was born in Ali Baug town which is located on the seashore and these days a popular beach. It is connected by a ferry to Bhau Cha Dhakka in Mumbai. Most of the workers and stevedores in Bombay docks came to Bombay from Ali Baug by ferry. So being born in the vicinity of sea, Angre must have been very adept in seafaring and fishing activities. It is even surprising to imagine that such a person located in the Western Coast of India had such control over the sea that Andaman in Bay of Bengal was under his away.

Angre’s tomb is situated at the city of Alibag his birthplace. A statue of Angre stands tall in Naval Dockyard in Mumbai. The fort which overlooks the Naval Docks may not be there but the boundary wall is still intact and within it lays the Headquarters of Western Naval Command and is called INS Angre ( Indian Naval Station Angre).

We salute to these brave people who boldly faced the looter from Britain. Only regret is that there were not many of them, otherwise the history would have been different.